Carbon Falls

Pierce County, Washington

Detailed Info

Carbon Falls is an unofficially named waterfall which occurs along an unnamed seasonal stream that drains the Northern Crags and west face of Crescent Mountain near the toe of the Carbon Glacier. The falls plunge a sheer 202-feet over a dark cliff of andesite, which causes the water to explode outward in a powerful firehose effect during heavy flow. The falls are not well regarded because they cannot be seen from the popular Northern Loop Trail which passes near its base, and while it formerly was visible from the Carbon Glacier Trail on the west side of the valley, flooding in 2003 and 2006 destroyed the Carbon Glacier Trail between the Northern Loop junction and Cataract Creek, so there is no longer a way to see the falls from a distance.

We should note that in all volumes of Greg Plumb's Waterfall Lovers Guide books, Carbon Falls is stated to consist of two tiers. While there does appear to be an upper falls along the creek, it is situated over one-eighth of a mile upstream from the lower falls, a distance too great for it to be considered part of the same waterfall. Additionally, it isn't clear that this upper falls even lies on the same stream - it may instead be a smaller tributary to the main watercourse, and if this is the case then it should not be considered an upper falls, but rather an ancillary tributary waterfall. We have not been able to verify the significance of the upper falls through any of our survey efforts.

History and Naming

Carbon Falls is the Unofficial name of this waterfall.

Photo Tips

The area around the base of the falls is really not conducive to facilitating different compositions - the brush is copious and thick where the terrain is fairly level, and where the brush is sparse the terrain is steep and difficult to deal with. Were conditions a bit friendlier this might be a rather good subject, but as it is the terrain coupled with the heavy spray and wind generated by the falls makes the whole situation rather unfriendly to photography. The falls face west and should see direct sunlight in the afternoon hours.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   46.95667, -121.78946
Elevation:   3275 feet
USGS Map:   Mowich Lake 7 1/2"

Take Highway 410 to the town of Buckley, then bear east onto Highway 165, signed for Carbonado, Wilkeson and Mt. Rainier. Follow Highway 165 for 16 miles, bearing left at the fork (follow signs to Carbon River) after the Fairfax Bridge, to its end at the National Park boundary – the road beyond having been closed permanently due to extensive flood damage. Continue either on foot or bicycle for another 4.9 miles to the former end of the road at the Ipsut Creek Campground (now a backcountry camp). Park your bike if necessary and continue on foot along the Carbon Glacier Trail from here. The Carbon Glacier Trail climbs moderately along the side of the valley for 2 miles, at which point flood damage has resulted in an indefinite (likely permanent) closure of the west-side trail, so all travel must detour across the valley on the Northern Loop Trail (the bridges over the Carbon River are seasonal and are not guaranteed to be in). Once across to the Northern Loop trail, head right at the junction (left goes to Windy Gap and Lake James). Just under 3 miles from the Ipsut Creek Campground the trail crosses the stream which produces Carbon Falls on a small foot log. Do not follow the creek upstream here, instead continue another 300 to 400 feet along the Northern Loop Trail to where the forest appears largely brush free and the falls are audible. Once the understory looks acceptably open, bail off the trail and head east towards the valley wall. The falls are situated about an eighth of a mile from the trail. Stay well away from the creek to avoid thick brush, keeping to the open forest and eventually the falls should become visible through the trees. The final 200-300 feet are rather steep, so be mindful of your footing, and clear views of the falls are somewhat hard to come by, so be prepared to scramble around (and potentially deal with lots of Devil's Club) for a good view.

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Other Nearby Waterfalls

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By The Numbers

The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.

Total Height

The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.

Tallest Drop

The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.

Num of Drops

The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.

Avg Width

The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.

Maximum Width

Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.

Pitch

The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.

Run

The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.

Form

The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.

Watershed

The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.

Stream

The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.

Avg Volume

The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.

Source

If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.

Flow Consistency

A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).

Best Flow

A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.

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Key

Cataloged Icon
Cataloged
Waterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
Confirmed Icon
Confirmed
Confirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
Unconfirmed Icon
Unconfirmed
Unconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
Unknown Icon
Unknown
Waterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
Inundated Icon
Inundated
Inundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
Subterranean Icon
Subterranean
Though not common, some waterfalls can be found entirely underground within cave systems. Access to subterranean waterfalls can vary from easy via developed walkways to requiring a high level of extremely technical spelunking skill, including familiarity with ropework and a distinct lack of claustrophobia.
Disqualified Icon
Disqualified
Waterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
Posted Icon
Posted
Posted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.
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