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Times copy editor explores Georgia's natural beauty
Alison Marchman hikes High Shoals Falls
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The trail to High Shoals Falls is slippery and uneven, but the view is worth the climb. - photo by ALISON MARCHMAN

Tips for hiking High Shoals Falls

* High Shoals Falls trail is ranked as a moderately difficult hike. It is not appropriate for young children or people with certain disabilities. The hike down is not hard, but the hike back to your vehicle can involve a slick 45-degree inclines.

* Read all signage before entering the park.

* Bring sunscreen, bug repellent and a small first-aid kit.

* Bring a cellphone on the hike with a full charge. If an emergency occurs, you can call for help. Or if you get lost, your cell can assist you to find your way out.

* Wear appropriate clothing and especially consider wearing long pants.

* Bring enough water for everyone to have at least two or three breaks.

* Stay on the trail and with your party.

* Do not leave trash behind.

* Remember, it gets dark in the forest faster. So leave at least one hour before sunset.

* Check out atlantatrails.com online for directions and more tips. However, print out the directions because the final road is not locatable through GPS.

When I first started at The Times, I read a column by Dick Yarbrough. I liked it so much I decided to keep a copy of it in my desk drawer. In fact, I almost cried from laughing so hard.

But the hyperbole of the introductory paragraph really struck me:

"It is a theological fact that God really likes Georgia. That is why he put mountains in North Georgia and the Gold Isles smack up against the Atlantic Ocean and added a bunch of lakes and parks and historical sites in between. Otherwise, we could have been Iran. Or Detroit."

I showed it to a sports reporter who just smiled and said, "Preach it brother."

The column then goes on, extolling the virtues of Georgia’s natural beauty, which I had yet to experience since I moved from the coastal plains of North Carolina. The flat-as-a-pancake landscape offers no peaks or valleys to strike the imagination.

I had no idea I would find myself agreeing with Yarbrough once I experienced it for myself.

While Yarbrough did not set the beauty bar very high considering the alternative locales, I decided to test his hypothesis.

I discovered a website — www.atlanta trails.com — through a friend who has led me to some wild places. And I picked High Shoals Falls in Hiawassee as my first foray into hiking Georgia’s untamed outdoors.

So I packed my hiking trail gear, jumped into my car and headed off to the site just north of Helen. And there, I discovered some of the most beautiful and strange places I have ever encountered.

Two major waterfalls are at High Shoals Falls. Blue Hole Falls is the first cascading waterfall about two stories tall. High Shoal Falls is the second and one of the largest in Georgia with a jaw-dropping 50 feet of rushing water.

At Blue Hole Falls, my bliss was interrupted by an overly excited couple yakking away. So I decided to descend from the platform to the fall, against clearly posted signage telling me not to do so.

This was sound advice as the rocks are slippery and one can easily fall. And I, of course, fell before climbing back to the platform I had wholeheartedly abandoned because of Mr. and Mrs. Yakky-yak.

Luckily I was greeted with the sight of seven lavender butterflies, which flew up from the banks as I climbed down. It was nearly a divine experience.

After splashing about a bit, I set out for the second waterfall — High Shoals Falls. The trip was wet and more uneven than the first leg. But it was worth the 1.35-mile hike.

The falls offer a visceral experience. The sound and coolness of the mist are enchanting and soothing. And everything around the waterfall had a blue tinge caused by the cascade water.

On my way back to the car — there is no real parking lot by the way — the sun began to set. But my trail was lit by the straining light of an orange sun and fireflies. Once again, a divine sight.

The fireflies illuminated my drive down the mountain. Then, I enjoyed an excellent supper in a town called Helen next to the Chattahoochee River on the night of the fullest moon of the year.

It was a magical day to say the least.

Now, when I look back at Yarbrough’s column, I see it in a different light. I think in the case of Georgia’s beauty, there may not be such a thing as hyperbole or exaggeration.

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