The Columbia River Gorge, just outside of Portland, Oregon, is my favorite vacation spot. I love visiting and beginning the long drive past a lot of amazing waterfalls. Off one side of the main gorge is Oneonta Gorge, which comes right after Multnomah Falls. Multnomah Falls is a very busy tourist destination. People pretty much ignore Oneonta Gorge, which is just fine with me. It's an incredible 1.3 miles of beauty. Oneonta Gorge is a botanical treasure; over 50 species of plants reside in this perpetually-cool and moist shelter. Hundreds of plants grow on the perpetually moist sides of the gorge. The sun shines down at different angles, providing different levels of light. Many of the plants exist nowhere else on planet Earth.
To get to the gorge itself, one must first climb down a steep stair-like descent, then over a log jam of fallen trees. This is challenging for me. I had polio as a child, and must wear knee-high hard-shell braces to be able to walk. For me to make this hike, which I have done three times, requires a cadre of friends who hike along with me. I am fortunate to have many friends in Portland and the surrounding area who are delighted to help me make this climb and hike about every five years. Three people are touching my body at all times, to keep me balanced plus one spotter. There is at least one climber in front of me, identifying the safest places for my feet to go.. One hiker is behind me in case of problems from the rear. The trees can be very slippery and footing unpredictable. I test each step before putting weight down.
The logs shift during Spring Floods, and the water is always ice cold, because it IS the river.
The water at its lowest is probably about 3 feet deep, and can be chest high. This is NOT a hike for young children. Part of this is a blessing, because the cold water soon renders my always painful ankles and legs numb with cold. Once I am completely numb, walking is easier. The hiking goes more slowly in the cold, and that there is no way to know if I injure myself until the end, when I begin to thaw out.. The Oneonta Gorge is a mossy chasm so narrow that the water from the Oneonta Creek fills it chest high much of the year. Water buoys up the body, so the walking is easier. Much of the gorge is so small a semi-amphibious pedestrian can touch the walls on both sides at the same side, which stabilizes me. At this point, not much light gets in. Photography is impossible, and the water is much colder because it is never warmed by the sun's rays.
As we wend our way to the back of the gorge, the walls begin to open up a bit more. Sun breaks through the shadows, and the water is a bit less cold. Then, we get tot he back of the gorge, and Oneonta Falls is splashing down from a sunny sky above into a pool of almost warm water. What an exhilarating feeling! After about an hour of climbing and hiking, the beauty is a magnificent reward.
Having been warmed by the sun, it takes courage to face the trip back, but the parts that ache are glad to be numb again. Following another harrowing climb over the log jam, the climb back up to the road is happening, but I am oblivious to everything. I have once again accomplished the Oneonta Gorge climb and hike! It goes without saying that I then spend a week in bed, recovering. If I let pain stop me from doing things, I might as well be dead!