The next to last hike in my recollections, is also my second favorite. The Canoe Trip was tops for me; what fourteen year old would not like being turned loose on Lake Rabun with nobody to be responsible to except himself? The freedom of the Canoe Trip and the funny things that freedom unleashed is another story; for now, my second favorite: The Gorge Hike.
If the Bus Trip were Coach Inman’s domain, and if there was something distinctly ‘Clary-ish’ about the Cove Hike; then the Gorge Hike had Coach Mike written all over it. The ‘gut-check’ that was the trip out was vintage Black Mike; no-one loved to punish himself or those in his charge more than Coach Mike. He thrived on the pain of that notable exit, step by excruciating step. I remember, the fastest trip out ever; it took only five minutes and twenty six seconds; I know, because I timed it. I was right behind him and two campers hung with us. If I entertained any notions of passing him on the right (or left for that matter… those swinging elbows made the decision for me; I finished second that day… a close, close second… but second for sure!
Early on there was only one way out of the gorge… the ridge line that formed a 45 degree angle that ran from ‘slippery rock’ (real name: Bridal Veil Falls, one of seven in the gorge) to near the old train station. At points it was hand over hand where the rocks were steepest, but at the end it was manageable… more like ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ on the Cove Hike. The great thing about that exit spot was that you could pick your path, at least a little. The rocks made certain that no clear path was worn, and so you might ‘wing it’ a bit; so long as Coach Mike didn’t shout, ‘Single file,’ as he often did.
Later we were afforded another egress; that being the funicular that ran from the Tallulah Power plant to the top. It was used by plant workers to enter and leave the power plant which was situated at the base of the gorge, at its far end. It is the Tallulah Power plant because the water from Lake Tallulah was tunneled through a mountain and then ran down six pipes to run six turbines in the plant at the bottom of the gorge. After touring the plant, Coach Mike would offer campers and staff a choice: ride out on the rail car (the sissy way) or walk out with him (like a man) behind the car. Well, there was no way on God’s green earth I was getting in that ‘sissy mobile’. And so we would get in line behind the ‘tram’ and behind Coach Mike and away we would go. It looked as if it went slowly, that car; but if you walked behind it, you quickly discovered it went as fast as any normal human could ever walk… not Coach Mike, however. He insisted not only on climbing, but on keeping up with the car ahead… and so we did, some of us anyway; but it was as hard a test as you would ever want… a bonified chest pounder.
Swimming in the gorge was the highlight of the trip. Though no longer done, Y Campers of old never used a bathing suit; we used only our birthday suits! When I tell boys this these days, they look at me as if I had lost my mind. But they really miss the fun. You can go twice as fast without a suit as with. Bare butts are just slicker than cloth any day. The swimming wasn’t the safest, but in all my years I only remember a couple of accidents. Woody Hess severed his Achilles tendon as he lost his balance and slid back into the pool. I lost my two front teeth. Clay Wilhite was lifeguarding; I was standing next to him. A runaway swimmer, went the wrong way on the slide and hit Clay. As he was slipping into the pool, he reached out with those long arms and dragged about six of us in with him. He hit me in the knees with his arm and my big mouth was the first thing to hit the rock.
The greatest change in the trip was when Pop decided that we didn’t need to eat lunch down there anymore. I cannot say that I really missed the Vienna sausages, bread, potato stix, and applesauce. But I did miss putting a leaf in the rocks to make a spout and capture water than trickled down the bare cliff above the pool where we swam. The water tasted great, so long as you left out that last swig that had the dirt in the bottom of the cup. Probably, our leaders were the most happy about the change, since they no longer had to transport that feast for kings in and out of the gorge. We never left a mess behind us and even cleaned up for those not so ‘eco-conscious’ as we. We always left our camp-sites better than we found them!
There was a ‘right of passage’ on our Gorge Hike as well; one that I treasured. It was the change from ‘short gorge’ to ‘long gorge’. Younger Boys, Pioneers, and Cubs, were only allowed to go in and out by the one short route. But Preps got to go into the gorge behind Stuckies and rock hop through the Tallulah River to get to ‘slippery rock’. We used to challenge each other to see who could make it the entire way without using our hands. When I was an LIT, I finally managed this feat… what a great feeling. Now, when I lead our groups through, and we still ‘rock hop’ (though my hop ain’t what it used to be); I look at some of those places we jumped no hands and marvel that I did not lose more teeth there!
The new gorge trip is all done by stair step… yes, you heard me right. When Tallulah Gorge became a state park, they built steps, complete with a suspension bridge that go all the way in and out. I am sure Coach Mike is turning over in his grave on that one and the fact that we always share the swimming hole with thirty or forty touristas… no skinny, even if you wanted to strip and dip; oh well. We still rock hop through, only now we get to watch the co-eds with their dates, fall in the water… small consolation, at least!
A final story involving Randy Randall, Coach Mike… Jr. (when I became an AD myself, Scott Butler and William Valls (with John A, hovering in the background since he made us go!). One rainy Monday, Mr. Simpson decided that the Seniors were going to the gorge come ‘heck or high water’ (more on the high water). When we started in it was with great trepidation (but we were going; I’d no sooner turn back from a trip John A sent me on, than I would ride the funicular while Coach Mike walked!); and our fears were justified, because when we got to the bottom, the ‘bottom dropped out’. There was no question of ‘no hands’ that day; the question was survival. I began to worry when John Ransom slipped and fell about fifteen feet… he was okay somehow. When we got to the steep faces (there are two), we had the leaders spread out on the rocks and hand pass all the campers over to safety. There was no point in swimming at slippery rock; we had swum our way through the gorge all morning and ever rock was slippery… so we just moved on. Where the rocks usually were, they were under a foot of water; only the biggest were above the river. I made Randy lead and I took the rear in case of casualties. We were almost to the power plant when Butler and Valls dropped back to my place in line to ask a question. Each had a four foot copper head in their hands: ‘Can we keep them?’ Get real! I made them toss the snakes in the river, but instead of going with the flow, they turned back and tried to get on my rock. Snakes aren’t fools; nobody wanted to be in the water that day. Finally, I had to take off my shirt and beat them over the head, and they gave up. Of course, they swam down stream toward the campers… where else. We all made it out that day, and when John A asked if it rained, I replied, ‘It never rains on the Seniors!’