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The Search for Sulphide Creek Falls

When checking in on the Forest Service registry at the trailhead of Shannon Ridge, most everyone who had checked in was climbing Mount Shuksan. This felt like it could be a testament to how interesting the hike could be.

The registry was full, but I scratched in at the bottom, because I was intending to bushwhack off trail in search of Sulphide Creek Falls, one of the 2,000+ foot cascades that give the North Cascades its name. It is one of roughly half a dozen in that range of height, which are not only the tallest in Washington, but also the continental United States.

But this one is special for two reasons. It is in the running for the highest volume waterfall for its height in North America, if only it could be accurately measured. Because unfortunately the second reason is that it’s remarkably inaccessible and hardly visible, for being within a mile or two of trails. Thanks to the deep canyon it’s in, and the terrain that must be traversed to get within sight.

I wanted to see how close I could get anyway.

The drive on Baker Lake Highway north from Concrete on Route 20, cannot disappoint on a summer day. The expansive man-made lake to the right is glowing turquoise. In-your-face views of Baker and Shuksan peak out, foreshadowing the views on the hike to come.

Next was the 2600 ft of climbing on Forest Service roads in a few minutes, dozens of miles from state-maintained pavement, yet only an hour and a half from Bellingham. The trailhead was not desolate, but not overrun either.

I approached with a mountain bike until I reached wilderness protected land to help ease the daunt of 3200 or more feet of climb and descent. There is nothing better to me than flying back down the mountain on a bike.

The trail started as what looked like old fire road continuing another mile or two. Hikers’ treads have incidentally sculpted pleasant single track out of the over grown road.

The flora gradually turned from lowland smaller younger growth to large old-growth cedars and pines. The dirt turned from dusty clay to loam and then to snow. And overall there was a transition to a more alpine feel.

View of Mt. Baker (top right) from Shannon Ridge (lower left)

More on the Cascade Volcano:

Once into the old growth the trail was soppy and washed out from snow melt. The roots were gnarly in the true sense of the word. Eventually the trail opened up to the ridge and I was faced by one of the more magnificent views of the east side of Mount Baker. Along the alpine ridgeline the Baker views continued as I approached the southeastern flank of Mount Shuksan.

I crossed into the North Cascades National Park and really started climbing. It became snowier as it got steeper, and I reached what is referred to as the Notch.

View from "The Notch" just inside North Cascades National Park at approximately 6000 ft. showing the conditions for the last few miles required to reach Sulphide Creek Falls.

Here, many return to their cars or continue on to summit Shuksan. I was here to look for a waterfall. This was the closest point on a trail to the falls. Well it was too steep, too snowy, and I was under equipped. I made it a mile before giving into frozen feet, exhaustion, and disappearing daylight.

The up-close views of Baker and alpine foreground with plenty of remoteness to made it worthwhile. The adventure of trying to find an elusive feature only added to the experience.

As my feet started to thaw and I had some trail mix I was happy to coast the descent. It was a beautiful sunset ride. The fact that I wiped out near the bottom was simply a minor footnote.

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