Saturday, May 16, 2020

Little River Waterfalls

I had choices. I could have gone hiking on Friday but procrastination won out. Hiking was put off for one more day, making Saturday the day to engage in my favorite activity. Naturally, Friday had been a perfect day for hiking: sunny, cloudless, and comfortably warm. And of course, Saturday turned out to be windy, rainy, and cold. That's why in the O'Neill household, I'm not allowed to make any decisions related to anything other than hiking.

Wolf Creek Falls dwarfs all

No complaints though, the theme for the day's hikes was all about waterfalls, even if that meant water falling from the sky on occasion. There are four short waterfall hikes up Little River Road, and I don't hike them much at all because they tend to be on the short side. However, by doing all the cascades in a single day, reasonable trail mileage can be accrued, justifying the effort and trouble of driving to three different trailheads in a single day.

Quality forest time near Yakso Falls
The first hike turned out to be a bust though. The road to Grotto Falls was heavily covered with trees felled by winter weather. Somebody had cut a car pathway out of all the timber litter but there wasn't a lot of room between the sawed-off logs and my wide and reasonably pristine Jeep. As the debris kept increasing with frequency and intensity, I eventually turned around and figured I'd see what condition the road to Lake of the Woods was in. In hindsight, I could have just parked and walked down the road to Grotto Falls but that just didn't occur to me at the time. Oh, well.

Lake of the Woods, as a breezy storm rolled in
As it turned out, Little River Road, once it turned to gravel, had also experienced fallen trees but nowhere near the volume and ferocity encountered on the road to Grotto Falls. Plus, the road was wide enough for two cars so the trees never encroached my precious vehicle on the drive to Lake of the Woods, the trail nexus for two of the waterfall hikes on my prospective itinerary. From the small lake in and of the woods, trails lead to Yakso and Hemlock Falls, and just because and for no other reason, Yakso Falls was elected to be the first hike of this overcast and dark day.

Drab flower in spring, juicy berry in late summer

These trails see a lot of use, and accordingly the path was wide and well maintained. The woodland approach climbed gently uphill as it rounded a forested ridge. It was a veritable jungle what with dense vegetation consisting of vine maple and pretty much everything else flanking the trail. In late summer, the hike to the falls must be berry nice, based on the amount of huckleberry flowers blooming on the tall bushes.

The dividing line between geology and forest
Eventually, Little River was spotted flowing well below the trail and after the path hugged a formidable mossed-over cliff, Yakso Falls hove into view. This time of year is the best time to see waterfalls as all the rivers and creeks are rain swollen and put on quite the show when it comes to cascades, and Yakso Falls was no exception.

Yakso Falls

As I had mentioned, the day was pretty dark with impending inclement weather coming in, the gloominess of the day enhancing the white water of the falls glowing nearly luminescent in its rocky bowl. Much photography ensued and a fair amount of time was spent just taking in the splendor of the falls, both on a photographic and metaphysical spiritual basis.

Trail signs in the age of coronavirus
After the 0.6 mile hike back to the trailhead, I crossed the road, hopped over the Lake of the Woods Campground gate (closed due to the pandemic) and walked past the small lake to the Hemlock Falls trailhead. Where Yakso Falls was on Little River, Hemlock Falls does its thing on Hemlock Creek. And while the hike to Yakso Falls had been fairly mild in gradient, the trail to Hemlock Falls dropped rapidly down to Hemlock Creek in alarming fashion, with the dreaded opposite effect coming back out.

Hemlock Falls tumbles down its cliff
Hemlock Falls was predictably spectacular and like Yakso, much photography and recharging of soul batteries ensued. I think there might be more to Hemlock Falls than what can be seen from the splash basin, for at the top, it seemed like the noisy cascade was already a pre-existing condtion before becoming the visible spectrum of Hemlock Falls. The creek has cut a deep canyon here and when trees fall, they apparently tumble all the way down to the creek, for the cascade's splash basin was littered with a plethora of trees long since mossed over.

Some of that rushing water on Hemlock Creek

After the steep hike back to Lake of the Woods, where a certain lone hiker said "ugh!" a lot as he trudged uphill, it was another drive on Little River Road to Wolf Creek Trailhead. Wolf Creek Falls are extremely popular with the casual hiking crowd and since this was the first week of partially relaxing the pandemic stay at home order, there were no expectations of encountering solitude on this hike. And sure enough, expectations were borne out by a full parking lot at the trailhead.

Wolf Creek Trail was lined with candy flower

This hike began in spectacular fashion on an arched footbridge spanning Little River just upstream of Wolf Creek. Once the trail entered the lush forest thriving at the bottom of Wolf Creek's canyon defile, it was apparent this would be more nature walk and photo shoot than actual hike. The greenery was profuse and dense, and the wide path was lined with white Columbia windflower and diminutive candy flower.

Columbia windflower was abundant
While windflower and candy flower were a constant throughout the hike, other bloomers also flowered up the joint, notable species thereof being sea blush, starflower, thimbleberry, inside-out flower, and Hooker's fairy bell. Sword ferns were a thing too, with their "elephant trunks" not yet being fully rolled out into the more familiar fern fronds.

Wolf Creek flows past a rocky bench
Wolf Creek was also a constant on the left side of the trail, although it wasn't always easy to see the creek through the vegetation and forest. But when the creek was visible, the water was notably silty and opaque as the stream burbled and babbled at the bottom of its green and mossy creek bed.

The upper Wolf Creek Falls
After a short climb near the end of the trail, the lower half of magnificent Wolf Creek Falls became partially visible through the trees. The falls are a two-stepper and both parts of the falls are stunning in their watery beauty. However, the lower falls are not visible from the viewpoint but can be enjoyed from the trail leading up to the viewpoint.

Lower Wolf Creek Falls was visible from the trail
Since this hike was all about the enjoyment of water, it stood to reason that of course, it would start to rain as I enjoyed the roaring cascade. The precipitation wasn't too bad at first, but would increase on the hike out. On the return leg, the wind picked up, the rain fell a bit steadier and the camera was stowed away to aid in getting back to civilized dryness as soon as possible.

The silty waters of Wolf Creek
Despite the wet weather, it felt like a pretty good choice to hike on this wet day instead of the glorious sunny day before. Lest I feel too good about that decision however, the following day dawned sunny and warm. That figures!

Simply elegant starflower
For more pictures of these hikes, please visit the Flickr album.

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