Sunday, August 27, 2017

Coe Creek Falls

It took some time but Emily and I finally connected with our friend Clint Clow after many years.  Clint is an avid waterfall chaser and budding photographer.  After some debate we decided to check out the Northeast side of Mount Hood following the Timberline Trail from the Cloud Cap Inn towards Elk Meadows.  It was a beautiful Sunday and we had the entire day to explore.. well, until we had to get back for the Game of Thrones season finale… :)

After picking Clint up we found ourselves on the bumpy gravel road up to Cloud Cap in at around 9am.  We stopped at Inspiration point to check out the view of Stranahan Falls on the Eliot Branch of the Middle Fork Hood River.  It was listed on all maps, including my GPS incorrectly as Wallalute Falls but our waterfall expert was quick to make the correction for us.  Clint proved throughout the day to be an expert on all the unnamed waterfalls in the area and even had a printout of a bunch of ones that weren’t on any map I’d seen!  

We descended from Cloud Cap Inn and explored what used to be the original Timberline Trail before it got washed out by a massive landslide in 2006.  The re-routing of the trail was completed in 2017 and the trail itself looked fantastic.  It was great to have the 40 mile loop complete and continuous again although the re-route was through a burned area and added nearly a mile to the trek forcing hikers with heavy packs to descend far down a ridge and then all the way back up again adding a 600 feet tiring elevation change to the trail instead of just crossing at the higher elevation.  Yes, safer, more tiring… hell yes.  

Our first group of waterfalls were a bunch of unnamed ones near the upper branch of Compass Creek.  These were right off the trail so it was easy for us to jog around the rocks and check them out.  I was surprised to still see a big chunk of late season snow underneath one of them.    There were plenty of wildflowers everywhere on the hillside as well around the running creek for us to practice some photography.  Emily of course was patient with me as always as I used Eric’s camera (mine was destroyed sea kayaking off Vancouver Island) to grab some great shots.  It was great to see how excited Clint was to explore the waterfalls, watching him jog down the hillside and peer over the edges of them.  

We then descended quite a ways down the hillside to the Coe Branch crossing and found our way across the silty creek.  It was interesting to see which creeks we crossed were spring or snow fed and which ones came from glaciers.  The ones straight from glaciers carried a lot more silt down the mountain and looked very muddy.  They were certainly not the ones we wanted to filter water at!  Thankfully, the flows were extremely low in August as well which allowed us to easily rock hop across them.  I have no idea how Timberline Trail hikers circumnavigating Hood in the Spring could cross these safely at higher flows.  

Our final adventure of the day was to find the elusive Coe Creek Falls.  Unbelievably it wasn’t until 2010 that an actual contemporary photo of the falls existed!  It’s great that even in 2017 there are still very elusive pockets of nature that aren’t often seen.  I named my business The Trail Less Traveled Photography because I really enjoy experiencing these places in the world.  Perhaps I’ll have to start joining Clint on his adventures more often!  

We ventured off the Timberline Trail down a dusty ridge to try to get a peak at the falls.  I let Clint guinea pig the descent as I had sneakers on for the hike, not expecting the off-trail adventures that Clint had in mind.  At the bottom he waved me down as I couldn’t hear him over the thunder of the nearby water.  When I got down to where I had seen him I could see a roaring creek tumbling down the hillside which I assumed was perhaps upper Coe Falls but Clint was nowhere to be seen.  

On the way he had had told us about a horrific fall he had in his younger years and there I was peering over a cliff with some broken branches in front of me.  Had he tried to peer over the edge holding them then fell off the cliff when they snapped!!??  I was getting worried, verging on panic with Emily waiting on the trail above.  Finally, I ventured around a corner of brush and saw him at creek level on rocks taking photos.  Phew…

When I made it down to him we decided to walk downstream a little further to the edge of the easily 100+ foot Coe Falls.  Clint stood on top of a small 15’ foot pre-drop while I slipped, slid, tumbled down a wet slope to the actual edge of the falls.  After missing out on paddling in the bioluminescence of the Broken Group I vowed not to miss any chance I got at spectacular photography!  I stood on the edge of the thundering falls and snapped some photos down into the Coe Branch valley before pulling myself up on wet roots and grass to reach Clint again.  A little risky of a tumble into water but thankfully I wouldn’t have fallen over the falls with a slip.  

We hustled up the hillside to signal Emily everything was ok who was relieved to see us both.  Clint told me he wanted to return to rappel down below the falls to check them out from there.  It sounded intriguing but if I were to return with him we would definitely get an earlier start and I’d have different boots, gators, and pants on as well next time.  As it was on the hot, sunny day my sneakers were absolutely filled with ashy dust!  From there it was a brisk walk back the same way we had come in.  We chose not to trek up the hillside to Elk Meadows where Emily and I had camped the year before because it just wasn’t worth the effort.  We made it back in about half the time but that added new trail below Eiliot was brutal under the hot sun!  

It was great to hang out with Clint again and Emily and I both enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm for waterfall chasing.  He definitely has even more ambition than I do to explore hidden waterfalls around the Northwest.  The smoke from nearby fires had even remained at bay the entire day as well allowing us continuous views up towards the rugged North Face of Mount Hood.  Perhaps next year I’ll set aside 3 days to try out the Timberline Trail full circumnavigation myself!

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