An uncontrollable smile crossed my lips as I stood there watching the water rush over those boulders. It plunged into a pool 20 feet below, roaring as it crashed against more rocks before heading downstream. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the spectacle. In fact, I’d never seen anything like it. Not that close. And I didn’t want the moment to end. If I’m being honest, discovering the waterfall was what famed artist, Bob Ross, would have called “a happy accident.” Our goal was to hike up to Rachel Lake, an 8-mile round trip from the Rachel Lake Trailhead. With an elevation of 4,600 feet it was going to be a challenge, but from everything I had read it was going to be worth it. Approximately 76 miles from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, supposedly Rachel Lake was the perfect escape from the crowded trails near and around Seattle. It took about an hour and 15 minutes from the hotel in Bellevue where we were staying, but it didn’t seem like it. It was Dave’s turn to play DJ and he was killing it. He introduced me to a band called Cage The Elephant, but as good as the mix was, the views were even better. Expansive mountains, dense forest, and more than a few waterfalls filled the horizon as we sped down Interstate 90. Before we knew it, we were turning off on the Kachess Lake Road exit. It was early May, and we rolled down the windows so we could breathe the fresh mountain air. Tires crunched over gravel and we were surrounded by lush forest that encroached on the narrow gravel road. There was a wonderful stretch along the way where we could see the glistening water of Little Kachess Lake through the branches as we passed. It was the perfect day for a hike. That is, until we saw the first felled tree. Thankfully, loggers had cut through the trunk, leaving enough room for one car to pass at a time. With less than six inches of space on either side of the van, we slowed to make sure we passed without incident. The drive along National Forest Development roads is nerve-wracking enough. They’re narrow, undulating, and covered with gravel. It’s easy to imagine your tires sliding across the road before you end up in a ditch. Add obstacles like falling trees, and things can get interesting in a hurry. After 5.1 miles down, the gravel road we came to a fork. There were signs for the Kachess Campground on the right, but we took the left, which turned into Forest Road 4930. There was another fork .2 mile later, and the GPS instructed us to take the option on the right. So we did. It wasn’t long before we could hear the rush of water from Box Canyon Creek, which was hidden down a steep embankment on the right side of the road. We passed another half dozen fallen trees that had been cut to allow vehicles to pass, but then things got interesting. Three cars were lined up along the side of the road, blocked by a massive tree that the loggers clearly hadn’t had time to cut through yet. We were just shy of 4 miles away from the Rachel Lake Trailhead, and we had two options: park there and go, doubling the length of our hike to just shy of 16 miles. Or we could turn back. “We can do this,” I said with confidence as I put the van in park. Dave and Tyler looked at me like I had worms crawling out from my ears. “I’m serious,” I said. “I mean, look. We’ve come this far.” After some debate, we agreed to at least give it a try. So we pulled on our jackets, strapped on our packs, and made our way down the road. The setting was strange. The trees were so dense and so close to the road that it felt like the forest was actively trying to reclaim the rough path that had been cut through its pristine topography. It was desolate and quiet. And for what we could tell, we were the only living creatures for miles in any direction. We didn’t spot any other hikers, let alone a bird or even a stray squirrel. About a half mile in, we stopped. The road in front of us was buried beneath at least two feet of compacted snow. Spending a good part of my childhood in Minnesota, finding snow in May wasn’t out of the ordinary. But when you consider the fact that we were in Washington, it was a bit odd. “What do you think?” Dave asked. I shrugged. “I think we can do it.” After all, I had the Black Diamond Trail Back trekking poles that had helped me conquer Little Si the day before. I was feeling confident and I hoped that they were, too. We kept at it another mile and a half, but as the early afternoon sun rose in the sky, the snow on the ground was quickly turning to slush, rendering my trekking poles fairly useless. Walking was becoming a problem. I was about to admit failure when Tyler asked if we could hear the rush of water. Before we could so much as answer, he disappeared from the road and slipped into the dense trees. “Should we follow him?” I asked, trying to spot him through the shadows. It was Dave's turn to shrug. “Why not,” he replied in his usual easygoing manner. We cut across the road and through the trees, pretending that we couldn't see the rusted signs that warned us not to be there. That’s when we spotted Tyler standing on an outcropping of rocks in front of the waterfall. I knew at that moment that we didn’t have to make it to Rachel Lake for the day to be a success. This waterfall more than made up for it. Sure, it wasn’t a landmark like Snoqualmie Falls. As far as we knew it didn’t even have a name, but that’s what made it extraordinary. It was a waterfall that we had discovered off the beaten path, and in that moment, I felt like a genuine explorer. My entire life people have told me to slow down and enjoy the journey because that’s the joy of it all. I’m an overachiever and I’m driven, so I don’t like idle time that doesn’t have a purpose. I thought they were crazy until the day we discovered our very own waterfall. If we had reached our goal of Rachel Lake, I would have missed one of the most extraordinary moments of my life. Standing on those rocks as mist from the waterfall beaded on my beard, I couldn’t stop smiling. That moment was what life is all about and I can’t wait for my next happy accident. If you want to visit our waterfall next time you’re near Cle Elum, Washington, the coordinates are: 47.379727, -121.26056. It’s 7.1 miles from the Kachess Lake Road exit off of Interstate 90. Have fun exploring! Gear List for Hiking near Seattle
- The North Face Men’s Dryzzle Jacket with GORE-TEX PACLITE® Shell
- Salewa Alp Flow Mid GORE-TEX SURROUND® Boot
- The North Face Mudder Trucker Hat
- SmartWool Merino Wool Liner Socks
- Nikon D7100
- Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM Lens
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