Winning essay: “Falling for Falls Creek”

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Molly Walters is awarded a check by Grete Gransauer of Montana Wilderness Association for her essay, “Falling for Falls Creek.” (Courtesy Photo)

Friends are a wonderful thing. Good ones can bring you happiness, joy, some frustration, some hurt… but so much happiness and good memories.

On a recent fine spring day, I went hiking with two of my best friends in the world. It started as an idea in our group chat, to go hike to Falls Creek, after tennis practice. It was Spring Break, and I had time, but my mother was always a little bit hard to work with when it came to planning things with my friends. Remarkably, I convinced her, promising to complete some scholarships when I got home. Ironically, this is one of the scholarships that I worked on.

I had been to Falls Creek before, but only with family. In fact, I had never gone hiking before with just my friends. I was excited when I arrived at tennis. I jumped out of my car and started singing a song at my two friends that I modified to be about our hike. They laughed, and we got to practicing.

The token male of our trio was Liam, and he had been sick the night before and we weren’t sure if he was going to make it on the hike. Thankfully, all seemed well with him. (We suspected it was the expired Mountain dew we had given him two days prior).

After tennis practice, we decided it was time to get going. I texted my mom, as I was required to do, and the three of us departed to go to our respective houses and grab our stuff. Stopping briefly at the local grocer for some energizing trail snacks — marshmallows and cookies — we got a chance to say hello to one of our other friends. He was on the original roster of people going on the hike, but he had to cancel because he was working. Then we were off!

In my new (old) car that I would be taking to college, a 2001 Subaru Forester, with a hiking pack containing bear spray, a knife, water, and other wilderness essentials, I was set. I followed my friends to the trail. The other girl, Kaylee, was driving the leading car, because though I had been, I couldn’t remember where it was. Funny thing is, she didn’t quite remember all that well either. She explained when she parked that she almost got us lost.

Finally, we were on the trail and submerged in nature. The three of us, looking like a bunch of tourists in sunglasses and tennis shoes, were surprised to find snow was still blanketing the shadiest parts of the trail. This was entertaining to try and walk on. Liam really had a tough time walking straight, he is kind of challenged that way.

There is one section of the trail where there is a rather wide stream to cross in order to continue on the trail. Likely due to the heavy winter and high water across the whole county, the little make-shift bridge was soaked, damaged, decrepit, and bowing. While my two friends pondered backtracking and taking another path, I yanked up a thick branch and attempted to make my own bridge. When that got swept downstream, I turned to the springy branches growing overhead. I was able to pull one of the thin and low leafy trees over to me by some stray branches and grab hold of the thickest part. Using this, I could balance myself as I walked over what was left of the bridge. The other two followed my technique and made it over.

Upon gaining some altitude and getting out of the densest pine trees, we reached sun and some beautiful rocky trails. I had fun pointing out certain plants to my compadres as we went. At one point, Kaylee stepped right on a strawberry plant I was about to point at and Liam and I got to gang up together in scolding her.

As we neared the waterfall, we began to hear its pounding, rushing water. On the way there, we had been observing dog tracks in the snow and noticed bicycles leaning against a tree. We had concluded that there were people on the trail ahead of us and as we reached the homestretch to the falls, we ran into some classmates from school. One of them happened to be a fellow band nerd. After petting their two big dogs and saying hello, our two groups parted ways. To quote Liam, who is going to be moving out-of-state next summer, “That’s one of the things I do love about Montana-wherever you go, you can almost always find someone you know.”

Then we reached the falls. “Oh my God, it’s beautiful!” Liam shouted, throwing up his arms.

“Yep! I told you so!” Kaylee laughed. The moss was alive and lush and green. Poking into it could bury your finger. The rocks were slick and clear from the water and we indulged ourselves in looking for pretty stones and quartz to bring back. We decided to hike up the waterfall as high as we could and had a great time billy goat-scrambling up through the thick brush.

When we got back down to the base of the falls, Kaylee pulled out and strung up the hammock that she had brought. We took a selfie, all three squeezed into the hammock, swaying over the cool rushing water, shaded by the sweet-smelling cedar trees.

When it was at last time to go, we packed up, collected our trash, and hiked out the other way we could have hiked in. We got to climb over and be fascinated by the flume that sometimes carries water down to someone’s nearby property.

Hiking back down, we planned future hikes and I believe the plan now is to try to go on a hike every weekend.

Good friends and good hikes make the world go ’round. I am so grateful for mine.

Molly Walters belongs to the Troy High School Class of 2017. Her essay was the best for Troy High School in both the Friends of Scotchman Peaks and Montana Wilderness Association 2017 Scholarship Essay Competitions. Voices in the Wilderness is a monthly column written for the Western News by your neighbors and friends in Lincoln County featuring memorable personal experiences in wild places. If you have a tale based in untamed country (it doesn’t have to be local), write to sandy@scotchmanpeaks.org for guidelines, or just send it along.

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