Trails of Glory

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pre-Flight Adventure in the Oregon Wilderness

After a long week spent in Salem, Oregon evaluating the Army National Guard Support Facility we relocated to Portland Sunday night in order to more easily catch our flights home Monday morning. I had an 11:30am departure so I would have a couple hours to kill Monday morning. Originally I searched the local area map and decided I would battle rush hour traffic and drive through downtown and across the Willamette River to Forest Park.
Another interesting option was suggested by a longtime friend of mine, Chris Winson, who lives in Southwest Portland. I stopped by his house on the way to the airport hotel Sunday night and we enjoyed a bratwurst and a brew. I told him my plan to run Forest Park the next morning and he quickly suggested driving 40 minutes east of Portland on I-84 to the Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls trail. He had hiked the trail previously and emphasized that to get the most out of it you really should make the 6.5 mile effort to the tunnel. His description of the awesomeness of this trail became tantalizing. I had to come up with a time plan.

Backward Plan
1130 - plane leaves Portland
1045 - check-in and get through security
1030 - return rental car 
1000 - shower, pack bags, and load up car 
0945 - refuel rental car
0910 - leave trailhead after uploading Strava and texting Trish my safe return from the wilderness
0900 - finish route (actual run time 1 hour 59 minutes 55 seconds)
0655 - begin running (plan to average 10 minute miles up and 8 minute miles down with photos)
0645 - pull in to parking lot and pay $5 for the park fee
0610 - leave hotel
0600 - free breakfast starts in hotel lobby (muffin and apple; I still have the apple)
0530 - wake up

So this is how it works, at least for me anyway; and it timed out perfectly. I guess in retrospect I never accounted for any wiggle room except for about 10 minutes of photo taking.
I began my trek up the river gorge just before 7am. The temperature was 50 degrees so I wrapped a light jacket around my waist in case it got cooler on the way up or began raining. I never used it and it never rained although all of the vegetation was wet from last evening's showers. The first half-mile is paved as I didn't realize that I could have driven further into the park. The Eagle Creek trail advertises approximately 1600 feet ascent over 6 miles which is about a 5% average grade. This is very runnable albeit at a reduced pace. Except for stops to take pictures and a couple of rocky sections I rarely slowed to a walk and managed exactly 10 minute miles reaching the falls at 1:05.


The greenery, moss covered everything, and the sound of cascading waterfalls is never-ending. The trail is mostly on a somewhat even surface rather than sloping toward the edge. This is good because like the website states there are several steep drop-offs and recommends neither dogs or kids. I know my dogs would be fine as most dogs have common sense; they generally seem smart enough not to go jumping off of cliffs. That being said, I would not take children under the age of 13; well considering today's mindset maybe up that to the age of 16.
After only a mile and a half there is a diversion trail to go down to Punch Bowl Falls. You can get a great view of it from above along the main route. At the 5-mile mark I found a slippery log crossing and managed to carefully get to the other side without dropping my phone into the rushing stream below. At mile 6 it was eerily quiet as I expected to hear the sought after Tunnel waterfall. I could hear the river below but no thundering falls so I began to think that the trail was longer than advertised. After another 5 minutes all of a sudden I rounded a bend and there was Tunnel Falls, a plunge type of waterfall ever so gradually retreating over the millennia of time.

I stashed my water bottle on the side of the trail and put my phone on video mode while I entered the tunnel behind the fall. The experience of being so close to a roaring cascade of water and mist is quite simply breathtaking and awesome! Droplets of water fell on my head as I entered the tunnel and immediately I spied light at the other end. Once through the dynamite-bIasted tunnel I found the trail continuing up and around another bend. I was at my pre-planned time limit and after testing my wits and peering into the plunge pool I backtracked through the tunnel back to my water bottle.

I was completely chilled and wet from the mist and now ready to accelerate my pace on the 5% downgrade of the trail. I hand carried one of those flimsy free water bottles from the hotel and had not even taken a sip until I turned around. I would only drink half of it by the end. I guess the humid environment, adrenaline, and excitement of a solo wilderness adventure led to no concern for my hydration. The sun began to break through the clouds on the return trip and illuminated the mossy covered forest and hillsides in a different manner than on the way up. About a mile down the trail I encountered another trail runner near the slippery log crossing and another half-mile further seen another trail runner on his way up. I increased my stride and pace trying to see if I could beat the 2-hour clock. I did it by 5 seconds and called Trish to tell her I was ok.

Being able to do this is trail on a Monday due to a travel day was a blessing. According to reviews the Eagle Creek trail is very popular and crowded on weekends. I began to see small groups of hikers during the last two mile as it was now approaching 9am.

Needless to say, if you are ever in the Portland area I highly recommend taking the 35-minute diversion east of town on I-84 to exit 41 and experience the trail magic for yourself.