Dan and Hannah Hike the Raven Cliffs Trail in Georgia after a Storm

While it’s another morning with rain in the American South, we continue to lead a charmed hiking life.  For the last two days of our late April hiking trip, it rains early, stops midday so we can hike, and then between 4 and 5P the heavens unload while we are safely under cover.

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Raven Cliffs is to the north of Gainesville, Georgia

Hoping to continue our hot streak, we wake at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Dalton, Georgia (just south of Chattanooga) to light rain.  Our plan is to hike the Emery Creek Falls Trail some 20 miles to the east, but there is a major red flag – the trail has 21 stream crossings.  With our hike on the inundated trail at the Walls of Jericho in northern Alabama still fresh in our minds, Hannah and I both want no part of soggy socks, soaked shoes, or wearing our heat-inducing ponchos on this six-mile trail.

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Dodds Creek on the Raven Cliffs Trail

Dismissing the Emery Creek Falls Trail, we choose to drive two hours to the east near Cleveland, GA, where we will be staying with friends for the next three nights, to hike the Raven Cliffs Trail.  It’s a trail we hiked just seven months ago during the height of the drought when no water flowed in Dodd’s Creek and barely a trickle fell from the falls.  Today should be spectacularly different.  Click here for the blog of our last hike at Raven Cliffs.

After two hours of driving the country roads of northern Georgia, we cross the Appalachian Trail on route 75 south and pull into the parking lot to stretch our legs.  Seeing a couple our age with full packs, we learn that they were thru-hikers in 2015 (i.e. they hiked the 2180 mile AT from Maine to Georgia).  As they prepare to head out, I catch their attention and ask what’s ahead for them.

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Appalachian Trail

Mango, (trail name) the older gent, says its more of the same.  A trail with trees.  Not in any sort of self-pitying way, just realistic about the tedium that can be the AT.  His wife, trail name Sunrise (she gets up early to capture pictures of the, you guessed it, sunrise) smiles and says,  not bragging at all, we are hiking the 150 miles to Hot Springs, North Carolina.  That’s about 144 more miles than Hannah and I would ever hike on the AT at any one time.  They mention dealing with the nasty storms two nights ago; from the same system that nearly caused us to go into the tornado storm shelter in northern Alabama.  I never did get to ask why they hike the AT.  There are obvious facts: the hiking in rain, the eating of freeze-dried everything, the hard ground, the snoring of other hikers in the shelters, the mice scurrying over sleeping bags.   It’s clear that I just don’t have the “want to” to be a thru-hiker.  And, let’s be real – I’m soft.

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On the Raven Cliffs Trail

Minutes later, we arrive at the Raven Cliffs Trailhead to sunshine peeking through the clouds.  Though we’ll have no rain today as we hike in the mid-60s, heavy rain is in the forecast once we are done hiking.

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Dodds Creek with Hannah on the trail (upper right)

Though we learn the trail has 687’ of elevation gain to a trio of waterfalls, it doesn’t have the feel of a climb at all over its two and a half miles.  Due to the days of rain, the trail is still just moist, with minor pooling in places.  Fact is, it’s a delightful, mellow walk in the woods as spring has just begin to leaf out in northern Georgia.

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Hiking the entire way along Dodd’s Creek, we have a good workout as we have the music of the stream’s symphony to our left; something we didn’t have this past October.

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Lower falls from the trail

After an hour of easy hiking, we arrive at the end of the trail.  The middle falls is accessible and has the up-close feel of tumbling white water.  The lower falls is difficult to see as we can only peer at it from the distance or stand at its headwaters.  The upper falls has crashing white water, but it is tucked within the mountain and barely visible.

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Hannah at the middle falls

Turning and heading for the trailhead, Hannah and I cover a random selection of topics – friendships, travel, and how fortunate we are.  It’s similar to the scattered thoughts that come into our heads when we meditate.

One conversation is about our friend Brenda planning to write her story in retirement.  I’ve given her my two cents, make that five cents worth (five thoughts) for beginning writers.  And I share them with you now.

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One, focus on quantity over quality in the drafting stage.  Your writing does not need to be perfect right off the bat.  Write and write some more.  Play with words.  Try out different words, phrases, whole paragraphs.  The fine tuning that comes with revising happens later, and is truly one of the great joys for me as a writer.

Two, always keep the pen or computer keys moving.  Don’t let the internal critic overrule what the creative spirit has to explore.

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Three, writing is about discovering what you want to say.  You don’t need a plan nor an outline.  Write and learn what is in your heart.

Four, read your drafts out loud to see how they flow and whether they catch the rhythm you’d like.

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(diffident means modest or shy because of a lack of self-confidence)

Five, as a beginner, find encouraging people to read or listen to your writing.   Have them do two things: one, tell you what they specifically like and two, where they would like to know more.   Many of us have had well-intentioned teachers who thought critiquing our writing was most helpful.  It’s not.  It can kill the spirit of the novice writer.  Many of us can be quick to believe we are not very good writers.  We are fed by encouragement.  Agatha Christie in the panel to the left nails it.

With five miles of hiking in the books, we are off to our friend Laurie Lee’s place near Yonah Mountain.  She is the pickleball ambassador for the local club who last October welcomed us with open arms and a warm heart.   We are back in northern Georgia seven months later, in large part, thanks to her love and attention.

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Pickleballers, Laurie and Hannah

Amazingly, we learn over dinner that she was born in the same era and in the same hospital that Hannah was – Strong Memorial in Rochester, NY.  This Georgia girl!  Now we take the leap and wonder could Hannah’s dad, Dr. Kraai have delivered her in the 1950s?  He did deliver 5000 babies as a general practitioner.

Laurie will check her safety deposit box for the paperwork around her birth to see if there is any indication of who delivered her!

Stay tuned.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Raven Cliff Falls in northern Georgia

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Hannah on the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Court

Here’s a riddle for you.  What’s the best way to prepare for three hours of hiking in the Georgia woods?  Damn, you’re on to my trick question.  There’s no best way.  Each hiker and hike is different.  But did Hannah and I ever get our prep right today!

First, we warm up with a couple hours of early morning pickleball with our amigos and amigas at the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Club.   Then, we fuel up with a big breakfast at the Huddle House in Cleveland, Georgia, thanks to an invitation from three of our sister and brother pickleballers.

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Yonah Mountain Pickleball Players, Linda, Laurie, and Paul with Hannah and Dan

Today, we have set the bar really low to see actual water coming from the head of the waterfalls at Raven Cliff Falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains this first week of October.   You see, four days ago, in Laurel Falls 120 miles to the northwest in eastern Tennessee, we hiked along a mostly dry riverbed to what is usually an 80’ falls; not a trickle fell that day.

The Southeast as well as we in the Northeast and those of you in California and, well, most of the Sahara and Serengeti, are suffering through some serious drought at this time. Click here for the link to the Laurel Falls blog.

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Amped after pickleball and breakfast togetherness, we head a mere seven miles out of Bavarian-themed Helen, GA along the small rural road of route 17/75 to an even smaller alternate 75, to finally the curvy mountain road of route 348 to the trailhead.  Easy to find, the trail is one of many in the area for which we get excellent directions and maps at the Helen Welcome/Visitor Center in town.

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When we ask the local pickleball/hikers what’s your favorite waterfall hike in the area, the unanimous answer is the five-mile roundtrip to Raven Cliff Falls.

Upon arrival at the Raven Cliff Falls Trail, we enter the forest path that parallels Dodd Creek for the next two miles.  Bubbling and gurgling, and dare I say flowing, Dodd Creek is a welcome lift to our spirits that, maybe, just maybe, waterfalls await.

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The trail along Dodd Creek begins

On this riverside trail into the Wildlife Management Area of White County, we gently rise in elevation towards the waterfalls.  Fact is, it feels like we are on level ground most of the way.  As a popular trail,we have many fellow hikers on this Thursday afternoon in the upper 70s.

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A couple from Wisconsin snap our trailside picture

With spectacularmini-waterfalls and cascades along much of the waterway, we hike under the forest canopy with blue sky above, while below us, swimming holes dot Dodd Creek.  The sun-dappled trail is a delight for us hikers, but makes it tough getting the lighting right for us modestly-skilled photographers.

After an hour of an easy going trail of dirt with few rocks, we arrive at the fortress wall of Raven Cliffs.  Tucked in a mountain granite fracture, the Raven Falls are so dark that it is nearly impossible to get a clear picture in this cavern-like setting.  Deciding not to climb further to the head of the falls, which is very rocky, very rooted, and quite vertical, we have the glamour and glory of the falls with its tumbling water here at the base.

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Dan and Han at the modest middle falls

At the middle of the three destination falls, there are hikers of all abilities loving life and picnicking.  The fact is the drought of 2016 has taken its toll on these falls as well.  Though there’s just enough water to splash over our hiking boots, we find that the tranquility of the forest makes up for the lack of waterfallian drama.

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Our best falls along Dodd Creek

Heading back to the trailhead an hour way, it seems Dodd Creek itself is where the action is.  With rivulets coming down the mountain, the main river has more splashing and sparkling water than the falls itself.  Hiking down to the river, we get our best waterfalls picture of the day and, in fact, on our entire weeklong Tennessee/North Carolina/Georgia hiking adventure.

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Dodd Creek in the fall.  Can’t wait to see it in the spring!

No doubt, we’ll come back in the spring when Dodd Creek roars and Raven Cliff Falls thunders; for that coincides with our return to the South after a winter in New England to play with our Yonah Mountain pickleball family.