Eagle Creek: Day 10 of the Oregon Trails

Tunnel Falls (click for slideshow)

Tunnel Falls (click for slideshow)

On July 26, the final day of adventure for this trip, I woke up in the unpleasant Motel 6 at The Dalles.  In my subsequent blog posting Oregon Trails 2009 Tools and Ratings I give my ratings of the hotels and motels on the trip and describe what I used to plan and execute this adventure.  But this post deals with a day hiking at Eagle Creek off the Columbia River.

After escaping the Motel 6 I drove to the nearby McDonald’s for another Sausage McMuffin with Egg and then bought some extra bottled water at a convenience store so I’d be ready for a long hot hike.  It should have been a 40-minute drive down I-84 from The Dalles to the Eagle Creek trailhead, but I failed to carefully read the trailhead location portion of the extremely helpful online trail directions I had discovered the day before.  So I was looking for exit 41 and there is no such westbound exit.  So I had to drive onward and backtrack to figure out how to get onto the old Columbia River Highway and find the trailhead.   In this case, Trixie the GPS wasn’t very helpful since she didn’t have an entry for the trail.  But my iPhone’s Google Maps function showed me what to do.  Thank goodness I had service, since it does fade out in the boonies.  Cell service faded out about a mile into this hike, so I was glad I had pre-loaded another helpful trail map.

I parked in the main parking lot at 9 am and heeded the park’s posted precaution to leave the car there rather than drive another 1/2 mile to the actual trailhead.  I presume there are break-ins of vehicles, especially if they are parked overnight, down on the narrow trail road.  And I later noticed the road was only one lane for stretches, so I was glad I had avoided it.

This brought today’s hiking total to well over 13 miles when I include my side trips to some of the falls.  The weather was not cooperative: the hike began at 77° F and reached 92° by the end of the hike at 3:45 pm.  But at least I was hiking downhill in the heat – those I met in the afternoon coming up the trail looked rather stressed, except for those indulging in swimming in the cold waters of the creek.  This part of Oregon is suffering a heat wave, which means that the high is a bit below normal for Oklahoma, a trade-off I will happily make.  Bend was also warm, but being high desert it lacked the humidity of the Oklahoma summer.  This part of the Columbia River Gorge, however, has plenty of humidity.  Just ask the waterfalls and ferns.

Eagle Creek is a popular trail, so I saw people all day long, some several times what with the side trips.  Everyone was friendly, although some afternoon hikers headed uphill struggled to return my sunny greeting as I bounded past them shedding gravitational potential energy.  I took along one trekking pole, which was handy in a couple of spots.  And for this long hike I was glad to have the use of my hiking shoes, which had finally dried out after their immersion at Green Peak Falls three days back.

Eagle Creek trail was a bear to construct back in 1910.  They had to dynamite a number of rock faces to build a trail.  Some areas are narrow with precipitous drops, but a heavy steel cable along the cliff wall with firm anchors provides security.  I didn’t observe anyone using the cables much – those afraid of heights no doubt avoid the trail.

If you travel all the way to Tunnel Falls six miles up the creek, you’ll use about six bridges over the creek or side streams, ranging from some fallen logs to steel walkways spanning the creek over a hundred feet below.

Besides the ever-present and pleasant views of the creek, the trail’s main feature is waterfalls.  First up is Metloka Falls 1.5 miles in; it is a long spray out of the side of a cliff and, at over 100 feet tall, the second-highest fall on the trail, but its distance from the trail belies its size.  A kind young couple from Kentucky and their Portland tour guide friend (who is afraid of heights – a brave fellow to be on this trail!) snapped a photo of me there after I observed them trading snapshots of each other and offered to take a group shot of them.

The big feature for most trail users is Punchbowl Falls, since they haven’t the stamina to hike all the way to Tunnel Falls six miles in.  You can turn off the main trail about two miles in, and see Punchbowl Falls head-on about 75 feet downstream from them.  There are some tiny falls farther downstream as well.

This is a nice area for a very cold swim as well, and I was surprised to find that crazed young males like to climb into the basin of the punchbowl and ride over them for a 35 foot plunge.  Never underestimate the stupidity of the human male – testosterone is a brutal master.  I did not take the plunge – perhaps I’ve been exposed to estrogen-imitating plastic.   But I did capture the craziness on the Punchbowl Falls video.  A group of survivors came down to my location, discovered a large floating log, and took it upstream with them for further mischief.

Farther up the main trail you get a nice look down at the Punchbowl, and after bridging a side stream you arrive at the 90-foot Loowit Falls three miles in.  Then you cross the High Bridge, which is 120 feet above a gorge carved by Eagle Creek.  I took an unmapped bushwhack, an unsanctioned side trail, at one end of the bridge, but it got mean and I retreated quickly, offering my apologies.

The rest of the trail has a few camps, which are little more than wide spots to the side of the trail with room for a few tents and with access to the water.  I used one as a good spot to sit and eat some more Fiber Fit S’mores bars and finish off the jelly beans I’d bought back in Seaside.  I crossed Eagle Creek again on the aptly named 4 1/2 mile bridge and liked the view of the bridge from downstream.

On the far side of that bridge another section of trail had been dynamited out of the rock face, but they had a section headed downstream as well as the main trail upstream.  I followed the downstream section, which provided access to the creek bed and then a bushwhack where I managed to scratch my legs up in brambles, which had tangled in them the only bits of trash I ever saw on the trail, and saw at least one snake.  I tested the rhyme I learned at the Museum of the High Desert to distinguish nice king and venomous coral snakes:

Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Red and black, friend of Jack.

Singing the rhyme out really works: the snake was so affronted by my off-key rendition that it rapidly slithered away.  And I decided that I didn’t need to be bushwhacked by any more bushwhacks and stayed on the main trail from there on.

I then entered the official “Wilderness Area” where the forest service wants you to fill out a special form and attach one part to your backpack and leave the other behind in a receptacle.  They had run out of forms at their little unattended kiosk, so I trudged onward.  I didn’t need no stinking badge since my goal was only another mile in: the spectacular Tunnel Falls, which I reached after traversing a couple of talus piles.

Back in 1910 they not only dynamited a path around the edges of these falls, but also blasted a tunnel behind them.  Now I’ve walked behind the immense North Falls at Silver Falls State Park, but approaching and then travelling through a rough manmade tunnel so close behind some falls was a new experience.  You get up close and personal to these 175 foot falls, which dwarf hikers on the trail.  I got a nice shot of the tunnel entrances on either side of the falls – the far entrance is so close to them that you get a spray shower, which was most welcome in the heat.  This place also got its own Tunnel Falls video.

I was now 6.5 miles up Eagle Creek from the parking lot and happily set out on the return trip.  There were far more people on the return, particularly around Punchbowl Falls where more males were taking the plunge.  It got warm enough that I briefly wondered if that would be fun – but then I decided I still wanted to live.  I didn’t see many flowering plants on the hike, although I did take a snapshot of one near the end of the trail.

When I reached the car I stripped off my sopping wet shirt and drove shirtless to nearby Cascade Locks.  A grocery store there was willing to sell me an ice cream bar if I’d put my shirt back on.  I don’t know why the cashier was so strict, since I now have a truly becoming hiker’s tan.  My pale chest and Derringers (they call big biceps guns, so I call mine Derringers), with red sunburned forearms, are something to behold.  No, I will NOT post a picture of this, for I’m holding out for money.

Leaving Cascade Locks, having devoured the ice cream bar in record time, I drove on into Portland.  I’d booked a Motel 6 in North Portland closer to the airport and near the historical downtown of Kenton, a town founded for a meat packing plant and later annexed into Portland by vengeful vegetarians.

But now Google Maps tells me the peculiar layout of the city means that the actual travel time to the airport isn’t much different from that of the downtown Motel 6.  This one is stuck in-between a motor speedway and a horse racing track, but there are no big events on and the place is practically empty.  Thankfully it is quite clean and leaves me with a much better impression of the chain than the one back in The Dalles.

Dinner was at the nearby Shari’s Restaurant, which is a northwest chain somewhat like an upscale Denny’s.  My swiss-and-mushroom hamburger was delicious (although anything might taste great after today’s long hike) and I polished it off with a slice of lemon sour cream pie.

It’s another late night of photo editing, movie clip making, slideshow creation, and blogging about today and offering my general trip evaluations.  And then I’m sleeping in tomorrow with my only focus for the day, which happens to be my 43rd birthday, being to fly back home by midnight Central daylight time.  I’m packing the camera away so I won’t even be tempted.

I hope you’ve enjoyed looping through northwestern Oregon with me.  Myself, I’m ready to return to Bartlesville and face five school-related meetings next week.  And if I zone out at the meetings, you know where I’ll be…hiking the Oregon trails.

[Next post: Oregon Trails 2009 Tools and Ratings]

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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2 Responses to Eagle Creek: Day 10 of the Oregon Trails

  1. Pingback: Deserts and Rivers: Day 9 of the Oregon Trails « MEADOR.ORG ~ The virtual world of Granger Meador

  2. Pingback: Completing the Elk River Trail « MEADOR.ORG ~ The virtual world of Granger Meador

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