Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Scenic Creek Falls

Scenic Creek Falls Posted by Hello

Sometimes . . . very often . . . it is not the published trail guides and literature that gives you an enchanted experience. Such is the tail end of Scenic Creek just before it emerges out of the forest canopy at the foot of it's valley and joins Surprise Creek to join forces with the Tye River.

Scenic Creek is, of course, on the topo maps. But there are no published or official trails that take you into this superlative area of the Alpine Wilderness Area. Scenic kind of has to be discovered . . . either by accident, or because someone who knows someone else who . . . mentions the great camping near the falls of Scenic Creek.

Scenic Creek to most people is a meandering stream that joins Surprise Creek at the more popular Surprise Creek Trailhead . . . and that is about as far as anyone ever gets to thinking anymore about Scenic Creek. What the potential hiker sees is the clearcut of the BPA Easement and a large boggy area rampant with insects and Devil's Club. Not very inviting to the hiker . . . especially a nude hiker. One look at the steep, denuded slope of the BPA Easement and all the decaying trees amid boulders the size of cars is enough to keep them focused on the established trails.

But Scenic Creek can be approached from another direction and long time habituates of Scenic Hot Springs have known of this beautiful area for years. Being involved with the resurrection of Scenic Hot Springs, I have been hiking the areas adjacent to the springs for appropriate camping locations . . . and had heard (and dismissed) the talk of the beautiful camping locations right next to Scenic Creek Falls. After all, I had seen what everyone else sees about Scenic Creek . . . the part down below; the bog and Devil's Club.

But what this really started out as was an attempt to figure out another route onto the Scenic Hot Springs property from the easily accessible parking near the railway tracks. So instead of hiking up to the hot springs, I took a right on the BPA access road and headed off in that direction. As soon as I was out of sight of those busily making their way on up the mountainside to the springs, I stripped and started exploring the BPA easement, looking for ways down.

Past the last tower, where the power lines arc the distance over the valley below to the next mountain ridge, the terrain is steep and treacherous. There are no trails and I had to step carefully on 60-70 degree slopes that were as unstable as they looked . . . chest deep in ferns and blackberries . . . and in the wet areas, devil's club. And I did this naked! But it was fun . . . it was challenging . . . it was physically-enjoyable . . . and it was a little teasing and exhibitionist, for I was exposed on this barren slope. I had the sunlight full on my skin and I was interacting with everything. At times I thought to myself, this is crazy. There is no way down . . . just too many fallen trees and boulders to climb over . . . to much vegetation hiding ankle-breakers . . . too much skin-shredding devils club and blackberry . . . poison oak in abundance. But I could hear the roar of the falls somewhere ahead and it definitely sounded different and more vibrant than what I would have expected. So I kept on going.

Ahead, I could see the creek. Full and white-water foaming before it reaches the lower areas and settles down. This is different and unexpected. But how do I get to it, for now, I am on all fours clamoring over a loose-weave carpet of broken limbs feet thick where one mis-step could send an unprotected lower leg deep into a maze of jagged rock beneath. This was an animalistic hike. I had no time or, for that matter, any balance to re-clothe and protect my skin. I just had to slowly work my way across the raft of brittle timber . . . 30 or 40 feet to the safety of solid overburden at the tree line.

I took a breather at the there at the edge, slightly hidden from the valley several hundred yards below . . . and the numerous weekend hikers headed up the more traditional Surprise Creek trail. Scenic Creek was close. I could hear it and I could see tantalizing glimpses of roiling white foam as it made it's way onto the easement and started to settle down. But what was between me and the creek was a foreboding bramble forest of brittle branches interlocked tight . . . my Mirkwood Forest. The living canopy was far overhead; down here it was dark with undisturbed hummus and bare branches. I eased into it carefully . . . each step carefully thought out, hiking staff and backpack easing the sharp points of snapping deadwood away from my bare skin and where the branches did brush across my bare legs and chest, enjoyed the mastacistic whipping . . . totally alive.

The ground dipped into a wetland and I eyed the new-growth of devil's club with a wary eye . . . planning the avenue of traverse. I was determined now. I could see the open area of moss-covered gentle open slope up ahead. Staff holding the sharp thorns of devil's club aside, I carefully eased myself through the razor-sharp gauntlet and finally stepped onto a wonderland of verdant, spongy moss and wide-spread western hemlock. Scenic Creek was just ahead and the roar of the waterfalls was deafening.

How had I not known this place was here? How could this not be THE PLACE to camp? Long disused fire rings. This place was like a Shangrala . . . El Dorado. A magically section of the mountain completely hidden. Surrounded by steep, inhospitable slope, barricaded by foreboding brambles and wide swathes of thick devil's club. It was magical and I quickly doffed my backpack to go exploring over the several acres of greenery . . . so smooth and soft it was like walking on a finely-manicured lawn.

The trees were old. Widely spaced and clinging solidly to the gentle slopes. And cutting through all this misty landscape beneath the canopy . . . Scenic Creek cascading down dozens of granitic waterfalls . . . the creek split into two or three watercourses at times, each taking their own route down the slope, cutting down into the ancient rock before rejoining. This was like the Lothlorien of the Lord of the Rings. I kept looking at the other side of this magic moss-scape for the twinkle of the Tree of Light . . . imagined High Elves invisibly blending with the old trees. I could easily lay a ground cloth down on this spongy moss and sleep a tranquil sleep of peace where the temperature but a little warmer.

I spent hours there just walking around soaking the magic into me. I sat on the cold and slippery granite next to the cascades of water . . . yearning to immerse myself in the cold waters (but not stupid enough to do that . . . I will wait for summer temperatures). Eventually, I had to head back.

I took a higher route . . . determined to get above the brambles and the devil's club, and I was rewarded. There was a trail . . . abandoned, but a trail nonetheless and I came out onto the BPA Access road easily. I plan to head back in for an overnighter soon. But this place is going to remain a secret. My Lothlorien.

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