This week I’m not hiking solo.
Carver, you ask? Nope. My Grand Canyon buddy Carver is still recovering from a semi-tragic CrossFit box jumping injury, but word has it she’ll be up to an easy hike by next week. Erica from the Y is with me. She’s seen pics from previous hiking adventures on social media and asked to come along.
I’m all for it. She’s even researched trails and suggested the Chinnabee Silent Trail which is close to Cheaha State Park in the Talladega National Forest. We’ll be trekking 6 miles along the Cheaha Creek on a trail named for a Creek Indian chief, and built by Boy Scout Troop 29 from the Alabama Institue for the Deaf and Blind.
The search for the trailhead ensues after we find a park. Heading down a narrow footpath, we quickly decide this can’t be it. OK, Erica agreed. I was willing to plod off into the forest blindly trying to see a trail where one does not exist. In orienteering, this is called “bending the map.” It’s not good.
The trail is obvious once we find it. We probably should have followed some folks that looked like they knew where they were going. Could have saved some time, but all is well as we wind our way along the hillside.
The sound of rushing water propels us forward to Cheaha Falls when we notice a potential problem.
The bridge across the creek isn’t there! According to some nearby campers, it’s been gone since 1995. A victim of Hurricane Opal. Now what? There’s a short, but steep, side trail down to the base of the Falls. Heading down we decide to use the large rocks and boulders to make the crossing. This proves to be easier said than done. I’m contemplating a route when a young couple arrives. Surveying the situation, they leap from boulder to boulder making it to the other side.
There is no way that I can do that. I might make it this direction; the young man is offering assistance and encouragement from the bank. But back…..there ain’t no way. Erica’s expression reveals that she feels the same way. Waving the couple on, we turn back. Heading up the other side, the young man glances back, waits for a beat, shrugs, and moves on.
The water is not too high, and there are exposed rocks along the edge of the waterfall. They form a dubious path. We have to do it. Erica doesn’t look convinced but is willing to forge on. The only other choice is to turn back. We go for it. The rocks are damp and slick and if we fall we drop a good twenty feet onto rocks. Terrified, I press on. We both make it. Pushing the thought of the return trip out of my mind, we hike on.
Topping the hill, magnificent views of the surrounding mountains unfold.
Cheaha is the highest point in the state of Alabama at 2,407 feet. I know, I know……but what can we say? This is the foothills of the Appalachians. Everything is relative. Anyway, after hiking along the ridge and winding our way through the woods, we descend back down towards Cheaha Creek.
It looks like this is a favorite spot with a mish-mash of tents and hammocks set up. Rounding a corner, we stumble upon the couple that crossed the creek before us. “You made it!” he yelps, nodding his approval and throwing up a high five. Slapping his hand, I try not to think about the return trip we’ll have to face later on.
The Devil’s Den is the second waterfall on the Chinnabee Silent Trail.
Devil’s Den is the first in a series of seven small to moderate falls on the Cheaha Creek. Fantastic swimming holes with blue-green water dot the creek in between the waterfalls, and there’s a 75 foot elevated wooden trail clinging to a moss covered rock cliff. This section of the trail is spectacular and certainly worth the effort to get here.
We stop at the turnaround point for a snack. It seems like we’ve gone a lot further than three miles. A quick glance at my FitBit confirms my suspicions. We’ve covered over five miles. The trek was six miles one way! Erica had mentioned dinner plans with friends later that evening. Hoping that they like to eat late, we head back the way we came.
I’ve quickly learned that I prefer a loop trail to an out-and-back, but sometimes it can’t be helped.
Something about covering the same ground. Kind of sucks. We’re back at the creek. This part doesn’t kind of suck. It flat-out sucks. Trying to gauge how deep and cold the water is, I contemplate wading across. That would be lame, right? All of a sudden Erica declares she’s not going across those rocks again and wades right in.
Hallelujah! I take off my shoes and socks and roll up my pants. It’s freakin’ freezing! And gross on the bottom of my feet. Making a mental note to include an extra pair of socks and Teva sandals in my pack next time, I reach the bank and climb out. Sitting in the dirt, I try to dry my feet off before putting my shoes back on. I’ve used my socks for towels, and they’re sopping wet. The duration of the hike will be sans socks.
Crossing a dirt road, I realize this is a shortcut to the car.
We make a right and head up the road. As it turns out, we could have parked here and saved ourselves some trouble. Oh well, live and learn. We make it back to the car, tired and cold. I’m pretty sure Erica is already late, and we’ve got over an hour’s drive back to her vehicle.
Later that week I hit a class at the Y. The ladies in the class said they’d seen Erica the next day and that she was sore from our adventure. They hadn’t seen her since. As class gets started, one of them looks over declaring, “I think you broke Erica.”
Sheesh…I sure hope not.
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