Monday, February 21, 2011

No Cold Feet on the Emery Creek Trail

Less than a mile down the Emery Creek Trail, Still Waters and I reached the first water crossing.  Another couple was already there, and pointed across the stream to the opposite bank where the trail continued on.  Trails in the Cohuttas lack bridges, and this so-called stream was nearly the size of a river, with high water cascading around big boulders.  We scrambled up and down the bank, but couldn't find any places to rock hop across.  I hesitated.  This was way more than I'd planned for, and I didn't have water shoes or even my crocs.  This was our Plan B hike; we couldn't get to another trailhead since a road we thought would be open had been closed.  What should we do?  I had spent a lifetime sticking to the basic hiking rule to keep your feet dry.  I was scared of blisters and cold feet, and I couldn't imagine hiking the entire day with wet boots.  The guidebook said the trail had a dozen water crossing, but that up ahead were waterfalls.  We decided to go for it!

It was only the first step that was really difficult, and after that, there was a sense of freedom.  Plunging into the stream, the water instantly soaked boots and socks.  From the bank the water had looked fast and deep.  I cruised across with my (freakishly) long legs- the water seemed only ankle-deep.  On the far bank after that first crossing, I threw off my pack and did jumping jacks to get warm quickly.  Excess water sloshed out the sides of my non-gortex boots.   Adrenaline flowing, heart pumping, I giggling with delight.  So far, so good!  I turned around and saw that Still Waters was up to her knees in the very same water, and the tops of her shorts were wet!  As usual, she took it all in stride.
On the deepest crossing, the water comes up to Still Water's knees.
By the next stream crossing, I barely hesitated before splashing into the water, not without whooping at the cold, though.  But by the third crossing, stepping into the water was just another part of hiking to accept rather than fear.  The myth in our culture is that things should be comfortable all the time.   It made me remember that (in hiking and in life), if I can accept some discomfort, rather than do everything to avoid it, that I will be able to move forward, and actually be happier overall, discovering all the things that open up as a result. 
The crossings get easier.

No longer filled with worry over freezing, I soaked in the beauty of the clear rushing water and the lush green of the hemlock boughs sparkling in the sunlight.  The trail stretched out before us. 

The rewards for wet feet were solitude, and after a few miles and countless watercrossings, a series of high and rugged waterfalls.  Still Waters found a perch for us to have lunch right at the top of one waterfalls but at the base of another falls.

Airing out my feet during lunch on top of the falls.

Lower falls of Emery Creek.
So few people had been down the trail past the upper falls, that the trail was often very faint and difficult to follow.  Persistence and a climb through a remote section of forest yielded another small falls, and winter views of Fort Mountain and the surrounding ranges.   

If the day had been any colder or if I hadn't worn warm wool socks and my comfy boots that don't give me blisters, I don't know if this experiment in hiking in wet boots would have been so successful.  But I was really glad I had my regular hiking boots for those crossings because they offered more stability on the rocks and especially on the other parts of the trail, and they kept my feet warmer than sandals.  I was glad to have taken the chance this time.

Very faint trail.
So little traffic, the moss is lush on the trail.

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