The weather in the Pacific Northwest has been glorious these last few weeks. We had a few weeks of unseasonably gorgeous June days followed by about a week of cool, rainy, and windy – more typical for that time of year, they tell me. (One woman said to me in the elevator, “What happened to our ‘Junuary’?”) But over the weekend and yesterday, temperatures rose into the 90s. Granted, there’s hardly any humidity here when it’s that hot so it’s not like a 90 degree day in the swamp of St. Louis at all. But we are talking about an area where most of the housing built before the 90s – and a lot built since – doesn’t have air conditioning. At all – not even window units. Many restaurants and shops either don’t have it, or won’t turn it on. Smart people flee to shady or breezy locations.
Sunday was supposed to be ninety, and we had planned on hiking in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. They have a boardwalk trail out into a marsh that is supposed to be great for viewing all kinds of wildlife – birds and sea creatures alike. We chose it because it was near two other objectives: Cabela’s 4th of July sale, and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, which boasts a bridge made of Chihuly glass.
Alas, it was not to be. When I saw the forecast I revised and we headed east past Tiger Mountain to the Snoqualmie area instead. There, in the Twin Falls Natural Area, lies the (appropriately-named) Twin Falls Trail. A nearly one-mile hike along a relatively level trail that follows the riverbank of the South Fork Snoqualmie River to the bottom of a series of switchbacks. Climb the switchbacks and you reach a viewpoint overlooking not one but two waterfalls of some good size. Better yet, an additional mile – up steeper terrain – takes you out onto a wooden bridge that spans the gorge just over the top of the upper falls, which is really a series of cascades through the narrow stone throat of the chasm. The WTA calls the switchbacks “gentle” but there were a lot of people who looked like they disagreed with that assessment in several places. The trail guide says that you only gain 500 feet of elevation, but you do it at least twice on each leg of the hike, so that description is pretty deceptive. Still, all of the uphills have steep sections interspersed with wider, level spots to stand and catch a breather. The trail is completely shaded by towering trees and softly carpeted with evergreen needles – though only a few old growth – and the river is accessible in several places along the first mile of the trail. I think that fact contributed greatly to the number of people gathered there on Sunday. The trail was packed for the first mile, but many families and groups with older people turned back at that point – or stopped to splash around at the ice-cold river’s edge. Once the climb started, the hikers were more sparse but the trail was still more crowded than I prefer. I’d like to go back in the spring, before Memorial Day and when the river is still rushing full of the snow runoff.
My sister is not much of a hiker, and I am not in the best shape of my life, so we were both pleased and proud to reach our destination and savor our lunch of beef jerky, bananas, nuts, and Gatorade from our spectacular vantage point on the bridge, where the rushing water drowned out every other sound. We were even more pleased to summit the last major slope on the way back to the trailhead and rest up on the bench overlooking the falls, knowing that we would be down in the water in only minutes.
There is very little in my life that has felt as good as that ice-cold rushing mountain river when I finally prised off my hiking boots and thick, cushioned socks and stepped with bare feet into freezing water just above my ankles. Even better was when I found a rock about a foot offshore, big enough to sit on, and was able to untie my sweat-soaked handkerchief I’d used as a headband, rinse it out, and wash my sweaty, dusty skin until I was as cool as if I were sitting in air conditioning. We splashed and basked in the water for at least half an hour before making the final trek out to the trailhead, past the (capacity) parking lot, and down the road to where we’d left the car.
On the way home we stopped at a roadside cherry stand and bought two pounds – one Rainier, and one bing. We drove home with the windows down, spitting cherry pits like machine gun fire, worn out and perfectly content.