Thursday, July 03, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Virgin Falls 4th of July, 2003

What now seems like a lifetime ago, when we were first married, Daniel and I had this idea that we would go camping or backpacking for all of the major holidays (besides Thanksgiving and Christmas). The first year of our marriage we did pretty good – backpacking on Independence Day and New Years. After that it was a bit of hit or miss, though we did go to Mt. Rogers for Easter one year. 

Anyways, as newlyweds we had no money (Daniel was still in school and I made $7/hr even though I had a college degree) but we had a decent amount of time. Our mutual love of the outdoors led us on some amazing trips that cost us next to nothing. 

Unfortunately as we have gotten older, we have more money but less time. Right now Daniel has a somewhat sporadic work schedule that can have him working 13-hour days for weeks at a time. But when he is on a normal schedule, we try to enjoy his free time by doing fun outdoor activities as a family.

All of this to say, we won't be backpacking this holiday weekend... Instead this post is a look back to one of our first backpacking trips. 

To celebrate our first July 4th weekend as a married couple we decided to go backpacking in the Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness area outside of Sparta, Tennessee. We had been there before in college and have visited at least one other time since. For this trip, we took Daniel's middle sister Amy with us.

The trail to Virgin Falls is a pretty difficult hike over rugged terrain, though it is only 4 miles to the waterfall. The falls themselves come out of an unmarked cave and cascade down 110-ft before entering another cave below. It is an interesting waterfall because it has no visible bottom.

About a mile in, you come to Big Branch Falls with a rock overhang that we have camped at in years past (on this trip, we arrived as it was getting dark). Further in, you come to Big Laurel Falls, which is a 30-ft waterfall with a cable crossing over the creek. The hike to Virgin Falls is mostly downhill with an elevation drop of 900 feet. Going down means you have to come back up. Coming out is what makes this hike so difficult. It is exhausting and if you are not planning on camping, you should make sure you have 8-9 hours to complete the entire 8-mile hike.

This was my second trip to Virgin Falls and I made the mistake of not eating or drinking enough. Letting myself get low on energy and water while doing an intense hike on a difficult trail was not one of my better judgments. Coming back from the falls I was hot, hungry and miserable. Every step of the 4 mile hike out was brutal. 

Daniel and Amy ended up going ahead of me to the car – Daniel (and I) knew that he couldn't push me any further and I would have to complete the hike myself. The best he could to do was get to the car, drop his backpack and come back and get my pack if necessary. 

I forced myself to finish the hike but I was in bad shape. Amy was worried and mentioned her concerns to Daniel when we stopped at a gas station after leaving the trail. Daniel (loving husband that he is) told Amy that I would feel better if I threw up. While they had this conversation, I was in the bathroom puking. He was right. I felt better after that. In all seriousness, my body was over exerted and under fueled. I think that getting sick helped my body to reset. After this I was able to sit in the cool car and drink water and eat and feel somewhat normal again.

It wasn't our best backpacking experience (especially since I got sick) but being that we were still newly married, I think it taught us that we could only encourage and push each other so far. Sometimes being a cheerleader isn't enough and you have to let your spouse go through hard experiences. Thankfully this hasn't stopped us from backpacking. 

If you are in the middle Tennessee area and looking for a good, tough hike with a waterfall at the end, I would recommend this trip. Just don't go if there has been a drought, you won't want to make the effort to go and see a drip of water. We have done this as a day trip and overnight.

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