However, thanks to many hours of restoration work from volunteers, several of the trails between Bridal Veil and Multnomah Falls were quietly reopened Thanksgiving weekend.
|The Historic Highway is open!
What a wonderful surprise! Included in this list was the Multnomah-Wahkeena loop, my favorite fall hike of them all. I'd sorely missed visiting this scenic path last year. So of course the following weekend I headed to the Gorge to check things out.
Not only the trails, the Columbia River Scenic Highway was also reopened east of Bridal Veil. Driving my car down this winding road to Wahkeena Falls Trailhead, I was happy to glimpse familiar scenery, and dismayed to see the destruction in other places.
|Hazards of a burn area
Although I've hiked the Multnomah-Wahkeena loop many times in both directions, today I chose to start my trek at Wahkeena Falls and head counterclockwise to Multnomah Falls. From the parking area, I was dismayed to see the large amount of damaged trees and blackened rocks adjacent to Wahkeena Creek. A trailhead sign ominously warned hikers of the dangers associated with walking through a burned area.
Following the paved path, I climbed uphill to a spectacular view of Wahkeena Falls. Evidence of the fire was everywhere - from blackened rock walls to a large burned tree trunk that landed in the splash pool. I was surprised to see so much fire damage occurred close to the waterfall!
|All the moss burned off the rock walls
The lovely arched rock walls on either side of the bridge spanning Wahkeena Creek had been charred by the fire, their beautiful orange moss cover totally burned away.
From Wahkeena Falls, the paved path wound steeply up the face of a steep slope, switchbacking through a mossy forest. Well, it used to be a mossy forest......
|The fire opened up Gorge views
Most of the underbrush had burned away. Blackened, downed trees were everywhere. With the ground cover gone, last winter's rains had washed unchecked down the steep Gorge walls. I saw evidence of many landslides. Some of the beautiful rock walls that used to line the trail were damaged.
|Lemmon Point surrounded by burned trees
The only bright spot was the fire had opened up a few more viewpoints. I stopped at Lemmon Point and enjoyed a glimpse of the foggy Columbia River and Washington side of the Gorge.
|Lots of downed trees in this area
Then I continued my climb upward. Although there were still plenty of downed, blackened trees, I was surprised by the amount of green plant life that had already grown back. Some of the leaves displayed lovely fall hues of yellow and gold. It was actually very pretty - and unexpected.
|Fairy Falls looks as good as ever!
I made an extended photo stop at Fairy Falls, one of my favorite Gorge cascades. Untouched by the fire, it looked as good as ever. I was so happy to revisit this familiar friend once again.
|Spooky, foggy woods
Above Fairy Falls, I trekked through a foggy, ghostly forest. The burned trees, with blackened bases, looked downright spooky.
|Poor tree didn't stand a chance
Needless to say, I didn't linger!
|Bright yellow leaves brightened up the burn area
I wasn't sure of the plant name, but large, bright yellow leaves covered the forest floor in many areas. This bright pop of color brought beauty to an otherwise barren woods
|I was delighted to see the "sign eating tree" had survived
Reaching a junction with the Wahkeena Trail, I was delighted to discover the famous "sign eating tree" had survived the fire.
|Lots of black trees at the Devils Rest junction
The Wahkeena trail flattened out and contoured across a bench, passing the Devils Rest junction on it's way to Multnomah Basin.
|The damage was worse the closer I got to Multnomah Basin
The closer I got to Multnomah Basin, the more severe the fire damage. Here the fir trees were entirely black, not just the bases. The tall, bushy deciduous trees full of colorful leaves were all gone.
|No more mossy trees...
The fairy-tale mossy forest above Multnomah Basin had been one of my favorite parts of this hike. Starting the climb down to Multnomah Creek I was saddened to see all the trees in this area had been burned to a crisp.
|Multnomah Creek surrounded by blackened trunks
Stands of charred trees lined Multnomah Creek, with several more fallen across it's waters.
|Some particularly bad fire damage
I couldn't help but recall what a magical, beautiful forest it had been pre-fire. Now reduced to gray and black, this was the saddest portion of my hike.
|Downed trees across the trail
Good thing for the colorful yellow foliage, or it would have been totally depressing.
I was happy to see Weisendanger Falls was still flowing strong. However, all the lush undergrowth had been totally burned away. This area below the falls looked mighty bleak.
|Fire damage above the falls
A few mossy trees still existed below the falls, somehow spared from the fire's destruction.
|More opened-up views on the trail to Multnomah Falls
Coming upon the top of Multnomah Falls, I was interested to see how the paved, switchbacking path down to the lodge had fared. Judging by the amount of downed trees and cleared stumps, it looked like the area had been hit hard. But on a positive note, the fire had opened up new views of the Gorge.
|Nothing left of this sign
The forest adjacent to this path had been logged extensively. A large number of blackened stumps and logs sat beside the trail, waiting to be cleared away. I noticed a brown Forest Service sign, burned down the middle, still clinging to it's post. Seeing the extensive damage made me realize how close the fire got to the falls and lodge. Hats off to the firefighters for saving this Oregon treasure!
|Lots of trees cut down here
Multnomah Falls was as busy as ever, so I waded past the crowds and didn't stop for photos until I reached the very bottom. Of course, you can't pass by this iconic cascade without getting a couple of images! Then a quick half mile on the Gorge Trail brought me back to my car, closing this favorite 5.5 mile loop.
Despite the sobering damage, I was overjoyed to finally be back on my favorite Gorge fall trail. A huge thank you to all the volunteers who labored to get this, and all the other Gorge trails back open!
If you'd like to see some "before the fire" photos of the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, here are links to a couple of my most recent past blog posts:
Gorge November Ramble - from 2015
Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop - from 2016