Blue sky alert! When you live in the Pacific Northwest and there’s been a grey roof hanging low over your head for months on end, it’s a little disconcerting when that roof is abruptly lifted to reveal nothing but blue above you. All of a sudden you feel a little insecure, as if somebody just removed the roof of your house. That’s what happened yesterday when our dreary weather broke and a clear & breezy day dawned. I cured the unsettled feeling by going for a hike in the Columbia River Gorge, knowing that the moist stuff would be back soon. I didn’t have to wait long; the clouds returned in force today.
Eagle Creek is one of the Gorge’s most popular hikes. And so a free weekday represents a great opportunity to do the hike. It can literally be mobbed on nice Spring weekends. I corralled my retired uncle and invited (forced?) him along. He is not a photographer but is a great conversationalist (which is much more important). Though patient he is also human. I would not wish on anybody a hike with me and my endless dawdling with tripod and camera. My uncle is patient, but he’s also human. And so I forced myself to avoid photography until the return hike, at the verdant Punchbowl Falls.
Eagle Creek is a canyon hike only 40 minute’s drive from Portland, Oregon. The trail heads up a side-canyon of the Columbia River, traversing cliffs with crazy drop-offs and passing spectacular waterfalls. If you have a serious fear of heights, use this hike to challenge yourself to face it. HA! You thought I was going to say avoid this hike. Not a chance! Of course you have a fear of heights. That’s just good sense. Now don’t let it stop you.
A common day trip is to walk the 6 miles up to Tunnel Falls (where the trail passes through a tunnel behind a big waterfall!) and then return. Just over two miles in you come to Punchbowl Falls. There is a great view of the falls from the trail, and you can also scramble down a steep trail to a view at the lip. None of these viewpoints will get you much more than snapshots or partial shots of the waterfall.
To get a really nice shot you have to be more creative. There is a nice easy trail down to the creek (which is more like a river this time of year), but it leaves you downstream just out of view of the falls. In summer’s low flows you can walk upstream, possibly not even getting your feet wet, to the alcove that holds the cascade.
But it is definitely not summer now, and the water is high. So in order to get all but the top shot, I needed to wade up to my thighs in swift, achingly cold water. I could not get too close to the falls, because of the fast water. I’m willing to hike back to the trailhead with sodden, numb feet. But I’m not into killing my camera and experiencing a near-drowning. So the shot I got was not what I ultimately want for this place, but it is definitely a good start. I might ultimately need a rubber raft.
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