Monday, December 30, 2013

Since tackling the Dismal Gorge, I have been in constant pain. There were so many falls that day I can't pinpoint which one was responsible for my misery. At my yearly physical, my doctor told me I had a neck that was out of line with my spine and some ribs that needed adjusting. He asked with a puzzled look on his face, "Exactly what do you do when you go into the woods?" I laughed and drifted into thought before answering. Finally, it came to me, "I live."

Feeling better and having a day off, I decided to go hiking. I even felt nice enough to let Steve pick the destination. He hasn't been on any of the Smoky Mountain hikes I've took so of course he chose the hardest hike in the park, Ramsey Cascades. Ramsey is a real grind of a hike that takes you four miles deep into the mountains near the Greenbrier entrance of the park in Cosby, Tennessee. I had hiked there early in the year and thought I would turn back before wearing down. The four miles wouldn't be so bad if each step wasn't uphill and on the day we chose to hike, in the snow.
Little Pigeon River

In a way, the weather made the hike more appealing for me. Photography in the mountains with snow is something I've always found to be beautiful, plus the crowds of tourists would be thinned with 30 degree temperatures and a light snow. When we arrived at the trail head there were only three other cars, as opposed to when I visited earlier having to park in an overflow half a mile away from the main lot. The trail leaves the parking lot crossing the Little Pigeon River immediately on a large suspension bridge. The snow was sticking to the bridge and starting to lay on the rocks in the river. I had recently started using a tripod so I took time to set it up on the bridge for a few shots of the river before moving on.
Ramsey Prong.
Steve crossing the foot bridge.

The first two miles passes quickly and is deceptively easy despite the gentle uphill grade. I've always found trails to be easier when they follow a river or stream with the sound of the water keeping me lost in thought instead of being able to hear my heavy breathing. When the trail meets the Ramsey Prong, a sign displayed states that you are 2.5 miles from the falls. The trail also narrows significantly as it shadows the Ramsey Prong and elevation is gained at a much faster clip. The roots and rocks keep your eyes locked on the trail and the snow was beginning to intensify. Steve stayed in the lead and kept a blistering pace for the conditions. I was falling behind from stopping to line up pictures and fog was rolling in quickly causing me to lose sight of Steve ahead of me on the trail.
Tree hugger!
The largest of the tulip poplars.

I caught up to Steve at the first of the two foot bridges crossing the creek. The foot bridges are a nice highlight of the hike being constructed of large trees split in two with a hand rail on only one side of the bridge. As I crossed the log bounced beneath my feet and with a thin layer of ice and snow I could feel the nerves at it's highest point above the creek. Safely across the creek, the trail winds uphill through more boulders before entering the old growth forest. Three large tulip poplars line the trail and Steve and I were ants in their presence. We took some time among the giants and set up the tripod capturing the following image of us to scale their size.
Entering the old growth forest.
I felt refreshed after our rest at the trees and we kept a nice pace up the mountain. The snow was now over two inches deep and the woods were eerily quiet. Steve usually doesn't show any signs of being tired but he eventually doubled over holding his knees on one of the many flights of rock stairs. I asked him what was wrong and he only stared at me knowing I already knew the answer. I said, "just remember, you wanted to come here" He rose to his feet and continued on readjusting the tripod in the pack while mumbling as I lost sight of him in the fog again. The trail left the peaceful sounds of the creek and entered my least favorite part of the hike, a long grueling uphill trip around a ridge before it swung back toward the prong short of the falls. Each step was hard, slick, and painful. I had a cramp in my side but I focused on one foot in front of the other and not falling and soon the trail leveled and began descending back toward the sweet sound of water. I met Steve in a maze of boulders and helped him cross the side stream at the base of Ramsey Cascades. A sign warns to control children with the current death toll of four written in red paint.
Narrow passages over the foot bridges.
Rock stairs near the falls.

Although we had made it to the falls, there was still a sloped rock to negotiate covered in ice. I made sure to use extra caution considering my camera was strapped to my back and a fall would shatter it beneath my weight. Steve pulled me up on the large boulder that separates the upper cascade from the lower drops and we rested in the ice cold mist from the falls. The fog was thick and so was the mist. I was almost hesitant to remove the camera from the safety of my bag, but I HAD to have a picture. I didn't bother with the tripod because the lens would be soaked in seconds. Instead I shot free hand with a slight shutter speed of half a second. I wasn't sure if any would be salvageable but I snapped away. I noticed a couple of hikers on the right side of the falls hidden behind some rocks drinking warm soup. I was jealous they had something warm, my hands were ice cold and my feet were wet from holes in my trusty hiking shoes. I made a mental note to have a thermos of something warm the next time I hiked.
Ramsey Cascades.
Steve at the cascades.

Steve had regained his usual jovial mode and marveled at the size of the cascades. He went through the usual speech of how he couldn't believe we hadn't been there before now and how we would we back in the summer for swimming. I however was struck with sadness, Steve will be a father by then and his responsibilities will change completely. In my mind, I have already been preparing to do my hiking alone. I didn't mention it to ruin the moment so I nodded somberly and said, " I can't wait, buddy."

The cold has a way of quickly rattling you back to reality and I zipped my pack and used the Jeff Forrester method for getting safely off the boulder by sliding on my backside down to the trail. Steve joined me and we hiked triumphantly back to the warmth of the truck over four miles away. Maybe it was my sadness, but I savored that hike as much as any I've been on. No detail escaped me and I kept my pace below normal to make sure I had every possible picture I could want. We both were exhausted when we finally made it back to the trail head. We had worked long hours on the days leading up and had done this hike on our only day off before the Christmas holiday. I was equally impressed with Ramsey Cascades on my second visit. Although conditions weren't the best for photography, it was a beautiful trip and good to spend time with my best friend. Hopefully we will return in better weather and get that much anticipated swim in, until next time, happy trails.

No comments:

Post a Comment