Rediscovering the Lost Waterfall

TomByTheFallsIt’s wonderful when you discover a place of great natural beauty right in your own little corner of the world, a place hinted at in old stories and drawn on old maps but not seen by human eyes in the better part of a century. Such was my good fortune last weekend. The lost waterfall of Sahalie Ski Club has been rediscovered.

The Summit area of Snoqualmie Pass is a place heavily trammeled in summer and winter by hikers on foot and on snowshoes. And yet a waterfall of great beauty has gone unnoticed for decades until now. Dave Galvin, Sahalie Lodge’s master snowshoer, and I set out on a trek to find what had been hidden for many years.

I caught a glimpse of just the very top of the falls 37 years ago while bushwhacking alone through rugged backcountry, and caught that glimpse at great peril to my life. I had been following the trace of a handwritten scrawl on an old logging map of the area, moving through incredibly steep and rugged old-growth forest in terrain so dangerous that the logging companies had passed it by. In that forest, I came to the brink of a precipice about one-hundred feet tall, and I heard the roar of falling water. In order to see what was below, I got a good grip on a small hemlock sapling and leaned out over thin air to look down. There was a rock ledge about thirty feet below me with a stream launching off its precipice. I could see just the top ten feet or so of the falls, which then disappeared into a chasm whose bottom I couldn’t see.

The sapling was ready to come out of the ground by its roots and the slope beneath my feet was slippery with wet hemlock needles, so I retreated. Over the decades, when weather and time permitted, I took more hikes into the area trying to get at the falls from north, south, east, and west. Each assault was deadlocked by incredibly steep slippery slopes and a canyon that I like to call The Lost Valley.

DaveByTheFallsSo when Dave Galvin and I decided to make a try on the falls last weekend with ten feet of snow on the ground in the hopes that a way to the falls could be found, I had my doubts. We snowshoed our way up to Sahalie’s rockslide, skirted its avalanche zone, bypassed Bear’s Den Rock and the Frenchman’s Cabin, and tried to get at the falls from above. We plunged down into the canyon twice, and twice we had to struggle out again up slopes sometimes steeper than a snowshoe can handle. On those slopes, we did more floundering than hiking–at least I did.

Winded after two steep assaults and covered in powdery snow including some down my back and up my ying-yang, I was willing to just barely allow that maybe I would be defeated again. The Lost Falls would just have to remain lost. In fact, as we snowshoed downhill paralleling the gorge, I began to doubt my memory. Had I only dreamed of hanging off that twig above a breathtaking precipice?

Dave was not easily discouraged. He forged into the canyon again on a slope steeper than any before, down into a chasm deeper than any before, without even asking me if I was willing. Grudgingly, I followed him, moving between the trunks of huge old-growth trees that thrust up through the sharply slanting snow. I fell once and slid on my back for a good thirty feet before ramming into a tree trunk and stopping. When I got untangled and on my feet and got most of a new load of snow out of my body crevices, I looked between the tree trunks and saw Dave fifty feet below me on a snow ledge. He was grinning from ear to ear. I hurried down to join him.

The ledge itself turned out to be about midway down the falls, which–Glory Hallelujah!–were a good fifty or sixty feet tall. Here’s what we saw. Above is a picture I took of Dave on my cell phone to match the one he took of me that’s at the top of this post. All you can see behind us is the top twenty feet or so of the falls. It was impossible to get a full-length shot of the falls without the risk of crumbling our snow ledge and plunging twenty-five feet down into the stream. Given that would mean certain death by hypothermia, we were not interested. Still we could crane our necks and look around that snow mound behind us to see that, yes indeed, I had been right 37 years before, there was a fifty-foot waterfall here, free-falling into a deep plunge pool.

PlungeOneDave said, “I imagine these falls really roar with the spring runoff!” Click any of these photos for a closer view.

Here’s a photo of that plunge pool. The log lying in it is about five feet thick.

On the left you can see the foam stirred up by the impact of the falling water on the pool. The snow bank made it impossible to get a good cell-phone shot from this angle, either.

PlungeTwoOne more picture. This is a view straight down from the snow ledge we were standing on. It’s about twenty-five feet down to the surface of this beautiful second plunge pool. The icicles were about twenty feet tall. The colors were just as awe-inspiring as you see here, a rainbow of colored bedrock.

Today, I’m heading back up to Sahalie Ski Lodge for another try at the Lost Falls. The weather is superb and the falls beckon. I’m going to try to get a full-length shot of the falls, which I’ll update this post with if I get it and survive. If I get a little careless up there, then this will be my last blog entry. Wish me luck.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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4 Responses to Rediscovering the Lost Waterfall

  1. Cary Odegard says:

    Tom,

    Great narrative on some of the back country we used to hike. I remember hiking up to the falls when we were kids through the brush, losing the trail and almost getting lost. We Sahalie kids experienced the falls and its beauty at a young age (no cell phones, parents would say get home before dark). I remember making a branch fishing pole with some string and a hook and didn’t catch anything. I tried taking a girlfriend up there once but didn’t make it. It was a fantastic swimming hole with deep crystal clear and cold, cold, cold water. One dunk in and out. I think it must have been Larry or other good friends at Sahalie that made the trek to the falls. Thanks for bringing back the memories and lets climb up there again. I’m up for it. Cary

  2. Tom Hopp says:

    Cary, one thing is certain: those of us who grew up in the uniquely nurturing environment in and around Sahalie Ski Lodge had an advantage in our younger years that few people experience. The combination of loving family life and fiercely beautiful nature was, and is, hard to beat. However, I wonder if we’re talking about the same falls here? Sahalieites have trekked to a place at the far end of our property often referred to as “The Falls,” which is even sketched on a map or two. But smaller falls and chilly swimming holes abound along the stream. However, the falls I found have no trail to them whatsoever, so you were unlikely to have gone there as a kid unaccompanied by elders. If you had, you might not have made it back. By the way, I did come back from my second expedition, but I came back without the full-length photo I had hoped for. I went alone and as I approached the falls my snowshoes slipped and I tumbled downhill and slid toward the brink–twice–and that was enough. I turned back to wait for the spring thaw. Perhaps you’d like to join me in a third expedition then?

  3. Linda Schrott says:

    Wow Tom, you write like an author!
    Makes me almost want to go see it as a newbie Sahalie-ite
    But I would probably die trying
    So thank you for the descriptive journey
    Next best thing to being there
    Sans snow up the ying-yang……

  4. Tom Hopp says:

    Linda, I’ll be up there again in the early summer, perhaps with Dave, to see if a trail can be blazed at the point where we entered the canyon. Now that we know where it is, an easier access point might be found where you don’t risk life and limb to get a look. I’ll keep you posted.

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