Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Most Eventful Trip

A story from a journal of mine talking about a most eventful trip to the Copperas Falls in the Red River Gorge, over seven years ago. This is was the day where we took the picture of my wife standing beside the frozen heap of ice, posted on an earlier blog entry about these same falls. 


January 10, 2010

A friend of mine took me and my wife to a hidden waterfall. It was up in the Copperas Creek area, a place we had been before looking for arches. That was over five years ago and from the time we left that day, all I wanted to do was bring someone else back there and show them.

This time we were back with a close friend of ours, Pastor Tim. Like so many great stories we all know, our final destination wasn’t where we started out but just sort of where we all ended up.

Tim was the pastor of our church, and over ten years ago presided over our wedding. It was a Sunday morning and he was supposed to be in Africa, visiting a church there. But because of some civil unrest, the state department had issued warnings about traveling and so he was forced to cancel at the last minute. Nonetheless, he had the first Sunday off in his recent memory and suddenly he had no plans.

When we talked, he said another pastor was covering the Sunday service and he wanted to see this Gorge area I had been telling him so much about. I was all too eager to oblige.

We had been speaking more and more about hiking lately and had even made a trip out in the snow the week earlier. It was the first real hiking trip we had been on together.

The scenery had been beautiful, with open and empty surroundings. We even saw a bald eagle, the first I had ever seen in the wild.

We were pretty geared up to go, and the three of us met up before light yesterday and started down the road. We stopped once at a gas station and motored on to the Gorge. We arrived by eight o’clock.
Tim was immediately taken by the difference in the landscape.

We changed in the parking lot and started up the hill towards our destination. Through some twists and turns, we ended up making it to one arch and one waterfall. But as they so often say, it was the journey…

Getting to the first arch was not a simple thing. I’m certain there is a direct route we could have taken, but just as certain that I rarely take it. My wife has come to accept this from me and Tim was merely an innocent bystander. I led us up onto a ridge, which we followed for close to an hour.

Again, this a practice that I love to do. The first time I go somewhere, we take the main path until we get there. Then I will mark the location on my GPS and when we go back to that spot, we will come in from a new route. We just use the GPS to give us a direction, but we must find the path. Ridges are a fun part of this equation. I firmly believe, if one is patient enough, then all ridges will eventually reveal a safe way down.

So Copperas Creek runs through the middle of a valley with high ridges on both sides. I chose the right ridge and we climbed up onto as soon as we got in the woods. My plan was to follow it as far as we could, then find an easy way down into the bottom.

At one point, several ridges joined together and we took the farthest on the left. The valley we wanted was on the left below us, so we wanted to keep it in sight.

It rained a little as we walked. There was still a lot of snow left over from the storms earlier in the week, and the ground around was spotted white in places like the inside of a snow globe that hadn’t recently been shaken up.

As we stopped for water, I checked the map and compass. I could still see the valley well, and I could see the opposite ridge. We had to find a way down into the valley to find the waterfall, then my plan was to find a way up the opposite side where we would join up with the Osborne Bend trail.

But that all starts with finding a way down. Again, I firmly believe that there is always a way down, but sometimes it is easier to find than others.

Our first attempt ended at a cliff, probably over 100 feet in the air. We had to backtrack out through the rhododendron to the top of the hill and continue on our search for the next prospective route. After a short walk on down the ridge, I found what looked like a perfect way down. It was gentle for the first little bit, and it was obvious we had come down some from the first ridge we were on. The trail passed through a slim gap between two rocks the size of dump trucks. I was standing up on the side of the hill and couldn’t see where the trail went after going between the rocks.

Since it dropped out of sight, I presumed it steepened but when I eased down to take a look, I realized we were again at a cliff. This one was about 30-40 feet high. Although this wouldn’t work, I walked to the edge to see if I could use this viewpoint to spot another way down.

I heard my wife casually talking with Tim. The topic of their conversation never registered to me, but I tensed up when I heard a thump above me. The ground was wet, and hillside was on a heavy slope. Her feet had slid out from under her and in an attempt to right herself, she had overcorrected to the point of heading downhill headfirst.

It happened in less than a second, but as I turned my head I caught a glimpse of her shooting down the path toward me. She was grabbing wildly but was unable find any purchase. With no time to maneuver or even turn around, I grabbed a root protruding from the right rock face then pressed against the other side, wedging myself in to absorb the hit.

As I looked down at my feet, I stood no more than two feet from the edge.

For a reason I could never recall, my eyes stayed glued to my feet through the whole ordeal.
When she hit into me, the root I was holding broke. I put my hand against the rock and pressed out on both sides. I dug my heels in, and we slid to a stop within inches of the edge. For a brief flash, I envisioned us tumbling together to the rocky landing area below.

Simplified: I thought we were going over the edge.

The fall might not have killed us, but there would have been injuries that made getting out a life-harrowing event. After we gathered ourselves emotionally, we yelled for Tim. He would tell me later that he thought we were kidding with him.

He came down to look at our position. His immediate desire was to come down and grab us, but we agreed that we needed to resist that urge. The ground there were still very slick and steep.

I told him to anchor in somewhere. I try to see if I could grab my wife and push her back up, but when I moved my feet started sliding closer to the edge. She was still pinned behind me, in a head-first position, with nothing to grab onto. Unable to assist, she was dead weight to lift.

Finally, I freed a rope from my bag. With great caution, I tied it around my torso and threw it over my head. After a couple of tries, Tim got it.

He wrapped it around him and we tested to make sure I was secure. I then was able to turn around and start pushing her back up the incline.

After five minutes, she was able to grab Tim’s hand and he pulled her up. Then I was hoisted up.

As I crested the hill, I collapsed exhausted onto the forest floor. At that point, Tim said, “Look.” When I lifted my head, he had a phone in his hand and snapped a picture. The tension broke and we all shared in a nervous, yet genuine, laugh.

The rest of the day was stocked with talk of the scene at the ledge, and the slow reality setting in left my wife quiet for most of it.

When we made it to the waterfall, we were surprised to see that the cold weather had formed what looked like an ice volcano at the base. Water still poured over the edge and down inside, but the stack of ice had built up three stories high. A fog settled into the depression and Tim noted that it looked like we were on another planet.

We took the easy route out, and exhaustion grew with every wet and heavy boot step.

The near-life experience continued to be the talking point, but on the ride home Tim stated that the frozen waterfall was something he would never forget.


None of us ever will.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wildflowers

There are several memories that stick out in my mind when spring comes around. I can remember many mornings when I was in school, following my father around the yard. He was dressed in steel-toed boots and company blue work clothes, sipping coffee and shuffling around through the dew-laden grass. He would stop every few feet and point to some flower that was blooming. It was, and still is, a favorite hobby of his. He loves to garden, whether for vegetables or flowers.

Maybe I didn’t come away with a thumb as green as my father’s, but I’ve definitely learned to appreciate anything that comes from the Earth. I think it tells us a great deal about ourselves, our world, and what lessons we can learn from this humble bounty.

For that reason, the wildflower is my flower of choice. It’s my favorite, always has been and always will be.

They edge the fields and trails. They color the base of the mountain. They outline the creeks and meadows.

In the wildest of places, they grow. That is why I admire them so much.

As opposed to what we manicure and coddle in the flower beds around our house, these flowers grow on their own.

They don’t get fertilized, no one tests their soil. Some years they get too much rain, some years they get none. All the harshness that Mother Nature can cast down on them – be it wind, rain, drought, etc. – must be endured.

They weren’t raised with a mission. They weren’t cross-pollenated or planted with a flower of compatible color. They were placed to highlight a feature.

They just grow.

On the least little edge of a cliff, they grow. In the middle of a desert, they grow. In the cold barren tundra, they grow.

It can be dry for months and then rain once. And they’ll bloom.

The dirt can be frozen for weeks, and then the sun peaks through for a day or two. And they’ll bloom.

Unharnessed.

Wild.

Free.

And beautiful.


That’s their mission.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Spring? Are you here?

Seems like there is always that one weekend in the fall where it rains and make the forest floor wet. And it seems like it really stays damp for the next five months. I always noticed it. Then there always seems to be that one day in the spring where the sun peaks through and the warm air swells, getting your hopes up about the coming change.

Deep down, you know you aren’t done with the cold just yet. But for some reason you can’t keep the hope from rising. That’s the wonderful power of Spring and its accompanying theme of renewal. It’s the metaphor of life, and it is beyond suppression.

I had just such reflections a couple of years ago, sitting around an early spring campsite:

Darkness ambled its way over the hilltops and into the deep valleys, vanquishing the day’s bold temperatures as only the cold of a spring night can. The same woods that burst with sound and life during the day, drift off early to bed. The quiet of the night is thick and it quickly envelops the field where we camp. If the spring’s days are being wooed by the coming summer, then its nights still reside firmly in winter’s possession.

The cold that accompanies the dark seems to sting more as well, as if the warm sun with its brief daytime reprieve has charmed the body into dropping its natural defenses. To fight back against the chill, we huddle around a tight circle of ten stones surrounding our bright glowing blaze.

And nothing draws a crowd like a fire.

We sit around it as groups have for thousands of years, enamored by the simplicity and the mysterious contrast it offers up to the night sky. Maybe a few things are different. Technology and different clothes, different hairstyles. But as a people, we haven't changed much.

Just a week or so ago, we had that day. The day where it was warm and bright. Where the shadows were crisp and defined by strong light, a welcome change from the dreariness of the preceding months.

And then hope came.

Of longer days.

Of wild flowers.

Of forest paths once more first and dry.

But I promise myself I won’t be duped again. I remind myself that the cold isn’t completely gone. That’s winter grip, the hardest to break, is still clutching the evening and nights. I know I have before, but this year I won’t allow hope to pull the wool over my eyes.

And then as the cardinal taps at my morning window, I wonder out loud if that is true.  

-JW