This was the final section of the Gorge Trail #400 to open up. I don’t usually hike the low level trails this late in the year, so it was a treat to enjoy the spring lushness and the wildflowers. One plant that has certainly proliferated on this stretch is poison oak. From the Benson Bridge to the Ainsworth Day Use Area, it is a common companion along the trail, much more noticeable than before and enjoying the extra sun exposure from the loss of canopy. Near the Ainsworth Interchange, nettles take over as the primary obstacle on a very overgrown tread at that end.
Multnomah Falls was quiet at 8:30 in the morning. Poison oak grows along the rock face above the Benson Bridge where we placed a couple of well-hidden gabions on a TKO work party (we didn’t notice it then!). Taking the 400, we identified the beginning of the Elevator Shaft; it looks like the poison oak thickets on the lower section are taller and denser than before. Then there was the decades-old slide that apparently was the reason for the long closure and which brought down fresh rubble this past January.
Up from the Oneonta Trailhead, a couple of slides were also active this past winter. The Oneonta Trail is gated at the junction above the Oneonta Gorge although TKO is working in the area of Triple Falls. Middle Oneonta Falls is jammed with a couple of logs, and the area was scorched by canopy fire, the most damaged section of this hike (although the bridge somehow survived unscathed). Only nails remain on the tree once signed for Oneonta Gorge. The loop around the edge of Oneonta Bluff is no longer a loop, but the same clifftop viewpoints are reached from the east side. An artificial swastika-shaped wetland in the Oneonta Bottomlands below sports carefully placed “habitat logs.”
From Ponytail Falls, we passed the junction with the little loop that comes up from the day use area. Then we passed the two trails which come up from Ainsworth Campground, the east one also being, I believe, the junction with the Mystery Trail although there was no evidence of that. The final section of trail down to the Ainsworth Interchange is rarely hiked but also one of the first sections TKO worked on after the fire. Little evidence of that, as nettles and blackberry overhang the tread, and a couple of partially gutted chop shop vehicles on the back road above the interchange display tow notices.
To avoid more nettles, we walked back along the road to the day use area and had lunch, getting a good view up to the Rock of Ages Arch. We walked through the recently refurbished Oneonta Tunnel, the new buttressing now sporting its first graffiti tag, no doubt the beginning of thousands. Multnomah Falls was bustling with crowds of maskless visitors upon our return, the great feeling of liberation almost palpable in the 91° sunshine.
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