Thursday, December 31, 2020

Cat Photos of 2020

I'm sure I don't need to explain what sort of year 2020 was, and I've had a relatively easy time of it (by US standards). One tiny bright spot amidst *gestures angrily at everything* is that working from home since March means hanging out with the cat constantly, which in turn means lots of cat photos, which in turn means this little New Years tradition of mine was easy to assemble this time around.

Ecola Falls

Ok, the next waterfall on the way up Multnomah Creek is Ecola Falls, a short walk (maybe 0.1 mile) uphill from Wiesendanger Falls, a place I just finished a rather... long-winded post about. Don't worry, this post is almost certainly going to be much shorter; if it was any longer than the last one -- or even of a roughly similar length -- I'd probably never finish it at all, and then you'd never see me explaining how that happened, so there's sort of a weak anthropic principle in operation here.

If you're looking at the photoset above and wondering when it'll get to a better view of the falls, this is not your lucky day. Sadly that's the only angle I've got, and it's the only angle anyone gets without going off-trail. This subpar view is even said to be the reason Ecola picked up the name "Hidden Falls" for a while in the late 90s and early 2000s. There is, however, a rough scramble route down to somewhere near the base of the falls, where you can take cool photos like this, or this, or this, or this. It's just that roughly everyone who mentions this route goes on to explain that it's steep and scary and it would be easy to get seriously hurt here. While climbing down, or up, or even by staying on the trail and just trying to lean out just a few... more... inches for a slightly better shot. This is not just a theoretical hazard either; the most recent fatality here happened in 2013. In short, I've never been down there and have no immediate plans to, and I don't even know if there's a specific spot where you start scrambling or if you just hop off the trail wherever you like and roll the dice. So I can't be of any practical help there, I'm afraid; mostly I'm just trying to make excuses for the photos, to be honest.

There are a couple of other ways to get to the base of Ecola Falls in one piece. Pages at RopeWiki and Canyoneering Northwest have details on rappelling down the Ecola-Wiesendanger duo. Both pages remind the reader that although doing Multnomah Falls itself sounds awesome, it's illegal unless you're with the local mountain rescue organization. Meanwhile a 2013 post at Columbia River Whitewater speculated that the falls might be kayak-able, in theory, although there were -- and still are -- no recorded attempts of anyone actually having a go at it. So who knows, you could be the first one ever. I know I won't be.

I haven't seen as many historical references to Ecola Falls -- by its current or historical names -- as I found for the other falls we've visited recently I'm largely skipping things that just mention walking past some number of upper falls this time, to keep things semi-brief, and preferring stories that include old photos of the falls, which there are very few of.

  • Some Oregon Journal articles from March, April and June 1915, during the planning and fundraising phases of the Larch Mountain Trail. It seems the stretch of trail past the top of Ecola Falls was considered the big engineering challenge of the whole project, and involved the skillful use of a great deal of dynamite. The dynamiting had not yet happened as of the March article, so when a group of Portland-area civic boosters checked out the route of the upcoming trail (looping over and down from Wahkeena Falls) they were forced to descend the falls on a 50' rope instead of going around it. On the positive side, the old difficulties here meant that the April article included a vintage photo from the base of the falls, since that was part of the only viable route at the time.
  • The December 1916 Mazama magazine article "The Lesser Waterfalls Along the Columbia" also went with a photo from the base of the falls, calling it "Twahalaski Falls". This was right in the middle of the Mazamas' big push to name everything in the Gorge that would hold still long enough. So they might have intended that name to apply to the whole Wiesendanger-Ecola combo, not just the lower half. However no variation on the name or the definition ever caught on, making this a moot point.
  • A later May 1917 Journal photo showed a large group of hikers (in period attire) at top of Ecola Falls, post-dynamite. If anything, that spot looked even more barren and devoid of life then than it does now after the 2017 fire, so I'm guessing there may have been one last logging frenzy here just before the trail opened.
  • I found another of those mentions-in-passing I insisted I'm avoiding, this time in the Larch Mountain Trail section of "Forest Trails and Highways of the Mount Hood Region", a Forest Service circular from around 1920. Included here because the publication as a whole is kind of cool, with vintage Art Deco graphics and so forth.
  • Another old photo of the falls appears on page 55 of The Columbia River Gorge: Its Geologic History Interpreted from the Columbia River Highway (1923), a reprint of a long 1916 article in Mineral Resources of Oregon. It refers to Wiesendanger and Ecola as the Middle and Upper falls of Multnomah Creek, yet another naming scheme that didn't catch on.

A fun thing about all of those vintage photos is that I haven't seen a single one taken from the trail, only from down below. It's as if no editor wanted to waste a single column inch on the view from above, while I'm here trying to illustrate a blog post with a whole photoset of that angle. Recall that taking photos from the base back then would have involved a heavy large-format camera and likely a tripod to support it, and possibly fragile glass plates instead of film, which would need to be lugged up the trail to this point, and then down the scramble route to the base, where the photographer would take at most a handful of photos in the hope at least one would be good enough to use. I have this mental image of an angry editor yelling at some poor staff photographer, insisting he won't print photos taken from the top, the public doesn't want to see photos taken from the top, the other paper in town printed one from the base just last week, so get back out there and climb down the cliff this time and try again, but don't damage the camera or it's coming out of your paycheck. While at the same time smoking an entire cigar and knocking back a couple of martinis.

Note: I am imagining the above based entirely on TV and movies, and have no idea whether editors are really like this. Honestly if you've read any of my recent posts here you've already realized I have no idea what editors are like. In some parallel universe not unlike our own, some alternate-me was once fired by Buzzfeed after repeatedly turning in articles weeks or months late, with titles like "842 Cats That Can't Even, and 163 That Can. Some Literally, Others Figuratively.", complete with a long tangent between the photos explaining why I used "that" instead of "who" in the title, and why the "that" is capitalized. And yes, I did just google those questions to triple-check that I was doing it right, because bungling it in a joke seems even worse somehow.

Anyway, regarding the confused name situation I keep alluding to, let me recap a few details for anyone who didn't make it through the entire Wiesendanger post. Until a couple of decades ago Ecola Falls was often paired up with Wiesendanger Falls just downstream as a single waterfall, most commonly called "Upper Multnomah Falls" or described as "the upper falls of Multnomah Creek", and occasionally known as "Double Falls", although none of those names were ever made official. The story the internet's standardized on is that the two tiers were officially separated and given individual names in 1997. Which is what I thought at first until I started digging and came to realize "Wiesendanger" is the only official name of the two, and the GPS coordinates given for it point to the top of Ecola Falls, as if the Forest Service wanted the new name to apply to the whole of "Upper Multnomah Falls" and didn't mean to separate the two parts. But somehow that didn't catch on, and I've never seen anyone using "Wiesendanger" to apply to both falls. So here we are.

For what it's worth, I like the idea of the split, whether it was intended or not, for the very subjective reason that there isn't anywhere where you can stand and see both falls at the same time. Drone photos don't count, nor do sketchy off-trail locations reachable only by mountain goats and professional mountaineers. And yes, I realize this is the exact opposite of the argument made about superheroes, where the fact that you never see Batman and Bruce Wayne at the same time is a clue that they're the same individual, not that they're separate and unrelated.

The name "Ecola" is another puzzle, as I explained in the previous post:

On top of that, "Ecola" is a very strange name to use here; it's one of several Chinook Jargon words for "whale" (per an 1863 dictionary), and all of the other place names in the United States using that name are clustered in a small area on the Oregon Coast around Cannon Beach and Seaside. If any whales had ever made it this far up Multnomah Creek -- maybe by leaping the falls downstream like an enormous blubbery salmon -- I feel like I would have heard about that before now. It's not that I don't like the name, because I do; I just don't know why it's used here, of all places, and not for something like the small unnamed waterfall that falls directly onto Crescent Beach in Ecola State Park, or another on Ecola Creek not far from one of the park's main parking lots. And yes, I'm going to copy and paste this whole paragraph into the Ecola Falls post once I get to it.

So the name's weird, but it seems pretty entrenched at this point, and I don't have a better alternative in mind anyway. I'm not a big fan of "Hidden Falls" either, at least not here, so I guess the current name's fine until somebody has a better idea. The main problem with "Hidden" is that it's really not very hidden. It's not as though it materializes out of the Scottish mists for one day every century. It's right next to a major trail, and if you built a proper side trail down to the base of the falls, or some stairs, or installed some ladders from the local big box home store (as seen on the BPA powerline service trail at Shellrock Mountain, for example), or an elevator or escalator, maybe a zipline or an aerial tram, or even just a bridge across the canyon with a clear view upstream, the instant you'd done that the falls would be even less hidden than they are now, and the name would be obsolete, and internet pedants would yell at you until you renamed it again, and if you'd added any signs indicating the way to Hidden Falls you'd immediately have to replace them, and it's all very complicated. And despite these philosophical issues there are a lot of other existing places named "Hidden Falls", including one in the Portland metro area in suburban Happy Valley. (Which I've actually been to but haven't posted about yet.) And maybe it's just me, but the name "Hidden Falls" sounds like a line of cheap store-brand outdoor gear, or maybe the fictional setting of a daytime soap opera.

So having done even more digging on the topic since the last post, here's what I've learned about the various names that have come and gone here.

  • The oldest use of the name "Ecola Falls" that I've found (so far) is in Oregon Handbook, 3rd Edition, a guidebook published way back in 1995 (!), and the brief mention there is part of a description of the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, when starting from the Wahkeena side: "Hang a sharp left on no. 441 to head west and down along Multnomah Creek: "At the rear of this gorge is pretty Ecola Falls. There are several other cascades along the route." I can't tell from that little blurb whether their Ecola is the same thing everyone settled on later, or if it's today's Ecola plus Wiesendanger, or something else. It's interesting that the name already existed by 1997 when "Wiesendanger" was approved. The first edition of the guide came out in 1991 but I haven't located a searchable copy of it online, nor do I own one, so while I'm guessing the name was used that far back, I can't prove it. The passage does read like it's an existing name and not something the authors invented, though they also don't explain where it came from, so I don't know if that's a data point or not. Recent editions of the book were using the exact same text as recently as 2014 and may still be doing so now. I guess the description's still accurate, so there's no need to change it.

  • The name "Hidden Falls" originated with the 1998 guidebook Romance of Waterfalls. Unlike some of the other sources I've looked at, there was just the one edition of this book, and no companion website for it, and nobody has a scanned copy of it online. I still managed to get what I needed anyway though, thanks to the old "owning a copy of the book" trick. The book describes Wiesendanger starting on page 42 (though the book consistently uses the "ei" spelling instead of "ie").
    Wiesendanger Falls has only recently become the official name of this falls. It is named after a great advocate for the Columbia River and its falls, who worked for the US Forest Service in the area. Previously, it has been called “Upper Multnomah Falls”, and once it was lumped with its upstream twin, which we all “Hidden Falls” for obvious reasons, as if they were actually one falls and listed as “Double Falls”! Even after the official name was applied to the falls, the name “Twanklaskie” was used for the falls in another book. The dispute over its name may never end!
    ...and then Ecola/Hidden falls on page 44:
    Wiesendanger Falls has only recently become the official name of the nearby (downstream) twin of this falls. This falls has no official name, although it does have several unofficial and highly inappropriate ones, including “Ecola Falls” most recently. We have named it “Hidden Falls” for reasons that will be obvious when you visit it! “Hidden Falls” will do until someone officially makes up their mind.
    So this book is 1.) The first use I've found of "Wiesendanger" anywhere; I've even looked for a Forest Service press release about the new name, but can't seem to find one; and 2.) The first kinda-contemporary example of treating the two falls separately. The authors' snark about "Double Falls" makes me think they wanted to split the two anyway and they may have just assumed the Forest Service & USGS were on the same page. It's also interesting that they were explicitly refusing to use "Ecola" for the upper falls; they don't explain why the name was "highly inappropriate" but I don't know what else it would've been if not the whale thing. Their use of "Hidden Falls" did have some traction for a few years starting in 1998, but it largely fell out of use by 2006. The only instance I've seen of anyone using "Hidden Falls" in the 2010s or later is in the kayak post I linked to above, oddly enough, which was posted in 2013.
  • The Oregonian used "Hidden Falls" exactly once 2001 travel essay alongside "Dutchman" and "Wiesendanger", but the paper had switched to using "Ecola" by this 2003 article. (Which incidentally was the same time they began spelling "Wiesendanger" wrong for over a decade.)
  • The current Northwest Waterfall Survey page for the falls uses (and kind of defines) today's consensus names. The site called it "Hidden Falls" as of a December 2001 Wayback Machine snapshot of the page (the oldest copy that was archived successfully) and continued through May 2005, though it always noted that "Ecola" was another common name. The site had switched to calling it "Ecola" by November 2006. The site used "Wiesendanger" oldest archived copy from 2001.
  • Usage in the Waterfall Lovers' Guide to the Pacific Northwest has evolved over time. The 1st Edition was published wayyyy back in 1989 and called the duo "Double Falls". The present-day website was launched around 1999 in conjunction with the new 3rd Edition of the book. Per the oldest Wayback Machine snapshot I could find, that edition still used "Double Falls", but with a footnote about the usage in "Romance of Waterfalls", published the previous year. This continued as of December 2004, but switched to "Wiesendanger" and "Hidden" by the next snapshot in September 2005, and called "Double Falls" a defunct name. This in turn continued into 2006, but switched to "Ecola" as of a November 2006 snapshot, both shifts possibly coinciding with new editions of the book.
  • Incidentally the original 1989 edition of the guide also featured the earliest usage I've seen of the name "Dutchman Falls", and of "Upper Multnomah Falls" as applied to something upstream of the Wiesendanger+Ecola combo rather than the combo itself.
  • The 1991 coffee table book Beautiful America's Columbia River Gorge employed "Double Falls" for the duo, and was also another early use of "Dutchman Falls". So it may have taken its cues from the then-new Waterfall Lovers' Guide.
  • The long-defunct site "Waterfalls of the Paciic Northwest" had a page calling the falls "Hidden (a.k.a. Double) Falls" as of a 2001 snapshot, and a separate Wiesendanger page that mentioned both "Double" and "Upper Multnomah" as former names for the duo. It also mentioned "Twanklaskie" was another name for Wiesendanger, saying that name came from a popular hiking guidebook of the day. Under "Safety Considerations", this page explains that if you were to fall into the creek, and lose consciousness somehow, and nobody fished you out, you would end up going over Multnomah Falls before long. So be sure not to do that. An earlier 1999 snapshot of the site's waterfall list avoided the whole argument by just not listing anything upstream from the main falls.
  • Elsewhere, the erstwhile site argued that the two tiers of Multnomah Falls ought to count as separate waterfalls as well, reserving the name "Multnomah Falls" for the tall upper tier, with the lower tier becoming "Lower Multnomah Falls" instead. I was going to call that a unique argument, but I just realized the Waterfall Lover's Guide site also does this. Which, I mean, that's never been the common public usage here, and it doesn't seem to have any traction at present, but it's a fair argument. But then I always seem to lean toward the "splitter" side in lumper vs splitter arguments.

To sum all of that up, the name "Ecola Falls" has been used here for at least 25-30 years, and for good or ill has been the consensus name for about the last fifteen. It might even be older than that, but this is where the trail leaves off right now. I could see there maybe being another guidebook out there that pushes the origin further back into the mid or early 80s or so, but my gut feeling is that at some point the earlier source will have been somebody's club newsletter, maybe assembled in PageMaker on a Mac Plus, or typed up and mimeographed depending on the era; or just a set of photocopied notes handed around among friends, and with luck there might be one surviving copy in someone's attic. And in any case I'm less interested in an exact date than what the deal is with the name. What's the whole whale thing all about? Nobody seems to have explained it decades ago, and maybe nobody remembers now.

So in lieu of that, I'm going to make something up, and we'll see if the legend catches on. See, the idea of whales coming to this spot sounds absurd, but that's only because you haven't heard of the extinct Larch Mountain beaked whale, which was no ordinary whale. We know it must have been a beaked whale because they're the dark matter of the sea: Massive, yet barely interacting with our world, and resistant to all attempts to learn more. Their purely-seagoing relatives spend their lives far out at sea, never approaching land, often swimming around at great depths doing god knows what. Even now, in the third decade of the 21st century, essentially nobody ever catches a live beaked whale on video, or finds a dead one on the beach, or even digs up fossils of an ancient one anywhere. This remarkable ability explains how the Larch Mountain species managed to vanish without a trace.

But wait, you say, what about the part where they're anadromous and leap waterfalls like gigantic salmon? The deal is that they're mysterious, so a.) I can't be expected to know all the details, and b.) any whale biologist who looks you in the eye and is absolutely certain this is impossible and no beaked whale can do that is lying to you. And besides, if the whales couldn't make it this far upstream, why are the falls named after them? I'm not saying it was easy; they obviously would have needed a running start, especially at Multnomah Falls, and probably needed a few tries to stick the landing, and undoubtedly there were always a few who were too old or too weak or too afraid of heights to do it at all. But all of that just selects in favor of whales that can, so before you know it, poof, new species. The truly unique part about them is that once they were past all the waterfalls on their ancestral creek, they still had to swim a few miles further upstream to hit the winter snow line, where -- uniquely among all whales -- their eons-old mating rituals occurred on land. The few humans to have witnessed the spectacle used descriptions like "clumsy", "embarrassing", and "incredibly loud", along with a handful of Chinook Jargon words that have no exact English translations.

But before that freakish scene could occur, whales first had to run the gauntlet at Ecola Falls. All that swimming upstream and leaping waterfalls could leave a whale exhausted and vulnerable, despite all that evolving and adapting that they've done. Which is why this very spot, atop the fourth major leap, was where sasquatches once gathered, harpoons at the ready, waiting to harvest the treasured ecola, or mountain-whale. But wait, you say, everyone knows Bigfoot is a gentle herbivore, why would they do such a thing? And yes, that's true, but they were the sort of herbivore that allows bartering, and they had a trade deal in place. Local humans thought the whales here were the most delectable of all whales, but weren't fast or strong enough to catch them. Meanwhile the sasquatches thought local root vegetables (camas, wapato etc.) were amazeballs but couldn't grow them, and over time an arrangement was worked out that lasted for untold centuries. Circle of life, and all that. But eventually US settlers came from the east, looking for every short-term money-making scheme they could grab, and soon realized Larch Mountain whale was the ideal secret ingredient for the patent medicines of the day: For a few short years, all of those weird cure-all tonics actually worked, just not because of the ingredients listed on the label. Demand quickly outstripped supply, and before long Multnomah Creek's very last whale became a shipment of Missouri's second-most-trusted hemorrhoid pellets. The end.