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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

Columbia River Gorge Canyoneering


Columbia River Gorge Canyoneering

Derek Bartz the rainforest.  I should have known.  The Columbia River Gorge boasts the most waterfalls of any area in the contiguous US.  Canyons + Waterfalls = Canyoneering.  

After bailing on Utah to in fear of continuing to be skunked by the weather, Joe and I had practically ditched the idea of hitting up a few canyons in preparation for our upcoming trip down The Grand this Fall.  As we made our way North the coast began to grey and we were regretting not waiting out the weather in the desert.   After a bit of research though, we realized there were a plethora of canyons to choose from in the Columbia River Gorge area, and the weather there was looking perfect so we booked it to Cascade Locks for the last few days of the trip.  A lack of recent beta on the routes was a bit concerning, and the potential for high water volume flowing through the creeks due to Spring runoff from Mt Hood was something to consider.  After a couple emails to a few locals I had a better understanding of what to expect from the canyons up in the PNW.  Unlike the Southwest, most drainage's don't have real long slot sections, making escape somewhat easier (depending on the canyon of course) in case things got sketch.  


It had been a while since we had set up anchors so we started off with Camp Creek; 4 raps, each about 35 feet; no swims but wetsuites required due to the cold, cold water that will soak you while rapping the falls.  The hike up the 406E Trail served up a quick reminder of how cool the Columbia River Gorge is.  Mossy cloaked trees line the path and water cascades in from every drainage you cross; all coming off Mt. Hood which is just a ridge away.  The entrance to Camp Creek is easy to find, a tall waterfall marks where you suite up and enter the creek bed.  And enter we did; into the steep, log filled, brushy drainage that is Camp Creek.  It didn't take long to figure out that canyoneering in the Gorge is more like a bushwhacking adventure with some sweet waterfall rapping mixed in.  You can't trust anything you step on.  The rocks/boulders on the bottom of the creek are dark and slippery with black holes everywhere.  You try to use an overhanging branch to brace yourself but snap the rotten thing off and fall to your knees.  Throw your pride out the door, you are going to stumble around a bit and will almost always look awkward moving down the canyon hunched over in a three point stance. Camp ends in a fantastic serious of waterfalls dropping you into the uber wild & scenic Herman Creek, where another waterfall comes crashing down from what looks like a nice set of narrows above.  A slippery one mile walk down the middle of Herman Creek brought us to our exit.

Suiting up

Last rap in Camp Creek

Herman Creek

Some nice pools in Herman Creek.  Cold, cold water...wetsuit required.

Working out way down Herman Creek to the exit

Old growth line the banks

Schwacking out!  Wetsuits make for great bushwhacking attire; I only put 4 holes in mine in two days!

Munra Creek

Next was Munra Creek, a big step up from Camp, 7 raps up to 150 feet.  The previous days sunny skies had vanished and the drizzle had now settled in over The Gorge.  While suiting up at the trailhead it began to down poor; good thing we already had our wet suits on! The 2 mile hike up to the entry for Munra was quick (albeit hot in our wetsuits) following the old dirt road/#401 trail to the Tanner Butte junction where the creek runs under the road.  A little ways down the creek you come to Upper Munra Falls, a 110 foot drop sending you down into the jungle below. Peering over the lip of the waterfall it felt big and airy, the rap is partially free hanging.  Next up was the unnamed big one, a 150 foot drop down a slightly stair stepped falls.  A set of back to back falls through a small set of scenic narrows follwed.  The fourth rap was a bit frustrating as we decided whether or not to trust the previously established anchor using a fallen, rotten log in the middle of the water course.  Debris that had gathered around the webbing made it difficult to see where/what the webbing was actually strung around.  There weren't many other options though and it held; not sure how much longer this one will last for future parties.  The rain continued to fall which only added to the aura of canyoneering in The Gorge; schwacking our way through the murky, messy, mossy canyon.  A pair of fun 50 foots falls brought us to the last drop in the canyon, an 80 foot fluted fan that drops you right onto the bridge of the Wahclella Falls trail where the van was just a short .5 mile walk down the path.  

Joe pulls the cord on the first rap into Munra Creek

Joe C on the big 150' unnamed falls.

Wet, slippery, mossy, green, dark...canyoneering in the Columbia River Gorge!

The mess at the fourth rap trying to figure out what the anchor (which the watercourse runs directly over) is attached too.  Not sure how much longer I would trust this one.

Just another waterfall, NBD.

Final falls leading down to the bridge and trail out.