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The Voice of a Waterfall

The "throat" of The Narrows is this small plunge.
The "throat" of The Narrows is this small plunge.
Dan Goodwin

Every waterfall hiker knows that distinct sound – the sound of a waterfall. It is most often our first clue as to the proximity of the cascade. We usually hear a waterfall long before we see it, to the point that the sound becomes a navigation tool to finding the source.

But what about that sound? Do all waterfalls sound alike, what is their “voice?” Many, many waterfalls have a “crashing” sound as the water moves down rock faces onto boulders or into a shallow base pool. The amount of water flow or the height doesn’t really make much difference other than to make the “crash” louder.

Now and again, however, you find a waterfall with a different voice. While the “crash” might be there, these is a deep, underlying tone that can only be described as “thunderous.” These seem to be related to plunges with deep base pools. The water is in full free-fall when it slices into the deep water, producing almost a guttural voice.

Expectations are that your large waterfalls are most likely to have a low voice and, while this can be true, it is not always so. Smaller cascades can give also you a good bass undertone, if the conditions are right. A prime example is The Narrows in Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve. Although spectacular, this is not a large waterfall. It is not even on a river.

The Narrows is just what you would expect, a sluice, not a plunge. A sluice created by a slim rock channel lying between two rock faces so close the sluice is contained within a “crack.” Even so, there are two small plunges as the water works its way down the “crack.”

The upper plunge is probably only about five or six feet tall emptying into what must be a deep section in the “crack.” This deep cleft, so tightly confined, creates the "throat" that generates a distinct rumble that is then directed out toward the viewing platform.

As you approach The Narrows on the trail, you can hear (and feel) these bass notes before the waterfall swings into sight. Descending into the gorge, you can hear two distinct water features (The Narrows and The Narrows Cascades) and, if you pay attention, their different voices will allow you to pick out which is which.

Most waterfalls “crash,” some “thunder,” and a few are musical. Wonderful creations, these waterfalls – wonderful in both sight and sound. Next time you hike in to a waterfall, enjoy the view, then close your eyes and take a little while to listen to its voice.

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