Cascade Creek in Durango, CO

Over Labor Day, Jon and I went back to Durango. It was such a wonderful trip; we got to hang out with James, Colleen, and their adorable boys, and we went places that I hadn’t been last time around.

One of those places was Cascade Creek. Last time we were in Durango, we took a short hike down to the last of the falls. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I could have spent all day had the rain held off a little longer. I know I posted a shot of this in my last blog post, but here it is again as a reminder:

Idyllic, right? Can you imagine just sitting there for an afternoon as that gorgeous emerald water gushes through the narrow canyon? I loved it.

So when Jon told me that he, his family, and his friends used to “run Cascade,” I thought, ah, that must be fun, if not a little intimidating. See, I don’t even enjoy the high-dive at the local pool. I still have to work up the nerve to jump off something higher than a few feet from the water. It’s not that I’m afraid of heights necessarily—I just know when something is high enough that I could become fatally injured launching myself off of it. I try to avoid those situations I guess.

He showed me a video on youtube of people jumping off narrow sides of (what I assume is) the granitic slot canyon, and while the video terrified me a bit, I was seduced by the thought of those beautiful falls seen from a different perspective. I agreed we could try it, but in July the water was still too high. However, this time around Jon assessed the water and thought we would be ok.

I didn’t realize how frightening it would be for me until it was too late to go back. Once you’re in it, you really can’t change your mind and walk back out. The current is too fast, the falls too high to climb back over, and the rock walls too steep and too slippery with water to scramble up or over.

So the only way out is down down down.

(Here’s someone else’s journey down, for the curious.)

And down we went. Jon, his brother James, James’ son Jimmy, and I trekked over slick, smooth river rocks and through swift current to jump off several of the falls. The first one didn’t look so bad, I thought. I slid down the rock and into the water, expecting to touch bottom almost immediately, kind of like a kiddie pool. WRONG. I unexpectedly submerged completely, and when I came up for air, the water was so cold and shockingly deep that I had a hard time breathing from the surprise of it all. I could see a rocky refuge ahead, so as I still tried to take a full breath, I swam over and tried to get a grip on myself. I was shaking and couldn’t stop wondering what the hell had I gotten myself into.

I thought the next jump would be better—I knew what to expect now, right? NOPE. On each jump, my body fought me. First, I had to build up the nerve to actually fling myself into the water, not knowing what kind of hard, unforgiving rocks might await me as the current obscured each pool. There were moments when I thought my body would not be able to withstand the rushing current, and that at some point, I would just be carried from pool to pool, knocking against the rock canyon walls, trying to remember the survival skills my white-water obsessed mother had mentioned countless times since I was a young teenager. I thought about the possibility of search and rescue several times, and I even, melodramatically, wondered if I would make it out of there alive at all.

(I know. I know. I’m fine. Don’t worry.)

I don’t remember how many falls we jumped before we made it to (nearly) the end. We could see Colleen and their two youngest boys waiting for us on the rocky shores of the last pool. We were standing high on a ledge overlooking the rest of the falls. They seemed impossibly high, and the current was bound to sweep us over the edge if we attempted those jumps—at least that is what I thought. We stood there for a minute, and I smiled and quietly said to Jon, for the umpteenth time I am sure, that I was going to kill him for this later.

Luckily, even though climbing out is not an option on most parts of the canyon, our little ledge was just right for lifting ourselves up and out. James and Jon did the heavy lifting and helped us two inexperienced, terrified ones up the ledge and through the surrounding brush. We hiked back up to the highway and tried to let our limbs and toes thaw out again on the way home.

Despite quitting midway through, and despite the bruises and the still-very-tender ankle, I think it was a success! In those few jumps, I learned a lot about myself. I realized that even if I am downright terrified inside, I can still hold it together long enough to make it out of a bad spot. I even managed to give Jimmy (James’ and Colleen’s incredibly brave little seven year-old) pep talks and words of encouragement when all we could do was jump even though neither of us wanted to. I managed to stop shaking long enough to give him a hug and tell him it would be ok. I whooped and hollered in celebration when he would take his plunges, all the while wondering what fresh terrors awaited me down the next cascade.

Who knew I had that in me? I sure didn’t. I might be cautious, but it’s good to know I am not a complete coward.

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