Monday, December 1, 2014

Wanderings: Coal Creek Falls

Rainy day hike to Coal Creek Falls

9.1 billion.  The number of dollars spent by Black Friday shoppers this year.  Also-- I'm pretty sure-- the number of raindrops that splattered against my jacket, ran down my face, and soaked into my jeans on a Black Friday hike with my sister and her pup, Ruby.  Rather than elbowing our way through crowds of people clamoring for the best deals on big-screen TVs and socks, we instead took on a soaking rain, light breeze, and temps in the low forties during a hike to Coal Creek Falls. 

Call us crazy (I prefer 'adventurous'), but we certainly weren't the only people hitting the trails instead of the shopping malls, despite the deplorable weather.  When we arrived at the Lakemont Blvd. entrance to the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, there were already a handful of other vehicles in the parking area. We bundled up in our jackets, pulled our hoods tight over our heads, and ducked out into the deluge.  Miss Ruby the pitbull was outfitted with her own hiking backpack, which she wasn't too sure about... looking at us with wary, uncertain eyes, she was clearly questioning WHAT in the world we were doing outdoors in the cold rain.

After stopping at the trailhead kiosk to plan our route, I stuffed an already-soaked map into my pocket and off we went.  According to the Washington Trails Association website, Coal Creek Falls is a short 2.5 mile hike, which includes 400 feet of elevation gain.  The elevation gain begins right away, as we quickly discovered.  Huffing and puffing and trying to encourage a reluctant Ruby, we slogged uphill beneath the reaching limbs of bare bigleaf maple and alder branches.  The natural leafy umbrella they would have provided in any other season now lay in a sodden carpet along the trail. Not only did we have the relentless, soaking rain to contend with, we also had the frequent startling splat of absurdly large water droplets dripping from bare branches onto our hoods and shoulders.

Lesson #1: when hiking on a rainy day in winter, make sure it's in a coniferous forest.

The brave hikers setting out. 

About halfway up the incline, we spotted a sign to the side of the trail which reminded us of the history of this place. Cougar Mountain was mined from 1863 to 1963, and the lasting effects of extracting 11 million tons of coal can still be seen in the park today.  This particular sign marked a dangerous "cave hole," where too-shallow mining caused the surface to cave in to the tunnel below, leaving behind large depressions in the earth that are still noticeable today.

Pay attention to those signs!

Obediently staying on the trail and far away from the cave hole (Did you see that sign?? Don't have to tell us twice!) we continued uphill until we reached a junction in the trail. From this point, the Coal Creek Falls trail branches off to the right along the face of the hill, giving our burning lungs and legs respite from the uphill climb.  This section of the trail is much narrower and, thanks to the rain, was slightly muddy.  We wound through a forest of conifers: cedar, hemlock, and Doug fir. The hillside sloped steeply upward to the left of the trail, and steeply downward to the right.  Eventually, the rushing, rumbling sound of fast-moving water rose from the depths to our right.  We must be getting close to the falls.

It sure was green! Sorry for the blurriness... rain on the lens, you know...

Muddy Coal Creek churning down below. 

A few more twists and turns in the trail, a few notched cedar stumps and many raindrops later... the crashing water of the falls came into view on the trail ahead. At only 28 feet high, this isn't a large waterfall by any means, but it was impressive nonetheless. Swollen with rainwater, Coal Creek roared mightily down its small but lovely falls.  This was definitely worth the uphill hike in the rain!  

Lesson #2: to ensure the most impressive waterfall experience, schedule these hikes for extremely, ridiculously, soaking-wet rainy days.

We made it!
Coal Creek Falls

After a few minutes of standing on the bridge over the swollen creek (Ruby, don't fall in!), snapping a few photos with our rain-splattered cameras and admiring the falls, we decided that we were thoroughly soaked and ready to head back.  Although there are other trails that loop back to the parking area, we decided to go back the way we came.  We knew the route, knew what to expect, and figured it would be the quickest way back. As soon as we turned around, Ruby was the one pulling us forward! Smart girl. She knew we were headed back the way we came, which meant a nice warm car and a dry place out of this unrelenting downpour!

At this point, I was frozen and completely drenched to the skin.  I wish I could have looked around, taken a few more photos, and admired the scenery a bit more, but the only thing at the forefront of my mind was to get down this hill. My wilderness survival skills might be at a novice level (okay, I'm limited to what I've seen on Man vs. Wild) but I knew that soaking clothes and cold temperatures were not a good combination! I showed my sister that, by making a tight fist, I could produce streams of water from my sodden gloves. She announced that her hiking pants were no longer waterproof.  Ruby hustled us along.  

Lesson #3: when going for a hike in the rain, make sure that your waterproof gloves, pants, jacket, etc. are actually waterproof.

We made it back to the car, peeling off as many dripping layers of clothing as we could and throwing the garments into the trunk.  Ruby, once freed of her backpack, leap into the backseat and proceeded to dry herself off by rolling back and forth on the cloth seat.  It's a dog car, my sister said with a laugh.

Looking through the trees... there's a view out there somewhere! Yes I know... finger on the lens... hard to tell when you're wearing soggy gloves!

Coal Creek Falls was a great hike.  I'm looking forward to going back to the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park on drier days to explore more of the trails and enjoy the scenery. Many of the trails are said to boast stunning views, which we got a small glimpse of on the descent as some of the mist cleared out a bit.

Spending time in nature, getting some exercise surrounded by beautiful scenery, and hanging out with your older sis who you don't get to see nearly enough... now that's better than any Black Friday "doorbuster" deal!

Happy Ruby


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