OK Slip Falls, an Adirondack lake and a needed reminder
By Klarisse Torriente
A suicide, another death from kidney failure, one eight-day mental health inpatient stay and a suicide attempt. All this family trauma plus time for three jobs, a partner, a cat, a board of directors and union organizing have consumed me for six months. If I did not intervene in my own self-care, I would join the list of the suffering.
I get anxious about preventative care. As a social worker, I know what happens when people do not heal from life experiences that hurt them physically and mentally. The consequences are a life-or-death matter. As with many others, I am grateful for the solace I have found on Adirondack ground.
I thought about the airline emergency protocols: Put your mask on before you help someone else. So, I called out of work.
The forecast called for highs in the mid-80s around Indian Lake. I had been itching to hike to the basin of OK Slip Falls where the cascade meets the Hudson River. It was unsafe when I went in 2020. I checked trail reports. The heat brought on dryer, safer conditions. I also daydreamed of swimming. Since childhood, I eagerly look forward to the first swim of the year. It is healing like medicine. It washes away the weight of life and gives way to the lightness of joy, a prescription you cannot pick up at your nearest pharmacy.
OK Slip is one of the highest waterfalls in the Adirondacks and the trail to the overlook is family friendly. I know this because the first time I did this hike I must have passed 20 groups with kids of all ages. It is super easy, and beautiful, featuring a lot of welcoming tree variations, even larger white pines that provide cool shade. Although I headed out on a weekday, I was concerned about the trail being as packed as last time. I really wanted to selfishly use this walk as a time to be by myself and reconnect with the natural world. Which, I know, is optimistic picking such a popular trail, but I was hopeful.
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Within the first half-mile I was greeted by a group of four hikers. They pleasantly shared it would be only me out there moving forward, they had seen no one else that morning. This message served as my golden ticket.
Flies were not a problem. I was absolutely fine walking calmly through the forest, taking pictures of crimson red and bright white trillium. I was greeted by many snakes, this particularly balmy Friday the 13th. Being outside in nature does not alleviate all my trials and tribulations, but it certainly forces my attention elsewhere.
Paying attention to trail markers, admiring animals and plants I do not see every day, and sitting and overlooking the magic of water free-falling over a rocky edge reminds my anxious brain about the natural wonders of life untouched by humans. The overlook is beautiful enough, but that was not my goal this day. The descent to the falls itself and the Hudson River is far tougher than the hike to the overlook.
I suggest this section for those with experience and no fear of heights. I read of two ways to get down and I chose the cliffside. I accessed the trail, which is lined with ropes that you can use to belay yourself. Once I got to the bottom, I felt like I was in a scene from Jurassic Park. The sun was beaming down from a cloudless sky, the ferns were still unraveling in small groups lining the trickling water. My time down there was brief—there were far more annoying flies—but worth it. I felt rejuvenated and rewarded. The ascent up the cliff, the walk back to my car and the overall excitement of the experience added to my desire to swim.
I did not have a set plan as to where I would get wet. I knew the region well enough to know how spoiled I was with opportunity. The issue was choices. I decided to drive to nearby Indian Lake to stop at a Stewart’s for Gatorade. Growing up in upstate, I always find Stewart’s to be a great resource. I asked the attendants who rang up my treats where they recommended for a quick dip.
They rattled off three swimming options within a few miles.
I failed to find the spot at Adirondack Lake. So, determined, I headed to Lake Abanakee and found a completely empty beach. I put a towel on a dock and walked into the water. To my surprise, it was welcoming, not the ice bath I anticipated. I waded about hip deep before I took a breath, and allowed my body to fall completely backwards, my first full dunk of the year. I stood up, my ringlets of curls soaked, and I returned to the dock.
I lay on the dock for 30 minutes just staring out into the lake, birdwatching and allowing myself to settle into the environment. This setting made me feel emotional. For months now, my mind had been turning like a hamster with endless energy on a wheel. My thoughts are often a never-ending to-do list, met with the constant impulse to do more for my family and my community. I felt abundant gratitude for the privilege I had to be there. I felt abundant gratitude to the universe for making this place possible and the humans who have worked to preserve it.
This setting, these experiences again, do not wash away life’s traumas or the mental anguish they bring. The Adirondack Park, nature, can remind us of the world we are part of. That reminder is grounding. It is centering. It is life giving. It takes the individual and makes them a part of the collective.