Adventure Log: Skookum Flats—More than I bargained for

Hiked June 24, 2021

Skookum Flats has been on my “to hike” list for a long time. I prefer mountain vista and alpine fir hikes, but they are still snow covered, so this one finally rose to the top of the list. The drive to the trailhead—in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest where several favorite trails are, and the farthest distance I travel—is the cursed one I always make wrong turns on. As you know if you are a regular reader. I have detailed instructions in the map pocket of my car door, but do I get them out? No, no I do not. I decide to ask Siri as soon as I make the first turn in Yelm, where I get my adventure latte because I left home at 4:30, before my favorite kiosk opened. She is just for backup really, I am sure I finally know all the this ways and that ways. Siri messes up the first turn.

Silly thing is, I am pretty sure she is wrong. And because she is allergic to instructing to “turn around” (unlike the GPS I added to the not-smart phone and named Phoebe that I traveled across the country with who said “make a u-turn when it is safe,” which she had to say often), she tells me to turn onto a neighborhood street; but I don’t know why she is taking me onto a neighborhood street, so I don’t believe that turn and keep going straight in the wrong direction. Once that is straightened out, I don’t trust her and incorrectly override her. Twice. Once on final highway, I shut her off.

I’ve been to FSR 7160 before, and I remember the forest service roads are not in numerical order, or I just don’t understand the system, so I get to the road okay. I stop at a bathroom then keep going up the potholed road, feeling increasingly like I have somehow missed the trailhead. The “flats” along the river would not be this far up. When I come to an enormous puddle that covers most of the road, I turn around. Yep, the trailhead parking lot is just a few yards in from the highway, before the bathroom. Good grief. It’s 7:30, three hours instead of two and a quarter.

Boots on, I look at the kiosk to take my usual photo of the map in case I need it later. No map. No trail info at all. I should have read more trail reports on WTA. One sign that says “Skookum Flats” assures me I am in the right place, so there is that. Skookum Falls is the attraction on this hike, and the trail runs between two campgrounds; this is the longer route. WTA clearly said to go downriver, but the position of the sign seems to indicate to go straight beyond it and I decide to go with that. The other direction leads to a picnic table. So I go upriver, which goes the campground, and a maze of paths through an area with little undergrowth, so it’s impossible to tell which is the trail. Eventually the one I choose, nearest the river, dead-ends. I turn around. Guess I should do what the WTA instructed.

Back at the parking lot, I realize the trail picks up on the other side of the table, heading downhill and downriver. And into another area with little undergrowth. The trail doesn’t seem to have been cleared of blowdown for the hiking season, and though it seems a little sketchy, it isn’t bad. And then I come to the real trail.

Finally, I feel confident of where I am and relax into the beautiful hike on the mostly flat trail, crossing creeks and small water tumbles, walking beside the White River or high above it.

The woodland wildflowers are blooming. I’m enchanted by the coral root spotlighted by sun rays. And holy birdsong, I can hear a lot with my new hearing aids.

Coral root, bunchberry,
downy woodpecker, sword fern in the sun,
starflower, yellow birds nest.

Fire on the mountain

Then I come to a Y in the trail, a sign post with no sign. I really should read more trail reports. I step on the lower trail and notice someone has written “FALLS” on it with an arrow. Of course the arrow points in the direction of both trails, but I don’t think of that until I’ve gone a great distance and start wondering if I chose wrong.

When I do think of it, I meet the first hiking party of the morning. And moments later wonder why the hell I didn’t ask them if I was on the right trail. Shortly after, though, there is an actual sign.

I step onto the bridge and look up, but the falls, though I hear the plunging water, is hidden in the trees. I start up the trail. It is very, very steep. I had almost left my poles in the car—flat trail—but stuck them in my pack in case there were water crossings. They are helpful now. Until they are in the way. The WTA did not mention this. Looking at the description again as I write this, it says the trail is “rough.” Uh, yeah. It becomes a hand-over-hand ascent, a pulling myself up root to rocks scramble. I will just put this here, I am terrified, knowing I am going to have to come back down. I still can’t see the falls. I’ve come this far, might as well keep on. Also, I wonder if that upper trail at the Y is up here and I can go back that way. Short answer is “no.”

The falls are magnificent, I will say. Worth the fear of the descent I’m feeling at the top? I would not have done it had I known. This is no place for a 69-year-old woman to be alone.

I descend on my butt, praying no one will show up to see the indignity before I’m on my feet again. And also not really caring if they do. It really isn’t nearly so bad as I imagined, and much quicker than the ascent. I tried to get photos, but they just don’t show the reality. Just as I’m back on my feet, I meet two women—a decade or so younger than I—coming up. The first one says, “Well this is steep.” You ain’t seen nothing yet, honey. The second one says, “I’ll just rest while you come down.” My legs are shaking when I get to the bridge.

On the long return, I meet again the three hikers I didn’t ask about the Y. I thought not at all about seeing where the trail continued to at the bridge, but now I figure it went to the other campground and this group came from there. At least the two men are older than I am, and I’m guessing they didn’t go up to the falls. I still don’t know where the upper trail at the Y goes.

After a stop on a log by the river to eat lunch, I finish the hike, discovering at the very end, the trailhead is across the road from the parking lot.

As I drive back down Hwy 410, I notice a scenic viewpoint I had missed before: Skookum Falls, tiny in the sheer rock cliff across the river. I realize now I could not see nearly all of it up close and personal, but I feel just a little proud that I felt the spray on my face.

Eight point three miles, 32 floors. On a flat trail; well, except for that one bit. This week: camping.

9 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Skookum Flats—More than I bargained for

      1. I usually do that hike with Yoda. We do the 4 mile trail, which is really stunning in places. I’ve gone a bit further past the falls but never from the direction you came !

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  1. Discretion is the better part of valor. I’m glad you showed wisdom and good judgement on your adventure. Kinda scary, even from my vantage point of reading this in bed. Take care, coz.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will! I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. I’m pretty proud of that. I know it won’t last, and I hope I can accept that with grace. But for now, I’m goin’ for it! Just not anything crazy stupid. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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