Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene (almost) – July 17, 2011

This hike to Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene was both difficult and entertaining.  Julie had to cancel the day before because of an event her son was doing and she didn’t want to feel rushed…neither did the rest of us.  John cancelled the morning of because his shoulder was still hurting from our Barclay Lake hike the previous weekend.  But, Jake and Shelly came through.  We decided to start a bit earlier this week since the hike was longer and was going to be our most difficult yet.  And, you guessed it, after our customary stop at Starbucks we were on our way.

When we arrived at the parking lot there really weren’t a lot of cars there which surprised me because all the websites said this hike was crowded (later we found out it can be if you start later…we were leaving as tons of people were just starting).  After gathering our stuff and taking a quick potty break, we hit the trail.  We started our hike about 845am.

Our first bobble of the day was taking the instructions literally.  My guide book said to walk up the abandoned road for over one mile and then turn left just before the road ended.  We only walked about 250 feet before hitting a trail sign that pointed to the right.  Hmmm…what to do?  We decided to head up the road a little further and see what happens.  We didn’t get very far before we noticed that the weeds on the road we very healthy and un-trampled.  Given the number of people that do this hike weekly, we decided that the guide book, which was a few years old, must be incorrect.  We went back to the intersection and asked the next group.  When I asked them if the trail was headed to Bridal Veil Falls they just said “Well, the sign said to go this way”.  It made me think it would be a great experiment to give folks directions, but also put up false signs along the way and see which way they ended up going.  For the record, the sign was just a picture of a hiker and an arrow.  We decided even if it wasn’t the trail to Bridal Veil Falls at least it was well travelled and would still be pretty.

After a hike that included gradual, but long, inclines we hit a Y in the trail with another sign that had a hiker and arrow (still no written confirmation that we were headed to Bridal Veil Falls), but we knew at some point we’d be going right, so we followed along.  After about another ½ mile (or less…it’s so hard to tell when you are enjoying the scenery), we finally got the confirmation we were looking for…a sign that pointed right and said Bridal Veil Falls ½ mile and a sign that pointed left that said Lake Serene 2 miles.  Yea!

It was still pretty early so we opted to head to Bridal Veil Falls, hang out a bit, and eat lunch.  I don’t know how I got this impression, but based on reading the description of the hike I expected most of the elevation gain to be after Bridal Veil Falls on the way to Lake Serene.  So, I was surprised when we started going up, and up, and up.  It was quite steep to Bridal Veil Falls, but it was beautiful when we got up there.  Note…bring a rain jacket or at least a cheap folding poncho…it is very misty and wet up there.  Also, leave your nice camera in your bag for this part unless you feel very confident about your ability to keep it dry.  I took the pictures of this upper view of Bridal Veil with my waterproof camera.

We decided our idea of eating right at the falls was not a very good one, so we hiked down a bit before finding a good lunch location which included some picture taking.  It wasn’t until we finished our entire lunch that we realized it was only 1045am.  Good thing we also had plenty of snacks if needed.

The steep decent played havoc on the achy knees, but it’s gentle enough on the lungs that we got reenergized to push on to Lake Serene, so at the Y we headed left on the Lake Serene trail.  This hike is a prime example of not rushing things and really enjoying the beauty.  There are some excellent photo-ops along the way.

After hiking part way up the moderately steep section of the trail, Jake decided working all night and then doing this hike was taking its toll so he decided to take a nap along the trail while Shelly and I trudged on.  I only call this section ‘moderately steep’ for comparison purposes.  By usual standards this section probably would have been considered ‘steep’, however there was steeper trail to come.  We knew we needed to be back in Monroe by 3pm because Jake had to work that evening.  So, it became obvious as we trudged on that we were not going to make it all the way to Lake Serene this time.  Timing wise, if we wouldn’t have done Bridal Veil Falls, we likely would have made it.  At one point we came across a couple who said they had left the Lake 50 minutes earlier…seriously!…we weren’t even to the Lake yet.  The next guy said 30-45 minutes since he left.  At this point, I started thinking “why the heck didn’t I leave my heavy pack with Jake”.  We found some nice bushes; I removed my phone, my camera, and my car keys and left it along the trail.

Next came a couple of guys running down.  The leader was trying to tell the follower how long they’d been on the trail, which we clearly head as 1 hour 58 minutes, but apparently the follower was having a hard time hearing him so the leader kept looking at his watch and saying 1 hour 58 minutes.  Let’s recap…the trail is steep and they are running and they are on the part of the trail that has partially wooden steps…can you see disaster in the making?…we could.  Quicker than you can say 1 hour and 58 minutes the leader was down on his back.  I swear his back landed right on one of the sharp edges of a stair.  We asked if he was ok and of course he quickly said yes.  We didn’t see him on the side of the trail later in agonizing pain, so we can only assume he really was ok or he was so embarrassed that his adrenaline allowed him to make it to his car.

After some more moderately steep to steep switchbacks we hit a section that was so steep the switchbacks were just feet apart from each other.  Since we were not going to make it all the way, we opted to turn around at this point.  My guess is we were within 1/4 – 1/2 mile from Lake Serene.

On the way down, we gathered my pack, Jake, some sore body parts (on the way up it’s the lungs…on the way down its knees), and a couple of entertaining stories.

Here’s the first entertaining story…why, in July, would you see a guy running down a steep incline wearing only shorts?  He didn’t even have shoes or socks on and gets stranger.  He was carrying downhill skies on his back.  He had a pack, but I swear the pack was not big enough or full enough to have downhill ski boots in it.  You might ask “Are you sure they weren’t cross country skies?”  My answer is “Absolutely I’m sure”.  I wish I would have thought to take a picture.  If for no other reason, at least it gave us something to ponder on the way down the grueling steep trail.

Here’s the second entertaining story…towards the end of the hike some kids (and by kids I mean they were in their 20s) who had obviously been camping were sitting on the side of the trail with two forest rangers.  I would have thought they were getting information or someone was hurt except one of the girls said “how fun; we get a ticket”.  Again something to ponder; we wondered what they could have possibly done to get a ticket.  I had secretly hoped they’d pass us again so I could ask, but they didn’t.  It wasn’t until we were leaving the parking lot that I saw them packing their car.  I seriously thought about driving by and asking them, but I put on my ‘Adult’ hat and decided it wasn’t a very mature thing to do since it wasn’t any of my business.

We ended the day with a late lunch/early dinner at Mi Tierra.  Whew!…what a day.  I will definitely go back sometime this summer and make it to Lake Serene if it kills me…I suspect I’ll survive.

Notes of interest about Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene:

  • Northwest Forest Pass required.  Can be purchased at locations such as Big 5.  Check their website for locations.
  • There was a box to check in for the hike.  Always check-in.  You never know what can happen.
  • I read that you can camp near Lake Serene, but you have to be at least 1/4 mile from the Lake.  Check to make sure what I’ve heard is correct.
  • No garbage cans available.  “Pack it in.  Carry it out”.
  • Bathrooms available at the trailhead only.  They are not porta-potties, but they are outhouse style.  I wouldn’t say they are clean, but they are very good for a hiking trail.  Check for toilet paper before you sit down.
  • Forest rangers on the trail and they do write tickets.
  • Lots of people hiking with their dogs off-leash.  I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, so I wonder if any of them got tickets.  As usual, some are good off-leash; others are not.

My photos for the day.