Well, that was unexpected
‘Oh thank God, I made it’ was my first thought when I reached the top of Rainbow Falls at Jones Gap State Park two hours after I started. To be fair, I stopped a lot, took a lot of snaps, and played with all the friendly puppies that crossed my path.
It isn’t the highest peak in South Carolina nor the most strenuous, but with 1200 ft elevation gain over a fairly short distance, it was hard enough. Especially with humidity in the 90% range and temps in the upper 80’s. I checked the weather forecast before I left and with only a 15% chance of rain, I threw a lightweight rain jacket in my backpack, packed myself a decent, trail-worthy lunch, filled up my Camelback with water and set off.
And that was the last time my day went according to plan. The main road to Jones Gap was washed out resulting in a 30-ish minute detour. There was a yellow jacket advisory [which I should have paid more attention to]. The sky was overcast, but not threatening, and so I was off. I hiked through rock beds. I criss-crossed streams. I crossed bridges. I navigated tree roots. I walked across a narrow board. I went through boulders.
Not 5 stinkin’ minutes after I reached my glorious summit, I heard a low rumble. At first, I ignored it. After all, I had a lunch of a deluxe turkey sandwich, trail mix, granola, grapes, and water to enjoy. I heard the low rumble again; this time is was just a little bit louder. I looked up.
And then I started to curse…loudly. As in F-bombs flying The last thing a novice/intermediate hiker wants is to be stuck on the top of a mountain when a thunderstorm comes rolling in. The very last thing I wanted was to get struck by lightening. Rain I could deal with; thunder and lightening, not so much. Not even two bites into my sandwich, I had to pack up. I barely broke into my granola, and I didn’t even get to eat one little grape! I was pissed at Mother Nature, but I didn’t want to inspire her wrath. As if I needed prodding, the low rumble rumbled again…this time a lot louder. I packed up my sandwich, pulled out my rain shell, and set off back down the trail I’d just made my way up. I hadn’t even rested good, yet! I practically ran down the trail, or at least as safely as I could manage, considering the rocks and roots. I didn’t even get to enjoy the small waterfalls that appeared sporadically on the trail.
About 1/3 of the way down, I hit trouble. Raindrops so big and hard they stung as they hit my exposed skin. I also inadvertently disturbed a yellow jacket nest. I never saw it, but my God, they saw me. A small army flew after me, and at least a couple managed to find their way under my clothes. And that’s when the real fun began. Off came the backpack. Off came the rain shell. And off came my t-shirt. The bees were still swarming. Off came my shorts. Luckily I was near one of the many creek crossings, and general safety and common sense be damned, I jumped into the creek. It was a part where there was a small plunge waterfall and a shallow pool. I screamed like a little girl getting her ponytail pulled on the playground. The water was icy cold. Icy may be a tiny bit of exaggeration, but 55 degrees still feels like the frozen tundra. Sports bra, socks, hiking boots were all that I had on as I submerged my head! and body! in this shallow pool. Might I remind you, it is 1) still pouring 2) thundering and lightening and 3) I’m still about 1.5 miles or so from my car.
Bees stung me 5 times; once on the neck, once on the leg, and 3 times higher up the leg in a slightly more delicate area.
After drowning the bees and freezing my ass off in the water, I resumed my descent still faster than I’m comfortable with because now, as a soaking wet thing, being struck by lightening was still a very real possibility. I successfully navigated the boulders, the steep decline, and the roots. My God, the roots. They always seem to be out to get me. I have a fear of falling. This is a real fear, not just one that COULD happen. I HAVE actually broken bones while trail raining: two to be exact [a wrist and an ankle], sprained an ankle multiple times, required stitches, and have cut, scraped, and bruised myself way too much.
But I keep coming back. Because there is beauty in nature. I find answers to the questions of the universe when I am in nature. There is peace in nature. Even when Mother Nature shows her ass and reminds us mortals who’s boss, a day in the woods is better than a day cooped up in a building any day.