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posted by John : December 12, 2010

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Moosefish Creek at Flood Stage 5

"Here it comes!" shouts the weatherman.

"Here it comes!" shout the blogs.

"Seriously, here it comes!" shout the National Weather Service.

And so it came. It rained and rained and rained. The warm rain wreaked havoc in the mountains trigger avalanches and generally decimating the beautiful base that had such promise. The river started to rise.

Flood Stage 1 (on the Moosefish Scale): Water's over the first of nine steps leading down to the river. "Here we go. This is gonna be cool!"

Flood Stage 2: The second step is covered. "Ooh, cool."

Flood Stage 3: The third step is gone and small debris is floating down the river. "Whoa. This is gonna stop, right?"

Flood Stage 4: Bye, bye, fourth step. The rush of the river is omnipresent even in the house. "You think the road's going to flood?"

Flood Stage 5: "Do you think SAR could land a helicopter here?"

At Flood Stage 5 the river, as measured at the nearest upstream gage, was running at 3,300 CFS. Our island is mostly submerged. Moderately sized debris is running down the river. It sounds like a great time to go up and check the falls.

The kids were down (until I was just out of earshot, I'm sure) and I had rain gear on instead of the light running clown suit I've been trying out recently. It was about 3:30pm and the light was going fast. I hoofed it to the first spot where I could see the river. Yeah. It was moving.

The big problem was I kept stopping to take pictures. I had to remind myself that if I didn't focus I wasn't going to get to the falls themselves in time to get anything there. Nonetheless, the transformation of our peaceful little stream into a raging torrent was too much to pass up. Tokul's Pool was gone. The rocks in the middle were almost completely submerged. Kitty's Pool was a roiling mass of brown like something from a disaster movie. Thankfully, the trail took me away from the river and I was able to climb without distraction.

At the benches the mist from the falls was blowing hard up the hill drenching everything. Down to the Big Tree and protected from the brunt, but even the tunes cranked high (Christmas music, of course, but only between Thanksgiving and Boxing Day) it was being drowned out by the roar of the river. I gave up and stashed the headphones in my pocket.

A mini slide had covered a portion of the trail with a light layer of rocks and dirt. Another spot was soft like quicksand. The Buddha Cave was intact and the trail was generally free and clear. Usually, I reserve the steps down to the viewing platform until the way back, but today I wanted the best light so I descended before going to the upper falls.

The platform trembled underfoot and I could feel the falls thumping in my chest. Even at this relatively moderate flow the waterfall was wild and unknown. Usually just a ribbon of white water channeled away from view the river seemed to maintain its shape as it flowed down the face frozen in time as it descended. When it hit the bottom it exploded upward like a geyser and crashed against the rock walls of the gorge. Mist billowed up making photography an exercise in shoot shoot wipe wipe shoot shoot wipe.

I tore myself away to see the upper falls. Not nearly as impressive from a height perspective they were more constrained and it seemed the water was piling up behind the rocks and then releasing through at high pressure. I'd already spent too much time messing around with the camera so I left the upper trail for next time and turned for home. I'd pass another hiker, detour into the woods to take more pictures of the river, then pass the hiker again. I lingered at Tokul's Pool shooting smooth water shots and then finally called it quits for a quick run home.

Seeing the falls at this flow has decided for me that the next time we get a real flood (5,000+ CFS) I'm going up to the falls no matter what. I missed a chance to see it at 9,000 CFS and that won't happen again.

Totals: 1 million pictures (or at least 2 Gb worth), 3.4 miles, 650 feet of gain. (Yeah, that leaves about 10,000 for the rest of the month. Yikes.)

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