It seems I alternate between seeking a breathtaking sunset or a jaw-dropping waterfall so being that Andy and I had just hiked Annapolis Rock and Black Rock Cliff for one of the best sunsets we have yet to see, turned next to finding a beautiful waterfall.
Our destination: Saint Mary’s Falls, which is a relatively short and easy hike in one of Virginia’s largest forested areas:
- A little less than five miles
- 305-foot elevation gain
- Level Two of Five difficulty
You should know this trail briefly passes through a longer one we hiked and camped three months into knowing one another back in 2016 — That one is called Saint Mary’s Wilderness Trail, and at the time it was challenging for our newbie selves because it was an unblazed nearly twenty-mile path with a 5,300-foot elevation gain that ranked a Level Five of Five. Surprisingly though, that hike went smoothly — We saw relics of the old mining area; we explored the mountain wetlands, meadows, and valleys; and we savored the wild fern and rhododendron forests. However, the one part of the hike we did not explore was the waterfall — hence why we wanted to return.
It’s important to note that the Saint Mary’s trail was eroded due to rainstorms so while earlier hikers may have been able to forge on for miles on one side of the river, today hikers faced limited trail access. I did read that there are trail restoration crews that are rerouting and restoring the area, but until then hikers are left with minimal options, such as zigzagging back and forth through the river . . . and so this was the start of that process.
At the first crossing, other hikers were ahead of us, meticulously planning where to walk before taking shoes and socks off then painstakingly journeying across the water. Andy and I are though are mostly the opposites type of hikers — We’d rather leave on our boots to use their protected soles to move faster over the rocks versus be barefooted to slip in the freezing water. Don’t get me wrong, we still plan our steps as we cross to limit water inside our boots, but we mostly charge right on through . . .
This one barely wet our boots so we happily continued on until to the next crossing.
Here, we got a bit wetter with the tops of our boots covered by the water so some water did leak inside. This was fine though because we saved time and — what we soon discovered — there were still more crossings to come . . .
This one was deeper than the others and so Andy and I took extra time to determine the most shallow place to cross. By this time, the group of hikers had caught up again and gathered at the water’s edge to keenly listen to our conversations and plans.
“I’m going this way,” Andy announced to all of us, pointing to my left where rock tips were seen above water. We all nodded where he pointed, eyes following his path, then began to shake our heads — The stretches between the rocks were grand and drops, deep. I heard whispers of disagreement behind me. I felt the same.
“You sure? I like think my way better” and I pointed ahead of where I stood. The gazes of all hikers turned towards me. My way, for sure, had more rocks to use for the crossing but the water on both sides was even deeper than what Andy faced. I heard gasps at this realization.
“Boots on. This way,” Andy proclaimed and all eyes returned to him. I felt as if we were in some intense game and the hikers, our audience. Then without a need for further discussion, Andy tore off, slipping and sliding as he navigated across. We all held their breath . . . A foot glided into the water, another so deep his shin got wet, and another boot plop but overall he made it.
“Great job!” I called from the other side as the hikers moved from behind me to in front of his trail, which was evidently the audience favorite.
Still, I wouldn’t be phased and so I stuck to my water-trail — Boots on also, I started so smoothly that I heard the hikers return to my side, clearly voting my way as the win . . . and that’s when I kinda sorta got stuck.
“Just keep going . . . or turn around to face forward first — How you got turned the opposite direction is beyond me — just keep going!” I think Andy thought he was helping — yelling aloud his confusions as if they were words of encouragement, but I knew I was alone . . . on a sharp, jutting rock . . . surrounded by water that was rushing by much faster than it appeared earlier.
I admit, it is around here my memory becomes a bit unclear — I know at one crossing I squatted on the top of some tiny, pointy rock — in the middle of the river and in the middle of walking across — to take off my boots and socks. Possibly this was the time but what I remember most was my rock-slip and, therefore, tumble into the water.
Getting wet comes with hiking some days though and this was definitely one of those days so onward we continued, closer to the falls.
Because Andy was essentially soaked below his waist, when we made it back to that glowing green pool, he made a bold statement: He wanted to embrace all life offered us on this hike by jumping off the rocks and into the water . . . the very cold water because keep in mind, we were only a few days into spring.