Friday, January 2, 2015

Wanderings: Wallace Falls First Day Hike

Wise words on the trail to Wallace Falls. Lainey Piland photo

Although it may be difficult to believe given the nature of this blog, I was not a fan of hiking in my younger days.  As a child, the mere suggestion of going for a hike would cause me to cringe, and I'm sure plenty of whining and pouting would ensue.  Given my enthusiasm for hiking now as an adult, I was always a bit mystified as to why I was so averse to the activity as a child. However, after going for a "first day hike" yesterday, I may have found the culprit: Wallace Falls.

My memory is terrible, but I'm pretty sure that I was taken for a hike at Wallace Falls as a child.  During the first day hike yesterday, after the first set of switchbacks and steep up-up-uphill climb, I had a sense that this is where my childhood hiking career had gone off the rails - if not this hike, then a similarly difficult one. My lungs were burning with exertion and from the cold air heaving in and out of them; each of my feet felt like they weighed 50 lbs; and all I could think was "Ohmygoodness I'm so out of shape -- but WOW is this beautiful!"

That pretty much sums up the hike right there!

My husband and I participated in our first "first day hike" on new year's day last year, when we trekked around Deception Pass State Park.  Many Washington State Parks again hosted January 1st hikes this year, including Wallace Falls State Park. Since my husband and I had never hiked Wallace Falls together, we decided to give it a go for our 2015 first day hike.

We arrived at Wallace Falls State Park around noon, and were confronted with a completely full parking lot. After a few anxious moments of searching, we located the last lone parking spot and quickly claimed it.  After bundling up (temperatures were in the low 30's), and getting our gear in order, we set out toward the trailhead.  I was especially excited for this hike, as it was the first time I would get to try out my new Camelbak backpack and my NEW DSLR CAMERA I received as Christmas gifts!

Could be a nice view if not for the power lines!

After a short jaunt beneath towering powerlines that buzzed and crackled ominously in the frigid air, we entered the forest and veered off to the right, onto the Woody Trail. This section of the trail was pleasant and easy, following the rushing Wallace River.  We passed a few hikers who, like us, were just setting out. The first person we encountered coming back down the trail was a friendly looking man who was red-faced and out of breath. He grinned at us and gasped "Happy New Year! Enjoy... the hike... wow, it's amazing but... it's a workout!"

This was the first indication that we had some difficult terrain ahead of us!

And really, the terrain was a bit more rugged than I had expected.  Of course, you always expect to have some uphill slogging to do whenever you embark on a waterfall hike.  So the switchbacks, stairs, and steep uphill climbs weren't unexpected.  What I hadn't anticipated was the rough trail studded with large rocks and laced with tree roots which would trip you up if you weren't paying attention to your footing! In order to fully appreciate the scenery (and catch my breath... ahem...) we'd occasionally stop walking and look around for a few moments. I also snapped a few photos during these breaks...

Wallace River

Wallace River

Old cedar stump and a decadent forest!

Sword fern grove

After climbing many stairs, crossing a few icy bridges, and navigating some leg-burning switchbacks, we arrived at the Lower Falls.  From the viewpoint, you can see a few smaller falls below, tumbling over large boulders in the clear, ice-cold river.  I played with the shutter speeds on my new camera and was delighted to find that I could now capture waterfalls in those cool long-exposure shots where the water is all blurry and silky-looking.

Lower Falls

Lower Falls

Then, through a narrow opening in the trees - almost as though looking through a keyhole - I noticed the big Wallace Falls shining like a beacon in the distance.  Our eyes were on the prize.  Middle Falls, here we come!

Sneak peek of the Middle Falls

We left behind the crowded Lower Falls picnic/gathering area and continued on. The Middle Falls viewpoint was only three-tenths of a mile further. Not that bad, I thought.  Until the gently sloping trail butted up against a steep hillside. I squinted up at the top of the hill.  There were people up there. There were people traversing switchbacks across its face. Oh my goodness. That was a long way up! I had to squelch the complaining of my inner hiking-averse childhood self (and my burning lungs), and continued on.  Visions of Wallace Falls danced before my eyes and pulled me onward.

And then we made it at last! Rounding a corner, we found the viewpoint clinging to the shoulder of the hill, and there, beyond the frost-covered wooden railing, was the awesomely beautiful Middle Wallace Falls. Lit by late-afternoon sunlight, the falls was a stunning reward for the difficult two miles we'd hiked so far!

Middle Falls! It's easy to see which areas don't get sunlight this time of year - they were frozen!

After spending several minutes enjoying the view, we turned around and headed back down the trail.  We could have continued on to the Upper Falls - it wasn't too much further - but it was even more difficult uphill climbing than we'd already done.  I wouldn't be able to make it, although my husband was feeling fit and strong and no doubt would have been just fine!

For the return trip, I stowed my camera in my backpack so I could focus on the scenery instead of taking photos. The forest in Wallace Falls State Park really is beautiful, and quite decadent! The second-growth forest is thick with cedars and bigleaf maple; their branches thickly covered in moss.  In places, the forest floor is covered with sword fern, and in other places, new saplings are crowded among downed trees and nurse logs.  There are also plenty of long-dead old-growth cedar stumps bearing notches that speak to the logging industry that was once active here. Streams of water drip down hillsides and trickle across the trail here and there.  This truly is a wondrous, awe-inspiring place.

Hemlock and moss-covered cedar

On the way back down the trail, we passed many groups of hikers who were just starting out. This late in the day, it was doubtful they'd make it to the falls and back before dark.  Even starting out at noon, I was afraid daylight would be waning beyond my comfort zone by the time we completed our hike.  As we walked back beneath the humming power lines toward the parking lot, the late-afternoon sunlight was slanting golden through the atmosphere, casting long shadows as the sun eased toward the horizon.  Just another reminder that it is so important to be conscious of daylight when you're hiking in the wintertime.

Our second annual "first day hike" was truly enjoyable despite how out of shape I am and how difficult this hike was for me. It really felt like an accomplishment to hike up to the falls and back down under my own power - to push my body beyond its comfort zone (and current fitness level!) and still be able to attain the end goal.  To see the falls.

First day hikes are a lot of fun, and I would recommend to anyone to add this to their holiday traditions.  The trails are usually quite crowded, but there is a congenial atmosphere among all the hikers.  Everyone is happy to be there.  Everyone smiles and says "Happy New Year!" as they pass by.  It's obvious that some are seasoned hikers and others are brand-new to this whole thing, and there's just something inspiring about a day that encourages all of us to get out on the trails and enjoy a shared experience.

Here's to 2015!


  1. Truly fabulous: fabulous hike, fabulous writing, fabulous photography.