Lower Oneonta Falls is not the kind of hike that you decide upon at the last minute. You’ve got to steel yourself for this one and there is prep work. I’m not saying it’s difficult, dangerous, or remote. On the contrary. This little gem can be tackled within an easy drive of Portland, Oregon, sans hiking poles and pack, and suffering a mighty hangover. (Okay, the famous log jam might test the hangover.) Complex, it is not. But this popular route does have one compelling attribute that sets it apart from every other trail in the Columbia River Gorge Natural Scenic Area.
The trail is a creek. You heard me: a creek.
TIP #1: Wear something you want to see wet. Because if you are in Oneonta Creek, you are on the trail. The creek IS the trail, and you will be wearing it. A narrow gorge with steep, moss-frosted walls and a floor of water is NOT the place to break in your new suede Keens, either. And today is a good day to forgo actual underwear and pull on the swim trunks under the hiking shorts. Going commando not recommended. (See TIP #4)
TIP #2: Love your fellow man. Because he will be at Oneonta Gorge on the very same gorgeous weekend you choose to hit it and he will have brought with him his nattering wife, his shrieking kids, his howling dogs, his smartphone with the obnoxious Macklemore ring tone, and several dozen of his un-outdoorsy friends to share in the quiet beauty and peaceful serenity of the place.
TIP #3 The views will be breathtaking–like an emerald green version of those golden slot canyons in the southwest–and there will be plenty of opportunity to stuff your memory card with it, so bring the DSLR but make sure it has a waterproof bag. There’s even a bit of birdwatching if you possess a waterproof set of binoculars. Remember, I said waterproof.
TIP #4: WARNING! The water you’ll be hiking in is approximately twelve degrees Fahrenheit. Even in summer. Even when it’s ninety degrees outside. There will be a few places where altitude-challenged individuals will be wading through deep, frigid pools on their tiptoes while their privates are rapidly flash frozen beneath the surface. Ladies who shop in the petite section of Nordstrom’s, practice your Kegel exercises for this. Short men who plan on procreating in the near future, wear several swimsuits under your hiking shorts as a thermal buffer. Don’t be a hero; going commando today means you can only adopt in the future.
Due to the slot-canyon-esque narrowness of the topography, the way in is the way out. Once you commit, you’re pretty much all in. So sack up, boys, literally and figuratively. Only wimps turn around. There will always be a few males who will insist “Aw, come on. Ha, ha! It’s not so bad.” These men have lost their genitals to war or accident and their testimony should therefor be stricken from record.TIP #5: To avoid personal injury of this nature, one should go there on the hottest day possible. I don’t mean Crank the AC And Pick Up a Frappuccino On The Way There Hot, I mean Birds Are Flying Directly Into Erupting Volcanoes To Cool Off Hot. The kind of hot that makes Satan cry.
TIP #6: While you wait for your nuts to thaw like a bag of frozen peas after the deep pool incident, you can entertain yourself by investigating a few mini-grottos along the base of the wall. Must love frogs, salamanders, and slime.
TIP #7: If you hike ahead of the group and stow away in one of these grottos, you can pop out and scare the living shit out of the family of six that’s been screaming and throwing rocks at each other all day. Payback is a bitch.
TIP #8: The falls, themselves, are so beautiful and mesmerizing they will make you momentarily forget all the hardship and pain you endured on the journey in. Do not make this rookie mistake. You still have to hike back out, Kimosabe.
TIP #10: Teenagers looking to impress their girlfriends will handily disregard all of the above in order to do a back flip off the lower cataract of the waterfall. If you are not a stupid teenager, stay on the shore. If you are a stupid teenager, I have two words for you: Darwin Awards.
TIP #11: A consolation prize for not killing yourself would be to watch all the professional photographers contort themselves into testicle-saving positions just above water level while they attempt to keep their other equipment free of mist.
TIP #12: Don’t forget to take your own commemorative photo. Wait until the rabble has cleared away for a pristine memory. The mist is so formidable, you will basically have one shot at this before your lens beads up like a shower door, so make it good. TIP #13: Have a worthwhile reward waiting for you back in the car. You will arrive there tired, grimy, wet, bedraggled, unfit for selfie, and wondering when you will have a private moment to check inside your swim trunks for whatever it is that’s been jabbing you in the nads for the last quarter mile. (Told you not to swim in the splash pool, didn’t I?) A chilled bomber of craft brew, a Tupperware container of homemade brownies, or a very small rock of crack cocaine will go a long way towards settling your nerves for the drive home. A dry change of clothes is also nice.
***This story dedicated to the pansy-ass date that I had to listen to whine the entire way about his wet sandals. You know who you are.
September 4, 2006