Narrow paved roads coiled around the outside of the mountain like a snake slithering around its prey before it’s time to strike. The gravel crunched and popped beneath the sluglike tires. As our car inched higher and higher my ears began to pop, so I swallowed to relieve the discomfort as our car finally leveled into the grassy parking lot. With our shoes laced, and our packs set with food for the journey, we hopped out of the car with anticipation for the hard road ahead. As we approached the trail opening, a wooden sign with carved yellow letters warned “Danger ahead. Turn back unless you have climbing equipment.” My two best girlfriends and I only had granola bars to bring along, but we decided to go ahead and begin our hike up the Glen Onoko Trail of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
The opening of the trail was cast with refreshing shade from two boulders facing each other that supported a railway bridge overhead. The trail couldn’t be that bad if there were railroad tracks at the bottom. The damp, mossy boulders were stained with names, drawings and graffiti tags, whose colors seemed electric against the black slimy stone. We posed for some squad pictures against the grafiti to document the trip, and hoped to make it back out in spite of the ominous warning sign.
To enter at the base of the trail, we had to pass through a dark cave. The cave growled with white noise echos, like holding your ear to a conch shell, except they were so loud that it felt as if your entire body was standing in the hollow pink of the echoing conch. Bats laughed and fluttered fifteen feet above our heads, and our whispers of hesitation were amplified by the acoustics. “Holy shit, what are we doing” I asked, pondering all of the things in life that I wasn’t ready to lose by meeting death on an intense hiking trail in the middle of July. We continued through the cave, until light spilled through the other side, revealing another wooden sign explaining the trail’s significance, and an arrow pointing to a stack of rocks leading 70 feet up the mountain. And up we went, holding hands and helping to hoist each other up the rocks. There were several ledges to rest on, and several clear hand and foot holds, however because of the rain the night before, the rocks were almost impossible to grip. We used the dry t-shirts we wore to grip the rocks and to dry our hands off. I slipped, and the rock beneath me pierced my shin, and left me bloody and very sore. At the top of the bolder ladder, there was a hill slanted at a 45 degree angle . We chugged up the hill like the little engine that could, laughing and panting all the way.
Native American Princess Onoko made this hike after making the journey in order to save her love. Legend says, she fell in love with a white settler, but their love was forbidden because of the cultural boundaries each lover faced. Her father, the chief, was horrified that his daughter fell for a white man, so the chief ordered that the man should be thrown over the side of the highest waterfall on the east side of the mountain. After Princess Onoko reached the top and discovered the murder, she dove off of the waterfall to meet her love again in spirit. Not only is the hike physically dangerous, but many visitors report supernatural occurrences. The easiest explanation is that Princess Onoko and her love are catching up in the afterlife.
We talked about the folklore as we climbed the obstacles along the trail. Slippery mud, downed trees, and piles of boulders blocked the trail that has been beaten into existence throughout the years from ghost hunters and eager hikers alike. The three of us agreed that Princess Onoko was being a bit too dramatic, but it did make for a beautiful Native American version of Romeo and Juliet. Above us, a magnificent canopy of kelly, sage, and hunter green leaves waved hello to us in the hot exhale of July’s breath. Ivy hugged the vast trunks of trees, while moss gave speckled kisses throughout their bark. About a quarter mile from the start of the hike, I started to hear a faint hush in the distance. With hurried excitement, our agile feet raced the through the brush toward the natural wonder that made the love story of Princess Onoko and her unrequited love: the Onoko Waterfall. The ten mile hike that would lead us over a thousand feet in elevation was just beginning.
After about a half hour of following our ears toward the running water, we emerged from the green and found ourselves at the edge of a placid pool. The edges of the pool were clear and smooth, glimmering in the sun. Looking through the water’s edge, you’d be able to see the multicolored rocks and popcorn kernal pebbles at the bottom. I bent down to wash the sweat off of my forehead with the refreshing water. As I followed the ripples washing outwards toward the edge of the pool, My eyes were drawn to the epicenter of the crashing water, where the waterfall landed, and where Princess Onoko’s life ended. I wondered how it felt. The boulders lining the bottom of the waterfall looked harder than normal behind the soft mist of the crashing water and amidst the roar of the flow. Peeking through the canopies, the sunlight penetrated the mist and painted a rainbow, speckled and transient. I closed my eyes and drowned in the peaceful violence of rushing water.
We stopped to took off our shoes and socks and danced through the crisp pool. Playfulness bubbled out of us in laughter, and we frolicked like children with their puppies through the water, splashing one another. Sometimes in nature, you can have an incredibly peaceful moment where you forget that you live somewhere else, you’re called a human, and you have responsibilities. Somewhere in the heaviness of the July heat, the stickiness of the mud, the towering trees and the rejuvenating pool, I lost my concern for everything else in life. I washed my crusty blood off of my mosquito bite ridden leg, and we walked closer to the silver veil of the waterfall.
Wading through the water towards bed of the waterfall made me feel so small. Mist from the friction of the crash stung my face. Through the wall of water just feet in front of me, I could see a figure standing and looking back at me. “Princess Onoko?” I thought to myself at first, preparing for an occult experience.
“Yo, we can climb up behind there!” my hiking partner Erica explained. Slightly disappointed that I wouldn’t be meeting the princess herself, I followed my barefoot friend to the corner of the waterfall where were a stack of rocks piled like crooked teeth toward a ledge leading behind the waterfall.
As we inched closer toward the water, our chattering turned to screaming in order to be heard above the bellow of the plummeting water. Now that we had a better view of the clay-colored rocks, I realized how steep they actually were, and how jagged the edges were. Carefully and intentionally, we climbed the rocks one at a time, trying to keep our center of gravity low and balanced. Jeanine made it to the top first and rolled toward the safety of the ledge. Her face lit up as she leaned against the rock face and looked out through the curtain of water. Erica and I followed. Breathing heavily, and moving like a toddler on a wet kitchen floor, I cautiously grabbed onto the rocks ahead of me. I stopped and looked down. I froze. Stuck on the edge of a rock between a pool of crashing water, and and scenic waterfall ledge, I thought about the tragic love story again, and imagined Onoko striking the bottom. I certainly wasn’t going to go out the same way. I focused on the rocks directly in front of me, and started singing in order to distract myself and wipe my mind from the idea of falling into the jagged rocks. I climbed higher and higher and was eventually eye to eye with the ledge. I grabbed hold of a rope that was nailed into the rock face, and pulled myself onto the ledge. I rolled onto the surface expressing the same relief that I watched Jeanine and Erica expieriene.
I moved to my knees and wiped rock slime onto my shirt. Catching my breath, I turned to look at the water in front of me, and sat back onto my calves, weak in awe of the power, endurance and the wonder of nature. The furious wind aggressively whipped hair into my mouth as I turned to my friends trying to think of something to say that would describe the confusing feeling of being small and being a part of something magical all at once.
“I have no words…” Jeanine yelled over the deafening rush of water. She said it best, I thought as I sat back and felt the rumble of the water beneath me. There was nothing to be said. We probably wouldn’t hear each other anyway.
Maureen Farley is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in theatre.