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Tunnel Falls: When mother knows best

2011 March 27

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

“You need to tell someone where you’re going,” my mother said.

“Mom, no,” I said. “Just because I live here right now does not mean I’m your teenage son again. And besides, I have a cell phone.”

“But you need to leave a note …”


I was sitting on Mom’s couch Saturday afternoon, having this conversation while searching the Googles for a hike to burn some calories and lose some more weight. Mom was really bothering me. I live with her right now — have since Nov. 1 — but I’ll have my own place again come April.

“Don’t you think it’s getting late to do a hike today?” Mom said.

“Mom, please,” I said. “I am trying to find a hike and I need to do it today. My final weigh-in is this coming week and I want to win the contest.”

“But don’t you think it’s raining too hard for a hike today?”

“I’m not going to argue about this, Mom.”

“The weather’s really not that good.”


“You need to leave a note when you do things like this.”

If she would have just stop pestering — or, as she calls it, “Momzing” — I would have chosen my hike a lot quicker. But I knew she was right, kind of. It was getting late to begin a long hike.

I finally gave up my internet search and settled for a hike I did last year with Yoss. I didn’t want to tell Mom where I was going. I was annoyed by her nosing, but I did so begrudgingly.

“Tunnel Falls.”

“Tunnel Falls?” Mom said. “Where’s that?”

“That’s all you get,” I said. “You can look it up.”

By the time I escaped my mother’s inquisition, drove to the Columbia River Gorge and put the $5 fee in the envelope at the trailhead, it was 3:38 p.m.

Yoss and I did this a year ago as part of Hike Club, and I knew what to expect. Six miles of a gentle uphill slope to Tunnel Falls, then six miles back.

It was raining, and it was muddy. What I hadn’t told Mom was that there were parts of this hike where a safety wire has been attached to the side of the cliff so you don’t fall to your death.

You need to tell someone where you’re going, a little voice in the back of my mind said.

Punchbowl Falls photo courtesy of Portland Hikers Field Guide.

If you’re doing this hike you have to bring a camera. There are just so many beautiful sights begging to be photographed, including several waterfalls, footbridges and something called the potholes. I breezed by most of these sites because Yoss and I snapped pictures the last time we were here. And there was another reason.

My cell phone — which is my de facto camera — was almost dead.

You need to leave a note, the little voice said.

I passed a lot of hikers coming the opposite way near the beginning of the hike, but after a while I wasn’t seeing anybody. When I felt like I should be near the my final destination, I came across four hikers and asked them: “Am I almost to Tunnel Falls?”

“About another mile and a half,” one of the hikers said.

I thought about turning around, but I had come most of the way. Little did I know I wouldn’t see another human being for three hours.

I finally reached the highlight of this hike about 45 minutes later, the place where you snap a lot of pictures before turning back. There is a towering waterfall that drops into a pit. The only way to continue beyond this point is through a tunnel that was blasted through the bedrock behind the falls 100 years ago. Since I didn’t do a good job playing photographer, you can view some good photos of this spectacle here, here and here.

I walked through this tunnel and held onto the safety wire on the other side. I turned on my phone and took a self portrait to prove I’d made it. When I looked at the picture on my phone, I also noticed the time.

Exactly 6 p.m.

Holy shit! It had taken me almost 2 1/2 hours to hike here, and at the same pace I wouldn’t get back to my car until 8:20. What time does it get dark this time of year? Is it 7? Is it 8?

Don’t you think it’s getting late to do a hike today?

Photo courtesy Jeff Statt via Portland Hikers Field Guide.

My phone had less than a 15% charge, so I turned it back off. Not knowing how much light I had left, I began to jog when I re-emerged on the other side of the tunnel. I was pretty sure I was going to run out of light and I wanted to be as close to the trailhead as possible before it got dark. Jogging would not be an option later.

So my 12-mile hike included at least three miles of jogging. Not what I had planned. I stumbled a few times and slipped here and there in the mud, but I stayed on my feet.

But don’t you think it’s raining to hard for a hike today?

I jogged for a while, then I walked. Then I jogged again until I got tired. Then I walked.

The sun had clearly gone down on this overcast, rainy day and it finally got too dark to jog. I figured I was 2/3 of the way back.

I finally ran into a young couple who were, amazingly, walking in the opposite direction. I stopped them and asked how far I was from the trailhead.

“About 30 minutes,” the guy said.

“Do you guys have a flashlight?” I said. “I think you’re going to need it.”

“We’ll be OK dude,” the guy said back to me.

“Did you leave a note?” I thought about saying. I was dangerously close to turning into my mom.

I was thinking about this as I returned to my car at 8 p.m. I couldn’t see very well anymore, and I was worried about the couple I’d seen 25 minutes earlier.

I hope they told someone where they were going.

Food Journal (click to view):

Sunday, March 27

Breakfast: Turkey meatballs, half an apple, walnuts
Snack: Protein bar
Lunch: Grilled turkey, steamed broccoli, couscous
Snack: Plain yogurt with blueberries
Dinner: Pork loins, salad

Saturday, March 26

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with bell pepper
Snack: Hard-boiled egg, apple, string cheese
Snack: Perfect Foods bar
Dinner: Pork loins, salad, steamed broccoli
Snack: Pork loins, banana, cashews

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