Friday, April 12, 2013

April isn't typically ideal swimming weather, especially outdoors and in a mountain stream, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and live a little. Jeff and I had toyed with ideas where we could hike yesterday for a few days and whenever he mentioned hiking to Midnight Hole in the Smokies, I without thinking, agreed and suggested we take the plunge.
Jeff and I
Big Creek
Midnight Hole

Midnight Hole is located on Big Creek in the Great Smokey Mountains. The trail leading to the swimming hole is flat and was formerly a railroad in the logging boom years ago. Big Creek gets pinched between two massive boulders and the powerful waterfall there has channeled out the creek with depths up to 40 feet! The emerald green water is eerily clear and large trout can be seen swimming below the surface. I last visited the creek in July on my birthday and the temperatures were bone chilling even then. As Jeff, Andrew, and I hiked the trail, the cool breeze created by the moving water made me wonder if I could do the jump this early in April.
Deep water

The trail was lined with lots of blooming wild flowers and we passed a large group of ladies with books and notepads trying to identify each one. At the mile and a half point we arrived at Midnight Hole, it was just after 11am so we had it to ourselves. I waded out for some pictures and the sting of the cold water quickly numbed my feet. We spent time taking photos and had a snack before traveling the other half mile up to Mouse Creek Falls. Back on the trail, I was lost in thought as usual when I almost stepped on a small water snake! I quickly jumped out the way and got a decent picture as it slithered away. A few minutes more of hiking and we arrived at the falls. A side stream empties into Big creek taking a 30ft plunge before pooling and dumping the final 15ft in the main stream. The sun rested high above the falls and my normal settings were useless against the harsh light. We had our lunch and rested as a sense of dread came over all of us knowing we were going to be freezing in only a few minutes.
Temps were a little rough
Mouse Creek Falls
Emptying into Big Creek
Northern Water Snake

The hike back to Midnight Hole only took a few minutes and this time we weren't alone. Two older gentlemen and their daughter were playing along the creek. I got busy emptying my pockets and shedding my clothes for the jump. I waded in up to my waist taking time to acclimate myself to the water. Once I was numbed up I eased my torso in which is always the hardest part for me! I yelled over to Andrew to start filming and dived under the water. It was surprising once I was completely under how I was no longer cold and I felt completely refreshed in the 50 degree water. I swam over to the rocks on the opposite side of the pool and started climbing up a crack in one. It is really hard to get to the top of the rocks because they are worn slick from years of climbing. It's a really neat feeling from the top though looking down on the deep water. I was being rooted on from a growing audience across the creek and before I had time to use better judgement I took the leap. In the air, it feels like it takes a while to hit the water even though it's only a few seconds. I had made the jump and swam successfully back to the surface, so my point was proven. I swam across and got out laughing like a little kid at what I had just done. Jeff and Andrew didn't make the jump but they were brave enough to at least take a full submersion dip in the pool.
The crack in the boulder is the way up.
Finest swimming hole in the south

We packed up our gear and set off back to the truck drip drying the whole way. It was a wonderful trip with good friends, and the Midnight Hole didn't disappoint once again. I'm sure there will be many more return trips this summer for swims with my other hiking buddies and hopefully by then, the water will be a tad warmer. Until then, Happy trails!

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