The first thing I noticed upon exiting the car at Deception Falls was the sound. It’s so easy, when you drive back and forth over Stevens Pass one or more times a month over the course of a year, to not have a real sense of what an area sounds like. It’s too easy to focus on the radio, or the conversation with Alissa or the voices of the kids, or the sound of the engine or the tires on the road. But when you stop, pull into the parking lot and open the door, another set of sounds permeates the area. The birds sing. The wind whispers through the trees. There’s the sound of other people in the parking lot. But underneath it all is the roar of rushing water that is Deception Falls. You practically don’t need to see the falls. The sound paints a picture of white water crashing over granite, sending up a spray which creates a rainbow in the proper light.
The second thing I noticed was that the parking lot is downwind from the outhouses. Oh well, you can’t win them all. More importantly, it’s not a big problem. A walk over to the picnic shelter and trail head takes care of that bit of unpleasantness.
And so we set off, our little family marching off into the sheltering canopy of cedar and hemlock. The day was gray, diffusing the light and keeping the air comfortably cool. There is a paved, barrier-free trail here that runs two tenths of a mile to a view of the upper falls where Deception Creek empties into the Tye River in a sixty foot plunge. Ironically, since we never took that trail, we never saw the upper falls. Still, I retain the vision created by the sound in the parking lot.
No, we decided to “brave” the loop trail down to the lower falls. Now “brave” is a relative term. The trail is all of a half mile, dropping one hundred forty feet to the river before looping back up to the trailhead. It’s really just a short pleasant walk in the woods even if you, like me, are out of shape.
I’m not sure how conscious of a decision it was. We passed up the first of two staircases that lead down to the loop trail because it looked too treacherous, like something we did not want to brave with an almost-two-year-old. So we continued on to the second staircase. For some reason, it looked less daunting. This turned out to be a good decision as it let us take in the river’s rapids on the way down while we were fresh.
So down the stairs we climbed before setting off along the well-maintained path to a beautiful bridge across the creek.
Next came, what I believe was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole affair. We had to cross the creek again, but not via a wonderfully sturdy bridge. We had to cross the bridge on rocks. Now, I’ve never been a fan of rock-hopping. Even in my prime, I never considered myself nimble enough to rock hop with confidence. In fact, in my youth, I had the uncanny ability to fall into whatever body of water happened to be handy. Creek? SPLASH! Stream? SPLASH! Pond? Lake? Pool? SPLASH! SPLASH! SPLASH! Waterfall? Yep, you guessed it. SPLASH! (This last was followed by the terrified cries of a youth director who was sure, just for a moment that he’d gotten his pastor’s nephew killed.) Water fountains were not even safe for me. Once I even jumped in a small puddle and got a face full of water for my trouble.
In those days, my hikes were usually along riparian creeks in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles. There were frequent traverses that could be accomplished by rock-hopping, but given that it was frequently ninety degrees or more, I opted to simply engage in preemptive splashing and walk across the shallow waterways.
That was in my youth. This was an obstacle facing my thirty-seven year-old self and my family. I stood and pondered how to tackle this obstacle.
Wait a second. I need to say something first. Some of you have been on this trail and probably know the exact spot I’m talking about. If you do, you are sitting there saying something to the effect of “You are such a wus!”, and you are absolutely right. When it comes to rock hopping, I’m a wus.
Where was I? Yes, I stood and pondered how to tackle that obstacle. An older gentleman confidently made his way across. We decided to have Alissa go first. She made it and identified some of the less steady rocks. The older gentleman’s wife went next, followed by four-year old Harry who scrambled across without so much as a second thought. That left Annie, three weeks shy of her second birthday and me. I swung her out onto a large, flat rock in the middle of the creek and then stepped on a couple of smaller ones to catch up to her. I did manage to get a foot a little wet, but it was an intentional step. I picked Annie up and stepped onto her rock. At this point, we were close enough for me to safely swing her to where Alissa could reach out and pull her across. That left me, and there really weren’t any good options for my steps. There was, however a reasonably sized patch of dirt within jumping distance. The most likely calamity that could befall me was a splash landing, but going off course would land me on slippery and very hard rocks. Trying not to think about the time I missed (as in landed next to rather than in) the long jump pit in seventh grade, I leapt across, landing safely on the dirt.
With that little adventure completed, I felt like we had truly crossed into the forest proper. To our right lay the Tye River alternating between placid pools and cascading white rapids. To our left, ahead of us, and behind us was a glorious expanse of old growth forest. Cedar and hemlock form a green canopy, filtering the light down into an understory filled with dew-kissed shrubs.
But the old growth forest is a primal place, filled with primitive fiddle head ferns. Lichens cover the rocks and large fungi eat away at dead logs and stumps, priming them to become nurse logs and literally give life from death. This tree was growing out of the middle of a stump, and it is far from unique.
It inspired this fibonacci poem:
Guards tree that once was
Fungi break down, consuming wood
Moss and lichen drape the stump; a green burial shroud
A seed alights atop the stump
Roots dig into dead wood
Stretching for sunlight
Shelt’ring limbs, forest canopy
Insects, birds, animals, thrive in the tree’s protection
Years pass, seasons each in its turn
Storms, wind, erosion Lightning strikes
And did I mention the moss? Everywhere in the forest, you find moss. It’s on all sides of the trees, not just the north. It hangs down from high branches in thick green curtains. It’s everywhere, like the sound, the roar of the water which fills the canyon.
At two points we found stairs down to viewing platforms from which we could get great views of frothy rapids and calm pools. There were even close enough to feel the spray, refreshing even in the cool weather. The second platform overlooks a place where a huge boulder causes the river to make a ninety degree turn to the right, disappearing under a fallen log, inexplicably stripped of bark down a channel that looks almost man-made. But it’s not. Nature is in charge here.
Somewhere along the way, we picked a thirty-ish pound pack named Annie. While it was all we could do to keep Harry from exploring off the trail in search of pine cones and whatever other treasures could be found in this emerald wonderland, Annie decided she wanted to be carried. So Alissa and I took turns packing her out on our shoulders as the trail leveled off, then took one final dip to a perfectly clear, perfectly still, and apparently (according to the interpretive sign) perfectly sterile pool.
Across another bridge we went and we started our ascent. There was one slightly treacherous spot where we had to traverse a rocky stretch around the shoulder of the hillside. Fortunately, there was only one switchback, and that was in view of the roof of the picnic shelter. One final flight of stairs, the ones we’d bypassed at the beginning, brought us to the paved trail and the trail head.
A lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches capped off our little family adventure.