Waking up Sunday morning, I glanced outside and saw 3 inches of snow on the back deck. Letting the dogs out, the snow was deeper in some places, making me question whether or not I should chance icy, snowy roads with crazy drivers, all in hopes to take awesome pictures of waterfalls. Checking the traffic cameras up and down Hood Canal, I found out that the snow was indeed isolated to a few areas, and the Duckabush area was one of the dry places. Stoked, I grabbed my gear and bolted out the door, battling sloppy, slushy roads until I got to Highway 101. The roads were soon fine and I was enjoying the snow draped trees and birds flying around.
I was headed to Murhut Falls, located 24 miles north of Hoodsport, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. From Olympia, it is about an hour and half drive, which is pretty once you leave the Shelton area and actually get to drive Highway 101 on the coast. Deciding that this would be a trip of photography, I stopped off at Potlatch State Park to take some pictures of their dusting of snow. Even without snow, Potlatch State park is a great place to stop and see the unique area that is Hood Canal. Far up in the trees west of the park, I saw 2 Bald Eagles, but decided to not waste my efforts snapping a picture, as they would have shown up as spots. Instead, I focused my attention on the Cormorant sitting on a buoy about 200 feet out.
As I Inched closer, I got to witness it running across water to take off. Snapping pictures, I felt one with the environment. I was silent, and as a light snow began to fall around me, I could hear the flaps of wings and chirps and quacks of birds all around. I slowly walked back to my car, feeling that today might just evolve into something special.
At Hoodsport, the snow started picking up again, and as tempted as I was to hang a left and go toward Mt. Ellinor and the Staircase entrance of the Olympic National park, I kept driving for another 20 miles until I reached Duckabush. Weaving along the water, the snow stopped and soon the sun was making its way out.
I had hit the rain shadow, or in this case, the snow shadow. Stopping my car at the turnoff, I looked west and could see, over the old farms and marsh area, the Olympic Mountains looking off in the distance. Beautiful, enticing and remote, they call to me every time I see them “peaking” through the usual gray mass of clouds. I took a few pictures, watched some Great Blue herons fly overhead, got back in my car and took a left, heading west on Duckabush Road.
Duckabush Road immediately drops to 25 miles per hour and while I normally ignore things like that on isolated back roads, I was glad to go the speed limit because of the interesting houses and unusually high amounts of pedestrians and animals walking down the street. About 4 miles in, the road becomes gravel, but keep driving! With few potholes, you can take your eyes off the road for a bit and glimpse at Duckabush River, the old growth forests and if lucky, a chance sighting of a majestic peak jutting through the opening. You soon cross a bridge, entering to the other side of the Duckabush area. I recommend stopping here and admiring the river, as enticing as it may be, avoid taking a dip, it is frigid!
The gravel road to Murhut Falls Trailhead is 6 miles, but it goes by pretty fast. As you get near to the trailhead, you will see the road fork and one side will be closed, obviously keep going. About half a mile further a sign points to the right fork to Murhut Falls. Take this or you will meander through the wilderness with no outlet. The fork leads you up hill for about a mile before you come across the trailhead sign on the right. There is somewhat of a parking area on the left where it is best to turn around and park at. From here, the trail starts right off, with a sign-in area 100ft from the trailhead.
The trail to Murhut Falls is not flat, but it is pretty easy. You climb up at the beginning at a somewhat steep angle, but once you do this, you level off then drop back down to the falls. At a mile long, this trail is great for all ages, and dogs are welcome. (There are no restrooms however, so plan ahead!) Generally, this is a very easy trail, yet when I was there, I was alone.
Sure the weather was cold, but on a Sunday on a 3-day weekend, I was expecting to have at least another car there. Jumped out of my car at the trailhead, signed in, popped on my iPod and before I could really get into the groove, I was already at the falls. Rounding the last corner, the rush of the water overpowered my old-school hip hop, and soon I was able to see Murhut Falls in all her glory.
The winter has ice everywhere, with the hills leading to good photo areas slippery, dangerous and difficult for beginners to climb. I climbed around, tested my skills and had a blast jumping off big rocks onto the shore. I even climbed and would have had more fun had my foot not slid on some ice, forcing me to plunge waist deep into the freezing cold water. As I mentioned, I was alone, so I wrung out my clothes, poured out my shoes and continued to climb around and take pictures. Soon, I noticed that the sky was getting darker so I decided to pack up and start my jaunt home. As I was walking down the trail, snow started falling all around me. I don’t know if you have been able to be alone in the woods during the first snow, but everything gets quiet and time slows to nothing. I took a few breathes, smelling the mix of snow and pine and headed back to my car.
On my drive home to Olympia, the snow picked up. I also saw the 2 eagles high in a tree over Hoodsport and took a few pictures and then watched the sunset from a snowy field in Shelton.
Hoping to see you on the trails,
Douglas Scott of Exotic Hikes