Tuesday, January 21, 2014
"May This Be Love (Waterfall)" Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix pretty much summed up everything important about how water going off a rocky cliff is the answer to all things in "May This Be Love," when he sang: "Waterfall, nothing can harm me at all, My worries seem so very small with my waterfall. I can see my rainbow calling me through the misty breeze of my waterfall. Some people say day-dreaming's for the lazy minded fools with nothing else to do. So let them laugh, laugh at me, so just as long as I have you to see me through, I have nothing to lose 'long as I have you."
And I really do have my piece of mind and place in the world while I am visiting these waterfalls, and so I proceed to go up there again and again. Sometimes, I am alone. On other trips, I am with my dad, my friend P, or my other friend J. I invite anyone I can think to invite, but only a few people are willing to accept the challenge and the opportunity to see what it is that we will see. They just don’t get it, but that’s OK; I can be the solitary man. I don’t need people around me to have a good time. In many cases, I’m happier just to be by myself, it’s just that sometimes I’m not.
That presents a problem.
Every time that I go there is something different. Sometimes, it is the vibrant greens of spring. Other times, it is the seasoned greens of summer. In still other circumstances, it is the browns and yellows of an autumn slowly dying into fall. Nevertheless, I never seem to make the northern Pennsylvania color line in time to see reds and oranges, if these colors really exist in the Waterfall Kingdom. I tell myself that they are there, but I’m always a week or so late for the hurrah of fall.
Someday, I tell myself. Someday.
Every time that I go there for the next two years, I am analyzing the Huron steps from the bottom. I conclude that now I know what I need to get up these steps. I plan my attack accordingly and stare at pictures of the two staircases that I will ascend, and though it seems like its light years since I’ve been there in the snow and ice, time moves, and I am there again, trudging through the snow and ice, moving forward and ready to try my luck at those stairs again. Each time, I get close and start to think it will happen, just like reaching into the prize pit with the giant arm. And each time I fail, just like watching the prize fall from the ascending arm that nestles safely back into its place without my just reward.
It is a cruel joke, but still, I try again.
This time, I have changed my equipment. Now, I have winter snow boots on. They are pretty much moon boots for adults. The bottom part is solid enough, but the upper part is canvas with a tie around the top to prevent snow from getting in. They work nicely in most respects when it comes to shoveling snow or walking around my neighborhood. I seem to believe that they will work at Ricketts Glen, too. If nothing else, I won’t be getting snow in my boots like last time.
I haven’t broken down to buy crampons (yet), and even if I did, they wouldn’t work with my moon boots. I also don’t have an ice axe, but I am definitely dressed warmer, and I am knowledgeable on what I’m going to see and how I’m going to see it, even if I’m coming in from the bottom this time. In this, there are things that I know and things that I don’t know. Thus, I am ready for what awaits me at Ricketts Glen in early December of 2005.
At least I think that I am.
The drive up is always filled with the same feverish anticipation. The music fills my truck, and I am alive with the energy of what hiking means to me. Even though there is this anticipation, the drive there always moves quickly. It’s the exhaustion of the after-hike that makes me tired and makes for a long drive. I try to sing along and move my legs repeatedly to avoid gimping up, but it doesn’t do much other than to remind me how tired I am.
Nevertheless, it’s a punishment I will endure for the reward I receive is far greater than any punishment that the 7.2 mile balloon trail will inflict upon me.
When I arrive at Ricketts in the winter of 2005, I pull into the alternate Route 118 parking lot and gather my backpack and necessities. With one last check to make sure that I have everything and haven’t done something stupid like lock my keys in my truck, I pause before I hike past the bright yellow police tape and warning to the Old Bulldozer Road trail and wind into the regular trail a little ways up. There are a fair bit of tracks from people having been there for this time of year, and I am definitely wary of how I want to approach this bottom trail entrance. Through it all, being a solitary guy, I don’t really contemplate the whole falling into the creek and turning into a popsicle thing despite my being a solo hiker. With being 34 years old, I don’t really feel a true connection to some imminent death that might befall me, though I can honestly say that I don’t wish for such a thing to happen to me. I am as indestructible as ever in the knowledge that I have many miles to go before I sleep.
Eventually, after lugging my creaky legs along the trail, up and down the paths, I arrive at Murray Reynolds and marvel at it from the perch on the ledge above where the upper / lower creek trails meet. It is still the same hammer thrust as it is in the spring, summer, and fall; only now, the sides of the waterfall are filled with ice. In fact, if I wanted to, I could slide down it and skid toward the ice on the creek if I had a death wish, but alas, I don’t, so I just proceed to hike around it and head up the stream toward the next beautiful sight, which isn’t too far away.
And there I am at Sheldon Reynolds, the second falls with its straight drop from the top to a collecting plate almost all of the way down. The water is still flowing, sort of, and it falls out from the plate to the stream below. However, was I not to know that there was a ledge, I would think that the whole waterfall was just a frozen straight drop with a pile of ice formed up in the pitch pool. From the ledge, there are curved piles of ice that push out toward the sides of the waterfall. These are fairly common in the winter. In fact, on the sides of every waterfall, there are rows and rows of icicles that look like a skeleton’s ribs. For as eerie as it could look, it is actually a gorgeous expression of Nature’s ability to sculpt statues and paint the valleys in the purest and most delicate form of art imaginable.
While gazing upon these things, I start thinking about how I "know better" than to walk the thin ledges. I am afraid of heights to begin with, which is not a good trait for a waterfall explorer to have, and I am not going to risk anything here. My fear of the sides of bridges and balconies and all other things that drop to the ground from way up have taught me well, so instead of going through the trail, I go up and over. I see a little bit of this waterfall and the next waterfall, Harrison Wright, from up above and I stomp through snow-covered, leaf-filled holes that pockmark the steep incline that I walk along. Eventually, I find a safe place to come down and look at Harrison Wright through my glasses, which are rapidly fogging up from my breath. I take them off, and I snap images to preserve forever with my trusty camera.
From here, I re-ascend the mountain to go up and over again to the place called Waters Meet. The streams are chugging down the mountain, still loud despite the snow and ice forming everywhere they go. The waters are still strong and present, but now, they are decorating Glen Leigh and Ganoga Glen with their solid forms. I pause and reflect on everything as the wind and cold no longer faze me. Instead, I am alive in the mountain, and all is holy.
After a long break, I decide that the best way to go is straight for the Huron Falls. This means that I will get to view B Reynolds, RB Ricketts, and the Ozone waterfalls before I get to the Promised Land: the Huron Falls.
The trail to the Huron Falls isn’t that long. Along it, there are lots of falls. B Reynolds has a protruding ledge that creates the main fall, but it also slides and drops forty-feet down to the Wyandott’s 15 foot drop. In all seasons, it’s clear to see that both of them are beautiful in their own way. However, the image that is seen in summer is different in winter. Now, it’s just a blob of ice that slides here and there. The area behind the waterfall is still sort of visible. If you were there, you could walk up behind some of it as there is a safe rocky ledge out to the biggest blob of ice that stands where there should be a roaring stream.
The Wyandott is mostly logs and branches and rocks around a cave area of ice. This ice forms a tiny little prison cell behind it. It’s not as pronounced as the one behind B Reynolds, but if a hiker who encountered it looked closely, this person would see that it was there. It is miniature compared to other falls, but that doesn’t negate it. Instead, it forces the person looking at it to see more of what it can offer.
I can remember areas like this from when I was that kid that went with my parents and my sister on that snowmobile trip. I think of that "Tioga Ice Cave" and realize that this is the forgotten genesis of many of these Ricketts Glen and Ohiopyle pictures. It is an old and grainy image, very lost and faded in its 1980s color, but the ice wall and those icicles that decorate the stream are still there. This place is still as alive as it was on that day almost thirty years ago.
And with that, I begin to reflect on how I have seen so much, and yet, I am still seeing so much more. Nevertheless, there are still many additional sights to see. Let me see them all! Let me have this and that and every possible experience. Let me break free from the chains that keep me imprisoned to a job where I stare at a computer all day and wonder how I will pretend to do work when there is none to do at this temporary hell job that I have chained myself to. Surely, someone has to have something for me to do so that I can pass the time instead of just staring at a screen while shuffling papers.
But no one at my job does, and the boredom is killing me. It is making me act decisively to get me out of here by any means necessary. Nevertheless, while I am stuck there, it is all about waiting impatiently to get to beautiful places like the one that I am at now. There is not much else going on. I teach by day and by night, any time and any class that I can get so that I can keep teaching and keep making enough money to pay the bills and to feed myself. I am doing what I have to do, but I’m not satisfied with who or what I am.
In my shy awkwardness, I try to talk to the people that work around me, but they just don’t get this "tree-hugging" need that I have to go hiking or who I am and what I care about or anything other than their weekly soccer games and talking about being a Republican from the perspective that liberals are just "assholes" that should vanish from the universe. There may be some truth to some of what they say with their reasons why, but there is no rationalization or a better solution in comparison to the ideas that they hate. It is simply that liberals and Democrats suck and Republicans are always right, even when they aren’t (that said, the same argument can be stated by other people by exchanging Democrats for Republicans and vice versa in what I just wrote).
The people from India who are currently assigned to the workplace pretend to listen while they are being trained to take the jobs of people who are forced to teach them the skills that used to pay American bills. Soon, the deed will be done, and they will take the jobs back home to Bangalore or some other large metropolitan area where they will be considered highly-desirable jobs. I get why they would want them, but I wish their victory wouldn’t be at America’s expense. Like many of my fellow citizens, I care about this, and I don’t because this downsizing and outsourcing isn’t happening to me. I am moving onto a job that will stay in America (because there’s nowhere else it can go), and sadly, I’ve learned that it might sound selfish, but my only real concern is for me. For this, there is a full-time job waiting for me. I will take care of people with behavioral disorders, and here, here in this mountain valley that I am hiking through today, I know that this could be the answer to the endless searching I feel like I have been going through. And with that, I know the end of my year and a half in this predicament is near. I will be moving on in a few short weeks (as it turns out, it is a temporary solution), but at this moment that I am in now, I can’t wait to get there and to be someone other than who I am here! New beginnings are good! New experiences can be wonderful! Let the good things come soon as they are coming to me now in the frozen valley of the Waterfall Kingdom!
And with these thoughts, I continue to move on toward RB Ricketts. It is another drop and drop. It’s wider on the top than Sheldon Reynolds. In spring, it looks incredible as the waterfalls come out from the sides of the mountain around it. In the warm seasons, the water seems to be endlessly showering the hollowed out area from all directions. In autumn, there are days where it looks completely dried up and dull other than how it was carved out by centuries and centuries of erosion. However, in winter, it is all just frozen piles of ice.
The sixty-foot Ozone is another waterfall that looks great in season. The thin spigot at the top sprays waters everywhere below it. It opens up like a high-pressure showerhead and stands majestically against the valley in divides. Nevertheless, here, in the winter, it is just levels and levels of ice that have been built up on the rocks as the water is slowed down to a tiny path. Still, the falls are beautiful, but they are not my final destination. That place is up ahead, and as I walk through the paths that climb up over steps and around bends, I am soon there, and I am face to face with THE MOMENT. My breathing stops and I contemplate the moment of return.
As I do, I look up at the bottom flight of stairs. I see a similar 45° angle of icy stairs with a layer of snow atop it. This is something I never noticed before, but I am at a different angle to where I was looking down on it before. With my gloved hand, I try to brush the snow off to reveal breakable ice. Instantly, I realize that the snow might be moving, but the ice isn’t budging.
Translation: I AIN’T GOIN’ NOWHERE.
Instead of seeing the thirty-foot icicles, I am reflecting on what it means to be here, stuck at the bottom of my potential climb as I take some self-portraits of my bearded face, snap off a bunch of photographs of the ice on the stairs, and then, I finalize the moment with pictures of the Cave of Ice Cones and all of its delights form an odd angle at the base of the staircases.
I may not have gotten to see it up close and personal, but I am here at Ricketts Glen in the winter again, and it feels good enough to tell me that I will be back, oh yes.
Getting up is the hard part. Getting down is just about not slipping on the ice in the carelessness of exhaustion.
On this walk out of the waterfalls, the sun begins to set and the trail begins to get dark beneath the skeletal branches that hover above me. Thinking internally, I reflect that I should have my head examined to be out here this late in the day, but in the words of Willie, there’s nothing I can do about it now, so I trudge on, more battered and beaten down with each step. The sky is getting darker with each step, and eventually, I realize that I can’t go any further without my flashlight, so I capitulate and give up my quick march so that I can stop and reach in my bag for my Mini-Mag flashlight, which will light the way through the trail to the car.
It works, and while it might not be as beautiful as the moon and starlight creating a glistening sensation on the whiteness of the snow and ice, it’s all about getting out intact.
To this, 98.6° is everything.
Eventually, I am at the car, standing there with my heart raging from the exertion. It feels good, but the sweat that my rapidly beating heart pushed out of my flesh is now freezing against my chest. While weight loss is good for the overweight people of the world (like me!), this freezing feeling is not appealing to me as I am no longer feeling like the inferno that I was when my engine was truly roaring to get up the mountain. As a result, I strip down to my bare chest and underwear to get out of my wet clothes and put on dry ones as my truck warms up for the ride back home. I don’t care who sees me. It’s more important to be dry than it is to be worried about being discrete. Besides, it’s dark here at the side of the car, and nobody else is stupid enough to be hiking in the mountain today. In fact, for the cars that were and weren’t here, I don’t see anyone all day. In this, it’s nice to be alone unless you need to be rescued or unless you want to share the moment with someone else. I don’t need either, so life is just fine.
Nevertheless, for as tired as I am while discarding thermal underwear, long and short sleeved shirts, lined-running pants, and multiple pairs of socks, I make light work of the situation and get going back to Reading, Pennsylvania. My memories and the music in the cab of my car carry me into the starry night, and life is good.
This is how it should be.
Drifting beyond the music, I think about how each waterfall along the right hand side of the trail is more beautiful than the next. I think about the pictures that I have taken and wonder how they will turn out both in color and in black and white. These will be my proof that I was here. And once again, they will mean more to me than they will for other people. Nevertheless, I will post them online in a photo website that I have created so that I can hopefully reach a kindred soul who might want to come along on a hike to see them with me.
Unfortunately, if that person sees my pictures, he or she never contacts me. The truth is still all too real; in my life as I was on this day, I am all alone. This is not fine.
Inside my head, I lie to myself about how it doesn’t matter if I don’t have a companion; I will always have Ricketts Glen. However, sometimes, waterfalls make poor substitutes for the love and belonging that I am missing in the arms of a woman who can look in my eyes and tell me that everything is going to be all right.
Seven years after I took the first winter pictures, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of these early pictures still floating around, but at the time I took them, I gawked at them for the prizes that they were when they were returned to me from their quick developing at the local Wal-ly World. In compare and contrast mode, they combined nicely with the other waterfalls of Ricketts Glen in the less icy and snowy seasons to add up to the fact that I have now seen eleven of the named waterfalls in the state park. This means that as of 2005, I have now visited half of them, but the other half is still to go. As to when I’ll visit these other waterfalls, it will take a serious snow fall to help decide the answer to that question.
The answer to that next time that I arrive at the park question ends up being 2007.
This time is different because I now have an ice axe for whatever purpose that I will use it for. I’m not quite sure what that purpose is for a general climber, but I like the idea of the ice axe. I get how for seasoned and brave adventurers, that it has a purpose, but I don’t intend to do any waterfall climbing, and I don’t intend to get too close to any edges. I wonder if it’s for arresting my fall if I go over a bank, and I think of how manly that would be to stop a slide with a mighty swing into the earth as I hold onto the axe handle at the throat and slowly use all of my muscles, now dripping with sweat to heave myself back to safety. When I stand at the top again, I will pump my fist with my trusty axe in it and thank e-Bay for providing me with an opportunity to buy this Stubai telescoping-ice axe that has now shown me that I am stronger than this hostile bitch, Mother Nature.
Well, that or I could swing and miss and descend quicker than I could swing again and end up a soaking wet, hypothermic dead man sliding.
Nevertheless, I take the equipment that I have to have in order to keep myself safe. I was a Boy Scout, and this is the part where I show that I am prepared – unlike in the old days.
I now have real deal hunting boots on my feet. They’re not really giving in that they swallow the foot, the ankle, and then some. They don’t allow my foot to move at all, which I guess is how you want it, but I’m a sneaker guy and I really like the idea of my ankle swiveling around a little bit. The only reason I’m not wearing them now is because it makes absolutely no sense to be a sneaker guy in winter. My toes are your typical pale Caucasian colored toes. I don’t want them to be that ghostly shade of blue or white that frostbite causes. Thus, I will do what I have to do for the trails that I will ascend. This is how it is supposed to be.
As far as other preparations go, I have ice cleats for my boots. They fit into the arch of the sole of my Cabela’s boots, and they hold fast with green straps. Actually, when it all comes down to it, they don’t really hold fast with the straps. In fact, they kind of move around a little and they’re always popping off, but they do dig into the ice with short little spikes that poke down about a quarter of an inch. With that, they provide a degree of safety in really nasty places.
Before I drive up to Ricketts Glen, I check to see the winter conditions in Luzerne County. Obviously, we haven’t gotten much snow in Berks County, and none of what we have had has stuck around for the winter. Nevertheless, the information online says there is snow, so I’m ready to go. It’s a long drive to hope for things, but as I approach Route 118 from 42, the mountains come alive with a shining and bright whiteness that sits beneath the barren trees.
Life is good, and I am ready to make it a fantastic day! With that, the final bits of gear goes on, and with me now dressed like an onion, the layers of clothing that I wear do a lot to keep me warm against the Arctic chill of the State Park. Still, I contemplate warmer locales that will make me think less of the snow and ice and cold that make this winter wonderland possible.
Eventually, after a long hike through the initial mile and a half of trail, it is much the same as it was in 2005. I make it to the place where Murray Reynolds announces that I am here. Sheldon Reynolds flows in the background, and I go toward it, but when I arrive there, instead of going up the trail, I go around the steps and back up the mountain to skip the big drop risk at the initial two falls. It just seems safer.
Just like last time, the mountain is not conducive to hiking. It’s filled with potholes and it’s hard to find a flat path over to a place where I can go down to the creek side without having to travel through the narrow passages at the top of Harrison Wright and Sheldon Reynolds, but eventually I do. My ankles are roughed up for this choice, but at least I know that I am safer than if I was trying to do the deep gray ice staircase and ledge paths back to Waters Meet.
A solitary hiker does what a solitary hiker in learning conditions has to do.
When I drop back to the trail, I take a few pictures of Harrison Wright, and then I head back to the close falls that don’t require that much effort to get to nowhere really significant. This time, I choose not to do the Huron Steps because I know that they will be a sliding board, so I give up before I go past B Reynolds and just enjoy my pictures of the Erie on the left hand side, which brings my total of winter waterfalls at Ricketts Glen to twelve. These new falls are big and pretty with a solid forty foot drop to the valley below.
Like Katz in Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, I rationalize that I’ve seen waterfalls before; there is no difference if I see one more (the same way he felt about continuing on through the mountains of northern Maine just to say that he had seen the all great and magnificent Katahdin as something special just because it was bigger and because it was some fixed destination at the end of the final section of the Appalachian Trail). While I’m at Ricketts Glen on this particular day, this all makes sense, but when I return home, I am faced with a need for completion. Back at home, I can and will reflect on how this decision seems to leave a few waterfalls out of the equation, so inevitably, there will have to be a return.
There always is.
A year passes, and with it, there are changes in my life. I have just started to date H, a woman that I met on Match Dot Com, and she has come into my life in a way that looks like it will be more than just a few fleeting dates. Perhaps, she will be the person that all of these other women have never become, and she will be my serious girlfriend who actually wants me to be her forever man. While online wife / job hunting doesn’t guarantee anything, there is a positive feeling about this.
This promise is very appealing, but before it can happen, there are things that must happen. The 2 of us must come to grips with who we are and who we always wanted to be, whether we are in a relationship or not. This is what my dad did when he met my mom. He was a hunter and a fisherman. If she had a problem with that, they weren’t going to work out. Besides, giving things up for a person that we aren’t ready to give up is a sure-fire recipe for divorce. In those days, this fate wasn’t an everyday thing, but it would increase in prevalence in the future. In the now, it’s omnipresent. Knowing what could cause it is essential to keep it from happening.
As in any relationship, there are things that we will compromise on, and there are other things that would be deal breakers if they aren’t accepted. H hasn’t had any problems with any of my things yet, and I haven’t had any problems with her interests yet. This is good, and it’s how it should be if we are getting into relationships. However, sometimes, people will pretend that they don’t care, and then, when the ring goes on, it’s a whole different story. It’s as if wedding rings give permission to permanently change someone to another way of thinking that wasn’t immediately agreed upon, and that really can be a problem.
But here, there were no signs of this.
When H and I were first communicating, I went duck and goose hunting for the first time in years with my dad and his friends. It was a good day despite the freezing rains that were hitting us. I’m not one for sitting still, especially in bad weather, but with being under a solidly-built blind that absorbs the shock of the elements and with a huge flock of snow geese spiraling over the lake and the blind, the morning’s hunting potential sprung to life quickly.
However, if I had it to do again, I would honestly say that the shooting that I wanted to be doing was with my video camera. In looking at it now, I think to myself, "How often do birds fly ten feet over your head as they hit the lake to hang out with their fellow geese only to find out that they’re about to face some serious anti-aircraft fire?"
Apparently not very often, and my dad’s friend threw open the blind as my dad excitedly told me to get the gun and start shooting. I do as I am told, and I point and squeeze, thrusting the pump back and forth with each shot and birds are dropping all over the place. Everyone’s ammunition supply was 10 shots max and that limit was quickly reached as the four of us that were in the blind took out 12 geese and ducks total.
I have no problem shooting ducks or geese. They’re mighty tasty, but my life isn’t defined by having shot something. As a young kid, I shot a deer. I never felt anything remorseful in what I did. Venison is mighty tasty as well. Nevertheless, for as happy as I was to have actually shot a deer, I didn’t feel like I had changed into some Nanook of the North for having done it. My dad being the hunter that he was felt happy for the moment, and I did, too, but it wasn’t something that I really was going to find myself pursuing past my 11th grade year other than on this day and one other day in 1997 that I went with him for geese.
After the day’s hunting adventure, I sent H pictures of our trip. I didn’t really think anything about them being photos of my dad and I holding dead animals at all even though that’s what we were doing. I’m not a hunter in any sense of the word even if I just went hunting and managed to shoot two birds, but really, that was how the picture would portray it.
Nevertheless, for the lifeless waterfowl in the picture, H didn’t seem to mind what I had done, and I never thought about doing it again.
Like many things, it’s just something to do on the day.
Years after the fact, she will joke with me and ask if I was trying to show her that I was a good provider in my ability to go out there and blast a hole in something. I have to laugh because I just did it to do something with my dad that he liked. In hindsight, it made her bosses think more about me because they were big time hunters of anything that was capable of moving in front of them. Be it the mule deer of the West or the white-tailed deer of the East, they were game for going on trips to blast holes in anything whenever possible.
As for me, I was just someone who happened to have a lot of inspirations that were very diverse in what I did and didn’t like, but for whether these things were compatible or not, they made me who I am, and they directed all other interactions and connections for all-time’s sake.
All the same, had H asked me not to go hunting because it offended her, I would probably have contemplated how well we could get along together in light of going to my parents’ house since my dad has many dead fish, deer, birds, and other animals mounted. In fact, there is a huge elk in the living room and a bear skin rug on the one wall. If hunting was going to be a problem, then it would have made the extended relationship with my family a problem, and frankly, that wasn’t something that was going to be able to happen because my parents were looking for my love interest to spend as much time with them as possible (and so was I). However, this situation never happened, so life progressed on toward whatever it was that we were going to become as we got to know each other more and more.
Time went by casually from those early days, and we were opening up to one another. We were expressing who we were, are, and how we wanted to be to one another. Through it all, things seemed good. In this time together, I reflected on the winter waterfalls, and how I wanted to see them again. With this, I told H that now that with the weather being conducive to the hike becoming a possibility, I would be going to see them on my day off from work.
She nodded agreeably, but in reality, she has no comprehension of what going to see winter waterfalls actually means. What person that hasn’t visited winter trails truly knows what he or she will see in these places? Even for a person that has hiked along creeks in the winter, a person who really knows how extreme the hollows of the Glen can get with temperature and ice and all things that would truly be construed as "dangerous," there is what is known and what stands as a wild card / chance kind of thing. In this, the wild card makes can go either way.
Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, there is only contemplation of how beautiful these places can get when their images are brought back in picture form.
Thus, the time is right, and I am going to the Waterfall Kingdom, and that is OK with her. She gives me her blessing and says to be safe as she always does. I say that I will. I always say that I will do my best to be so. With this, I still have permission to be "me."
On the day that I enter into Ricketts Glen in early January of 2008, I have now entered into a completely different realm of who and what I need to be to be if I am going to be a successful waterfall hiker. I have three different trips of experience under my belt.
And I have some new equipment this time, too. Most importantly, I have crampons, but I have never worn them before entering into Ricketts Glen. Their spikes are about a half inch or so, and they look ferocious, so it’s not like I can just walk with them wherever.
Other than that, I have warmer gloves and a thicker hat. In some ways, they both seem to make sense to go with the heavier gear, but in other ways, I’m just replacing a pair of gloves that were separated on my last trip after one of them floated into oblivion as it moved southward from the bridge at B Reynolds after it was accidentally knocked into the water.
With these purchases made and packed, I was ready to go.
Heading up the same roads through Hamburg and Pottsville and Frackville and on up the big mountain that climbs Ashland, I eventually turn right toward Centralia’s remains. The smoke still billows out from holes in the earth where the mine fire sent almost all of the populace away in the 1980s. As of 2010 just 10 people live in this ghost town. The road to this dead town moves differently than it used to, but eventually, it winds down past the cemetery above the town and into the graveyard that is the town. On the hill to the left, a church pokes out, To the right, it’s a windy road that will be "enhanced" by the ever growing presence of Locust Ridge Wind Farm.
Immediately upon making it to the parking lot on 118, I get my gear ready and get myself ready to go, strapping on my crampons, hoisting on my Camelbak, and holding my axe like I’m some Paul Bunyon character ready to chop down a tree or something equally manly. Maybe I’m just thinking about self-arrest or looking like some badass medieval dude going buckwild on some angry black bear that dares to cross my path. Maybe I’m just Walter Mitty.
Nevertheless, the crampons don’t really jive with moving through the snow, so I contemplate what I need to do with them and I come to a logical decision: since I’m not on any steep icy sections, a product of deliberately by-passing the grey ice that is next to the stream, I will take them off until I really need them on the upper trail. It beats having to refasten the strap every few minutes and it makes travel more expedient, which it wasn’t in the well-travelled snow of the first part of the path.
I also still have the ice cleats with me, and I use them while I walk down alongside the stream to get some good pictures of the ice formations. It’s now seven years after Ohiopyle’s first winter visit, and I am hyperaware of how much more intense these icicles are than those of western Pennsylvania. They cling to tree branches that hover over the stream. They stare back like canine incisors looking to rip at flesh as they growl out a warning. They are everywhere, and I could stay and look at them all day if it wasn’t for the waterfalls being the reason I came here, so I leave the tiny and delicate creations behind and sail on for whiter pastures.
Along the way, I notice how the stream itself has become suffocated in sections as the ice has expanded over almost all of it. Rocks are encased in ice. Some of the ice is clear enough to notice, but other sections are a deeper grey that seems inescapable. Dormant bushes appear here and there, but the world is a completely different place than it is when the greens of summer are everywhere.
I know what I want, and I set out to get it.
Once again, I decided to go up and around Sheldon Reynolds and Harrison Wright. I could put the crampons on, but my fear of heights is too overwhelming for me to trust my feet in them. As a result, I mess up my ankles on the same section that didn’t really bode well for hiking the past times that I did it. Eventually, I come to the top of Harrison Wright, and take my pictures before going on the left side of Waters Meet. Today, I will push through with the rest of the falls that are located on the left hand side of the balloon. As a result, I will see the Erie, Tuscarora, Conestoga, Mohican, Delaware, Seneca, and Ganoga Falls on this trip. For some reason on every trip, I never think to go and see Adams Falls at the bottom of the trail. Today is no different since I don’t walk over from the park lot to see it on this day either.
Nevertheless, after walking up the trail, I will bring the waterfall total to eighteen of the twenty-two different waterfalls at Ricketts Glen.
Entering Ganoga Glen is a much more vertical ascent than going up Glen Leigh. As a result, it really whoops on the thigh muscles until said hiker reaches the shelf at the top of the 47-foot Erie Waterfall. Like last year, I could stop here and just be content with what I can get, but there is something inside of me that is more anxious and desirous to get up into the good stuff beyond this point.
However, at this part of the trail, the path thinned out as the thick grey ice appeared again as the waterfall dropped down along the right hand side. As a result, I was faced with one choice: put the crampons on to go forward or turn around right now.
I put the crampons on and geared up for my initial icy step in them.
My Black Diamond crampons had twelve points on each of them. The front two were on the toes, which made it possible to climb with them. That said, I was looking for horizontal travel – not vertical travel. As a result, I was relying on the bottom ten points of each spiked contraption to hold my 230-pound frame in place on the three-foot wide path.
With my choice in front of me, I laced them on and began to walk toward the moment of truth. Letting my body’s weight push the spikes into place, I could feel the ice give way as my spikes cut into it. Nevertheless, the spikes drove down and the ice around them held firm. With that, I was safe and secure, so I stepped forward again, and it held again, so like a toddler that was finally confident of his or her feet, I was walking one foot in front of the other. Eventually, I was beyond the Erie and onto the path led me to the next waterfall: the Tuscarora.
While just as big as the Erie, the Tuscarora was more recessed, but still, I benefited from my crampons "magnetically" holding me down to the path. Next up would be the Conestoga, which at only seventeen feet tall didn’t appear like much, but like all of the other waterfalls in the Glen, it was very unique and beautiful in its own way.
Leaving it behind, the trail wrapped around to arrive within eyesight of the Mohican, which stood off in the distance, packed small into the hollow despite standing at 39-feet tall. Before going to the fall, I reached for a granola bar, but it was frozen solid, so I gnawed and gnawed at it to get some form of sustenance. When I was able to chew through it, I went for my water tube, but it too was frozen solid. My stomach wasn’t having much luck that day at all, but I would do my best to crush the tube to break up the ice, and with that, I was ready to hike again.
As I crossed the bridge below the falls, the wall to the left of the path became a series of daggers plastered to the side of the carved out area above. In the recesses, the icicles stood as tall as I was. There were so many of them that the moment was awe-inspiring. I walked through and video-taped the experience. Moving slowly with camera in hand, I was still conscious of the roaring waters coming down over the edge and forcing their way to the base of the mountain. With baby step after baby step, I was taking it all in. Eventually I was at the edge, and with it, I came to the set of twelve stairs that awaited my walk into the twists and turns that would follow. Here, I made light work of the steps with my body pushing the crampon spikes into the ice, and as I summited them to the level ground above, I wandered through the paths that would lead me above the swirling and churning ice waters, which sounded like a freight train running beneath my feet. When I had completed the section, I knew that the Mohican Falls and the winter beauty that comprised it was where the hiking was really at on that day.
In the years that followed, I would play a welcome to my English class video that featured the video from the waterfall. Over it, Eddie Vedder’s "Guaranteed" would play. Eddie would sing, "on bended knee is no way to be free" and the four-foot icicles would appear on the left side of the screen as I moved forward through to the blurry images in the background as the water churned on my right side. "Got a mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul" blends into images of the winter day where I accomplished something that I never would have thought I could if I was presented with the picture ahead of time as it segues into words "if ever there was someone to keep me at home it would be you."
More images play in the same video. There are clips where I am walking into Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde and ascending the waterfall in the Narrows of Zion National Park. Tons of other waterfalls and images from various canyons in the west also exist in these videos as well. So many places, so many trips, so many dreams realized, and there are still more places to see.
In another clip, tens of thousands of snow geese spiral above H and me at Middle Creek as the kids on a field trip point and gawk in the same way that we stand silent in disbelief. "They think of me and my wandering, but I’m never what they thought."
So many wanderings, just like on this day at Ricketts Glen. Everything is so beautiful and it is something that I’ve accomplished and shared, but in the end, what is it really?
What lesson do any of these journeys really tell? Who is this person and why is he wandering into this place? Is this what life is really about?
Still conscious of every step that I made on that January day in 2008, I navigated the trails with regard for what I could do to me on a permanent basis if I fell or injured myself, and I pushed on and on and on until I could see the big daddy waterfall of them all: the Ganoga.
The Ganoga is 94-feet tall. From its heights, the waters drop straight to the floor of the mountain. The sound is ferocious, and the pictures do really do justice to how beautiful it is. For some hikers, it’s all about the vertical, and I get that. For me, I prefer my waterfalls as something more than a straight drop. Unless that vertical drop is 2,425 feet and its one of the majestic falls at Yosemite, there are many straight drops out there. They’re all beautiful, and the taller they are, the more special they are, but at the end of the day, the biggest ones are just a big drop from the wall. Unless they’re doing something else while they’re dropping or unless they’re dropping a lot of water from a lot of different directions, they’re just a singular spectacle that is.
Sometimes, more is not better. However, I do like Ganoga though I don’t rank it as my favorite waterfall at Ricketts Glen. I like B Reynolds and Harrison Wright a lot. On a spring or summer day with its raging waters, I really like the Ozone, too. Even the little falls at the top of Ganoga Glen, the Cayuga, and the Oneida, have their moments of sheer beauty. For aesthetic appeal, I really like the area between the Huron and Shawnee Waterfalls. The hammer slam of Murray Reynolds also has its charm, but so too does the Seneca despite its small size. Sometimes, the charm is just how the rocks are thrown down or carved out. Sometimes, a log whisked down the stream and wedged into its new home makes the difference. Sometimes, though, it’s all about the dry day creating skeletal beauty in how the waters drip from one rock to the rock beneath it. When we make everything tiny, it’s so much more intense and worth focusing on. In fact, sometimes, even on a big fall like the Ganoga, it’s possible to get lost in all of the individual sections that have their own actions going on.
And even when it’s cold and those actions are limited by frozen rocks and passages, they’re still there. You just have to look closer.
That’s where I am on this day as I conclude my day trying to get creative with videos of the things that I’ve seen, but I forget that there is a catch: you can’t turn a video camera upside down and have it be right side up when you play it back.
As I stand in what I sometimes will refer to as the Hall of the Mountain King, I see water flowing from the right to the center. It’s not a big drop from the edge to the first ledge, but as the water hits the middle and moves down to the bottom, there is a crashing drop to the ground. Simply put, I am enamored with it all.
It is all beautiful in the Glen. Whether the water is white or gray or swirling greenish gray or whether the backdrop is decorative ornamentations of stone or tree, it’s all good. Even the bushes that peak through to let those who pass by know they are still alive show that it’s all wonderful. The dead stumps that sit iced over on the mountainside… gorgeous. The way the sun comes through the trees and lights up the ice… exhilarating. The way that the cold mountain air feels inside of my lungs as opposed to the feel of stale office air conditioning… refreshing.
This is a good place to be, and if I have to wait until I see it again, so be it, for I have seen it. I have come, and I have explored. Now, all there is left to do is to return to the place that I called home and to the woman that I am getting closer and closer to, and to tell my story.
I have seen all but four of the waterfalls here in their winter attire. Those that are left aren’t big enough to be revolutionary. Someday, I reflect, I will come back for them.
But for now, I am happy to be at 98.6°.
I return home and show off my pictures after I dry out from the cold and wet and sweaty nastiness that the exertion of going up and down the mountain does to my body. It feels good to have achieved. Everything that requires effort to accomplish has a special value.
When I show off the pictures to H, there is a sense of how extreme that the mountain is. The pictures are truly beautiful, but the sense of danger creates a pause.
There really is a reason here to be safe.
And soon after that, the story comes out of the gal who got injured. The warning of luckiness mixed with danger does a lot to make me realize how lucky I was, Ducky, to not end up that life-size popsicle or to even have just messed up an ankle with a really bad twist that keeps me from walking on it for days and weeks and months. The thought of crawling out of Ricketts Glen on my hands and my knees isn’t appealing. Instead, I did it on my own free will, and I am here, closer to sea level in a land where there aren’t many wild forests.
Through it all, the feeling of accomplishment is still there, but with it comes a pause of hesitation. Perhaps, this extreme winter hiking isn’t what I really need to be doing with my life, at least in a solo sense.
For this, my winter season of waterfalls is done for 2008. Nevertheless, I am still anticipating the spring season, which will be initiated with H’s first trip to the Glen.
TO BE CONTINUED