Dropping In

Cheap thrills in Bucket Holes

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

For 25 years—ever since my trail crew buddy Deacon Shumway and his rock-jock neighbor Uncle Don started dragging me along on their laborious feats of high-angle derring-do all over the North Cascades—I’ve listened to them discuss, ballyhoo and wax philosophical about an enticing stretch of creek canyon called Bucket Holes.

To hear them talk, you’d never believe there were any purer emerald-green waters or gravel-lined plunge pools to be found on Earth. They’d been dropping into Bucket Holes since the early 1980s and the paradisiacal atmosphere fused itself into their cognitive process. 

When, for instance, we once found ourselves cowering beneath an overhang during an electrical storm on the south face of Liberty Bell, they would sigh wistfully and mutter something to the effect of, “Well, as unpleasant as this predicament might be, it’s a walk through the park compared to Bucket Holes.” 

Once, when we found ourselves slogging down a miserable, rain-swept mountainside heading back to our rig after a fraught, terror-stricken attempt to summit multiple peaks in the Pickett Range, they invoked the canyon to lighten the mood. 

One of them would shout “Bucket Holes!,” causing the other to laugh and repeat the name in joyous refrain. They enjoyed this so much it became difficult for them to stop. An hour would pass and “Bucket Holes” was the only thing they’d said to each other.

Yet, oddly enough, never once during all those times—even as I repeatedly expressed keen interest to visit Bucket Holes—did my otherwise effusive and generous benefactors feel compelled to betray even the faintest whiff of their precious canyon’s whereabouts to me.

It wasn’t until late last summer, when Uncle Don casually veered off the old wagon road we were following through a remote valley bottom near Poodle Dog Pass and bade me to follow him somewhere “super-rad and super-gnarly” deep in the forest, that I was finally deemed worthy enough to penetrate this vaunted riparian redoubt.     

The first and most critical thing I learned is that there aren’t any trails leading into Bucket Holes. We had to finagle our initial descent down the cliffy embankment by wrapping a sufficient length of rope around the base of a stout tree trunk and employing some old-school self-belay techniques.

Once we reached the top of the first waterfall, Uncle Don pulled the rope down, coiled it neatly into a waterproof sack and promptly chucked himself over the lip of the falls, plummeting a long way into the conical bucket-shaped pool below. 

Harrowingly and with considerable yodeling to accentuate the acoustic amplification properties of the gorge, this same process was repeated six more times as we swam and skittered and sunbathed our way ever-deeper into the thundering landscape.

When it was over we were exhausted and soaked the bone, but also oddly reenergized. I won’t be visiting Bucket Holes again anytime soon, but I’m glad to know they’re hiding out somewhere just so I can try to find them again.

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