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Ruckel Creek · Columbia River Gorge · Bonneville · Oregon · USA
To what lengths would you go to chase down your white whale? It hardly qualified as going to the ends of the earth, admittedly, but we trod a segment of the steep Ruckel Creek Trail several times over trying to find the use path that leads to verdant Mossy Grotto Falls, also known as Lower Ruckel Creek Falls. Despite the trail’s name, it comes into intimate contact with the creek only twice along its route, and at least four documented large falls lie along the stream’s length between those points. Only the lowermost of these, Ruckel Creek Falls, is readily accessible. The top two involve Class 3 scrambling and significant cross-country navigating, and I haven’t yet contemplated attempting them without more experience (and courage).
That leaves us with Mossy Grotto Falls, which by now had reached near-mythical proportions in my esteem due to its relative obscurity and lack of opportunities to venture tracking it down in the months since I first learned about its existence. Based on Internet reports, the use path diverges off the main trail at a sacred moss-covered boulder slope known as the Indian Pits. Although one report described it as “well-worn”, it took us several back-and-forths (and a good number of calories) before we finally found it leading off the edge of the field, and in that time we’d withdrawn a substantial amount from our supply of safely navigable daylight. Perhaps the downed fall foliage and rains made it less obvious than it would have been in drier seasons. It was a bit of a gamble to continue our hunt given the time and our dearth of knowledge about the falls’ exact location, but something compelled us to keep pressing on. Perhaps on some level we felt ‘pot-committed’ after all the effort it took just finding the path. Had I known what was about to happen, however, I’d have gladly licked the wounds to my pride and regathered my hopes for another day.
Peering down the edge of the boulder field, the first step looked to be a doozy, and I admonished my mom—who’s all of 4’10" (147cm), mind you—to allow me to descend first so I could help stabilize her on the way down. Instead, she very uncharacteristically threw caution to the wind and began to back her way down before I could get there. Unable to touch solid ground with her leading foot, she finally succumbed to fate and gravity and began to tumble down the steep hill. Our friend and hiking partner Dana and I watched in horror as she rolled over at least three times before coming to a precarious stop some fifteen feet or more later, her splayed arms and legs finally finding sufficient purchase on the very loose rain-soaked soil and talus.
Fortunately, she came away with only some bruised ribs, and she encouraged us to continue pressing on after assuring us (but not entirely convincingly) that she wasn’t seriously hurt. Despite negotiating the first step under reasonable control, both Dana and I had our moments, me being particularly vulnerable to the dangers of gravity because my equipment load makes me extremely top-heavy. Neither of us suffered anything nearly as frightening as what my mom incurred, however, and after some more bushwhacking (or getting whacked by bushes, if we’re going to be completely honest here), we finally found the falls with just enough daylight left to fire off a few hastily composed shots. In terms of sheer beauty and atmosphere, it more than lived up to its glorious billing, but it definitely wasn’t worth what my mom went through.
We’ll almost certainly return again after the winter and when the forecast calls for drier conditions, and hopefully this time Mom will heed my advice if I have any to offer.
Glad you’re okay, Mom! :)