This morning I got up early and drove up to Wallace Falls near Gold Bar, WA. It's northeast of Seattle on Highway 2 towards Steven's Pass (but luckily not that far).
When I first arrived around 7:45 I was all alone except for a couple of car campers. The park doesn't technically open until 8 AM and the weather was cold, fog, and rain. I could barely see out the car window but I was happy with the conditions because I was hoping to be able to hike alone.
I got started on the trail right at 8 AM. The first section wasn't much to speak of. It ran underneath some power lines that were buzzing in the rain. There was a lookout of sorts that perhaps might be cool if it were sunny. From here the path veered left into the forest and it wasn't long before I was able to hear rushing water in the distance. At 0.4 miles I was faced with the decision to stay on the Woody Trail which hugs the water or turn left and climb up the railroad grade. To turn left was to add an extra mile of easy hiking (or biking). To stay straight was to stay with the water and tougher terrain (hikers only). I decided to go straight and stay on the Woody Trail on the way up. I'd come back down the railroad grade for some variety.
Pretty soon I found myself climbing up hill. I had a lot of great opportunities to watch the water rush down as I pushed myself up to the lower falls at 1.8 miles. There are several places to pull off the trail and look down at the water. There is an awesome bridge at the North Fork where you cross the river. At the lower falls there is a small picnic area good view points. I could see the upper falls where I'd be climbing. A friendly rock was willing to take a picture of me.
As I pushed onwards to the middle falls at 2.1 miles I noticed a few things. The Woody Trail really gives hikers many opportunities to view various stages of the falls. Also, the state or volunteers or whoever is in charge of trail maintenance has really done a great job. There are several not so small bridges that are well built and well maintained. There are also well built rails at the viewpoints and scattered benches from time to time. Finally, while the distances seemed pretty short between legs of the hike, the hill was definitely getting steeper.
After spending a few minutes at the middle falls it was time for the final push. The final 0.6 miles to the upper falls was pretty steep. In fact, I had to climb 500 feet up in just 3000 feet laterally. To put that in perspective it's only 700 feet up on the first 2.1 miles. I was glad I had my climbing poles so that my arms could give my legs some help. When I got to the upper falls I checked my watch. It had taken me 1 hour 40 minutes to get there. Next I closed my eyes and listened for sound. There was none other than that of the rushing water - no TV, no traffic, no worries. I was literally all alone and it was fantastic.
From the upper falls I could have pushed on to Wallace Lake. There was signage warning hikers to be very careful. There are newspaper printouts about getting lost in the forest and how to handle it. I had no intention of going on to the lake this morning because I needed to be home by noon, but I did take a few minutes to try to find the trail to the lake. If it's there I sure didn't see it.
As I headed back down I started to encounter some other people. First I saw other soloists headed for the upper falls, then some small groups, then some families, and what might have been a girl scout troop. Everyone was headed up to different points. You really don't have to be able to get all the way to the upper falls to enjoy this hike. After booking it back down the hill for 1.2 miles I got to the cut-off to the railroad grade. Unfortunately for my tired legs, it was 500 feet uphill to get over to that trail. I pulled the climbing poles back out of pack and headed up.
Once I reached the railroad grade I put the poles away, took a quick water and snack break at a convenient picnic table, and then turned for home. It was two miles from the cut-off to the parking lot on the railroad grade (it would have been just one mile if I'd stayed on the Woody Trail). The railroad grade was nice and easy and I took my time looking at the foliage.
The last point of interest was at about another half mile from the cutoff (1.5 miles from the parking lot). There was another picnic table and an information board that talked about the railroad grade. Apparently at some point there was a logging railroad on the grade. Also, there are apparently some posts sticking out of the ground that were once part of a trestle, but I had a hard time telling them from the downed trees. Everything is covered with moss so that makes it more difficult.
From there I tromped the final 1.5 miles towards home and my feet thanked me. I reached the parking lot right at 11 AM. So it had taken me 3 hours to cover 6 miles (2.7 to the upper falls, 1.2 down to the cutoff, 0.1 miles on the cutoff, and 2 miles along the railroad grade). The time difference is interesting as well (at least to me). It took me 1 hour 40 minutes to go up 2.7 miles (1200 feet elevation gain), but it only took me 1 hour 20 minutes to go down 3.3 miles. In fairness to my uphill time I did stop to take a lot of pictures.