|The trail will cure all.|
|The nice walkways prevent damage from heavy foot travel to the Cascades.|
I met him in Abingdon for the ride up the interstate and since he was driving I was able to settle into full blown story mode as the miles clicked off up the road. We both knew we were bound for a relatively touristy destination with public restrooms and a fee station but beyond the Cascades was new territory for the both of us and we were banking on the crowds to diminish significantly. When we arrived at the fee station we were a few cars deep in line I felt mild disappointment but I had a free lift up the road and I was getting miles with a good friend so my mood stayed relatively calm. We hit the trail and soon caught group after group of casual hiker as we picked our way upstream. It should be noted that despite the facilities and pay to play the Cascades trail is phenomenal. It follows Stony Creek the whole way to the falls crossing several nice bridges and great stonework stairs. Massive boulders litter the creek and a variety of moss and lichens hang on everything from dead trees to the steps themselves. Shane and I stayed focused on reaching the Cascades only stopping occasionally for a photo opportunity here or there, and I was feeling better with every step up the trail. When we closed in on the Cascades there was a lot of people on the observation deck and along the shore but I spied a rock out in the creek that I could hop over to for an obstruction free view of the official waterfall of the state of Virginia. I'm not sure who designates those kinds of things but the Cascades is a worthy recipient, with only Abrams Falls in Bristol, Virginia being a possible rival, albeit on private property. The Cascades are 80ft high and are normally a delicate highly photogenic waterfall that free fall before cascading beautifully into a deep pool, hence the name. But heavy rains had the waters of Stony Creek swollen and the Cascades had some serious power and heavy spray. Racing against water on my lens, approaching crowds, and the pesky sunlight creeping onto the canyon, I was able to fire off a shot of shocking quality. It was reminiscent of the final heave of the ball to the end zone of a football game with zeros on the clock. I was actually so pleased with it that I folded my tripod and shoved my camera in the bag before joining everyone else on the observation deck.
|Shane on one of the large bridges over Stony Creek.|
|This was a great cascade that didn't photo well.|
Shane and I decided to take a snack break before heading on to Barney's Wall and he even took some pictures for an elderly couple that were admiring the falls. Back on the trail, we left the roar of the waterfall and sounds of the crowd to a more peaceful trail modeled from an old forest road. I was new to this part of the trail and it lifted us high above the creek though some obvious waterfalls could be heard obscured by the trees. Shane told me would check out the upper cascades before heading on to Barney's Wall. A steep scramble path led us down to the growing sound of a waterfall. The upper falls in lower flow would be one of the most photogenic waterfalls ever but the hundreds of miny ledges were one giant block of whitewater on this visit and I didn't even unpack my camera. We scrambled around the base of the falls for a few minutes and I vowed I would return to see it when I could play with my camera. We climbed back up the steep grade to join the main trail but not before I stopped to photograph some late season trilliums I spied under the bank.
|A nice side waterfall just before the main Cascades.|
|My one stop shot of Shane at the Cascades.|
|Shane helping out some fellow hikers with a shot at the Cascades.|
Hiking toward Barney's Wall, Shane and I found our stride and I could tell a hike that he had wanted for so long was making his pace quicken. Any chance of my cold sticking with me sweated out of my pores chasing him up that mountain. As predicted, we ran into very few other hikers as we continued to climb higher on the trail. I think we both were a little surprised when the trail leveled around the four mile mark through a grass lined path and swung downhill to our left on the final approach to Barney's Wall. The trail gradually went downhill and then steeper before popping out onto some rocky ledges just shy of the main drop. I was a little bummed to see another couple at the edge of the cliff but probably not as upset as they were to see me...they wanted their privacy, I'll leave it at that. When we arrived they scurried away throuh the woods along the cliffs edge and out of sight. I walked over to the edge and felt my head swim as I peered over. The drop was staggering. A sweeping view of the New River Valley unfolded before me and I stepped away from the brink to gather myself. Shane a little less sure but much more intelligently slid over on his stomach to look over before retreating and announcing it was hammock.time. At the time, I had yet to purchase a hammock so I sat on the rocks beside him while he reclined in comfort. I did however have some leverage and unearthed a quart can of our beloved beaver brew from the Damascus Brewery that I agreed to share if I could use the hammock at some point as well. We shared not only the hammock, but beer, lunch, and a many of laugh. We both had been obsessed with a picture we had seen posted online of a person standing on the edge of Barney's Wall taken by someone else further along the cliff line but as I investigated the narrow goat path leading to the spot needed to take the picture I decided that I would be happy just shooting a few pictures from where we were and call it a success. Shane suddenly looked less than happy and put a hand on my shoulder saying, "Buddy, you don't understand. I'm gonna have to have that picture." My options were clear, either fall on my own trying to get over there or Shane would push me off.
|Two more miles!|
|Remember how crappy this picture is because I will return to do the Upper Cascades justice.|
|Arrival at Barney's Wall.|
|The New River Valley below Barney's Wall.|
Hesitant and quite frankly scared I opted to scurry higher through the forest edge and avoid the cliff edge trail and picked my way down to the rock with the aid of some small shrubs and laurel branches. Shane pranced out to the edge further than I anticipated and proudly waited for me to take some pictures. I snapped some vertical and horizontal shots but as I retreated from the edge I heard something that caught my attention. Through the trees and in a sharp valley across from Barney's Wall I could hear a waterfall. When I rejoined Shane at the main rocks I asked if he had read about a waterfall at Barney's Wall and he hadn't. We both tried determining if it was wind echoing from the wall but Shane spotted water falling through the leaves and we decided to check it out after he got in position for some pictures of me on Barney's Wall. Shane had a healthy lead on me as I picked my way through the forest but we joined each other on a tricky little scramble that fed us under some rock ledges and revealed a nice 30ft waterfall pouring over a solid rock face. There's absolutely no doubt others have visited this waterfall but being surprised by it made a fantastic trip even better. Shane was so giddy he even climbed to the top of it to look for more cascades. I snapped a pictire or two of him waving victoriously from above dangling from laurel bushes before he found his way back down to join me.
|Shane looks on from his hammock and perfect lunch spot.|
|I sneak in and offer beaver beer.|
|And successfully capture the hammock.|
|Shane takes a closer look off of Barney's Wall.|
|Our waterfall discovery we named Mystery Falls.|
|Shane atop Barney's Wall.|
|Shane rewarded me for risking my life by taking my picture too.|
|Nine miles. Lets call it a day.|
Hiking out we were on cloud nine with our day on the trail. We stopped to have dinner and picked up his kids for the ride back down the interstate. As we told them the story of our day and how epic we were on those cliffs I'm sure there was more than a few eye rolls coming from the backseat. It's funny now as there are only a few days left in 2016 but I can relive a day on the trail like it was yesterday. A refreshing nine mile hike shook my cold and restored my belief that it's not the number of days you have but how you live each day that matters. Until next time, happy trails.