Thursday, May 31, 2012

Saint Mary's Wilderness & Falls Hike Trip Report

Wild Bleeding Hearts in St. Mary's Wilderness

Saint Mary's Wilderness & Falls Trip Report

Dana K├╝gler and Shirley Thiede
Friday May 18, 2012
Round Trip Hike Distance 4.4 miles

Pictures are here:

     Friday morning Shirley and I planned to go hiking. It would be Shirley's first hike ever!
I had wanted to hike up to St. Mary's Wilderness to the waterfall. I'd never hiked there in warm weather. Mom cautioned me going alone was a bad idea. Shirley was gracious and agreed to accompany me.  I was thankful for the company.   I packed us lunches.
I even planned ahead figured out what we could have for supper Friday night that would be easy and not have us in the kitchen all day?? I bought the stuff Thursday night for those good Hobo foil pouch chicken dinners.  I did not want us to have to be in a hurry to get home. Mom agreed to watch out for Jenny to get off the school bus.  We had the day to ramble.    We stopped first at Glenn Falls on Foundry Hill. I wanted to show Shirley this beautiful waterfall.  It certainly was pretty today. 

Glenn Falls on Foundry Hill, Vesuvius, VA.

     We continued to the trailhead for St. Mary's Wilderness. I had to try more than once to recall which turn off across the tracks went to the trail.   I have the tendency to make things shorter than they really are. I finally realized I had to go up under the iron bridge first to come to the correct road.  We parked and got going.   Wilderness hiking means almost certain trail confusion since wilderness areas don't manage, maintain and mark trails the way a National Park or State Park does.    I walked over near the stream to look. Shirley was right behind me and drew in her breath.  I turned around to see I had walked right past a coiled timber rattler.  It really upset me that I had not been paying more attention.  He was coiled to strike, but never rattled or moved a muscle.  It was only 59 degrees this morning and I think he was coiled because he was cold.  I was very fortunate that she saw him. I was darn glad to have company because that was time #1 where had I been alone I'd probably have been finished for the day! Shirley's response to this situation was jumping around a little saying she was gonna pee her pants. She was scared I'm sure, but I think she's too hard on herself.  I took his picture and determined to watch more closely and we continued.

Timber Rattler coiled by the stream

    We encountered a couple and their dog about the time we parted company with the first snake of the day.   They were only hiking up to the first creek crossing and turning around.   The entire hike was beautiful. Big purple clusters of Catawba rhododendron blooms were all around. Pink and white clumps of mountain laurel were also to be see along the trail.  We saw the pinkish-gray blooms of beardtounge as well.   We came to a point where it was necessary to hang onto roots and trees to work past an eroded part of the trail right next to the stream. I started seeing wild bleeding hearts! I have seen them many times in the Great Smoky Mountains, but did not know they bloomed in St. Mary's!  They were lovely.


Wild Bleeding Hearts by the stream at St. Mary's.

     We did fine with the navigating up to a point, but somewhere after the part where the trail is missing a big chunk that dropped into the creek....... we lost the path.  We ended up wading the creek back and forth and straight up the stream for a good bit.  Shirley was a trooper and we laughed and cut up and held hands and helped each other. I was once again thrilled to have a companion because this was the #2 point in my day where I'd probably have gotten upset and turned around.   Finally we came to a point in the hike where there was NO trail visible at any point. We were standing in the middle of the creek on a rock.  Stuff started coming back to me in my mind. I knew we needed to be on a trail with the stream to our right.  I asked her if she minded trying to head to our left to pick up the trail and she was game for that.  I had seen someone's tank top hanging on a limb and knew from signs of humanity we had to be close.   Moments later we were back on the path and glad as gold of it.  We sat down on a log to eat lunch a short time later and rest.   Salami and provolone on onion rolls. Yum!  A high fat lunch for energy.  Shirley is a diabetic who takes really good care of herself and controls her blood sugar well.  I didn't want her to run a low blood sugar and we were sure burning calories today. 

       We finished our lunch and continued this time was much better. We never lost the path again.   We came to the point where we had to climb down and ford the stream.   It was another spot where it was pretty and dramatic and a little excitement!

Shirley hanging onto trees where we had to climb down and ford the creek!

   I was so proud of Shirley! First hike and she was handling a wilderness trip like a champ!
There are not many women who would do this especially a first trip! She laughed and enjoyed herself like she'd been doing this for years!

      We made our last creek ford and were on the right side of the stream approaching the falls.  There is a campsite just before the waterfall.    We were thrilled we made it! The waterfall was beautiful. Lots and lots of water coming over today. We hugged and laughed and cheered for ourselves!  We stood there enjoying the view of the waterfall and the beautiful blue green water and pink tinted rock.   A young man was coming up the trail. We talked to him.  He had the same problem we did.  He was also wet and had waded the creek and missed the trail in the same section we did! This made me feel alot better and I told him so.   He was in the area on business and had a day to hike so was taking advantage of the time.   He had planned on exploring further upstream from the falls.  He went down to the stream, forded, climbed a far left corner that looked like steps and continued. Neither of us ladies had any interest in following him today.  We felt we had all we could handle today with what we'd done and getting back to the kee-yar. 


Sluice in the stream on the way to the falls. The water has the prettiest color.

St. Mary's Falls

   The area around the falls is dramatic. Scree slopes and cliffs of quartz.  This area was mined in the past for manganese ore.   Along the trail can be seen former signs of the mining operation.  There must have been a dinky line railroad trail that carried the ore out for we found railroad spikes, cable, bridge stays and things like that. Almost all of it was rusty metal.   The cliffs around the falls were dotted with pink mountain laurel, green Summer growth and purple rhododendrons.    Very pretty sight. The day was sunny and temperature comfortable.   The company was excellent!  I felt very blessed.

      We finally started back hating to leave such a pretty place.
We had an easier go on the way back and did not lose the trail a single time. I had hoped we would keep up with it better.  We made far better time without all that creek wading and crossing!   The hike back was interesting in that we encountered more people hiking in.  We also ran into snakes #2 and #3 on the way out.  Snake #2 was a northern water snake. Harmless, but right in the path.  Shirley did not want to step near him. He lay in the path where a stream crossed. I poked him to get him to move on, but he would not leave. I finally just flipped him out of the path and put him back in the water out of our way.   Snake #3 was a little garter snake eating a fat, red salamander!  I was fascinated. I've seen stuff like this on TV but never in real life.  I've seen a copperhead strike a salamander, but he hadn't eaten him yet.   I videotaped and photographed him eating.
Shirley's late spouse had snakes she helped care for and she told me some interesting facts about how they eat and digest their prey!   I did not know they had to hang onto something to crush it and grind it up, but he did exactly as she told me he would!   I learned something today and had such a great time.

   I look forward to many such adventures. I can hardly wait to hike with Shirley again!  :-)  Yes, it does make we wish we lived close.

            Thanks Shirley for your company!  Love you much!

Mountain laurel high above the falls on a cliff.

Garter snake eating a salamander


  1. That's a gutsy picture of the timber rattler! With that angle, you had to be close even with a long lens. Nice and sharp photo! Is that a Northern Red Salamander the garter snake is having for lunch?

    1. Wayfaring Stranger, Prolly too close for comfort on the snake. I realize he could have gotten me at that distance. I don't know for certain what sort of salamander the snake was eating. I could see it was fat and red with tiny black specks. Northern Red Salamander does fit the description!

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  3. Good for Shirley. I'm so proud of her... Many people would not enjoy that hike at all... I'm glad she went!!!!

    What a gorgeous waterfall. You know how much I loved it!!!! Thanks for sharing, Dana.

    P.S. Would you please take off that horrible Word Verification? Thanks so much.

  4. Betsy, me too! Shirley is my auntie! Can you imagine my delight at finding I have an aunt with super powers of hiking?! :-) I will check my settings. I did not know I had word verification. News to me so thanks for telling me! I will try to stop it. I found that on your blog a couple times then it went away. Don't know if you intended it be on or not?


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