A waterfall or two

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Sean Thomas
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A waterfall or two

Post by Sean Thomas » April 11th, 2017, 4:15 pm

Last Friday I set out to visit 50 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. Just a couple weeks prior I visited thirty on what marked the second year since my dad passed away. When I was little, my dad, brother and I would frequent the gorge on weekends so I spread his ashes at a few of his favorite waterfalls. It was an emotional day, and in the short time after I started wondering just how many could be seen in a single day. Forty seemed like an appropriate number but upon looking at maps, and considering the Columbia Gorge boasts the largest concentration of waterfalls in the lower 48, it was clear the sky was the limit. I decided on 50, all on the Oregon side, some of them seasonal and some of them drive-ups like Multnomah and Horsetail(basically I cheated ;) with ease of access being key. Almost anything I could see was counted so in terms of an actual record I don't believe some of them would apply. In hindsight, the number seems less and less important, as it was the way each one made me feel that still resonates with me the most. Unlike long stretches of trail or ridgeline that can seem monotonous after a while, each waterfall carries its own unique aura, its own literal and physical dimensions and of course most importantly, its own attitude that varies as changes in season, weather and flow determine it's appearance.

Image1 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

I had originally planned to do this the week prior, but when clear skies were forecasted I opted for a snowshoe trip up to JRO instead:

Imagef by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

After a long and exhausting day at work the following Thursday I wasn't sure if I had the energy to tackle such an endeavor on Friday. For some reason I just couldn't fall asleep and the itch of adventure was too much to resist. At 1am I started gathering up my things and was out the door by about 2, reaching the Latourell Falls TH under a misty night sky by 3am:

Image2 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Although I couldn't get any decent photos of the falls I visited in the dark, it was clear early on that I wasn't the only one burning a little midnight oil that morning. Driving in on the old highway three or four cats(domestic or feral) ran out in front of my car, then another one spooked me as I ran down to Bridal Veil Falls. Standing at the base of Latourell Falls I started poking through the ferns for amphibians and sure enough a Larch Mountain Salamander was out poking around for an early breakfast:

Image4a by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

As well as this little one just a few feet away:

Image4b by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

By the time I reached the parking lot at Bridal Veil Falls I had already bagged six waterfalls in about two and 1/2 miles of hiking, including Palisade(Crown) Falls, Latourell and Upper Latourell Falls, two unnamed and potentially seasonal falls on the old highway just east of Latourell and Shepperd's Dell Falls:

Image5 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Here is a picture of one of the unnamed falls near Latourell that I took a couple weeks beforehand:

Image3a by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

All I could capture on Friday was the old wooden debris grate beneath the falls :lol:

Imagehhhhhhhhh by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

On to Bridal Veil and number 7 on the list:

Image3 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Next up was Wahkeena and Fairy Falls, with it still being very dark out I hiked up/ran down and then drove over to Multnomah to grab seven more before doubling back to do the quick scramble up to Mist Falls at first light. I really enjoyed Fairy Falls in the dark and turned off my headlamp for a few minutes just to hear the sound of the falling water. Here's a failed attempt at nighttime waterfall photography :lol:

Image7a by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Over at Multnomah I reveled in having the whole place to myself. A quick up and down to see the Dutchman's, Perdition, Weisendanger and Ecola had me back at the lodge at dawn:

Image6 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

I drove back over to the pullout for Mist Falls and had some breakfast of peanuts and bananas at the old fireplace:

Image7b by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

The falls was beautiful under a brief morning drizzle, and was falling with a uniformity that most of us aren't used to considering its often wind whipped appearance:

Image7 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

I couldn't resist a quick stop at Wahkeena for a second breakfast break before heading over to Horsetail:

Image8 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

It was still pretty early at Horsetail so I loaded up my pack for six more(Horsetail, Ponytail, Oneonta, Upper, Middle O and Triple Falls)

Image9 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Running and hiking behind a waterfall will never get old:)

Image10 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

The view over the top of Oneonta Falls(Lower Oneonta?) is something special:

Image11 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

With Middle Oneonta just over your shoulder:

Image12 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

It had been years since I'd been to Triple Falls so I stopped for a nice break at the viewpoint:

Image13 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

On my way back down to the TH I ran into the first people I'd seen all day. It was nice to see a group of young people enjoying the splendors of the scenic area on what was shaping up to be another rainy day in the PNW. Next up was a quick two miles at Wahclella to grab two more :) Here's Munra Falls:

Image14 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

And one of the most beautiful settings on earth approaching Wahclella Falls:

Image15 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

At this point I was beginning to feel the effects of a ten hour day of landscaping on Thursday and not sleeping the night before. I thought about bagging the trip and calling it a day but part of me just had to see what Eagle Creek looked like after such an epic winter. Eagle Creek alone could potentially garner another 16 waterfalls including three seasonal falls, Wauna Falls, Metlako, Sorenson, Punchbowl, Lower Punch, Loowit, Skoonichuk, Tenas, Wyeast, Grand Union, Tunnel, Twister and Sevenmile Falls. I was forced to turn back at Twister Falls as I started becoming extremely fatigued and dizzy along the cliffs at Vertigo Mile so I skipped Sevenmile and opted for 14 of the sixteen instead. Normally cliffs dont bother me, but in my current state it didn't seem wise to continue(if there was anything wise about this in the first place). Here's one of the pretty little seasonal falls across the canyon in the first mile or so:

Image16 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Punchbowl looked as beautiful as ever:

Image17 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

As did Loowit:

Image18 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Image19 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr


Image20 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

And Tenas too:

Image21 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

The creek crossing near Wyeast Falls was about knee deep:

Image21a by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Pretty soon I was hiking over the potholes above Grand Union Falls, probably one of the most scenic stretches of trail that you don't hear mentioned very often:

Image22 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

One big contributor to my increased fatigue was the amount of blowdown past 4 1/2 mile bridge. There must have been dozens of trees across the trail but it felt like hundreds to me :lol: It was all worth it by the time I reached Tunnel Falls:

Image23 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

And of course its equally beautiful neighbor just upstream, Twister Falls:

Image24 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

On the return trip I was pretty much stuck at a sloths pace as I waddled back to the TH. Finally after some solid food and a few gulps of water at 4 1/2 mile bridge I was able to pick up the pace again. A little AC/DC in the earphones may or may not have had something to do with that :lol: Like a true maroon I forgot to drop down to Lower Punchbowl, thus eliminating another easy from the list :roll: . Back at Eagle Creek I must have looked like a complete buffoon as I drove back to the fish hatchery with my poles sitting on the hood of my car. I couldn't figure out why everyone was laughing and pointing as they watched me drive by in a dazed stupor. To further add insult to injury, I kept setting off my car alarm back at the fish hatchery, now I looked like a moron and a car prowler. To avoid any more embarrassment I moved the car down beneath the freeway bridge(ok now I sound like a car prowler) and finally got the damn alarm to turn off. I was falling apart faster than our current commander in chief after a Russian pee pee induced barrage of twitter posts(tweets?). I forced myself to rest in the back of the car for a while before setting off to grab 5 more falls up near the old Tanner Ridge TH. I deliberately set off very slow from the fish hatchery(car alarm not an issue thankfully) and reached the little known Car Thief Falls on Munra Creek after what felt like an eternity :D

Imageccccccc by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

I photographed the four little drops near the TH before turning around and slogging back to the fish hatchery:

Imaged by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Imageg by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Imagegg by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Imageggg by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

The trails that connect Eagle Creek to the 777 rd were in reasonable shape but the harsh winter storms brought down some pretty good sized obstacles:

Imagegggg by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Despite the little voices in my head telling me to call it a day I pushed on to grab one more easy at Ruckel Creek Falls:

Imagedd by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Jogging back down from the falls warmed me back up and I was beginning to feel pretty good about knocking out the final six over near Starvation. I only needed five more to reach fifty and the whole experience was really starting to come full circle. I stopped at Cascade Locks to grab a Gatorade and some pringles and loaded up my things one last time before running to Starvation, Cabin, Warren, Hole in the Wall, Lancaster and Harrison Falls, which if counting all of them would put me at 51 for the day. Although the enormity of the task had certainly taken its toll, I felt awesome as I jogged by Cabin Creek listening to some of Seal's best and reflecting on what an incredible day I'd been having. Despite the hardships, which I love exclaiming in a sort of light-hearted self deprecating humor, the good always outweighs the bad on adventures like this. The challenge is something I love and embrace, it has become a part of me and something I will never let go of even if others have a hard time understanding why. Above all else, the greatest lesson I've taken from countless hours in the great outdoors, is to just be yourself. While we may regret many things at the end of our lives, choosing to stand out wont be one of them. As the great Dr Seuss said, "no one alive is youer than you" and its important to embrace that to the best of your ability. Emotionally uplifting mumbo jumbo aside, here's a picture of Starvation Creek Falls on another beautiful evening in the Columbia River Gorge:

Imageh by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Shortly after I reached Cabin Creek Falls, one of my favorites as it exemplifies Samuel Lancaster's "don't harm my boston fern" approach that he and the other builders of the historic highway took when constructing the famous roadway over 100 years ago:

Imagehh by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Next up was Hole-in-the-Wall and Warren Creek Falls. Thanks to a pretty steady afternoon rain Warren was just barely trickling although you cant tell in the picture. I said a prayer for Splintercat and was on my way:

Imagehhh by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Imagehhhh by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Just a short distance away I reached number 49 at the base of the lower tier of Lancaster Falls:

Imagehhhhhh by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Where a beautiful bunch of Columbia Kittentails were blooming under the powerlines:

Imagehhhhhhh by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Last but certainly not least is one of the most overlooked falls in the gorge. The lowermost falls on Lindsey Creek, Harrison Falls flows through a collage of moss laden boulders so pleasing to the eye one could spend hours there:

Imagehhhhhhhh by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

By now I had reached the magic number and nearly completed the goal of seeing 50 waterfalls in a single day. Oddly at this point I didn't really care about the number, seeing as how I probably couldn't count past three or four at that point anyway :D Just like at Latourell(only a little more fuzzy :lol: with nightfall fast approaching I was more excited at the prospect of possible salamander sightings than I was at limping back to the car, or enjoying a hot meal etc. I turned off my gps and spent about twenty minutes just admiring the falls before hoofing it back to the TH. I knew I was in no shape to drive at this point and seeing how there is no substitute for sleep, I napped for about an hour before I was sure I could drive home safely without endangering anyone else on the road. Long story short, I'm an idiot, don't be like me :lol: As for next time :o :roll: I think with proper rest and logisitics 75-100 is possible in a 24 hr period if I hit several more on the Oregon side, as well as some on the Washington side with a trip to Silver Falls to grab ten more(and anything else that worked logisitically). Maybe next year :lol: :twisted:
Last edited by Sean Thomas on April 13th, 2017, 6:58 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Sore Feet
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Re: 50 waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge: 4/7/17

Post by Sore Feet » April 11th, 2017, 5:04 pm

Pretty impressive dude, even if you did cheat a bit (or more than a bit). ;)

Juuuust to be a stickler about it though
and considering the Columbia Gorge boasts the largest concentration of waterfalls in the lower 48
Mount Rainier National Park actually holds that title. Oregon side of the gorge between Troutdale and Hood River is about 150 square miles give or take (following the watershed boundaries), and there are about 135 waterfalls of significance (so excluding all the rain-fueled trickly ones), so that's about 0.9 waterfalls per square mile. If you include the Washington side that'll drop substantially just due to the area covered.

MRNP is about 368 square miles and there are (again excluding the small seasonal ones) about 365 known waterfalls within its boundary (that I have currently identified - there are almost certainly likely more), so almost a 1 waterfall per square mile.

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Sean Thomas
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Re: 50 waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge: 4/7/17

Post by Sean Thomas » April 11th, 2017, 5:12 pm


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Re: .

Post by bobcat » April 12th, 2017, 6:40 am

I got a chance to read this before it disappeared. Another amazing physical journey: I love these challenges you set yourself - no "cheating" that I can see! Also, a wonderful highlight of the sheer density of waterfalls in such a small area.

But . . . but . . . now it's gone. What happened?

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Re: .

Post by Limey » April 12th, 2017, 8:35 am

I was thrilled to have a Sean adventure to read, it was wonderful. I didn't see any "cheating" either. You said you were going to visit 50 waterfalls in a day and you did. I sure do miss your epic adventures. WHERE INDEED DID IT GO?

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Re: .

Post by jdemott » April 12th, 2017, 9:05 am

I also was sorry to see this report disappear. As always Sean, it was an impressive outing, but the thing I most appreciate with your reports is that you share the emotional connections for your hiking. Even those of us who aren't hiking to 50 waterfalls in a single day can still appreciate and relate to those emotional connections which we all share and which are the reason we hike.

I was driving through the gorge yesterday and saw a photographer who was set up to photograph a small (less than ten foot) waterfall in a beautiful setting. It made me think about how many thousands of these lovely, but un-named, falls there are in the gorge--places that would attract rave notices in any other part of the country. Regardless of how you count them, they are beautiful and worth the time we spend whenever we open our eyes to enjoy them.

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retired jerry
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Re: .

Post by retired jerry » April 12th, 2017, 1:31 pm

where'd the report go? I missed it. :cry:

must have been the comment about not being the most waterfalls, whatever, don't let shit bug you, that wasn't probably even intended to be mean or anything...

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Re: .

Post by mjirving » April 12th, 2017, 6:01 pm

What jdemott said...


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Re: .

Post by Chazz » April 12th, 2017, 6:50 pm

I've been missing your epic trip reports for a while, Sean. Don't let the haters bring you down.

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Re: .

Post by adamschneider » April 12th, 2017, 7:23 pm

I'm confused. :?:

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