Friday night brought a lot of rain to the area, so Michelle and I headed toward the Forty Foot Hole this morning. It was overcast and humid when we left at 7:30 am, with an occasional breeze. I was grateful for the cloud cover because it made the humidity a little easier to bear. Although we normally hike from Lost Lake, we decided to approach from the Boulder parking area today. As we turned down the road leading to Lost Lake and Boulder, we encountered a herd of longhorn and two youngsters who were particularly playful.
We slathered ourselves with bug spray, geared up, and headed down the trail. For those unfamiliar with this approach, I think it’s easier to find the Forty Foot Hole because you see the falls as you hike down the trail. It’s also a shorter hike than coming from Lost Lake. However, I prefer hiking from Lost Lake because it’s more scenic. From Boulder, hike down Kite Trail a bit and then climb up until you’re on top of the cliffs. Fairly quickly, you will reach a fork in the trail. Take the left fork, which runs closer to the edge of the cliff, and you will soon see the falls above the Forty Foot Hole.
When we reached the Forty Foot Hole, we were disappointed to see that there was very little water running.
Disappointment didn’t last long as Michelle pointed out that the lack of water gave us an opportunity to get closer to the falls than we normally could, just as we had done on our last hike to Post Oak Falls (See Things From A Different Perspective). There are several ways to reach the Forty Foot Hole and the falls. After a little investigation, we chose to climb down the cliff just below the falls. Actually, Michelle chose to climb down while I was scouting things out from above. Back in 2015, I had climbed down this cliff to assist with a graffiti clean up and I had needed someone to guide me down. This time, I scampered down with no problem and I was pretty proud of myself. But the challenges were still to come.
Michelle and I are so different in a lot of respects. For that reason, I think that our friendship baffles many people. She is definitely more adventurous and I am more cautious. I have a healthy fear of falling and she climbs around like a monkey, which is her very appropriate nickname. When we reached the bottom of the cliff, we picked up a lot of trash and secured it with a carabiner on the back of my pack. So now I had a fully loaded pack (I really need to get a lighter day pack), a half-full trash bag, my camera with a telephoto lens around my neck (which seemed to be choking me all morning), and Ken’s camera with a regular lens on my right shoulder. Pack mule much? For someone who has difficulty climbing, these items just added to the problem and the challenge.
Michelle was in charge of choosing our route down the right side of West Cache Creek as we headed upstream. We quickly developed a system. She would scamper up the boulders like the little monkey she is. Then I would hand my cameras up to her, contemplate how I was going to reach the next level without killing myself, and then awkwardly climb. There were a lot of stops and starts on my climbs as I tried to push my fears aside and just do it. Fear = Face Everything And Rise. Michelle was very encouraging. Of course, she was also a pita, documenting my tortuous journey several times with my own camera! What are BYF’s for??
To get above the falls, Michelle chose to climb up on the left side of the creek and then walk down a ledge and cross over. I chose to go to the right side and use 3 very small rocks to get across and then make a very short climb up above the falls. I was feeling pretty confident at that point. After all, I had made the descent down the cliff and now climbed above the falls. I was golden! I was so, so wrong!! The next obstacle was very awkward in terms of hand holds and foot placement. Of course, Michelle was on top in a jiffy and then took my cameras. I stood at the base of the boulder trying to ascertain the best approach. This is when Michelle decided to document things for posterity.
I started to place my feet and search for hand holds to pull myself up. As I moved up, I threw up weight forward and popped over the top. I had no idea that Michelle had captured that moment until I got home and uploaded my pictures.
Moving along the creek, we quickly came to obstacle number 3 and this is where things started going south for me. Once again, Michelle chose a route and scooted to the top. I handed up my cameras and started calculating how I would reach the pinnacle. I think I climbed and backed down a couple of times, although fear scrambled my brains, so I’m not absolutely sure how many false starts there were. Eventually, I had both feet on ledges in the boulder and both hands planted above, but then I was stuck. In truth, I was frozen in place. Michelle reached down with her right hand and I grabbed onto her arm and hand. As she pulled, I kind of pushed off of the rock, and somehow we both got me to the top. Along the way, I banged my elbow and knee, and just collapsed on the rock from the sheer effort. As I laid there with tears in my eyes, I sensed Michelle off to my left and I knew she was capturing the moment for later posting to social media.
As I lay there laugh/crying and considering my certain demise in the near future, Michelle stood above me laughing her fool head off. I pointed out to her that it wasn’t nice to laugh at my foibles and she pointed out that if the situation was reversed, I would be wetting my pants. Truth. I eventually gathered my wits about me and stood up. We continued on and very soon reached what would be my greatest challenge of the day.
Once again, Michelle chose her route and started her ascent. I handed up the cameras and thought about handing up my pack, but I decided to keep it on. I placed my right foot on a very narrow ledge and tried to move my left foot up to a wider ledge, but it didn’t work. I could get my knee on the ledge, but then there was no way to pull my right foot up. I have to say that I have serious respect for climbers. I honestly don’t know how they do it, especially those who climb with no safety gear. Michelle offered to come back down and show me the way again, but that wasn’t the problem. I could envision the route, but I couldn’t get my left foot up to the next level. Although my long legs are often an advantage and Michelle’s short legs are often a disadvantage, it was the reverse in this case.
After a couple of aborted attempts, I was becoming extremely anxious and starting to breathe too hard, so I told Michelle I needed to take a minute. I walked away and called on my yoga breath. As I started breathing deeply and calmly, I told myself that I could do this. I just needed to find my own path and I did. I chose a different route than Michelle and fairly quickly reached the top of the boulder. And I didn’t even pass out! At this point, we had to make a choice between the best route to continue forward or climbing back out. I surveyed what was in front of us and it was a lot of brush and some vines that I’m pretty sure was poison something. We could cross to the left side of the creek, but there was a bend up ahead and I couldn’t see what was around it. We made the choice to climb back out and quickly found a pretty easy way back up the cliff. The skies were looking a little dark, so we headed back to the car.
After removing all our gear, we grabbed the snack that smiles back, cranked up the A/C and headed toward the visitor center. It was pretty busy when we arrived and Donna was working the front desk alone, so we checked out the new art exhibit (there is a different artist each month). Then we headed into the Nature Store to check on the arrival of the 2018 calendars. Not yet, but any day now. There are more t-shirts that need a space in my closet and some beautiful stoneware coffee mugs. Then we discovered animal finger puppets! I think we need some of these for future hikes!! Eventually, we made our way back to the front desk and Donna asked what we had been up to. I promptly replied that Michelle had tried to kill me. Eye roll from Michelle, smirk from Donna, and we launched into the story. I love when we go to the visitor center and tell the story of the hike! And we usually have pictures to prove what has happened.
Today’s hike was all about facing my fears and rising to meet a challenge. I won’t lie – it was not easy. There were several times that I thought I would fall or freak out or both. But Michelle was there the entire time to encourage me, give me a helping hand, and laugh at/with me too. That’s what friends are for and we make a great team, both on the trail and in the yoga studio. There is a great level of trust between us and that is very important when you’re afraid. Things I learned from today’s hike: I can meet a challenge if I breathe, accept help when I need it, and trust in my own abilities; sometimes I can follow somebody else’s path, but other times I have to follow my own path in order to succeed; negative self-talk is defeating but positive self-talk is empowering and can help you overcome obstacles; I can always count on Michelle to have photographic proof of my awkward moments (and the favor is returned).
Remember to always choose the path that is best for you and trust in your choice. See you on the trail!