It was summer, August to be exact, and it was the weekend after Andy and I had just arrived back from England.
“Wanna hike?” I asked him. I regularily ask him.
“Sure.” His normal response, which continues to leave me wondering if he truly does want to go or if he needs convincing. But I’m always up for a bit of persuasion.
Turns out I barely had to sway his mind because this hike was exceptional enough for him to immediately agree. It highlights the most dramatic waterfall we’ve seen thus far, a trail that clings to a creek, rare gigantic hemlocks, and one of the most amazing cliff drops in the state of Virginia. The trail name: Cascade Falls and Barney’s Wall, and to say it has been on my bucket list for some time now is an understatement.
Another plus of the hike, it didn’t come with extreme conditions:
- Eleven-point-five miles
- 1,600-foot elevation gain
- Level Three of Five difficulty
It seemed almost too good to be true.
So we hauled our hiking packs into the car and took off for our almost four-hour drive to the Jefferson National Forest. There, we were greeted with a sign that warned parts of the trail were no longer accessible after being washed away due to high water. The path of that water was highly visible, too, as we walked through . . .
No sooner did we read the sign and begin our hike, it rained . . . and rained harder.
The sky opened and released so much rain, I almost felt I was drowning on land. It got to a point that — after only five pictures — my camera refused to shoot anymore and shutdown. From here, all pictures were taken on Andy’s cellphone.“Do you still want to hike?” he asked me and sometimes I wonder if he forgets who I am.
I’ve never been the type of girl to run for cover when it rains. In fact, quite the opposite. A few days after Andrew and I met, I remember asking him if he wanted to go to the river with me.
“But it’s about to rain — There’s a thunderstorm coming,” he said.
“I know so we have to hurry to make it to the river in time!”
He later admitted he realized then I was crazy (so why he agreed is beyond me) but the two of us ran — truly ran — to the James River to sit and wait for the storm. Seconds passed as the sun became smothered and the sky exploded — Thunder boomed and lightning streaked through the whirling grey. Rain fell in plump drops at first onto us then gave way to consistent streams. We watched as people dashed for cover — already drenched, like us. And he began to laugh.
“What are we doing?!” He had to yell over the thunder.
“Living!” I screamed back and ran and twisted in circles looking up at the rain, gasping in, inhaling clean, absorbing pure.
“Kiss me,” he whispered and pulled me to his body.
And that’s how it feels, to me, to be in a summer rain . . .
So when the sky opened again on our hike, I thought about that time together and about all other times I darted out when others race in. This was how it feels to be outside. This was how it feels to be alive . . .
Our trail quickly turned into a silky creek and the actual creek beside us, a raging river.
Around us, droplets fell, sliding off of the leaves above.
The sound of the raindrops’ sizzle evaporating in the heat changed to an echoing of splatter, and we continued through the forest.
The leaves glistened and glowed, and an energy seemed to rise from the woods.
Eventually, the rain passed, and a steamy haze rose from the ground as we continued to slog our way on.
Massive rocks jutted from the earth in thin layers upon layers. Looking up, I felt infinitesimal next to the rocks and below the tall trees.
Everywhere I looked, there was beauty: Beauty in the young yellow blooms of flowers, beauty even in the rotting wood of the forest’s fallen.
Soon our trail lead us to Little Stony Creek where the fast-moving waters swelled onto the banks.
Andy and I have two reactions when we come to high water on the trail:
1. My way where I pause, attempt to go first, then turn around and request Andrew start.
2. Andrew’s way, without hesitatation before immediately setting off, unfazed.
From here, we followed the glistening plants and moss-covered tree roots until the white of the waterfall shined ahead.
Cascade Falls was nothing short of magnificent. Surrounded by 200-foot cliff walls, the waterfall surged then plummeted over the edge before falling almost seventy feet into the pool below.The recent rains made the waterfall full and mighty, and we were surprised to be one of few people there.Continuing across the waterfall, we climbed until the sound of the waterfall could be heard no longer.
From there, it was a hike to Barney’s Wall on an unblazed trail. Deeper into the forest we traveled, finding the red hints of autumn.
Large hemlocks rose from the ground, which we were told are rare for Virginia.
The area seemed ours — no one else was on the trail and Barney’s Wall just as quiet. Here, we were alone with one of the most incredible views we have yet to see on a mountaintop . . . though, I say ‘views’ loosely because when we arrived, there was thick mesmerizing white fog.
Slowly the fog began disappear, allowing us to rejoice before taking in the 700-foot sheer cliff drop.
With the fog lifting, the sun illuminated the New River Valley.
Sitting on the cliff edge, we pulled out our packed lunches and began to eat then stretched, sunbathing, which gave my once-soaked hair time to dry.
This is also when we came to realize we had a friend: A little fly refused to leave our sides. It sounds strange but it was as if it was happy to see us — It didn’t bite, it didn’t fly in our faces. It merely seemed to want to be close. It landed on Andy’s hat, as if resting, and remained practically the entire time we stayed. It only moved to make an occasional whiz into our pictures before landing again on his hat.
With lunch in our bellies, it was time to go. I struggled to leave — The summit brought with it one of the most astounding views thus far.Nature coaxed us to stay too, the little fly on Andy’s hat remained calm and this little snail moved slowly among the rocks.
But it was back the way we came. Water poured from the land, creating small waterfalls that were not there on our way up.
The area had transformed — Cascade Falls was streaked of cream as muddy waters poured into the pool below, which was now a deep brown.
Tall Black-eyed Susans stretched, their yellow faces standing out against the dark waters.
With one last look at the falls, we turned and walked further.
The creek surged, and became so high and fierce that people attempting to come in seemed unable to pass through or over the rapids.
However, with our only hope for home heading back the way we came, we had nowhere else to go so we took careful steps across.
After a few miles though, we were back by our car, warm and dry. In fact, we looked as if we had yet to hike a rain-filled trail.I looked down at our boots and was happy to see they told the true story — one covered in thick mud with deep scratches from the trail.
And that’s exactly how I like ‘um.
* * * * *
Remember the fly that spoiled our pictures by whizzing past? Here are the outtakes from its apparent photoshoot . . .
. . . and saving the best for last, our favorite . . .Thanks for giving us a chuckle on the trail, little fly-guy!