We stood on the narrow trail at the base of the falls in the glen. Nearly one hundred feet above our heads, white water cascaded down the terraced face of the rock, churning the turbulent pool below. The deafening sound of the cataract drowned out all other sounds in the forest. Standing there breathing in the cool moist air, we could almost convince ourselves that we were the last remnant of a long-forgotten race chosen to view this pristine wilderness.
After a hiatus of four years we had come to hike the Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen once again. Except for our compact campsite, the rest of the grounds remained deserted. It was too early in the season; the hoards of summer people had not yet descended upon the lake and the land. We had glimpsed only a small herd of deer — a doe and two of her young — gliding silently through the trees the evening before.
As we resumed our descent through the ravine, two hikers and their dog approached from below. We paused briefly to exchange a greeting, then continued on our way.
“They probably were thinking the same thing that we were thinking,” I whispered to my friend. “How dare someone else invade the privacy of this sanctuary!”
“They looked like seasoned hikers,” my friend replied. “You could tell from the way they were dressed and the way they handled themselves along the path.”
We walked on in Indian time, pausing whenever we wished to view the stream, the forest flora or the rock formations hewn by the pounding water down through the millennia. I pointed out a stand of red trillium and noted yellow and white violets clinging to moss-covered rocks along the trail.
At Waters Meet we read the bronze plaque which proclaims the designation of the Glens as a registered natural lankmark under the provisions of the Historic Sites Act of August 21, 1935. From the trail below the wooden foot bridge at the confluence that forms Kitchen Creek you can view the two streams that descend through Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh. My friend pointed out the compass chiseled into a flat rock as we prepared to ascend the Glen Leigh Trail.
Further along close to the summit we encountered the two hikers that we had met during our descent. This time we stopped on one of the wooden foot bridges to chat. The man and his son-in-law had been hiking the Falls Trail loop every Thursday for the last several years. They started shortly after the man had a stent put in one of his coronary arteries. “I had what they call a cardiac event,” he chuckled. “I can tell you, it wasn’t indigestion.”
My friend stooped to stroke their dog, a pit bull bitch. “She’s really very mellow,” the son-in-law said, “although she can be temperamental at times.”
“Do you walk the trail year round?” I asked the old man.
“Year in, year out,” he said. “We’ve done it in the middle of winter with crampons when the trail was icy, and nearly went over the edge at Ganoga Falls.”
“You don’t say!”
“Thankfully, it was a short drop to the switchback below. But we had to go back up for the dog — she slipped her collar and wouldn’t budge.”
“Lucky for you — that’s quite a drop into the ravine there.”
“We saw another fellow, a line worker from North Dakota who had come east after the snow storm last fall to help restore power. He was sitting on the wooden bench down at Waters Meet, white-faced and wearing crampons. He told us he had gone over the side.”
“You know the Lake Rose oil scam story?” the old man asked. We shook our heads. “Lake Rose, that’s the dry lake bed up at Ganoga trailhead. Seems one time a fellow found signs of oil there. Convinced any number of investors to chip in to drill. Later they discovered the fellow in Canada — he had absconded with the investment funds,” he chuckled.
We shook hands all round and parted ways. “Be careful going down, the stone steps are slippery from the morning drizzle.”
“That’s when I get the ski pole out of my knapsack,” the old man said.
“I knew I wasn’t wrong about them,” my friend said further up the trail. “You can always tell woodsmen when you see them.”
We had sandwiches for a late lunch back at camp, then walked down to look at the lake. Far out on the grey water you could make out the form of a goose. A pair of mallards rested among the green tufts of water grass near the shore.
We looked at the overcast sky. “So far the weather’s cooperated.”
“It might rain yet,” my friend said.
It held off until late evening. The skies opened up shortly after we crawled into the tent. I fell asleep listening to the sound of the rain on the tent fly. It was good to be curled up in my sleeping bag, warm and dry.
The sound of high winds woke me in the middle of the night. I pulled my stocking cap above my ears and listened to the sound of the rushing wind in the treetops. The rain had stopped, but the wind continued to gust periodically through the night.
We arose at first light to find the dining fly demolished. The wind had lifted it up as though it were a toy parachute, pulling the stakes out of the ground. Paraphernalia lay strewn about. We made a survey and found a missing tea towel under the collapsed tarp.
We heated some water on the camp stove for tea and oatmeal, then burned the remaining hickory in the fire ring. It was the best fire of the three-day excursion. As we doused the coals, a plume of heavy smoke rose from the pit.
A few snowflakes stung our faces before we climbed in our cars and headed out. Overhead, the cold wind still blew steadily in the trees.