We laughed when we saw the woman coming up the trail.

Not to her face — we waited until the sweaty, huffing woman had passed before we got to it: She looked positively wiped out, like the trail had eaten her lunch and knocked her dessert on the floor. We figured her for one of those new App State parents from Charlotte or Raleigh, one who had ventured into downtown Blowing Rock looking for mountain fudge, or mountain honey, or a genuine mountain pie, and certainly had not been prepared to hike down to Glen Burney Falls, though it probably sounded like a good idea at the time.

My wife and I are not exactly seasoned hikers — I think we’ve been on three, or maybe even four, hikes since we started heading up the mountain on the reg. Still, we felt the Glen Burney hike, with a trailhead right near the quaint retail cottages and tiny restaurants of downtown Blowing Rock, might be beneath our skill level — the red-faced woman in tennis shoes notwithstanding.

We were still chuckling through that first mile, even as other exhausted and wheezing hikers passed, and even a couple injured ones, arms slung over the shoulders of their fellow travelers. But near the start of the second mile, we were breathing too heavily to laugh.

The Glen Burney Trail is hard, y’all.

Thin passages slick with mud and the knotted, varicose veins of tree roots. Stretches of rockface to traverse. Steep drops fraught with loose stones. The whole thing runs almost four miles, past the ruins of an 1920s sewage-processing facility, through three stages of waterfalls and down to a sort of anticlimactic payoff at the base of Glen Burney Falls. We found Glen Marie Falls, a sheer-rock waterfall at the end of a 1.6-mile branch a bit further up, to be much more scenic.

We weren’t the only ones with the wrong idea about the trail: We saw limping seniors, dead-eyed teens with their parents, crying children and more than one hiker in flat, strappy sandals, all of whom seemed surprised at the challenge of walking down to the falls.

By the time we got back to the trailhead, we looked just like her, the woman in the visor and tennis skirt. And that was pretty funny, too.

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