Brandon Wyrick, s/v SolMate, organized our merry band of volleyball players, jokesters and layabouts for one more hike before leaving Grenada. Owen, our bus driver, picked us up at 7:30 a.m. at Secret Harbor for an hour’s drive to Grand Etang National Park and Forest Reserve, the location of the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. We wanted to hit the trail early before the cruise ship, now docked in St. George’s, disgorged a flock of passengers.
We paid $5EC per person to enter the forest reserve and met Superbutterfly, our guide. The slim, wiry native led us down the road to the main trail. Along the way he pointed out the local flora and fauna: guava trees, sorrel, coconuts and passion fruit.
Over his shoulder he carried a wooden box painted in Grenada’s familiar green, yellow and red and tidily covered with a garbage bag to protect it from the elements. When we arrived at the base of the waterfalls, he installed the container’s four-foot long stake in a hole in the ground. Dena Elbury, s/v Sabbaticus, leaned over and asked what I thought the box was for. Since his name was Superbutterfly, I guessed that he was going to release butterflies.
Next our guide explained the rest of our hike. From that point forward, we would abandon our backpacks and shoes and climb the trail with bare feet. We would encounter a series of waterfalls that we would deal with by either crawling over or jumping into, including a 35-foot leap into an 18-foot deep pool.
“Are you ready, my soldiers?” he asked and bound up the trail.
The 45-degree ascent was tricky, especially for us petite climbers. Anna-Karin Sundquist, s/v Unicorn, and I followed last and found ourselves sliding on the incline. We grabbed onto nearby roots to pull ourselves up and tried to step into slippery footholds. Soon she complained in her lilting Swedish accent, “I thought we were going on a hike. If I had known that it was going to be like this….”
I did a gut-check and found that I wasn’t scared. The last time I made a 35-foot leap was more than 20 years ago when Mike and I took a whitewater rafting trip to West Virginia and jumped off a boulder into the French Broad River. I felt irritated, though, to find myself bringing up the rear once again. I clamber with a certain amount of care to avoid falling and because my legs stretch only so far. Mentally, I don’t feel as if I’m moving slowly, but, doggone it, I always find myself at the back of the pack. It’s discouraging to see myself as I was two decades ago and confront something different today.
We arrived at our first obstacle, a huge boulder that Superbutterfly helped us surmount by pointing out each foothold and handhold. Next we climbed horizontally across a rock wall above gushing water. Then we came to our first jump from 15′ into an 8′ deep pool.
Superbutterfly carefully explained the tactics to “his soldiers.” Each of us would place our feet in the spots he indicated and we would push off and out. The second step was covered with algae, so it was important that we carry enough force to propel ourselves outward.
I had made a similar leap only two weeks earlier when we celebrated Mikayla’s birthday. Deb Eastwood and I had carried a carload of kids to Mt. Carmel Falls where they careened over the rocks like a giant Slip ‘n’ Slide. During a lull she and I took turns jumping off a boulder into the pool 15 feet below us.
The difference here was the second step. The algae worried me. What if I slid and hit the back of my head on the boulder? I paused for a few moments. Jumping was the only way out. Brandon and Superbutterfly had made it clear that the trail ran only one way–up.
I jumped. The cold water snapped my brain back into place, and I turned and waved to the rest of the group.
Next we shot the chute. I maneuvered myself to the front of our group to get it over with. Superbutterfly told us that we would make our way through the chute Spiderman-style. I pushed my hands against the boulders on either side of me and prepared to do the same thing with my legs so I could spider-walk above the water. That’s not what he meant. He wanted us to press our hands against the boulders and walk down the chute.
It was hard. The water gushed through the chute at high speed and just about pushed my feet out from underneath me. ‘Fly faced me. He calmly, confidently backed down the chute himself and told me where to place my feet. At the end I settled into a spot out of the way so the others could make their way down.
A leap of faith
After a brief swim downstream we came to the mother: the 35-foot leap. Rebecca Sweeney, s/v Zero to Cruising, moved quickly to the front to be first in line. There was no way she was going to wait. She followed ‘Fly’s instructions and jumped cleanly into the pool, scoring a ten with the rest of our group waiting on the rocky strand.
I followed Anna-Karin. I figured if she could do it, I could do it since we’re about the same size. I listened again to ‘Fly’s instructions, looking into his cow eyes and hearing the confidence in his voice. I knew I troubled him the most since I had climbed up last, paused at the top of the 15-foot jump and briefly wedged my foot in a hole going through the chute.
I reviewed the instructions in my head. I heard Brandon tell me that I could do it. I heard the rest of the group counting off “3-2-1.” I waved my hand to tell them to stop.
I couldn’t do it. I waited too long. My monkey brain took over and started spinning. I should have jumped sooner. I told Josh, s/v Joana, to take my place and announced that I would follow him.
On my second attempt, I hesitated again. Then Brandon told me to look at the horizon, not down. I leaped.
“Boy, am I glad that’s over!” I thought as I swam ashore.
Mike and Mikayla leap
Meanwhile, Mike stood at the top of the Seventh Sister and considered one of the biggest jumps he’s made. “I knew I could do it, but it was a little terrifying,” he said.
As he landed in the pool, or perhaps on the way down, Mike ripped his shorts, revealing a part of his body that seldom sees the sun.
As for Mikayla, she was afraid she would slip and fall.
“I wanted to do all the jumps, but I was scared about the last one. I figured I didn’t have a choice, because you can’t go back.”
Mikayla had jumped off a 40’ cliff at her friend’s lake house in Alabama. At the top of the Seventh Sister, she didn’t think about anyone else’s jump, only her own.
“I told myself to just do it.”
Mikayla screamed all the way down, as you can see from the video at Unicorn’s website.
Before we left the Seven Sisters, we discovered the purpose of Superbutterfly’s red, green and yellow box. We left a healthy tip for helping us accomplish a once-in-a-lifetime feat.