I finally began to understand the weather in the Pacific Northwest region, I had been dreading the rain for most of the trip but I suddenly realized it was the key to the beauty that laid before me. Water in this region was abundant, it rains 75 to 100 inches a year in some places here making it the largest temperate rainforest in North America. The result is an explosion of life, bulging rivers and raging waterfalls flow through the landscape, moss and plant life thrive, covering the entire forest in a permanent sea of green.
The first waterfall on the list was Horsetail Falls, simply because it was the closest and easiest to access. This waterfall which is literally off the side of the road is the bottom part of a two tier waterfall stream, shooting it can be tricky as it is constantly shrouded in mist, it's silky shape resembling a horse tail earned it its name. We then set out to photograph Ponytail Falls, which was the upper part of Horsetail Falls and also required a 1 mile hike into the forest to access it. The area around this waterfall was stunning, a photographers playground, we spent a couple of hours here shooting behind and around the waterfall and recorded all kinds of content from wide angle landscape to macro photography. Upon finishing our hike we returned to the RV and stripped down to the bare minimum of gear, 1 camera 1 lens and a tripod, we wore light clothes knowing that we would surely get wet where we were going. The objective was a hidden waterfall located a half mile deep into the Oneonta Gorge, the only way to reach it was by hiking directly up the Oneonta Creek. During the summer months many visitors make the trek up stream to have a peek at this beauty however in the fall and winter months the creek can become flooded making the journey a little too risky for most. And as our luck would have it the storm that had been stalking us the entire trip had caused record flooding in the gorge and we had doubts whether we would succeed or not.
I took the lead and was the first to place my foot into the creek, as the fresh mountain water engulfed my foot the frigid temperature sent a slight shock up my spine giving me goosebumps. I hoped the water wouldn't go higher then my legs, just the thought of submerging my whole body in the cold water was making me shiver. Nonetheless we pushed on, and after hiking for a while we entered deeper water soaking us up to our thighs. Finally we reached a natural dam, large pine tree trunks flowed down the creek and became lodged among the narrowing gorge walls forming wooden barriers several feet high. We ran into other hikers who had stopped here and appeared to be looking on into the gorge with uncertainty. " The water is too high" one of them said, being locals they recalled never seeing the gorge so flooded before and decided to turn around and head back. Now we were the one's staring off into the gorge with uncertainty, we tried using our tripods as measuring sticks but they would sink down without touching the bottom. No doubt the water was deep, at least 6 feet we guessed. The 3 of us debated here for nearly 30 minutes unsure weather to venture further or not. To do so would mean to swim up stream with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment until we reach the shallow area of the creek that lied about 75 feet in front of us. I could see the rocks sticking out of the water, "if I could just get to that spot" I though to myself. I was more concerned about the current then the actual depth of the water, I pictured myself being swept under the giant floating logs and Razz and Chris having to rescue me.
Finally... we just went for it, we gave our cameras to Razz who was the tallest of the three, he put them in his waterproof bag and we hoped his 6' 3" frame would keep them above water. And then I jumped in, holding on to a log I made my way towards the wall of the gorge on my tippy toes with only my head sticking out the water. Once I made it to the wall I was able to walk the rest of the way on a ledge with the water up to my armpits, I looked back and saw Chris and Razz following behind me. I finally reached the dry patch in the gorge where I stopped and waited for my comrades, we were relieved to make it this far but we still had a ways to go before we reached the hidden waterfall. After a brief pause we pushed on, climbing a few more tree dams and wading through waste deep water. We could hear the raging waterfall in the distance, we were getting closer, it's powerful flow was blowing wind and mist up the gorge like a wind tunnel. Our visibility was deteriorating and the wind chill was sinking the cold into our bones, I knew we wouldn't last here too much longer. We finally reached an area where we could see the waterfall just behind the rock wall, this is the farthest we would go, it was very deep beyond and the mist and wind would make it impossible to take photos down there. So we planted our tripods right where we stood, the current so strong it would tip them over if we did not wedge them between the rocks under the water.
Mist was blasting us in the face as if we were standing directly in front of the waterfall yet we were a couple hundred feet away. I remember thinking how my camera was sure to suffer water damage as I placed it on my tripod, I desperately tried focusing the lens with my trembling hands and was constantly wiping water off the glass with a drenched microfiber cloth. Still under those conditions we were able to capture a few shots, after a few minutes everything was completely soaked, falling into the creek wouldn't even have made a difference at this point, water was pouring off my camera from the mist and we were all shaking uncontrollably. Satisfied we had captured a few shots we slowly made our way out the flooded gorge, we passed by the previous obstacles we faced on our way in and noticed the water was getting higher, we were the only one's left in the creek and the last one's to hike it that day as daylight was fading. We returned to the RV cold, wet and exhausted, yet nothing could wipe the huge smiles off our faces. It was no doubt an unforgettable experience, one of the most unique of my life. After we changed to dry clothes we all began examining our cameras and wiping down any remaining moisture. To our amazement the cameras and lenses suffered no interior or exterior water damage, I gained a new respect for Sony cameras that day. They had proven themselves in the blistering cold of Iceland and in the scorching heat of Death Valley and now in the gorge, one of the wettest places in the country.
Chris and I set out to take some drone footage but despite wearing insulated jackets we couldn't stop trembling. It would take a few hours to shake the chill of the gorge out of our bodies. We still made a quick stop at the famous Multnomah Falls before finally heading into the city of Portland for the last supper of the trip . Just as we were leaving the Columbia River area it started to rain, mother nature had held up all day and was now finally releasing it's blessing over the rich land. We had made it out just in time. At dinner we ordered a bottle of wine and ate lavishly requesting the largest lobster and salmon as we toasted to an unforgettable adventure that took us over 1000 miles through all kinds of terrain and gorgeous landscapes. It was now coming to an end, the feeling was both sad and fulfilling.
The next morning we said our goodbyes to the vehicle we called home for the last 8 days and then returned it to the RV rental company. We then headed to the Portland Japanese Garden to do some final photography, there ware a few hours to kill before our flight was to depart. Ironically it was the most beautiful day of the entire trip, the sun was bright and strong warming the landscape to a comfortable temperature. The sky was blue with some clouds, the clearest we had seen thus far. The garden was in full bloom, Autumn colors flourished among the Japanese trees and plants. Towards the back of the garden there was a patio with a view of the downtown Portland area, one's eyes could not help but stray towards the large mass towering over the city in the background. Mount Hood stole the attention that day, everyone gazed and gawked in it's direction. It stood there like a shy giant finally revealing itself after hiding in the clouds for nearly a week wearing a fresh snow crown on it's peak. I had told the guys I would not leave Oregon without a shot of Mount Hood and I was finally granted my opportunity.
Although we hadn't accomplished every objective on our list, we still came home with the essence of what we were seeking which was a life changing experience. As landscape photographers adapting to all kinds of weather conditions is part of the skill that's required to produce unique photos. If you are always going to wait for that perfect sunset or those amazing clouds you may let the most memorable and unique photos slip by. Dramatic skies and rain can contribute to the story behind the image, making it more interesting then the traditional perfect sunny blue sky setting.
As our plane took off into the sunset I gazed out the window onto the beautiful Oregon terrain, I would always remember the battle we endured here with mother nature and would gain more appreciation for it's contribution to the most beautiful wonders of our world. It was a 6 hour flight back to New York City, the three of us sat quietly, which is usually the case when returning from exotic expeditions. I broke the silence with one question that would keep us busy doing research for the rest of the flight.
" Where do we go next?...."
- Cesar Vasquez Jr
THE GREAT PACIFIC NORTHWEST
Oregon is known as the Beaver State, but for us it will always be known as " The Land of Green" for we have yet to see greener landscapes. Ironically we didn't see any beavers! What we saw were vast forests, colossal mountains and a jaw dropping coastline that rivals the most exotic countries . To see more photos and videos about our Oregon adventures check out this link