Abiqua Falls

THUMP! Thumpity thump, crash, thump thump.  The rock (or rocks?) continued to bound down the cliff I was hanging onto as the seconds rolled on, reminding me how far I had to fall should I lose footing with the other foot as well.  Once I found a new foothold to replace that sizable sounding rock I’d knocked free I looked around for my wife – she was somewhere below.

It all started when after a few days of nice weather we decided to take a road trip to Abiqua Falls.  We knew little of it apart from it showing up on a list of 25 best falls in Oregon. With as many waterfalls as Oregon has, top 25 suggests it was worth a look, and at less than a two-hour drive it sounded like the perfect day trip.

You’d think a gorgeous waterfall a couple hours from Portland would swarm with people. But we learned a few things that keep the crowds within reason.

The drive for most of the trip was typical Willamette Valley; lush green farmland broken up by the browns of new-plowed fields and reds from fields of clover. But in time we left the fields and climbed the roads up into the Cascade Mountain range.  These roads eventually devolved into dirt.

The last couple miles of road featured rocks, mud holes, and near gullies that are best handled in a vehicle with high clearance.  My vehicle has neither high clearance nor four wheel drive; after maneuvering through a nasty stretch I found a place to pull off, and we walked the last mile and a half downhill to the trailhead.

The falls are not on public land, but owners are ok with people hiking in – at their own risk.  The trail isn’t what you would expect on public lands either; it is steep.

It starts off innocently enough, a gentle descent to a fork we knew from a trail write up we should follow to the left. But after following that for 100 yards or so we came to the cliff; looking down elicited an “um, really?”

It wasn’t a sheer cliff, more of a steep hill with sections of trees, exposed roots, rocks, and bare earth.  Portions of the trail had ropes strung from tree to tree, or one end attached to a tree and the other to wherever you ended up dangling while hanging on. We navigated other sections by clambering down rocky footholds, roots, and anything else we could find to hang onto. At the bottom of the cliff, about 300 vertical feet below, a small river ran through the forest.

We followed the riverbank upstream another half mile, on occasion climbing over rocks or trees, and sometimes under. The water burbled cheerfully along, with a growing roar as we neared the falls.

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Abiqua Falls

The falls drop 92 feet over a basalt column cliff into a large bowl. As for the view, it speaks for itself.

There were only a couple of folks there when we arrived, but in the 45 minutes or so we hung around 10 more joined us.  All of them, 20 or 30 something. We cornered the market on geezerhood that day. But beauty is indifferent to the age of the beholder, we all enjoyed the spectacle.

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And so it came time to head back down the river…

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…and the joys of scaling the rocky tangles of a hill designed for slip sliding away.  This is all the more fun when you’ve got a bowling ball strapped on.

Folks who have been following for a while may remember my interest in craft beer and think, “foolish boy, you shouldn’t have built up that beer gut.”  But no bowling ball there.

About this time I was thinking my camera gear bag, which loaded weighs about the same as a bowling ball, saw the incline and choose to invoke new rules of physics to increase its weight by 50%. Preferably at right angles to the degree at which I was attempting to balance whilst ascending the slope.

 

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Hanging on a rope with one hand and shooting pictures with the other – I’m ambidextrous!

 

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At last, I arrived at the final obstacle course.  It was while climbing this last scree of rocks I triggered that small, potentially deadly avalanche of rocks toward anyone unfortunate enough to be below.

Fortunately, my wife was attempting a line of ascent off to the right and the rocks passed by her without harm.  But this line had its own challenges as there was a lack of hand and footholds. She said at the time she was trying to emulate a gecko, somehow clinging to the dirt in the way that the lizard clings to a wall, and avoid slipping and bouncing down the slope as the rocks did.  Either way, after a successful ascent she felt she cheated death just a little bit that afternoon.

Despite defying death the trek was not complete.  We still had to hike that last mile and a half to the car, uphill all the way.

Did I mention it was the hottest day of the year? Temps in the low to mid 90’s F (34 C) accompanied our climb.  My bowling ball, sensing the increased temperature, opted to increase its mass yet another 50% in solidarity on the last half mile. Or so it seemed.

After escaping the boondocks we stopped in Mt. Angel for a late lunch/early dinner.  Mt. Angel is best known for the largest Oktoberfest in the Pacific Northwest, drawing upwards of 350,000 partiers in late September. But on this day we were there for the good German food.  (Ok, for a good German beer too.)

One more stop on the road back to Portland took us to an iris display garden in full bloom. In addition to more kinds of iris than you knew existed, there were also peonies, lupine, and several other showy flowers.

But in my last post, I promised to give you a break from the flower pictures, so maybe another day…

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30 thoughts on “Abiqua Falls

  1. Beautiful shot of Abiqua. Those waterfalls along the Gorge are truly beautiful—plus there are lots of them. I’ve never heard of Abiqua; now I have. As for irises, I was totally bowled over by Schreiner’s Iris Gardens in Salem in your neck of the woods.

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    1. Abiqua isn’t in the gorge, it’s closer to Salem. As the crow flies it’s close to Silver Falls State Park, another excellent playground for waterfalls.

      Schreiner’s Iris Gardens is where we went. It was after business hours when we were there so we nearly had the gardens to ourselves, and it was late enough that many of the flowers were in open shade – better for pics. Everything was in full bloom, it was spectacular.

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  2. That shot of the falls would indicate that the hike in was well worth it! The cascade and its setting are both gorgeous. Good for you guys soldiering on through the rough road and trails – all good scenes like that are worth the work, right? Sounds like a perfect day trip overall!

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    1. By the time we got to the rougher terrain we were pretty committed to doing the hike, and we’re glad we did. We can get a blase about waterfalls around here, but this was indeed one of the better ones.

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  3. I admire your ambition. Bulky cameras can really be a chore to haul around. I had to laugh at the beer comment. You deserved a few after this hike. The photos are gorgeous, as usual, especially the first one with the waterfall. These off the beaten path places are real treasures. The effort to get to them is so worth it.

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    1. Yeah, camera, extra lenses, tripod, miscellaneous accessories, it adds up. And the pros would sneer at my relatively lightweight tripod.

      I’ve seen photos/documentaries of other even more off the beaten path places in Oregon that look amazing. Trouble is, you damn near need a helicopter to get to them.

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  4. Sounds like a physics-defying hike Dave. I would have loved to clamber around on the rope descents, watching rocks tumble below. And I’m glad you took one for the team and brought the loaded camera bag along. I probably would have settled for my iPhone, extra snacks, and a few of those craft beers.

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    1. I didn’t actually see the rocks tumble, just heard ’em. At the time I was busy looking for a safer place to put my foot. I knew I was going to have to bite the bullet gear wise (tripod and all) because a good waterfall picture calls for a longer exposure. Strangely enough I never hike with beer, only water. But I’m not the hiking veteran that you are, I suspect you’ve done loads of things on the trail I haven’t.

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      1. Hiking with beer is certainly part of the advanced skillset. Something about guzzling a warm beer before huffing up a rocky ascent triggers the kind of excitement stomachs (and brains) need lots of training to endure.

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  5. I’ve never been good with sharp inclines (or depths) and heavy bags. 🙂 To multitask as a photographer and hiker when gravity is threatening to pull you down takes some level of confidence in oneself. That’s what makes you’re captures all the more fantastic! 🙂

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  6. Historically I’ve traveled lighter: SLR or DSLR and one extra lens. But since I’ve upgraded my gear I’ve got more of it to lug around. The sharp incline came as a surprise, but I’m ok with that as long as I’ve got good hand and footholds. Still, it would have been a lot easier if I had my energy levels of 20 years ago.

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  7. The waterfall is beautiful! You live is one of the best areas of this world. We loved the Pacific Northwest so much we are going back to BC. We’ll be flying home from Seattle, we opted for that because we didn’t like the transfer times if we flew back from from Victoria. We going on a grizzly tour! I hope we see bears. I hope our hikes are easies than this walk you went on. I better start getting in better shape.

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    1. They don’t call it Beautiful BC for nothing, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it (assuming it doesn’t rain the whole time). I’m not sure I’d want to see a grizzly up close and personal, but I have seen black bears up there from a distance.

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      1. We’re taking a guided tour with a First Nation owned company. I think there may be viewing platforms. I think they keep a distance, not really sure. I’m praying they don’t change electronic rules for flights. We have a back up plan to rent camera gear if they do. I read they even SLR’s weren’t allowed on board on the flights with the ban. I won’t let it ruin my trip but renting will be an added expense 😦 Refuse to check camera gear in with luggage.

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