Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lake Colchuck Hike



 While hiking up to Eight Mile Lake, I met a man named Steve on my way back down the mountain. He told me that his favorite local hike was Lake Colchuck. I later looked it up in my hiking book and saw that it was a long, fairly steep hike. I realized I'd need most or all of a day for hiking it and recovering from it. I also learned from my friend Manda, who'd taken the hike in July, that the trail is exposed to a lot of sun. I figured I'd wait for an overcast day so I wouldn't boil in the sun while climbing uphill. Little did I know that Leavenworth gets very few cloudy days...

Since we only had 1 cloudy day during all of my time in Leavenworth, and I had too much going on to hike it that day, I ended up having to take this hike on a sunny day. I waited for another cloudy day until one of my last days out there, but finally gave up and figured I should start the hike in the morning before the sun could do too much damage. I woke up early and hit the trail at about 7:30am.



This view greeted me a bit before I reached the lake. These beautiful granite slabs reminded me of our trip to Yosemite National Park. After seeing this view, I was glad I ended up coming on a nice day

The views wouldn't have been as beautiful without the blue sky, and hitting the trail early ended up working out really well for me. The sun didn't have a chance to shine on me until around 10:30am, and I was already on my way back down the mountain by then. I would have been dying if I'd been trying to do those brutal uphill stretches with little to no shade to protect me from the heat.



The views at the lake were gorgeous, but the problem I had was that I was too close to get a good shot. I would have needed a much nicer camera to fully capture the view I had in front of me. You'll have to use your imagination to put these two shots together. It was a lovely view to look at, but not from the lens of a cheap camera.


This was the best pic I could get of both the lake and the mountains. The lake was a rich, shimmering turquoise color. I wish I'd had an inflatable raft to take out on it.


I hadn't known there would be a waterfall here. That was a nice surprise! The waterfall book I use doesn't mention this falls, but I found a reference to it when I looked at the computer companion website (http://www.mymaps.com/nwfalls/nc/nc6.htm). He says access to Colchuck Falls is uncertain. I found it quite easily. It can be seen from the trail and only requires a short bushwack.


 I also saw this small falls from the trail. Overall this is a great hike with a stunning lake, beautiful mountains, impressive granite slabs, and even a couple of pretty waterfalls. I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Many Stunning Waterfalls of Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge

Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge is an extremely beautiful, well known waterfall that gets flooded with visitors year round. The parking lot has been packed every time I've visited, and the vast majority of the visitors are driving 30 miles east of Portland merely to marvel at one famous waterfall.

Personally, I think they're crazy! Now I don't dispute the idea that seeing Multnomah Falls is worth an extra 60 miles of driving, but there are so many beautiful things to see out this direction that I'm surprised people don't take the opportunity to see as much as they can. The gorge itself is stunning, and there are literally hundreds of waterfalls, some of which are every bit as beautiful and unique as Multnomah Falls.

I've mentioned a few of the other Columbia River Gorge waterfalls in some of my previous posts, but on our most recent trip to the area, I wanted to take the ultimate waterfall lovers hike - the Eagle Creek trail. Gregory Plumb, the author of my "Waterfall Lover's Guide" book, says this is his favorite hike.

This waterfall featured above, Metlako Falls, is actually on the cover of the 2010 edition of his book, featured below (though his photo is noticeably better since it's professionally done. He probably also visited the falls at an earlier time of year when the water flow was higher).

When we first arrived and set up camp the previous day, we visited a few waterfalls and found they weren't terribly impressive. August is the driest time of year for waterfalls in Oregon. I'd been concerned that we'd driven all the way down here to see nothing but dried up waterfalls.

So I was delightfully surprised to find that this waterfall was still quite impressive! Technically this should be the 2nd falls you see while hiking, but we missed the spur trail leading to it on our way up, so it ended up being the last one we saw. The spur trail is a bit more obvious on the descent. We looked for Wauna Falls, which should have been about 1/2 mile before this one, but we never found it.

I later learned on a closer reading of my book that many waterfalls are still worth seeing in dry periods as long as they have a medium to large watershed. This particular waterfall has a large watershed. Though you can see from the book cover photo that it does get bigger during the rainy months, it's not so much smaller in August that you'd regret having gone out of your way to see a waterfall that wasn't at its peak.

 
The next waterfall along the route is Lower Punch Bowl Falls, assuming you take the larger spur trail down to it. It was impressive that this much water was still coming over the falls, even though it's clear that the river it falls from was very dry.

We liked this little grotto.

 From here it's a short walk up to Punch Bowl Falls. If it looks familiar, it's because it's an extremely popular waterfall among photographers. 

 We also enjoyed taking multiple pictures of this falls. It's beautiful the way it drops into this large amphitheater.

And there are so many different angles to experiment with.

If you don't veer off to Lower Punch Bowl Falls, you can still see Upper Punch Bowl Falls from the viewpoint featured below.

 I did prefer this viewpoint, but it was nice to have both options, and to see Lower Punch Bowl Falls.

 Our next falls was Loowit Falls, which was very dry at this time of year. I've seen pictures of it in spring, though, and even then it's not all that impressive.

It was cool, but scary, to peer down into the gorge channel.

Skoonichuk Falls seemed like it'd be pretty impressive, but the trees make the view pretty obscured. We saw a guy standing at the bottom of it, so there must be a way to scramble down to a better vantage. I saw a path that might have been the way to get there, but Oscar didn't want to take it.

If you don't stray from the regular hiking trail, this is the best view you can get of the falls.

Oscar liked this little lizard.

And finally we reached the crowning jewel of the Eagle Creek Hike - Tunnel Falls.

I insisted on scrambling down to take pictures from the base of this falls. It's extremely steep and you slide for most of it, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not dangerous if it's not going to kill me. Sure I might break a leg if I lost my footing and tumbled down the hill, but it's not like I'm going to die from falling off a cliff.

This falls is really nifty since there's a tunnel built behind it. You actually have to come through it in order to continue the hike.

 This part, though, is quite dangerous. The entire hike hugs a lot of cliffs, so I would not recommend bringing little ones with you, or anyone who suffers from vertigo.

And the final hike before turning around is Eagle Creek Falls.

What I liked about this falls was how the water drops into it.

Waterfalls have several distinct forms, and this falls actually has four forms by itself - punchbowl, cascade, plunge, and horsetail.

The cliffs were pretty scary, but this part of the hike is not for the feint of heart. I have zero fear of heights, and even I felt a little dizzy here.

Tunnel Falls really is beautiful. It's also the front page of our book before the title page. His shot looks just like this one. I wonder if he scrambled down like we did to see the waterfall from its base.

Here's Oscar about to enter the tunnel in the gorge wall

Blue Grouse Falls can be seen from the trail, but the nearby vegetation greatly obscures the view.

These rocks we walked on to cross a stream looked like chocolate chip cookies!

After finishing our hike we took a few pics of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge from Vancouver Point.


Though our legs were tired from hiking, we really wanted to go mini golfing at an outdoor course in Happy Valley, OR. It's called Eagle Landing, and they have regular golf as well as 2 fun 18 hole minigolf courses. We'd come here the first time we visited Portland in 2007, and we enjoyed it so much that it stuck out in our memories, and we've been wanting to return since then.


We had a great time mini golfing, and the price was reasonable too. I also loved this centipede bench!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gorsh! What a Gorgeous Gorge!

Oscar and I have visited Portland and the Columbia River Gorge several times, but only recently did we discover the Scenic Byway that runs parallel to the freeway.

Unfortunately we discovered it on an ugly, rainy, very cloudy, very foggy day, so our views of the gorge were extremely limited (fortunately we still saw lots of awesome waterfalls that day, which the rain only made better.) I insisted that we return to the Columbia River Gorge on a sunny day sometime.

We ended up coming down to go camping here on August 21st, and what stunning views beheld our eyes. Wow!!!

The above shots were taken here at Chanticleer Point,

though the Vista House at Crown Point featured above is the more popular lookout. This building also goes underground too, so it's a lot bigger than it looks.

The views from here were beautiful as well, but I actually preferred the view from Chanticleer Point where you can see the Vista House in the distance.

What's interesting is that we had not actually intended to come here. We wanted to spend a weekend hiking to the Enchanted Valley of 10,000 waterfalls in Olympic National Park.

We'd planned to go backpacking into the forest, 13 miles each way, to visit the beautiful Enchanted Valley. But when I looked it up online, I learned that a rock slide had blocked the road leading to the trailhead. If we still wanted to go there, we would need to walk an extra 6 miles of road each way. This would have required an extra day for us, which we didn't have since I needed to go back to Leavenworth on Tuesday.

 Oscar and I had been looking forward to taking that trip for several weeks, so when we found out we couldn't do the one we wanted, we still wanted to go somewhere beautiful. Since it would have taken us about 4 hours to drive into the area of Olympic National Park where we'd wanted to go, I suggested we drive 4 hours to the Columbia River Gorge. It was further in distance but we could get there faster since we'd be taking freeway the entire way, and there were several first come, first serve campgrounds.

 When we went into Oregon and were driving east, I enjoyed the views of the gorge on this delightfully sunny day (highs near 90 that day and lows in the 60's that night), and remembered that we should take the Columbia Gorge Scenic Byway.

It's just stunning! I have no regrets about coming here instead of Olympic National Park.

After we finished taking pictures of the gorge, we drove by Latourall Falls. Though we'd been there before, it was a bit foggy, and we thought it'd be nice to get a picture of the falls on a clear day. This falls was barely a trickle of the stunning waterfall we'd seen before (click this link and scroll down to the bottom pictures to see what it's like in Spring). This discouraged me a bit. Though I'm a waterfall lover, I didn't realize that they dried up so much in August. I'd assumed they were strongest in Spring and were weakest in early winter. I'd seen good waterfalls in the summer, so I figured that's when they'd be at about middle flow. But late summer is actually the lowest time of the year for water flow.

We'd planned on taking a hike to many waterfalls in Eagle Creek, and after the first waterfall, I was afraid all of the falls would be very weak. I didn't realize, though, that not all waterfalls have the same watershed. In my waterfall reference book (Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by Gregory Plumb), he ranks the watersheds of all of his waterfalls from vsm(very small), sm(small), med(medium), and lg(large). Very small watershed falls are really only worth seeing in the spring when they're at their strongest, while large watersheds are great anytime of year unless there's been a long drought. The first falls we saw on this trip, Latourall falls, has a small watershed, which is why it didn't even seem like the falls we'd seen in the spring. The above falls, Starvation Creek Falls, is a pretty falls near Eagle Creek where we set up camp, but it is also has a small watershed, so I'd like to see it again in the Spring.

The above 2 waterfalls could also be found in this area. They are Cabin Creek Falls and Hole in the Wall Falls. Hole in the Wall falls is really nifty since you can see that it gets its name through the hole in the gorge wall that the falls come through. Cabin Creek Falls has a very small watershed and Hole in the Wall Falls has a small watershed.

We had some nice views of the gorge as we climbed through this hike.


Our last falls was Lancaster Falls, which wasn't bad considering it also had a very small watershed.

Supposedly there was another falls called Watson (or Wilson) Falls, but we never found it. It wasn't listed in our book, but there was a sign leading to it.

We drove a bit further down the gorge to the Columbia River Gorge hotel. Wah Gwin Gwin Falls is on the hotel property. It has a medium watershed, so it was still pretty cool to see even in dry time.

And before turning in we drove to Yeon State Park to see Elowah Falls. Though it has a small watershed, and I'd like to see it with greater water flow in the spring, it was still really beautiful.


It almost looked like an extremely tall shower. I loved the fingertip-like way it splashed down on these rocks.