Sometimes there are moments in our lives that are picture perfect. Photos are decent for capturing the looks of the situation, but they can’t perfectly capture the emotions felt. You just wish time would freeze for a moment. You take a step back mentally, saturating yourself in the feel of the air on your skin, the sounds of the world that provide a constant ambient soundtrack, but most of all, you relish in the swell of emotion.
Moments like that are why I explore when I get the chance. My girlfriend Kiva and I now both work full-time jobs, so we aren’t always able to get outside. This weekend, we went to the one waterfall surrounding Whiskeytown Lake that I had no memory of: Boulder Creek Falls. I was on assignment for ActiveNorcal, and the stormy weather held off long enough for us to trek up.
(Note: If anyone is trying to actually do this hike, I will provide directions/tips at the end of this piece)
We woke up early, made some breakfast burritos and coffee (staples of adventuring), and set off.
The area had been harassed with downpours, so much so that the Oroville area had to be evacuated for fear of flooding. On this Saturday, however, the clouds parted long enough for us to head to the lake. We stopped at the visitor center and ran into a regular at my other work, a gym. Ed, with cargo shorts, thick framed glasses, eternal sunny disposition and relaxed clothing, had also been taking advantage of the sun and gone hiking. He advised us as only a wise man at the beginning of a quest could, saying sentences that didn’t make sense at the time but we would find out to be too true later in the journey. (For example, “I always bring my plastic shoes for the creek crossing.” I am still not sure what those shoes look like, but dang if we didn’t have to cross a creek).
We found out that the road to the trailhead was closed, so we parked at the closed gate and followed the road. It was a steep climb, and despite the fact that I work at a gym and have a free membership, we took frequent stops on the ascent. We soon discovered the reason for the road closure: the recent storms had eroded parts of the gravel road, as well as brought much of the surrounding shrubbery to their new homes right atop the path. Still, the cloudy weather did nothing to depress our spirits, and the road was easy enough to follow. In fact, we only saw one other human being the entire trip, a jogger headed in the opposite direction. I was so focused on climbing the hill at the present that I didn’t even see him until he was quite close and I gave a small jump, but by the time my brain registered his innocuous intentions, he was far behind us.
Finally, we arrived at the trailhead, and followed it. From here, the path had slight elevation changes, but in general was a level path. The very forest around us seemed to have been thinned by workers, which appealed to the environmental scientist part of me. (A forest that has been properly thinned allows trees to survive with less competition, as well as preserves the general health in case of wildfire (yes, wildfires are natural and have been occurring before humans, but there are humans now and we are trying to coexist rather than preserve to pre-human levels (just saying))).
After a short while, we arrived at the stream. The recent storms had turned it into a churning mess. We followed it upstream and downstream, and found no suitable bridges. We found a few places where logs traversed the frothy mess, but these logs were slick with time and we would no doubt have lost our grip.
So we did the sensible thing: take off our shoes and crossed it. Kiva went first. Not to say she is braver (she is), but she could take off her shoes quicker. The bitterly cold water reached up to almost our knees, and across the water we had to stand in the sun that filtered through the forest and put on our shoes again.
After the fording, it was literally only .1 miles to the falls. We followed the trail and ended up in a kind of bowl that encircled Boulder Creek Falls.
The waterfall basically consist of three, smaller, cascading falls. The high rock walls that surrounded us made it seem private, intimate. This was our world, and on this cold February morning, it was entirely ours. Kiva and I both took numerous photos of the falls to capitalize on the moment. I finished my burrito, posed her despite the fact I am a nature photographer and not a portrait photographer, and sat on the bench to enjoy the cascades.
We thought about what a great summer hideout this would be: the cold pool at the base of the falls and the rocky world to explore. We were chilled enough to not get in the water, but warm enough to stay to enjoy the sight.
We headed back, wary of the fact we would have to ford the river again.
Again, we took off our shoes and crossed the cold stream, slick with loose rocks. After we had safely arrived on the other side, I sat on a boulder to put my shoes back on. It was here I had my picture perfect moment.
I sat on the far side of the water, perched on my boulder and barefoot, trying to psych myself into putting on my shoes that were difficult to adorn in the best of times. So I took a moment, and looked out onto the scene before me.
Kiva, shoes and all, crouched at the edge of the water, cleaning off her hands in the frigid water. Boulder Creek, for which a school of my childhood was named, churned and burbled by us. My bare feet were sitting on the rock, as if it was the middle of summer and if it was the hottest day in July. We had crossed a frigid creek twice (there and back again), we had sat at the base of a 138 foot waterfall on a day when maybe one other human had seen it, and now I sat, immersed in the feeling. I did take photos (naturally), but none of them quite captured the essence of the moment. I’m no photographer, but I feel like that is constant. You try to capture the beauty of a moment, only to see it in two dimensions on your camera, to say nothing of the feelings that reside in the moment. Still, sometimes the photos I take are for me, to preserve those moments, and I don’t regret it at all.
The hike back was easy, all downhill compared the uphill trek we faced on the way up. A few small water crossings challenged us, easy enough to jump over or walk through if you have shoes like mine.
On the way home we visited an old teacher of mine who ran a deli in Old Shasta, and drove through a brewing storm. Heavy drops hit our windshield while we accepted how lucky we had been to avoid the storm and see a new sight for both of us.
That’s why I travel/adventure/wander/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. To find the moments of simple bliss, to live in the moment of feeling free and balanced. Why do you?
From Redding, follow 299 west. Go past the turn off to the Visitor Center and Brandy Creek, and stay on 299. Past the turn off for Oak Bottom, take a left to the Judge Francis Carr Powerhouse, and you will see a sign that guides you to the trailhead. About a mile up this road, the road forks. Stay right. If you go left, you will come to a locked gate with a big sign that says “No Trespassing” and takes you above the big flumes. Don’t trespass. When you take the right, you will also come to a locked gate. This is where we parked and began our hike. It’s steep at first, so plan accordingly, but once you get about a mile or so in, you will see a sign delineating the trail to the falls. After you cross the creek, you will see a sign that says .1 miles to Boulder Creek Falls. Make sure you take the trail that goes off from the main road to the right. You’ll find the falls up that trail.
Until next time, as usual, never stop exploring.
Waterfall photo: 1/8, 22, ISO 400
Keeves from rear 1/15, 22, ISO 400