I've wanted to hike to Laurel Falls in the Smokies for a while, but every time I decide that I want to go, the parking at the trailhead is always full when I get there and I end up going somewhere else in the park instead. I figured out a while ago that I could just get up really early and go then, but I hate getting up really early, and my hatred of early rising has always outweighed my desire to hike to Laurel Falls.
Fortunately I've been getting up at 5:30 in the morning for two weeks to get to work really early (or maybe not fortunately; I've fallen asleep during a lot of TV for the past couple of weeks) so I figured that now was the time to take advantage of my new early-riser schedule, and informed Kristin that I would be leaving my apartment to head to Laurel Falls between 6:00 and 6:30 Saturday morning.
"You're gonna need to call me. A lot."
Yesterday morning I got up, and left the apartment at 6:08. Yay for being on schedule!
I got some gas:
picked up Kristin and the picnic basket she packed us for brunch, and we headed into the mountains...
...where my plan was completely successful!
There were so many parking spaces at the trailhead when we got there that I parked us right in front of the sign.
Not that it was the only sign there:
Danger? Vertical drops? I don't really like dangerous vertical drops. Kristin, on the other hand, took the sign as a challenge, not a warning:
Edge of the path, then entire way. I should have been more worried, but I had the car keys, so, you know, if you want to play on the edge of the cliffs (and it's a lot of cliffs; the path is paved and not steep, but clings to the side of the mountain the whole way) even though a sign told you not to, go right ahead. I'll be sure to explain the whole thing to the park ranger while they're trying to jam your legbone back inside so they can airlift you.
The trail isn't especially scenic. There are some nice views, and I was intrigued by this tree that managed to grow and fill every space between two boulders:
but for the most part it's just 1.2 miles of walking and trying to figure out what's wrong with the tenth of a mile markers along the way.
I have photographic proof that there definitely is something wrong with them.
At first, I was trying to use them to be motivational.
"Look! We've already gone two tenths of a mile!"
But then Kristin pointed out that three tenths was taking forever.
"Seriously, we've walked like twice as far as we walked for the first two marker things."
"No, they measure. It just seems farther because the trail doubled back and went uphill. Or something. Whatever. They measure it."
"I think you're wrong."
"I think you should stop playing on the edge like that."
I loudly called out each tenth as we passed the marker, Kristin continued to insist that they were inaccurately placed, and I continued to insist that she was wrong, until we got to marker #8:
See those two guys back there? That thing sticking out of the ground next to them is marker #7. It's less than fifty yards away. Even if I'm off on the yardage, that's definitely not a tenth of a mile. I also didn't see a marker #12 anywhere near the falls, but maybe the park designers figured you didn't need a marker when it was obvious that you were at the end:
There's a bridge over the falls:
where there's kind of a natural break between the top level and bottom level of the falls. The path keeps going on the opposite side of the bridge, although it gets really steep and rocky:
If you do go ahead and climb it a little ways, though, it gives a better view of the falls as a whole:
We stayed for several minutes taking it in, peeking over the edges, and taking a lot of photos:
and I learned a couple of things:
1) The water is COLD. Like, "This water was snow ten minutes ago" cold. Just standing on the bridge you could feel a noticeable difference in the temperature, and it was cold enough to see your breath.
2) It's kind of dark by the falls early in the morning. I brought the pinhole camera, but none of the pictures I took at the falls came out. There are a few where you can see the white water, but everything else is so dark that you can't tell what's going on around it.
3) The falls are loud. We heard them long before we got to them. You can hear a little bit of it in this video:
but it seemed a lot louder in person.
It was a good hike, though, and when we got back to the car all of the other parking spaces were taken.
Those people should have left home earlier.