Death on the trail – waterfall safety

Waterfalls of Columbia County northwest oregon beaver falls tide creek little jack bonnie carcus lava keasey

I’m going to introduce our new waterfalls page in a roundabout way.

Safety comes first. Falls from heights are our greatest natural danger, killing more hikers than heat, cold, lightning, or wild animals. Unfortunately, beautiful waterfalls bring the greatest risk of serious injury or death.

In 2009 I was surveying a small waterfall on the Eagle Creek Trail when I fell and and broke my hand, earning what the doctor called a “nasty spiral fracture of the second metacarpal”. Even though I was only three feet off the ground when the rock gave way, the weight all ended up on my hand and permanently altered the length and direction of my right index finger.

In 2015 I was coming down a trail above a waterfall in Chiang Mai, Thailand when a tourist attempting to take a picture fell over 70 feet and got stuck between two tiers of the falls. For over 45 minutes I and two other tourists on the scene did our best to reach him, working down dangerous slopes without ropes or gear. Sadly the final descent was unpassable and we had to give up just 15 feet above the raging water. Even when the professional rescue team arrived with full climbing gear it took them almost an hour to retrieve his body. The trauma of that day had an impact on me for years.

Similar trauma has happened closer to home. Two visitors fell to their death on Beaver Falls near Rainier in 1995, and a teenager died there in 2001. The following headlines show these tragedies happen regularly:

It might seem odd to bring up these sad events on a page about enjoying waterfalls, but our message is to take care. Always visit remote falls with a hiking partner. If you want to get close to a waterfall, approach from the bottom, not the top. Don’t cross the stream or go off-trail while above the waterfall. Don’t take photos from over the waterfall’s edge – those photographs are rarely interesting anyway outside of the vain attempt of the photographer to show off how “edgy” they are.

That’s the necessary warning. Now here’s the good part.

If you take it seriously, exploring waterfalls can be an amazing experience. Waterfalls are our favorite hiking target other than finding reptiles and amphibians. They are a beautiful sight, often found in our most remote regions, and can have unique biodiversity. I don’t think there’s any natural feature that gives the same adrenaline rush as when you get the first glimpse of that brilliant waterfall you’ve been searching for.

That’s why we’re introducing the “Waterfalls of Northwest Oregon” page. Here we catalogue 13 falls we’ve seen in Columbia County (with more to come as we find them) along with pictures of smaller falls as well as falls outside the county. For every falls we include access information, notable wildlife, historical interest, and of course lots of pictures. Take a look, tell us what you think, and start exploring!

Waterfalls of Columbia County northwest oregon

Published by Jonathan

Educator, Herpetologist, Hiker.

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