Sometimes you fall in love with nature, sometimes you just fall in nature, sometimes you do both at once. This story takes place in the Smoky Mountains and begins with Trail asking me where I want to go for a hike. Normally, Trail picks the trails, but she’d seen all the things she really wanted to see. Since I’m not often asked, I figured I’d better step up and pick something. I reached for the Smoky Mountain trail guide book that Trail bought on arriving and looked for something.
I decided I was in the mood to see a waterfall and flipped around until I found one that was a relatively short hike. Spruce Flat Falls was the name of the place, located near the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont. The guide warned that the trail was a little tricky to find and that the ground could be somewhat uneven, especially in wet weather. Fortunately, the skies were clear and the sun shining. At 2 miles of moderate hiking, it sounded like exactly the short excursion I was in the mood for.
So it Begins
The Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Treemont is a pretty cool deal. We stopped in at the visitors center to make sure we had our directions squared away, and to get Trail a parks passport stamp. These passports are a fun way to record your travels through the national parks and Trail is a big fan. They told us the trail was clear, and even had a little map for us on how to get to the trail head which was squirreled away behind one of their buildings.
The GSMI looked pretty cool. They have lots of hands-on nature courses, mostly for kids, but also many for adults and families. There are classes on nature photography, guided hikes, insect safaris, summer camps, birdwatching programs, and even opportunities to do volunteer work for research programs. If you plan a trip to the Smoky Mountains, I highly recommend you see what they offer while you are there. Unfortunately, we discovered them only at the very end of our time in the park.
With our little map in hand, we headed for the trail. If you have done much hiking to waterfalls, they almost always involve going uphill one way, and downhill the other. It turned out this trail was both. You first climb up a steep hillside, then down the other side to get to the waterfall. Indeed there isn’t more than a few feet of level ground on the entire trail. True to the guide, for the most part, the ground was uneven due to tree roots and stones littering the steep path. Trail found it a bit rough going for her knees and both of us got a good sweat going while climbing up the hills.
As we arrived at our destination, weariness gave way to excitement as we first laid eyes on the waterfall and felt the coolness of the air around the stream. The water levels were on the low side, so we were able to safely clamber over large stones to reach the base of the waterfall and have a seat to enjoy the scenery. The falls come down about 30′ into a shallow and rocky pool and then cascade over a series of smaller drops into the creek which continues down the valley. Surrounding the falls are lush moss-covered cliffs, flourishing in the spray.
As Trail set about taking pictures, I made my way up to the base of the falls to get a face full of misty spray. I spied a little flow on the side that looked perfect for cooling off after the strenuous hike. I carefully picked my way over, cupped my hands and then splashed my face. It felt great! I stepped back to look for fish in the pool, sure enough, there were little ones darting about and catching insects in the water. I considered removing my shoes and wading in a bit, but the bottom was pretty rocky so I decided against it. But the thought of the cool mountain water called to me. I headed back to the little side fall, this time, I was going to get my head wet and take a little drink, sip from the mountain. A little risky, but my chances of Giardia were pretty low here.
Had a Great Trip; see You Next Fall
I cupped my hands and captured some of the falling water, then sipped. Ahhh, so refreshing! I decide to lean forward to put my face in the downpour, feel the refreshment engulf me. The waterfall had other plans. As I shifted my weight, my right foot slid up and over the rock ledge I’d placed it on. My considerable weight then carried me over the ledge and set me spinning about. I only remember two things in this moment. The first was the rock ledge coming at my face. I extended a hand, deflected my momentum, but still tumbled over the ledge. The second was the bolder in the pool below coming at my face. Another stiff arm and I deflected off that and into the shallow pool at the bottom of the ledge, front first, but not face first.
So there I was, more than a little surprised, lying face down in the water. The refreshment had engulfed me after all, just not quite as I’d planned. I lumbered up and took stock of myself. Nothing more than some small cuts and scrapes on my hand to show for the tumble. Dripping like a big wet dog, I looked towards my wife. She was downstream trying to take a selfie with the waterfall, oblivious to my little adventure. I wondered “did she get a selfie with me falling into the waterfall?” Turns out she did!
“Hi honey, I just fell into the waterfall. It was fun.” seemed like the proper greeting under the circumstances. Her mix of concern, amusement, and surprise was very gratifying. I felt soggy but delighted. The adrenaline was taking care of the pain and giving me a nice robust feeling, and I was definitely no longer hot and sweaty. Sure, it would have been better had I decided to jump into the pool rather than tumble down the rocks into it, but all’s well that ends well. The hike back featured a lot of squishing from my shoes, but my soaked cotton shirt kept me feeling refreshed and vigorous on the return trip. I would not have normally chosen to jump in a stream with my clothes on, but this adventure taught me that it would have been a good decision if I had.