There’s something uniquely foreign about the experience, akin to visiting an ice palace in a fantasy movie. Humans aren’t supposed to be in such places. At least that’s what we tell ourselves when we look at a waterfall from the front. And when it’s frozen in winter? Well, there’s something chillingly locked away in… there.
Now, in case you’re wondering, this isn’t the first time I’ve been behind a waterfall. Like countless thousands, I’ve walked behind Niagara Falls and for the price of admission seen the roaring waters dropping away from the safety of a dim, well-engineered if soulless tunnel. Interesting, to be sure. But not magical.
It’s clearly the ice. It forms a wall over the falls that announces, “sorry, closed for the season”. There’s beauty in the frozen stillness of a waterfall in winter, of course, but there’s a small part of you that feels betrayed by the ice. You hear the muted sound of water falling deep inside, and want for more.
Enter Beede Falls in Sandwich, New Hampshire. In warmer months it’s a 35 foot horsetail of falling water with a popular swimming hole. In winter it’s an ice bulge, beautiful but seemingly as inaccessible as other frozen waterfalls. But this one offers a secret for those who dare. You can duck and crawl in behind the falls on the left or right side, and even crawl all the way through if you wanted to. For some less tall than me standing up is even possible.
I wondered at the characters over the years who have crawled behind the falls in all seasons. I wasn’t the first on this day, and other hikers waited patiently for me to finish to have their own turn in the tight tunnel between granite, water and ice. How many humans have made this crawl over the thousands of years that this cave and waterfall have danced together? A lot, I suppose. But for a few minutes, there was only me and the ice and water.
That’s where I finally saw the magic locked away behind that frozen blue skin. Deep behind the water is indeed falling, forming icicles and frozen bubbles successively grown upon each other to form otherworldly sculptures. And through it all that shower of water penetrates the center, surrounded by its icy shield and backlit by the daylight beyond. An incredible wonderland so foreign to me, so delightful, that I felt I’d gone to another world. And indeed I had.