Eagle Creek, Mount Hood National Forest
Being at a mathematics conference over an immaculate spring weekend sounds like a recipe for frustration management, but when the conference is held four miles from one of the great waterfall hikes in the Pacific Northwest one has ample opportunity to sample the pleasures of the coming summer. Along with three colleagues from Pierce College, I set off to climb up the Eagle Creek trail to Tunnel Falls.
April 22, 2006
I had come down from above on an alternate route when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2003, and visited the falls from below last summer as part of a hike with F-Troop. We were fortunate enough to have perfectly blue skies and mild temperatures for the walk along the creek up to the falls.
The winter had been a good one for snow and there were far more water falls along the way than either of the two times I had been along the trail, both in August. The thick feeling of green was omnipresent, as the winter had already faded from this low elevation hike and the air was heavy with the fecund smell of the earth. That smell that drives home the sense of infinite possibly. The smell of hope.
The smell was not what brought us, along with many others, out to the trail, though I thought it the star attraction. Watching the world come back to life and a harsh winter, like watching the desert emerge from its mid-day slumber, is a treat that comes along only for a month or so each year. Miss it and you have to wait.
Tunnel Falls is the more popular, more well known, attraction, however. Plunging perhaps 60 meters, the volume of water is immense and you can feel the force of the water well before you can see the drop itself. In a move never to be repeated in the future, the Forest Service (or someone) blasted out a tunnel behind the waterfall, allowing you to walk behind the water and continue on the other side.
After gawking for a while (and posing for lots of pictures), we continued on our way up the trail another quarter mile to Eagle Creek Falls, which are less gaudy but also feature a large flat area where we could sit and lunch and still have a scenic fall to gaze at.
Everyone was quite happy to have reached the falls and the idea that we had to walk all the way back to get to the cars had not yet quite set in. After a sandwich, the six miles back to the parking lot came to the fore however and seemed like rather a lot.
However, there was nothing to be done except walk back and no complaints were heard, despite some tired bodies and aching feet. Had it been raining and cold, the walk would have been a suffer-fest for my friends, but the warm weather and the shining sun allowed us a certain leisure on our stroll.
As we drew nearer and nearer to the parking lot, and the end of transport-by-foot, the conversation switched to food and beer and the three hour drive back to Lakewood. The beauty of the surroundings, however, was in no ways diminished, and even as the end drew near gasps and cries could be heard occasionally as we passed by something unnoticed on the climb up.
However, a howl of joy was heard when we reached pavement again, nearly thirteen miles after leaving it. The hike had been much fun, and had been done in much different style than I was used to. Spring was undoubtedly here, even though I knew the snow was still thick in the mountains. Spring is rebirth, a sign that life goes on, even if we don't always notice it.
From Lakewood drive I-5 south to near Portland and take I-205 to I-84. Drive I-84 eastbound to exit 41. If you are heading westbound on I-84, there is no exit 41. Instead, drive to exit 40 and turn around heading eastbound on I-84 to exit 41. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass, Golden Eagle Passport, or other parking permit. A permit for the day (to park, not to hike) costs $5 and are available on site and in local towns (Stevenson). The hike up to Tunnel Falls is very pretty, gentle, well marked, and gains about 1600 feet over 6 miles or so, making it a very appropriate family hike for those looking for something beyond a nature trail.