Momentary Madness and The Magic of Multnomah Falls
It was late afternoon when our beige and red striped RV pulled into a parking lot, barely visible under the towering cedar trees, the setting sunlight peeking through the hidden gaps. The gravel crunched under my feet as I stepped outside and took a deep breath of the fresh forest air that had a hint of pinecone and a touch of fern, with just a whiff of wild ginger. It was the bordering moment between afternoon and twilight when everything around is brought to life by the hidden sparkle of saffron dust and lit by a rusty and rosy glow. The allure lasts for a few rare and precious minutes when everything seems to have the golden blood of magic flowing through its veins.
I hesitated for a moment, poised on the crackling gravel, pondering the situation. I then spoke decidedly aloud with all the certainty of an 11-year-old. “It’s like everything is wrapped in Rapunzel’s hair,” I said the best way I could describe the beauty of the woodland around me. I half expected fairies, elves and gnomes to jump out from behind the trees and start dancing around just like as if it was a midsummer night’s dream.
The smokey smell of sautéing mushrooms wafted out of the RV screen door accompanied by Dad’s singing of Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”. I closed my eyes taking it all in. Then when I opened them, it was all gone. The magic had passed and instead I was left with the cool glow of twilight reflecting off the shallow puddles of water that lay scattered about the slight clearing. I turned on my heel and entered back into the RV, my mind recalling the images I had saved on my memory card forever.
The next morning I was out of my trance and into the present, pestering my parents for more knowledge on today’s adventure. I knew that we were to explore the wild heart of The Colombia River Gorge through the USA’s second highest waterfall; the majestic Multnomah Falls. What I didn’t know was how long the hike through the evergreen forests would be. And this was the main focus of my brother’s and my attention as we pulled on our hiking shoes, slapped on the caps and marched out the door in an orderly fashion, or more like monkeys in a momentary madness.
My badgering continued until turning a rough and rocky corner ledge, our first sight of Multnomah Falls came into view. The powerful rush of water cascading over the cliff in an intense wave was followed by the sound barrier that carried the deep roar, emanating from the very depths of the waterfall. My voice faded into insignificance, and we were all left speechless, standing with a hypnotic gaze plastered over our faces. It was hard to imagine that this mighty waterfall in all its thunderous enchantment is supplied by a small underground spring originating from Larch Mountain.
Walking closer, while in a worshipful like stupor, we suddenly found ourselves in a brightly coloured crowd of tourists, the buzz of their conversations resonating with the fall’s rhythm. Making our way through to the Forest Service Interpretive centre we passed guide groups after guide groups each speaking a different language – French to the left, German to the right, Russian straight ahead… is that Turkish at 2 o’clock!? Once inside the information lodge, I explored the stained glass cases that held black & white photographs (in the distinct shade of Twilight Zone) of the falls and its trademark bridge when it was first constructed in 1914. Armed with a few free maps we adventured onwards joining the hoard of fellow fanny packers and began the 1.7 Kilometre (1.1 Mile) walk to the top of Multnomah Falls.
Standing on the brink of an abyss I watched the crystal clear water swallow an array of leaves as they disappeared over the edge of the falls, never to be seen again. Around us, the crowds slowly began to disperse allowing an extremely rare period of silence before the next tour group reached the top in a flood of coughing and gasping for breath. Staring at the water in a mesmerising silence I posed my question again: “So how long is this hike going to be?”
Turning away from the steel barrier that was now covered with a fine layer of neon green moss, Dad answered with a tiny gleam in his eyes. “It should be about 13 Kilometres.” (8 Miles) I sighed. This was nothing. Our average a day is usually 15 Kilometres (9 Miles) This would be a walk in the park or more like a walk down the Larch Mountain Trail. Just seconds before a mass of people arrived at the top once again, the four of us ducked through the fir trees to an elfin sized dirt path and the beginning of another adventure.
Time no longer existed as we made our way through the dense brush of the forest. Different shades of green tinted the landscape around us while wildflowers in hues of indigo, crimson and lilac added a splash of contrasting colour. Around the corners, like Christmas surprises, lay an array of smaller waterfalls that could only be described as angelic. Tiny clouds dotted the ice blue sky, looking like a creamier version of fairy floss. Spying through the hemlock trees, the towering alpine mountains conquered the horizons, their sturdy stances blocking out all reminder of civilisation. As our scenery changed so did the topics of our conversations. I find that while hiking we always seem to have some of the most interesting discussions and today was no exception. We lost ourselves in the void of nature, unaware of the ever expanding kilometres, falling through a galaxy of incredible and ever-changing beauty.
At midday we arrived at Sherrard Point, the furthest point we would venture today before turning back. Walking up the wooden stairs to the lookout, we suddenly came face to face with the five major volcanic mountains that captured our attention. Mt Rainier, Adams, St Helens, Hood and Jefferson all fought for control over our eyes, each extolling its virtues through their pure white alpine peaks and deep green sides. I have to say that it was the unique but devastating history of Mt St Helens that held my thoughts in its grip the longest. The major eruption of 1980 left the whole countryside in shambles, and the surrounding mountains and valleys still haven’t recovered, and Mt St Helens is still rebuilding itself. Grabbing the snacks Dad had lugged for us all this way, we sat down on a sunny bench and enjoyed our rejuvenation, surrounded by the extreme powers of nature.
Re-entering into the woodlands, we were thrust into a different world. Blackened trees blocked out the afternoon sunlight, leaving the trail only a few shades before the unmistakable touch of darkness. An unearthly blue glow settled over the clearings, and the wild heather that sprouted inconsistently was changed from the colour of dull grey to vibrant violet. Small pools of water reflected the sudden movements of the midnight pigmented fish, leaving the dark gaze of lily-pads reeling. Following the smooth wooden signs we journeyed deeper into the black heart of the woods, heading to find our way home.