Diamonds in the Rough
Horsetail Falls · Horsetail Creek · Columbia River Gorge · Dodson · Oregon · USA
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't half-bummed to hear that I’d missed the bulk of two winter storms that blew through Northwest Oregon at the beginning of December 2016. Ever since an exceptional cold snap bedecked Abiqua Falls in a stunning coat of ice in late 2013, I've been hoping the same conditions would bring similarly special touches to oft-shot places in the Columbia River Gorge and other favorite local stomping grounds.
But truth be told, I wouldn't have changed the timing or circumstances one iota, as the trade-off for missing the storms was bronzing (or baking, as it were...) my sun-starved skin in the South Pacific with my beautiful wife on an unforgettable honeymoon in French Polynesia and Kaua'i. Perhaps befitting the fact that we overzealously burnt our hides to a veritable crisp on Day 1 and spent the rest of the trip howling with every minor tactile assault upon them (think shower water or well-intentioned massaging hands...), my first hike upon return was a frigid affair in the chilly remnants of the second northwest storm.
Renowned wedding photographer (in my and Ashley’s estimation, anyway) Terence Lee and I struck out for the Columbia River Gorge after our first attempt a week prior (before Ash and I left for Kaua'i for Part II of our honeymoon) was thwarted by hazardous conditions that closed off both Interstate 84 eastbound at Troutdale as well as the Historic Columbia River Highway, which we hadn't heard was off limits, too, unfortunately. An road crew greeted us at the intersection of Larch Mountain Road to turn us and other would-be adventurers away, and after a few seconds of semi-serious deliberation I opted not to live out my childhood fantasy of catching air in defiance of the authorities a la the Dukes of Hazzard (not yet, anyway...).
This time the roads were pretty well clear, and we arrived at the trailhead to find quite a few photographers and casual (albeit daring...or maybe just naïve??) hikers braving the still-snowy and (in places) sketchy trail from Horsetail to Ponytail Falls. I have no idea how so many people managed without any traction devices on their feet, but I'm of the philosophy that life's hard enough already, and gravity has a way of trumping bravado...to perilous effect, sometimes. So we happily donned our MICROspikes and made our way up to Ponytail.
After we had our go up there, we decided to head back down to Horsetail since we both had commitments to keep later that afternoon. Horsetail’s an otherwise impressive 200-foot beast, but it generally seems to be taken for granted as a mere roadside attraction, situated as it is right near a main parking lot. Indeed, there's not a single photo of the falls in my portfolio, as I've always found it a challenge to photograph due to its towering height, constant spray, and uncomfortably close vantage points. I was determined to remedy that on this day, but I hadn't the slightest bit of confidence that I actually would...
Terence, of course, immediately proceeded to do what he does, donning wading boots and standing shin-deep in the icy plunge pool right where the wind and spray was highest. He looked for all the world like he was trying out for a Michael Jackson video, or perhaps like one of those desperate on-location news reporters haplessly dispatched into the maw of a category 4 hurricane (not category 5, though--that would just be hyperbolic bluster on my part), and by the time he returned to where I was standing on the shore, he was drenched like a stray dog in a rainstorm, his hands and fingers pinker than piglets, his overcoat inexplicably unzipped. I've seen this guy endure some pretty crazy stuff before, but never have I seen him look or sound so forlorn. But despite his insistence that the fruit of his bone-chilling labor didn't merit the effort, I would vehemently beg to differ. But I guess the spirit can get discouragingly soggy at times, too.
For my part, after ambling the frozen shores fruitlessly for a satisfying composition, I packed my gear up and prepared to admit defeat at the hands (hooves?) of Horsetail yet again. It was just as I was turning up the stairs to the parking lot that I noticed this trio of sparkling ice-encased rocks sitting nicely arrayed behind a fourth sibling. Completely unbeknownst to me (till later), my first shot attempt was plagued by incessant spray from the falls flecking the neutral density filter, creating all sorts of uncorrectable prismatic effects in the image. Fortunately on my second attempt I had the last-second notion to use my rocket blower to dispel the water droplets from the filter for the entirety of the 30-second exposure, and that seemed to do the trick, forearm cramps notwithstanding. It’s true what they say…better lucky than good.
Or I'd be a horse’s ass.