When I first visited Slate River Gorge over a month ago I wasn't very sure of the area. While it's not terribly hard to follow a river upstream to find waterfalls I had a hard time keeping track of which drop was which. There are dozens of drops scattered throughout this stretch of the river and most of them are unnamed. On my first visit I turned around only when it was getting too dark to continue the hike, not after visiting all of the waterfalls. After some research I learned that my earlier hike had taken me about halfway, to the bottom of Ecstasy Falls, and that there were still two more named drops upstream.
Steele wanted to go on a trip with me today so Logan and I picked him up and headed out towards Skanee. The drive was short with another person to talk to and we made good time to Slate River. The last few weeks had been rather dry so I felt pretty sure that our hike would be an easy one.
We followed the riverside path for a short bit until it faded in the undergrowth. The riverbed was dry and rocky, relatively easy to walk on, so we headed over and just walked that upstream. There were a few times that we had to wade ankle deep in the river as we got closer to Slate River Falls, something that none of us complained about in the dry heat of the afternoon.
Steele was really impressed by the waterfall and lower pool. I was more focused on the bright sun above and lackluster flow to enjoy the view too much, as the misty rain and rain-heavy river of my last visit had made for a stunning view. After pausing on the rocky shore for a bit I led us up and over the falls along the east bank. Instead of continuing up the steep bank we dropped back down to the river right above Slate River Falls and stayed close by the water.
As we continued past a few unnamed drops our path started to get a bit difficult. Sharp angles poked up through the water, begging to twist ankles or trip unwary footsteps. We made it past the fingering falls above Slate River Falls and a few other cool sliding drops before Steele slipped and fell heavily into a pool of deep water. Both he and his phone were okay, only a little shaken, and we had a good laugh before heading up to Ecstasy Falls.
These stepping drops are pretty neat to check out and relatively easy to climb. The deep pools collecting on each tier was a bit deep though. so we bypassed the river along the east bank. The gorge walls, which had been too steep for everything but tiny, hardy plants, were starting to mellow out on the inside of river bends. It was nice to walk on the soft pine needles instead of the hard, jagged riverbed.
Once we got past Ecstasy Falls the bank started climbing in height again so we dropped back down into the water. About five minutes later Steele noticed Logan snapping at something. Seeing a wasp buzzing around him I sprung into action, scooping him up and plowing into deep water. I splashed water around us, hoping to deter the wasp, while keeping a close eye on my puppy.
Once we determined that the wasp was gone Steele and I checked on the damage. He had a sting on his head that was slightly swollen but otherwise seemed okay. Neither one of us knew if a wasp sting would be enough to do anything serious but he seemed active and awake, maybe a little distracted by the pain and attention, so we decided to continue upstream.
A few ore minutes later and we were at Slide Falls. By now the gorge walls were much shorter, maybe forty or fifty feet above us, but the towering pines stretched up even further at their crests. The waterfall was pretty cool too, a long, flat slide surrounded by thimbleberries. Few good footholds and a deep lower pool made them hard to get around so we retreated to the bank again for a dry bypass.
Another bend or two beyond the Slide was Kukuck's Falls. After my research I was able to recognize this drop and know that we were at the end of the gorge. It's a cool drop, an even plunge over layered rocks that marked Slate River's entrance into the gorge. In a way this feature mirrored Canyon River Gorge to the southwest, with a waterfall marking the beginning and end, although Slate River is much more rugged and has more named drops along it.
Just to be thorough we climbed up over Kukuck's Falls to see if there were any more drops. We didn't see anything upstream for waterfalls but did see something that stood out even more: a footpath.
The path led further upstream and even had a spur leading east away from the river. We turned and followed it downstream. For the most part the footpath was singular and well-defined, offering views of each waterfall below. Near Ecstasy there was a loop that went down close to the falls (you couldn't see them from the main trail) and by Slate River Falls a steep trek led down to the pool (they were hard to make out, so far below). We made good time back towards the car.
Before we reached the road Logan started acting a bit weird and jumpy. I didn't know what was going on with him until I heard it as well, a large animal crashing towards us through the woods. Steele and I had no idea what was coming at us so we braced ourselves, unsure if we would have to deal with a bear or something worse, when we saw a curious doe pop her head out. She wasn't afraid and continued towards us, more cautiously now. Logan still couldn't see anything over the tall grass and was going nuts so I picked him up, giving him a good view, and the doe took off at the sight of the scary puppy.
Slate River Gorge is one of the most beautiful spots I've found on this waterfall project. The steep and rugged banks, numerous waterfalls, and towering pine trees all work together to form an incredible area to explore. Steele and I left reluctantly today, climbing down the steep bank, both of us awed by the experience. Logan was hesitant too, although he was probably more interested in the doe than the gorge.