When I began to hunt for waterfalls, I fell into acquaintance with two gentlemen who are waterfall hunters themselves. One of them, Bryan Swan, hunts for waterfalls across the entire Pacific Northwest, documenting and photographing hulking giants that dwarf anything that Kitsap has to offer. The other is named Aaron Young, and he has made it his mission to document every major fall specifically from Whatcom to King Counties. Bryan Swan helms the Northwest Waterfall Survey, while Aaron calls his project Aaron's Waterfall World. And these are just two in a vast community of close-knit people who hunt down the crashing whitewater of isolated streams.
Late in 2015 or early 2016, discussion reached my ears of attempting to reach one of the Northwest's hidden behemoths. For nearly a century, Giant Falls was marked on maps of Mount Rainier National Park. This thundering tower of water was located where the Mowich River roared over a massive volcanic cliff, careening into the valley below. And yet, despite its grandeur and relatively close proximity to one of the Park's most thoroughly traveled trails, no one could find any record, photograph, or written description of the fall. The large white streak on Google Earth was all that gave an indication of this fall's ferocity.
Bryan and Aaron had set in their minds to hunt down Giant Falls once and for all and be the first people to photograph and document it in detail. Luck was on my side, as I was invited to come along. After months of planning and late night Facebook discussions, we agreed to meet at the Mowich Lake trailhead on August 21, 2016.
The sky was clear as my Toyota truck bounced up the rough road to the lake. I pulled up to the trailhead between 8 and 9 and was soon joined by Aaron and Bryan. Within the hour, we set off on our quest. We started with a short warm-up side tangent to the west, photographing and measuring the two waterfalls located on Castle Creek just after its exit from Mowich Lake. After this, we turned back to our main goal.
As Bryan Swan states in his write-up of Giant in the Northwest Waterfall Survey, "Accessing the falls is a demanding undertaking which requires highly seasoned route finding ability." Not to mention that some portions of the trip could be downright dangerous to inexperienced adventurers. Due to this fact, I will not go into specific details about our route. But that being said, reaching Giant required several hours of bushwhacking, stream fording, rock scrambling, and all out war with the woods. The final thing that stood between us and our view of the falls was an unbelievably thick stand of Slide Alder. Finally, after grunting and shoving and thrashing our way through, we stumbled out onto a massive gravel bar and stood in awe at what was before us.
|Giant Falls roaring out of its|
Dead ahead of us was a giant, the Giant. The Mowich River came howling out from around the bend in a U-shaped canyon, crashing against the wall and diving hundreds of feet into a raging plunge pool. Mist and spray buffeted us even from over 100 yards away. The trees on the river bank swayed and hissed, creating a beautiful harmony with the ever present river, the crash of rolling boulders right at our feet. The spray carried fine glacial silt with it, flocking every surface with a fine dusting of gray grit. The sound was like a runaway freight train, it's baritone bass pounding at your ears, while the constant hiss of a broken steam valve drowned out anything below a slightly raised voice.
We stayed and enjoyed the falls for an hour or two, munching on our sandwiches while taking in the spectacular display. After lunch, we all fanned out on the rocks to snap the best photos and videos we could, basking in the grandeur of the cascade. Then, after one last glance of the falls, we turned and plunged back into the woods for the long journey home. We made it back to the cars as the sun was falling low, and Mount Rainier bid farewell to me cloaked in a ruddy glare.
I've seen quite a few different falls across Washington State during my short time as a waterfall hunter, but this one is easily at the top of the list. I will never forget the gusts of wind against my face, and the glaring sun reflecting off the spray. Giant Falls will be etched in my memory for years to come, and maybe, someday, I will return to view it's ferocity once more.