Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Autumn Gorge Waterfalls

Are you tired of fall colors yet?

Hang in there - I have one more set of photos to share.  Another autumn tradition of mine is to spend a day touring the Columbia River Gorge visiting as many waterfalls as time allows.

Leaf stuck on trail sign

A gloomy Saturday in early November had me debating whether to resurrect this annual waterfall extravaganza or stay home.  Rain was forecast, and a large squall had just passed by.  But I knew the days of leaf color were numbered.  One good windstorm would clear the trees for the year.  So although the chances of a dry hike weren't great, I decided to pack my camera bag and go just the same.

Golden forest

The steep cliffs and abundant rainfall of the Columbia River Gorge create many spectacular cascades.  Although I've never met a waterfall I didn't like, I'll admit to having a few favorites.  One of these is the elegant Elowah Falls.  A couple of years had passed since my last visit.  I decided today was a good day to get reacquainted.

Fallen leaves decorate the trail

All that morning's hemming and hawing had burned time, so it was nearly noon when I pulled in to the small parking area at the John B. Yeon Trailhead.  But today was my lucky day - I scored the last parking spot (this trailhead is so popular parked cars normally line the adjacent road for at least half a mile.)

Sunny colors on a gloomy day

After taking the necessary rainy day precautions (rain jacket - check, gaiters - check, pack cover - check, get the picture) I headed out into a still-dry forest.  I was instantly captivated by the numerous yellow leaves amongst a stately Douglas Fir backdrop.

Elowah Falls

The trail to Elowah Falls is a mere mile and a half, and even with a few photo breaks, I was switchbacking down into it's mossy valley in no time.  I followed McCord Creek's delightful fern-covered banks, now enhanced by golden fallen leaves and more yellow color in the adjacent trees above.

Lovely color on the adjacent rock face

But the best was yet to come - upon entering an enormous cliff-rimmed canyon, I gasped at the lovely shades of yellow, orange and green covering it's basalt walls.  And front and center flowed Elowah Falls, her 289 foot tall cascade thundering into the creek below.

Framed with moss and colorful leaves

Of course the rain decided to time its return upon my arrival.  As I was erecting tripod and camera for a photo session, the heavens opened up.

A tall cascade!

There's nothing more difficult than trying to capture a gushing waterfall in the pouring rain.  Not only did I have to protect my camera from the waterfall's spray, I also had to shield it from fat raindrops above.  Good thing I'd packed several microfiber cloths - they came in handy to wipe off my lens, which I did constantly between takes.

Moss-draped trees

Due to it's height, Elowah was a difficult waterfall to capture.  Not wanting to switch to a wide angle lens in the pouring rain, I had to make do with my 24-105mm.  To get the entire cascade in the frame required a bit of distance (aka "human zoom") and in this narrow canyon, there wasn't a lot of safe places to set up a tripod.  I tried balancing on a slippery slope above the splash pool, and when that didn't work, I set up on a creek bed below the footbridge.  

The lower creek

Rainy weather is good for only one thing - keeping the crowds away.  The entire time I spent at Elowah Falls only one other man shared this scenic little canyon space, and he didn't stay long.

Foggy forest

Despite the "liquid sunshine," my time at Elowah Falls was enjoyable.  But, finally tiring of the constant battle to keep my camera dry (and losing), I decided to pack up and head back to my car.

More bright leaves

Climbing back up through the lovely fall forest, I spotted a trail junction.  Another 3/4 mile climb would take me to a second impressive cascade - Upper McCord Creek Falls.  Should I go for it? 

Fog bank creeping into the Gorge know the answer.  Of course I took the upper path!  Several years had passed since I'd hiked up here and I was due for a return trip.

Interesting clouds

I climbed through more dense, foggy woods until topping off on a high ridge.  Gorge views opened up before me.  Despite the low clouds and fog rolling in, this lofty perch offered some great panoramas of the Columbia River's Washington side.  And all those clouds made for some fantastic photos.

Trail to Upper McCord Creek Falls

Beyond the viewpoints, the trail became a narrow ledge that appeared to have been blasted into the cliff side.  Wobbly metal handrails offered some protection (although I shied away and stayed near the rock walls). 

Good thing there's a railing!

But walking along this catwalk was kind of cool.  Although the fog was creeping in, I enjoyed more views across the Gorge's green slopes.  Approaching the canyon's end, I found myself looking down into Elowah Falls' mossy canyon, even spying the top of the waterfall itself!

Lovely Upper McCord Creek Falls

And then I came upon the lovely twin fans of Upper McCord Creek Falls.  Rushing over cliffs trimmed in fall hues, they were even prettier than I remembered. 

Old pipe crosses the trail

I had to photograph fast, as a fog bank was slowly creeping up the canyon.  Not five minutes after my arrival, the entire waterfall became masked by a wall of white.  About then a large group of hikers came tromping up the trail, and I smugly informed them they'd just missed seeing the falls.

Trailhead water tank

As I headed back down the trail, the rain decided it was time for an encore.  Trying to protect my camera from further dousing, I made a beeline for the trailhead without many photo breaks.  But despite the rain, an ancient wooden water tank adjacent to the parking lot caught my eye.  What photographer can resist capturing such a mossy, old structure?

Water spout

Fall is truly my favorite season to explore the Columbia River Gorge.  Although beautiful year-round, the palette of autumn colors, green mosses and ferns, and gushing waterfalls (not to mention the smaller crowds) makes this the prime time to experience the Gorge at its finest.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Afternoon on Hardy Ridge

What does one do when their Friday off gets cluttered with appointments and tasks - but all they really want to do is go hiking?  Answer - schedule the chores in the morning and go hiking in the afternoon!

And - choose a nearby trail.

Lovely backlit leaves

When I'm pressed for time but still want a good bit of exercise, the Hardy Ridge Trail always fits the bill.  Located in Beacon Rock State Park, it's close-in location (Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge) means a quick drive for those of us in the Portland area.  If you're looking for the most hiking bang for your buck, this path delivers!

Bright colored leaves and dewdrops

Friday was predicted to be the lone sunny day for this final week of October, before more rain moved in again (just in time for the weekend, of course!).  So after completing all my morning commitments, I eagerly loaded up my backpack and camera.  Pulling into the Hardy Ridge parking lot at high noon, I knew I'd have to hustle if I was going to complete the entire 9-mile loop before dark.

Yellow leaves and blue sky

The first mile or so follows an old abandoned road, lined on both sides by thick forests.  The leaves were in full color mode and I took many "photo breaks" to capture their lovely hues.  Bright sunshine backlit some leaves and leftover morning dewdrops, making them sparkle like jewels.

The famous "boot rock"

After following the old road, and detouring on a short trail through the forest, my climbing began!  With a total elevation gain of 2500 feet, I climbed for quite awhile.  Although the autumn colors were mostly over in these higher forests, I did pass by one local landmark, an unusual boot-shaped rock sitting on an old tree stump.

A lot drier now than last spring!

Arriving at the junction of my loop trail, I had to get a GoPro selfie to compare with the photo I took here during last spring's soggy hike.

Columbia River view from on high

Then I kept climbing until my path leveled out on the ridgetop.  Unlike last spring's foggy, rainy hike, today's sunny skies unveiled the fabulous Gorge views this trail is known for.  The Columbia River spread out below, like a wide blue ribbon.

Table Mountain

Heading due east across the ridge, I was treated to this grand view of Table Mountain.

My route along Hardy Ridge

Everything looked so different in the fall!  Instead of lush green foliage and vividly colored wildflowers, the treeless ridgetop was mostly brown.  But I was loving the big blue sky and panoramic vistas.

Dazzling green moss

A sketchy user trail takes hikers across Hardy Ridge's spine until terminating at Phlox Point.  As I approached the end, I noticed a huge patch of electric lime-green moss covering the ground.

Mt Hood made an appearance

Phlox Point makes a wonderful resting/lunch/photo point.  Today's sunny skies meant I could see the entire Gorge and Columbia River spread out below.  Mt Hood's pointy top rose above the Gorge foothills, sporting her new coat of winter white.

My lunch view

Rest break spots don't get much better than this!

Patchwork color on the ridge

After soaking in the views and enjoying my snack, I knew it was time to get moving if I wanted to get back to my car before dark.  At least the downhill trip would be quicker than my climb!

Leaves in afternoon light

So back across the ridge I went, snapping a few more shots of the fab view.  I could see clouds starting to move in from the west - tomorrow's rainstorm approaching.  Made me glad I rearranged my schedule and fit this hike in today's weather window.

Barren trees give way to river views

I took a different trail back down the ridge.  It switchbacked steeply and endlessly.  I thought I'd never reach the next abandoned road section, but of course it did finally materialize.  Following a flat stretch for a bit, I enjoyed more Gorge glimpses through the now-bare forest.

Last leaf

There was still quite a bit of green hanging on in these forests.  And a few golden leaves too.

Beautiful woods walk

Late afternoon light illuminated the adjacent woods beautifully.

Late afternoon light on the forest

And lower down, the trees still retained their golden leaves.  But not for long....I could tell autumn colors were nearing the season's tail end.

Last of the fall color

Finally I reached the same road I'd walked in on.  From here it was an extremely long mile-plus trudge to my car - that seemed to take forever (I swore the trail stretchers had been out!)  But the promise of a reward - beers and burger at one of my favorite Gorge brewpubs had me arriving at my car well before sundown.  (Beer and food are always good motivators!) 

Leaf pile

The entire month of October was so rainy, I'm glad I took advantage of this rare sunny day to get my weekly outdoor fix.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop

One of the classic Gorge Fall hikes is the lovely Multnomah - Wahkeena Loop.  It's a trail I hike every fall (long-time blog followers will no doubt already know this!)  So continuing on the theme of "Autumn's Greatest Hits," here's a photographic recap of my mid-October visit to this stunningly beautiful place.

Slender cascades stream down this rock face

After seeing photos on the Portland Hikers Facebook page touting lovely leaf colors peaking along the Wahkeena Trail, I knew the time had come to make my annual trek.  So the Sunday following my Silver Falls State Park visit, I recharged my camera for the weekend's second autumn photoshoot.  One of the best things about this hike is it's a quick 45-minute drive from my house.  Traveling through the Columbia River Gorge this time of year is always a treat.  Brilliant oranges and yellows lined the Historic Highway as I approached the trailhead at Wahkeena Falls.

Train tracks view from the Gorge Trail

Over the years I've done this loop many times, started at different places, and hiked the trails in both directions.  Today, I decided to do the loop clockwise starting at Wahkeena Falls. I began on the Gorge Trail for a short half mile to Multnomah Falls.  A quick ramble through colorful woods, I passed by a tall cliff dripping with tiny rivulets, and was treated to scenic glimpses of railroad tracks through the trees.

Mighty Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls is always a busy place, and today was no exception.  Despite the cloudy, gray, damp weather, a good crowd had gathered on the lower viewing platform, and many more clogged the path up to the picturesque Benson Bridge.  A top tourist draw - at 611 total feet in height, this lovely cascade is the tallest waterfall in Oregon.  (The upper falls is 542 feet high, while the second tier measures a respectable 69 foot drop.)

Lookin' good with her autumn wardrobe!

Changing trees surrounding Multnomah Falls makes autumn an especially scenic time to visit (hence the throngs of people...)  The waterfall looked fantastic surrounded by colorful orange and yellow leaves just reaching peak color.  Although not packing my tripod, I was still able to capture some great images of this gorgeous waterfall.  With scenery this stunning it's not difficult.

Upper falls from above the Benson Bridge

After photographing from the lower viewpoint, I dodged tourists and trekked to the Benson Bridge for some up close and personal views.  Recent heavy rainfall had the falls roaring, and anyone standing on the bridge was instantly doused with spray.  Wishing to avoid such a camera-unfriendly situation, I waited until I'd passed the bridge before snapping a couple of upper falls images.

Gnarly tree branches

Then my climbing began!  Although paved, the trail to the top of Multnomah Falls gained 700 feet in eleven long switchbacks (and to add insult to injury, each switchback was numbered).  It didn't take long before I was puffing heavily and shedding clothing layers.

Beautiful Multnomah Creek

At the very top of the climb, there's a short path that takes visitors to the very top of the falls.  Having seen this sight many times already, I was planning bypass this detour, continuing on the Larch Mtn trail another mile to the Wahkeena Falls junction.  But a huge downed tree blocked this trail just beyond the viewpoint turnoff, putting the kibosh on any uphill travel.

Mossy delight

I sized up the situation.  There wasn't enough room to shimmy under the tree.  And climbing over it with my backpack and camera bag strapped on would be dangerously awkward.  Was I going to have to cancel my plans and turn around?

After pondering a bit, I decided to shed my baggage, sliding it under the tree to the opposite side.  Now unencumbered, I was able to clamber onto the wet, slippery bark and hoist myself over.  It wasn't easy, but I made it.  And my acrobatics even impressed a man watching from the other side!

Weisendanger Falls

That large fallen log definitely kept the crowds down!  I traversed the entire trail to Wahkeena junction without seeing more than a handful of people.  It was definitely a magical place to have all to myself.  Large, gnarled, mossy branches overhung the forest.  Thick, multi-hued vegetation lined my path.  And a couple more mighty waterfalls churned through nearby Multnomah Creek.

I just loved all the mossy branches!

I was having so much fun taking in this spectacular scenery, the Wahkeena Trail junction appeared in no time.  Continuing up the Wahkeena Trail, I thought I'd left the best of this autumn finery behind.  But the color show wasn't over yet......

Yellow burst in the woods

Climbing upwards through more mossy green forest, a huge patch of yellow leaves lit up the woods like a beacon.

Fabulous yellow leaf colors

Absolutely stunning!  Comparing photos from previous years (I'm realizing I tend to take photos of the same places each visit) this was definitely some of the best leaf color ever.

Branch silhouette

Nope, photos don't lie.  This year's autumn show was incredible.

Wahkeena Trail was an autumn wonderland

I traipsed along the trail, clicking away, a huge smile plastered across my face.

Really brightened up the forest

The entire Wahkeena trail, from the Multnomah junction to Wahkeena Springs was one huge golden color-fest. 

Funny graffiti

Reaching the trail sign at Wahkeena Springs, I was amused by the graffiti written near the bottom.  Although I'm not in favor of defacing anything, I must admit it made me chuckle.

Old fallen leaves

Then began the downward march to my car. 

Lovely little Wahkeena Creek

The trail switchbacked down a steep, muddy path, following charming little Wahkeena Creek.  I passed by lovely little Fairy Falls, but there was already a crowd gathered at it's base, so I kept on walking.

Spotted leaf

I admired the patterns and colors the already-fallen leaves made on the trail.

Approaching Lemmon viewpoint

Passing by Lemmon Viewpoint, I took a quick detour to get a good look at the Columbia River.  Although it's opposite shore was a lovely patchwork-quilt of colors, the light was at the wrong angle for photographs.

Ferns and leaf

From Lemmon Viewpoint, the trail transitioned into an asphalt path.  With the improved trail came a sharp increase in the number of hikers.  The closer I traveled towards the trailhead, the more people (especially unprepared for hiking) I encountered.

Bench with a view

Just before Wahkeena Falls, I came upon this idyllic bench surrounded by a huge swath of colors.  A  perfect photo op!  But it quickly became overtaken by a large family who decided to hang out for awhile.  I waited patiently for several minutes before the group finally moved on.

Wahkeena Falls was a busy place

Upper Wahkeena Falls is a mere 1/4 mile from the trailhead.  Due to it's close proximity the path below is usually packed with people.  I tried for a few quick images of this cascade, but a people-free frame was virtually impossible.  This shot was the best I could do.

Wahkeena Falls through the autumn colors

Crowds or not, it still was a splendid place.  Yellow leaves brightened the adjacent forest, with a swirling whitewater creek as it's centerpiece.

Downstream from Wahkeena Falls

Covering the final distance to my car, I was immensely pleased.  A memory card full of outstanding fall colors and good bit of exercise to boost my mood.  And despite threatening clouds, I lucked out with a dry day.

GoPro selfie

A delightful trek!  I was able to fit this adventure into a Sunday afternoon and still be home well before dinner.

Stats:  5.4 miles round trip, 1600 feet elevation gain

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