Sleeping in at Brenda’s home near Huntsville, Alabama, we wake to her bustling in the kitchen, preparing a down home southern country breakfast for her Yankee visitors. Having seen the Facebook pictures of Hannah making biscuits with our grandson Owen in California, she asks Hannah to team up to bake these primo biscuits this morning.
Over breakfast, while we feast on her Sweet Home, Alabama scrambled eggs, biscuits, coffee, and hash brown casserole, I think back on the sequence of events that improbably brought us to Brenda’s place.
Eighteen months ago, we came to Georgia to hike the Appalachian Trail, our last of 14 AT hikes. Loving our Georgia hike at Springer Mountain, the Southern terminus of the AT, we also explored the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. Sold on hiking in the American South, we vowed to return to its warmth the following October.
And that we did, hiking again in the Great Smoky Mountains, and then traveling south in North Carolina to hike the AT near Fontana Dam. There we came upon two hiking boots filled with beautiful pebbles, a living memorial to Brenda’s husband James who had passed on from cancer. She encouraged hikers to take a pebble and carry it for James who never got to hike the whole AT.
Taking two, we emailed Brenda, sent a picture of us on the AT, and became North/South email buddies. Graciously, she invited us to her place when we next came south. This April we return and begin an in-person Alabama friendship with Brenda. Click here for the Brenda/Fontana Dam blog.
After breakfast, Brenda shows us the tornado storm shelter in her backyard that we nearly needed during last night’s deluge with tornado warnings. With room for a snug nine folks, Hannah checks out the interior; more than Fenway Park, these truly are the “friendly confines.”
Mist falls throughout the mid-morning, but Hannah and I, ever hopeful, still drive an hour to the Walls of Jericho on the Alabama/Tennessee border, just to the west of Chattanooga, TN. Traveling in the South on Sunday morning, we are amazed how few others are on the road with us; they are all in church.
Heading towards the Alabama trailhead, I drive slowly in fog that engulfs the mountains. With rain forecasted later in the afternoon, we pull on our hiking boots, knowing its going to be one messy trail, given the 3” of rain that fell last night. The online reviews for this trail make it sound like a tough hike; but with a waterfall at the end of the 3.6 miles of hiking, it has Dan and Hannah written all over it.
With gently sloping switchbacks through the new spring green this last week in April, we know that while we will descend over 1000′ to the waterfalls, we also have that same trek back up the mountain when we are most tired.
Meeting up with an older (our age!), athletic hiker dude, we listen as he encourages us to go all the way to the falls themselves (i.e. hiking through a foot, foot and half of raging water). Though he is quite enthusiastic, the thought of climbing over slippery submerged rocks in ice cold water leaves me, well, cold. We smile and nod as we part, but I think there’s no way in hell am I going to do that. Hannah keeps an open mind.
Once at Mill Creek, we walk until we come upon a 50’ log bridge with a railing that allows for an easy crossing. But now in the low areas of the trail, the water begins to pool, including one spot where the water covers a wide stretch of the trail. No fans of hiking with wet socks and soaked shoes, we look for alternatives around the mini-pond. Bushwhacking 30’ down the trail, we plod through the grass using dead branches to step over the soggy spots.
Then, a twenty-something couple, returning from the falls, tells us that we have to hike through the river to the falls themselves. Looking like reasonable human beings, they add 2% to my likelihood of water walking to the falls.
While we hike, Hannah tries out a new trail name for me. Cameo. Since I am the one taking pictures with my iPhone, she is in most of the pictures. Let’s be honest, she is photogenic plus. Occasionally, I do make a “cameo” in one of the pictures when we hike. By the way, trail names are usually given, not self-selected.
Crossing a second log bridge, our mellow hiking is over. Arriving at the vertical Walls of Jericho themselves, we hug the mountainside above the raging “River Runs Through It” torrent for nearly a mile. As you might guess, given her recent fall, Hannah walks close to the mountainside of this cliff trail. She asks me if I wouldn’t walk so near to the edge. Her 25′ fall from the San Ysidro Trail was just two months ago.
After 3.6 miles, the trail ends at the wide part of the raging river with an island beyond and then a narrower shoot of the stream roaring by. Seeing the reality of crossing on slippery submerged smooth stones, Hannah and I quickly agree that we want no part of a river crossing in 6 to 18 inches of water. To what end? We’ve done what we love about hiking – getting lots of exercise in a wilderness setting. Walking through the water to the falls doesn’t change that. And why risk her leg and my iPhone to a watery grave? It’s a “no way Jose” moment for us both. Check out the video of the end of “our” trail.
Anyway, we can return next spring when the conditions may be different. We are told by a fellow hiker that normally you can walk across these river rocks without getting your shoes wet.
With still have 3.6 uphill miles back to our rental car at the trailhead, we hike without an ounce of regret. Light rain filters through forest as we climb back up the mountain and past this mini-falls to the right.
The Walls of Jericho is a tough hike but rewarding indeed. Within ten minutes of getting in the car, it starts to pour. The universe is again smiling down on us.