play misty for me (added 3/25: follow up report for 3/17)

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Chip Down
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play misty for me (added 3/25: follow up report for 3/17)

Post by Chip Down » February 24th, 2016, 12:00 am

Abstract: Mist Falls from above (success), then attempts to gain middle tier from above and below (failure).

Had the pick of the parking-space litter when I arrived at Wahkeena at dawn. But damn, even on a blustery Tuesday in feb, it was packed to capacity later.

Started up at a leisurely pace, and at a prominent switchback headed off XC to Mist Creek. Ugh, it was awful. getting to the creek was okay, but the creek was fringed with thorny brush, and the banks were steep and soft and brushy, and the creekbed was all brushy/thorny. It wasn't difficult, just a hassle. Wanted to leave a marker so that on the way back up I'd know when to turn toward the trail, but didn't think to bring tape. Fortunately, spotted a Get Well balloon. How fortuitous! Occurred to me I wasn't absolutely sure this was Mist Creek. Could be one of those minor creeks between Mist and Wahkeena. By the time I reached the precipice, it was obviously Mist. Could see the creek below. I'd been protected from the wind in this creekbed, but now on the edge of the cliff it was savage. I've rarely ever felt so windraped. Matt Zafino says 50mph today. Actually not that bad, but it was cold, and scary with that exposure (on edge of cliffs). To get a view over the edge, I clung to a tree. If it hadn't been there, I would have tied in to one upslope a bit. I'm not entirely kidding when I say I'll probably have one of those kick-your-legs-when-almost-asleep moments tonight, thinking about getting blown off that cliff.

Wanted to drop down to the middle tier, but no dice. Super steep all over. I turned back. Avoiding that awful creek, I returned on a parallel-ish mossy ridge, nice and open (but windier). Regained the trail just yards from the switchback where I left it. Got lucky. You know how it is when you're XC looking for a switchback. If you miss, you're screwed.

Hiked up the trail to where it crosses the creek, and went upstream looking for the source. Took too long, too brushy. Found a pair of twin springs, but no, they fooled me; the creek is above ground a bit upstream, so I kept going. Another balloon, this time a 2015 congradulations. Eventually got marshy, no distinct spring, so I turned back. Avoided the brushy fringe, just like I did on the lower stretch at the falls. Had to wind around a bit, following clearings. Kinda spooky being way off trail and not really knowing where I was going, but knew I had to hit something in the FoxGlove network. Like before, got lucky and found the trail just yards from where I left it (the bridge)!

Scooted down to the car, now running late. Hit the Mist Trail about 2:00. From bottom of falls, went west, trying to get to that middle tier. Struggled for too long, gave up. It was a labyrinth of gullies, benches, talus. Couldn't link it together to make a continuous route work. Would be fun, if not for the unstable brushy talus (picture the elevator shaft covered in thorny brush, and the rocks rolling under your feet). Back to the creek, then east. Better terrain. Followed a on-and-off creekbed to the bottom of falls, discovered most of the creek actually came from a gully that curved up the cliffs, just east of the falls (which I like to call Little Mist). Went up into the gully, hoping it might go somewhere. There were no other options; this would be the only possible way to access the middle or top of Mist from below. Because the gully curved slightly, I had to keep going to see if it was doable. Wet in the middle, steeper and crumbly to the sides. Glad I wore my good boots. A bit treacherous. I didn't feel entire comfortable here. Unstable. Pretty much dead-ended at a fork in the creek, a narrow branch to the left/east, and a little amphitheater with minor cascades to the west/right. Might be able to get higher next time if I get creative, but it was scary late, had to retreat. I said that a couple times earlier, but you know how it is. But yeah, this time it was for real, I couldn't risk getting caught up here when daylight faded, even though I might have needed only 20 more minutes. Roped up for the descent, as much for speed as safety, but that was maybe more trouble than it was worth, considering I had to keep tossing my axe and trekking pole downslope (no pack). Back to Mist Falls where I lingered until it was nearly dark, then down to the car before I needed a headlamp (which I had, but didn't want to use on that awful Mist "trail"). Reached the car about 6:00. Really warm, quite different from the morning.

As miserable as the wind was, there was a bonus: I've been told Mist Falls disappears on hot dry windy summer days. The creek can actually get blown away, and never reaches bottom. Well, that's what happened today...almost. The mist swirled like smoke from a cigarette, hitting bottom as a scattered spray, coalescing into a dozen little streams cascading down the bottom quarter of the cliff. It was a strange sight, almost as if there were a dozen springs along the lower part of the cliff. It was mesmerizing. I stood under the top of the waterfall and looked up, and sometimes the wind would let up for a moment, and it looked like I was about to get blasted, but then another gust would blow it away, and I'd stay dry. When I was exploring to the west though, I did get "rained" on quite a bit.

This was the second time I took an ice axe for a dirt route, and I loved it! Rotten logs, firm dirt, hooking onto trees and rocks, slashing through brush, so many benefits! I bashed it hard enough to lose the spike, but whatever. I knew it was lose. It's an old beater, never used it anymore, no big loss.

Stopped at Crown Point on the way home. Never been there in the dark. Wow, Portland is so close! I still want to see Portland lights from Angels Rest though (better angle, I think). It was fun feeling the car buffeted. One gust was so strong I nearly expected my car to get flipped right over the guardrail.

More pics will follow soon.
Last edited by Chip Down on March 25th, 2016, 9:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chip Down
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Re: play misty for me

Post by Chip Down » February 24th, 2016, 1:25 am

One more post will be needed to get the rest of the pics up.
Yellow line isn't a GPS track. I just drew it by hand, so it's approximate.
This was a nice bonus. Spotted this mossy viewpoint on the way back down, around sunset. About the same height as the middle tier of mist falls, to the east.
As is often the case, it's steeper than it appears. Also, you can't tell, but there really is a creek running down the middle.
This pic was taken a couple weeks ago, when it wasn't windy. Posted for comparison.

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Re: play misty for me

Post by Chip Down » February 24th, 2016, 1:39 am

last post
This is about as high as you can get on Mist Creek before it broadens into a brushy marsh. I was surprised to see it so well-defined and easy to follow here. Lower, it was braided and went underground briefly, and the brush was semi-thick.
Mist Creek below the bridge. So glad I didn't try to follow this. Would have been miserable.
Pretty sure this is Mist Creek higher up, near its source.
Yeah, okay, we get it.
The nice mossy open ridge I took back from the falls to the trail.
Want to rap down Mist Falls? Good news, you don't have to bring a sling.
Mist Falls living up to its name. Kinda looks like smoke, doesn't it?
The tree I hugged to look over the cliffs at the top of Mist Falls.
Looking down Mist Creek, below the switchback. Ugh. I was not pleased when I saw this.

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Re: play misty for me

Post by Chip Down » February 24th, 2016, 1:52 am

Oh, I almost forgot: I saw this flower today, first one I've seen in the gorge this year. I'm not really into flowers, but it caught the attention of my jaded winter eyes.

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Re: play misty for me

Post by Peder » February 24th, 2016, 9:55 am

This is the first time I hear of somebody going to the top of Mist Falls! Thank you for sharing the results of your explorations.
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Re: play misty for me

Post by sprengers4jc » February 24th, 2016, 10:02 am

Chip Down wrote:Oh, I almost forgot: I saw this flower today, first one I've seen in the gorge this year. I'm not really into flowers, but it caught the attention of my jaded winter eyes.
Boy those sure looks like Columbia Kittentails! (hoping SplinterCat or greglief can confirm or deny for me) They only bloom in the Gorge and are hard to find. Nice one!
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Re: play misty for me

Post by Bosterson » February 24th, 2016, 11:35 am

Interesting exploration. Mist Falls is one of my favorites in the Gorge - it's fun to watch the upper tier blow off into oblivion while driving by it en route to another hike. :)

This gully east of Mist Falls is the Barranco de Pablo. It may be a bit more difficult in wetter conditions considering all those little seasonal trickles are running in the upper amphitheater. I haven't been up there (yet), but it appears a little technical scrambling is needed to get from there to the Wahkeena trail, so keep in mind that both Ben and Pablo are experienced off trail folks. Caveat emptor.
Did you find this sling above Mist Falls?? Is it just tied off around a downed tree, with a quicklink to rap from? I know that people ice climb the lower (slab) tier of Mist in freezing winter conditions, but I don't think they make it up to the top, so this is an interesting find - probably from someone doing a little bit of canyoneering...

Speaking of which, you said you used a rope to descend the Barranco - do you mean you rappelled? I didn't really get what you meant about throwing your axe and poles down the hill. (What happened to your pack?)

I also agree with the Sprengers that your flowers are Columbia kittentails.
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Re: play misty for me

Post by Koda » February 24th, 2016, 2:13 pm

Chip Down wrote:Roped up for the descent, as much for speed as safety, but that was maybe more trouble than it was worth, considering I had to keep tossing my axe and trekking pole downslope (no pack).
I’m curious what type of rappel style did you use in this area and how did you carry your rope and rappel gear without a pack?
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Re: play misty for me

Post by Chip Down » February 24th, 2016, 7:28 pm

Peder wrote "This is the first time I hear of somebody going to the top of Mist Falls!"
Indeed, I couldn't find a report either. I'm sure it's been done many times though. It's quick and easy. I'm sure the lack of popularity is because it's not at all scenic (as shown in my pics) and because it's a bit of a hassle to get to. Not difficult from the top, just unpleasant.

Bosterson asked "Did you find this sling above Mist Falls?? Is it just tied off around a downed tree, with a quicklink to rap from?"
Indeed, there was a good-sized tree right across the creek, just above the falls.

Bosterson wrote "here's a couple TRs you should replicate". No, he didn't, of course, I'm teasing..but he might as well have. ;)

Bosterson asked "you said you used a rope to descend the Barranco - do you mean you rappelled?"
Well, essentially, although I wouldn't use that term for such a low-angle slope. To compare it to a couple "trails" with fixed ropes, it was considerably trickier than crossing the Elliott, and the descent to Memaloose Creek, but it wasn't a fall=death route.

Bosterson asked "I didn't really get what you meant about throwing your axe and poles down the hill. (What happened to your pack?)"
When I started part two of my trip, at the bottom of the Mist Falls trail, it was about 2:00 I think. I figured I had to be back in about 4 hrs, so I just brought a little butt pack for the essentials. So that's why I couldn't carry my axe and pole easily, so I just tossed 'em down in stages. Yeah, I beat the shit out of my gear.

Koda asked "I’m curious what type of rappel style did you use in this area and how did you carry your rope and rappel gear without a pack?"
For easy terrain like this, just a dulfersitz or arm rappel is fine. No harness or hardware. Remember, I didn't know if I'd even need it, so I needed to keep it simple. I had a little butt pack for the essentials.

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Re: play misty for me (added 3/25: follow up report for 3/17

Post by Chip Down » March 25th, 2016, 9:35 pm

follow up 3/17
Went back to Barranco de Pablo, to the point where imminent darkness forced me down last time. Tried the narrow gully to the left/east, because it looked like there was an escape a little ways up that would allow me to explore to the right/west, but turned out that was an illusion. Not practical to continue up the gully, too steep and slippery. I've read that it's a dead end, and I would agree with that assessment. Dropped down and over, to the little amphitheater to the west that has a handful of cascades running through it. There's a pair of trees perhaps half way up the slope, and above those the slope eases up a bit, and it appears there's a narrow bench that might grant access to the east, and maybe up the intermediate ridge that others have used, or perhaps to the west, where it might be possible to ascend a little cascade and apparently up into yet another bowl. Getting to those trees would be tricky. The spaces in between the cascades appear to be dirt and vegetation, but it turned out to be just moss and ferns thinly covering junk rock. So I tied my rope to my axe and tossed it over one of the trees, a la Batman, and voila, easy access. From the tree, it still looked like the slope eased up considerably, but there was maybe five or ten feet of dangerously unstable muddy slope to travel first. Too risky. Descended, repeated my Batman technique and tried the other tree; not any better. I gave up. I didn't even try the ridge, partly because it looked tricky, but also because it just didn't look as interesting as the routes I wanted to take, so for me it just wasn't worth the risk/effort (if it had offered secure footing, I would have wanted to see where it went; and now, from the comfort of home, I half-way wish I had given it a shot).

From that turnaround point, it only took about 30 mins to get back to Wahkeena TH! On the way down, I discovered just how treacherous this terrain is. I cleaned up my descent route along the way, poking with my treking pole before trusting a boot placement, and was horrified to see how easily the mud/rock mix sloughed away and joined the creek. That observation, combined with the instability of the mud/rock in the amphitheater, made me feel better about my decision to turn back; no sane person should hike here.

By the time I reached the paved Wahkeena trail, I was so wet and muddy that it was tempting to go back to my car and change and go home, but it was just noonish. I decided to go up and past Wahkeena Springs, toward Angels Rest, to the first switchback that offers easy access to Mist Creek, where I headed north, similar to my previous trip, but veering more to the east, looking for access to the middle teir of Mist Falls, or maybe upper Barranco de Pablo, or maybe the prominent ridge just west of Wahkeena, or whatever interesting terrain I might stumble into (damn that was a long sentence). It was sometimes delightfully clear, other times very brushy, to the extent that I was grateful for a few long fallen logs I could follow, or the occasional game trail. One thing that was consistent though: a series of steep ridges and gullies, more than I expected, made it hard to keep track of where I was, especially since it was hard to see through the brush.

(This paragraph is just a tale of woe, but also slightly humorous. Skip to the next paragraph if you want to focus on the terrain.) I fell three times, just because of the trip hazards when bushwhaking along a steep slope. The third time was quite a tumble, and I landed hard on my bad shoulder. Last time I did that, in October, I broke my humerus. Anyway, everything seemed to be intact, so I continued on. Soon, I felt wet on the back of my legs. Thought maybe I had landed in a little pool or marshy spot or something, but soon realized it was beer. No, I didn't land in a magical beer spring; I had ruptured the can in my pack. So yeah, the inside of my pack was soaked. Sat down in the fern-covered slope and had my lunch, salvaging what I could and cleaning up as well as I could. I was already miserably wet and muddy from Barranco de Pablo, but the rest of the day I'd also be sticky and smelly. I think the worst was my gloves. If I'd known how stiff and sticky they would dry, I might have washed them in the first creek I passed. But of course it was cold and windy too, and I wasn't too eager to wear soppy wet gloves, so I lived with the beer residue instead. (This mess could have been avoided if I had stopped for lunch at Lemmon's viewpoint as planned, but it was tourist crowded, so I kept moving.) Shortly after the beer fiasco, my right foot was suddenly gripped in a brutal cramp that made it feel like it was in a vise. Fortunately was in a place where I could sit, tear of my gaiter, untied my double-tied lace, and get my boot off. After massaging the offending foot for a few minutes, I was able to continue.

I reached a spot that looked like it could be the top of Barranco de Pablo, but I wasn't inclined to drop through the steep brush to investigate. I also saw a nice ridge running to the north below me, and it looked like it would offer good access to a nice viewpoint, but as I continued east in hopes of an easy route to that ridge, I saw just more bushwhacking in all directions. Not knowing for sure where I was, or what adventures I might find if I continued east, I decided not to mess with dropping north into the suspected Barranco de Pablo.

A few minutes later, I encountered trail. I was surprised, didn't realize I was that close. At this point, I was cold, wet, muddy, soaked in beer, my foot hurt, I was slightly concerned about my shoulder, and my legs were surprisingly tired. Combining all that with the crappy terrain (steeper and brushier than expected), I gave in to the temptation of the trail and headed back. I thought about following Wahkeena Creek down, but I know it gets pretty rugged further down, so I decided to stick to the trail.

I didn't give it much thought at the time, but in retrospect it seems odd I didn't cross more creeks in that stretch of XC travel. There was a tiny creek between Mist and Little Mist, but it was captured between ridges close to the cliff edges, so it couldn't have joined other creeks, and yet it also doesn't correspond to where does it go? Wish I'd thought to investigate, although considering how steep and brushy it was, maybe wouldn't have bothered. And then there was a spring which could have fed Little Mist or any of the little creeks that feed into Barranco de Pablo, or could maybe be in the Wahkeena drainage. Again, I wish I'd been thinking about that when I passed the spring, but it just wasn't on my agenda, and probably not worth another trip to investigate (sure, I say that now, but you know how it is).

As I walked that trail towards Wahkeena Springs, I kept an eye on the downslope terrain to my left (northish) and was glad I wasn't down in that viewless brush, fighting my way over a series of ridges and gullies. It looked more difficult than interesting/fun, although in retrospect it might have been more interesting than another trip on that trail that I took back to Wahkeena Springs. I thought about how somebody could struggle through that terrain a few feet parallel to the trail, never knowing relief was a few steps uphill.

Just before Wahkeena Springs I saw something I've never noticed before. To the west is a straight ridge, high and steep but accessible, covered in trees and ferns, running north/south. Getting from the trail to the ridgecrest might take 20 minutes, and walking the ridgecrest looked easy. Apparently it just fades into that huge Wahkeena basin that you can peer into from the Devil's Rest trail. After my bushwhacking hassles, it was annoying to encounter such easy pleasant terrain that went nowhere interesting...or maybe it does. I might add it to my to-do list.

On the way down to Wahkeena TH I had time to take the longer Vista Point loop, and also visited the memorial viewpoint again (might as well, it's only a five minute walk). I didn't realize you can see Mist Falls from there, if the wind is making it misty. Or may have been what I've dubbed Little Mist Falls, at the beginning of Barranco de Pablo. It doesn't seem like I should have been able to see either of them from here, with the prominent intervening ridge in the way, but there was no doubt that I was seeing a wind-blown misty fall. Puzzling. Frustrating.

Just past the Wahkeena bridge at the bottom of the falls, I walked past that little fall that's probably unnamed, quite tall but low volume. Twenty minutes before sunset, so had time to follow it up a ways. As you can see from the pic below, it starts out easy, and finishes impossible (vertical). But what's in between, in the section where the creek isn't visible? I knew it couldn't be a big pool fringed with sandy beaches and wildflowers, but I thought it might be something interesting. The first ten feet or so above the trail are steep, with nothing to hold on to, so I went a few yards down the trail and looped up to meet the creek around the point where it turns abruptly. What I saw shocked me. That hidden section is steep and narrow, and there's nothing of any interest up there. It was difficult to reconcile that with what I saw from the trail. I think we've all experienced illusions where terrain promises a certain experience when viewed from a distance, but upon arrival it's disappointing. But when that disparity occurs in the space of just a few yards, it's jarring.

At the TH with a few minutes of light left, I followed Wahkeena Creek to the culvert where it meets the outflow from Benson Lake and passes under I-84. Maps show that Wahkeena Creek and Mist Creek flow into Hartman Pond, and the outflow is considered Wahkeena Creek. But it seems to me I followed Wahkeena Creek continuously (it didn't flow into the pond). I can't be absolutely certain, so now I'm wondering if I was extremely inattentive, or if my memory fails me, or if maps are wrong. One more thing to check out next time I'm in the area.
After a little light bushwhacking, came to this clearing, and realized it would have been easier to walk from TH along highway and follow ferns up.
Looking up from the turnaround point. I'm not skilled enough or crazy enough or stupid enough to continue up that. Too bad, it's lovely, and the bend to the left makes it enticing, makes me want to follow it higher.
Looking down from the turnaround point. Note the rotten logs in the streambed, great anchors for axe. About 40% up the left margin of pic, notice the combined outflow from the amphitheater. Just below that point, the gully drops again, and the trees to the right are great rap anchors (not entirely necessary, but use it if you've got it)
Made it to the tree on the left, and then the tree on the right, but that's it. The yellow dots mark what appears to be a narrow bench that might offer easy travel. So close!
I forgot to post my balloon pics from the original trip.
Last edited by Chip Down on March 25th, 2016, 9:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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