Oregon Excursion Pt. 2- Freezing Cold Skin and Hot Americanos (And waterfalls)

Part one summary – Kiva, my adventure buddy, and I spent New Years at an Irish Pub in Portland. We headed east, into the storm and into the natural beauty part of the trip. 

As we drove into the Columbia River Gorge, our first stop was Crown Point. The Point jutted above the river valley, offering a grand view of what laid inland, and we saw many cars parked but few tourists walking about. We soon found out why so few people dared to leave the comfort of their cars.

As we exited the jeep, the wind whipped us about and we struggled to stay upright. We realized that those who sat in their cars not only got to take in the view of the outstretched hills and blue water, but also people like us who are caught unawares and try to venture into the wind. We had to chase down a runaway beanie at one point, and saw a poor dog become absolutely flummoxed at the weather. We ran, careful of the spots of ice that had formed, to the relative comfort of the closed vista point building, a fine structure built of stone and glass. Near it, huddled against the cold stone, we were protected from the gusts, if only slightly. I could see the people sitting in their cars, their large and boisterous Mercedes vans, and all I could think was: “those wimps.” The wind was absolutely invigorating.

We continued on into the Gorge, which is renowned for it’s numerous easy-access waterfalls and relative distance to Portland. The first waterfall we visited – the one I almost died at – was Latourell Falls.

Well, I  may not have actually almost died, but I am pretty sure I got minor frostbite.

The falls are nearly 250 feet, and we did a short hike to the base of it. Eager to get closer, despite the ominous snow and icy paths, we hiked to the base. It was easy to do, but I did not take into account the thin pants I was wearing and the cold gusts.

I crossed the icy bridge, and noticed a large boulder near the base of the falls. In a kind of reverse Icarus-style story, I walked closer to the frigid base of the waterfall and climbed atop the boulder for a better view. 15870891_10154713866877787_1223988389_n

And for a moment, as I stood feet from the base of the falls, I felt absolutely incredible. The sheer power of the water, the immense thunderous crash on the rocks, the icy wind howling and surrounding us, the craggy and perfectly sculpted backdrop, and I could reach out and touch it. Winter could not tame either the flow of the water nor the beauty of it, and I was in awe. I was small and it was grand. It was simply breathtaking.

And then it took my breath. In a twist of fate, the wind shifted and the water I stood a safe distance away from grabbed me with it’s icy grip. It did not help that I took off my jacket because I thought it would make for a better photo, and so nature opted to teach me a lesson in narcissism.

My pants soaked and my ego sore, I tried to venture back. Even putting on my jacket was a challenge since I could not feel either of my hands. But I laughed – what else can you do in that situation but put on a brave face so those around you don’t know the cold and the numbness?  And when confronted so brutally by mother nature whose beauty you were admiring without thinking, why be distressed when you can laugh at your own foolishness.

Kiva helped me with my jacket and we headed back to the car. We drove to Multnomah Falls, heat blasting and spirits and music high, and once we were in a part of the parking lot relatively devoid of people, I changed out of my sopping clothes into dry, warmer pants and nicer winter boots.

Multnomah Falls was…. nice. It is a place I feel obliged to go, not necessarily because I want to, but simply because if you like waterfalls and you’re near Portland, it’s where you go. I knew it was a kind of touristy place, but we went in the middle of winter and had to fight for a chance to see it as close as we could. I can’t quite imagine it in the middle of summer.

 

It was a beautiful spot, and we did get to see a successful wedding proposition, but the truth is I have very mixed feelings about these particular falls. As an environmentalist, I love the fact that people are flocking to those spots in nature that are beautiful and deserve protection. As a pessimist, I wish people would stop taking damn photos (says the photographer) and take a moment to just reflect on the power of it all. And finally, as an adventurer, I wish that I could discover pristine and beautiful locations without the flock of tourists. That being said, I find out about these places because there are those before me who have gone. Mixed feelings, to be sure.

At Multnomah Falls, though, I was able to warm up. And Kiva stood in line at the single coffee kiosk, and brought me a warm Americano for which I am eternally grateful. I was warmed, and feeling was slowly creeping back to my fingers, and we headed back to the Jeep.

The last fall we visited, due to dwindling sunlight and a tight schedule, was Elowah falls. There is about a mile hike of easy difficulty, but the cold weather and icy roads stopped most tourists. When we were at the falls, we were alone.

Elowah Falls, the exact nomenclature seems to be unknown, is absolutely beautiful. Away from the crowds it stands, as beautiful as any of the rest, with the rocks surrounding it adorned with frozen water crystals and the a snow-capped wooden bridge. Large boulders flank the trail, and green lichen surrounds the area. Kiva and I took photos and stood on the bridge and listened to the sounds. The highway was far away and only occasionally it’s sounds permeated through the forest. We could hear the crunch of our boots in the snow, the subtle roar of the falls, and the perfect acoustics of the rocky bowl we were in.

 

For those visiting the Columbia River Gorge, I would absolutely recommend the hike to Elowah Falls. I don’t know if we were the only people there because we went in the middle of winter, but this is a more private waterfall that is still incredibly stunning and without comparison.

After we left the gorge, we headed south on 197, towards bend, as the day turned to night, into the fog. Ahead of us – Smith Rock and Bend, OR.

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