Another hike to strike off my OG hikes list! With no plans leading up to the weekend, I joined a mellow (but long) hike with Anita, Charles, and Emily. I had never actually been to the Middle Fork besides on SAR missions, so I was curious to get a taste of what it’s actually like and get some fresh air and socialization with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I brought my new (to me, still, despite having it for like 6mo by now) camera figuring there’d be some cool waterfalls. After all, the hike is called Otter Falls. For the sake of recordkeeping, this was hiked January 9th, I was just slow to write about it. And ah shit, I forgot to take a panorama for the top of this post.
- Distance: 11mi round trip
- Elevation: only 650ft!!
- Weather: 40’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 1:12 without traffic
- Did I Trip: No but RIP my favorite glove
We rolled up to the trailhead I think at 9am. You know me, I’m usually up by 5:30, gym by 6, work by 7:30… yeah, well, if you give me ANY slack in that routine, I’ll be late. Fashionably so. Anita has seen this firsthand several times now, where my “I’ll just have tea for 20min” turns into “omg it’s been 45min what happened where have I been yes hello it’s eve and i will be 20min late.” So to avoid this, I packed everything the night before, and set an alarm for 15min before I needed to leave the house. So I actually got there at 8:50, and hung out waiting for the rest of the crew, and they all rolled up basically at the same time like they had a telepathic connection I hadn’t cued into yet.
Anita had brought a sweet little dog she was dogsitting named Teddo who came with his own jacket and even a little doggie harness. We started off down the trail, pup trotting ahead of us after an immediate bathroom break. The trail is an old road bed, very consistent and flat and wide which is great when you’re socially starved and want to talk to all of your friends at once and not walk single file. I’m honestly not sure where the road bed ends because it keeps going past Otter Falls itself. The forest is second growth (the road bed is from an old logging road) but it’s still spectacularly green, mossy, and beautiful.
The trail hugs the Taylor River, which was the last large scale logging operation in National Forest uplands (I assume as opposed to lowlands?) according to Mid Fork Rocks. Crazy to see how wild the forest looks despite being second growth. The old logging road may have used to connect to Highway 2 – it definitely connects as a trail now, though the section through Lakes Snoqualmie, Deer, Bear, and Dorothy seems pretty trail-y and less road-y, so the rumors I’ve heard of a road connecting the middle fork Snoqualmie with highway 2 may just be that, rumors. I was up by those lakes a few years ago (came from Highway 2) wondering where some trail runners came from – the answer is the middle fork, and it’s a sweet little car to car. At this point I’ve been tantalizingly close to connecting them, minus the elevation gain between the Taylor River and Snoqualmie Lake. Which, brief aside, is stupidly named because Snoqualmie Mountain is a few peaks/ridges away and Snoqualmie Lake drains into the Taylor River.
The creek crossings were extra hilarious with Teddo. Everything was covered in a thin slippery layer of ice, so Teddo got a ride across each creek thanks to the handle on the back of his harness. He was incredibly tolerant of being treated like a sack of potatoes, though he’d whine waiting at the other side if the rest of us weren’t fast enough. The trail honestly was much of the same. Trail, second growth, wow, moss, wow, glimpse of peaks, stream crossing. Second growth, wow, moss, wow, glimpse of peaks, stream crossing. Rinse and repeat.
At the first major river crossing, which thankfully (maybe) had a bridge, I decided to take out the new camera and see if I could get some of those long exposure waterfall shots I’ve seen others take. My pack immediately fell over at my feet, threatening to dump its contents (camera on top!!!!) into the river 15ft below, but I snagged it just in time. I spent the next 15-20min messing with my camera wondering why I spent an hour on reddit instead of researching how to take waterfall pics before leaving the house. But I think I got some that were passable.
Unfortunately, it turned out I hadn’t snagged my pack fast enough. I put the camera away, and a glove was missing. Nowhere to be found. Presumably swept downriver who knows how far, only to rot away in a stream never keeping hands warm again. I bought those gloves I think at SeaTac on the way to run a marathon in Moab years ago, when I thought I had forgotten gloves and panicked. Turned out I had remembered gloves, but the ones I bought still ended up becoming a personal favorite, as they were very light but completely windproof and good for frigid fingers. That’s definitely one of the worst clothing losses I’ve suffered on a trail. Up there with my hat coming down from a one day assault on Snowfield and my Patagonia puffy coming down from the Ptarmigan Traverse before the Bachelor Creek drainage was brushed out. And this one doesn’t even have the epic story. Just a glove dropped into a creek 😦
We carried on as I rallied past my injured pride and regret for losing my poor glove. It had a good life, it saw some cool places. We briefly debated going to Marten Lake, which is a short steep detour from the Taylor River/Otter Falls trail, but decided to continue on to the falls instead. Emily kept us occupied with stories of her WTA trail work parties and middle fork history (she has like a perfect mental map of the middle fork, it’s wild), Anita kept us laughing with quotes from movies and dating mishaps (dick videos apparently are a thing nowadays), and Charles had us cracking up with his stories about hikes with Anita, including a hike he bailed on that was like a half mile long. Charles also did not judge my abject ineptitude at photography with my new camera, including waiting for me at one point while I was totally, helplessly absorbed in figuring out the camera and oblivious to anything else. Bigfoot could have run past me and I’d have had no idea. I didn’t expect anyone to wait, but I also realized when I snapped out of my camera world that I was grateful he did.
The turn off to the lake is like a free for all. There’s no real trail, just a bunch of trampled ground and all routes lead to the falls. The falls are GORGEOUS. I didn’t realize how huge they were, and we can only see the bottom ~500ft! The water technically falls something like 1,200ft. Emily had memories of being a teen and climbing up the rock to use it like a waterslide wearing denim shorts. We had a short snack before heading back to the main trail to push a little further to a second (smaller) waterfall. We came across a HUGE erratic split in half, and followed a social trail next to it thinking it might lead to the river or some views. Instead we suddenly found ourselves standing upon a bed of freshly cut boughs, which I figure might have been where someone slept… because I couldn’t think of another reason to have laid out freshly cut evergreen branches like that. And on our way back to the main trail, someone caught eye of an old brown tarp set up like a lean to. Pretty sure someone was living back there and we had almost stumbled across their space. Wouldn’t be the only one doing that back in the middle fork drainage.
We turned around for good at another waterfall just a bit past the turnoff to Otter Falls. Emily kept me occupied with other creepy middle fork stories, and brief side trips down just about every significant social trail we saw. Which I love. At one point we heard Anita getting excited telling a story to Charles and Emily laughed and said “well we’ll never run into any bears with them around.” True, and anyone who knows how I feel in the woods knows I am very thankful for that.
We were back at the trailhead around 3:30pm, temperatures dropping quickly since the whole valley was so shady and sunset this time of year was something like 4:30. I think because of the lack of elevation gain it felt like a pretty fast 11 miles, even though in hindsight we only did ~2mph. Must have been how starved I was for socialization. I was excited to get home and read up on middle fork history, but I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. But for when I’m not too busy adulting or getting outdoors, that’ll be the next rabbit hole to go down. Emily, if you’re reading this… be warned. I have questions.
I gotta give a huge shout out and thank you to Anita for pulling this all together, especially kind of last minute! It was so refreshing to get out with such a fun group while the country was threatening to implode. And thanks to Emily for the wealth of knowledge about the area and the hike suggestion (I think Otter Falls was her choice), and to Charles for unknowingly probably protecting me from whatever middle fork spirits would have captured me while I was becoming one with my camera. Hope we can repeat the adventure someday!