Monday, March 22, 2010

Cochran Falls, Stage One

I climbed a mountain. Me. Who is afraid of heights.

Not intentionally, of course. The intent was to see Cochran Falls. Which we did. It was our second attempt, the first being a couple of months ago when we took the wrong fork on Blackhawk Road and ended up on the wrong trail. This time, we mapped it out on Google Earth.

We parked and followed a jeep road that was full of huge standing puddles, some resembling small lakes. The road looked impassable, even for a four-wheeler. As we neared the falls, we met some riders on horseback (whose tracks we'd followed) on their way back down.

At the end of the jeep road, we picked our way over a trail that followed the creek. Mountain goats might think twice about this trail. Once, I had to find a handhold in the rock above and throw my leg around an outcrop to get by. While this may be common for the less faint of heart, for me, it's quite remarkable.

Here, the tiny way markers led to the other side of the creek, so we crossed and kept going. Wrong. We should have crossed, then crossed back. Or just stayed on the right side of the creek. On the left there was no path.

We scaled that mountain. Literally. Not far up, it became an almost vertical climb. I am not exaggerating. We kept thinking if we got just a little bit higher we could see the top of the falls, the place where Cochran leaps over the lip of the mountain and cascades straight down. We never did.

What we did see, were a lot of wild rhododendrons that will bloom in a couple of months. We used these for anchors and to pull ourselves up. At times there was nothing to grab, but I discovered I could inch uphill on my knees. Randy even resorted to that a time or two.

Three hours in to our hike/climb, my legs were shaking and we still hadn't reached the top. There would appear to be a summit, then a ways further up, we'd realize it was not.

It was definitely beautiful from up there, above the trees and the world below. A little hard to appreciate or enjoy when resting on the side of a near-vertical incline. But, beautiful nonetheless. We found a rocky verge and stopped to rest, eat some trail mix, some fruit, drink some water. I got a couple of pictures, but by then, the overriding thought was not beauty or pictures, but how in the hell to get back down.

We did. I have to admit that I seriously thought of calling 911 from up there. Just to have someone spot us on GPS and tell us an easier way back. I will also admit that for a moment, I got scared. My fearless leader, however, forged on. Since he seemed to know what to do, I forced my shaking legs to follow.

We mostly slid down. On our butts. Which gives a whole new meaning to the term 'back slide'.

As I descended, a childhood memory of sliding down the banks of the red clay hills in the woods behind our house, crept in. Back then, we'd done it for fun. Or so I'd thought. Maybe Mama had taken us up there, then realized the only way back down without getting hurt was on our backsides. Because, quite honestly, I don't remember doing it on a regular basis. And, if it was just for fun, wouldn't we have?

We were careful to avoid the saw briers. These are wicked strong briers that reach out and grab and can hurt like the dickens. There were so many in our downward path, I dubbed Frosty 'Saw Brier Mountain'. I think I may still have one stuck in me arse.

Part way down, the trees I used to stop my downhill slide (otherwise, we'd have been like Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone) were marked by some wild animal. Not one or two trees. But, lots of them. So, now I'm having visions of being stalked by a mountain lion. Or a mad mama bear with cubs. Randy assured me the marks were too low for either. Whatever it was, we were right smack dab in the middle of some animal's territory. I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

I'm sure if I hadn't been so frantic to get down, I might've appreciated the beauty of the moss-covered boulders with water dripping out from under them. And maybe I was afraid to look too close for fear of finding a cave or den underneath. Remember that old adage, what you don't know won't hurt you?

Eventually, we made it back to Cochran Creek, just below the falls. We crossed over and picked up the goat trail, but I was too tired to kiss the ground. Afterwards, we trudged the remaining mile and a half back to the truck, which we reached exactly six hours after we'd left it.

Home again, I took a hot shower and collapsed, muscles screaming from head to toe.

It's now two days later. Randy found a discussion forum on GeorgiaHikes.com that talks about a guy who died up there, having fallen on slippery rocks in the falls. Ha. Glad I didn't read that before we went up.

But, yes. We'll go back. Why? Because we still haven't gotten to see that glorious, free-falling cascade.

And because we're stubborn and refuse to say uncle.

Photographs from top to bottom: mud 'lake' on jeep road on way in to Cochran Falls; Lower Cochran Falls; Lower falls through rhododendrons; view from rocky verge; slide below lower falls; below slide

3 comments:

Lennox Fleary said...

you're gonna beat that thing

That Rebel with a Blog said...

You betcha! :)

Keith Brookshire said...

Plan on about a three mile hike to the bottom of the falls next time.
Earlier this yr (2012) the road was blocked much farther away from the base of the falls. Plus, along the way there are many large trees that have been cut across the road so getting there by horse would be very difficult.

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