Monday, August 6, 2012

Upper Scenic Creek Falls

There is a secret little gem just off the Scenic Hot Springs property that is rarely visited . . . and usually only by those enroute to bushwhacking a 'hunter's' trail to Hamada Lake and another smaller lake further in to the wilderness of the side valley west of the springs.  It is said that during the heydays of the Great Northern and Scenic (aka Madison) Hot Springs Hotel, that the proprietor of the hotel had these lakes seeded and stocked with trout for the fishing enjoyment of his guests.  True or not, the high alpine lakes are sometimes visited by fishermen a hundred years later.

Scenic Creek . . . which is not the runoff of any of the similarly-named hot springs on the adjacent mountainside . . .  is the outflow from those two small alpine lakes way up a side valley.  Scenic Creek is better known for the lower water falls that cascade 150ft in a thunderous roar less than a quarter mile from the original townsite of Scenic (and the present-day BNSF Cascade Tunnel staging area.)  Scenic Creek joins Surprise Creek near this area to form the bulk of the Tye River flowing west that later becomes the South Fork of the Skykomish River.

Overlooking the Lower Scenic Creek Falls
during a previous visit.
The Lower Falls are ridiculously-easy to get to . . . but the upper cascades of Scenic Creek are another story; steep slopes, Devil's Club and obscurity.  But they are every bit as alluring with serenity in contra-point to the raw power of the lower falls.  Following the creek up doesn't work . . . you'll soon give up . . . unless you know a side route in.  There is such a hunter's trail of old and I had promised to show several others in on the route a few weeks ago . . . only we ran into time problems.

On my way to the upper falls.  97F out.  Some forest shade will be welcome.
I found myself this last Saturday, scheduled to meet someone at the springs.  I got there way early and with the temperatures soaring up into the high nineties, a trip up to the springs and a soak was not really on my agenda.  So I spent my time soaking up some rays on one of the many large sunning boulders within the clearcut . . . and then still bored . . . decided to see if there still was a recognizable trail up to the upper Scenic falls.  A cursory look-see a few weeks earlier had convinced me that disuse along with the ravages of winter blow-down and new growth had done a job of hiding the trail and making it nigh impassable without some serious bushwhacking.

Probably something that should have been done with good boots, some protective clothing, and a machete but I was being myself . . . as little as possible just to see if it was doable in as natural state as I could.  I like those sort of challenges.  So sandals, hat, hiking staff and a fanny pack slung over a shoulder and it was on my way to the not-so-well-known trail entrance.

If you look into the foliage directly opposite a large boulder
beside the dirt track, a trail opening becomes evident.
In mainstream hiking forums you find comments on the inadvisability of hiking nude for reasons related to the need to wear clothing to protect yourself from snags and scratches from the foliage around you.  I've often found that the exact opposite is more the reality.  Entering that mess of brambles and dead branches (as is evident in the image above) would seem to be a detriment to unprotected bare skin but I find myself much more aware of my interaction with my surroundings when I hike nude . . . so much so that I glide with a quiet gracefulness around objects that would catch and snag in me if I were wearing clothing.  The sharp, broken tip of a dead branch slides easily over and past my bare skin because I am very much aware of them and how to get around without snagging.  Nude, my skin experiences directly rather than a muffled smothering to some dull sensation upon clothing.  It is all rather sensuous.

With a hiking staff to move and hold aside the more egregious thorns and sharp objects in my path, I'm even confident in traversing a patch of Devil's Club should it become necessary.  In a way, I would not have attempted entering this old hiker's trailhead with any clothing that would have quickly caught every sharp object, digging them in and injuring myself . . . nude, and unencumbered, it was so much more easier to simply slide on in like a silent denizen of the forest.  I rarely ever end up with cuts and scratches when hiking through thick undergrowth in the nude.  Truly au 'natural and one with nature!

Past the initial barrier of succulent new growth and identifying the old trail.
A side note on the photo above:  I try to always have something in my images that I can use to adjust white balance during post-editing.  Normally that would be the white athletic socks I commonly wear with my hiking boots or shoes . . . but on this occasion I elected to go in with just what I presently had on . . .  a pair of sandals, a hat, and little else.  On thinking it out, I knew that my camera would get tricked on the color temperatures once under the forest canopy, so I stuffed those unused white socks into a side pocket of my fanny pack to have reference to something white.
Once past the initial barrier of fallen tree limbs and thick, obscuring new growth on the edges exposed to sunlight it was into the more open, filtered shade of the forest canopy and a good ten to fifteen degree drop in temperatures.  In the draws of the slope carrying a number of seasonal streamlets downward there was actually a little bit of a breeze that felt very comfortable on the body.  Bushwhacking sense comes in handy in actually using these temperature gradients (and the downward breezes carrying them) to navigate your way.  The draw of Scenic Creek (the cut in the mountainside produced by that creek) pulls and funnels quite a bit of naturally-cooled air within it's vee-shaped funnel that is unmistakable as you get near.  Of course, the roar of the creek is also an useful navigational tool.

The trick, of course, was to  get over there.  Those same streamlets, as they flattened out and saturated the ground, produced fertile areas within the canopy to amass an impenetrable  bog of Devil's Club.  You had to get higher on the slope before traversing over and above the razor-sharp hiker's nemesis before getting over to the upper cascading falls of Scenic Creek.  The original trail was all but obliterated . . . you could see hints of what might have been a footpath but it was hard to be sure from memory as to the exact route to take that would have put me above the Devil's Club.  And then I had to deal with a lot of deadfall.

A tricky spot and one I needed to remember . . . I blazed the spot to traverse
the streamlets with red construction tape.  There is a hint to the route on
the left side of the image that leads up and to the right behind two trees.
The original trail goes up for several hundred feet to where it is feasible to cross the small streamlets without twisting an ankle or getting calf-deep in soft muck.  One such spot has an ancient tree trunk bridging the moist ground but it is difficult to spot from either direction.  I don't often blaze routes but I do have a roll of red construction tape in my pack for just such occasions.  If you wanted to get around the Devil's Club then you needed to know this traverse point.

Making a new trail for myself.
Once across and it was evident of where you had to go.  One more hummock to ascend and you would be overlooking the cut of Scenic Creek.  Again, no discernable path so I created my own trail, navigating between two huge boulders for reference to the route back later.

First view of scenic Creek by an overgrown fire-ring.
 Coming upon the lip above the cut of Scenic Creek you can see why this area is so serene and with a feeling of remoteness despite being so close to the BPA clearcut.  The sound of the creek as it cascades down numerous falls supplants everything else.

There are a number of small flat spaces above the creek that have obviously been used to camp in the past . . . including small fire-rings that have not seen use in a number of years.  In late summer and early fall this entire area becomes carpeted with a bed of thick, spongy moss that makes for a luxurious mattress under any sleeping bag.  A small campfire, and a warm sleeping bag and who could ask for anything else . . . except not to inadvertently roll down the hillside in your sleep into the churning waters of the creek late at night!

Cooling the feet in Scenic Creek.
Coming off a couple of shallow alpine lakes instead of straight snow-melt, Scenic Creek is not supercold this time of year.  It becomes a welcome respite from the heat of the day . . . and especially hot feet.

The old hunter's trail continues upward.
The original trail follows the creek but a short distance up before diverging off to skirt another round of Devil's Club.  Above is an area known for just the right conditions for huckleberries . . . and also for the bears that love huckleberries.  The way is seriously impaired now by a lot of fallen trees and I'm not prepared to venture into steeper terrain (especially without proper footwear).  I've confirmed for myself that the upper falls are reachable and it's almost time to meet my friend.

Emerging back into the clearcut and the somewhat oppressive
heat of full sunlight.

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