Black Mountain

Eclectic Views from Atop a Mountain
July, 2010

Around here, we just call it "The mountain", but that refers to the vast Cumberland Plateau . It is more or less gently rolling on top, and there are indeed mountains on "The Mountain". I like this concise summary of Cumberland County.

It has a remarkable diversity of life to the point of rivaling a tropical rain forest. Much of it is limestone – the compressed shells of sea life from eons ago. Now the limestone is cut by water into a honeycomb of caves. Many areas are reasonably accessible, but the plateau edge can be difficult. Still, that is where the most remarkable features lay. The photo above was taken from Black Mountain overlooking Grassy Cove . That particular spot is on public property and reasonably easy to get to. It is a part of the Cumberland Trail State Park. The cove is ringed by mountains and has no outlet. The water flows through the caves and emerges at the head of Sequatchie Valley.

Virgin Falls
This is Virgin Falls (there is a link to a trail map on that page). You are only seeing part. It flows out of a cave, plummets into a deep pit, and vanishes into another cave. No above ground stream feeds it nor drains it. Thanks to the efforts of Tennessee Parks and Greenways, it is on public property. In fact, you could, in theory, hike on public land from Fall Creek Falls State Park to Virgin Falls. That would be a very hairy off trail hike over rough ground. I assume it would take a determined and fit hiker days.

Virgin Falls impressed the heck out of me for many reasons. The hike in was steep and downhill, passing other waterfalls. Here is another Virgin Falls hike. By the way, the videos don't show the four mile steep uphill trek back, but fit 70-year-olds have done it. I had heard of Virgin Falls all my life, and assumed it to be a relative trickle like many of the other waterfalls on the mountain. We just don't have large rivers. But it was big and roaring. The return journey, however, was what burned it into my mind. Another hiker had had a serious accident, and I got lost trying to find a cell phone signal. This was in 2006, and I did not own a GPS. Imagine being lost on the side of a mountain with a background sound only from rushing water. Hard to describe, but a few adjectives come to mind. Overpowering and extreme for two, I guess. I sure didn't feel like I belonged there. That side of the mountain faces the west, and the sun was beginning to cast a red color that looked surreal. I did get out before dark, and managed to stay somewhat composed until safety allowed me the luxury of a panic attack. I learned that cell phones do not do emergencies well if the signal is weak and spotty. Dial 911, and they start transmitting, rapidly burning up their batteries. You can guess what my family gave me the following Christmas. One of the many gifts was, of course, a GPS for hikers. I'd love to use one to record a full track of the Virgin Falls trail. No matter what the maps say, I'm sure the return journey must be twenty miles.