Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winter Hiking in the Columbia Gorge: Wahclella Falls

Sadly, this trail burned in the September 2017 fire and remains closed. Trail conditions for the first 0.3 mile were assessed as in poor condition. The trail is covered in rocks and tread is buried in multiple places. Special safety concerns: Continuous rock fall, upslope hazards, and possibility of slides along trail.

Like a homing pigeon, I'm drawn to the western Columbia River Gorge's abundant waterfalls and lush green riot of moss and ferns whenever I visit  Portland. I always try to sneak up for a hike along the Gorge's many trails, some I've walked since I was a girl and some for the first time.

On a rainy morning recently I hiked to Wahclella Falls, a first for me. When I was growing up in east Multnomah County this trail near Bonneville Dam wasn't open for public access, but now it's quite popular. Of course. It's easy, relatively close to Portland (about 30 minutes east up I-84), and gorgeous.

When I get to the trailhead around 8:30 on a Saturday morning, there's only one car in the parking lot. Anymore that's pretty unusual on a weekend.

After layering up in fleece and a water-repellent shell, I start up along swollen Tanner Creek through a forest of moss-encrusted trees. It rained heavily the last few days, so there's a lot of water rushing down the narrow canyon walls into the creek.

Pretty quickly I cross a small bridge with a waterfall (Munra Falls) gushing beside the trail with the intensity of a fire hose.

Looking back down Tanner Creek to Munra Falls and bridge on the right.
This short and easy hike (1.8 miles roundtrip with just 300 feet of elevation gain) starts out fairly flat along the creek before rising gently. Right away I pass evidence of slides down the steep basalt canyon walls.

It occurs to me that hiking after a heavy rain in a slide-prone area is not the safest place to be. (Same goes for those icy days when traversing sections of trail with steep drop-offs.) Just the day before a woman had been killed by a landslide on the Oregon coast. So I proceed  with caution, a little more quickly than usual.

One of several slides across the trail.
But I'm rewarded with ethereal beauty that makes me feel like I'm walking through an ancient Chinese landscape painting.

Ephemeral waterfalls that aren't there in the drier months have sprung all along the trail, mingling with remnant patches of snow from a few days earlier. After a very dry 2015, it's fantastic.

Not too far from the Main Event (Wahclella Falls), I come to a fork in the trail and decide to stay high.  From here it's not too far down to the end of the loop trail. 

I can feel and hear the falls before I see it. And then there it is, flowing full throttle.

Wahclella Falls

With the rain coming down harder, I don't linger too long after taking a few shots. It's hard to capture the falls with all the mist and rain.

Looking back up the trail

Of course I can't resist stopping to take more shots along the way. I especially love the vibrant aqua green-blue of the creek between the mossy rocks.

And the moss!

Traffic is picking up on the trail on the way back. I'm always slightly surprised at how many more people are on the trails than when I roamed the Gorge as a teenager.

'Twas a short hike, but I need to return to Portland to meet up with some friends. I drive back west on I-84 along the Columbia River happy and refreshed from this morning dose of nature nourishment.

Do you have a favorite hike in the Columbia Gorge? Would love to hear in the comments below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
The trailhead is about 30 miles eastward up the Gorge from Portland. From I-84, take Exit #40/Bonneville Dam. Turn south at the stop sign and drive about 100 feet. Stay to the right, which takes you to Wahclella Falls trailhead.


Suezy Proctor said...

Beautiful photography and narration Jill. I agree with you that some of the photos look like an ancient Chinese forest. The one photo, in particular, - the long waterfall seen through mist and fog is killer gorgeous. It would be a beautiful image on a scroll for a Haiku about your experience.

I gulped…reading along...nervous for your safety. No lecture…just want you to know are infinitely more beautiful to look at than an obituary.


Sister Anne said...

The unexpected tropical blues in the waters are gorgeous. It is sunny here now and am looking out toward moss covered branches outside of my office and steam rising...makes me want to get out and go on a walk. Will have to try that one this summer when I am in Oregon. Thanks!

Judy Gamble said...

Thank you, Jill! So beautiful. Rain falling here and you've encouraged me to seek out the waterfalls on the flanks of Mt. Tam in the not too distant future.

Anonymous said...

Hey girlfriend please tell me that you are not hiking alone. Mary lou

jill said...

Suezy, I love your idea about the haiku. And yea, probably not the wisest to hike there at that time, but statistically still probably safer than driving on the interstate to get there. :)

Anne, yes, walking out in nature! More!

Judy, I hope you do get out to Mt. Tam and witness some waterfall action. I find being out in nature so nourishing on many levels.

Mary Lou, well, occasionally I hike alone, but usually on shorter, more popular trails and only if I can't find someone to join. Generally do day hikes with buddies. :) But thanks for your concern.

Anonymous said...

after fall the falls

sphere formed the atmos dances

gorged and lifted we

jill said...

Thank you for the lovely and inscrutable haiku, dear Anonymous. I will ponder and then perhaps dance.

Anonymous said...

Great Idea,

Can you do so to this?

Empie of the Sun

Anonymous said...

Swordfish Hotkiss Night

Calling All Life Forms

John said...

Great pictures, Jill. I thought I had hiked every gorge trail at some point during my 50+ years of living in Oregon, but Wahclella Falls is a new one to me. My favorite Columbia Gorge hike is the Oneonta Gorge "trail" - through the water, at some places chest deep and icy cold, back to the falls. I don't know if it has ever re-opened, after being blocked by a huge log jam during the flood of '96. On a hot summer day the cool air coming out of the narrow gorge was very refreshing.
Big Bro John

ashley g said...

So lovely! I love the waterfall in the mist and the blue color of the water. Such a beautiful spot, I love the gorge and have to get back down there. :)

Kathy O'Dell said...

Let's go sometime. That water is such a startling blue. I want to see it in person!