“Life is for the living, so live it, or you’re better off dead”
This weirdly nihilistic/carpe diem song lyric comes from Passenger, and perfectly encapsulates my need for mini adventures and escapes.
It all started with a photo on Instagram.
Toketee Falls. The water seems to have carved down the bedrock and ejected itself from the pillared and contorted face. For waterfall hunters, it is an easy find. It is located in the Umpqua National Forest and in southwest Oregon, somewhat near Crater Lake and located close to Umpqua Hot Springs, a well-known retreat to those from Ashland. I’ve always seen pictures and heard about the falls, and was mentioning to my girlfriend how I’d like to go, to which she responded “Well how about Wednesday?”
I had a day and a half off from work, plenty of time to escape. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for my jobs and enjoy my coworkers, but my life is enriched by every waterfall I see, every night I spend in a tent under the stars, and ever road trip taken in search of natural beauty.
True to my natural form, I set off with little regard or research into the hike, the campground, or really much preparation at all. Most of my adventures tend to be impulsive, relying on the faith that I can figure anything out. I folded down the backseats of my CRV and put in a mattress, so in a pinch I had a drivable campsite in case we couldn’t find one.
First stop: Ashland, where I would be meeting up with Kiva, my travel-buddy extraordinaire. I loaded up on supplies (instant meals that could be cooked over my little backpacking stove, banana chips, and cheap beer – just the basic camping essentials), loaded up our gear, and started off on 62 East. We followed 62 through Eagle Point and Shady Cove and stayed on the windy road through the forests and beside numerous lakes. Our drive didn’t start until the evening, so the sun was slowly creeping towards the horizon as we were headed north and east. We did stop once, to drive to a small waterfall on the way, and climb on the rocks to look out at it in the golden light.
Soon, it was dark. We continued through the forest, following the forest signs and listened to Weird Al on an old homemade CD that had come from the bygone era of about seven or eight years ago. Finally, we came to a sign that told us we were nearing the campground. We had hoped the campground would be open, but were comforted by the fact we were now nestled in the heart of the Umpqua National Forest where we could camp for free. We found that the Toketee Lake campground was sparsely populated, and our fears were unnecessary. We drove around a few times, and ended up finding a perfect little pull-through campground. In the dark, we set up our tent and started boiling water for dinner. The meals we had were simple – we simply had to set the food pouch in boiling water and enjoyed instant meals. We washed these down with Session beer, which is the cheapest form of beer in my experience.
The night was cool and peaceful. We tossed and turned a little, as people do sleeping in tents, and awoke early to break camp down. We almost adopted a pug/bulldog mix named Bender that tried to hop into our car but in the end decided to let it go back to its owners. Our breakfast consisted of burritos heated on the engine block, and we set off to the falls.
The drive and hike were both short. From the trailhead, it took us maybe 20 minutes to get to the viewpoint. It is a kind of platform, situated high above the pool and across from the falls, and we looked down into the azure water and almost at eye level with the falls.
The falls are composed of two smaller falls, and in total the water drops over 120 feet. The name “toketee” is a Chinook word meaning “pretty.” I guess the name ‘Pretty Falls’ just doesn’t have the same power that ‘Toketee Falls’ has. A part of the fence on the platform was missing, and no signs told us not to, so we crawled down from the platform and down the slope so we could get to the base of the water. We found a rope to hold onto as we descended down the tricky hill, but finally we were at the water’s edge.
The pool before us was a brilliant shade of teal, and the water was cold and exhilarating. The rocks on the edge were slick from the mist of the falls, and the geology of the falls was simply stunning. The water seemed to have carved out the rock, and the subtle contortions of the basalt pillars drew the eye in. Flanking the falls were the rocky slopes that were dotted with damp green vegetation.
In a humorous contrast to the stunning natural beauty, we also found not one, but three different pairs of men’s boxers strewn about around the lakeside. We weren’t sure what conclusions to draw – whether some happy swimmers decided to become nudists, or if in their haste they perhaps forgot the base layer of clothing. Either way, it was interesting.
After exploring, gawking, and taking too many photos, we decided it was time to head back.
(used my camera to take a photo of my phone…)
For those with kids, I would definitely recommend not heading to the base. If one does decide to go to the water, follow the rope, find steady footing and handholds, and good luck. Be respectful of other hikers and try to remember your skivvies. Until next time, never stop exploring.