Hikes 15, 16, and 17: The Treason of Images

July 4, 2011

40 miles east of Portland, nestled deep between the walls of the Columbia River Gorge, is the well-known Eagle Creek Trail. Typically the first several miles are crowded with visitors who have come to see Punch Bowl Falls, the most photographed waterfall in Oregon, but those willing to plunge deeper into the wilderness are treated to the elusive solitude many both desire and abhor. So steep are the canyon walls, that human intervention was necessary in creating the rocky ledges lining the cliffs. Dynamite was used to carve out the crude sidewalks. It is a phenomenal sight if one doesn’t mind wading through an ocean of ill-prepared visitors.

The wire hand rail is unnecessary, but disconcerting all the same.

The course I followed was a 26 mile loop leading to Wahtum Lake that returns to Eagle Creek via the Pacific Crest Trail across the Benson Plateau. My time Friday was limited, and I began with a 7.5 mile trek to the aptly named 7 1/2 mile camp. The sun was swiftly setting, so I accelerated my pace, knowing I had to reach my destination before dark. I simply had no choice.

The trebuchet that launched the sun.

A snake gently encouraged my steady step. “Quickly now!” I heard him say. It’s best to heed the advice of serpents, for theirs is a life of penitence.

Fire draped the path. Everything I saw seemed to be engulfed in the flame of the evening light. A breeze fanned the coals, helping keep the little light left from burning out and leaving me lost. I hurried on.

A torch to light the way.

Despite my best efforts, the endless waterfalls were determined to extinguish the dying light, and I was left with but a gentle glow. Passing through tunnel falls, I knew I was close to reaching the camp. That did not, however, prevent the dripping from continuing to darken the sky.

I finally arrived and pitched my tent, anxious to start fresh in the morning. I was tired and the ground was hard. Sleep was illusive. I did manage to rest in the end, though the sun rose far too soon. I had once hoped for light; now I mourned the coming day. A warm breakfast managed to shake me out of my stupor. With renewed vigor, I packed my things and headed back on the trail, knowing I had a steep 6 miles to go before reaching the lake. Having passed the more populated section of the trail, only the eyes of the slugs were witness to my struggle.

Stare.

I may have been alone, but the world was far from silent. The fiddleheads played while the birds sang. I lost myself in the music.

But the woods were not without sadness. I encountered a small brook, gently babbling in its melancholy way, carrying the burden of secrets that had passed its worried waters. Indeed, it seemed the very stream that shouldered the weight of Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter. It would not be comforted. The ferns changed their tune, and creaked a rusty song more appropriate given the state of our friend, for it has been said, “Mourn with those who mourn.”

Finally I arrived at the lake, but was unable to continue along my plotted course, for unfortunately snow obscured the trail. I was forced to abandon my plans and instead return the way I came.

It may have stopped me, but it proved a poor deterrent for the determined plants.

I arrived at the water’s edge and rested. The remainder of my time was spent gathering energy for the 13 miles left to tread. The following day was one of exhaustion. The trek may have been downhill, but my tired body had no less trouble navigating the path. I walked, I walked, I walked, and with a single minded effort eventually, and with great relief, returned to the trailhead. As I sit now and write, the trip feels distant. I look at the images I’ve taken, and I know they’re little more than pixels. You, too, are seeing not what I have seen, but only colored dots on a screen. I once again urge you to go and experience the world for yourself, for as you know, my life is not your life. Abandon now my futile recounting and live.

"Ceci n'est pas une pipe."

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3 Responses to “Hikes 15, 16, and 17: The Treason of Images”

  1. Beautiful images and words. I like the slug!

  2. 42things said

    LOVE the slug picture 😀

  3. Wonderful post. I love the pictures and you write like a poet. I enjoyed it.

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