Before The Fire

A side view of Horsetail Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge

A side view of Horsetail Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge from the trailhead next to the road. This is my favorite place to hike near Portland but even after the Eagle Creek fire is contained I doubt this trail will be open until at least the spring. From the pictures I’ve seen this area wasn’t completely burned but some of the trees in the background are gone, no idea about further up towards the upper part of the falls, my favorite waterfall. The nearby interstate is still closed as they work to clear dangerous trees and stabilize potential rockslides, work that will eventually have to be done on the trails before it is safe to let the public back in. I haven’t heard if my feared bridge survived, but I suspect a number of bridges will need to be replaced.

I hope the pikas are doing OK too but there is much work to be done yet by the firefighters to contain the blaze before the full extent of the fire can be determined. Some of the trails further east may be open during the winter, they should be less touched by the fire. I can explore other places too of course, but when I needed to immerse myself in beauty for a few hours, all these hikes are within a half hour’s drive from my house in Portland.

The Gorge will still be there, and will still be beautiful, even if part of it has a long recovery ahead. As this alternate view of the falls shows, the water of Horsetail Falls plunges past basalt, a reminder of the forces of lava and floods that violently changed the landscape long ago and gave us the Gorge that we love so much.

Horsetail Falls plunges past basalt

A Bench to the Left of Me, A Waterfall to the Right

A horizontal view of Latourell Falls through the forest

I was heading up the loop trail around Latourell Falls when I saw a bench beside the trail and I wondered why it was there, when I looked to the right and all became clear as I saw the waterfall plunging over the basalt cliff. You have a lot of choices when photographing this waterfall, there’s a spot right near the parking lot with a nice distant view of the falls through the forest, you can go right to the base of the falls with a clear (and maybe wet) view of the falls, or you can photograph it here as a view through the woods. I like them all. You can clearly see the yellow lichen that drew me to the falls, although from his high vantage point you can only see a bit of the columnar basalt that also caught my eye.

There are other choices too, such as the classic choice of horizontal or portrait orientation. I like the horizontal picture best for this shot, even though my framing choice leaves out most of the blue wildflowers (delphinium?) blooming below, as I liked the symmetry of the leaves at the top and bottom. With the waterfall I also had to choose a fast shutter speed or a slow shutter speed to either freeze or blur the movement of the water. I prefer some waterfalls one way or the other but I think this one looks good both ways. I prefer the frozen shot as it shows how the shapes the water takes change as it plunges down the long cliff face, and although the picture has more noise due to the much shorter exposure, modern cameras handle this amazingly well (in previous years I would have been more inclined for the slower exposure to minimize color noise).

But it’s the 4K video that really shines. It was hiking in the Columbia River Gorge many years ago that almost convinced me to buy a video camera, solely for the purpose of having long videos of mountain streams that I could play in the background. I’d really like to figure out if there’s an automated program that could find a good place to start and end a track so it would play naturally on an endless loop, as that’s what I’d really like, to be able to just loop the video on the TV and have endless hours of waterfalls as a soothing background.

A vertical view of Latourell Falls through the forest

First Hike

Upper Latourell Falls

I spent this lovely spring morning on my first hike of the Latourell Falls loop in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. I wasn’t familiar with this waterfall even though it isn’t far from the others I visit as the trailhead is past where I normally turn off to go back to Portland. They featured the waterfall during an episode of Oregon Field Guide on Oregon Public Broadcasting and I was hooked when they showed the lichens and basalt of the main falls, so I had some fun photographing them this morning with my 100-400 lens. I then took the loop up to Upper Latourell Falls (shown here) before heading back down to the main falls. The return loop takes you down to the base of the falls where a group of photographers was huddled with their tripods around a small bridge. I didn’t stop for pictures and just admired the view instead, I’ll head there first on my next visit.

An absolutely lovely morning, I don’t know how I missed out on this hike having been in Oregon for 20 years now but I’ll be back soon. I’m always a little nervous about new hikes in the Gorge as some of them I can’t do because of my fear of heights, but this one was easy (I’d give it a 2 out of 10 on the Boolie Utter Panic Index). There is an optional loop that takes you onto a little outcropping above the main falls, which I would rate a 10 out of 10, but you don’t have to go anywhere near it if you don’t want to (and I didn’t).


A man stands in reverence next to Upper Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

Upper Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge may be my favorite waterfall, a place of worship in an area rich with wonders. I was delighted as I looked back to the falls to see a kindred spirit had stopped for a moment of reverence, his hands together as if in prayer, before resuming his hike. The exposure took half a second so thankfully he stayed perfectly still.

The Forgotten Bridge

A view of the bridge over Sol Duc Falls

It rained the entire way on the short hike down to Sol Duc Falls, not surprising since I deliberately planned this trip around rainy weather. I was looking forward to seeing the falls, having visited them a few times before, but my heart sank on the approach.

The bridge. I always forget about the bridge.

I love the bridge itself, sturdy and wooden and water-soaked like the enveloping forest. The problem is the deep and narrow chasm that lies below as I’m rather scared of heights. Add the deafening roar of the falls and it overwhelms my senses. I screwed up my courage and walked across without looking down and started taking pictures of the falls from the other side, a little out of sorts and finding it hard to concentrate.

A large family was there already (or arrived shortly thereafter, the visit is a bit of a blur in my memory). You can see a few of them on the bridge at the top of the picture, unwitting models that provide a sense of scale. They were lovely folks and helped me relax a little bit. When I decided to head back to the car, I gathered my courage once more and made a beeline across the bridge. The family had all gathered on the bridge for a picture and as I passed asked if I’d mind taking a picture of their group. I froze in place and couldn’t say anything. I think they thought they might have offended me with their innocuous request so I quickly stammered that I’d be happy to take their picture but I had to get off the bridge.

Once on the other side they handed me their camera, a Nikon unfortunately as I shoot Canon and the controls are similar yet different and I had been struggling to shoot even with a camera familiar to me. Hopefully the picture came out well enough, looking at the result on the camera at least you could tell they were having a good time. I hope they were happy with it because they made my visit more enjoyable and now I can smile when I look at this picture and think about the bridge, at least until the next time I have to cross it.