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, umbrella....you 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

Well.....you 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.

Sharing with:  Through My Lens


  1. Hi Linda, what a wonderful tour through the Columbia River Gorge. Thanks for inviting me! I especially love the watertank. But the fall colors of the of the leaves are beautiful too. Have a great day. Jo

  2. Great captures, Linda. Love the falls, and the deep green moss and autumn leaves. Glad our damp PNW weather didn't deter you.
    Nice post!

  3. I will never get sick of your fall colors posts. The gorge is beautiful in the fall! :)

  4. Fotografias fantásticas da natureza no seu melhor, aquelas cascatas são uma maravilha.
    Um abraço e boa semana.

  5. Linda, thanks again for taking me along through your magical Oregon.

  6. oh my ,these photos are BREATH TAKING
    you have amazing talent of capturing the scenes dear.

  7. Spectacular photos. Thanks for sharing.- Mary Lou

  8. I can almost smell the forest in these pictures - and all without even getting damp!

  9. What a gorgeous and magnificent place, Linda! And, as always, you have captured it beautifully. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  10. I could never get tired of fall colours. Or your lovely images of them! These are beautiful.

  11. It is not possible to get tired of fall color photos! Once again you did a wonderful job despite the elements. If we end up in OR I just might have to invest in a "real" camera...

  12. Fall colors and beautiful waterfalls are never wrong!
    No wonder these are favorites :)

  13. What a beautiful hike! I love all your waterfalls! :)

  14. Oh beauty, beauty, and more beauty! You're intrepid. Even though my camera and lenses are waterproof, I've never put them to the test!

  15. Gorgeous as always - you have the most amazing waterfalls in your part of the country. Maybe they're a reward for all that rain!

  16. What awesome places you have available to hike! That first shot is one of the best waterfall shots I've ever seen!

  17. Absolutely gorgeous! I remember reading of Ansel Adams's treks to capture photos. You and Ansel have more energy than I do.

  18. Oh, I've never seen the Upper McCord Creek trail, although I have seen the sign. Looks like a fun hike!

  19. Oh wow! Super gorgeous! I hear you are getting snowed upon as we speak. Stay safe!

  20. Such beautiful waterfalls and your photos are gorgeous despite the challenging rain! Oregon is so lush and verdant. I hope you are enjoying the Christmas season, Linda.

  21. Hello Linda, the waterfalls are gorgeous. You do find the best places to hike. Lovely photos. Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

  22. Fantastic set of photos and some great waterfalls. One plus point with rain is the sheer volume of water in the rivers and the chance of beautiful mist effects as your shots highlight so well.

  23. Hi! I like your waterfalls photos very much. I also like your clouds and fog photos. Thanks for sharing.

  24. I could never tire of your Fall photos, or any of your photos for that matter!

  25. Not the kind of scenery I get here. Wonderful.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  26. All your effort was certainly worth it.

  27. I can totally relate to the rain-inspired dithering!

  28. Some gorgeous shots of gorgeous country!!!

  29. I love waterfalls and noise. Regards.

  30. As always, I love your forest photos-even more beautiful with the autumn colors! I hope you have been able to enjoy some skiing this month :)

  31. such a magical place, awesome images.

  32. I'm with you, I love waterfalls, some great shots (and devotion) in the wet weather!


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