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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hiking Denny Creek


Denny Creek
We stood at the base of the cataract, gazing up at the mountain of water that thundered as it surged over the rocky overhang and plunged seventy feet into the pool below. A vivid rainbow arced up from the churning water and hung ephemerally over the scene. All around us on either side of the ravine jutted steep cliffs, dripping with snowmelt and steaming from the morning sunlight.

No, we weren’t extras in a scene out of Lord of the Rings. Instead—mere would-be hikers, traversing a portion of the Mt-Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on a rare sunny day in the Pacific Northwest.

It was only a forty-minute drive or so to the Denny Creek trailhead, located off I-90 just before the popular Snoqualmie Pass ski resort. (I used to ski there after school some days. It’s incredible that everything in Washington is so compact—that it was possible to jump in the car, zip up to the pass, ski for a few hours, and still make it home in time to do my homework and have a cup of hot chocolate.)

My 12-year-old brother (I’ll call him “J”) tugged on my sleeve and whispered uncertainly into my ear: “Is this the ‘natural waterslide’ we were looking for?”

“Sure,” I said seriously. “At 70-feet and a 90 degree angle drop, it’s the world’s most extreme natural waterslide.”

He scowled. “I walked all this way and there’s not even a waterslide!” It was only 1 mile to the falls, but J carried on as if he were being dragged on the Bataan Death March. He was a proponent for staying home and lounging on the shores of Lake Sammamish like we do every lazy summer day. But I had decided: while the area around Lake Sammamish is beautiful, it’s important to strike out away from home to enjoy all of the diverse, awe-inspiring scenery that the Washington outdoors has to offer.

While J was preoccupied with filing a formal complaint on Mother Nature’s apparent lack of waterpark paraphernalia, our fellow hikers seemed not to share his frustration. They waded and splashed in the shallow pool at the base of the waterfall, peals of children’s laughter echoing off the soggy cliffs.
Only in Washington is it possible to set out looking for one natural wonder and end up stumbling onto another, equally impressive feature. In our case, we had set out to find the popular “Slippery Slab” which is accessed by the Denny Creek Trail, a favorite of hikers on hot summer days, only to happen upon Franklin Falls, located further along the trail. This trail comes highly recommended especially for the infrequent hiker: at 2.0 miles round trip and a breezy 400-foot gain in elevation, you’ll barely break a sweat. And the reward along this short hike is a perfect example of Washington’s unsurpassed natural beauty.

We didn’t have much time to stand around and gawk, though—the falls showered us with a fine coating of mist that soon soaked through our clothes. Shrieking, we clambered up the slippery path and back into the cool undergrowth.

Fun at Denny Creek!
The Denny Creek Trail leads to many of the natural wonders that can be found within an area of Snoqualmie National Forest known as the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, which spans a staggering 390,000 acres. First signed into law in 1976 by President Ford, it is one of the largest Wilderness areas located close to the population centers of the central Puget Sound region, and is frequently accessed by many outdoor enthusiasts from the Seattle area.

Currently, Washington Wild is leading a coalition of conservation organizations in a campaign to expand the Alpine Lake Wilderness to include the Pratt River Valley (approximately 22,000 acres), as well as to designate the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers as Wild and Scenic Rivers. After falling just short of final passage in 2010, legislation has been reintroduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA08).

Washington Wild works to preserve Wilderness areas, conserve natural resources, and maintain and improve access to outdoor recreational areas. The Alpine Lakes expansion legislation would preserve crucial habitats for animals such as cutthroat trout, elk, and mountain goats while maintaining the rivers as a source for clean water. Finally, legislation would ensure that outdoor activities such as kayaking, rafting, and hiking can be expanded in the Alpine Lakes area.

What can you do to get involved?
Contact Senator Murray and Congressman Reichert and thank them for their continued support  for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions. You can submit an email here.

And discover the beauty of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness for yourself by exploring one of the hikes it encompasses, such as Mason Lake, Pratt Lake, or Melakwa Lake (the Denny Creek Trail).

Maybe we’ll see you there.   

Amy Bearman is Washington Wild’s TIPS (Teens in Public Service) summer intern. She will begin her freshman year at Stanford University next year. Hailing from Sammamish, Amy enjoys hiking, gymnastics, and Washington Wild’s office dogs.

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