Monday, February 22, 2010

Bearden Falls

"On reaching the rocks below, all the waters flowed together in a glorious host, forming an exuberant, rushing torrent which swirled triumphantly around and over the rocks.

Laughing and shouting at the tops of their voices, they hurried still lower and lower, down through the meadows to the next glorious crisis of their self-giving. From there they would again cast themselves down to the valleys far below. Far from suffering from the rocks, it seemed as though every obstacle in the bed of the torrent was looked upon as another opportunity to find a way over or around it. Everywhere was the sound of water, laughing, exulting, shouting in jubilation." ~excerpt from Hinds' Feet on High Places, an allegory by Hannah Hunnard

Years ago, I read this wonderful book, at the urging of my friend, mentor and sponsor, Helen Rowe. Over the intervening years, I've often thought of Hannah's words, describing the ecstasy and joy of water as it hurries about its job.

I've always had a special affinity with water; streams, creeks, rivers, oceans. Gentle mists, torrential rains, thunderstorms. Ponds, fountains, puddles. I love showering in it, bathing in it, drinking it. And, I ache for water when I see it in stagnant, waste-filled, smelly ponds, tarred on beaches, and gushing out of faucets with no regard. Water was even instrumental in my decision to return to school to become a chiropractor.

Yesterday we hiked up Frosty Mountain, mere miles from our home, in search of Bearden Falls. It was a beautiful, spring-like day, warm with blue skies and lots of sun. We followed Jack Anthony, Jr's, directions (from Waterfalls of North Georgia) and ended up on a mud-puddly forest service road, FS-2. We pulled to the side to let Mitch Crump, Law Enforcement Officer for the DNR, pass. He stopped beside us, rolled down his window, and spent several minutes answering our questions about the road up ahead, Nimblewill Creek and Bearden Falls. After giving us a map of the Trout Streams of Georgia, we both moved along.

We parked in a clearing and struck out on foot to follow the right-fork (Bearden Creek) off Nimblewill Creek as Jack's book instructed, noting there was "no designated trail". Picking our way across the creek, we lit out on our quest.

The ground was soft and leaf-strewn and there were many side streams trickling down to join the creek. At times we had to cross on moss-covered rocks. About midway, my foot slipped in to the water, anointing my new hiking shoes.

We never encountered another person. After one crossing, though, the terrain leveled out in a clearing that was scattered with clothes. Shirts, jeans and several pairs of shoes lined either side of what now was a trail through the woods. It was odd and spooky, as if a bear or something else not benevolent, had gotten hold of a pack and shaken out the contents while running helter-skelter down the trail.

We hurried on our way, soon surrounded by hemlocks, a tree I am coming to know and to love. Randy tells me they're mostly found near water. I've witnessed their presence around Boggs Creek and now Bearden, and their tiny needles remind me of sequoias.

After a solid hour of following the creek, the last ten minutes spent clinging to the side of its steepening bank, we found another trail. This one entered a hardwood forest. Surrounded by their magnificent trucks, I looked up. The sight of all those tall, naked trees reaching for the azure sky took what little breath I'd managed to suck down in my pause. I spend so much time looking down at my feet, that I forget, sometimes, to look up.

From here, the trail started climbing in earnest and the steep canyon walls narrowed toward us. When the trail crossed the creek once more, I had to stop. Chivalrous, as always, Randy obliged. The only sound from our perch on an outcrop was the rushing of water over rocks.

Rested, we forged on. Randy pointed out a small trickle of water on the rock face to our right and said (only half-kiddingly because we'd been climbing so long), "there it is."

We chuckled and kept going, not to be daunted.

A few feet further, and there, on the skyline, it was. A rushing torrent of water cascading down, large enough that we knew we'd stuck gold. We hurried now, eager to reach our waterfall.

The way had narrowed, almost impossibly, and there was no longer a trail of any sort. We grabbed pencil-thick rhododendrons to pull ourselves up, slapped back brambles, scrambled over fallen trees and pushed off rocks to gain purchase on the steep hillside, always with the mighty falls before us. The closer we climbed, the harder it was to see them. Nearing the top, Randy signaled me to wait while he picked his way down to the creek and through the brush to scope out an approach.

I waited. Finally, he signaled 'up'. I paused for him to reach me and resume the lead. Reaching a fallen hemlock that was sturdy and strong, he walked out on it, with me close behind. There, in front of us, the brush and trees opened to the sight of forceful Bearden Falls.

Ahhh. We rested on the log, suspended over the water, as the pounding of our hearts subsided. We took pictures. Basked in the warmth of the sun and the sound of the leaping, rushing, crashing water. After a while, we shimmied down to the rocks and I sat in a bed of damp moss. Randy ventured farther out on the rock, leaning out and straddling to take more pictures. I lay back and closed my eyes, content, no more words or thoughts rumbling around in my mind. Only peace and the massive sound of the falls.

We stayed like that for close to an hour. Then, reluctantly, we picked our way back down. My new hiking shoes were filthy, as was the seat of my jeans. My left arm was scratched from the sawbriars, my right eyeball scratched from a limb-slap early on. I was exhausted. And jubilant. And happy as a lark.

The trip down was faster.

We found the trail and saw the tracks of a dirt bike that had come up, no doubt, while we'd been languishing under the roaring falls. We tracked it back, following the trail we hadn't known existed, crossing the river where he had crossed.

It no longer mattered if we got wet, so when the rocks weren't handy, we slushed through the water. Soon we were back to the truck, wet, dirty, and still full of the experience of Bearden Falls.

We'll be venturing out again, in the very near future, down FS-1 in search of another waterfall...of this, I am sure.

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