Day 22 (August 17, 2017 – Portland, Oregon): “Long Detours”
It was about 5am when I awoke. I must have completely missed the 4:30am alarm. So I took some time to get caught up on the blogging, and it wouldn’t be until about 6:20am when I got into the car.
It turned out that the Hyatt House brekkie wasn’t ready by the time I left so I wound up skipping it. I hoped that I wouldn’t pay for skipping a meal healthwise.
Anyways, I made the drive out towards the I-84. I had to do a little detour because the Broadway Bridge was closed. But I still managed to make it to the freeway heading east into the Columbia River Gorge without too much hassle given the relatively light morning traffic.
The drive out east was pretty uneventful. The skies were overcast though they looked light enough to be burning off later in the day.
By about 7:10am, I arrived at the trailhead for Triple Falls. I was the first car around in the area so I was a little bit anxious about car break-ins. But once my GPS acquired the satellites, I was good to go to get started on the trail knowing that I wanted to fit in another hike to Elowah Falls and possibly Upper McCord Falls before returning to downtown Portland to pick up Julie and Tahia and drive out to the Oregon Coast.
The trail immediately started uphill. The sign suggested that it was 1.8 miles to Triple Falls, and I had recalled that it took some time to finish it from our last visit to this falls some 13 years ago.
There was a very long switchback where it wouldn’t be until roughly 7:35am where I noticed a sign and a spur trail leading to a “viewpoint”. I didn’t recall seeing this before so I decided to spend a few minutes to pursue this trail to see what this viewpoint was all about.
It looked like the trail kept going further behind me, but in the interest of time, I returned to the main trail, then continued the uphill hike as it rounded a bend and entered the Oneonta Gorge at 7:40am.
Once the trail rounded a bend, it was entering the Oneonta Gorge, but just before continuing on, I noticed a sign that said “Viewpoint” that I never recalled seeing before. So I decided to seize the moment and check it out even though I was constrained on time.
As I took the spur trail, there were a couple of openings that looked over the Columbia River Gorge towards the west. It looked like the trail kept going but I assumed that it might have hooked up with the Ponytail Falls Trail above the Horsetail Falls so I decided to go back the way I came to resume the hike.
Ten minutes later, the trail momentarily flattened out as I reached a signed trail junction where the left fork descended down some switchbacks towards the Ponytail and Horsetail Falls. The path on the right continued onto Triple Falls, which it claimed was still another 1.2 miles from this point. The funny thing was that this sign also said the trailhead was 0.8 miles, which meant that the one-way distance should be 2 miles instead of 1.8 miles. Something didn’t add up.
Anyways, I decided to descend the switchbacks towards the bridge over Oneonta Creek. Once I got there at 7:50am, that was where I saw the familiar Oneonta Falls. I also could hear the sound of falling water at the Lower Oneonta Falls though that waterfall could not be seen from up here (at least not without unnecessarily risking life and limb).
There were some steep scrambling paths that led down to the banks of Oneonta Creek right above the Lower Oneonta Falls, but I didn’t bother doing that.
I had heard someone let out a loud “Yelp!” that echoed from deep down below. That told me that some people were already doing the creek scramble to get up to the Lower Oneonta Falls after wading in Oneonta Creek down below then traversing a logjam before wading the rest of the way (often thigh-deep) to the dead-end at the waterfall. I knew that I wouldn’t have the time on this trip to do it.
Once I had my fill of the bridge and the Oneonta Falls, I then hiked back up to the main trail and continued going upstream. The trail also continued its pretty relentless moderate climb as it would go up several more switchbacks once I got past a rockfall section where there were loose rocks strewn across the ledge trail then went up some pretty eroded and slippery sections on a particular switchback.
After this series of switchbacks, the trail then flattened out and briefly undulated as it crossed over a bridge and some wooden reinforcements. Way down below in the gorge, I could see the brink of yet another waterfall, but that one didn’t look at all safely accessible.
Eventually at 8:25am, I had finally made it to the Triple Falls. At this point, I had been the only one on the trail that made it up here that I had noticed so far. And like before, I had to stand precariously at the edge of a cliff peering right down at the three-segmented waterfall. It wasn’t that much different that I had experienced before some 9 years ago other than it was less green now than it was back then, and the flowers were also lower.
Once I had my fill of the Triple Falls, I started hiking back. Since most of the trail went downhill, I found the hiking to go by pretty smoothly. However, that speed and momentum had to be checked at the rockslide area, where I had gotten there at 8:45am.
The downhill progress then continued quickly as I was about to exit the Oneonta Gorge. I saw three hikers heading towards Triple Falls near the junction with the Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls Trail. I warned them about the rockslide further up the canyon, then I continued on my way.
Next, I saw another “Viewpoint” sign leaving the main trail. I went ahead and pursued this trail to see if it was the same overlook. Well, it was.
However, I also saw that there were informal trails leading to a different rock outcrop. And when I finally got here at 9am, I was treated to a scary (because it was right on the corner of a rock outcrop with vertical dropoffs directly below me) yet exhilarating panorama of the Columbia River Gorge from left to the direction of the Cascade Locks on the right.
After having my fill of this view, the rest of the downhill trail was a combination of fast hiking and trail running. So I managed to make good time and get back at the parked car at 9:15am. By this point, I was a smelly and sweaty mess as I had been sweating beads throughout much of this hike.
There were many more cars parked besides me as well as the pullouts further east on the Old Columbia River Highway. It was clear to me that just about all of them were going after the Lower Oneonta Falls scramble. I didn’t recall anyone (well, maybe just one party) heading up to the Triple Falls. I guess it was too much work for a waterfall you can only look at but can’t play at.
Anyways, I continued driving east on the Old Columbia River Highway. Because I had remembered that the John B Yeon State Park trailhead started near an on-ramp for the I-84 eastbound, I knew not to follow the GPS and go on the I-84 straight away. Instead, I followed the Frontage Road all the way to the John B Yeon State Park car park and trailhead that I had been looking for.
I got there at 9:25am, and I promptly started hiking as I had already been geared up since the Triple Falls hike made earlier.
The immediate goal of this hike was to re-visit the Elowah Falls. But I was also going to make some time to get up to the Upper McCord Creek Falls since I had never done this before, and it was said to be 1.1 miles from the trailhead (Elowah Falls was about 0.7 miles from the trailhead). I wondered how much of the trail was in common between both Elowah and Upper McCord Creek Falls to lessen the full distance of doing both trails in their entirety (for about 3.6 miles round trip, if that were the case).
So I promptly got my gear and hiked right up the first switchback where there was a water tank spilling out water. The trail then continued a direct ascent before reaching a trail junction. The Elowah Falls Trail continued to the left while Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail continued to the right. There was a man there with some kind of breathing tube sitting at the junction, but he seemed to be in good spirits and we greeted each other before continuing on our separate ways (apparently, he was interested in doing the Upper McCord Creek Falls first).
The path continued to climb somewhat as I followed along the Elowah Falls Trail, but it didn’t take long before the ascent became a descent down some pretty narrow switchbacks. It looked like the longer path had been diverted though there weren’t explicit signs or markings saying to take the shorter but steeper switchbacks. With all the shortcuts, it was getting harder to tell what was sanctioned and what wasn’t.
Given by the erosion seen on this trail along with its narrowness, I wondered how much longer the shorter switchbacks on the right will last.
But when I got down to the end of this section, I saw where the longer trail joined up and it looked like there were some rocks piled to discourage going the longer way that I had forsaken earlier (go figure).
Then, the rest of the trail followed along and somewhat wet and muddy ledge eventually descending to the base of the familiar Elowah Falls and its tall plunge (getting there at 9:50am). It reminded me a lot of Latourell Falls that we had seen yesterday afternoon, and Julie and I had seen this in very high flow back in late March 2009. But now, it looked like this waterfall had much thinner flow (definitely less than Latourell Falls was yesterday) and so now the differences between the two falls were more pronounced.
There were three people already here, but they decided to scramble down to the creek and do a little exploring amongst some giant volcanic boulders in the creek itself (evidence of past landslides or rockslides here). Meanwhile, I was busy taking the same kinds of photos from the other side of the bridge as well as before the bridge that we had taken 9 years prior.
Anyways, the geology giving rise to Elowah Falls was definitely on display here as there were some thick lava rock layers high up above the floor of this little gorge. There was even some kind of cave seen far up to the right side of the falls, but it looked like some prior landslide or rockslide made it a bit of a rough ascent to get all the way up there (though it wouldn’t surprise me if someone did manage to get over there).
I made a brief attempt, but decided against it when I saw a thin waterfall spilling down an exposed overhanging cliff wall. Clearly, this was the source of the prior landslide and I wondered how much more would come plunging down.
When I had my fill of this plunging and attractive falls, there were at least two more hiking parties that had made it to the base of the falls. As I climbed back up the narrow switchbacks back to the junction between Elowah Falls Trail and Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail, I had to have seen at least 3 or 4 more parties going the other way.
At this point, the trail went up a few more switchbacks. Initially, they were long switchbacks, but they appeared to get shorter the higher up I went.
At about 10:20am, there was a corroded pipe laying right across the trail. I actually had to go over it twice as the trail switchbacked over this thing. I wasn’t sure what this pipe had carried in its heyday, but now it looked like it was full of leaves and dirt (kind of like how I’d imagine storm gutters might look like).
Finally after hiking up a sweat going up so many switchbacks, I then reached a point where the trail was hugging vertical cliffs. There were metal railings to help mentally with the dropoff exposure. And it was at this point that there were top-of-the-world-type views over the Columbia River in the direction of Cascade Locks or the Bonneville Dam with some more volcanic cliffs and mountains directly opposite the wide Columbia River Gorge, and there was even a hint of the top of what appeared to be the snow-covered Mt Adams in the distance.
I was totally not expecting this on the hike, and this experience alone made the Upper McCord Creek Falls well worth the detour (as I knew the falls wouldn’t be that impressive compared to Elowah Falls).
It was at this point as the trail went around a bend and towards and past the top of Elowah Falls that I realized that both Elowah and Upper McCord Creek Falls were on the same creek! So I concluded that Elowah Falls was on McCord Creek, and that it must have had a decent enough drainage to still be flowing fairly well this late in August (though this was a high snowpack and rainfall year in the Pacific Northwest).
As the trail resumed its vegetated section beyond the cliff-hugging portion, I saw the familiar man with the breathing tube. He seemed genuinely surprised to see me and greeted me with a “Good Morning!” before continuing on. He was the only other person I saw on this trail to this point.
Eventually at 10:35am, I finally saw the Upper McCord Creek Falls. It looked like it was once a double-barreled waterfall, but the waterflow had diminished to the point where the other segment of the drop was now a wet dripping streak while the remaining segment had pretty significant flow.
The trail kept going beyond this waterfall, but I wasn’t sure how much further this trail went as it didn’t appear there was a dead-end for this trail. I didn’t have a map with me so I wasn’t sure how much further I should be going on this trip. But the direct view of the falls was obvious and familiar from my pre-trip research (as well as the map sign at the trailhead), and so after getting my fill of this view, I headed back down.
I once again enjoyed the ledge part of the hike where I could peer down above the overgrowth at Elowah Falls again, and then look across the Columbia River Gorge towards the top of Mt Adams. The overcast seemed to be burning off quickly as more blue skies were becoming more prevalent though the sunlight was still muted by the residual morning clouds.
Going back down the trail was far faster and easier, and by 11am, I was already back at the trail junction with the Elowah Falls Trail. I hadn’t seen another soul up to this point. Then, I went back down to the John B Yeon State Park trailhead where I had to have passed another half-dozen hiking parties going the other way. I also passed the man with the breathing tube who commented that I was moving pretty fast.
By 11:05am, I was back at the trailhead where all the parking spots were definitely taken up. I didn’t realize that this was that popular of a hike! I guess that could be said about a lot of the Columbia River Gorge waterfall hikes, even one as obscure as this one!
So with that, I headed back to downtown Portland to pick up Julie and Tahia so we could spent the rest of today hanging out together. The aim was to drive to and check out the Oregon Coast around the Cannon Beach area, especially with the improving weather.
Eventually at 11:50am, I made it back to the Hyatt House, but it took some time for Julie and Tahia to head down. Once we were all united again, we then drove some of the downtown streets towards this place called Laughing Planet, which was a paleo lunch joint that seemed to be pretty busy.
After finding street parking, we promptly went in, queued up, then placed our order before having our lunch. Since I hadn’t had breakfast to this point, I was pretty hungry. Anyways, we wound up getting a Bollywood Bowl, some Korean BBQ Bowl, and a kid’s bowl with chicken. We also got a honeydew kombucha after being allowed to try a sample.
By about 12:55pm, we were back in the car, and then we finally started the drive out towards the Oregon Coast in the direction of Tillamook. I hadn’t appreciated how long this drive was when I spontaneously made this plan so it wouldn’t be until about 2:35pm when we stopped at the trailhead for Munson Creek Falls – a waterfall that I had regretted not being able to see 9 years ago when we were first in the area driving north along the Oregon Coast from Bandon Beach to Cannon Beach.
The last 1.5 miles or so of the access road was unpaved. There was a pothole here and there, but it was a pretty straightforward and well-signed route (though I had to follow the Oregon State Parks signs instead of the brown Munson Falls signs from the US101 south of Tillamook).
Both Julie and Tahia were napping in the car, and they had no intention of getting out of the car. Just as I was getting started with the short 1/4-mile hike, there were a few more cars that pulled up and thus there were a lot more people suddenly on the trail.
The short hike was mostly flat at first as we were towered over with tall coastal trees with branches that seemed to have long hairs of ferns or moss on them. That alone made this hike pretty scenic and out-of-the-ordinary as far as a Southern Californian person like myself was concerned.
The trail then got to a part where it climbed briefly, and it was at the top of the climb that I started to see most of the drop of Munson Creek Falls. The sun was still positioned somewhat against the view of the falls, and I’d imagine the lighting would be a little better later in the afternoon.
I then saw that the trail descended before making another ascent, and that where where it seemed like most people had to stop. Sure enough when I joined them, I saw a trail closed sign with a fence. There actually didn’t seem like there was much to deter people from moving on, and so I did that. But it didn’t take long before I saw that there had been a major landslide blocking further progress.
Amidst the jumble of broken trees and rocks, it didn’t look easy to continue any further. Plus, the views were all obstructed, and it didn’t appear that the risk reward to try to get a view where I’d be looking straight up at the falls would be feasible.
So by the time I went back to the sanctioned part of the trail, the people were gone (including one dude who was flying a drone earlier on; seemed like a recurring theme on this trip). So I took a few more photos of the falls both from the trail closure as well as the top of the climb where the views were more complete and better.
By about 3:10pm, I was back at the car. We then continued the drive north on the US101 towards Cannon Beach. Julie and Tahia were still asleep.
It was a shame they couldn’t be in the moment because after getting past the famous cheese plant on the north end of town, I then took a coastal route staying on the 101 and followed along the Oregon Coast. I thought I had seen a Cape Meares sign, which was one stop Julie and I did in the past in 2009 (so we were probably further south than we would have liked to be). But other than that, it had been a pleasant drive in good weather with the ocean off to the left and some overflows or inlets with mountains and farms to the right.
There was one section that kind of reminded us of Big Sur as the road climbed and offered some interesting lookouts. There were other stretches where there was beach access. We didn’t stop for any of these things as it was getting late in the afternoon.
Finally at about 4:30pm, we found public parking in downtown Cannon Beach. None of what I saw here looked familiar as it was basically a few blocks of shops and possible beach access. After taking a much-needed potty break, we went into the info office and got a map. He told us that the Haystack Rock that we had seen before was actually a mile further to the south. The section we were in was where 60% of the businesses were. No wonder why this part didn’t seem familiar to me.
We made an attempt at having an early dinner at this place called Driftwood, but after finding out that they were booked solid until after 8pm, we decided to head towards the other side of town, where the beach and Haystack Rocks were. There was also a restaurant called the Wayfarer’s, and after calling about availability, it appeared that we would be seated right away once we showed up.
So we did promptly that at 5pm, and we proceeded to indulge on an expensive dinner that consisted of halibut, salmon, and a steamer of clams. We all shared the our food as the kid’s menu didn’t look good (they’re almost always an afterthought).
The dessert consisted of some kind of smores on a skillet while Julie had creme brulee. I’m sure the added sugar wasn’t good news for her condition (something that had been hard to not cheat throughout this trip).
After the dinner, we then walked out onto the fine sandy beach with the familiar Haystack Rocks. The sun was getting lower on the horizon, but it would still be another 90 minutes or so before the sun would set. So we figured we mind as well take our photos, play in the sand a bit, and then head back to Portland for the non-trivial drive back along the Hwy 26.
It was becoming high tide during our visit so the wet sand and the waves were creeping up higher the longer we stayed. We couldn’t get quite the right lighting to set up our seldomly-used tripod for family shots with the Haystack Rocks in the background. But we made do with the moment, and got what we got.
By 7:10pm, we were finally back at the car. And after filling roughly a half tank’s worth of expensive gas (well, expensive for Oregon standards) at the lone station in Cannon Beach, we then made the long drive back to Portland.
I was fighting sleep while making this drive as the skies were getting progressively darker. And mercifully, it wouldn’t be until about 8:50pm when we finally made it back to the Upark lot just a couple of buildings away from the Hyatt House where we were staying.
Being in such a fatigued state, we all wasted no time getting cleaned up and sleeping to wind down this busy day…