Amicalola Falls State Park: friendly waters

Due to its size and geographical location on the continent, Georgia has a beautifully diverse landscape. I was reminded of this over the weekend as I drove from my home in a pastoral area of Southeast Georgia to the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Northwest portion of the State.

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I can’t decide if it’s rude or ironic, but either way… I like it!

It was a long drive for a day trip, and only two days after the “Great Georgia Blizzard of 2016”, but my friend and I set out for a much anticipated visit to Amicalola Falls State Park. Neither of us had visited before and we were both suffering a little cabin fever (it had just snowed after all) and we felt the need to get outside and enjoy nature.

We arrived around 1 pm, had a quick snack and decided we would eat lunch when we got back from our hike, which was approximately 2 miles round trip. We gathered our stuff, had cameras on the ready and set out to see the falls!

I realized I had left my water bottle in the car, but decided not to go back and get it because the nice lady in the Visitor’s Center had told us there would be a place to buy water when we got to the top.  Just a mere one mile away from where I stood… no problem… I’d just get some later.

Did I mention this was a hike to the top of a waterfall? And not just any old IMG_4332waterfall…the highest waterfall in the entire Southeast, a 729 foot waterfall, one of the 7 Wonders of Georgia, the hiking of which would include over 600 near-vertical stairs. Oh yeah… that waterfall!

So, halfway up the six-hundred-some-odd stairs, I turned all clammy and started feeling nauseous. I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack and tilted my head back and lifted my camera up for one last photo before I died. At least it was a beautiful place to breathe my last breath.

And then it hit me, I wasn’t dying… it was my vertigo! Once I realized I was going to live, the scenery was much more enjoyable, but it was still hard to make it up the remaining stairs.

I was dehydrated and knew that wasn’t helping matters, so I asked my friend to go on ahead and get some water from the lodge which was supposed to be right at the top of the falls.  I made it up the remaining stairs by counting them off and closing my eyes to keep the nausea at bay.

When I got to the top and the world had stopped spinning some, I realized there was no lodge right there, there were no signs, and I had sent my legally blind friend to find me some water. Yes, I know. My “Friend of the Year” nomination has just been revoked.  I had asked my legally blind friend to head on up the side of the mountain and please go find me some water.

As you can imagine, I was relieved to see her coming toward me, two Good Samaritans in tow. They had a cold bottle of water which instantly revived and also insisted I eat one of their delicious organic bananas. (My friend told me later that she had approached them, handed them her wallet and told them that she was legally blind and needed help finding where she could purchase a bottle of water for her friend.) Thankfully, the couple, aside from being completely adorable, were incredibly kind.

The young woman said that she didn’t believe in accidents and that there was a reason that things had unfolded the way they had in order to bring us together, and I couldn’t agree more. Even if that reason was simply to remind me and those of you reading this story that there are good people in this world and that kindness matters! And kindness to strangers somehow matters even more.

I looked up the meaning of the name, Amicalola, and found that it comes from the Cherokee for “tumbling waters”. But I didn’t sit through four excruciating semesters of Latin for nothing, and I know that “amica” means friend.  So for me Amicalola will always mean “tumbling friend”… or um maybe “friendly waters”… yeah, that’s it, Amicalola means “friendly waters”! How appropriate is that? (And how thankful am I that “tumbling friend” did not turn out to be the appropriate name??!!!)  🙂

Hints, tips, lessons learned….

Here’s the numIMG_4386ber one lesson to take away from this story – always carry water when hiking. No matter the distance. No matter the weather. No matter your physical fitness level (but perhaps especially when your physical fitness level is, um, not fit).

If you have vertigo, you may want to take the ridge trail to the top instead of the stairs… it’s not as scenic, but it also avoids vertical climbs and see-through stairs. If looking at this photo makes you feel queasy – take another route.

Plan for plenty of time to make the full circuit hike from the bottom of the falls, to the top, and back down. If it’s 1:00 when you get there, eat lunch BEFORE you head out. It’s only 2 miles, but it’s a STEEP 2 miles – going up and down.

Enjoy the gorgeous scenery! The falls are beautiful, the views of the mountains from the top of the ridge are spectacular. This park was wonderful and, despite my own little drama, totally worth the drive. I hear the views during peak fall color are amazing and I’d like to go back in the autumn to see it again!

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