Crisp, fresh air – forty degrees — surrounded us as we started up the Van Trump Trail toward Comet Falls. Massive silver firs, western hemlocks, and red cedars grew over our path concealing the blue sky. Van Trump Creek rushed under the wooden bridge through a narrow gorge providing us with a diversity of sounds and a little movement to the otherwise still air. Some yellow leaves still clung to a few huckleberries and vine maples. I breathed deeply, thinking it was great to be in the mountains on this late October day.
Glimpses of Mt. Rainier came through the canopy. Earlier in the month, snow had come down to at least 5,000 feet, but the warm weather of the last few weeks melted much of it. The glaciers near the summit glistened in the sun. As we climbed, a few high wispy clouds began to form above the Cascades. Views of the mountain generated a warm feeling inside me, giving my legs strength, as we puffed up the trail.
After an hour or so, a few twisted, snapped off trees along Van Trump Creek told us that we were near Comet Falls. In 2001, a massive debris flow came over the falls, taking out many of the trees that lined the creek and gouging out a deeper channel. The sounds of the water running through the valley filled the air. The falls has several steps. The top one just barely visible above the cliff is about 20 feet high. Then the water plunges over the 300-foot drop into a pool of broken rocks. Downstream, the third drop of 20 feet completes the complex. The water then cascades through a small gorge, tumbling through numerous rapids.
The morning sun hit the falls and created a diagonal rainbow across its front. Mist rose in clouds from the base. Near the top of the big section, the water divided, creating a smaller series of tiny streams down the left side while the main flow came down the right. The falls seemed to move back and forth across the front as if someone was controlling the release. Waves of water created a mosaic pattern. Close to the base, mist drifted downstream, and brisk wind gusts flowed from the falls, covering us with fine droplets.
To the right of the falls, the trail continued to climb, heading up to Van Trump Park. Subalpine Firs and Alaska Cedars began to replace the lower elevation trees. At the top, the trees became more scattered, and subalpine meadows rolled across the plateau, giving the area a feeling of parkland. Several large lava ridges come down from the summit, broken lava rocks along their edges. The sounds of cracking ice and breaking rocks penetrated the air while we rested on a boulder. After a late lunch, we rose reluctantly to head back to the trailhead, but the descent rewarded us with a view of five Mountain Goats grazing in a meadow. Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams stood majestically in the southern distance. Time in wild Washington always leaves my spirit refreshed and energized even if my muscles are tired.