Monday, April 24, 2017

Hike of the Week : Otter Falls, or This Time I Know It's For Real

We tried to hike this trail a few weeks back... but totally missed the turn off and headed up the Quartz Creek Trail instead. And then, when we got home, read a trail report describing deep "crotch deep" snow on the trail. So I suppose it was meant to be. 

We were trying to decide where to hike over the weekend. Our Kilimanjaro training plan called for a 3.5-hour hike, so I considered some hikes on the Olympic Peninsula, or in the southern Cascades. And then I remembered Otter Falls. The road was supposed to remain open until "late April"... was April 22 "late"? 

I checked the DOT site for the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road project and, happily for us, construction had not yet started for 2017. But I also figured that this was probably our last chance before 2018 to get back out there -- this was, indeed, the day. 

We drove out to the trailhead -- potholes don't frighten me anymore! -- and parked near the junction with the forest road. We then walked up and over the washouts toward the trailhead. (And back, because we had forgotten to put up our Discover Pass...). It's really beautiful and peaceful here -- and we eyed the quiet campsites with envy.

Not the Rolling Stones...
 The last bit of road between the washout and the trailhead:

And, finally, the trailhead. We were surprised to see three trucks parked here when we came off the trail -- but I suppose, with a high-clearance vehicle, we could have gotten past those washouts. 

The trail starts across this bridge -- crossing the Taylor River.

Four weeks after our last attempt, clearly things were a lot less snowy. April 22:

Roughly the same area, March 26:

And, clearly, spring was springing!

This time we spotted the trail sign, and actually followed it. Yay us!

The trail took us across a few stream crossings -- where we were glad to have Gore-tex boots. (What's that noise? Is that foreshadowing?)

But for the first couple of miles, only a tiny bit of snow.

We moved away from the river as the trail climbed, but there was still a lot of water coming down the hill. I liked this flat rock waterfall. Or is that a waterslide?

We came to a sturdy bridge over a largish waterfall just before 4 miles in. Perhaps this is Big Creek Falls? The map says this is Marten Creek, so probably not... but it was the biggest waterfall along the route (other than Otter Falls, of course!).

And then we continued on, the path getting increasingly narrow. I suppose this is because it has been difficult to get here in the summer for the past few years, and really snowy in the winter!

We tiptoed across a few more streams, admired the mossy rocks, and kept moving up the trail for a while.

Then we hit snow -- but it wasn't too bad. Never more than shin deep, and really mostly well compacted.

That's probably just a dog, right? Right?

As we dawdled at the edge of a wide, fast-moving, and not immediately easily crossable stream, two hikers caught up with us. They also paused, but soon set off across the rocks. Wil said, "Are you *sure* that THIS isn't Otter Falls?" But I was sure, since I'd seen pictures. (Amusingly, I would later discover that this creek flows from the lake at the bottom of Otter Falls, but that's neither here nor there.)

But we picked our way across, and headed up the snowy trail. I knew the spur trail to Otter Falls wasn't far ... but we couldn't spot it. We went past it, turned, and were inching back, trying to spot a trail heading up the hill... or at least some footprints in the snow... and I looked down and happened to spot this:

I stared at it for some time, suddenly realizing that it spelled E-R-F-A-L-L-S. Okay, the S was iffy at best. But it was clearly a sign, so we started walking up the hill, looking in vain for an obvious trail, but just heading up and up the hill. 

We came to a clearing on the edge of a hill and could see the falls ahead of us and a little beach below... but couldn't spot a way down. Out of the corner of his eye Wil saw an old glowstick on a log, and moving closer, we could spot a trail just across the log. Result!

I had seen pictures of the falls, but somehow thought they were maybe 10 feet high. Nope -- much much higher. And we had the place to ourselves, which was glorious. So we had a little break, ate a snack, ("take off your pack and have a snack!"), and just soaked it all in. Later my pal Luther posted on my FB page that his "teenaged jeans had holes in the butt from this place from sliding down in the summer -- the water was still ice flipping cold."

So on a cold-ish day, it was clearly too cold to contemplate a dip, and we turned around and made our way back to the main trail. I had a thought that I could understand how people get lost in the woods -- we were lucky that the main trail was snowy so we could see it clearly through the trees and just make our way to it -- even from the top down I couldn't make out the spur trail. 

Then back through the snow...

... and the rocks and across the creeks ...

until we made it back to the trailhead and the car. We had seen only two people on our way out to the falls, but did see about 12 people in 4 groups on the way back. I wondered if any of them would miss the falls like we almost did -- but also figured our boot tracks back and forth, back and forth might narrow it down!

We drove back down the potholed road -- probably for the last time this year, as I assume the closure will start soon -- and then out to North Bend where, inspired by our friends Ken and Mary, who have this whole "recovery" thing down, we stopped for ice cream at Scott's Dairy Freeze. Chocolate? Vanilla? No, SWIRL.

This was a really nice hike, if not super challenging from an elevation standpoint. 

Elevation profile from Saturday's hike:

Otter Falls

10.7 miles (including a little stretch where we headed back to the car to put up our park pass...)
968 feet elevation

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