Story Behind the Shot: June 21, 2022

There’s a lot of cool stuff out there deep in the woods, but the best stuff is hard to find and it wants to stay hidden. That pretty much sums up the ordeal Caitlin and I went through to find this beautiful waterfall. Ok, maybe ordeal is a strong word, but this was not a leisurely stroll in the woods.

We had some simple directions to this spot. When I say simple, I mean the directions were basically, “turn on this road, park in the lot, and hike down the trail.” We figured that was enough. But once we got to the road, we quickly realized getting to the falls would not be that simple.

A few miles in, the road ended. A small, bullet-riddled sign told us that the next stretch was “abandoned highway” so drive it at your own risk. We thought it couldn’t be much farther to the parking area, so we drove on. Almost immediately the road became a rutted, rocky off-road track.

We were driving a Subaru Forester—not really an off-road vehicle, but it was capable enough. We crossed nearly every obstacle we came to without issue until we got to a rocky mud hole. We got out, scoped it, and decided it wasn’t worth the risk to cross it in the car. We were too far out there with no cell service and no way to get the car out if we got stuck. So, we turned around and parked about a mile back at a lone, deserted state campsite.

Caitlin had fun ripping her Forester down the off-road track, but we decided to play it safe so we turned back and parked here.

This was the last day of the trip and we had already been denied from one waterfall, hidden deep in the wilderness, when the trail turned out to not exist—so we didn’t want to give up. We decided to hike back down the “road” and look for the trailhead. And we did find it, less that a quarter mile farther down from the mud hole.

The “parking lot” was little more than a clearing in the woods where the track ended. The trailhead had no markings but based on our map, we knew this was the route to the falls. We set off, hoping that somewhere out there was the waterfall we came to see.

After hiking for about 2 miles, we spotted a waterfall at the bottom of a steep ravine to our right. The route down to it was barely a trail, winding steeply to the base of the gorge. We hiked down to a small landing no more than 40 feet from the top of the ridge to get a better view.

Our view of the falls from the top of the ridge. Photo: Caitlin

The trail looked absolutely gnarly. It had been raining on and off all day so everything was soaked. But, we really didn’t want to get denied again and felt we could get down safely. We got our trekking poles out and slowly began working our way down.

When I say this was barely a trail, I mean it was a broken collection of tracks linked together by several completely vertical sections. We took every step cautiously, making sure our poles dug in and our footing was solid. Did I mention I was carrying a 25 pound pack with camera gear?

After a slow and steady descent, we made it to the bottom of the ravine. A quick scramble over a few logs and we were at the base of the waterfall. It was beautiful, pristine, and completely secluded. It felt like the kind of place that almost no one ever reaches.

Once we scrambled down the ravine, this is what we found. Video: Caitlin

I began to setup my camera gear. To capture the water with that silky-smooth look I had to set my shutter speed slow, so I couldn’t hold the camera by hand. That meant using a tripod, one reason why my pack weighed so much. I began taking photos from a bunch of different angles. As I did, the rain came back—and it came back heavy.

We knew we had to get back up the ravine before the rain made the trail too slippery. I took photos for about five more minutes, then setup a quick self-timer shot of Caitlin and I. Luckily, we got it on the second attempt. I packed up as fast as I could.

Self-timed long exposure attempt #2—nailed it.

We started climbing the muddy track to the main trail as the rain intensified. It was a borderline mudslide at this point. Every step was slow and careful. Every vertical section was a calculated move. We watched each other and took it one step at a time. Eventually, we made it back to the trail.

Once we were back on the trail, we stopped and thought about the whirlwind that just occurred. Everything had been leading up to this point—the wonky directions, the abandoned road, the rain, the sketchy descent—and in the end, we got the goods.

We made it back to the car without a hiccup. We celebrated with some MRE desserts, peanuts, and some dried fruit. It was glorious. After all that, we finally got what we came for. The weather only made it more special. We drove out of there with fresh energy, ready for a long drive back home.

Back home, I dumped my memory card onto my laptop and we pulled up the photos. Miraculously, quite a few actually came out good—not a guarantee when your lens is broken so you need to manually focus every shot, in the pouring rain, while the feeling that you need to get out of there constantly nags your brain. It was an amazing reward for what turned out to be quite the adventure.

Another one of my favorites from this spot.

There were plenty of moments on this day where I got discouraged, fearing that we would never find the waterfall we came to see. But I was determined that we would not be denied again. The struggle made the reward so much sweeter once we finally reached the falls. The photos I was able to capture were the cherry on top.

I guess the lesson here is probably something corny like “never give up” or “don’t let anything stop you from reaching your goals.” While those do apply, I have a bit of a different takeaway: the best things in life take hard work. That’s the price of admission to things like this waterfall. You have to put in the work if you want to get there! We were glad we did, because the feeling of a reward like that is indescribable.

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