17 July 2016

Clifty Falls: Take Two

Thank you, nice stranger, for offering to take a photo of all of us!
It's been over two years since we've been to Clifty Falls, so on Friday, when we decided the weather and timing was perfect and that we wanted to camp, we left right at dinnertime for the two hour drive. You'd think after being parents for over seven years that we would have learned that travel over mealtime isn't the best idea, but no. We haven't.
Making cashew chicken for dinner. Yum!
Once we picked our spot at the bumping campground (thank goodness we don't own a camper--that side was a MADHOUSE), we managed to get set up quickly after several trips perfecting our routine. Jack got the fire going, but instead of our traditional fast and easy hot dog dinner, Jack insisted on taking his new-to-him cast iron pots out for their maiden voyage. He had me pack up half the kitchen worth of utensils and ingredients, but the trade off was worth it--cashew chicken and steamed rice on a campout?! Unheard of! While I don't mind a well-grilled hot dog once in a while, Jack now refuses to eat "the dregs of meat" on our campouts ever again. However, he did agree that s'mores are acceptable as a dessert and I'm not expected to whip up a cheesecake over the fire.
All tuckered out. Finally. And sorry Kate for Henry scooting you all the way to the edge.
After realizing I forgot about half the things I intended on bringing (who needs plates or pajamas or bug spray?), we embraced roughing it. We always get to bed later than intended, but I suppose that's half the fun of camping: subjecting yourself to about the same amount of sleep you get with a newborn while laying in uncomfortable positions and either dying of near heat exhaustion or hypothermia. Really, this trip wasn't that bad. Though it always feels like I'm sleeping downhill no matter what direction I'm facing, after Henry fell asleep next to me and I was able to scrape him off our bed and plop him down in the middle of the girls, my sweat finally evaporated and I was quite cool and comfortable by the morning. I think I only woke up two or three times in the night. That's pretty good for sleeping in the lumpy wilderness while feral cats and raccoons wandered around outside.
Donut holes are a blessed breakfast appetizer while waiting for the main course to be served.
A lot of people like to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends. Not us. Ever. Camping is no exception. We were basically up at the crack of dawn, when the first bird chirped and got to it. Jack prepared a delectable breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potato hash. I contributed by chopping the vegetables...does that count for something? We took turns going to the very nice bathhouse to wash up (I'm okay with roughing it, but I draw the line at having to dig a hole in the ground to use as my restroom) and couldn't help but smile at the number of phones plugged in while their owners smeared on thick coats of makeup and teased their hair into beautiful, bouffant hairstyles. No joke. I am just glad I've been on enough camping trips that I know makeup will melt off the instant I start sweating and any hairstyles will probably be ruined while checking my hair for ticks or walk too close to a low-hanging bough. I am okay with being au naturale for a Saturday.
That was some gooood bacon.
While Jack took his turn, we decided to have one more roasted marshmallow over the dwindling fire. It's not really that much different than a donut, is it? I knew we were going to need our strength for hiking, and a sugar rush seemed like a good way to get it.
It takes years to master roasting marshmallows this perfectly.
One of the best things about camping is that all of a sudden, a lot of usually mundane things become fun to the girls. Wanna help cook dinner? Sure! Can you help fold up the tarps? Yeah! I get to watch Henry for you? Fun! We can have camp packed up in no time at all with the promise of exploring or swimming or seeing nature.
Evelyn tells me it's easy, like folding a really big towel.
While I fed Henry, everyone else warmed up for the day by playing a game of tag on a very rickety wooden fort. The wobblier, the better as far as kids are concerned. And, as expected, Jack is the reigning champion.
Though we'd hiked some of the trails at Clifty during our first trip, there were several that we hadn't seen, including an elusive trail that Jack had a slight obsession with finding. We warmed up on a long but easy trail that ran high above the creek and water falls, which Claire aptly described as similar to riding on a roller coaster, only really slowly...up the hill, then down the hill, then back up and back down. We pointed out some of the common plants on the forest floor...ferns, wild roses, poison ivy. The girls are quite the little botanists.
About halfway, we turned back and went to another trail that is much more popular among visitors because it has stairs and is paved for a good portion of it. I would be lying if I said it wasn't one of my favorites, too. There are some great views of Big Clifty and Little Clifty falls, and there's little risk of children, who've only been walking a few years total themselves, from tripping and tumbling down a hill.
Overlooking Big Clifty.
Plus, there was a giant hunk of stone, nicknamed Cake Rock, which gave everyone the giggles when Jack pretended to take a bite out of it. He told the girls a giant was probably walking around with a piece of cake and dropped it, and now it's fossilized. The girls are still asking whether or not giants are actually real.
Take a bite, Jack!
Having already trekked a few miles, Jack got a wild gleam in his eye, looked at his map and decided we were going to find Trail 2, which the map described as extremely rugged but would take us right to the base of a waterfall. Piece of cake with four little kids! We rested our feet for the few minutes it took to drive to the head of Trail 5 that supposedly connected to Trail 2 and once we got there, packed a few supplies (and I stress a few) for what I assumed was going to be another relatively short hike before hitting the pool as I'd promised the girls.
Lifting fallen Sycamores while carrying Henry? Cinch.
We began the hike with a fairly easily, found a neat/creepy cave that we didn't go too far into to save Henry from scraping his head on the limestone while in the hiking pack and at the midpoint of Trail 5, found the sign pointing to Trail 2. Huzzah!
Though they were tired, the girls kept commenting how easy the hike was becoming. Down, down, down the switchback trails we walked, all the while I kept thinking, "Oh, boy. How are we ever going to walk back up this beast?"
We found the creek base and immediately, the girls were excited to have a never ending supply of rocks to toss into the water. I mistakenly thought Jack had found his elusive white whale and that we'd rest a few minutes before going back up. Oh, no, no, no. We were just at the beginning.
Follow daddy!
Trail 2 is mysterious and hard to find, because there is no Trail 2. You literally follow the creek bed up to the waterfall. There are no signs that say how far it is, or if you're even going the right direction when the creek forks. You just go and hope for the best.
Taking a rock throwing break.
The map saying that the trail was extremely rugged was a dirty lie. It was horrendously rugged. Impossibly rugged. We slipped and tripped and struggled around rocks and water for two hours, all while Jack kept cheerfully telling us we could do hard things.
While we started with a few other groups of hikers, eventually, they all decided to turn back when the trip became too difficult without the guarantee of a payoff. Still, Jack thought we should keep going and though I voiced my concerns, the girls were too pooped to complain.
There were plenty of incredibly scenic views to take in and one of the great things about walking through a cool creek is that your feet don't feel as tired as they should after trudging along for mile after mile. Subsisting off of a handful of Starburst candies, honey roasted peanuts and water (I didn't know Jack wanted to hike so far or I would have brought more food!), the girls kept up their energy enough to get in trouble for leaping off slippery rocks. The last thing we needed was to have to drag someone out with a broken leg.
Me wondering how much further we were going to have to walk, while Evelyn comforts a sobbing Claire.
It took two HOURS of hiking to get to the waterfall, but we finally did it! See? That tiny little trickle is what we struggled to get to. Ah, we can do hard things!

Can we go back now?
We made it!!!
I almost convinced Jack to turn around, but he spotted a ladder built alongside a steep cliff. I grumbled and refused to climb, so Kate, Henry and I waited below while Claire, the monkey, and Evelyn, who is terrified of heights, decided to go with Jack. Sounds like an awesome idea, doesn't it?
Don't slip, please!
Kate happily resumed throwing rocks while Henry babbled in his backpack and kept himself busy with yanking my hair and screaming.
I will admit, once Claire, Evelyn and Jack got a much better view than I did while sulking at the bottom. Oh, well. Thank goodness for digital photos!
It took a little convincing (basically, the girls and I started walking back without Jack), but we managed to get Jack to leave his little oasis. I don't know if the trip was faster returning because we knew where we were going, or if we were headed downhill, or because we promised everyone swimming and ice cream once we made it, but it took about half the time.
By this time, the girls were pros.
There were a few things that really stuck out to me on that hike up "Trail" 2: most of the adults we started with turned around, though several families with young children like ours persisted and made it to the end, we managed to escape with very few bug bites, no poison ivy, broken bones, snake bites (we spotted at least one! Yikes!), serious falls or other injuries. It was hard to do, but after seeing the adults we'd started with but who'd turned around at the pool and telling them that indeed, we did make it to the waterfall, it gave us a very definite sense of satisfaction. Swimming in the pool never felt so good, dinner was never more delicious and ice cream never more well deserved.
Headed back.
All in all, we missed lunch while we walked nearly eleven miles, and the girls probably took twice as many steps with their little legs. I only gave a few piggy back rides and otherwise, they traveled the same distance as Jack and me.
Except Henry. His job was to stay happy in the hiking backpack. In fact, he was such a champ, he even managed a nap.
Sleepy baby. Lucky baby.
I love camping, or at least the idea of it. I'm always thankful I don't have to sleep outside every night and though the strangest parts of my body are now sore, I'll recover soon enough. I appreciate sleeping in my own bed, air conditioning and food readily available in the fridge. All good things!
Pretend like you're happy, or I'll tickle you!
Another eventful and entertaining camping trip!

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