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Columbia River Gorge South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Eagle Creek to 7 1/2 Mile Camp – 11/19/2022

I took advantage of some favorable weather and headed to Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge for a pre-birthday hike. I was on my own again with Heather still working her way back from her injury (Good news she has been released to do some short hikes), so I was looking for something we’d done before but also wouldn’t be a total repeat. We’ve visited Eagle Creek twice in the past, both prior to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire but never gone past Twister Falls so my plan was to continue on beyond that waterfall to at least Sevenmile Falls.

I left home at 5:30am and found myself being pushed around by the wind as I drove Interstate 84 along the Columbia River. Luckily the wind was calm at the Eagle Creek Trailhead where it was right around 30 degrees. I bundled up and set off on the trail past a burned area warning sign.
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Despite the fire the scenery was good. I had to pay attention to my footing though due to areas of slick ice mixed in the wet portions of the trail.
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IMG_4431It was hard to tell at times which parts were frozen.

IMG_4433Snow at the higher elevations.

IMG_4438A pink cloud in the direction of the Columbia River Gorge.

Near the 1.5-mile mark I found the first major difference post fire, a view of Sorenson Falls which had been hidden by trees and other vegetation on our previous visits.
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IMG_4449Sorenson Falls splashing down into Eagle Creek.

Prior to December 2016 there had been a short spur trail just up the trail from this new view of Sorenson Falls that led to a viewpoint of Metlako Falls. A landslide claimed that spur trail but as I continued along the trail Metlako Falls became visible through the remaining trees.
IMG_4454Looking back down Eagle Creek. It was hard to tell where the spur trail had been.

IMG_4456Runoff falling from the cliffs into Eagle Creek.

IMG_4457Metlako Falls

IMG_4459Metlako Falls

I crossed Sorenson Creek on round concrete steps that were fortunately ice free and quickly found myself at the Lower Punchbowl Falls Trail junction.
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I detoured down this nearly 0.2-mile spur trail even though I knew that the former view of Punchbowl Falls was lost in 2018 after a post-fire landslide rerouted Eagle Creek.
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IMG_4470Lower Punchbowl Falls

IMG_4472Rocks from the landslide on the right.

I returned to the Eagle Creek Trail and continued to the Punchbowl Falls viewpoint to get a look at that fall.
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Beyond the viewpoint the trail crosses Tish Creek on a footbridge followed by a second footbridge over Fern Creek after another 0.6 miles.
IMG_4487Tish Creek Bridge

IMG_4490Tish Creek

IMG_4496More snow on the ridge.

IMG_4498Fern Creek Bridge

IMG_4502Fern Creek

After Fern Creek the trail passed through a scree slope where I kept my eyes open for pikas hoping that one might brave the chilly temperatures but alas no luck.
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Following the pika-less scree slope I came to a section of trail where a cable acts as a rail as the trail passes along a rocky cliff. This was the first section where I encountered actual icicles.
IMG_4506Coming up on the cable section with a bit of ice to start things off.

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IMG_4509Careful where you step.

IMG_4512The last part was ice free.

Continuing on the trail brought me to a view of Loowit Falls. This was another case of the fire having created a better view of Eagle Creek below the falls.
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IMG_4521Passing Loowit Falls.

IMG_4529More cable passing Loowit Falls with High Bridge in
the distance.

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At the 3.3-mile mark I came to High Bridge.
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IMG_4538Eagle Creek from High Bridge.

IMG_4541Eagle Creek from High Bridge, looking upstream.

Less than a quarter mile from High Bridge I came to another dramatic change in the trail when I got a good view of Skoonichuck Falls. Previously only the upper portion of this 50′ waterfall was visible from the trail above it but again the fire had removed enough vegetation to provide a nice view of the waterfall.
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IMG_4550Skoonichuck Falls

I was briefly distracted by a varied thrush (my nemesis bird).
IMG_4556Not my worst varied thrush photo.

IMG_4558Another nice view of Skoonichuck after I’d given up on the thrush.

IMG_4559Sad looking penstemon but I’m counting it as a flower.

IMG_4566Some nearly as sad pearly everlasting.

IMG_4569This fall was visible across the creek on an unnamed creek (at least on the maps I’ve seen).

At 4 1/2 Mile Bridge I recrossed Eagle Creek.
IMG_4574I arrived at nearly the same time as the Sun.

IMG_4575Beach and Summer swimming hole at 4 1/2-mile bridge.

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Just beyond the bridge is Tenas Falls on the other side of Eagle Creek.
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IMG_4582Tenas Falls

A little further along the trail passes Opal Creek which begins below Tanner Butte.
IMG_4586Opal Creek flowing into Eagle Creek.

I continued along the trail chasing the Sun past Wy’East Camp and to the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness boundary.
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IMG_4599The sites on the East side of the trail were posted closed for restoration at Wy’East Camp.

IMG_4603The wilderness begins a little over 5.5 miles from the trailhead.

IMG_4606A bluebird sky above a few green topped trees.

Next up was Wy’East Falls which was more visible than before as well from the trail. I opted not to attempt to get closer to the falls this time due to not being able to pick out the route we had taken on our previous visits.
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I continued on from Wy’East Falls enjoying the wonderful weather.
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IMG_4627Near the six-mile mark I passed the signed Eagle-Benson Trail which hasn’t been maintained since the fire, in fact the sign was the only sign of a trail here.

IMG_4632Sunrays over Eagle Creek.

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At the 6.5-mile mark I got a good look at Grand Union Falls.
IMG_4640Note the hexagonal shape of the basalt columns making up the trail surface here.

IMG_4644Grand Union Falls

Not far past Grand Union Falls I got my first glimpse of Tunnel Falls in the distance through the trees.
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The falls disappear as the trail gets closer then after rounding a corner they are back.
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IMG_4657Tunnel Falls on East Fork Eagle Creek.

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The trail passes behind the falls in a tunnel built in the early 1900’s (pre-1920).
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IMG_4664I had brought my micro spikes just in case, but even though there were some impressive ice features there was enough good footing (and cable) to not require putting the spikes on.

IMG_4667The slickest section was exiting the tunnel here.

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With the ice situation being manageable I continued on beyond Tunnel Falls to Twister (or Crossover) Falls just a short distance upstream on West Fork Eagle Creek.
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IMG_4680No ice on this section which was welcome because it can be intimidating anyway.

IMG_4685Twister Falls. There is another hiker ahead on the left.

The section passing Twister Falls was the one that I had been most concerned about ice on. I assessed the situation and decided that with care it was passable and continued on.
IMG_4692This was the trickiest section but again there was just enough good footing to allow passing without need spikes.

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I soon found myself looking at another waterfall which turned out to be Sevenmile Falls. I had been mistakenly thinking that it was 7 1/2 Mile Falls confusing it with 7 1/2 Mile Camp.
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I continued on thinking that this must have been the waterfall but confused because 7 1/2 Mile Camp was still a half mile away. I decided to keep going until 10:45am or I found another waterfall, whichever came first. At this point the trail maintenance, which had been excellent up to a small slide between Tunnel and Twister Falls, really fell off.
IMG_4705A bit more overgrown here.

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IMG_4709Hair ice, only the second time I’ve encountered it.

IMG_4710I stopped at this campsite which some maps show as 7 1/2 Mile Camp, but I pulled out my National Geographic topo which showed the camp a little further ahead near a pair of small creeks. I think both are correct and this was just the first of the sites that make up the “camp”.

IMG_4711Eagle Creek near the first campsite.

It was only 10:15am so I kept going, now thinking that I would either turn around at 10:45 or at the Eagle-Tanner Cutoff Trail junction which didn’t appear too far beyond the pair of creeks.
IMG_4718More campsites near the first creek.

IMG_4722The first small creek. This one was a lot icier than any of the other creeks I’d crossed. I was able to find enough dry rock to make my way to the other side though.

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IMG_4729Looking back at the creek.

The next creek was a different story though. There were no dry rocks here.
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It was almost 10:40am anyway and I was now sure that the earlier waterfall had been what I was calling 7 1/2 Mile Falls where I’d intended to turn around anyway. I made my way back stopping to admire all the falls again along the way.
IMG_4725This cascade was across Eagle Creek near the last campsites.

IMG_4734Woodpecker

IMG_4748Green pool above Twister Falls.

IMG_4758Above Twister Falls.

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IMG_4808Plant in ice.

IMG_4818Wren

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IMG_4868Chipmunk

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With a couple of detours my hike came in at approximately 16.2 miles with 1400′ of elevation gain.

It was a great day overall. The weather, although a bit chilly to start, was great and there weren’t a lot of other hikers out. I still passed a fair number of other hikers on my way out but nothing like it would be on a warm Spring or Summer Saturday. The falls had enough added water from recent rain/snow to be flowing better than they had been when we visited in early October which was also a plus. I missed having Heather out there with me, but it was nice to get out one last time before I turned 50 (yikes!). Happy Trails!

Flickr: Eagle Creek 2022

Categories
Columbia River Gorge South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Eagle Creek

This year we are redoing several hikes for one reason or another. The first of our redo’s was Eagle Creek in the Columbia Gorge. We had attempted this hike back in October of 2012 but we weren’t able to get to the final two falls due to the trail being closed because of a forest fire. Being Fall the water flow was also very low so the falls we did see were nowhere near their peaks. Having learned from our timing issue I put this one in the middle of our first week of vacation in order to catch the falls at a good flow and to hopefully avoid the crowds that visit the gorge trails on the weekend.

We arrived at the trailhead at 6:30am and set off on the trail. Portions of the trial had to be blasted out of the side of the cliffs when it was constructed making for some dramatic views.
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One immediate difference from our previous trip was the presence of many wildflowers. Plectritis, larkspur, and giant blue eyed mary lined the trail. In some open places and shooting star could be seen near seepage.
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The first big fall can be seen after 1.5 miles via a viewpoint looking up Eagle Creek to Metlako Falls.
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Shortly after leaving the viewpoint a set of signs announce the .5mi side trail down to Punchbowl Falls. The difference from our last visit was immediately noticeable when we reached Lower Punchbowl Falls.
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Even more noticeable was the creek level below Punchbowl Falls. In October we would walk on dry rocks far enough out to get a nice view of Punchbowl Falls, but now the only way to see the falls from below was to wade out into the creek.
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Punchbowl Falls
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Punchbowl Falls
Another difference was the tree that had fallen down into the pool below Punchbowl Falls which happened sometime this past Winter.

The main trail then travels above Punchbowl Falls where a partly obscured view looks down into the bowl.
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Some arnica was blooming here.
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The trail crosses many side streams that are flowing into Eagle Creek from the canyon walls. These were much pretty this time as well.
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The next major falls along the trail is Loowit Falls. This was the most disappointing of the falls in 2012.
Loowit Falls
That was not the case this time. Not only were the falls much fuller but a lovely patch of Larkspur lined the trail at the viewpoint.
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The next marker is High Bridge at the 3.3 mile mark where the trail crosses over Eagle Creek on a foot bridge. Scenic views abound here too and not just down at the creek.
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Next up is Skoonichuck Falls. This one is hard to get a good view of as it requires a little scrambling down to a little ledge above the creek. In 2012 I didn’t go down to the better viewpoint but I made it down this time.
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The trail crosses back over the creek at 4 and a half mile bridge. On our previous trip we’d had lunch shortly after crossing this bridge below Tenas Falls. In 2012 we didn’t realize these were a named falls, it was just a scenic place for a break. We found our way back down to the spot this time to see the difference.
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Continuing on the trail it enters the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Not long after entering the wilderness the trail crosses Wy’East Creek where you can see the top of another waterfall back in the forest a bit.
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There is a primitive trail that leads back to the falls. It requires a lot of climbing over, under and around debris but eventually you arrive at the base of the falls where a decent trail leads behind them. There was another drastic difference in Wy’East Falls.
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I hadn’t bothered to go behind the falls the last time but this time I couldn’t pass up the curtain of water.
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Our previous trip had ended shortly after leaving Wy’East Falls at a trail junction with the Eagle Benson Trail where there was a posted notice of the trail closure.
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This time we were able to continue on passing more wildflowers, distant falls, and cliff edged trail.
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Near the 6 mile mark we got our first glimpse of Tunnel Falls.
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Tunnel Falls got it’s name from the tunnel that was blasted out of the rock in order to pass the trail behind and the falls and continue on up Eagle Creek.
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Leaving Tunnel Falls the trail is at it’s most dizzying. Sometimes called the vertical mile the trail traverses along the cliff to the next and final big fall – Twister Falls.
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Twister Falls was really interesting but also very difficult to get a good view of. The best view is from a little ledge just below the trail.
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Looking down the chasm gives you an idea of the complexity of this fall.
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Above Twister Falls the trail levels out but is extremely rocky and somewhat slick for a bit. Heather had gotten ahead of me and was focused on something in the creek as I approached.
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It turned out to be a pair of Harlequin Ducks who were paddling around a pool diving for food.
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Harlequin Duck

After hanging out with the ducks for a bit we started on our return trip. The sun was shining and the butterflies had come out.
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When we got back to Loowit Falls I stopped to take a couple more pictures with the different lighting when Heather notice a pair of ducks in the creek below. It was another (or the same?) pair of Harlequin Ducks.
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It was a lot of fun to go back and redo this hike at such a different time of year. Being able to compare the changes that the seasons bring and to also finally reach Tunnel & Twister Falls made this a very satisfying hike. No matter what the season – Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157644572170635
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