Facing Fears

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been picking and choosing which trails I do, largely looking for flat or relatively flat tracks.  At the same time, I’m hoping to train for bigger and better tracks, including ones with significant grades.

So today, I decided ‘to hell with easy’ and decided to tackle Fairy Falls.  I’d heard it was a wee bit more strenuous than the walks I’ve been doing to date.  Looking up descriptions of the trail online confirmed this, in a way.  Typical descriptions read “easy grade, aside from the stairs”.  One commenter said “stairs go on forever, allow extra time for them on the way back”.  Although the council’s description is a bit less specific but somewhat more accurate – first, “descends steeply”, followed by “then descends extremely steeply”.   But, it’s meant to be a beautiful sight at the end, and the time estimated was right in the ballpark of what I was after today.  Not to mention that I’m running out of flat-ish tracks in the area.

Fairy Falls

I made sure I was well supplied – had a total of 1500mls of water (3x 500 ml), a couple muesli bars, hiking boots on and hiking poles.  The descent was fairly easy and uneventful for over half of the track – the pathway itself is actually a very slight grade, with steps interjected here and there where the mountain side gets slightly steeper.  In many places the steps aren’t truly needed, and indeed in some of them it’s clear some trailblazers have simply gone around them.

Then there’s the stream.  The stream itself isn’t that surprising, as obviously waterfalls will at some point require a stream or other water source.  What did surprise me was the lack of a bridge over said stream where the path crosses.

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To be entirely honest, I nearly turned back here.  But today was partially about facing fears, and there was no reason to limit that to strenuous work.

There are two reasons I don’t like very steep paths.  One is the obvious – it’s bloody hard work, and I’m relatively new at this and still, by my mind at least, pretty unfit.  I’m not worried about actually dying – I’m not that unfit – but I am concerned about feeling like I am!  That’s part of why I like to go alone as well, of course – this way I’m not holding anyone up, but can stop as needed to catch my breath before continuing on.

The other reason, however, is that I don’t always like downhills, either.  I’ve never felt particularly surefooted, but now that I’m an adult, and significantly less fit than as a kid, I feel more clumsy than ever.  I don’t always do descents well, and I’m hyper aware of this.  I’m terrified of going ass over teakettle – and the downside of being alone in this case is that there’s no one there to get immediate help.  I also have a shoulder that’s prone to dislocating.  In most ‘normal’ circumstances, it doesn’t – but it has in the past when flailing to keep my balance (in all cases while pregnant, which loosens the ligaments), and I’m worried that exactly that sort of situation might pop it out again, despite not being pregnant.  Walking with my hiking poles helps in that regard – gives me something to push down on, and also stops me flailing as much – even if I fall, I’m that much less likely to do my shoulder in.  Plus ideally, of course, they help prevent falling in the first place.

Further still, I’m not comfortable with rocks.  To be fair, I’ve only had one collision with a boulder, and that was in entirely different circumstances.  However, I’ve hiked paths – and been around hiking paths – as a child (with camp groups and the like) that were significantly rocky, and in a couple cases, also featured streams and/or waterfalls.  Memory is foggy now, but I have in my head that one year at camp there was a significant and serious incident with a camper who was climbing one of these rocks, only to slip and break several bones.  To be fair, what’s left with me is the imprint of the warning, and the terror that that could very easily be me.  I don’t think I ever saw the kid in question, if it was even at the same time I was there.  But the fear remains with me.

Instead of turning back here, however, I decided to push on.  The rocks involved weren’t that big.  There looked to be relatively stable places to place my feet.  There was, as pictured, the railing to cling to. And I might as well test out the waterproofing of my hiking boots.  (End result – they passed).

Immediately after the stream crossing came the stairs.

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The picture doesn’t really do the stairs justice – the path turns the corner, the stairs keep going.  The steepest of the stairs had hand-rails on at least one side though, which was appreciated, although my poles and hand rails are not a great mix.  But with me feeling clumsy on my feet, I take any assistance I can get.  In general, I prefer stairs to very steep grades without stairs – again, the clumsiness.  I worry (especially when the ground is wet) about sliding down on my bum, or worse.  Stairs at least, I can take slowly and deliberately, and not have my feet go on at speed without the rest of me willingly following.

The descent down – and even, going back, the climb up – was well worth the views, however.  Fairy Falls is a cascading waterfall that just keeps on going.  There’s two different sections to it (the stream turns a corner as well) but even the pictures here at least hint at their beauty.

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The water at the bottom is ice cold, and a pool that would be deep enough – and likely easy enough – to swim in.  I didn’t bring any supplies to do so however 😉   Instead of rushing away into a gushing river (and carrying people in the pool away with the current, for example) the pool merely overflows onto the rock that is the end of Fairy Falls Track.

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Sitting in the comfort, now, of my home, with my feet up, I can say that the climb back to the top wasn’t really that bad.  It was definitely hard going at times, but I came prepared for that.  The hardest part, both mentally and physically, and both going down and coming back up, was crossing the stream.   Which is not to say that I didn’t take frequent breaks to catch my breath when ascending the stairs, because I certainly did.  But stairs I can handle – just one foot in front of the other.  The stream crossing threw me a bit – but again, in the end, I handled it successfully.  Fairy Falls Track, on many levels, proves to me (and anyone following) that I can indeed do these things.  I may still be unfit – or at least think of myself as so – but given enough time, and my own pace, I have the determination to get through.  And I will.

About halfway through the track, there’s an intersection with another track, and, as at most maintained track intersections, the sign points to the second half of the current track with an estimated time to complete on it.  In this case, 20 minutes to the falls, 20 minutes to the start of the track at Scenic Drive.  Conveniently, it also fairly accurately marks where the track changes from a very cruisy grade with very few stairs, to a track loaded with stairs (and a stream crossing).  Passing this sign on the way back up, I felt nothing less than triumphant.  Completing steep tracks still isn’t easy; I don’t know if I’ll ever think it is.  But the physical high (“runner’s high” despite not running) combined with the pride of knowing I’ve tackled a challenge successfully that previously I would have shied away from attempting at all – that’s one of the best feelings in the world.  I’m thinking I don’t need to be quite so fearful of hills after all.

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