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Tyler and I woke up later than expected. We debated whether we should go hike immediately, so that it would be cooler and potentially less crowded, or if we should pack up camp first. Ultimately, we decided to pack up first, that way we wouldn’t feel rushed while hiking.
It was bittersweet packing up camp for the last time. It was sad because that meant that our trip was coming to a close, but we were also excited about the prospect of not having to set up camp that night. We would instead be staying with our friend Ashley in Nashville.
While we packed up, we saw several large groups with small children hike towards the trailhead. When we chose our campsite the night before, we didn’t realize that it was super close to the trailhead for Hen Wallow Falls.
Prior to our trip, I read about all these really cool things to see in the Great Smoky Mountains, like Clingman’s Dome, and Chimney Tops. But on our drive through the park the day before, I saw just how crowded those two attractions were. There were hoardes of people at Clingman’s Dome and the parking lot at Chimney Tops was packed. While I had looked forward to seeing some of these iconic features, I did not want to fight the crowds to do so.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to see people enjoying the outdoors. It is really important too. In order for our natural places to remain protected, we need more people to agree that they need protecting. The best way for that to happen is for people to experience the beauty and wonder for themselves. That being said, I do tend to enjoy visiting places with less people and more nature. Thus, when I saw that Hen Wallow falls was described as “one of the least popular waterfalls” and that the trail literally started in the campground we were staying at, I decided that it was the waterfall for us!
After packing up, Tyler and I walked to the trailhead and started hiking. Roundtrip, the hike is 4.4 miles. Pretty soon, we crossed over a bubbling creek. There was a cool bridge made of a giant log with a hand rail on one side.
We stopped to take a few picutes, but didn’t stop to play in the creek. I wish I had, because a few minutes down the trail, I was taking my shoes off anyways. It was so hot, my poor feet were burning up! I wore my wool socks, because usually they keep my feet comfortable better than cotton socks. I took off my shoes and hiked barefoot for just under two miles.
The cool dirt felt nice on my feet. Though sections with lots of small rocks did not. Tyler was patient and let me go slowly as I carefully picked my way up the trail. Most of the trail on the way to the waterfall was climbing. I was surprised that there was a noticeable difference in temperature. Eventually, I wasn’t quite as hot, and the bottoms of my feet were tired, so I put my shoes back on.
The side trail to the waterfall split off to the right, steeply downhill. As we approached the waterfall, we could see quite a few people. Perhaps five groups in total. The waterfall was super tall and pretty to look at, but there was not much room at the bottom to sit and eat lunch. Also, I’m sure it was a bit disappointing for some the parent’s of children that there really wasn’t much of a pool or creek below the waterfall to play in. They would have been better off stopping at that creek we passed in the beginning. The creek seemed like an excellent place to play. The children themselves didn’t seem to mind too much and delighted in sitting in the small stream trickling through the rocks.
While I finished eating lunch, Tyler went off exploring. He was trying to find a good angle to take a picture of the waterfall. I wasn’t sure where he went, so I decided to explore a bit myself. I had noticed that there was a semi-trail right before we reached the base of waterfall that went up the side of the hill. I thought, perhaps Tyler went up there and if not, I was going to see what was there anyways.
It turns out, Tyler had not gone that way. I saw him on the other side of the waterfall, trying to determine if he could go any higher on that side. He couldn’t. It was pretty much just a rock face. We wave to each other across the waterfall. I too, could only go so high. I did get this nice selfie though.
Tyler joined me on my side of the waterfall. Where I had looked and decided I probably could climb no higher, Tyler was determined to go. He is taller and thus can easily climb some things I cannot. Also, he was wearing shoes, whereas I wasn’t. The route he took envolved scrabling over a tangle of splintered logs. Not so kind to bare feet. He handed off the camera and commenced climbing up and up. He hollared to me that he made it to the top. I was envious! Me too, I wanted to say. Instead I climbed down, nearly sliding in some dark mud. I had used both my hands climbing up the slope, but only had one to climb down. Once at the bottom, I tried to take Tyler’s picture. He was so far away with the sun in my eyes, it was hard to see him!
When Tyler made it back to the bottom, he confirmed that it was good that I didn’t follow. There was a section that my short stature would have made it difficult, if not immposbile for me to overcome. Ah well.
Tyler proceeded to chase butterflies around, taking their pictures, while I rested on a rock. Climbing up the hill made me tired!
We stayed there for so long that several groups of hiker came and went. Eventually, Tyler had enough chasing butterflies and we decided that it was time to go back. We were reluctant to leave such a pretty place.
On our way back I spied a giant snail. He was bigger than a quarter! I stopped to take a picture. I friendly hiker informed us this type of snail can grow to be four times as big in this region. That’s crazy!
We also saw some funny mushrooms along the way.
The hike back down the mountain was much quicker than the hike up. Still, we were getting tired and our feet were ready to be done hiking. We had hiked so much over the past few days.
As we walked back, we passed by several groups. The most notable was a father with his son and young daughter. He asked us how much farther to the waterfall. At this point it was at least over a mile. He seemed defeated and mention that his daughter’s feet were already tired. I looked down and the poor girl was wearing plastic flip flops. Sometimes I don’t think people realize just how far 4.4 miles is to walk.
When we crossed over the creek, we knew we were close to the end. The was a large group of kids playing in the water, most of whom we saw at the waterfall earlier in the day. I think this supports my theory from earlier that the creek towards the beginning of the trail is a good place to stop and play.
Tyler and I finished the last hike of our trip, but we weren’t done for the day. We still had a four hour drive to Nashville! The drive was uneventful: get on I40-W and stay there for a long, long time. When we got close, we called Ashley to find out where to park. I was delighted to hear that we could park on any of the roads near her apartment complex. Streetside parking was all free!
Ashely met us outside her building and surprised us by saying that we didn’t need to bring our sleeping bags or sleeping pads. We would be sleeping in her bed. Oh, a real bed! Our sleeping pads are great, but nothing compares to a comfy bed.
We went inside to drop off our things and meet Moose, Ashley’s great dane puppy. He is so sweet and gentle, but he is so big! He head is level with my chest. Tyler wanted to cuddle him, which worked out well because Moose wanted to cuddle too. He thinks he is much smaller than he is. He never hurts you though, because he oh-so carefully squeezes into spaces on the couch in which he does not fit.
For dinner, we met up with one of Ashley’s friends and friend’s husband. Her friend came into town from Atlanta to run a 5K with Ashley the next morning. We ate at a tasty barbeque restuarant. Tyler and Ashley grew up in the same neighborhood, so they enjoyed remiscing about old times. The three of us went to high school together and caught each other up on the happenings in the lives of our friends from high school. It was a nice reunion.
Back at Ashley’s house, we watched the Olympics and took turns showering. We stayed up much later than intended because Tyler had run out of clean clothes. Those first few rainy nights mean that some of our clothes never really dried out. We were waiting on clothes to finish drying so Tyler could shower and put on clean clothes before bed.
Climbing into Ashley’s bed was like climbing onto a cloud. It was so fluffy and wonderfully soft. It didn’t take long for me to drift off into a deep sleep.