The Big Rock at Eagle Creek (2007)

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The Big Rock at Eagle Creek (2007)

Post by Splintercat » September 3rd, 2013, 6:09 pm

From the Oregonian archives:

Man against Nature: the rock
The Oregonian
Thursday, December 20, 2007
By Brad Schmidt

CASCADE LOCKS --Along the most traveled hiking path in the Columbia River Gorge, there is a cliff, formed more than 10 million years ago from lava and mud, that was home to one big rock.

The slab of rock was perhaps 6 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 13 feet high. It weighed some 17 tons and was part of a ledge directly overhanging Eagle Creek Trail.

Nature has challenged it time and again. Flooding. Freezing. Rain. Wind.

This fall, Nature brought landslides, knocking down the big rock's neighbors and exposing a 4-inch crack.

Still the big rock remained. Shaken, perhaps, but intact.

Enter Man, with his contraptions to move otherwise immovable objects.

Man --in the form of officials from the U.S. Forest Service --worried that the rock could fall on unsuspecting hikers.

Rather than wait for the rock to fall when it would, forest personnel began working to bring it down.

But the big rock was stubborn.

Clues by the footbridge

Edan Lira first learned of the rock the morning of Oct. 19 while collecting parking fees at Eagle Creek.

A hiker came from around the corner to report a landslide next to a footbridge.

Lira, the recreation and trails coordinator in the gorge, walked the 275 feet from the trailhead to the bridge. He noticed a big hump of rocks and dirt on the far side of the bridge. A 4-foot boulder just missed it. Footprints on the narrow trail showed that hikers had been walking around the mess for some time.

Lira looked up, to his left: There was the big, unstable rock, ready to fall. To the right and below: the clear water of Eagle Creek.

Back at his Hood River office, Lira asked co-workers to visit the trail, located off Interstate 84's Exit 41, two miles west of Cascade Locks.

An inspector noticed the bridge had been slightly damaged. Tom DeRoo, the Mount Hood National Forest geologist, measured the crack running 13 feet up the cliff. DeRoo advised removing the slab, all 230 cubic feet of it, as soon as possible.

Eagle Creek draws tens of thousands of hikers annually. The 13.2-mile trail, one of about 40 in the gorge, leads to a variety of treasures: Punch Bowl Falls, Tunnel Falls, High Bridge and Wahtum Lake. Because of its easy grade, it is even more popular than the trail to Multnomah Falls.

Lira closed the trail Nov. 2, blocking it with three pink ribbons and a chain-link fence.

Reopening the trail was urgent. But it would take creativity.

There's no textbook for big-rock removal. Man makes it up as he goes.

How to outsmart the rock?

Lira awoke early Nov. 3 to test his new nemesis.

A 45-year-old with a youthful appearance, he had been with the U.S. Forest Service 20 years. On this morning, a Saturday, Lira's wife and seven kids expressed rare interest in the project as he left home in The Dalles.

At Eagle Creek, Lira and others attached a long metal pole to a jackhammer. They jabbed at the base of the ledge, hoping to create a landslide .

Every few minutes the jackhammer died, its cracked gas tank leaking fuel. Four hours later, the pole was stuck in the cliff and a second pole hadn't made a dent.

For the next month, Lira considered other ways to outsmart the rock.

He thought about rappelling the ledge and using a grip hoist to pry the big rock free. He contemplated using dynamite to blast it, but was concerned that fallen sediment would disrupt spawning coho salmon in the creek or pollute the nearby hatchery that's home to 1.7 million coho smolts and 5.3 million eggs.

He wondered whether a high-powered water pump could create enough pressure to knock it down. He even thought about visiting on a cold evening to repeatedly squirt water around the big rock. The ideas was that the water would freeze and the ice would break the rock free.

On Dec. 3, Lira and co-worker Jeff Mitchell returned, opting to jackhammer again. This time the metal bar mushroomed and became lodged in the jackhammer.

The following day, Lira e-mailed the explosives crew about the big rock.

"Soooo . . . plan B . . . that is B for Blasting!"

"Fire in the hole!"

A large orange sign posted at Eagle Creek Dec. 12 warned: "BLASTING ZONE 1,000 FEET."

On the trail, Kenny Kollas climbed a ladder and placed six 2-pound dynamite cones around the rock. Kollas had worked for the Forest Service 30 years, half of which he'd been blasting.

He'd never attempted to explode this much rock before.

Later, from the safety of the Eagle Creek parking lot 200 paces away, Kollas shouted three times. "Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!"

With the push of a button, a violent explosion roared through the canyon at about 10:15 a.m., shaking the truck where Lira waited. Seconds later, a plume of gray smoke could be seen drifting from around the corner.

Had Man moved the big rock?

Sort of.

Part of the big rock had fallen to the creek. But still three-quarters of it remained.

Kollas set off a second round of charges about 10:40 a.m., and a small landslide followed 10 minute later. A third blast at 11:10 a.m. knocked off more of the rock, creating a 1-inch crack.

Would the big rock ever give?

Finally, a fourth explosion 22 minutes later displaced the big rock from its 10 million year home.

Eighteen cones of dynamite later, Man had won.

Smiles and handshakes followed.

"It's so weird coming around the corner," Lira said, raising his hand in the former shape of the ledge. "There's nothing there."

The trail is expected to reopen when the bridge is repaired, which could happen by Jan. 4.

The big rock is now many medium-size rocks, nearly all several square feet in size. They are firmly planted below the trail at their new home, in the water of Eagle Creek.

Man has no plans to move them.

Brad Schmidt, 503-294-5940; [email protected]


Anyone remember this rock? I looked back in my photo archives and couldn't find anything -- though I did find some photos of a lot of trail work in the winter of 2010 in that area...


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Re: The Big Rock at Eagle Creek (2007)

Post by scrambler2 » October 2nd, 2013, 3:25 pm

I do remember the small landslide, muddy debris on the trail near that first bridge and the loose looking slope above. Also remember the closure. Didn't notice a large precarious rock hanging above the trail but remember wanting to move quickly through there.
PCT class of 2012

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Re: The Big Rock at Eagle Creek (2007)

Post by rcPDX » October 2nd, 2013, 8:47 pm

oh yeah, I remember it well. I don't have a picture of the true "before" but I remember that you walked under a ledge before the original bridge.

It started with a slide, and the Mt Hood Chapter PCTA worked on it Oct 27, 2007.
Slide Oct 27, 2007
Digging out
fixed the approach. note the bride was damaged.
the cliff that remained
We were concerned about that cliff with the big crack.

Then I joined in for the first attempt with the jackhammer. We pulled the bridge so we could re-use the material.
bridge gone, big gap
poking at the crack
Closing the trail.
It took a couple of work parties to build the new bridge. First was Jan 3, 2008 and we finished Jan 7, 2008.
lots of rock moving
TrailWorkRebuild (2).JPG
I don't recall exactly, but we certainly were slowed by the snow.
Finished Jan 7, 2008

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Re: The Big Rock at Eagle Creek (2007)

Post by Splintercat » October 10th, 2013, 6:03 pm

Thanks, Roberta - great photos! I remember the repairs you did quite well - hiked it in January 2008 (on my annual Super Bowl hike) and posted these photos somewhere on the forum:



Beautiful! Well, kinda muddy at first, of course..! :D But wearing quite well, now five years later..!

Tom :)

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