When summer heat rears its ugly, sweat-ridden head, what’s an Oregonian to do? Temperatures in the eighties and nineties, although anomalous in our area, can strike when we least expect it, attacking our beautiful, overcast, Pacific Northwest bubble made of sunshowers and rain clouds. I can do rain. I’m good, nay, great, at rain, but when the sun is out, the fun is most certainly not out. Chances are, that trendy, post-grunge studio doesn’t have central AC and even the loftiest loft isn’t going to help you escape the heat.
So, I ask again: what’s an Oregonian to do?
First of all, stay calm. Stress elevates blood pressure which can lead to an increase in body temperature, we can’t afford that right now. Pull yourself together, focus on taking even breaths, and try to remember where you left that tank top you bought last July, it’s time to hit the great outdoors!
Now, don’t get too ahead of yourself, you’re not going to the coast. The beach is fun, I love the beach, but now is not the time. Take a look outside, see that bumper to bumper traffic on Highway 26 Westbound? That’s why we’re not going to the beach, we’re going in the opposite direction: The Columbia River Gorge! Although there are a multitude of fantastic destinations to check out on this stretch of rocky canyon, we will be focusing on Oneonta.
There are a multitude of trailheads through this area but one of the most popular and the most stunning is Oneonta Gorge. Sheer rock faces shoot up on either side of this quiet stream bed that serves as a hiking trail for adventurous locals. The trek is certainly a challenge but it is also accessible enough to be enjoyed by entire families.
When you first arrive, you will be met by a short descent from the Oneonta Gorge Bridge down into the water, there are some stairs on one side and a well-beaten path on the other, in case you’re feeling adventurous. Once you have reached the water, it might be time to take off your shoes and begin to acclimate yourself to the frigidity, this will come into play later on. After a few minutes of navigating the stream, you will come to an impasse, or in this case, a rock. The boulder that stands in your way is actually the key to progressing on your journey so start looking for the safest way up. Chances are, if you hit this spot on a weekend, there are many other people making the same climb so feel free to observe carefully before you attempt anything. After you get to the top, you will see a tangled network of fallen trees that you will need to cross in order to, once again, descend into the stream bed. If you’re anything like me, you might want to channel your inner Pocahontas, maybe hum the tune to “Colors of the Wind”, it seems to help.
Now that the climbing is out of the way, for the most part, it’s probably a good time to slip those shoes back on, even the smooth stones in Oneonta Gorge can do a number on unprotected arches.
One thing that I can’t stress enough, especially for first-timers, is that you should never forget to look up! It’s easy to focus so much on where your feet are going that you neglect to admire what is truly a gorge-ous (see what I did there?) area.
Remember all that time that you spent getting your toes used to the cold water? Here’s the part where those skills will really serve you well. Although Oneonta is, for the most part, a shallow stream, there is a stretch of about 30 yards or so (maybe more, I never said I was a scientist) that gets relatively deep. This stretch is definitely best enjoyed with friends, especially friends who are tall enough to carry the gear above their heads. I was especially lucky to be accompanied by a talented photographer by the name of Zachary Senn who took the photos you see here, he is also far taller than I am, which is a major plus. For some, like my friends, traversing this stretch is as simple as holding a backpack over their head and walking, for others, namely myself, the vertical challenge is just too much and swimming is the only option. Others attempt to shimmy across the rocks, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Slippery rock face is not fun to fall off of. Not to mention the fact that floating through a beautiful natural area on a clear summer day is kind of amazing. If you’re lucky, you might just see a few rainbow trout darting around.
Once you make it through what is, by far, the coldest part of the journey, you are not far from the payoff. A few fallen logs and carefully placed steps later, you have arrived. A picturesque waterfall, flowing with fresh, pristine, Oregon water signals the end of your Oneonta adventure, at least for now. But don’t get too excited, you still have to make it back to the car.
Photo Credits: Zachary Senn