One day last week I plugged "Middle Tennessee hiking groups" into a search engine and found an organization based in Nashville.
After surfing through their site it sounded like a busy and energized organization that conducts group hikes of varying difficulty for all levels of hikers at natural areas, state parks and national forests primarily throughout Middle and Eastern Tennessee as well as occasionally other states.
There was a group hike scheduled for today at Savage Gulf and I signed up for it with a lot of excitement but also some trepidation since there were already over 40 people committed.
Within another day there were 49 people signed up and I second guessed myself for a couple of days, evaluating whether or not I really wanted to hike on a new trail with 50 people I didn't know.
Eventually the desire to see a new trail in the mountains won out and on a very cold morning that was supposed to both clear out and slightly warm up, I headed up onto the plateau.
It was a quiet drive on an early Saturday morning and 70 minutes after I left the house I was one of the first of the group to arrive.
As I pulled into the parking lot of the Ranger Station I realized that I had been to this place at sometime in the past.
I had not walked the Savage Gulf trails before so why had I been there?
I could not then, and still cannot now, remember why I had been to Savage Gulf.
For the next 15 minutes one vehicle at a time straggled into the lot behind me, and then all of a sudden five or six vehicles pulled in at the same time.
A convoy of vehicles from Nashville.
Everyone converged on the Ranger Station and as I scanned this similarly dressed group of soon-to-be hiking buddies who were all strangers to me, I realized that the 50 had been whittled down to 31.
It was a very cold morning and I had images of alarm clocks going off all around Nashville.
One look at the temperature gauge and the darkness and the icy windshield and the early hour and the two hour drive and I envisioned many Nashvillians hitting the alarm button, pulling the covers up even higher around their shoulders, rolling over and going back to sleep.
I wouldn't have blamed them.
Corralling 31 people through last minute rest room breaks and necessary paperwork meant that we left the Ranger Station 20 minutes later than scheduled.
The unofficial club photographer pulled everyone together to take this picture before we left, and as he was playing around with his "delay" button I jumped out of formation to snap the picture above.
The small Ranger Station............
When I think back to all the long races I did over the years one of the things that always amused me was how fast we would go out.
With adrenalin flowing wildly, all teams would head out at the start of one day, two day, even five days races at a pace that looked like we were all starting a 5K run.
It took hours, but eventually everyone would settle into the race and find their own realistic pace.
The hike this morning was billed as an 8 mile beginner hike so I was surprised that we headed out so fast.
It was serious trekking pace.
No time to stop and take pictures or to really have a good look around pace.
Put your head down and pound it out pace.
I was surprised but thought "OK........we'll pound it out".
I wondered if the pace would continue or whether it would slow down over the next hour..............
I look at this picture and it screams "Juneau" to me.
The snow, the evergreens, the wooden boardwalks that are so abundant in Juneau...........
Even though the hike was billed as a beginners hike the group was made up of a combination of both experienced and new hikers.
There were four or five friendly and easy-going group leaders who took turns leading the front of the pack, hanging back with others as the group began to predictably (and thankfully) spread out, and running sweep at the back of the pack.
One of many swing bridges we passed over today............
A combination of root and rock filled trail, greenery, multiple creek and river crossings, wooden walkways and wooden bridges, overlooks.
I loved this trail............
Eventually the 5k pace slowed down a little.
Just a little.........but enough to finally be able to really take in my surroundings.
My pictures were strictly point and shoot on the move, but that was OK...........
After crossing a swing bridge and continuing on trail that paralleled the river, I began to realize that the river was moving fast.
And then faster, and then faster still.
The quiet that we had enjoyed to that point was interrupted by the familiar sound of rapids and then falls.
The trail was lined with both pine trees and thick and beautiful mountain laurel.
Mountain laurel dominates the mountains of Tennessee.
While racing all I knew was that it was a pain to bushwhack through.
Now that I am not racing, mountain laurel is simply a wonderful, dark green and beautiful plant.
I could see the rapids through the growth and I hoped for a break in the vegetation so that I could see it unobscured...............
Click on the pictures to enlarge.............
Beautiful crystal-like ice among the freezing cold rapids.............
Walking a little further the trail, happily and wonderfully, did open up.
I headed down to the falls, eager to both see them and photograph them.
They were wonderful. Powerful. Very beautiful............
Icicles from all the overhangs along the side of the freezing cold and very fast moving river.............
As the freezing river raged in front of me it threw a frozen mist over this one tree.
This completely white tree stood out brilliantly against the backdrop of other bright green trees.
At that exact moment, while standing on large flat boulders alongside the river I felt like I was suddenly in a magical place.
There was much more here than simply technical trail and evergreens and increasingly blue sky.
Along this river there was both an extremely complex and deceptively simple combination of water and beauty and power and Winter.............
And a surprising rainbow - sunlight captured in the almost freezing spray from the waterfall............
One amazing section of the frozen tree..............
There is no wondering about what the waterfalls were like yesterday, no way to know what they'll look like tomorrow.
There will always be a shade of difference, a nuance noticed or not, but to see them right now, in this moment in their powerful splendor - that is the way to celebrate the present...........From the blog Waterfalls Uplift