Mother Nature needs a 'clean and polish' now and then


November 11, 2021

Mark Woytowich

Sweet and scenic, this small unnamed waterfall forms the middle of three cataracts that eventually drop into the Hamma Hamma River.

Snow level will determine if this Saturday's TrashMash adventure leads us to the trailheads on Mount Ellinor. My gut says we'll not make it that far, but if we do, we'll be visiting two impressive (but lesser known) waterfalls as part of the excursion.

Upper Big Creek Falls is a short hike down what used to be a logging road before it collapsed under a landslide. The access point is between the lower and upper trailheads to Mount Ellinor, down a short spur with decent parking. For serious climbers, this is also the way to the Mount Washington-Jefferson Ridge Trailhead.

The main falls are about a 70-foot drop into a shallow, rocky pool that forms a half-cave behind a towering rock face. However, this last plunge follows three or four other sections funneling off the face of Ellinor. A short hike provides a macro view of these upper sections, making the case that Upper Big Creek Falls towers 300 feet or higher.

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Besides a 2,000-foot view eastward toward Mount Rainier, this is also the location of a mind-blowing spring. Water seeps out the rock face just before the falls. You stand where the water gurgles out, cup your hands, and drink. I never fail to sip from this source as well as refill my canteens.

Hideout Falls

Nearby is another cool waterfall, hidden behind a subtle, secretive campsite. Again, if snow level allows, we'll hike the short spur to this location, picking up what should be minimal trash along the way.

Hideout Falls is about a 12-foot-high plunge at the very back of a box canyon. It's a rocky scramble to reach but still worth knowing, especially since I have intentionally kept its location out of my waterfall book.

Trash targets

The main areas of litter focus are the trailhead parking lots and the many pullouts along the summit road. In 2020, during the COVID-19 stampede, many of the turnouts were converted into off-road (dispersed) campsites. These hasty arrangements made by inexperienced and often thoughtless campers resulted in a lot of human waste and camp trash left behind.

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One site, just above the popular and much-loved Big Creek Trail, is a nature classroom depicting the ongoing stages of stream and habitat degradation that occurs when careless campers rule the day.

Even if the Ellinor trailheads are blocked by snow, we'll still visit this lower site to take in the heartbreak and scenery, and hopefully add a bit of polish to a place that is used, abused and somewhat bruised by graffiti.

Alternate trip

I will scout the Ellinor options Thursday or Friday. At 9 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13 in the parking lot at The Tides Restaurant, I'll announce whether we take on the trailheads or steer our litter posse to lower locales.

Our alternative will be to spruce up the trails and nearby camping sites at both Upper and Lower Jorsted Creek Falls, and the DNR access road beside a small, hidden waterfall just below Forest Road 2480. This unnamed waterfall is the middle plunge of a three-tiered series of cataracts that eventually drops into the Hamma Hamma River.

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After the Nature classroom demonstration above the Big Creek Trail, we'll be coming here next (this week's photo). Despite the beauty of the falls, the nearby campsite is notorious for trash and litter.

Lower Jorsted Falls, on the other hand, is a much larger and classically regal falls in its wide, 20-foot drop. However, plan for soggy trail conditions in November, balanced by our brief, half-mile walk to the falls.

Upper Jorsted is only 200 yards from the road, and at its most beautiful during the rainy season.

Weather, time

Generally, unless it's already a sideways storm and we're unable to stand outside The Tides, we're going ahead with our TrashMash. We can cut down our exposure or eliminate locations as the weather dictates, so it makes sense to start off first, then see what we encounter.

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That's my attitude anyway; treat it like a hike, only we're carrying bags and picking up things as we move along.

It's very likely we'll encounter spreading hedgehog mushrooms at one location; they are quite delicious when cooked and are often preferred over chanterelles. I'll provide a free ID lesson while you watch me collect them.

I have litter bags and nitrile "food handlers" gloves, plus bright vests for folks who want them.

Please bring your own food and water. If weather permits, we'll lunch around noon at a waterfall or other divine location.

It will be quite natural to remain at "deep forest social distance," so additional masking will be up to you.

We'll never go beyond 3 p.m., and end much sooner if the litter is light that day.

Third Thursday

Because it is also in high country, our very next TrashMash will be at Spider Lake on Thursday, Nov. 18. Our snowy-road alternative would be to clean up the dispersed campsites near the three Upper South Fork Skokomish Trailheads and nearby Browns Creek Campground.

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We'll repeat the formula again in December: second Saturday, third Thursday, with locations to be announced.

Generally, I try to find beautiful, unexpected and rewarding places to visit while collecting trash. That way you'll get the biggest bang for you bag.

Remember to join me afterward at Potlatch Brewing Company in Hoodsport. We'll raise our dirty hands in a toast (or raise them after they're spritzed in 190-proof distilled spirits courtesy of Hardware Distillery next door).

Last appearance

Holiday shopping for the perfect gift? For anyone wanting a signed copy of "Where Waterfalls and Wild Things Are," I will be making my final public appearance for 2021 at the Alderbrook Golf Course Clubhouse on Saturday, Nov. 20.

I'll be one among dozens of awesome vendors at the Alderbrook Golf and Yacht Club Holiday Gift Fair from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. that Saturday.

Hope to see you there or on the trail!

Mark Woytowich is a writer, photographer, video producer and author of "Where Waterfalls and Wild Things Are." He lives in Potlatch with his wife, Linda. His "On the Trail" column appears every other week in the Journal. Reach him at his website,, or by email at [email protected]

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