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No Bridge? No Problem!

[Hood River, OR]

We woke up to a gorgeous fall day in Hood River. The skies were clear, the temperature was in the 40s but rising, and a forecasted daytime high in the low 60s meant perfect hiking weather. We had a wonderful home-made breakfast in the dining room downstairs, which had a huge picture window facing the Columbia River. The fall colors were on full display, and we couldn’t wait to get out and explore. We headed south on Highway 35, with Mt Hood sprawling ahead of us in the sun but with the very top of it still shrouded in clouds.

Thanks to Chris’s love of photography and his multitude of contacts in the Portland area, we had a pretty big list of awesome places to visit while in the Gorge. One of the many waterfalls that made the list was Ramona Falls.

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On the way to Ramona Falls. Mount Hood is hiding in the clouds.

Deep into the Mt Hood National Forest, Ramona Falls is so far off the beaten path, even the trailhead was an adventure to find. A regular street address to plug into the GPS was, of course, not available… so after much digging around, I’d finally found an intersection that seemed overly cryptic – Muddy Creek Rd/NF-100. What is NF, you wonder? National Forest! Mt Hood was littered with roads named NF-this number, NF-that number. Hey, at least they’re named and mostly paved! We plugged in the intersection in both a regular GPS and Google maps on the phone, and they didn’t agree on how to get there. But not by a little bit. By a whole 30-minute difference. The battle was won by the underdog (Google maps on the phone), and so a good hour and a half after we left our B&B in Hood River, we were at the Ramona Falls trailhead.

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The trail started off skirting the Sandy River.

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Not too long after we started, we reached upon an information board. “Permits required”, signs threatened, “$100 fine for non-compliance”. We were supposed to fill out a form, which had two parts – the bottom part was to be left in a box, and the top part was to be displayed on our backpack. Legal disclaimer: I am hereby not admitting to any wrongdoing. I’m just saying we knew there were no rangers around because of the government shutdown, and we didn’t have a pen…

What was more bothersome than not having a pen was a big pink sign taped to the lower part of the board. “Ramona Falls seasonal bridge has been removed. 9/22/2013.” Uh, what? We vaguely remembered reading about this, but seeing as the bridge is not normally removed till October (it would otherwise get washed out by the rain), we thought it’d still be in place, government shutdowns and all. Now what? We looked down at the Sandy River, which was quite narrow and not that fast, and shrugged. We’ve hiked The Narrows at Zion National Park. No bridge? No problem!

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It was not long until we reached the part where we were supposed to cross the Sandy river. The platforms on either side of the river that would normally prop up the bridge were plainly visible. The bridge was, indeed, gone. There was a makeshift collection of logs and rocks that seemed promising, but it also meant that one slip could send you butt first in water, so we decided to do it the old school way – take off our shoes and socks and cross barefoot. It was almost like hiking in the Narrows… except this water (which was actually glacier melt) was cold!!! Even though the river was very narrow, and it took us all of 20 seconds to cross it, the water was so cold our feet hurt by the 5th second. I haven’t experienced cold like this, ever! Alas, we made it safely to the other side, dried off our feet and put our shoes and socks on, only to watch two other couples navigate the makeshift bridge without any trouble. DOH!!!!!

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No bridge! Can you make out the platforms on either side?

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This looked like the more precarious way to go. These guys made it look easy!

From there, the trail meandered along the river before it veered off to the left. The 900-ft gain was relatively mellow since it was spread out over more than 3 miles, so it felt easy. A good portion of it coincided with the Pacific Crest Trail, the long-distance trail that goes from the Mexican to the Canadian border along the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.

Ramona Falls would have been worth a much tougher hike. The 120-ft fall drapes over a stair-stepped cliff, which creates a very unique effect. The sunlight fell at an angle that created a small rainbow at the base, and one could spend hours marveling and taking photos of all the mini-waterfalls over each cliff. This waterfall made Multhomah look like tap water running off your kitchen sink faucet.

We spent a good hour here having lunch and taking photos before heading back the other side of the looped trail – the portion that follows the Ramona creek itself for about a mile until it connects back to the Pacific Crest Trail and the return to the trailhead. This part of the hike was the most beautiful. The proximity to the creek meant green, lush, mossy surroundings dotted with red and yellow-colored trees; a big cliff stood guard on the other side. It felt like another world.

By the time we got back to the trailhead, we could feel the 7-mile round trip in our legs, but we had just enough daylight left to take a crack at a shorter, less steep hike (3.6 miles roundtrip and “only” 600 ft gain) to Tamanawas Falls, The trailhead lay right on Highway 35 on our way back to the hotel, so it would have been a shame not to try to sneak it in.

The trail was mostly level and followed the creek pretty closely, with the elevation gain distributed between a couple of steep sections. We reached what looked like a rock slide, and a temporary sign pointing left made us think that the original trail had been blocked. We both were getting tired, though, and just when we thought we were close to the waterfall, there was another steep ascent to climb. When we finally made it, we were rewarded with a broad curtain of water falling off a 150-ft lava cliff. It was beautiful. Chris snuck in some photos in the mist at the base, but we had to hurry back because we had barely 45 minutes left till sunset, and the shadows start creeping a lot sooner in the forest. By the time we reached the trailhead, we were the only car left. Phew! We continued our drive north on Highway 35, with Mt Hood now clearly visible behind us, and Mt Rainier towering ahead.

10 miles and 1500 ft gain on our first day? Not bad, not bad. What a fool I was to think that this would be a leisurely experience compared to visiting Zion and Bryce National Parks. (Sigh). Hm, at least we don’t have to get up at 5:30 am to beat the heat! 🙂

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