I don't know what I was thinking.......Maybe I was jonesing for a Gorge waterfall fix.....maybe I wanted to see the wildflowers.....maybe I had vacation hangover. Whatever the reason, I decided to hike the Eagle Creek Trail one beautiful Saturday in mid-May.
|Cable and flowers|
What's the big deal, you ask? Only that this spectacular, uber-green, waterfall-filled trail is by far the Columbia River Gorge's most popular. If you want to avoid the masses (which I normally do) this is not the place to go on a sunny weekend.
|Eagle Creek, far below the trail|
But the weather was supposed to be gorgeous, and throwing caution to the wind, I decided Eagle Creek Trail would be my hike of choice.
All was going well, I got to the trailhead early enough to snag a good parking spot, and the weather was still foggy and cool just the way I like it. Then I realized I'd forgotten my custom orthotics. Doh!
What to do now? I wasn't about to turn around and drive the 45 minutes back home. I'd hiked a short distance without orthotics once before but planned to travel 12 miles today. Hmmmmm.....I was already here and it was a beautiful day. My feet might get a little sore, but what's the worst that could happen?
|Shelf blasted into the rock|
After making a couple of quick boot adjustments, I shouldered my backpack and was off. The trail follows lovely Eagle Creek for a short distance before climbing high above its gurgling waters. Parts of the path hug steep cliffs, created by blasting a shelf into the rock itself.
|Field of purple|
I was pleased to discover the wildflowers out in force! These gorgeous purple-hued flowers carpeted the side of a steep slope. (I later learned they were called Blue-eyed Mary.)
Last winter's cold temperatures and near-record rainfall wreaked havoc on Gorge trails, and Eagle Creek was not spared. I'd read on hiking forums about landslides and downed trees littering the area. But by late spring, volunteer trail crews had patched things up quite nicely and the tread looked great (huge thank yous!)
|RIP, Metlako viewpoint|
But not everything could be fixed. With great sadness, I passed by the remains of the Metlako Falls viewpoint, which collapsed and slid into the creek during one of last winter's fierce storms. Before it's demise, hikers could perch on a narrow overhang that offered glimpses of this lovely cascade. (See this post, 6th photo, for an image of the falls) Now the overlook is completely gone, and its remaining steep bank dangerously unstable. I don't think hikers will be able to view this waterfall for a very long time now, if ever.
(Oh and I noticed, to my amusement, that the Forest Service misspelled "Metlako" on the sign......)
|Ferns were out in force!|
But on a happier note, farther down the trail I was pleased to see the damaged bridge over Tish Creek had finally been replaced with a shiny new span. (See this post for a photo of the mangled one)
|New bridge over Tish Creek|
Ferns and moss decorated the adjacent cliffs, creating a tunnel of bright greenery.
|Drippy cliff face|
Onward I trekked, past tall, drippy cliffs with cable handrails to assist timid hikers.
|More cable rails|
Spring snowmelt combined with recent rainfall had swelled Eagle Creek and it's rushing rapids far below were mesmerizing to watch.
|Eagle Creek rapids|
Loowit Falls was gushing mightily from the far canyon wall. A patch of purple larkspur flowers added to the lovely scene.
The past few times I've hiked Eagle Creek Trail, my turnaround point has been at High Bridge, about 3 1/2 miles in. But the trail continues much further. At six miles hikers encounter spectacular Tunnel Falls, so named because the trail ducks behind it in a short tunnel. I'd never continued past this point, but had heard there was one more great waterfall a short distance beyond Tunnel Falls. Today's goal was to finally reach this last cascade.
The last 2 1/2 miles beyond Loowit Falls seemed to take forever. By now my feet, used to being supported by orthotics, were beginning to protest. But I trudged onward, and finally, hearing the roar of rushing water ahead, knew I was almost there.
|Base of Tunnel Falls|
What a sight for sore eyes! It had been many years since I'd hiked all the way to Tunnel Falls. The cascade was still as spectacular as I'd remembered.
And the tunnel behind it was cool to walk through. This time I even thought to take a video.
|Tunnel Falls, in her full glory|
|The "vertigo mile"|
After a few obligatory photos (okay, more than a few), I located a rare trailside flat spot. Unoccupied for the moment, I quick claimed it for myself. Time for a well-earned break! I enjoyed my lunch, and then fixed a few hot spots on my poor feet (I hadn't used moleskin for many years, but luckily still had a few pieces in my first aid kit!)
|Rainbow above Twister Falls|
Belly full, and feet protected, it was time to find that final mystery waterfall! Returning to the trail, I followed it onward. The path narrowed to a skinny tread perched high above a near-vertical cliff face. As treacherous as it looked, I'm sure it turned back many hikers with a fear of heights. (I'd heard this section was nicknamed the "vertigo mile.")
And then rounding a corner, I came face to face with the unnamed cascade. Two thick streams of water tumbled down a basalt cliff face, twisting together as they fell. Although lacking an official name, many hiker forums referred to this waterfall as "Twister Falls." It was an astounding sight - made even better by the presence of a colorful rainbow above the top.
|Back to Tunnel Falls|
Right then and there Twister Falls became my most favorite waterfall on the Eagle Creek Trail. And it was only a quarter mile further down the trail from Tunnel Falls. Why had I waited so long to finally see it?
Well past noon, people were now parading down the trail in a steady stream. Returning to Tunnel Falls, I had to maneuver around several large groups as I again navigated the skinny path through the tunnel. I took another video to show you how precarious it was.
|Hikers perched on a narrow ledge|
Heading back I encountered tons of hikers. Due to its close proximity to a large urban area, many of the trail's visitors were not well versed in outdoor etiquette. I passed a least three people who were smoking (!!) and three or four others who had bluetooth speakers in their backpacks, blaring out loud music (my personal pet peeve). I saw evidence of wildflowers that had been picked and left beside the trail, and noticed quite a few toilet paper "blooms" under the bushes.
But the act that irritated me the most was coming upon two young boys who were tearing chunks of moss from the forest floor and flinging them into the creek. Their parents sitting on the creek bank watched the entire thing, and said nothing. I was sorely tempted to confront the boys and their parents, but being a woman hiking by myself I was a bit concerned about my safety (you never know how people will react). So I bit my tongue and hurried away. (Readers, I ask, what would you have done?)
|Back through the canyon|
By the time I reached High Bridge again, my feet were making loud protests. Without the orthotics, they were rubbing in places that usually never got sore. Only a few more miles to go.....I put my head down, tried to ignore the aches, and decided to get it over with as fast as possible.
The closer I got to the trailhead, the larger the crowds. I even passed a couple of rangers assisting a young man who appeared to be ill. (I considered telling them about the moss-throwing kids, but they looked too busy).
|Narrow chasm below High Bridge|
Finally - hallelujah! - the final bridge and trailhead came into view. I located my car in a now-packed parking area and gratefully pulled off my boots. Although red and sore, my feet had only one small blister to show for this nearly 13 mile trek.
And although the Eagle Creek Trail was green and stunning as usual, I think I've learned my lesson. Next time I'll think twice about tackling this trail on a sunny spring weekend.