Everyone has things that they love to do to feed their soul (or should!) One of the things that I enjoy doing is hiking. It is a hobby I took up 3 years ago that has provided me with an abundance of opportunities to explore some incredible places in and around East Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, northwestern South Carolina and Kentucky. I’ve also been privileged to meet some of the finest folks on planet earth that share the same passion for adventuring that was birthed in me from the first step on the trail. One of my favorite things to do is venture off trail in search of treasures that are hidden away in remote places that not everyone wants to take the time and the sometimes helluva of a lot of effort it takes to get to.
One of my friends and trail mates had been told about a waterfall located off trail on Holston Mountain that wasn’t well known and rarely seen. On Labor Day, 2015, several of us set out in search of this fall. We located the stream quite easily and began our trek up the mountain with hopes of finding a treasure. The journey was a fairly moderate one with some small creek crossings, quite a bit of bushwhacking through the thick mountain laurel and fallen trees, some rock hopping and some uphill scrambling. However the further up the mountain we ventured, the smaller the creek became until eventually we completely lost the water source. We found ourselves standing on a boulder filled area that appeared to be the perfect place for a waterfall, we could even hear water running underneath us, however, no waterfall was to be found. No adventure is a waste of time but I do admit we were all a little disappointed that we did not find what we were looking for so we set our sights back on the trail and headed back to the truck.
Skip ahead to a rainy Sunday in February, 2016 after old man winter had dumped a few deep snows around us and then saturated us with several rainfalls. Instead of staying inside where it was warm and dry, three of us from the previous adventure decided to get out and do some exploring. A few ideas were tossed around, and after considering the amount of the recent snow and rain, we decided to revisit the location on Holston Mountain in search of the unfound fall. As soon as we approached the creek, that was swelled and raging, we knew this adventure would merit a different outcome from the last. As the rains fell from the heavens and the waters sprung up out of the earth we began a journey that would prove much more difficult this time around. The creek was at least three times wider than before with deep waters rushing violently (thigh high in places!) and crossing was impossible unless we wanted to have soaked bodies from the get go. We decided to bushwhack up the bank as far as we could, using dead logs for makeshift bridges and tight-roping fallen trees whenever possible. The laurel was thicker than thieves, the rain saturating and the ground slick. Less than halfway up the journey, the only things still dry on me were the body parts protected by my raincoat and my feet sheltered in waterproof boots. After 3 hours of travailing through any way that we could, my hands and fingers were covered in dirt from gripping on to anything I could to stay upright, my jeans were soaked and muddy from belly crawls through the brush and I’m sure my face was decorated in shades of dirt and muck from the unsuccessful attempts to wipe it dry. But oh my! Our efforts were getting ready to pay off royally and the sights we were to behold, simply breathtaking.
From a distance we looked up and saw the first sights of a waterfall! The same boulder filled area we happened upon on our last visit was now covered with rushing waters falling from high upon the mountain. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The same area that had been dry as a bone before was now waterfall heaven laden with some of the absolute most gorgeous drops I have ever seen. Valiant efforts were put forth to capture this fall on film, yet it was impossible to get the whole fall – which was at least 300ft from top to bottom – in one frame. The falling rain made it even more challenging to snap a capture, but we persisted and persevered, making our way up drop after drop. I was completely captivated with each new drop, like a kid in a candy shop trying to get a piece of all the good stuff. Even the side tributaries that flowed into the main stream possessed incredible drops and cascades that were more than picture worthy, yet I was nowhere near ready to behold the magnificence that waited for us at the top.
I’m scrambling to get as many pictures as possible with the little bit of daylight we had left and I hear the exuberant shouts of my trail mate to come on up. As I climb up over the last boulder and stood upright, I knew immediately that I had been transported to some magical place. The rock wall to the left of the waterfall was an incredible sight within itself with small streams of water trickling down from its top. My eyes scanned over to the impressive waterfall that flowed out and over the top of the mountain. My eyes teared up as gasps of wonder from deep inside my soul escaped past my lips (yes I know, I am such an emotional creature!). Our efforts had paid off – the repeated attempts, the bushwhacking, the cuts, the bruises, being soaked to the bone, dirty as crap – and we had found her! The hidden treasure was on full display right before my eyes. Heck yes!
As I stood there engrossed in amazement, I heard that still small voice that so eloquently speaks and seizes my attention. “What if you went through that much trouble to find the treasures hidden in people? Make repeated efforts when you appear to come up empty handed on the first try. Fight through the muck and dirt of their life. Weather the storm that is raging inside of them. Not give up until you find the treasure that I know is there?” Thus began another one of the priceless moments where the great God of heaven and earth stood beside me, stopping time as I know it and conversing with me for what seemed like an eternity. We talked of those who were hurting, confused, trapped inside walls of guilt and shame. Those who felt worthless, irrelevant, insignificant. Those who appeared dark and dreary to the naked eye, but to the soul who was brave enough to take a closer look, to delve deeper into the muck, would discover a treasure so grand our hearts would be astonished. He reminded me of times that I had been broken, empty and felt worthless and ashamed. We reminisced of the anger I had exchanged for pain and the fortress I had constructed around my heart to not hurt anymore (Pink Floyd’s wall didn’t hold a candle to mine!). He took me back to that glorious place on April 10, 1994 when I knelt before Him and surrendered. The moment I joined Him on my journey to find the treasures of His spirit buried deep inside my own being (talk about an ongoing bushwhacking adventure! Hello fuzzy!). Last but not least, He addressed the weariness that was lingering in my soul from what seemed like futile attempts and exhausted efforts in my life without any treasures being found. Journeys that had left me cut, bruised, wounded and vulnerable. And then I simply stood with Him in silence as this place of visitation was being forever burned into the portals of my mind.
Only a matter of seconds had passed when I returned to the present. We were running out of daylight and it was time to bid farewell to this glorious place we had discovered. I knew with every step back to the car that, although the waterfalls we encountered on this day were nothing short of a spectacular find, the greatest treasure I had discovered was a renewed sense of hope and desire to venture on His journey, embrace His plans and continue the search for His treasures that were hidden all around me.
2 Corinthians 4:6-8Living Bible (TLB)
For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made us understand that it is the brightness of his glory that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us is held in a perishable container, that is, in our weak bodies. Everyone can see that the glorious power within must be from God and is not our own.