McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

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bobcat
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McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by bobcat » January 12th, 2021, 11:11 am

Like many eager fools, I was going to go out and spend a day under the dripping cliffs of Eagle Creek; of course, the parking areas were jammed – my fault entirely, should have known better and arrived at 4:00 a.m. with headlamps, etc. So I made an about turn and trundled back to the Yeon trailhead – a small area, but with many spaces still free!

I worked on all the trails here during the extended closure, beginning with the Upper McCord Trail, where in 2018 most of the CCC switchbacks had become invisible under tons of scree. TKO had found a rock work expert, Guy Hamblen, who had earned his chops over a couple of decades on the Appalachian Trail, and crews painstakingly restored the rock walls over a period of two years. I was on some of the first work parties, where we pushed the scree down the slope beginning at the top, shoving tons of it, usually by hand, down to the next level, and so on. One of Myron Kelly’s penstock pipes had slipped to cover one of the switchbacks. Rather than move it, we partially stabilized it and installed a step to shorten the switchback. With the vegetation burned away, we also found a few rusting tools and a heavy pulley (perhaps from the CCC or Myron Kelly days).

CCC walls, Upper McCord Trail.jpg
Myron Kelly pipe, Upper McCord Trail.jpg

The rock work crew became very popular, and I was never able to get a place on it after the initial work parties. I returned to Upper McCord at the end of 2019; on that trip we installed a couple of gabions in the tread just to the west of the cliff walk. There are still a couple of railings missing in the cliff walk itself (the trail here was originally blasted out by Myron Kelly in the 1880s to carry the penstocks for his pulp mill down on the river). However, I believe TKO is going to go in and fix the broken railings very soon. The big tree is still down at the end of the trail at McCord Creek. Looking up at the ridge leading to the top of the Gap and Wauneka Point, you can see a lot of green, which bodes well for the trails higher up. The big question is the state of the Nesmith Point Trail.

Elowah Falls from the cliff walk, Upper McCord Trail.jpg
Upper McCord Falls in view, cliff walk, Upper McCord Trail.jpg
Upper McCord Creek Falls, Upper McCord Trail.jpg

I next took the 400 to Elowah Falls. After the fire, the switchbacks leading down the slope were entirely buried, so crews had to uncover the trail and reroute some of the switchbacks. Heading back there at the end of 2019, we found a huge boulder in the middle of the trail near Elowah Falls. The photo shows the boulder after we had spent the better part of a day hacking away at it with sledgehammers to reduce it by half. Once we got it to manageable size, we used a couple of rock bars to lever it off the trail. It crashed down the slope, hit a mossy boulder in the middle of McCord Creek, and exploded into a thousand pieces!

With Glen's group at Elowah Falls, TKO.jpg
Footbridge over McCord Creek, Gorge 400 Trail.jpg

On the east slope above the creek, TKO has restored the old viewpoint trail, also with some CCC walls, that offers a higher view of Elowah Falls and a glimpse of the small upper tiers and the twisting defile that carries McCord Creek through the basalt layers.

Rock walls, Elowah Viewpoint Trail.jpg
Tumbling creek above the falls, Elowah Viewpoint Trail.jpg
Cliff section, Upper McCord Trail, from the Elowah Viewpoint Trail.jpg

I spent many work parties over two years on the 400 Trail between McCord Creek and Tanner Creek. This is a little-hiked section of the 400, being mainly used to access Munra Point. State Parks has plonked a new picnic table above the 400 where the previous very mossy and rotting one had been. You’ll have to trip through blackberries to get to it though.

Lone picnic table, Gorge 400 Trail.jpg
Beacon Rock from the Gorge 400 Trail.jpg
Big scree slope, Gorge 400 Trail.jpg

The old Moffett Creek hiker bridge survived the fire despite the howling inferno that Moffett Creek became a little higher up. Munra Point is still closed although the path leading off the 400 just east of Moffett Creek seems well-worn (as it was during the entire length of the closure – I know a couple of citations were issued to Munra fans sneaking in here). Between Moffett and Tanner, we dug a few drains and cleaned out a few more. They all seem to be working well. In one spot, there are the remains of a cistern once used to service a drinking fountain on the old highway. I did go over one small new slide east of Moffett. The slope leading down to Tanner Creek is quite unstable, and there’s a new slide between the trail and Tanner Creek that threatens to take out the trail. (The current pineapple express is probably going to instigate not a few more slides in the Gorge.)

At Moffett Creek Footbridge, Gorge 400 Trail.jpg
Junction with Munra Point Trail, Gorge 400 Trail.jpg
Remains of cistern, Gorge 400 Trail.jpg

I decided to walk back along the paved HCRH Trail, maybe for the only time in my life. Much of it is right next to the freeway. It did give me a chance to visit the original Moffett Creek Bridge on the HCRH, constructed in 1915 and touted as “the longest flat-arch bridge in the country and the longest three-hinged concrete span in the world.” There’s also the HCRH bridge over McCord Creek, opened in 2012.

The Moffett Creek Bridge, Historic Columbia River Highway Trail.jpg
Moffett Creek Bridge from the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail.jpg
McCord Creek Bridge, Historic Columbia River Highway Trail.jpg
McCord Creek Bridge plaque, Historic Columbia River Highway Trail.jpg
McCord Creek from the bridge, Historic Columbia River Highway Trail.jpg

Also, you get good views of the road cuttings through the Eagle Creek Formation, a thick layer of volcanic breccia/conglomerate that was deposited before the Columbia River Basalts of c. 17-14 million years ago. (The volcanic origin, from a mountain range that no longer exists, is thought to be in the vicinity of Three Corner Rock.) If you look carefully, you may be able to make out the remains of petrified trees. Apparently, these are mainly oak, but also elm, sycamore, and maple.

Fossilized log, McCord Creek, Historic Columbia River Highway Trail.jpg

The Upper McCord/Elowah Falls area were not as busy as I thought they would be. There was one other hiker on the 400/HCRH.

squidvicious
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Re: McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by squidvicious » January 12th, 2021, 12:00 pm

Thanks for this. I always enjoy hearing stories about trail work. I've wondered about those switchbacks to Elowah, as that area tended to wash out in the best of times. And good news about restoring that old viewpoint trail! The last time I went that way I came away with ticks, one of which wound up infected, so extra happy for that to be clear.

You must have had a real stroke of luck in your timing to find it not too busy. I wanted to stop off and check it out as I drove by recently, but found it packed, with cars stacked all along the road as far as the eye could see.

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bobcat
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Re: McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by bobcat » January 13th, 2021, 11:46 am

squidvicious wrote:
January 12th, 2021, 12:00 pm
You must have had a real stroke of luck in your timing to find it not too busy.
I started at 9:00 a.m. and there were about eight cars there. When I got back (around 2:00), there were a few cars parked back up the road but also spaces regularly opening up. Everyone else was just doing the short hikes to the waterfalls. Definitely another one to get to fairly early.

squidvicious
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Re: McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by squidvicious » January 13th, 2021, 12:49 pm

Unfortunately that window of opportunity has closed for a little while :(

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Chip Down
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Re: McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by Chip Down » January 13th, 2021, 4:02 pm

Nice report, Bobcat. Thanks for the little details, bringing some interesting factoids to what could have been a rather drab TR.

I like that old bridge, right next to the traffic barreling through on 84. Funny, I'll gripe about highway noise up the hill, but I've been known to sit on that bridge and enjoy watching the world go by.

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woodswalker
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Re: McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by woodswalker » January 14th, 2021, 2:58 pm

I was curious if the 400 was open past Tanner Creek? Looking at one list of openings it appeared so, but I see an area closed sign in one of your final photos of the area. I really liked that little section for spring woodland bloom. Thank so much for all the work on the trails. As someone who has to get help to do that work in my own yard it is much appreciated.

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Don Nelsen
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Re: McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by Don Nelsen » January 14th, 2021, 4:30 pm

Bobcat,

Thanks so much for all your work! Great photos and back story, too.

dn
"Everything works in the planning stage".

Ron Goodwin
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Re: McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by Ron Goodwin » January 15th, 2021, 10:46 am

Many of the petrified trees found by ODOT crews doing work have been dawn redwoods (Mesosequoia) and Ginko's. Good specimens at Bonneville Dam fish hatchery, visitor center and at Marine Park in Cascade Locks. Have 2 good ones at Multnomah Falls Visitor Center donated years ago.

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bobcat
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Re: McCord Creek-Elowah Falls to Tanner Creek 1-6-21

Post by bobcat » January 15th, 2021, 12:14 pm

woodswalker wrote:
January 14th, 2021, 2:58 pm
I was curious if the 400 was open past Tanner Creek?
Yes, it is. The Area Closed sign is just east of Moffett Creek at the 400 junction with the Munra Point scramble trail (meaning you can't go up into the backcountry).
Ron Goodwin wrote:
January 15th, 2021, 10:46 am
Many of the petrified trees found by ODOT crews doing work have been dawn redwoods (Mesosequoia) and Ginko's. Good specimens at Bonneville Dam fish hatchery, visitor center and at Marine Park in Cascade Locks. Have 2 good ones at Multnomah Falls Visitor Center donated years ago.
Metasequoia and ginkgo fossils have been found in the base sandstone layer of the Eagle Creek Formation, right above what is known as the Ohanapecosh Formation, in the vicinity of Metasequoia Creek, which runs under the scree (it seems - I've never been able to find the creek myself) between McCord and Moffett creeks. I believe many of these fossils have come from near the mouth of that invisible creek, which is on private property. The Eagle Creek layers that you can see from the trails/freeway contain fossils of the deciduous angiosperms I mentioned (according to the geological articles I've read anyway).

The Metasequoia sandstone layer is believed to be about the same vintage as the John Day fossil beds.

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