March 8 is the anniversary of my bilateral knee replacement surgery, and I try to mark the day with an adventure. Previous years I’ve gone on a long bike ride and hiked to the North Lookout at Hawk Mountain. This year was more adventuresome, and also more dangerous.
Glen Onoko Falls, located outside Jim Thorpe, is one of the best known waterfalls in Pennsylvania, and its been a tourist attraction since the 1870s. But the hike to Glen Onoko isn’t a walk in the park. The trail is steep, worn, and difficult. And the waterfalls are dangerous to the uncareful. Pennsylvania is the Slate State, and slate is slippery when wet. The most recent death at Glen Onoko was April 2014. And the year before someone died. In both cases the unfortunate hikers weren’t wearing shoes with good traction.
I wasn’t going to be a statistic. I had boots, microspikes, poles, and determination. I also had experienced guides in Dan Glass and his wife and hero Heather. In mild and clear weather our party set off from the parking area.
The initial climb wasn’t difficult, just a switchback, steps, and some leveling out. As at Hawk Mountain the year before, snow helped me as I didn’t need to maneuver around boulders. But I still had steep climbs in which to put uncertain feet. In some cases we hiked directly over the stream, as the ice and snow was so thick.
Dan and Heather were tremendously supportive guides, and frankly I was too busy trying to get up to spend time thinking how boring it must have been for them to move so slowly. But we climbed, and climbed, up through the beautiful glen. Even amid the white I could see why Glen Onoko is a tourist attraction.
Our plan was to visit the first two of the four falls that make up Glen Onoko. At last the falls were in view.
In the above photo the actual falls are to the right. The left is a mass of ice.
Just then I had a deep posthole form under my right leg and I dropped hard, hitting a rock with my lower leg. While I’d been free of postholes the hike up, I’d feared them, and this one forming scared me. I outweigh Dan by a hundred pounds, and it was a warm day. The snow wasn’t holding up, or holding me up, as I’d liked. I told Dan and Heather I’d wait for them while they explored the first two falls.
Dan has videos of the frozen falls, and the ice climbers on them.
The unbreakable Glasses returned about 20 minutes later. I’d already started down the glen, but hadn’t gone very far. I found going down harder than going up. Fortunately there’s a mountaineering term for what I was at times forced to execute – “glissade.” Its classy to say you executed a glissade – no one brags about sliding down on your butt.
When I was off the mountain, the self questioning began. Could I have gone further? Perhaps. Should I have? Maybe. It was a warm day, old snow, and I was the heaviest hiker on the mountain. The ice climbers were calling it a day because some of the ice was fracturing. Dan said the snow was getting mushy at the second waterfall. And conditions of the snow surface deteriorated on the way down.
Still, I think I didn’t trust myself at the point I turned around. I should have pushed on. I left the slip and the posthole incident deter me.
As for the way down, Dan observed I was putting too much faith in my poles and not enough in my feet. I think the answer to this problem is I need to spend more time on slopes, developing the sense of when I have a good footing and when I don’t.
Despite my questioning, Glen Onoko was a great hike. I look forward to going back at some point, either for another hike in the snow or seeing the glen in the summer. And next time going all the way to the falls.