For our final day of hiking Dan recommended Eagle Creek. "It's a great waterfall hike." Plus it afforded nice stops and opportunities to decide if we would press on.
We began early in order to beat the rush on a nice day. We took the first two miles leisurely, often pausing to take pictures and to enjoy the scenery. When we made the return trip I had forgotten how much was contained within this first phase of the hike.
With clear sunny skies predicted, we didn't pack our rain gear. Which means it rained on us a couple of times that day.
At two miles were Punchbowl Falls. Shortly after those falls a bridge was down, but most folk wanting to go higher just forded the stream.
A little more than a mile past Punchbowl you reach another waterfall at the end of a long crevase. This is the best view of the fault that originally formed the valley. The water at the bottom of the crevase is very clear and moving gently (though quickly). But the entrance to the slit is a loud and beautiful rapids. Fortunately this splendid spot is traversed by High Bridge. Dan and I chose to lunch there.
Shortly after we stopped, two chipmunks ran across the bridge behind us. We threw them some bread which they nibbled a few feet away from us. As we lunched, they stayed with us, coming inches from us at times. A few things, like some peanuts, they crammed into their cheeks and ran off into the brush, maybe to store for later? The moment felt like a genuine friendly communion with two animals. "Companions," Dan said, referring to the literal--those with whom you share bread.
Taking in the glory of the view I told Dan that my funeral plan is for people to receive ashes to spread someplace that is significant to their relationship with me. I told him this spot was where he would have to deposit his share of my ashes.
The trail had been fun, but not rough. At times we held the hand railings on the narrow, rocky cliffsides, and we had been rained on, but we weren't tired and the time was still early, so we elected to continue another three miles to Tunnel Falls. We made one more long stop on our ascent of the valley, sitting beside the creek casting rocks into the stream. I stood momentarily in the cold water to refresh my feet.
The final 40 minutes or so of the ascent we weren't taking time to look about as much, determined to reach our endpoint. And Tunnel Falls did not disappoint. A thundering tall falls with a tunnel carved behind. Standing on the slick rocks as the spray rush passed you loudly felt dangerous and joyfully exhilarating. We whooped and hollered and took many pictures and videos.
A brief rest and we started our return cutting our time in half on the first half back. The chipmunks were still at High Bridge, now eating with a different group of hikers. We also saw four other Nebraskans on the trail.
The final two miles after Punchbowl felt much longer than they had in the morning, and when we reached the end, we took our boots off and let our tired feet soak a little in the stream. We had hiked almost thirteen miles and around 1100 feet in elevation and back. Even though we saw many hikers much older than we are, the day made us feel younger than our age.
However, the tiredness and soreness the next day and the days after reminded me, I am really 42.