SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Backpacker Magazine – June 2002

Best Waterfall Hikes

Learn the weird science behind our addiction to waterfalls, and the location of the best trails in North America.

by: Steve Howe

PAGE 1 2

Mike Stevens is a bit manic about falling water. Along with friends Lee Whittlesey and Paul Rubinstein, the high school math teacher has hiked thousands of off-trail miles in Yellowstone National Park's backcountry searching for previously undiscovered waterfalls. In 7 years, the trio has cataloged 240 cataracts, nearly quintupling the number of known falls in the park.

Why such effort? Stevens and crew admit to enjoying their brush with immortality. "I'm in awe of Yellowstone," he admits. "And the prospect of one day being connected to a place I love so much is very satisfying." But they insist there's a deeper urge to their fall-bagging mania, a passion that resonates across time and cultures.

Poets, priests, and artists have known this passion. So have pilgrims and pioneers. Waterfalls factor in many mythologies, and the literature of the American West is littered with tales of mighty rivers plunging over magnificent cliffs. John Muir delighted in the roaring falls of California's Sierra Nevada, calling them "a fit voice for such a landscape."

Backpackers understand the fascination, too. When a bend in the trail reveals a torrent in freefall, we're struck dumb by wonder. Even the quiet burbling of a small stream exerts a seductive, hypnotic attraction.

"I have an obsession going with waterfalls," admits Bryan Swan, 20, of Bellevue, WA. As a hiker and Web master for the Pacific Northwest Waterfall Database (www.wpnw.addr.com/pnwd/index.html), Swan estimates he's visited 425 falls in the Northwest alone, and suspects his overall tally might be 700.

"Waterfalls are like snowflakes-no two are alike," Swan contends. "And you get that charge when you go in there. I can't put a finger on the exact attraction, but there's a primal force you can't get anywhere else."

Turns out there's some weird science to explain the attraction. Sun, lightning, seashore waves, and waterfalls all create electrically charged particles called ions. Scientists credit negatively charged atmospheric ions, a by-product of misting water, with the "fresh" feel of clean air. They've also been found to calm moods by altering the brain's serotonin levels in much the same way that Prozac does. Waterfalls produce negative ions in abundance; the concentration near a pounding cascade is 5,000 times that of an office or on a city street, and hundreds of times higher than sea or lakeshores.

The bottom line to all this biochemistry is that there are few things so uplifting as a wild waterfall. But where does the water come from? And what makes a good cascade? Some answers lie in the ways they're created.


PAGE 1 2


Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Gear
Sierra Designs website
Posted On: Apr 20, 2014
Submitted By: Kia Kaha
Gear
Thinking About Buying Trekking Poles
Posted On: Apr 20, 2014
Submitted By: big_load
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions