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If you were to ask a bunch of folks who live here in the South what a local might say right before he dies, the most common response would be: "Hey yíall, watch this!" For some reason, it often does not occur to us how stupid this particular thing we are doing until we have already committed to the particular act of stupidity.
I had gotten up early, and was able to start my journey on the Fiery Gizzard trail by 6:45am. The writer Evan Means describes the hike in his book, "Hiking Tennessee Trails" as having "spectacular scenery that includes waterfalls, deep gorges, sheer rock bluffs, scenic overlooks, spring wildflowers, exceptional fall colors, and dazzling ice formations in winter." The trail descends into the gorge, walking mainly along the creek by the same name until the 500-ft ascent to Raven Point. The walk is absolutely spectacular with an overabundance of huge trees, rock formations, waterfalls, and cool swimming holes.
Did I mention huge rocks? Did I mention millions of rocks, some of them as large as a small house? Did I mention that the path is often marked only by the white paint that has been sprayed on the rocks? Did I also happen to mention that in the early spring, that most of the paint is hidden by the fact that no one has walked the trail since last fall?
I was a good three or four miles into the hike when I suddenly realized that I didnít have a clue where the path went next. I looked straight in front of me for the telltale marking on another set of rocks or a nearby tree. I looked up toward the rock bluffs to my left, thinking perhaps I had already come to my steep ascent to Raven Point.
I even backtracked, knowing that surely I had lost the trail somewhere. I sat down, got out my map, and compared what I saw on paper to what I saw around me. Again I looked straight in front of me for the telltale marking on another set of rocks or a nearby tree. Again I looked up toward the rock bluffs to my left, thinking perhaps I had already come to my steep ascent to Raven Point. I am sure I even backtracked again, knowing that surely I had lost the trail somewhere.
I came to the realization that I had no idea where the path went next. I considered sitting and waiting for someone else to come along. Surely there would be other hikers, local folks who walked the trail practically every month or so. I decided to get out my cell phone and see if I could get a signal. Hey, I figured, I might call the ranger and ask him or her where in the world did he think I was.
Did I happen to mention that cellular signals donít get out in the bottom of deep gorges, and sheer rock bluffs? I sat and thought for a while, ate some beef jerky, and finally decided that surely I could find Raven Point with or without a trail.
Bushwhacking I think they call it. You look at your compass, or your GPS, or decide upon some landmark and just start walking toward it, making your way anyway you can. There are a lot of reasons why this was a really stupid idea. First of all, I was hiking alone. All of the training I have ever had concerning what to do when you are lost says to stay on the trail. Lost? I wasnít lost I told myself. After all, the big rock bluff up there to my right surely had to be Raven Point. I would just make my way up the side of the deep gorge, crossing these millions of rocks like stepping stones until I climbed the 500-feet I needed to be up there, on the top.
The really stupid part of all this is that if I were to slip, to fall, and to break a leg just who was going to be able to find me? Now that I had left the trail, I was on my own, and not that I had ever done any real mountain climbing before, but this was about as close as I wanted to get anytime soon.
Making my way up to the top was a matter of grabbing anything that didnít come loose when I pulled, pushed or shoved against it. There was one point when I literally was crawling on all fours, just scrambling anyway I could. Somewhere in the process I lost my jacket, and somewhere in the process I got pretty dirty, but I am happy to say that I did make it. The feeling was incredible. My first mountain climbing experience, or at least the closest I had ever been.
So here I was, on top. Looking all the way down where I had been, so glad to see the white markings of the trail again. So glad to be on level footing again. So glad to have made it without getting hurt. So glad in fact that I never realized that although I was on the trail I still didnít have a clue where I was. I went with instinct and walked east. After a good half-mile or so I still didnít have any real comfort level, so I turned around and walked a good mile or so in the opposite direction. Still no better off, so I figured it was time to sit down and think again. . I decided to get out my cell phone and see if I could get a signal. Hey, this time it worked, and I called home. Jordan answered, Debbie wasnít home, and all I could think of to say was "Iím lost, but donít worry, because at least I am on the trail. I just donít know where in the world I am."
Running parallel to the Fiery Gizzard trail is the Dog Hole trail. If you turn left at Sycamore Falls, rather than stay to the right and follow Fiery Gizzard along the creek. Itís an easier way to Raven Point, and offers the possibility of a loop trail. I didnít realize that I had crossed up so far west on the top of the bluff that I wasnít on the Fiery Gizzard like I had thought, but was now on the Dog Hole.
A little more wandering around, I managed to figure out where I was, and shortly before noon I was sitting on the big flat rock known as Raven Point eating lunch. You cannot imagine the view there. You just have to go see it for yourself.
I started back to the car, got to the junction of Fiery Gizzard and Dog Hole trails again, and for some reason I wanted to work my way back down to the bottom and try to figure out where I had lost the trail before. For all tends and purposes, I had just hollered out to the world, "Hey yíall, watch this!" As I said before, it often does not occur to us how stupid this particular thing we are doing until we have already committed to the particular act of stupidity. Four steps, maybe five, and the next thing I knew I was catching myself in a fall and listening to my ankle pop as the ligaments hyper-extended.
The immediate sense of knowing you are hurt. The immediate sense of knowing you have just done something to completely change the events of the day. The immediate sense of knowing that your car just got a lot farther away. About four miles, maybe even five. I backtracked the four steps back up to Dog Hole, determined to make it to my car without passing out. Do you have any inclination of how painful about four or five miles of hiking down along scenic overlooks and waterfalls can be? Even the spring wildflowers, and dazzling ice formations donít offer much solace when every step is a re-enactment of my favorite scene in Stephen Kingís movie "Misery". Do you know the one I am talking about? Yup, you got it. Letís get out the sledgehammer again, shall we?
There are a lot of stories about how Fiery Gizzard trail got its name, the most common one being that Davy Crockett burned his tongue on a chicken gizzard while camping there. As intriguing as those stories are, my Fiery Gizzard story will always be how I almost managed to get a Darwin award there. The good news is there were plenty of people to talk to on my way back. I think every local hiker in the Grundy Forest SP area had decided to hike the Fiery Gizzard that day. Everyone was nice, too. Do you need anything? How about a walking stick? Are you sure you are going to make it? Thanks you guys because the encouragement did help, and yes, I was really glad to see my truck waiting for me.
About the AuthorTownDawg is a regular participant at budget-travels-tips.com and lives in West Tennessee.
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