Friday, December 04, 2020

Dutchman Falls

Ok, so in our next installment in Things Upstream from Multnomah Falls, we're back on the Larch Mountain Trail after our sidetrip to Little Multnomah Falls (and the top of Multnomah Falls), and we've crossed the second footbridge on the creek, which quickly brings us to Dutchman Falls, a trio (or so) of small drops that add up to around 35' overall. It's not really the main event along this trail, but it has a name and pretty much everyone agrees it counts as a waterfall, so here we are.

The obvious hook for my usual search engine deep dive is the name. It's an odd name, and doesn't really fit with the other place names in the area. Where did the name come from, and why is it called that? It turns out the name is unofficial and surprisingly recent. This is odd because the falls are easily visible from the Larch Mountain Trail, and the trail's been there since around 1916. An August 28th 1921 Oregonian article about the still-new trail devoted most of a page to large vintage photos of Dutchman and Wiesendanger Falls, but without providing names for either of them. People of that era were mad for tacking wildly melodramatic names onto anything that would hold still long enough (for one example, some eroded rocks near Bridal Veil Falls somehow became the "Pillars of Hercules", which requires more imagination than even I can muster). But that just sort of didn't happen here, and I'm not sure why not.

Skipping forward all the way to 1983 1998, the author of Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest (later The Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest) aimed to be comprehensive & cover minor waterfalls like this as well as major ones. Referring to places as "the northernmost unnamed waterfall on Multnomah Creek" or "Unnamed Waterfall #27" is clunky and gets old quickly, so he ended up inventing names for a few places that didn't previously have them., like "Dutchman Falls" here, so named because it's just downstream from a place known as "Dutchman Tunnel", which we'll get to in a moment. There weren't any other alternate proposed names that I've seen, so I think the name's just sort of gained traction over time for lack of anything else to call it. That said, the Oregonian has still only used the name twice as of early December 2020: first in 2016 in an article on the Multnomah-Wahkeena loop, and again in 2019 in an article on trails that had reopened after the Eagle Creek Fire.

Regarding the tunnel I just mentioned, I'm sorry to report that it's not a real tunnel, or even a painted-on Wile E. Coyote tunnel, but a short stretch of trail where you walk beneath an overhanging basalt shelf and immediately next to the creek, so it kind of looks like half of a tunnel if you squint just right. Don't get me wrong, it's a famous, picturesque spot that regularly appears in calendars and coffee table books and so forth, usually as a frame for Wiesendanger Falls, the next falls further upstream from there. So overall I'd rather walk through this than try to negotiate an actual dark, damp tunnel; I'm just saying that if you travel the world looking for tunnels, to blog about or hide your pirate gold in or whatever, this spot is going to be a real disappointment.

None of this explains where the "Dutchman" part comes from. I don't have a definite answer here, but I have a couple of ideas. The interwebs don't have a lot of leads on this point; the Oregonian has never used the name "Dutchman Tunnel" (or "Dutchman's" for that matter), much less explained it; the closest result I found there -- to go off on a tangent for a moment -- was a March 1986 article profiling Dutch-born artist Arnold Zweerts, who'd been recruited to create a mosaic for the pedestrian tunnel under I-84 at Multnomah Falls. His proposal (as detailed in a longer article a month later) would have decorated the entire tunnel interior with Columbia Gorge nature themes, at a cost of around $500k in 1986 dollars. Which was a problem, as the Forest Service had precisely zero 1986 dollars to spend on the project, and that was a lot of money to raise here via private donations back then. Or now, really. Various influential nonprofits and experts chimed to oppose the idea, insisting that it would somehow compete with & maybe upstage the actual waterfall. I suspect they were more worried about it competing for scarce donations against their own worthy fundraising campaigns, things like restoring the lodge at the falls. In any case, the mosaic never came to pass, and if it had I think we all know what would've happened then: A few visitors would pay attention to it briefly on their way to the hot dog stand outside the lodge; there would be petty vandalism attempts now and then; and I would've done a long blog post about it years ago, explaining that it was almost certainly the most-seen and least-noticed art in the state, reeling off semi-fun facts about how it almost didn't happen.

So I'm fairly sure that's not where the name "Dutchman Tunnel" comes from (although that story does predate the earliest newspaper usage of the tunnel name I can find online, a 1993 Deseret News travel article about the Gorge). I also doubt it comes from the "Dutchman tunnel hull", a popular type of racing hydroplane boat from the late 1960s and early 1970s, which dominates the top search results for the term "dutchman tunnel". It seems the boat's Midwestern designer had a long Dutch name that American boat buyers couldn't (or couldn't be bothered to) pronounce or spell correctly, so "Dutchman" stuck instead. I suppose the same name trouble could've happened here too, and "Dutchman" refers to one specific Dutchman, but it's been long enough ago that nobody remembers who it's named for anymore. So that's hypothesis number one. It seems plausible at least, though I have precisely zero actual evidence to back it up.

Hypothesis two is the cringe-inducing one, which is that the name is playing off old ethnic stereotypes, along the lines of "Dutch treat", "Dutch courage", or "Dutch wife", due to the 'tunnel' being something less than a real tunnel. Sort of the opposite of the common "Devil's + some mundane item" construction. Maybe not the biggest issue the world's facing right now, but it does seem kind of off-color, at least. Particularly since Portland does have direct flights from Amsterdam, or at least we did before the pandemic and might again someday, and renaming the falls and the "tunnel" might prevent a few awkward questions from tourists and maybe an unneccessary diplomatic incident. Again, I don't have any actual evidence for this hypothesis either, just a gut feeling that it's something 19th to mid-20th century Oregonians would've done and would've enjoyed doing. Or maybe it's just that I just don't care for the name, so I assume it's malicious, I dunno.

The name isn't even unique, by the way. It turns out there are at least two more Dutchman-themed waterfalls out there, both in rural Pennsylvania: a Dutchman Falls near one end of the 56 mile Loyalsock Trail, and a Dutchman Run Falls in the McIntyre Wild Area, both roughly the same size as the Oregon one, located on two different creeks both named "Dutchman's Run", about 25 miles apart as the crow flies. And while we're at it, in Pennsylvania the word "Dutchman" might mean Pennsylvania Dutch, which is of course German and not Dutch at all. And with that, we've gone as far as I'm willing to go in trying to explain anything about anything or anyone in, from, or near Pennsylvania, future, past, or present, my mom included.

Switching gears a little, the one weird fact I've run across about this fairly modest waterfall is that it's been run by at least two people in kayaks, and the linked page has photos to prove it. Seems the two kayakers started below Wiesendanger Falls and got out somewhere well above Little Multnomah, after first running a gauntlet of gawking tourists and one very concerned forest ranger -- who, amazingly, let them continue up the trail after they explained they weren't going to attempt the main falls and go splat in front of the normies. One of the kayakers says that Little Multnomah looked runnable too, other than being wayyy too close to "the 550 footer" as they put it, but notes that the creek above Wiesendanger & Ecola Falls is likely too small to be interesting from a kayak standpoint. In any case, that was enough for this stretch of Multnomah Creek to be tagged as a "navigable river" on a page at American Whitewater, and it might count under Oregon state law as well. A 2013 "Where next?" post at Columbia Gorge Whitewater speculated that Ecola Falls (55') and a few others might also be kayak-able, but nobody had tried them yet. As far as I can tell that's still where things stand in 2020, so I guess this challenge is still open, if anyone's looking for a relaxing weekend activity. You won't have to worry about competition from me, at any rate; I guess it's just that I don't grasp the basic physics of how someone can take a little boat over a 189' waterfall (to pick an extreme example from 2010) without ending up as chunky salsa at the end.

So at that point I wondered if people do this at other waterfalls in the Gorge, and I just didn't know about it until now, and the answer to that varies place by place. It seems that Eagle Creek was known for it back before the fire, and people have tried it once or twice in a few other places. Here's what I came across, going roughly west to east:

  • Bridal Veil Creek has been done, including the 'main' falls next to the highway, as well as the rarely visited Middle Falls upstream of there.
  • Someone ran at least one of the falls along Oneonta Creek way back in 2001.
  • Tanner Creek including Wahclella Falls, I think by the same guy who did 189' Palouse Falls in the YT link further up. A blog post about that explains that going over Wahclella Falls involves a long roundabout hike to get above the falls, then an assistant/enabler lowers you into place and cuts the rope holding you when you're ready to go. A Northwest Livin' blog post from around that time has a bunch of photos from a scouting trip to the top of Wahclella Falls and some of the smaller waterfalls upstream from there.
  • As mentioned above, Eagle Creek (or a portion of it) is considered tough but doable by kayak or even by inner tube (although I imagine it really helps to be an expert who just happens to be on an inner tube at the moment)
  • Herman Creek has been done at least once. An interesting detail to this is that local off-trail hiking folks had argued for years about whether there are any waterfalls at all along Herman Creek; for part of its length the creek flows in a tight slot canyon that's tough to even see down into, and impossible to get into on foot, and the trail shies away from this stretch of the creek, so you go for a while hearing whitewater in the distance but never catching a glimpse of it. The kayakers encountered -- and where possible went over -- at least four waterfalls and a couple of large rapids that might count too. A consistent theme in these trip reports is that various creeks (like this one) would be amazing if they'd just clean out some of the old logs and trees that have accumulated over time; the problem there is that Herman Creek is a rare bit of viable salmon habitat on the Oregon side of the Gorge, and woody debris is essential habitat for baby salmon, and a 2014 report argued that there was actually too little LWD ("Large Woody Debris") in the creek, not too much of it. So this may be another ugly land use battle we can look forward to someday.
  • Out past Hood River, Mosier Creek Falls can be run in a raft if there's enough water going over it. This happened long enough ago that I actually mentioned it in a post about the falls and then completely forgot that this was an activity that exists.
  • On the Washington side of the river, there's Lacamas Creek just outside Camas. (A place that I really ought to finish my long-stalled draft post about, come to think of it.) The easy way to kayak here involves paddling around Lacamas Lake and maybe upstream the creek a bit from there. Or the harder way is across the street and downtstream from the calm lake, where you drop in at the spillway just below the dam, and run that and then the two big waterfalls downstream. Here's a short video showing the harder way.
  • And then, wandering away from the Gorge to other things it occurrd to me to search on, the lower falls at White River Falls (aka "Celestial Falls") used to be extremely popular, but going over the falls in a boat is currently banned by Oregon State Parks because reasons.
  • Boats of all shapes and kinds are also banned at nearby Sherars Falls, but without the clamor to unban it like there is with White River Falls. People seem to generally agree that it's just too dangerous. An American Whitewater page describing river conditons there just says "null", in a somewhat ominous website error.
  • It sounds like all forms of boating anywhere in Silver Falls State Park have been illegal for quite some time, but a part of Silver Creek downstream of North Falls is runnable so long as you avoid Officer Friendly and nobody narks on you. (The linked page has some hints on not getting caught by The Man, which Legal says I have to tell you not to try.) Eventually the creek flows down and out of the park and goes over a series of smaller waterfalls (which don't have hiking trails to them) and you only have to worry about offended/bewildered local landowners and then a long boring float/paddle back into Silverton.
  • Also doable are some waterfalls falls along McDowell Creek, which is sort of a mini-Silver Falls near Sweet Home.
  • A couple of kayakers even went down Willamette Falls a few years ago, albeit on one of the parts that's been concreted over so it's more like a dam spillway than a natural waterfall. This being a very public place -- and because I'm not the only one who isn't clear on how any of this stuff is survivable -- people saw it and called 911 on the natural assumption they'd just seen a horrible accident, triggering a search-and-rescue operation. Though if more people paid attention to local history they'd know the falls were negotiated at least twice in a barrel, Niagara-style, way back in 1895 (the first time on a double bill with a hot air balloonist, I guess to boost the odds at least one of the attempts would succeed). So repeating this feat in a modern kayak ought to be a piece of cake, right? That said, the gentleman who pulled off the 1895 stunt died a few months later while trying to descend an Idaho log flume in a barrel, so his success here may have been more due to luck than skill and meticulous preparation. Still, that was a completely different stunt in a different state, and maybe it doesn't count. A much more popular thing to do in these modern litigious times is to put in below the falls and paddle up to it. This is bound to be a more sedate experience than going over the falls, and at any rate is the only legal way to see the falls up close as of 2020.
  • And something that's not a waterfall at all, but a brief episode in 2010 when Oswego Lake was being drained for sewer work, which briefly made Oswego Creek kayak-able downstream of the dam.

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