September 2018 update: we've removed the map and directions to Hard Scrabble Falls from this post. Per Northwest Waterfall Survey, "Unfortunately, due to increased and irresponsible activities of late at the falls, the landowner has asked that directions to this waterfall be removed. Please be respectful of the landowner's rights and do not trespass to visit this waterfall."
If it weren’t for Ken Jennings, you wouldn’t be reading this post.
Sometime in early 2013 I picked up a copy of Jennings’ “Maphead” at Bellingham Public Library. Maphead contains a chapter on Geocaching which, if you are not familiar, is a rather rewarding way to kill time searching for hidden containers out in the woods via GPS. As of today, August 7, Team Beers at the Bottom has found 126 geocaches placed throughout Washington state and lower BC. We enjoy it. So when, at the end of his Geocaching chapter, Jennings mentioned a cache two hours north of Seattle “above a little-known waterfall on the Nooksack River not far from the Canadian border” we just had to give it a go.
The cache is called “A Hard Scrabble” and rated 5/5 stars for terrain difficulty. Its owner, Tacowolf, warns us in all caps: “THIS IS A VERY DIFFICULT SLOPE. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS CACHE ALONE.” Our first attempt was in March when Hard Scrabble Falls was flowing at full capacity, soaking us with spray as we approached its base. We were not successful in finding the cache but knew we’d be back for round two.
Round two came recently in July when Beers at the Bottom recruited our buddy Nathan to come along for A Hard Scrabble. According to the Northwest Waterfall Survey site, these falls were named by a group of settlers who scrambled (scrabbled?) over Stuart Mountain from Lake Whatcom in 1860. Likely story. Perhaps it was this group of settlers who installed the series of ropes leading to the top? More on that later.
From the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trailhead, it’s a mere ⅓ of a mile to the base of the falls. Follow the trail to Hard Scrabble Falls Creek, which you may criss-cross a few times along the way. Such crossings are far easier in summer when the water levels are low. Bring an extra pair of socks or waterproof shoes for visits during the rest of the year. Arriving at the base, you’ll be presented with one of two scenarios depending on the season: 1) a cute waterfall whose cascades are neat but reduced to a mere trickle in the summer or 2) a rabid beast of aquatic mass bursting forth from the mountainside, soaking you with spray at first sight. While the former situation makes for better hiking conditions, the latter is certainly more picturesque.
From the base of the falls, the scrabble begins. A series of 7 tree-anchored ropes awaits you. Hard Scrabble is more of a climb than a hike (did we fail to mention that earlier?) Bring your gloves, kiddos, cuz rope burn is not pleasant. About halfway up the trail forks at a log. This rest area is great for taking in a unique view of the falls. The trail to the right goes down to the base of the falls’ second tier – a worthy side trip. For now, stay left to continue up to the top of the falls.
After hoisting yourself up the steep slope, be on the lookout for A Hard Scrabble geocache near the high point of the trail (we finally found it after a bit of searching). Then drop down to the top of the falls for a clear view of the North Cascades. If you are visiting in the summer, an even better view awaits below the top-tier of the falls. We grabbed the final rope and swung down to a secluded swimming hole with panoramic views of the Twin Sisters AND Mt. Baker. The perfect place to cool off after A Hard Scrabble.