Mossy Grotto Falls I by Tula Top

Ruckel Creek · Columbia River Gorge · Bonneville · Oregon · USA

  • Canon 5DII · 16-35mm f/2.8L II · CPL
  • 16mm · f/16 · 30s · ISO 100
  • Single frame exposed to 11 in 1/3rd-stop increments · fused in Photomatix Pro · highlight recovery in CS5
    (Better LARGE, I think…)

Crazy story below…

Physician and passionate nature photographer based out of Portland, Oregon, USA.

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  • Tula Top
    Tula Topover 3 years ago

    To what lengths would you go to chase down your white whale? It hardly qualified as going to the ends of the earth, admittedly, but we trod a segment of the steep Ruckel Creek Trail several times over trying to find the use path that leads to verdant Mossy Grotto Falls, also known as Lower Ruckel Creek Falls. Despite the trail’s name, it comes into intimate contact with the creek only twice along its route, and at least four documented large falls lie along the stream’s length between those points. Only the lowermost of these, Ruckel Creek Falls, is readily accessible. The top two involve Class 3 scrambling and significant cross-country navigating, and I haven’t yet contemplated attempting them without more experience (and courage).

    That leaves us with Mossy Grotto Falls, which by now had reached near-mythical proportions in my esteem due to its relative obscurity and lack of opportunities to venture tracking it down in the months since I first learned about its existence. Based on Internet reports, the use path diverges off the main trail at a sacred moss-covered boulder slope known as the Indian Pits. Although one report described it as “well-worn”, it took us several back-and-forths (and a good number of calories) before we finally found it leading off the edge of the field, and in that time we’d withdrawn a substantial amount from our supply of safely navigable daylight. Perhaps the downed fall foliage and rains made it less obvious than it would have been in drier seasons. It was a bit of a gamble to continue our hunt given the time and our dearth of knowledge about the falls’ exact location, but something compelled us to keep pressing on. Perhaps on some level we felt ‘pot-committed’ after all the effort it took just finding the path. Had I known what was about to happen, however, I’d have gladly licked the wounds to my pride and regathered my hopes for another day.

    Peering down the edge of the boulder field, the first step looked to be a doozy, and I admonished my mom—who’s all of 4’10" (147cm), mind you—to allow me to descend first so I could help stabilize her on the way down. Instead, she very uncharacteristically threw caution to the wind and began to back her way down before I could get there. Unable to touch solid ground with her leading foot, she finally succumbed to fate and gravity and began to tumble down the steep hill. Our friend and hiking partner Dana and I watched in horror as she rolled over at least three times before coming to a precarious stop some fifteen feet or more later, her splayed arms and legs finally finding sufficient purchase on the very loose rain-soaked soil and talus.

    Fortunately, she came away with only some bruised ribs, and she encouraged us to continue pressing on after assuring us (but not entirely convincingly) that she wasn’t seriously hurt. Despite negotiating the first step under reasonable control, both Dana and I had our moments, me being particularly vulnerable to the dangers of gravity because my equipment load makes me extremely top-heavy. Neither of us suffered anything nearly as frightening as what my mom incurred, however, and after some more bushwhacking (or getting whacked by bushes, if we’re going to be completely honest here), we finally found the falls with just enough daylight left to fire off a few hastily composed shots. In terms of sheer beauty and atmosphere, it more than lived up to its glorious billing, but it definitely wasn’t worth what my mom went through.

    We’ll almost certainly return again after the winter and when the forecast calls for drier conditions, and hopefully this time Mom will heed my advice if I have any to offer. For all of you who preached a son’s obedience to his mother once before, perhaps there might be an occasional allowance for it working in reverse, too. ;)

    Glad you’re okay, Mom! :)

  • Ulla Jensen
    Ulla Jensenover 3 years ago

    Glad you Mum is made out of solid stuff, TT !!!! Mum’s are amazing :o)
    Fantasic shot….
    Hope all is well in your camp – enjoy your weekend x

  • Well, her head was certainly made of solid stuff, ‘cause she wasn’t listening to me! I do think her amazing physical fitness had a role in how little injury she actually incurred. It was scary. Thanks as always, Ulla…enjoy your weekend, too! :)

    – Tula Top

  • Laurie Search
    Laurie Searchover 3 years ago

    Breathtaking, Tula!!!

  • Thank you, Laurie!

    – Tula Top

  • swaby
    swabyover 3 years ago

    Oh wow the colors are so vibrant and the capture so perfect! Beautiful lighting on this one Tula!

  • Thanks, Tina! I can’t wait to see this in late spring when the plants are out in full force.

    – Tula Top

  • mom23girls
    mom23girlsover 3 years ago

    Wow! Great capture and lighting!

  • Thanks, Tracy! It was overcast and raining and made for nice diffuse lighting. I could’ve been satisfied with a traditional non-HDR photo, but I chose to process it this way to lift the shadows a bit. Otherwise the exposure was wonderfully even, particularly in light of how much whitewater there was.

    – Tula Top

  • Larry Trupp
    Larry Truppover 3 years ago

    Wonderful capture Tula

  • Thanks so much, Larry. :)

    – Tula Top

  • debsphotos
    debsphotosover 3 years ago

    Ohh Tula…your poor Mum!! So pleased she’s alright!! But its fantastic you do these things together!!Unfortanetly my sheer terror of heights forbids me to even imagine going to these beautiful ‘high’ slippery,wet,magical places!!! Damn!!! I’ve gotten worse the older I get as well…its a real bummer!!! This looks like moss heaven..thank you for braving the elements and risking your mother!! to get these images!! lol…*-)

  • Are you kidding me? She and Dana have been hiking seriously for 16 years, and I’m just catching up since moving back to the area three years ago! But yes, this was definitely a lesson learned and not one we’ll chance again if faced with similar circumstances. And for the record, I DID NOT RISK MY MOTHER! Lol…she risked herself! ;)

    – Tula Top

    JUSTARTover 3 years ago

    great shot

  • Thank you, Sylvia. :)

    – Tula Top

  • Donna Keevers Driver
    Donna Keevers ...over 3 years ago

    Stunning capture!!

  • Thanks, DD! :)

    – Tula Top

  • Laura  Knight
    Laura Knightover 3 years ago

    Well done….

  • Thanks so much, Laura. :)

    – Tula Top

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