Have you ever found yourself thinking, “Jeez, it’s insanely hot and gross out today, the only thing I really want to do is go hiking in the middle of the woods near a body of water that by logical reasoning will only add to the crazy humidity?” No? Well, guess what? You’re totally normal. And you’re clearly neither me nor my husband.
No, we chose yesterday, one of the hottest and most humid Saturdays thus far in 2011, for our hiking endeavor. And why did we do it? Well, because we’d seen enough of our favorite hiking spot during the temperate conditions of fall. We wanted to be there when this place was green. And sticky. Ugh, the stickiness.
McConnells Mill is one of Pittsburgh’s best hiking spots. It’s north of the city, just a little ways before Grove City when you’re driving along I-79. There are miles of hiking paths, and also whitewater rafting or kayaking, and the famous Old Mill, which is great for photos in any sort of weather.
This is what the trees at McConnells Mill look like in the autumn. They’re gorgeous, and when we went in 2009, we were fortunate enough to have the most perfect weather ever. But as I mentioned, seeing the same lovely thing twice is just not good enough for us. We wanted to see McConnells Mill in the spring.
The only problem with this, of course, is the fact that Pittsburgh has been pretty limited with providing springtime weather. It’s either been freezing or hot as hell this spring, with none of those lovely, sunny, in-between-extreme-temperature days that we usually love so much.
So finally, we had to suck it up and go on a hot day. The only day we were both off from work when it wasn’t raining, it was so crazy muggy that we were hoping and praying that the skies would open and pour down to take pity on us. You see, fickle weather or not, we were running out of springtime on the calendar. Yesterday was the day.
It usually takes about 45 minutes to get from our house to McConnells Mill, and on the drive north, we listened to the “Replay Weekend” on the local radio station Star 100.7. Each afternoon from 12-1, they do a “Replay Lunch,” where they play songs from the ’80s and ’90s instead of the new stuff that we’re all so tired of. Well, on holiday weekends, they do a full four days of this, Friday through Monday. We were rocking out to “Bust a Move” and such forgotten classics as H-Town’s “Knockin’ da Boots” the entire drive. (I can never tell if my husband is impressed or embarrassed when I randomly remember all of the lyrics to these weird songs I haven’t heard in more than 15 years.)
So after 45 minutes on the road, we arrived at the part of McConnells Mill where we normally hike (the spot shown in that first picture). But because we were all about trying new things, like spring foliage instead of fall foliage, we wanted to see a part of McConnells Mill we’d never seen before. So, rather than hike in the areas we know, we decided to try to find Hell’s Hollow, the famous McConnells Mill waterfall.
First of all, we’ve never driven on these crazy tiny roads before. We normally park our car at the top of the hill and walk down to the start of the trails (also the location of the famous Old Mill that you see in all the McConnells Mill postcards). But no, being quite so adventurous, we maneuvered down these tiny roads and toward (what we hoped was) our destination.
Even now, we aren’t sure if this is a one-way road or not. We decided to just trust in the faith of the road-designers at McConnells Mill. Surely they wouldn’t put us on these treacherous roads if they weren’t safe!
This is the part of the road where we started having out doubts about going to Hell’s Hollow. Why couldn’t we have just stuck with tradition and followed the same, safe, nice, well-known path that we always took?
Matters were only made worse when the clever DJs at 100.7 decided to play TLC’s hit 1995 song, “Waterfalls.” Oh yes, that’s right. Only we could possibly be searching for a waterfall we’ve never seen before when the song “Waterfalls” comes on the radio after years and years of not being played. In case you’re unfamiliar, the chorus of that song goes, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.”
Thanks, TLC. Your lack of faith in us is so inspiring.
Except that 4.5 miles ahead, there was a road closure because a bridge was out.
At this point, I started mentally cataloging every single song I could come up with from the 1990s, desperately searching for lyrics that encouraged a person to go looking for a supposedly-haunted waterfall. Once I had the song figured out, I was going to start sending telepathic messages to the radio station until they played it.
But alas, waterfall chasing must have simply been frowned upon until well after the start of the 21st century, and we hit at least two more dead-ends before eventually making it to an unmarked road that I ‘had a good feeling about.’
I will just interject this here: I have an insanely good innate sense of direction. It has to do largely with the way that my brain sees and processes information. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have a photographic memory, because I forget all sorts of things that I’ve seen, but whereas my husband relies on mile markers and exit numbers to get places, I use landmarks and the colors of scenery to find my way around. Rather than memorize digits that mean something, I just picture the drive or walk in my mind until something in real life sparks a moment of realization, and my internal compass rights itself.
So how this plays out into my ‘never able to effectively get lost’ ability, I’m not entirely sure. But somehow, most of the time, I get an instinct for things, like which way to turn when it comes to unclear directions, or how to find my way back to one part of town from another part I’m visiting for the first time.
This sense of direction used to irritate Michael beyond belief, as he has a hard time remembering which way we turned into a restaurant parking lot most days, but he’s since come to realize that its usefulness is more important than his jealousy that he cannot do the same. Or, at least most of the time he remembers that.
It’s about a half-mile walk from the parking area to the falls, and things were just so GREEN all along the way. There was this neat little stretch of the creek that had been carved out over the years into weird little rock shelves.
By the way, this sort of landscape is where I grew up. I love my life in the city, but I spent my childhood hopping across and through creeks like this, so being out in the woods always gives me a little bit of inner peace. (Yes, I know I’m a silly hippy sometimes, and I’ve grown to accept it 😉
Once we reached the area where the falls were, we saw this completely un-natural structure. It was almost as if there had once been a small castle turret embedded in the side of the cliff here, but the top had been sheared off. It’s apparently an old, abandoned lime kiln, which is rumored to be haunted. (Boy am I glad I didn’t know that before we went climbing inside of it!)
I don’t see any ghosts photobombing us, but it does rather look like there’s a creepy face embedded in the bricks above my right shoulder. Again, see previous comment about me being glad I didn’t start looking up any of this junk about it being haunted until after we’d run around and taken all of our pictures!
Here’s Michael, posing at the entrance to the kiln. Bet he’s glad no ghosts sucked him back in there before I got the picture. Clearly, the ladies of TLC must have known something we did not, or they’d never have sent us that song hint on the radio.
And finally, we made it to the falls! You have to walk down about eleventy billion wooden steps, but finally, you’re face to face with the beautiful Hell’s Hollow Waterfall. The sound of the water surrounds you, and it’s just amazing to be there.
Michael is always afraid to take his shoes off and go into natural bits of water (some day I’ll tell you all the story of how I fought an albatross barehanded in the sand dunes of Pismo Beach, and he missed the whole thing because he wouldn’t take his shoes off and walk on the beach), but I was wading in creeks since I learned how to walk. Still, you never quite get over the shock of how cold rushing water is.
But soon, it was time to leave and return home to our puppy, who was waiting anxiously for word as to whether or not she could come with us next time (Hell’s Hollow was voted Best PA Waterfall to Bring Your Dog or something like that). On our way out, we took a picture of the last sign that leads you to Hell’s Hollow. Can you tell why we got lost?
This counts for two Achievements: the McConnells Mill specific one, and it’s our first waterfall. Now we’ve only got to go chasing two more. Hopefully, they’re easier to find. Oh, and not haunted.