Today was waterfall day. We hiked from Cloudy Pass to the Upper Lyman Lakes while visiting three tall waterfalls. It was more of a “transition day” between two “highlight” days, but it was still a lot of fun, with very beautiful scenery.
As usual, it all started at first light. We’d gone to bed early the day before and we had no trouble at all getting up. I hurried and got dressed (in extra layers as it was very cold), then went out to photograph the dawn, right about 6am or so. Once again, the Lyman Lakes basin was deep in shadow from this angle and I decided that it might not be worth the trouble. However, I knew that Glacier Peak looked great at dawn. Too bad we couldn’t quite see it from Cloudy Pass.
So I headed down the trail to the west (which we’d climbed two days ago) until I could just see the summit. As expected, it was lit perfectly by the orange light of dawn. As a surprise bonus, I got to see the Miners Creek Valley completely filled with a layer of low-lying clouds. Very pretty. I bid adieu to Glacier Peak. I knew that we wouldn’t see it again this trip. Good bye, Glacier Peak!
I toiled back uphill to the pass, which was great for warming me up, as Vicki apparently hadn’t gotten the coffee going yet. I took the obligatory photo of Lyman Lake, but as I expected it was dark down there, the lake’s surface showing only a bit of reflection. The nearby ring of mountains was lit, and there were a few clouds, so it wasn’t totally unacceptable from a photographic perspective. Sometimes you just don’t get perfect lighting of your subject, so you do the best you can with what you’ve got.
I got back to the tent and jumped inside. I discovered that Vicki had tricked me! When I left I thought she was wide awake and busy getting ready, and on my return I found her still sleeping under the covers. Yes, she was quite the temptress; she looked so snug and warm that I was unable to control my impulses. I took off my shoes and slid right in next to her. She didn’t have much choice but to share some of that warmth. And that’s what she did.
A bit later we realized that we really had to get up and start hiking. So the usual daily chores began. Within an hour we were fueled, packed, and ready to go. The only thing missing was extra water for the hike, and we planned to get that just down the hill a ways. So off we hiked, downhill all the way in the morning sunshine. It was a beautiful day.
After filtering water and exploring the boring “official” Cloudy Pass campsite (which was deep in the forest and had no views whatsoever) we continued downhill through pines and meadows to the trail junction at the foot of Lyman Lake. There was another boring “official” campground here, as well, with no view of the lake whatsoever. (Supposedly the campground on the western shore of the lake was much better, but we weren’t heading that way.) Nonetheless, we decided to take over one of the campsites for ourselves, by leaving both of our heavy packs sitting there while we went off to check out some waterfalls for an hour or two.
Railroad Creek is the name of the stream that flows out from Lyman Lake, and there were two waterfalls shown on the topographic map within a mile or so. Both of these falls were located off the main trail, and we had no idea what terrain we’d meet up with on the way. I had already pre-loaded their locations onto my GPS, so we figured that we’d get close enough to see them at any rate. We weren’t worried. We’ve done this sort of thing before. We packed our lunch and a few essentials in the “brain” of Vicki’s pack, which she had cunningly converted into a fanny pack. Then we hiked off down the trail.
We hiked about a third of a mile down the trail and then hung a right and headed into the forest. It was mild bushwhacking, with a few fallen trees and branches in the way every so often, but nothing difficult. We kept our eye on the GPS until the sound of the waterfall became obvious. Then we couldn’t miss it. It was loud!
We arrived just below the top, at a spot where the water was already gushing past us. It was impressive. We took some photos and videos. It was so loud that we had to shout in order to hear each other. There was a nice flat boulder where the two of us could sit, so we hung out for a while and ate some snack. There was mist and spray in the air. You could smell the dampness and feel the tiny droplets landing on your skin. There was also a fine view out over the valley. Hart Lake and the town of Holden were somewhere down there.
Video of the upper section of the waterfall
More video of the waterfall!
Then we decided that there was obviously much more of this waterfall to be seen down below us. So we carefully descended the very steep slope in the woods next to the stream, holding on to trees and branches to prevent us from falling down the hillside. We saw another likely spot for viewing the falls and headed back to the edge of the creek. Once again, we took a bunch of photos and videos. It was really quite impressive. The water was foaming and cascading over granite boulders and through chutes that it had carved into the bedrock of the mountains.
GoPro video of the waterfall cascading down the granite
But we were still high above the flat valley bottom where we could see the lazy creek flowing slow, meandering its way across a meadow, so we decided to head downward once more. This time it was even steeper, but somehow by scrambling and holding on to anything that would bear our weight we made it down to the final section of the waterfall. This section was wider, and filled with smaller boulders that had obviously come down from above over the years. The creek tumbled and bumbled wildly over and under and around all the rocks and logs that had lodged there.
We were truly happy. We’d visited a spot that was incredibly beautiful and yet was rarely seen by anyone at all, due to its lonely location off the main trail. It was marked on the map as plain as day but did anyone go there? No. Just us. And that made it even more special.
GoPro video of the lower section of the waterfall with all the fallen boulders and logs
After that it was time to head to the next waterfall. We made our way down yet another steep slope to the flatter land below. Then we looked at the map and GPS. We could keep bushwhacking alongside the creek until we reached the next waterfall, but then we’d end up on the very top of it. The problem with that position was that you were essentially “inside” the waterfall and couldn’t really see it. We would have to continued downward alongside the falls just like we did a few minutes ago. And it would be steep. Vicki was leery of losing much more elevation, because she knew she’d only have to climb back up. We eventually decided to head back to the main trail, then follow it east. According to the map, we would eventually be on the side of the steep canyon and should, at least in theory, have a view of the entire waterfall from that perspective.
And that’s what we did, although I still wonder if we made the right choice. The bushwhack back to the trail was only a quarter-mile at most, yet it seemed to take forever, with countless obstacles and brush in our way. We were wishing that we’d walked across the soggy meadows instead, even if it meant seeing the falls up close. Like all brutal bushwhacks, by the time you wished you’d gone another way it was already too late to turn back. Somehow we found the will and energy to power on through the final obstacle, climbing up and over bushes and branches, not touching the ground at all. Crazy! But we made it! We were so relieved to reach the trail!
After that it was simply a matter of hiking along an easy trail. It was less than a mile to a spot with some views looking out over Hart Lake and the big valley above Holden. We had to keep on hiking, however, until we could just barely see Crown Point Falls across the way. And, yes, it was a waterfall. But it was pretty far away. We took some photos and videos of it, but let’s face it: We should have bushwhacked to the top of it. It would have been so much better. Oh well. It was too late for that now.
Zoomed-in and slightly out-of-focus video of Crown Point Falls
We thought about hiking even further, to get a less-sideways view of the falls, but the trail suddenly started to descend significantly. That was it for Vicki. We turned around and headed back. But unfortunately the trail, though flat at first, began climbing several hundred feet in elevation (it was climbing the same amount that we had descended along the first falls). It was high noon, and Vicki started overheating. Sadly, we didn’t have the squirt bottle with us. So Vicki did the only thing she had left to try: She took off her pants! Yes, it’s true. She was hiking up the trail wearing her panties! But if you ask her she will insist that she was actually wearing her bikini bottoms. There is no solid evidence either way as I didn’t take any photos. He said she said. But seriously, she was desperate and took a calculated risk. And she lucked out. Not only did this serve to cool her off, but we also didn’t meet anyone on the trail the rest of the way back.
We got to the campground and broke out our lunch. We sat on some big logs and read our books. It was peaceful there in the shady glen. We spoke about what was next for today, about us hiking two more miles or so and making camp. Today wasn’t meant to be a tough day, and we had plenty of time.
That’s when Vicki decided that we needed to get some laundry done. Our main hiking clothes hadn’t been washed in about five days (we usually try for three days max) and they were seriously stinky. Let me tell you: The best thing about reading this story is that you don’t have to smell certain parts of it. So Vicki sent me down to the creek to get laundry water while she got out the soap and bucket. We picked the worst offenders on our stinky-list and gave them all a good scrub, then rinsed them three times. I was in charge of wringing out as much water as possible. After that we hung them out to dry on our big backpacks. They’d have to get air and sun as we hiked.
We put on our packs and started hiking, uphill all the way.
Crossing Railroad Creek on a single-log bridge with no railing on the Lyman Lakes Trail just below Lyman Lake
Our goal was to find a nice camping spot with a view, somewhere on the ridge between Lyman Lake and the Upper Lyman Lakes. It was about 500 feet up and two miles away, so not too tough of an afternoon goal for seasoned hikers such as ourselves. The trail gradually climbed through the forested slope along the east side of Lyman Lake. Every so often there would be a break in the trees and we’d get fine views out over the lake’s milky light-blue waters. We were able to see the Lyman Waterfall across the way, but we couldn’t visit that yet. First things first: Find a campsite.
Eventually we got up on the ridge itself and the views got better than ever. We could see all around the Lyman Lakes Basin from up there, which was unsurprising as we were truly near its center. There was a ring of mountains all around us, many of which had snow and glaciers on their flanks. Very picturesque. And so I took way too many pictures, as usual.
GoPro video panorama from high on the Lyman Lakes Trail looking north
We crested the wide, rolling ridge and got our first close views of the Upper Lyman Lakes and the Lyman Glacier. These lakes were relatively shallow, their shores punctuated by piles of rocky moraine left behind during previous eras of enhanced glaciation. There were four small lakes of irregular shape, connected by streams of milky glacial meltwater. Yesterday, from the summit of Cloudy Peak, we had seen large chunks of ice floating in the uppermost lake, but they appeared to have melted already. We thought that posing for pictures showing us standing next to icebergs during our Summer vacation would be amusing, but no such luck.
We also looked out toward the path of our big hike tomorrow, climbing up the snow and ice-filled chute to the top of Spider Gap. Looking closely, we saw tiny black dots on the snow slope. Were those rocks that had fallen from above? That could prove dangerous! But a few minutes later we noticed that the “dots” had changed. That was when we realized that those were people coming down the slope! This certainly put things in perspective. We had quite a climb to do tomorrow! We vowed to get up extra early, before dawn, if possible. This way Vicki would avoid overheating during the climb, and if we were lucky the snow would still be crunchy and less slippery.
After that, it was time to find a campsite. We set down our big packs just off the trail and began wandering around the rolling hills on the big ridge. We discovered numerous small ponds that were slowly drying up in the late Summer’s warmth. They’d undoubtedly been filled by snowmelt during the Spring. Lyman Lake was one of the snowiest places in the Washington Cascades, and this previous Winter had built up an impressive 140 inches of snow! No wonder there was a glacier in this valley. We continued wandering and eventually found a spot that satisfied our needs for both solitude and a view. Then we grabbed our packs, carried them over, and set up the tent.
The important work done, it was now time to finish our “waterfall day” by heading to Lyman Falls. So we turned Vicki’s pack into a daypack once again, and off we went in search of adventure.
We set off south, down off the ridge toward Spider Gap and the Upper Lyman Lakes. On the way we discovered that there was an “official” Upper Lyman Lakes campsite, but it was too late for us to camp there now. We spoke to two gentleman that were setting up their tents with varying success in the breeze. It was actually a pretty decent campground for a change, with good views of Spider Gap. I still liked our own spot better, of course.
Video panorama of the Upper Lyman Lakes Basin and Spider Gap
Then we wandered along the shore of the lakes. There was an obvious path to follow. We certainly weren’t the first people to camp around here. The path led us along the various small lakes until the final outflow stream which headed north toward the drop-off, where the waterfall was located. The water cascaded down into lower Lyman Lake, and we were able to get yet another view of the lake from a new perspective. Cloudy Pass and Cloudy Peak made a beautiful backdrop behind the lake. Very pretty.
GoPro video of the waterfall above Lyman Lake from the top of the falls
After viewing the waterfall, we wandered back along the lakes to the campground, and back to the main trail. We walked a bit further toward Spider Gap just to check out the trail for the next morning. But we didn’t hike far. Vicki came across a grove of Larch trees, and we were both quite happy. They live at the highest elevations, close to the tree line, and they were the first ones we’d seen thus far on this trek. Interestingly, they are pine trees, but are also deciduous, and their needles turn bright yellow and fall off every Autumn. Odd but true.
By the time all that walking was done we had hiked an additional two miles, and the afternoon was getting on. The temperature was beginning to drop so we hustled back to the tent. We took a quick nap and took some photos out the door of the tent just to show what a great view we had. But we didn’t stay long. We needed water for dinner, breakfast, and tomorrow’s hike. We had intended to filter some water on our trip to the Lyman Waterfall but decided that the water was too silty and might clog our filter. We looked for another source along the way but in the end we settled for drinking out of our own private pond. It was difficult, but Vicki managed to get some water without getting the filter full of mud. Where’s a nice clean creek when you need one?
GoPro video panorama from a ridge near our campsite looking at the Lyman Lakes, our pond, and Spider Gap
We carried our water back up to the tent. We got dressed in warm clothing and cooked some dinner. It was getting a bit breezy and cool up there on the ridge but we didn’t mind. We sat and ate dinner while looking at the sun setting over Spider Gap. We decided to head to bed early, and in the morning we would speed things up by eating our final ready-to-eat breakfast. Vicki was serious about tackling that snow climb while she was still fresh. I tried to tell her that our entire hike tomorrow was only about three miles long, and that we’d probably be finished before noon, so why get up so early? But she didn’t care. I simply sighed and set the alarm.
We got in the tent and talked about our day. We decided that the first waterfall was the best. The second one was only so-so, mostly because it was too far away. And the third one was somewhere in the middle, but definitely on the better side of middling. If we’d had more time, or climbed up the falls from the bottom, it would have been a whole lot more fun. Although it didn’t look like much on the map, we’d hiked over eight miles total, which was a big day for us. We didn’t anticipate having any trouble falling asleep early. Our legs were tired!
All in all, it had been a really fun “transition” day, and we were super excited at the prospect of climbing over Spider Gap tomorrow.
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page