I am on my county’s search and rescue team and I absolutely love, “paying it forward” to the trail community in this way. A couple of months ago, one of our rescues involved a man who fell from the top of a waterfall. You can read about it in this Smoky Mountain News article if you’re inclined to know the details–the rescue itself was quite amazing. As diligently and proficiently as our team and a neighboring county’s team worked, it doesn’t erase the fact that someone’s life was changed forever in the blink of an eye. The images etched in my mind from that day are harrowing and ones that I wish I could forget, yet I need to remember them.
Not convinced that waterfalls can be incredibly dangerous places? Just Google “waterfall deaths North Carolina” and you’ll find no shortage of linked articles testifying to this claim. A healthy contingency of people who venture into our woods are scared of encountering a black bear, but what they should be scared of is standing on the top of a waterfall.
I recently listened to an excellent Outside Online podcast that touches on the topic of flirting with disaster and the unintended consequences that can result from it, called After the Crash. It touches on a rather extreme case, but it informs us that 82% of spinal cord injuries happen to men, most between the ages of 16 and 30. I don’t think it’s coincidental that most backcountry rescues, stemming from poor choices, are also for young men. There must be some invincibility gene linked to that Y chromosome (no offense guys, but the facts are the facts).
I’ve listened to this podcast twice, the second time with my kids. I feel that it’s my duty as their mom to impress upon them that one bad choice in the woods can lead to life-altering damage or death. As a side note, in this episode there is a brief mention of how extreme risk takers are more prone to having unprotected sex as well as mild drug usage, but otherwise it’s suitable for young ears (my kids are 14, 11, and 10 and I’m not uncomfortable with them listening to the content at their ages).
With a summer holiday weekend upon us, I felt compelled to write this post (see below for some waterfall safety tips). You’ve got one precious life, folks. Live it well and be wise with it. And by all means, encourage those you love to do the same. Otherwise, by all means, go out there in a responsible fashion and enjoy the bliss and beauty that only water, fueled by nothing more than gravity, can bring to our souls.
Be safe on waterfalls
• Stay on established trails and heed any posted warning signs.
• Never climb on or around waterfalls, as rocks can be slippery.
• Don’t play in the water above a waterfall. Currents can be extremely swift and capable of carrying a person over the edge.
• Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools, where rocks and logs can hide beneath the surface and currents can drag and hold a person underwater.
• Seeing someone else playing around a waterfall without getting hurt doesn’t mean you’ll be able to. Changing water flows, shifting rocks and movement of underwater debris mean conditions can be different from place to place and second to second.
(Credit: Smoky Mountain News)
On a lighter note, If you’re interested in a couple of great books that will lead you to the most spectacular waterfalls around these parts, here are a couple I recommend. Chime in on the comments section if you know of others you’d like to share! 🙂