Oneonta Gorge

untitled shoot-1813-low-resOneonta Gorge was my favorite thing that we did on our Portland/Vancouver road trip, bar none. It is located less than 30 minutes outside of Portland, on historic Highway 30, just a few minutes down the road from Multnomah Falls.

We stopped at the Falls for a little while. Viewed it from below, climbed up to the bridge that looks like it could be in Rivendell, where I promptly felt dizzy and wanted to get back down.

Then we headed down the road for the real adventure.


There isn’t much to indicate to you that you are at the beginning of the gorge. There’s a bridge, and there were two girls sitting there, looking wet, basking in the sun. We walked through the tunnel on the far side of the bridge, unsure, before asking another group who was talking about their trip through the gorge for directions. They pointed us back to where we had come from, where the two girls still basked. One of them warned us that the water at one point had been up to her neck. I was glad then that I had made the decision not to bring my phone.

We made our way through some trees, over slippery rocks, and very quickly came upon the logjam that we had read about. It looked formidable in the morning sunshine, tree trunks sticking up in all directions, a tangled jumble of perilous angles and slippery bark. We looked at each other, braced ourselves, and up we went.

It wasn’t too bad, though there were definitely some sketchy spots. At one point, one log jutted over another at a ninety degree angle such that, to cross, I had to grip the top log with both hands, swing one foot out into space and grope for the tree on the other side, all the while extremely cognizant of the steep and deadly drop behind me. I made it over, but I don’t know how the dad in front of me, with his five year old on his back, managed it.

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After traversing the logjam, we waded through some shallow water, before coming to a deep pool, completely in shadow. This was the spot: Bryan had read that sometimes it was ankle-deep and sometimes it was over a person’s head. We already knew what we were in for this time, but what we were not prepared for was the cold. The water we had already waded through was relatively chilly, but nothing compared to the bone-crunching cold of this pool. It was a mental challenge to force myself deeper into the water, and when it reached my ribs, I thought my lungs had stopped working entirely. They felt seized. I had to continually remind myself to breathe as I paddled desperately across the ten feet of water and emerged, gasping, on the other side, where the narrow pass opened up into a small, beautiful waterfall.


Somehow, even though we were surrounded by other people, that waterfall felt like a secret. Like some sort of secret that we all shared because we were in the Oneonta Gorge Club or something. We watched delightedly as a young girl and her friend climbed up the wall next to the falls, held hands, and jumped into the raging water below. A dog careened into the water and paddled to a ledge on the other side, greeted its owner, then turned around and paddled back. I waded into the waterfall’s pool, bracing myself for another match with the agonizing cold, but it was warm. How they could be so vastly different when they were less than ten feet apart seemed like an awesome mystery.

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By the time we made it back to the car, I was soaked and jittery with adrenaline. I turned to Bryan at one point and said, grinning from ear to ear, “That was the best thing we have ever done.” Thinking about it now, I still feel that way.

What is the greatest adventure you’ve ever had?


(All photos courtesy of Bryan Cooper – my HUSBAND)


Oneonta Gorge

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