Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Discussions and Trip Reports for off-trail adventures and rediscovering lost trails
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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by Peder » April 20th, 2014, 7:53 pm

Lydiavmars wrote:2. I didn't cross the log bridge because it was so slippery I'm sure I would have fallen to my death. My friends and I want to go back and tack some roofing tiles into the logs to give it some traction.
Welcome Lydia von Mars! Great to see a report from that area. Regarding the logs over the fearsome abyss, go to your right and there is a small trail around the gully that will lead you to the tunnel entrance at the far end of the logs. That is much easier and safer than crossing the (rotten) logs!
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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by trekkerdave » June 6th, 2014, 6:27 pm

My daughter and I were up here last Saturday, thought I’d provide a little update on the conditions. I’d been up here a couple years back in the middle of winter, but that trip had to be shortened so we missed the long tunnel that bypasses the Upper South Clackamas Falls. We made it to the top this time, as well as descending all the way downstream to where the South Clackamas dumps into the Clackamas.
  1. As mentioned by a previous poster, target shooting is now prohibited on the lower portion of the Memaloose road, so you no longer need to worry about walking back up the old logging road to your car.
  2. There were a couple fixed ropes last time I was here, there are now many. Most are on the steep Memaloose canyon descent, but there were also ones heading down to the bottom of the two South Clackamas waterfalls. Although some look new I would not trust any of them, some were seriously undersized, damaged, frayed, etc.
  3. No ticks reported by other spring hikers, but there is a pretty good patch of stinging nettles along the Memaloose.
  4. The trail was often obscured by the undergrowth, but was always easy to follow.
  5. The planking that follows the pipe in the long tunnel is now pretty much rotted away. So between that and the pipe you pretty much need to hug the left side of the tunnel as you go up. Also, this tunnel was quite wet inside, and a little slippery in spots.
  6. Looks like there is a semi-permanent camp at the South Clackamas/Clackamas confluence, a big blue tarp with a tent underneath. It appeared no one was there, but I didn’t want to get too close.
  7. The rotting bridge of death can be easily and quickly bypassed, just follow the trail to your right once you reach the bridge.
One thing I looked for but did not find was the fire hydrant. A previous post gave a vague reference to it being somewhere down near the Clackamas River. Anyone have a GPS coordinate or at least a description of where it is?

Anyway, we had a great trip, and best of all we had the place to ourselves. Saw no one else in the canyon, and no other cars packed on the road.

I have a GPX file of our track plus some waypoints, send me an PM if you want it.

Here are few pics from the trip…

Entering the South Memaloose tunnel.
Stinging nettles on the left, salmon berry vines on the right, the trail running between the two.
South Clackamas river just upstream from the Memaloose confluence.
View of Upper South Clackamas Falls just prior to entering the long tunnel.
Lunch break at the old diversion dam just above the top of the Upper South Clackamas Falls.
Lots more pictures from this trip can be found on my web page here.

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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by Peder » June 8th, 2014, 8:43 pm

Fire Hydrant: N45.19816° W122.22529°

Car parts: N45.19817° W122.22464°

Interesting that the area is getting so popular!
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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by RobFromRedland » June 9th, 2014, 2:39 pm

Interesting. I've seen the fire hydrant, but never seen the car parts - they are on the east side of the south fork? I'll have to poke around there one of these days....
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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by trekkerdave » June 9th, 2014, 9:22 pm

Peder, thanks for the coordinates.

From my GPS track it looks like I just missed the fire hydrant, but then the grass and vegetation was pretty thick in that area, it would have been easy to miss even just a few feet away. When you mentioned car parts I assumed you meant the wreck off the Memaloose Road, I did not know about any near the mouth of the South Clackamas. I assume these are old car parts were from the era when the tunnels and pipes were constructed?

Reagardless, I'll check both of these out next time.

The wrecked car off the Memaloose Road is at N45.18528 W122.21772 (a short distance beyond where you make the descent down the Memaloose canyon), we found it during our first trip a couple years back, here are some pics...

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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by BrianEdwards » June 10th, 2014, 4:32 am


Nice outing. Fun place down in there. I'm amazed you found that old car, it's up in the rocks below the road way off the creek. I've been to it a couple times. I figured out what it was on my last outing:

A 1976 MG British-made convertible roadster.

Old dash:


What it looked like new:

Clackamas River Waterfall Project - 95 Documented, 18 to go.

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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by Chip Down » January 4th, 2016, 5:46 pm

While researching the history of the cable crossings on the Clackamas, I was distracted by this extraneous search result. I love this thread! Thanks so much to BrianEdwards, and others who contributed. I'm not a waterfall fan, but I'm fascinated by the old waterworks project.

I didn't think I'd be able to add anything to this exhaustive discussion, but by the time I got back to my car I had collected quite a few experiences and thoughts to share, as well as some pics of the tunnels in the winter (icicles galore). Since people are piggybacking onto this thread for their reports, I'll do the same.

This paragraph covers getting to the spur road. If not interested, skip to the next paragraph. I knew the Memaloose Road #45 was closed at the bridge over the Clackamas. I researched the possibility of going in the other way, but nope, the closed zone is gated up there too, and the walk would be even further from the top gate. Besides, too much snow up there for most vehicles. When I arrived at the bridge, with plans of parking right off the Clackamas Hwy, I noticed the bridge was open! Drat, nope, the barrier just blew over in the high winds we've been getting lately. At the far end of the bridge, it's very much closed. Incidentally, parking here is extremely tight. Come early, or plan on a walk to the bridge. So I started up the road at 6:45, the perfect time. By the time I reached the spur road, it was almost light enough that I could put my headlamp away. Unfortunately, I only came to that realization much later. Yep, I missed the spur road in the dark! I was looking for something that looked like, you know, a road. By 8:00 I was really getting worried. I spent an hour following a bunch of abandoned overgrown roads, but they went nowhere. In addition to the time, my other clue I went too far was all the snow. I was wading through way more snow than expected, so obviously too high. So I headed back down at 9:00 watching for a road to the left. I started to get so low, I thought I must have missed it again, but finally found it at 9:45, having burned up an extra 2:30 of daylight and a bunch of leg strength (spent 3:00 on what should have been 0:30). Want to avoid my mistake? Don't worry, it's easy. When you start up the road, it's way too steep on the right for there to be a road. When that changes, and the topography could actually support a spur road, you're about there. Incidentally, Memaloose Road #45 is still maintained for vehicular traffic, and shows signs of recent use (tire tracks in snow). You could easily take a bike, although it's such a short walk it might not be worth the trouble.

The descent from spur-end to creek worried me. I've seen many reports of it being chronically wet, so I thought it might be icy, but it wasn't all that bad, just icy in spots. Ropes are terrible, just random junk that people have scabbed together, but better than nothing. Anyway, it's not that tricky of a slope. The ropes are just a convenience. Descending without ropes would be unpleasant, but not particularly dangerous.

At 10:30 I was at the first tunnel. Getting to it was a bit challenging. There are spots where the terrain is slightly rugged, which would ordinarily be no big deal, just choose your steps carefully and get through it. But there was so much water coming off the hillside and freezing on the trail, in places where exposure was significant. It wasn't bad enough to make me wish I had worn my climbing boots and crampons, just bad enough to require slow cautious travel, selecting the route carefully.

My next concern was the bridge, which no longer quite reaches ground (end of the bridge kinda hangs in the air). It was no big deal though. It made me slightly nervous, but I didn't even break stride for it.

At the fork on the other side of the bridge, I dropped my pack, stuffed the essentials in my pockets, and headed left up the south fork, reaching the log bridge in a couple minutes. Oh hell no, I'm not crossing that! It's scary. It's not technically difficult, but the exposure! I'd probably faint if I tried to get across that. If it was a bridge over a pond, and all that was at stake was getting wet, I'd stroll right across. But with my life at stake, I think not. If the logs were separated by just a couple inches, I'd do it, but they're far enough apart that you can't wedge your feet in between them. It's almost as bad as trying to cross a single log. Before that missing log fell, it wouldn't have been too bad, as you could just walk on the middle one, with the security of a log to either side. When I was researching this trip, it looked as if one could use that log closest to the pipe, using the pipe for support/balance. Nope, not possible. The log is actually right under the pipe, not off to the side as it appears in pics. Also, it's a bit too far below the pipe, and the pipe is really too big to hold onto anyway. Besides, the log has suffered fire damage, and is even more questionable than its brothers to the left. Okay, so I looked for the "easy" "trail" to the right, which takes you across the chasm. True, it's a very easy "trail", but if your foot slips (which can happen, really it can) you're a goner. As I stood there pondering this, a big gust hit me and I had to hunker down. Okay, that decides it, no way I'm taking that "trail". Can I go down the road a little and loop up and over, dropping into the gully, and then follow the creek to the "trail" crossing? Possibly, but it's all iced up in there. Maybe not the best day to mess with that. If the elevation was a bit higher, it wouldn't be so bad; just time it for good snow conditions, and come with climbing gear. Even at this elevation, that would be possible if we got hit with a good heavy snowstorm. What an adventure that would be! And it is possible; it's high enough that heavy snow isn't out of the question. Anyway, back down I went, tail tucked between legs. Damn, little girls do this hike, but it was too much for me? More on that later, but for now I'll continue with my report.

Back down to the bridge and past it, down to the twin tunnels and the lower falls. Like the Memaloose tunnel, the floor was icy where water had dripped through, and I was on hands and knees over the worst sections (just a few feet). After the tunnels, the descent to the creek was aided by a rope, much better than those on the Memaloose slope. Charming place for a break. It must be great on a hot summer day. I could spend a couple hours here, and it's actually a short enough hike that you could bring a lawn chair and a cooler stocked with beer. But not today.

Back on the road, I followed it down a bit, just because. I wondered if it went down to Clackamas, and indeed it did, in just a few minutes. The trail faded out, but I knew it would be impossible to get lost down here, so I wasn't too worried. I followed Clackamas up its sandy bank to the south fork, and then turned back. Never saw the fire hydrant, or the foundation, but did stumble upon a cool old rusty car door and what appeared to be a stove of some sort. Oh, and that thing that might be one end of a Clackamas cable crossing.

I never saw piles of trash as reported before, nor did I see any signs of human habitation. Even the infamous blue tarp at the end of the spur road was half buried.

I was back at Memaloose Road about 2:20, at the car at 2:50, and starting my next project at 3:15 (which is kinda beyond the scope of this discussion).

Back home, I looked for videos and pics of the "rotten log" crossing, and I feel a little better now. The bridge is absolutely much more treacherous than it used to be. I see pics where the gap between the logs is filled with debris, and a heavy mat of moss provides footing. I know people think of mossy surfaces as slippery, but a good heavy spongy growth of moss can provide much better footing than a bare log. Also, I saw a video of the alternate trail where it appeared to be heavily vegetated, whereas it was just bare crumbly ground when I was there. None of this proves I'm not a coward, but it does mean I was there at the wrong time, relative to my comfort level.

That's the end of my report. The rest is just storytelling and reflections on my day. Read if you want, or don't, whatever.

I knew I wanted to get out either Sat or Sun. Weather looked slightly better Sun. Main concern was wind. It was cold, but I can handle that if the wind isn't too bad. Late Friday, I took one last look at the forecast, and noticed it had been adjusted. With Saturday now looking better, I scrambled to wrap up my day and get ready to go.

After finishing my waterworks hike later than expected (due to my unintended hike up Memaloose Road), I didn't really have time to do the second hike I had planned. I had to choose between doing some preliminary scouting, or save my time and energy so that I could come back Sunday. I decided to go ahead and burn up all my daylight and leg strength on preliminary scouting, and stay home Sunday. It's a good thing I made that late-Friday weather check, and decided to stay out late Saturday, because...well, you know how the weather was Sunday. After my Saturday hike, I woke to snow on Sunday, absolutely shocked! Imagine if I hadn't switched my hiking plans from Sun to Sat, or if I had come back home early Saturday so I could go back Sunday. Don't get me wrong, I love hiking in the snow, but I would have been driving home in the freezing rain. So after a stretch of dry weather, now I'm back to wondering what my next trip will be (i.e. what are snow conditions like up there, where can I get to).

Even though I dodged the freezing-rain drive home by going a day early, I almost wrecked my car on Saturday anyway. After I was all finished playing, an hour after sunset, I did some road scouting, the lazy way (in my warm comfy car) and found myself on a road that just kept getting higher and snowier and steeper, and I knew I had to head back, so stopped and backed down slowly. Started sliding. Sliding in a car is never fun, but backwards? Practically soiled myself. As I veered off the track, got into softer deeper snow and gained traction, but had to repeat the whole process a couple more times before I was safely at the bottom of the hill. Whew!
Not part of the Oregon City water project. Found on spur road.
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Frostiest waterfall I saw this day.
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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by Chip Down » February 8th, 2016, 8:54 pm

A month later, it was time to go take on the "rotten log" crossing. I had warm weather on my side, and I carried a rope and an ice axe. My plan was, as described in my post above, to loop up high and drop into that gully that the creek flows through, and follow it down to the "trail" crossing. But first I went all the way to the bridge to get another look. Aww, heck, that trail to the creek isn't that bad. I guess I was in a timid mood that day, compounded by the high winds and frozen ground. It wasn't exactly icy, but hard enough that there was no sponginess for your boots to dig into. I decided to just go for it, but there were also a few tie-off points if one wanted to use a rope.

But first, just for "fun", I explored up high, following my original plan. It was harder than it looked. The slope was unstable and generally unpleasant, with lots of downed trees other obstacles. Not really dangerous, but more trouble than it was worth. Inspired by TRs here, I took an ice ax for the first time on a dirt/rock/brush route. It was pretty cool. I especially liked being able to reach up and hook onto branches and rocks that were just out of hand's reach. By the time I overlooked the gully, I was pretty high up. I didn't particularly care for descending into the gully to see if I could follow it to the trail crossing. Almost certainly was doable, but maybe not, and it probably would have been a boot soaker, so I just went back and did the standard route.

From a distance (viewed from the downhill side of the rotten log bridge) the top tunnel looks like it's just hanging off the cliff, possibly difficult to get to. But heck, there used to be a road here , so I knew it couldn't be that bad. Indeed, it was no problem, just looks tricky from far off.

One thing that really struck me about the upper tunnel is how small the distant opening appears. It's just a tiny speck of light. Distance couldn't explain this; it would have to be a 1/4 mile long for the end to appear that small. When I got there, I had my answer, and it was shocking: unlike all the other tunnels, this one opens into an open-top vault! So when you get to the end, you're pretty much facing a concrete wall, with just a sliver of sky at the top. Wild. There's just one little step in the corner, enough to get you out if you're not too short.

Although it's cool that the upper tunnel is so long, it sure isn't inviting. The lower end is ugly, and the upper end is hidden in that pit. And it's a bitch to walk through, with a steep rocky uneven floor running with water. I suppose that's why there used to be a walkway, but now that it's mostly rotted away, it just makes passage tougher.

Another observation that I don't recall seeing in other posts: There's a minor pipe parallel to the main pipe here, maybe about 8" diameter. I wonder what that's all about.

I went down to the Clackamas just to look around, but didn't find anything new. Maybe I should have taken my GPS to track down that fire hydrant. Oh well. Did find the other old car door, the apparent mate to the one I found last time (I assume they're from the same car).

It was fun seeing everything all thawed out. What a difference. Maybe I should have gone later though. The summer pics show everything all lush and verdant. I'm not saying that's better; it's the contrast that would be fun to see.

Ran across a propane bottle and the remnant of burned clothing. If you've followed that thread about burning your clothes to stay warm, you know I chuckled when I saw that.

Met a big party of maybe a half dozen who came up behind me, and one more on the road. Spring sure does bring out the fair-weather hikers.

By the way, I swear the confluence bridge is worse than it was a month ago. That little board at the corner that you can use as a step is getting tired. I don't think it'll be trustworthy for much longer.
Auxiliary pipe.
Smaller accessory pipe, outside the lower end of the big tunnel. How did it get all the way over there? I bet it wouldn't take much to send it down the hillside.
Ugly pic, but I wanted to show you the tiny pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel.
The pit as seen from tunnel.
Top tunnel opening is in that could walk right by and not notice.

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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by FallsGuyB » February 8th, 2016, 11:01 pm


Thanks for sharing your Clackamas adventures with us! Very interesting. I've enjoyed reading them.

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Re: Memaloose Falls and South Fork Clackamas River

Post by Greendrake » February 20th, 2016, 1:04 pm

I went up there last weekend
in the rain, rage and the roar
lower falls.jpg
Memaloose Falls.jpg

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