Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Covel Creek Falls Trail No. 228, South Cascades

COVEL CREEK FALLS (Trail No. 228/228A - Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, South Cascades) Any hiker who has hiked this trail will tell you it’s a spectacular hike but ask someone how to spell Covel Falls you might get different answers. Nobody seems to agree on how to spell “Covel” including land-management agencies. No matter: though the map, trail signs and hiking guides can’t seem to come to an agreement all peevishness will come to an end once you reach the waterfall. For that matter you can even refer to this waterfall as Curtain Falls or Phantom Falls, two other monikers for this 75-foot high waterfall. Covel Creek is one three waterfalls in the Covel Creek drainage (Covel Creek drains into the Cispus River which then drains into the Cowlitz River). Covel Falls is the smallest of the three waterfalls. The other two waterfalls are Angel Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Covel Creek Falls felt akin to Tunnel Creek Falls in the Columbia Gorge, another hike where the trail goes behind a waterfall. We parked at the Cispus Learning Center in Randle and stopped in at their office to pick up a trail map which caused us some confusion finding the trail – plus, the trail is not as well-signed as it could be as several unmarked paths wind in and out of the grounds. Per the advice of a person in the office we started out on the 0.6-mile Braille Trail (Trail for the Blind), a unique, one-of-a-kind trail that enables those with impaired vision to experience the forest through touch and other senses. The Braille Trail is not only interesting on its own; it is also the easiest place to find the trail to Covel Falls. Hike clockwise on the Braille Trail until you come to the “Forest Loop” sign. Walk up the broad, smooth trail to the left of the sign and continue to Covel Creek which you will cross on a footbridge. Past the creek the trail continues to climb at a moderate grade as the trail parallels the rambunctious creek and skirts several small waterfalls (some of those also seemed worthy of names). After a mile or so you’ll come to a signed junction (1,800 feet) where the Covel Creek Falls (Trail No. 228A) continues (right) and the Burley Mountain (Trail No. 256) goes left and becomes part of the Angel Falls Loop (you can hike the loop in either direction from this junction). We opted for Covel Creek Falls as that makes a scenic turnaround for hikers who don’t have time or energy for the loop. After a short drop the trail goes behind Covel Creek Falls – now you know why many call this waterfall Curtain Falls. Some hikers decry the safety rope that parallels that stretch of the trail behind the falls as it detracts from the splendor of the waterfall but you might as well take advantage of the rope, it was put there for a reason by the Forest Service. Since spray from the waterfall can render the trail muddy and slick it is not a place you’d want to fall. From Covel Falls you can continue on the next stretch of trail which is quite steep to Angel Falls to complete the 4.5-mile loop or hike back to the Cispus Learning Center the way you came. Since we didn’t have time to continue to Angel Falls we hiked back to the junction at 1,800 feet and hiked about a quarter of a mile of the trail (left) toward its junction with the Burley Mountain Trail (No. 256). Geologists as well as photographers will especially enjoy this stretch – it’s exciting and unique with vine maple reaching for the sky and growing wherever it can between tall, bulging cliffs tinted with different colors from lichen. Though the trail is narrow in spots it is not dangerous as long as you watch your step and avoid hiking under the cliffs in winter when there is some danger of falling chunks of ice or rocks. The cliffs have eroded in such a way that caves have formed under the rock where the cliffs overhang the trail. Though we didn’t have time to finish the loop (we had other commitments) we can attest after looking at photographs of Angel Falls that it would be worth your time to do so, especially if you are camping or lodging in/near Randle. If so you should have plenty of time to complete the Angel Falls loop. The Angel Falls loop is 4.5 miles round trip – the high point being Angel Falls at 1,950 feet. Getting there: From Randle on US 12 head south to State Route 131(Forest Service Road No. 25) for about one mile then turn left onto Forest Service Road No. 23. Continue about 10 miles then turn right onto Forest Service Road No. 28. In less than a mile turn right onto Forest Service Road No. 76 to the Cispus Learning Center. For additional information call Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Cowlitz Ranger District Station at 360-497-1100). The map is Green Trails No. 333 (McCoy Peak). Karen Sykes

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