Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Post bar trip - Day 2 - Waterfalls: 1 Tim: 0

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That's right after today the waterfalls of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are shutting me out - I will explain a little later. We slept in a little today and then headed out on a short hike before lunch time. We had a list of several hikes and waterfalls/other sites we were interested in hiking to while in the park but really didn't have a preference as to where to start so we just started with one of the trails that was closest to where we were. That just so happened to be the trail to Rainbow Falls. After looking at the map and distances a few times, as well as the trail sign, we thought we were headed on a 2.6 mile round trip hike to the falls - a good way to ease into our hikes for the week - or so we thought.

As we started the climb the altitude change was definitely having an impact and it quickly felt like it was taking us MUCH longer to reach our destination or to see any signs of progress. We just fought through it thinking that fatigue was trying to win the battle and after a few short breaks we were finally at Rainbow Falls! We noticed right away that there were a ton of rocks between the pool of the falls and where we were and at first were not sure whether we could climb to actually get closer to the falls or if this was as close as we were going to get. Then we noticed a few groups of people that were not only close to the falls but walking underneath it and after a few minutes of planning it out we started our climb on the rocks to get closer. I took a few shots from the base and spent a lot of time just waiting for other people and their kids to enjoy the falls before climbing back down (in other words waiting for them to get out of my picture). I kid - it is difficult to hike to a beautiful spot and set up and have a few other people climb up and stand in front of the subject you are trying to capture - sometimes for quite a while - but then I have to remind myself that they too made the same trek to enjoy the same view and just because the timing put us in the same place at the same time, they are just as entitled to enjoy the waterfall as I am. Of course it is a bit more difficult to practice what I preach after a hike that climbed about 1,500 ft in altitude with all of my gear and have finally framed it and a guy leads his kids square into the frame, but in the end I know that no one person or group is more entitled to enjoy the display that nature has created - so I wait.

After some people cleared out of the way I took a few shots from a point at the base of the falls but the sun was high and camera right so it was creating a lot of lens flare so I knew that if I was going to get any good light I was going to have to move to the right of the falls. Unfortunately the only way to do that was to actually walk UNDER the falls on a very narrow and slippery trail to the other side. Before heading across I took a few shots of Britt & I next to the falls and they really show the true scale of this 80+ ft waterfall:

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Once I took those shots I headed off under the fall with my camera mounted on the tripod. To get under the waterfall there is about a 1 foot gap between the cliff and the flowing water, all of it is very slippery and not flat, so it is quite a challenge even if you're not carrying thousands of dollars worth of gear. I put my hat over the camera to keep any major drips off of it and actually made it across unscathed so I headed down the rocks to set up my shots from the other side. I climbed down and took a few shots and the light from that side was much better and I was satisfied.

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All I had to do now was head back across the falls and meet up with Britt to climb back down with all of my gear. I had a pretty good path planned out through the pool where the waterfall was and most of the rocks were relatively dry and appeared safe. There was one spot that I would have to step in some water in order to get to the next dry rock. Once I got to this point I stepped into the water with my right foot and then tried to figure out my next step. I put my left foot onto a rock that was partially submerged and it didn't move so it looked like I could get some traction on it so I transferred my weight. That's when it happened. As soon as I got my weight onto my left side I lost traction aaaaaaaaaaaaaand down I went, camera, tripod and all. My left knee slammed into the corner of a rock and the rest of me followed suit. Fortunately thanks to my athletic background I know how to fall. This may not make a ton of sense to some, but if you've taken hits and hit the ground hard before, your body kind of learns how to fall to protect the essentials. Fortunately I was able to fall and somehow kept my camera and tripod (the essentials in this situation) out of the water. Brittany was above me and didn't see me fall but definitely heard the impact but before she could react I was up (for better or worse) and giving her the thumbs up. As soon as I stood up I felt like I had slit my knee from side to side but I knew it was better that I not check out the damage until I was off of the rocks. We made it down off of the rocks and I checked myself out and was happy to see that it was only a scrape:

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What I didn't realize is the slight swelling I had but after looking at it I knew it could have been much MUCH worse so I was pleased and accepted this as my close call of the trip. I knew I was probably still going to climb on some rocks near waterfalls to get the best shots I could, but this was definitely my warning to play it a little safer than I had been. To remind myself of this I took a few shots of the warning signs that I flew past on my way up to the falls:

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Looks like SOMEONE forgot to closely control me...

While we were on our way down the pain in my knee gradually got worse and then I checked it while we were taking a break and I was stunned to see what looked like a baseball where my knee was supposed to be. After that check I decided it would probably be best not to look again until we were safely at the car. Then one of us happened to look at our watch and realized that this hike was taking more than twice as long as it should be. We stopped so my fearless Magellan could check the map and trail distance one more time and you guessed it, the trail was 2.6 miles one way. Here we are sharing a laugh about our mistake before I realized I had about 2 more miles to hike on this knee:

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and my navigator posing with her trusty government issued navigating tool:

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After at least another hour of hiking back down we finally made it to the car. My feet and knee felt like they were on fire and here is the result:

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ahh the things I do for photography...

Once we made it back to the cabin we decided it was time for a nap and get some rest since we were done for the day after "easing" into our hikes for the trip. Right now I am icing my knee and fortunately the swelling is going down a bit but the pain is still there - hopefully I'm not really sore tomorrow and we can head back out on the trails.

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