The first [and only other] time I attempted the Mary Jane Falls hike, in the Spring Mountains of Nevada, was in November 2011. The hike itself was beautiful, but I felt like such a failure, huffing and puffing as I struggled to make the ascent, that I guess I’ve been too afraid to try it again.
On Monday I decided it was time to face that beast again.
Before I go there though, let me share a little bit about the Mary Jane Falls hike. It’s only a 3 mile round-trip hike, however the guides estimate it should take between 2 and 3 hours to complete because of the steep inclines [you gain +950 ft elevation] and the altitude [approx 9,000 ft]. The trail starts in the bottom of Kyle Canyon, heavily forested, and surrounded by beautiful gray limestone cliffs. In the first 0.7 miles, the trail climbs 450 feet, then turns into a side canyon and climbs another 650 feet to the falls in the remaining 0.9 mile.
Although the trail is considered fairly strenuous, climbing nearly 1,000 feet in 1.6 miles, it is one of the most popular hikes in the Spring Mountains because the the payoff is pretty big: amazing views + beautiful terrain + a wonderful waterfall to cool yourself under + a cool-ass cave just behind the falls.
Memories of my racing heart, shortness of breath and general feelings of being completely out of shape and incapable were front and centre in my mind when I set out for my second date with Miss Mary Jane.
The temperature was approximately 90 degrees that day, so hitting the cool temps in the Mount Charleston area was a good enticement to try this tough hike again. The temperature at the start of the hike was around 70 degrees, and it dropped to around 65 by the time I made it to the Falls. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first.
I set out from the trail head feeling strong, acknowledging how far I’ve come these past 6 months, how much healthier I am. Ooooh, but that damn trail is relentless. The incline starts immediately. Don’t let this pic fool you, it’s actually the start of the first incline which climbs 450 ft in just 0.7 miles.
The loose gravel and larger rocks that made up most of the first mile provided added challenge, and Mr. Enthusiasm began slowing down due to shin splints. He said the hiking along the loose rock was just killing his legs, and told me to just go ahead and not wait for him.
Well, there went my excuse to keep stopping
to catch my breath to let him catch up.
I started hiking alone and soon got to the series of deadly switchbacks that lead to the end of the trail. You can see the switchbacks on the map below. It’s the zig-zag lines that look like the display from a heart rate monitor.
Shortly after starting on the switchbacks I passed a group who had stopped to rest against a couple of boulders: two men in their 30’s, a young boy who appeared to be around 6 years old, and two pit bulls. All were panting and looked exhausted. I said hi, and motored past them. [Okay, so passing them felt pretty good!]
About 20 feet ahead, with my tank nearing empty, I stopped to lean against a fallen tree and sip some water. The group I had just passed was on the move; the dog owner first, with his two not-so-intimidating-because-they-were-so-exhausted pit bulls, then the dad, followed by the little boy. I overheard the dad coaxing him, “come on…it’ll be so cool to see a waterfall…” The boy, head hanging, just kept saying “I’m tired. I can’t walk.”
As they were passing by me, I commented, “So, I feel moderately better about myself seeing that even the dogs are struggling.” 🙂 They laughed and commented how out of shape they felt [the men, not the dogs], and how they needed to do more hiking.
I fell into step right behind them, feeling strong enough to go faster than the pace they were keeping, but the trail too narrow to give me room to pass. So I followed until they made their next rest stop, approx 50 feet ahead. Seizing the opportunity to get ahead and be in control of my pace, I wished them well on the rest of their climb and motored on.
Literally moments after I moved past them, I could hear the little boy saying to his dad, “I don’t need to rest! I’m ready to hike!” and he started racing up behind me. He fell into step beside me, didn’t say a word, but looked up at me and nodded. I nodded back.
We hiked together in silence for another 50 feet, both of us breathing heavy. I looked down and said, “this hike is pretty tough, huh?”. He responded, “when does it end??” Ha! Out of the mouths of babes…
I saw a fallen tree ahead and told him I thought it was a good time for a quick rest. He didn’t say a word, but climbed right onto the tree, and laid back on his make-shift bed. After a 30 second rest we started back up the never-ending switchbacks.
We got to the point where we could actually hear the waterfall, so we knew we were close, but first – a staircase-from-hell, made of rocks, leading us up to it. [Kicking myself for not taking a picture of those steps!! Next time.]
We looked at each other and silently agreed that we’d need just one more quick rest before the final push.
By then we could see his dad, the other guy, and the two dogs making their ascent. We knew what we had to do: beat them to the top. No way we were not getting there first.
And then the payoff:
When the men and dogs arrived, and the dad saw me snapping pics, he asked if I’d like him to take one of me. Since I didn’t know if Mr. Enthusiasm would make it all the way to the falls, I gladly accepted his offer.
I knew I wanted to get one in front of, or near, the falls, and I saw two ways of climbing up to the shelf: I could either climb up a dry but tough rocky surface at the far left, or I could climb up a more gentle slope on the right, but it was very slick from the water and moss growth. I saw others slip-sliding on that area, so I opted to climb the dry rocks on the other side.
I tried. Got stuck mid way. Let my fear of falling get the best of me, and climbed back down, announcing, “I think I’ll try the wet side”.
I started climbing up, felt how slippery it was, and – afraid of falling – I stopped and shouted, “You can just take it right here!” [Chicken.]
So he did:
I made my way back down and thanked him. He thanked me right back saying, “No, I should be thanking you! I was really struggling to get Landon (ah, so that’s his name!) going. He kept complaining he was too tired. I didn’t think he would make it. He sure took kindly to you!” I responded, “Hey, there’s nothing like getting the competitive juices flowing! I’m sure he thought to himself, no way I’m getting beat by some girl!”
I decided to snap some more pictures, trying to enjoy the amazing views — all the while chastising myself for being too afraid to climb that last little bit. As I was playing photographer, Landon came racing back to me, asking why I wasn’t climbing up to the shelf and to check out the awesome cave. I told him I was scared I couldn’t do it.
He looked at me like I was from another planet. He seriously didn’t understand what I meant. And, in looking back now, I can see why. He had seen me tackle that climb like a beast. Barely stopping to catch my breath, passing younger (seemingly healthier) men [and dogs!], and not any worse for the wear. And yet, I was afraid to climb 6 feet up to the coolest part. WTF??
He calmly said, “come on, I’ll show you how”.
I followed him back to the left side, and that rocky climb. He scaled it like a miniature Spider Man. I looked up at him on the shelf, with envy.
Okay, f&ck this shit. I’m doing this. I CAN DO THIS.
I started climbing, and Landon’s dad came over to ask me if I needed a hand. I looked up, said, “No. Well, maybe.” pause “No, I can do this. I think.” He kept his hand outstretched to me.
I said, “No, this is stupid. I have this irrational fear of falling. I have to get over it.” His response? “Hey, it’s a reasonable fear. You could fall. And that would hurt.”
I dug in, found just enough room for a foot hold, and hoisted myself up the last bit.
I stood up, and announced aloud (but mostly to myself), “I am capable“.
The dad said, “Great job!”. I responded, “Hey, nothing like a little competitive juice to motivate you!”
Thanks Landon for reminding me that it’s okay to be competitive, and that I AM capable.
Thanks Mary Jane for the challenging journey to your beautiful waterfall.
Not to sound like too much of a braggart but… The guidebook says this hike should take 2-3 hours. I did it in 1:40. What?? [grin] I know, right??
p.s. Mr. Enthusiasm did make it to the top! Yay! Slow and steady, just like the Tortoise.
p.p.s. Here is a shot of Landon and his dad on the shelf, near the cave: