Panther Falls in a Creek

Oof!

The dirt road was a veritable minefield of potholes, craftily camouflaged in dappled midday shadows.  Trees lined the road, providing a source for that insidious shade, giving those potholes ninja stealth.  Driving down this minefield was akin to navigating an impassible obstacle course, where occasions of failure gave me thoughts of riding a bucking bronco, and dropping into the bigger craters evoked a guttural oof.

But what brought me to this kidney buster?

Back in the good old days, summer excursions would often take my wife and me up the Columbia Gorge for a hike and perhaps a waterfall or three.  Multnomah Falls and a few watery cousins, along with the old scenic highway are a mere half hour away (traffic permitting).

Alas, no more.  Last year’s fires caused substantial damage to the trails and the stability of the slopes – all are closed for the foreseeable future. Now we have to go farther afield to get our waterfall fix.

This time around that fix is a place called Panther Creek Falls.  I’d heard good things about it from photographers I respected, and it was an excuse to see something new.  Of course, instead of being 30-45 minutes away it was an hour and a half.  Still up the gorge, but on the Washington side.

While researching Panther Creek I saw a suggestion for another falls in the region with a less than inventive name: Falls Creek Falls.  It was another half hour away and included a nice little hike, whereas Panther Creek’s hike was less than a half mile.  Since we were going that far it made sense to add the extension.  So I fired up Google maps, set my course, and off we went to Panther Creek.

According to the write-up, the last section of road leading to the falls was dirt. But was it that labyrinth of potholes? Nope. Turned out it was paved all the way.  It was, however, a narrow road, single lane in places, complete with a plethora of tree obscured curves. It was only prudent to take it at a modest pace, lest you end up in a head-on collision with an oncoming overrevved lunatic.

(Click on any picture for a larger view)

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The story on Panther Creek suggested the site was a complex area with a creek and cascading falls, converging from different areas.  The main trail is short and brings you to a railed wooden overlook.  _72D5282-1200

From the viewpoint, we could see the top third of the main falls – a huge cascade.

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I exited the viewpoint area and went to creek level. A varied rock formation made for interesting babbling brook shots.

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The creek fell into a drop zone along a sheer cliff in the middle left of the picture above. The cascade continues to drop, making the view from the bottom of the cliff area the most spectacular for the falls.  We, however, did not go down there.  Access to the bottom is iffy.  Depending on the approach a slip could be and has been fatal, and after last years Abiqua Falls adventure the wife preferred sedate.  Maybe another day.

In fact, I understand the evening of the very day we were there, a young woman stood too close to the edge, slipped, and took a fatal 100-foot fall.  I don’t know if it’s from the same point as the earlier fatality.  I suspect not, but it still bodes for caution when attempting these backwoods waterfalls.

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So we skipped the iffy bit and settled for mere scenes like this one.

Besides, why be greedy? We had another waterfall to find. Falls Creek Falls beckoned.

We headed back up the twisty road and began to backtrack.  Not far along there was a shortcut – a small dirt road that seemed to disappear into the forest. Was this the source of the car’s suspension test?

Nope.  As dirt roads go, this was a good one.  About a mile and a half, and cut off five miles of backtracking before hitting another paved county road.  We followed this road for a while, another turn or two, and five miles before the destination we met up with that fateful stretch of pockmarked crud.

Good thing the fillings in my teeth are well attached.

The hike to Falls Creek Falls isn’t as short as the Panther Creek hike, but is still short by most people’s standards.  In theory, it’s only 1.7 miles, one way.  It sure seemed longer, I wondered at times if that measurement was as the crow flies.  The fact it was a long steady uphill climb made it seem longer.  It wasn’t terribly steep but uphill just the same, and proved that our aerobic conditioning was less than impressive.

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Even the trees had potholes

At least we felt our labored progress was justified when, on the way back down we met up with other folks wondering if the “short” hike would ever end.

It was worth it.

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Falls Creek Falls is a double dipper, with all its glory in full view.  Let’s just take it in, shall we?

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After drinking in the view for a while, we headed back down the hill.  It went much faster.  The next step; strapping in for the return trek down the road from perdition.  Fortunately, it was more forgiving on the return – time had passed, the light softened, the shadows were not as deep, the camouflage not as effective.

On the other hand, the frequency and depth of the potholes had not abated.

Returning to Portland, we came back on the Oregon side of the gorge. It was the first time we’d traveled the gorge since last years fires, the first time we saw the damage that had closed the scenic highway and trails.  We had dreaded the thought of seeing our old playground sullied.  The actuality?  There is damage. Dead trees come all the way down to the freeway in places.  But it’s spotty, the burns come down in some places and left others untouched.

We look forward to the day that we can return to our old playgrounds, even if hikes pass through burned areas.

I suppose an optimist would say if the fire would not have happened it would be less likely we’d discover the beauty of Panther Creek and Falls Creek Falls.  That may be the way to go.  There is more undiscovered country, more beauties to find, more adventures to have.

I hope you join me.

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31 thoughts on “Panther Falls in a Creek

  1. So many waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, but they all seem to have their own personality that you capture so well. I remember your waterfall photos from previous posts. Falls Creek Falls. Sometimes an unimaginative name hides treasure. 🙂 I will definitely take you up on your invitation to journey along (virtually) through your beautiful part of the world. Who knows if I’ll ever get there to see it for myself.

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    1. There is a lot of beauty in this part of the world for sure, I’m looking forward to visiting and revisiting it. And, not too long now, another part of the world too …

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  2. I really enjoyed this virtual hike and the views at the end of it. The drive along the pot-holed road – not so much. My eyesight isn’t the best, and your description of the camouflage dappled shadows provide is akin to what I often experience walking on hilly tracks through what we in NZ call bush (i.e. woods or forest).
    No potholes, but I have to be mindful of turning an ankle in a sneaky rut that’s passing itself off as a shadow!

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  3. Fantastic post and photos, Dave! With each passing glimpse you give us, I move a return trip to your area up my list. We have been talking about making the Pacific NW part of our Houston heat escape next summer, and this is reinforcement. By then maybe I’l learn how to do that blurred water thing with my camera! 🙂

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    1. There is a lot to see up this way, I don’t think you’d regret it (even if it can get hot here too, but probably not Houston humid to boot). As for the blurred water thing, you’ll need a tripod and a camera that can do longer exposures. I can tell you more offline if you’re interested.

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  4. Refreshingly beautiful! It’s been so humid and hot here we stay mostly indoors. We’ve been meaning to go hiking but I hate the heat. Your pics are gorgeous. Looking at your pics made me think my living room was several degrees cooler than it is. Hope your old playground opens again (sooner rather than later).

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    1. We just got back from a weekend camping and diving at the Washington coast, the weather was perfect! Then we came home to 95 degrees. Guess I’ll need to look at those pictures again too. 🙂

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  5. What a delightful post Dave, and such gorgeous images. I hadn’t quite remembered that the Gorge area was hit so hard – so many places were burned it’s hard to remember them all. Glad it was not as bad as you’d feared. And I’m glad you all made the wise decisions not to risk the iffy parts.

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    1. I don’t think I’ll know the true extent of the damage to the gorge until the trails are reopened. Time will tell. In the meantime, guess I’ll have to look elsewhere for gorgeous images – not the worst thing in the world. 🙂

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  6. Absolutely gorgeous photos!! Waterfalls are definitely one of my all time favorite destinations.

    Yikes, I often have to look away as I see those that go so precariously close to the edge and am so aware of that potential fatal slip. As a result I tend to be over precautious about “getting too close to the edge” of anything…. and sometimes will even miss a killer view due to my fear of falling off an edge.

    With climate change, the world is being subjected to hotter and hotter days and more fires. Just read about terrible fires in Greece.

    Peta

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    1. Yeah, waterfalls are a crowd pleaser for sure. Lucky for us we have a good selection around here. I wouldn’t call myself overcautious when it comes to edges, just standard caution, but maybe more so when the wife is around.

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  7. Your photography captured the beauty of the falls perfectly. I’ve always been anxious around waterfalls (or water) because a little slip can be disastrous. The flow of the water can also be deceptive and it’s quite possible to make a mistake with its speed. Those moss covered stones look like a scene from an enchanted forest. It kind of reminded me of the moss bed in the Mongolian forest, we visited last year. You couldn’t have summed it better. New paths are found when the old ones are closed. 🙂

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    1. I don’t mind a little risk, but it’s always calculated risk – not the devil may care variety. That’s been a good compromise for me to squeeze out a little more adventure without seriously risking my neck.

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  8. This is the first time I’m hearing about Panther Creek Falls and the place looks so mesmerizing, Dave. I’d love to hike there and enjoy the scenery. When’ the best time of the year for that?

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    1. I suspect just about any time of year would be good for both Panther and Falls Creek Falls. The trails might be a bit muddy and slick in the rainy season – that’d be more of a factor for Falls Creek since Pather’s hike is short. Overcast, or earlier/later in the day would be better for photography, otherwise the light is a bit harsh. Thanks for stopping by.

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    1. I don’t remember having any problems. But then I tend to navigate via Google Maps, and if my route takes me into the boondocks (and this one does), I’ll make a point of downloading the area map so it’ll still work offline.

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  9. Pingback: Gorge Group – Plying Through Life

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