My favorite swimming hole (and many other people’s) is just north of the Breathed Mountain trail intersection with Red Creek trail. Above the swimming hole, there’s a solid rock beach for sunning. The tannic water falls off the side of the beach down a series of cascades to a pool roofed by trees. In spring high flow, I’ve ridden the water down the lower cascades. At the bottom of the cascades, the stream fills a pool, deep and wide enough for swimming. If you are adventuresome, you can put your boots back on and hike below the pool to the next waterfall. As I recollect, it’s a single drop waterfall with an overhung cave carved out of a layer of coal.
The high today was in the 80’s. The ever-present threat of afternoon thunderstorms had abated to only twenty percent. Since we decided against larger rock climbs, today seemed like a good day to splash in the water. From the house, the shortest route is a seven mile hike out and back along Breathed Mountain Trail. A quick jaunt for an adult.
Midday, when we arrived at the swimming hole, I tried sitting in the cascades, but there wasn’t enough water to push me. Tyson was first to jump into the pool and swim. Soon everyone else, except Isaac, took a deep breath and jumped in. Isaac complained the water was too cold on his sore feet. Tyson figured out how to float down the last water funnel into the pool. Then he convinced Isaac to swim across the pool with him to the rock in the middle. Mom and I swam over too. Feeling refreshed, we all walked back up to our packs on the rock beach.
That morning, leaving the house, Isaac had been excited to go swimming. However, he didn’t grasp the distance to the swimming hole. He covered the first half of the trail out cheerfully — some complaints about the soaking wet brambles on the bushwhack shortcut from the house. Mom told stories of the landmarks from my childhood. Bushes were growing in on the table rock. The four foot deep water gauge hole was completely dry. In spring time, water pours out the top. The meadows that had once been beaver ponds were now full of red and black chokeberries and blooming bottle gentian and goldenrod. We all balanced across the logs over a bog where I’d once lost my shoe. Isaac spotted a few things himself: many perfect dew soaked spider webs; a giant spider snatching a fly from it’s web and carrying the fly behind the signs at the trailhead; a large wood frog pretending to hide under a small leaf. But, around halfway out, his enthusiasm for swimming wavered.
“There’s something poky in my boot” he said, and made us sit down to take it out. Five hundred yards farther, “I’m tired. I want to sit down.” Another five hundred yards “there’s something poky in my other boot. I need to sit down so you can take my boot off,” Isaac continued. I told him, I understood he was tired, but I insisted he hike without stopping to the pine forest — another half mile — and then we would rest. He made it without any more complaints. We took a long rest and snack break. Next, I told him to hike to the top of the steep downhill into the Red Creek valley — three quarters of a mile of mostly level to downhill hiking.
Isaac quit after a half mile at a campsite in the plateau above the last descent. The campsite is in the trees where a small stream crosses the trail before wandering out into a wide meadow left from beaver ponds. Tyson and I continued ahead as we had promised. Isaac and my parents caught up on the steep downhill where Tyson had to hike slowly. Together, we hiked the short distance to the swimming hole.
The sun dried us off while we ate lunch on the rock beach. Tyson tried to photograph butterflies with his one detachable lens. He caught a blue and black butterfly with it’s wings spread, but the orange and brown butterfly and the tiger swallowtail were too fast for him. I sat listening to the flow of water. Isaac, dressed in dry clothes, a long sleeve shirt, and wrapped in my jacket, napped on the rock.
On the hike back to the house, we picked goals for rest stops. First, back up to the campsite, “you can do that Isaac, you hiked down from there.” He was panting by the top of the hill but he made it. He threw himself down on the dirt to rest. Next, the eastern edge of the pine forest. A little bit shorter distance than the morning’s stop to offset the elevation gain. Isaac wished the pine trees would come sooner, but he made it. Now came the hard part for us adults — remembering the points of interest that come next on the trail. Isaac refused to get up from the pine trees. We started hiking anyways. He grumped half the way to the next rest stop. We rested under mountain holly dotted with red berries. My mother had just learned to identify these shrubs. We stopped at the northwestern edge of the beaver meadows where my parents had pruned bushes away from the trail. Isaac’s whining changed into whimpering about his feet, and how tired he was. He was tired. He slipped off rocks and splashed through mud puddles. We stopped at the sign boards for the Breathed Mountain and Big Stonecoal Run trail. Isaac was now a moving melt down, wailing at everyone. One last stretch up to our bushwhack and down to the house. Isaac walked straight into the house, laid down on the couch, mud and all, and fell asleep. Later, when we woke him up for dinner, I realized he had a fever.
When I put Isaac to bed that evening, he pondered “Mom, maybe I was tired today because I was sick?” I too wondered what signs I had missed. He said we should go to back to the swimming hole some other day when it’s warmer. I’m ready to go back any day.