26 February 2016
Snoquera Falls Loop, Chinook Pass, Mt. Rainier Region
4.1 miles, 700 ft. climb to 3100 ft. maximum elevation
Little Hiking Buddy and I went in search of another waterfall for Adventure Friday. Today we headed south to Snoquera Falls, just off Chinook Pass in the Mt. Rainier region. We haven’t been out this way since October when we were hunting for Melmont Ghost Town, particularly because it’s still a bit of a drive even under mild conditions; and I, myself, haven’t been back to Chinook Pass or Mt. Rainier since September. With weather forecasters pushing the arrival of the pending storm back to later in the evening, we hoped to enjoy a viewing of Mt. Rainier during our drive through Enumclaw – we were not disappointed.
After a long 75-minute drive through old farms and historic mining towns, we arrived at the trailhead just before 10 am. Snoquera Falls Loop Trail, which shares an entrance with the Boy Scouts of America’s Camp Sheppard, had only one other car in the snow-packed lot. The presence of winter on this sunny morning had me slightly worried about trail conditions. I packed an extra set of warm clothes for us both, as well as had us each put on an additional outer layer at the onset before heading into the forest. Of course, we ended up shedding every bit of unnecessary outerwear within minutes of embarking on our hike.
The initial trail weaved its way through the valley floor, in and out of tall trees that made LHB seem microscopic in comparison. We progressively climbed up the forested mountain along a beautifully maintained trail. With the exception of a few recently downed trees blocking our path, the short hike to the Falls was peaceful and relaxing. Spring was in the air today, as the sun warmed the bluebird skies to a lovely 56F degrees. The forest was alive as birds sang and squirrels bickered throughout the depths of the land.
Following long distances between three switchbacks, we heard the sounds of cascading water in the distance. We were finally nearing our picnic spot. Good thing, too, as LHB had already gobbled down most of her snacks, including my share of chocolate cherry oatmeal cookies. As we passed a clearing, we could see views of Sun Top Mountain immediately across the White River Valley to the west as well as Slide Mountain further south. Towering faces of sheer rock quickly replaced long lines of evergreen trunks once we exited the forest.
Within moments of coming into the rocky slope, we found ourselves in the presence of a powerful cataract streaming over the cliff above us. Snoquera Falls was very different from most all other cascades we have explored. This flow was completely bare and proudly on display to the world around rather than hidden deep in the forest to be discovered. As we approached the basin to find a place to seat ourselves, LHB noticed the lower set of flows that had split into a wider, yet softer outpouring of water from the top. One to many; hard to soft. We were privileged to witness all of it.
As I unpacked our picnic and set up my stove, LHB decided to build a bridge for little critters to cross the basin without drowning. She found a number of broken branches and discarded pieces of trunk with which to proudly create her engineering feat. Meanwhile, I magically made us a hot lunch of macaroni and cheese as I poured boiling water into the dehydrated pasta concoction I ingeniously purchased the other day. We ate our meal under sunny skies while enraptured by the cascades towering above us. LHB and I couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon.
We finished stowing our belongings just as a couple of hikers approached. Although we crisscrossed paths with them during our return, they were the only other people we met on the trail. LHB wished the critters safe journey across her bridge before we safely waded through the watery, yet rocky basin past the Falls. Unlike the forested path in which we arrived, the initial descent of the Loop Trail took us through incredibly dry and rugged terrain. The narrow trail on this side of the Falls was filled with loose scree, elk droppings and felled trees throughout the countless switchbacks. I was impressed by LHB’s sense of balance and understanding of herself in this environment. She used roots like rope to anchor herself as she traversed slippery stones beneath her feet, as well as pulled against edges of secure boulders like little handholds for her to climb down steep slopes. Hmm, maybe she is learning something afterall in those weekly climbing classes…
After a little over a mile on this exposed section of the Loop Trail, we took our final major switchback and headed into the forest once again. The remainder of the trail was much like the path we took en route to the Falls. Here, sunlight flickered through the tall trees as we walked along a smoother and wider floor of subtle rock mixed with packed dirt. Although LHB had discoverable moments to touch and feel the nature around her, our limited time didn’t allow us, unfortunately, to explore the landscape as much as I would have liked. Big Hiking Buddy would be done with school shortly, and we had quite a distance to drive before making our way to her. We rapidly hiked through the valley floor, past the cabins and fields of Camp Sheppard, towards the parking lot. As soon as LHB saw our car, she shouted in relief and ran towards it. I guess I finally wore her out. She ended up napping on the drive back, but not before sighting her first herd of elk along the roadside. I would say she had a very fulfilling day.