Vermonter Dean Goss is an expert on the world’s cascades
When his time comes, Dean Goss, 42, knows exactly where he wants his ashes scattered: on the waterfall at Bristol Memorial Park on Route 17. That’s where Goss got his first taste of an airborne stream 40 years ago. “I am a little kid walking down the path,” he remembers, “seeing the falls starting on the lefthand side of the path and coming toward a pretty impressive footbridge over a very deep gorge.”
That image stuck with Goss, who admits that over the years his fascination with waterfalls has turned into an obsession. “I collected information on waterfalls the way other kids collected baseball cards,” he says with a laugh. The Jericho resident has 2400 postcards with images of waterfalls, and more than 100 books on the subject.
It’s not just a private hobby, though. Goss and a partner, Bryan Swan of Seattle, administer the World Waterfall Database (http://www.world-waterfalls.com), an online resource they hope will one day document and classify every waterfall in the world with the help of a global team of enthusiasts. The Vermont native also maintains a site focused closer to home, Waterfalls of the Northeastern United States (http://www.northeastwaterfalls.com).
Goss is an easygoing, talkative guy with a graying, neatly cropped goatee. His job as a manager and driver at Domino’s Pizza in Burlington gives him some flexibility when it comes to chasing his streams. He’s a Pisces — a water sign — and his wife is named Misty. But she “doesn’t share the addiction that I have,” he acknowledges. “If we go out in the summertime, she asks, ‘Can we go to some place other than a waterfall?’ I say OK, grudgingly.”
Goss’ interest has arguably earned him the right to be called the world’s foremost waterfall authority — though the title makes him wince. He prefers “waterfall hunter” or “waterfaller.” The waterfall community, he explains, hasn’t agreed on a name yet. “We just call it waterfalling.”
With their database, Goss and Swan have set themselves an ambitious goal, but they have the support and input of an international community of waterfall fans whose numbers, Goss says, are impossible to pin down. There is no official waterfallers association. And, while other websites deal with some aspects of waterfalls, Goss and Swan’s is steps ahead. “Anybody who wants to copy us better bring their running shoes,” Goss suggests.
Water shoes might be more appropriate footwear. Goss wears water shoes or goes barefoot as he slogs upstream toward the base of a torrent. That’s the best and most obvious vantage point for viewing. Most of the 330 documented waterfalls in Vermont — perhaps 80 percent, he says — have trails or informal pathways leading to their bases. But as a photographer, Goss often chooses other vantages and approaches to waterfalls, sometimes crawling on his stomach to canyon edges to get a better view. He does not recommend this practice to others — and he does recommend contacting the landowner before visiting any falls on private property.
“Waterfalls inspire the shutterbug in people,” Goss says, standing on a knoll before the 85-foot-tall Moss Glen Falls in Stowe. By waterfall standards, this Moss Glen is rather tame, despite the melting snow that swelled it this spring. (Granville boasts a second “Moss Glen” — a favorite of Goss’ almost-7-year-old son Orin.) Still, Goss points out, if you were to tumble the falls’ rocky length to the pool at the bottom, it would be your first and only tumble.
Some daredevil types, he notes, rappel down waterfalls — they call it canyoning. Others take kayaks into the raging stream, a sport akin to going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. “There’s no force in the world that would convince me to put myself in a barrel,” Goss says.
Vermont is known for its scenery, but how do our waterfalls rank in a global context? “We’ve got some great waterfalls,” Goss declares. “We’re not going to have waterfalls that can compete fairly with California or Washington State. They’ve got some real big boys out West.”
The highest waterfall in Vermont, Goss says, is the 880-foot Smugglers’ Falls near the notch on Route 108 in Cambridge. By comparison, the highest documented waterfall in the world is the 3212-foot Salto Angel in Canaima National Park in Venezuela.
Waterfalls, like all things, can be dissected and classified. Geologist and author Greg Plumb, also a waterfaller, created a system that most others have adopted, says Goss. “He’s developed a fairly advanced logarithmic calculation for the visual magnitude of a waterfall. He’s taken into account certain things such as verticality of the water flow — basically, just how much eye-pop does a waterfall have?” he says. “Obviously, something 1000 feet tall flung at 1000 cubic feet per second is going to have a lot more eye-popping than a 10-footer flowing at 10 cfs.”
Goss’ own description of what he values in a waterfall is simpler and more poetic: “There are a lot of different styles of waterfalls, whether they be the horsetail configuration or a plunge or a cascade or a segmented or tiered,” he says. “For me, I prefer uniqueness of form.”
And roar. Roar can be a good thing or a bad thing. If you’re approaching a waterfall on foot, increasing roar means you’re getting closer. When you’re out canoeing, kayaking or floating in a barrel on a river, increasing roar means you are about to be swept over the horizon.
“Roar is definitely part of the impact. Roar is purely a function of water volume,” Goss notes. “Moss Glen is in an amphitheater, so the noise is sort of funneled and focused toward you. Moss Glen is also fun because you sneak around the corner and then the fall comes into view.”
Goss oversees the waterfall websites and answers the daily batch of emails they receive — one boy asked if there’s a waterfall in the United States big enough to power the whole country. (The answer, regrettably, is no.) In addition, Goss has been compiling information and photographs for a book he hopes to publish someday about Vermont waterfalls. It’s sure to include his favorite, at Bristol Memorial Park, where he plans to have his final resting place. “I figure that’s where it started, and that’s the logical place for it all to end.”
Wet and Wild
Want to dip your toes in some Vermont waterfalls this summer? Here’s how Dean Goss describes the state’s best:
Hamilton Falls, Jamaica, Windham County. The waters of Cobb Brook leap 125 feet down a steep rock face on their way to the West River downstream. Cobb Brook slides down a bedrock chute into a green pool. At the exit of the pool, the waters slide steeply down a rocky slope, leaping free into a pocket carved in the rock. The falls then slide 30 feet down the rocks into a deep green pool.
The Falls of Lana, Salisbury, Addison County. The waters of Sucker Brook flow along a rocky ledge that acts as a retaining wall. At a point where that wall is breached, the falls make a right-angle turn and drop over a 40-foot twin-stepped falls into a deep pool. The waters leave the pool at a right angle to the upper falls and slide 40 feet down a sloping cascade that roughly resembles a stairway with a banister. At the base of this drop, the falls make a right-angle turn, veil 20 feet down a rock face making a second 90-degree turn, dropping 10 feet over a fractured ledge of water-worn marble. This is perhaps the most unique waterfall formation I’ve seen to date.
Moss Glen Falls, Stowe, Lamoille County. The stream meanders through a flat meadowed setting before entering a tight gorge, dropping over several smaller falls, before making a spectacular 125-foot exit from the narrow confines. A sheer plunge of about 25 feet collects in a pool before veiling 100 feet down a steep rock face.
Bingham Falls, Stowe, Lamoille County. The West Branch of the Waterbury River slides down a sloping cascade, surges into a pool, then drops into a deep rugged gorge. After dropping over several steep cascades, the waters leap through a narrow notch and plunge 25 feet into a deep green pool below. The waters have carved the bedrock nicely here.
Big Falls, Troy, Orleans County. The Missisquoi River segments around a small rocky island, then combines to drop into a spectacular gorge. The view of the falls from the edge of the 80-foot adjacent cliff is not for the faint of heart. You may cautiously explore the ledges near the falls for other viewpoints. This is the largest undammed waterfall in the state of Vermont.
Lye Brook Falls, Manchester, Bennington County. A tributary of Lye Brook slides down a long rocky wall at the end of a 2.3-mile hike. This waterfall was once referred to as the Trestle Cascade because it was just above an old logging railroad trestle. The trestle is long gone, and the rail grade converted into a fairly popular hike to a very nice waterfall that is perhaps 160 feet tall.
Moss Glen Falls, Granville, Addison County. This isn’t the tallest waterfall you’ll ever see, nor is it the largest waterfall in terms of volume. What you have in Moss Glen Falls is one of the most scenic waterfalls in the state of Vermont. Deer Hollow Brook leaps through a narrow gap at the head of a 30-foot-tall cliff face that gracefully spreads the waters over its face. As a bonus, Little Moss Glen Falls is one watercourse to the north and is passed on the short walkway to the main attraction.
Old City Falls, Strafford, Orange County. This is a 45-foot, two-tiered drop. The first drop is a 25-foot plunge into a shallow pool. The outlet of the pool slides about 20 feet down an angled bedrock ledge. The trail to the falls is a straightforward dogleg with a flight of stairs. As you make your way back up the ravine to the falls, you’ll see the crest of the upper tier before the rest of the falls comes into view. The falls are the centerpiece of a small, well-maintained recreation area in an out-of-the-way place.
Jefferson Falls, Cambridge, Lamoille County. A series of falls starts in a tight gorge, ending as a waterfall over a jumbled pile of boulders. The Brewster River drops into a very narrow gorge no more than a few feet wide, perhaps the tightest gorge I’ve seen in the entire state. After drops over two pothole falls, the gorge opens and the river flows over, under and around a pile of jagged boulders that have fallen off the rock faces adjacent to the falls.
Source: World Waterfall Database.