Over Memorial Day weekend my oldest childhood friend – Pam, whom I’ve known since seventh grade – came from Texas to visit our mutual friend Randy in Cookeville. I joined them today for a visit. Pam does not sit still well so when I visit her at Randy’s there’s always a plan and it usually involves hiking and waterfalls.
Randy discovered by reading The Herald Citizen that nearby Cummins Falls had been officially named Tennessee’s 54th state park, the first new state park in 14 years. The falls have been used by the community for over a century and the pool of water at the bottom of the falls was recently named one of America’s top 10 swimming holes in an article in Travel & Leisure magazine. This kind of exciting news is just the catalyst to set Pam on a must-see mission.
By the time I arrived on Tuesday morning, Pam had already been to the falls. She gave me a full report as I ate the peanut butter and toasted hamburger bun Randy fixed me for breakfast. We had already discussed hiking during my visit, so a new park with a waterfall sounded like a sure bet. Then she told me about the access.
“We can get there through the trail, which is a switch back…” she said.
My knees screamed, “THAT SOUNDS STEEP! WE DON’T LIKE IT!”
“Or we can rappel down,” she added.
“Wh-what? Rappel? Seriously?”
“It’s not straight down,” she explained. “It’s more like you use ropes that are there like railings to get down the side of a wall. It kinda slopes.”
I’ve known Pam for a long time. I’ve learned how she sugar coats things in order to get her less-than-fearless friends to tag along with her. She’s infamous for saying, “It’s not that bad,” and then you get there and it’s way scarier than you ever could have imagined but you’re stuck and you can’t turn back and you nearly kill yourself and she says, “See? It wasn’t that bad.”
This time I was prepared. I brought ankle-supporting hiking boots and knee braces, my sunscreen already applied, a Tilley hat and a first aid kit. The thought of a new park with a new waterfall so close to home was too much for me to resist. Willing to risk life and limb to reach it, I set out with Pam for Cummins Falls.
Less than an hour north of Cookeville, we arrived at our destination to find a gravel parking lot nearly empty. A good sign – not too crowded.
Another good sign – a substantial natural walking stick left at the gate to the entrance of the park. I snatched it up and put it to good use on behalf of my ankles and knees.
We soon came to a precipice where a new fence had been erected for safety while viewing the falls. It still had red, white and blue half-moon banners draped across it from the dedication ceremony with the governor.
Behind that fence hung the ropes. Two sets of knotted thick twine, broken up into three separate sections of descent. We watched a young woman climb down before us as if she did it everyday. She made it look easy. We were emboldened.
Pam went first. She made it look easy, too. She found a ledge to stand on until I was on my way. I laid down my walking stick behind a tree and grabbed the rope. No sooner did I get over the side of the ledge than I slipped and scrubbed my elbow and knee against the rocks.
That was the worst of it, though. I found my balance and climbed backwards down the rock face using the ropes for security. It really was not so bad.
Once on the ground, we scrambled over the rocks and boulders to get to the falls. Lots of young people jumping and climbing and swimming. A few dogs, a few little kids, but mostly young adults. We met a couple of friendly pit bulls that kept us amused and their owner, Blake, a bartender at Whiskey Ktichen, and his crew. The sun felt great on my shoulders, the water felt cool on my legs. A swimsuit was all I lacked.
Too soon it was time to go. We scrambled back up the rock face by way of the ropes, and found my walking stick still behind the tree. Heading back out to the parking lot I laid it against the gate where I found it as a sign for the next weak-kneed hiker to come along.
Pam and I both predict that it won’t be long before the state comes in and cuts the ropes. So if this is your idea of adventure, better get out there quick before the nanny state steps in to save you from your dangerous self. Or your dangerous friends. Like Pam.
UPDATE August 30, 2012: Pam is now a resident of our great state, and revisited the falls this week. As predicted, the ropes are now gone.