Thursday, November 25, 2010

Clark Creek Natural Area

Yesterday was adventure day. The girls and I headed up to Clark Creek to see some waterfalls and get lost in the woods.

On the drive up, we passed a half dozen refineries, or Robot Cities, as the kids described them.

On the map, we designated 7 checkpoints (mostly waterfalls) and 2 mandatory sections of trail. The girls were taking it really seriously. They seem to enjoy it when there's a plan and goals, when it's not just walking in the woods.

We got to the trailhead at about noon-thirty.

 Clark Creek Trailhead

The weather was nice, and the lot was packed. I gave Sophie the map, and she got us to the CP1, the 1st Waterfall.

 Girls at 1st Waterfall

The last time I was there, a curtain of muddy water was pouring over the edge. This time, it was a set of crystal-clear trickles. Still though, most of the falls we see in Georgia are sliding falls. This was an actual water-falling-over-the-edge-of-something falls, and the girls really dug it.

Iz got us to CP2, the 2nd Waterfall, by just following the creekbed. It was wide and sandy, with a two-foot-wide, one-inch-deep ribbon of water meandering around wherever it felt like going. We had to leap back and forth across it. Or at least Iz and I did. After I told Sophie it was OK if she got her feet wet, she just walked in the water half the time.

There were a couple of people at the 2nd Waterfall.

 Girls at 2nd Waterfall

One guy climbed down and stuck his head under the water. The two girls with him looked really tired.

Downstream the creekbed was littered with loess boulders that had apparently calved off as the waterfall ate its way back into the draw. This process left sheer cliffs to either side...

 Loess Blocks Below 2nd Waterfall

...very different terrain than I'm used to. The girls commented on how slippery it was, and we had a bit of a safety briefing before moving on. In Georgia, you can trip and you might roll down a hill for a while. At Clark Creek, you can very easily slip, roll down a hill and fall 20 feet off of a cliff.

Sophie led us back up to the main trail and down to CP3: Clark Creek proper.

Iz led us along the creek bed...

 Girls in the Creek Bed

...and up the Primitive Trail toward the next CP, an unnamed waterfall south of the Waterfall Trail. The Primitive Trail is tough to follow though, and we ended up on a much more well-defined trail that took us up along a ridge rather than along the creek. We realized almost right away that we weren't where we wanted to be, but decided to follow the trail and up over the ridge to a gap, then sidehill down the draw to the falls.

Near the gap, we realized that the map didn't reveal every contortion of the terrain and we spent some time verifying our position.

The descent to the falls was rough, but not too bad. At the base, we found an old bike.

 Dead Bike

We debated it's origin for a while. It wasn't really obvious how it had gotten there. I figured I'd haul it out, so I picked it up and we headed downstream. It must have weighed 40 pounds.

After 100 yards, the stream ran over the edge of a vast, yawning chasm and we realized we hadn't found the correct waterfall earlier. There was no obvious way down. I ended up chucking the bike kind-of to the side, over the edge and we spent probably 45 minutes winding our way down to the bottom. It was a very sketchy descent and took an extraordinary effort. I wouldn't trust most adults I know to attempt it, but the girls were confident and their steps and hand-holds were careful and precise.

 Girls at Falls South of Waterfall Trail

After all that work though, it was anticlimactic. No curtain of water there either.

It was also a perfect example of how a small navigation error can have serious consequences. If we'd picked up the Primitive Trail like we'd wanted to, we'd have saved over an hour of time and incalculable effort. But we probably wouldn't have had as much fun, so hey, tradeoffs.

I retrieved the bike, followed Sophie's lead downstream, and dropped it at the base of the stairs on the Waterfall Trail. Somebody else can carry it out from there.

Sophie led us upstream...

 Girls in Clark Creek Bed

...over and around boulders and boulders. She loves climbing over that kind of stuff. It's probably her favorite thing to do in the woods, and she had that little perma-smile going all the way to CP5, the 4th Waterfall.

 Girls at 4th Waterfall

It was getting closer to dark than I wanted it to be, so we hustled to the CP6, the 5th waterfall...

 Girls at 5th Waterfall

...where we were hemmed in by vertical (in some cases over-vertical) cliffs in every direction except downstream. The falls itself was impossible for us to climb. We had another CP upstream, but it wasn't looking like we'd be able to get to it before dark. Maybe next time.

We headed back downstream and took the first available route up the ridge. It took another extraordinary effort, and again, I was amazed at how confident and precise the girls were. It was a tough climb though, and Iz was joking "Dude, my calves are bulking out!" She means bulging, but bulking is more fun to say.

On the ridge, we picked up the Waterfall Trail and headed out. At the shelter, we took a quick break, ate some M-and-M's and Chewy Nerds, and pressed on. It got a little darker than the girls generally go for before we got to the truck. They wanted me to lead, but they didn't complain. We just talked and sang some songs and before long we were out.

Driving out, we passed a family walking along the road in the dark. They had the same white lab with them that had followed me around all day last time.

We grabbed some Zapps Cajun Crawtaters at a gas station. The Robot Cities looked even cooler at night. At dinner, the girls were very excited to show everybody the photos and describe the crazy climbing. I had been there, of course, but it was fun to hear them describe it with the kind of wonder that you can only hear from a child.

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