February Photo of the Month: Chasing Winter Waterfalls

Photo © Brendon Eisenbart

The Columbia River Gorge is an incredibly dynamic landscape. Over time, the river carved through the entire cascade mountain range becoming the interface between temperate rainforest and desert, running from sea level to alpine peaks. With the greatest concentration of waterfalls in the U.S., it’s a waterfall lover’s paradise.

Winter has become my new favorite time to visit waterfalls in the gorge. Ice and snow transform the landscape, creating a new world to explore with solitude and the added challenge of navigating steep icy trails. The conditions are always changing this time of year so you never know what to expect — a familiar place you’ve visited many times can look strikingly different encased in ice with a blanket of snow. One of my favorite hikes in this area is Oneonta Gorge. If started from Horsetail falls, the hike passes four incredibly scenic waterfalls. The fourth, and perhaps most unique, is Triple Falls, the equivalent of a "double rainbow" for waterfall enthusiasts.

My brother and I hit the trail shortly after a recent cold snap. It began with a short section of switchbacks and we quickly reached Ponytail Falls where the path goes behind the cascading water and passes under an overhang of columnar basalt. We were greeted with massive icicles hanging from the ceiling like stalactites. The mist from the waterfalls formed a thick layer of ice on the surrounding rocks around the pool below. Continuing on, the trail became increasingly slippery with packed snow and ice from previous hikers. We took our time and enjoyed the challenge of the terrain and numerous views into the gorge. After passing Upper Oneonta Falls and several more sketchy switchbacks, we reached Triple Falls with its frosty winter coat. Each cascade had become an ice encrusted chute leading to an ice palace of fallen logs and rock. We lingered for a while, sharing a great moment in such a special place.

Brendon Eisenbart grew up in the foothills of the Tualatin Mountains outside Portland, Ore. In addition to chasing waterfalls and capturing pictures, he is an active hiker, kayaker, and graphic designer who is always curious where the next trail will lead. You can see more of his photography on Instagram @brendon.eisenbart