Life has been interesting recently and my priorities have shifted so I do apologize for not updating my blog recently. But fear not – you haven’t missed anything because I haven’t done much of interest recently. Until two weekends ago.
I have been volunteering with my church to organize/lead outdoor activities for a wide range of age groups and abilities. A couple of weekends ago we had a trip planned but canceled due to the possibility of snow and/or ice. Since I had planned an adventure and I REALLY needed to get out, I called up my trusty all weather adventure buddy, and we made plans for early Saturday morning.
He picked me up in his 4X4 Jeep and off to Bankhead National Forest we went. The anticipated North Alabama blizzard of a couple of inches did not come to fruition (at least where I live) but we did see a dusting once we begin our ascent into the Warrior Mountains. We really didn’t have a set agenda, but did have a few places we wanted to check out. After driving around on the Forest Service Roads a bit, we did hop out and check out one promising area that held a waterfall just a few minutes from the car.
From there, we had heard about a nice waterfall that was not marked on the map. After a minute or two, we found our starting point – an old cemetery. I thought it was interesting that the markers were mostly modern but the dates were in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The oldest marker had a date of 1833, but there were many graves just marked with plain stones that could have been older.
After surveying the cemetery, we headed toward our destination. To summarize, we saw a small 6 ft waterfall and turned around. After we returned home, we discovered that if we had continued there was a huge bluff shelter with a waterfall about a fourth of a mile further. Oh well, now we have an excuse to return. We did manage to catch some pictures of snow and icicles, though.
Being underwhelmed by what we had seen up to this point, we decided we should check out at least one more spot on the map that we had been wanting to see. After looking at the map to decide the best route, we headed down another Forest Service Road and parked at a clear cut area. After following a logging downhill, we finally came to Collier Creek.
Here we saw something interesting – an underwater bridge. It was a fairly wide wood bridge resting on the creek bottom. It didn’t appear extremely old, but it was out of place as there didn’t appear to be a crossing at this location, and bridges are a pretty uncommon sight in Bankhead. I’m making the assumption that it was washed downstream by the recent heavy rain, but I may be wrong.
After looking downstream, I decided to tough it out and cross the stream here. The far side of the creek was fairly level,easy terrain and the near side appeared challenging to say the least. Yes, the water was extremely cold, but I was thankful my quick draining shoes and wool socks. After a few minutes, we arrived on the top of Collier Creek Falls. There are two stone columns here dating to the early 1900’s (I’ve heard 1907) built to support a mill at this location. The only problem was that it was the end of a box canyon and we did not see a way down to the water and base of the columns.
Seeing the resemblance of a game trail to the left, we decided to go downstream to find a way down. The trail (which is an over-exaggeration of what we were following) continued downstream and it seems that every 50 feet or so we heard another waterfall. We continued to explore safe options down to the water, but the walls of the canyon were nearly vertical. Finally, I made the call. If we could not find a way down to the water in the next few minutes, we would have to come back as I was running out of time until the time I promised to be back.
I told my adventure buddy that I would check one last time to see if I could find a way down and went toward the edge of the bluff to explore my options. Alas, once again it was too steep. Dejected, I climbed back up to where we had split ways only to find trees instead of someone waiting on me. I wasn’t worried – I figured we was also looking. I took the few minutes I had to shed some layers for the hike out, drink some water, and have a quick snack.
Then from the distance I heard a voice. It couldn’t be – the voice was below me! He had found a way down to the water! I followed his directions, climbing down and came across the beauty.
Although this appears tropical, this is North Alabama in late January with snow on the ground. The green are mostly Hemlock trees and Mountain Laurel. Although we swore the water was blue because it felt like ice, it is actually from the dissolved calcium from the limestone rock. This was gorgeous and worth every bit of crossing cold water, climbing through Mountain Laurel and following a game trail. We decided to go upstream to the stone columns and hopefully find an easier and shorter route out of the canyon.
With the recent rain, the water level was up a bit. That is great for waterfalls, but it is not so great when you are hiking up a creek without a trail. If there was a trail, it was underwater. We didn’t care – we had found a way down to the water and now just upstream was our destination. Lots of pretty things to see within a short distance.
Around every bend was another cascade or waterfall. I’m sure several of these are only active during and following a heavy rain, but it was awesome! There was a place or two where the water covered the entire floor of the canyon and we were forced to climb up the waterfall very carefully.
Finally we arrived at the base of the stone columns. After pictures and a quick snack, we decided to head out looking for a shorter way out since we were not excited about retracing our steps on the way in. After a few minutes, we found a narrow ledge that if we could climb onto it would allow us to climb to the ridge line and bushwhack our way back upstream.
Luckily we made it without anyone getting hurt (it was still pretty icy and slippery) and we made it back to the Jeep in record time. It took a long hot shower and some thick wool socks under a blanket for my feet to feel warm again – but I would do it again without thinking twice.