This past weekend brought more exploration but closer to home. No doubt photographers in the Pacific Northwest are familiar with the Waterfalls of the Northwest website. While looking through the database of waterfalls, I was drawn into a listing for Rainbow Falls in the vicinity of Mount Baker. It’s described as having a 150 foot drop but also very hard to see due to the deeply incised canyon it empties into. I’ve looked over the topo maps and decided to try and access the falls via the canyon floor by following Rainbow Creek upstream.
The area is accessed by a little used trail- the Swift Creek trail. Long ago, this was the route used to reach Heather Meadows (now the site of the Mount Baker Ski Area) from the Baker Lake region. These days the trail is slowly returning to nature- only the first 2 miles or so receive any maintenance (and its been a few years since the last trail work). It’s a short hike down to Rainbow Creek from the trailhead. The Swift Creek Trail crosses the creek over a very primative log bridge that’s probably not for the faint of heart:
From this point, Rainbow Falls is a half mile upstream to the left. In theory. Last fall, I attempted to follow the creek upstream but chose to cross the creek and then follow the far bank. I made it slightly less than halfway before getting cliffed out. This time, I chose to follow the near bank but this also led to the same conclusion- cliffed out. I can say definitively that it’s not possible to reach the falls from the canyon bottom.
With my primary objective out of reach, I decided to cross the creek via the log bridge and head up the Swift Creek trail. This trail is a hidden gem which affords the hike with some quality traits: a lush & diverse forest and solitude. So much solitude that I started to think about bears. The last thing I wanted to do was surprise a bear on the trail so I constantly made noise by banging my trekking poles together.
Following the crossing of Rainbow Creek, the trail heads gently up valley before a brief series of switchbacks that place you into an upper bench of the Swift Creek valley. At this point, some huge cedars are passed alongside the trail:
Two miles in, Swift Creek is reached. It’s unclear to me what this crossing used to be like- a bridge? A cable car? In either case, there’s no good way to cross (especially when the creek runs high such as on this day). Even without continuing further, there’s still a lot to see and appreciate..