Hiking to the Top of Multnomah Falls
Water rushing past huge rocks and falling great lengths over immense cliffs have long held man spellbound. But if you were to ask people what the fascination with waterfalls was all about, more often than not, they would be hard pressed to articulate their reasons.
Hailing from the islands, I have a fond appreciation for the majestic landscapes God has artfully created on nature's abundant palette.
Case in point: The Amazing MULTNOMAH FALLS!
Located thirty miles east of Portland, Multnomah Falls is a very popular tourist attraction that draws nearly two million visitors each year. En route from College Place to Portland a short time ago to fulfill some business obligations, I contributed to that statistic when I stopped to visit this historic landmark.
And so, for the first time ever, I had occasion to not only reflect upon the question but to also find an answer that settled congruently and peacefully with my heart. You'll find my answer at the close of this article.
Both the picturesque splendor and the 1.25 mile zigzag walk (comprised of eleven switchbacks) to the top of the falls figuratively and literally took my breath away. With one hand holding onto a bottle of water and the other on my digital camera to keep it from swinging as it dangled on a cord hanging from my neck, I made the daunting trek up the side of the mountain. Every forty yards or so of laboring forward and upward on what appeared to be a 45-degree incline, I had to stop to catch my breath. It was encouraging to observe that the same was true for many other hikers.
On this particular Sunday, the temperature was somewhere in the mid to upper 80's. The evergreens and other trees that generously bordered the trail provided ample shade, and a gentle breeze helped to keep me cool.
Every now and then, I would stop to take a photo to mark the progress I had made. At strategic points along the trail, markers indicated either how far one had hiked or how many switchbacks out of the eleven had already been negotiated. I reminded myself to keep a steady pace and to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other instead of dwelling on how strenuous the climb was or how far I had yet to travel.
And--yes!--as I am often inclined to do, I thought of the climb in metaphorical terms. Hawaiian Odysseus scaling the mountain of life. I kept telling myself, a la Miley Cyrus, what's truly valuable is not the finish. It's THE CLIMB!
I exchanged encouraging words with fellow climbers traveling in either direction along the narrow path. Those returning to the base had smiles on their faces, most assuredly due to the comfort of finally being able to travel downhill. Every now and then, I would pause with others going up the mountain. Casual banter liberally spiced with smiles and chuckles as we gulped for oxygen helped to somehow ease our discomfort.
A young Mexican father was actually pushing his baby in a stroller up the hill as his wife followed close behind. What a loving and dedicated family man, I thought. Another Hispanic family paused as often as I did. The conversation, though labored, and the empathy among us fellow hikers grew as we got closer to the summit.
Benson Bridge spans the falls at the base of the first tier. The bridge is named after Simon Benson, a prominent Portland businessman who actually owned Multnomah Falls in the early 1900's. He gave the falls to the city of Portland just before his death. Ownership of the falls was later transferred to the USDA Forest Service.
Multnomah Falls is actually a two-tiered natural panorama of awesome strength and beauty. Frigid water falls for 542 feet to form the upper portion. There is a large pool at the bottom where, conceivably, one could imagine the beautiful princess taking her morning bath. A gradual 9-foot decline assists the overflow of the pool to fall another 69 feet...thus, the second tier. Add the numbers and you get the conventionally recognized total of 620 feet. This makes Multnomah Falls the tallest waterfall in Oregon. Although a sign located near the falls claims that Multnomah is the second tallest perennial waterfall in America, it is a point of debate among the waterfall experts.
Every now and then, more to look like I wasn't laboring too hard in my walk, I uncapped the lens cover of my camera and snapped a few photographs of the scenery below. If I needed more time to seize my increasingly elusive breath, I took pictures of the same elevation I was on. If I was really tired and wanted to do even more faking (hey, what can I say? I'm a proud 60-year-old!), I took shots of the evergreen canopy above me.
After almost an hour of climbing (I could've done it in 45 minutes, but I didn't want to embarrass the young adults and teenagers) and a surprising two or three switchbacks that actually were downhill walks, I finally arrived at the top of the falls. Several groups of people huddled near the gently flowing creek's edge. Braver souls waded in the icy water.
There was genuine relief in finally being able to walk downhill. I mentally prepared myself for the moderate aches I would feel in the morning. Even so, what a memorable privilege to have participated in this adventurous and challenging experience.
As promised above, here is my answer~
The thought sat like a jovial and chubby cherub on my shoulder...
This mile-plus climb is a metaphor for life. The closer we get to the top, the more inclined we are to recognize that the journey is so much more pleasant when we can stop and engage in moments of revelry as we gasp for air. This is the way I want to leave this earth, not incapacitated by despair as I waste away in a white hospital gown, lying on white sheets stained with my body fluids and wastes, my last mortal view of earth restricted to a small white room with cheerful sayings that fail miserably with their intent.
No, give me mud and sweat and the camaraderie of others who are leaving the way we all came in--kicking and screaming and gasping for breath.
Then, and only then, will I know before I go that I fought a valiant fight.
The waterfall fascinates me because it is a reminder that my mortal life is so short and so insignificant. Water rushing past huge rocks and falling great lengths over immense cliffs was here eons before I was even a glint in my father's eye as he gazed upon my mother for the first time. The waterfall will be here long after I am gone.
This moment, then...this very golden moment as I stand in awe looking upward at the majestic waterfall whose trail I just survived, is a moment of incredible truth.
Goodbye and thank you, Multnomah Falls!