Ouzel Falls


Hike details:

  • Mileage: 5.4 roundtrip
  • Elevation gain:950 feet
  • Altitude:9,450 feet
  • To get there: Take Highway 7 to the Wild Basin Trailhead in the Wild Basin Area

I am in the middle of a flowing creek, perched on a rock and looking for a way out. I stretch to the right and grab hold of a skinny tree. It jiggles from my grip and I look down to see its roots held only in a small island of mud. And so it goes all the way from the Tahosa campsite back to the main trail and on to Ouzel Falls. In fact, it is not a creek I have gotten myself into. It is the trail, flooded from copious high mountain snow melt. So, we are hiking on a stepping stone trail. We had the option of back-tracking down the side trail from our campsite and then heading back up to Ouzel Falls, or heading up the side trail from Tahosa, meeting back up with the main trail, and getting to Ouzel Falls on our way down. We decided to see new sights, hit Ouzel Falls on the way out instead of back-tracking. This has left us in a very wet mess.

“Maybe we should have just gone back the other way,” I say to Alex.

“Meh,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.

“That wouldn’t be as adventurous,” I tell him, agreeing and splashing through the mud.

Finally, the trail takes us to the top of a hill and we are walking with solid, dry ground under our feet again. But as soon as we get to the main route, we are on a muddy snow trail. Now, instead of hopping from rock to rock and splashing through frigid water, we are stepping delicately on melting snow. It crunches beneath our feet with every step and gives way on me once or twice, leaving me in a hole up to my thigh. I am in shorts, laughing while my leg numbs and I scramble out of the hole. It is slow-going, but I don’t feel like we are in any danger. It’s 0.8 miles over the snow. Normally, it would be a short jaunt. We are nearly there, Alex says, when we come to a crossing that makes us hesitate. The snow is at a steep slant on the side of the hill and we have to get over it to keep going. High on the slant there is a packed foot trail to the other side. It doesn’t appear that anyone has slipped and gone sliding out of control down the hill, but if they had they would have skipped over rocks and fallen trees. It wouldn’t be comfortable, like sledding or skiing, and I’m afraid for a second that I might be the first to end up down there. I am rather clumsy, after all. Alex goes first and yells back to me to jam the side of my foot into the snow for better support as I go.

My first few steps are not a challenge, but then I slip and fall. My top foot is jammed into the snow, but my bottom foot slides and is fully extended down the hill. I push my hands into the snow for stability and stand up slowly. I am nervous for the rest of the short crossing, but I make it without any other errors. I don’t mind feeling nervous for the 15 steps I have left. It’s a good way to make my senses, confidence, and concentration come alive. It’s a good way to practice focusing. Within minutes of the crossing, we are at Ouzel Falls. We are all alone there, like on most of the decent-length hikes we’ve done so far.

Ouzel Falls has its own space. It is not crunched between two carved out rocks or two banks. It is in an area that is cavernous. There are rounded-out rocks all around it, as if they opened up so we could see the falls. Alex thinks it may be the highest falls in the park, but he’s not quite sure. It’s the highest he’s seen, he tells me. Always at waterfalls, I am curious about what it looks like at the top, where it drops over the edge of the rocks. But here, I am especially curious. On the way to the falls, we rounded the back of the rock that it comes off of. I picture it being flat and warm at the top and I can see trees growing up there. I look around for a safe way up, but it is impossible right now with the surrounding snow. I am not sure there will be a way up ever, even with the snow gone later in the summer.

Everything there is wet, either from the falls or the melting snow, and we are stepping gingerly on logs and rocks to get to a good spot to sit. We linger long enough to eat a snack and then head down, passing more and more people as the day goes on. Most of them are probably on their way to Calypso Cascades, which is below Ouzel and more accessible this time of year. Maybe not, but it seems that Ouzel might be alone for a while, until the sun beats down on its caverns and melts all the snow away.

Source for hiking details: Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, A Falcon Guide by Kent and Donna Dannen. 


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