I had a headache. But there was no way I was cancelling this hike. That’s because my sister was set to come. My sister is kinda sorta maybe getting into hiking. She’s hiked area mountains a couple times before, but her interest was piqued after she and her husband made plans to hike on glaciers in Iceland. What a way to get into hiking, right? Anyway, I had been dogmatic, obsessive even, begging her to hike with me since I first started. I pictured us — sister duo, trekking up and down mountains, traveling on trails — we, a force to be taken down. She though didn’t see it that way so my begging was to no avail . . . until a nameless Saturday when I casually invited her out. “I could go next weekend,” she responded without hesitation. I about fainted.
Jumping forward to that weekend, I woke with a major headache. But there was no way I was cancelling because this hike could be the one that got my sister on future trails.
Let me say here, I’m not actually good at picking out trails. I normally either:
- pick one closer to home
- . . . or pick one farther from home
- or simply wander to the mountains with a selection of maps then decide once I’m there (which, for the record, isn’t actually safe. Don’t be like me — Tell someone where you are going.)
However, this was different. I needed to impress my sister, get her addicted to mountains and hiking boots the way I am. I needed a hike with mountain summits, waterfalls — all the charm — and that’s when I found Jefferson National Forest’s Apple Orchard Falls:
- Six-point-four mile loop
- Level Three of Five Difficulty level
- 1,680-foot elevation
A storm with high winds and heavy rain rolled through the night before, and we saw the effects of that right away. It was a slow process to arrive at our hike — dodging massive holes in the last long dirt road and stopping often to jump from the car to remove large limbs from our way. It wasn’t just limbs though; at one point, it took Andy, my sister, me, and a stranger in the vehicle in front of us to move a tree that had fallen across the roadway. The four of us shoved and pushed and finally it budged just enough to clear an opening for the stranger’s massive truck to slip by. Many moments later we too arrived in the parking lot to begin our hike.It was a clear, crisp day — The type created for mountain hikes. The sun shined bright through the bare trees, and the temperature was cool enough to warrant a couple layers comfortably.
We began by crossing the wooden bridge, heading towards the blue blazed Apple Orchard Falls Trail.
There is something comforting about water trails — The ability to see a flowing water next to the path brings a sense of calm. For this hike, we were either bordering or within sight of water ninety percent of the time.What was also special was having my sister and fiance on the same hike. My sister and I have always been close, but within the past few years our lives rarely cross. I can go months without seeing or talking to her, which is both heartbreaking and understandable — We have separate lives we are living. Still, I would love for her and her husband to be around Andy and me more, to get to know him more, to get to know us together more. This hike provided a bit of that, so I was grateful for this path in the woods that brought us together even for an afternoon.
Onward we wound through the mountain — the bare trees seemed to become the skeletal structure of the forest, and they allowed views to stretch so that sights of neighboring mountains were visible. And it is sights like this that make me appreciate winter mountains. Normally, I’m a spring/summer girl. I love green forests so dense it is hard to see the sun and sky directly. I will walk yards from my destination for the chance to see or smell a wildflower, and I will consider spotting a hummingbird or butterfly drinking nectar from a flower the highlight of my day. Still late-winter hikes provide an opportunity to catch the first glimpse of coming-spring, like these buds on the tips of trees; and there is something special in that — watching the forest be born before it becomes a mature green.
As we do on any water hike, we dart back and forth from the path to water, drinking in all the trail offers.
I’ve written before of how deeply I notice fallen trees, and this hike was no exception. Intricate and beautiful patterns were etched into the wood of these.
Continuing through, we reached two bridges, which were about one mile from the falls.Climbing more steeply, we followed Andrew up.Then there, in the spotlight from the sun, we reached the bottom portion of Apple Orchard’s 200-foot waterfall.
Eager to move higher to witness the top of the waterfall, we continued on while remnants of colder temperatures greeted us.
Within sight of the waterfall again, we crossed a wooden platform near the rock wall.
There, we arrived at the top of the falls.
The exciting news was that our hike wasn’t over yet — Climbing a set of wooden stairs, we had one last view of the waterfall before a vista.
This side of the mountain was warmer, allowing flowers to begin to open.However, a couple steps more and thick icicles once again clung to the rocks.
Interestingly enough, we found this: long needle ice.Needle ice is a natural phenomenon that happens when the soil is above freezing but the air is below freezing. The ground’s water (that is flowing under the earth) is brought to the surface in a capillary-esque action, forming hollow needle-like columns that freeze, hence the name needle ice. Normally needle ice is only a few centimeters long; here the delicate ice was at least three inches.
Coming to the end of our hike, we began to walk down the mountain, following the Cornelius Creek Trail as the sun lowered in the sky.
Then it was time to forge Cornelius Creek two times.The setting sun turned the mountains bright gold. and we followed it all the way to the parking lot.
Before we realized it, our hike was over. Getting into the car once more and driving home, I lowered the window to snap pictures of the passing mountains. The sky was a light pink, making all feel soft and warm.
Often I want hikes to last longer than they do; I want time to slow. This could be for a variety of reasons: The view is so beautiful that the minutes, hours I have to take it in — It is never enough. Or the memories created at that spot, on that trail, on that mountain — They are ones I desire to hold onto because I know they will escape and fade, despite my attempts to grasp them. Or, like this day, I could want the hike to last for a more simple reason: To stretch time in the wilderness with my sister and fiance before life gets in the way again.