The Drive Along The Columbia River Gorge

The plan and the preparation

This is the 2nd road trip I am writing about. This one is by car and happened around mid March, just before the stay at home order was announced to control the COVID-19 Pandemic. Around this time, I had developed a healthy habit of doing one new hike every weekend. The idea was not just for exercise, but also to find new locations to take photos and generally discover new places. This trip is a result of one such hike plan. I thought to share this because this was a trip for which I had done a lot of planning for, but resulted in an entirely different route that was even be better than the original plan . This particular trip started with a hike in mind and ended up being a 550 mile (~850 Kms) loop around south of Washington state instead. Read on to know the full story…

Since this is the first post on car road trip, introducing my companion…The ‘German Babe’.. She is a looker too..

The road trip happened on March 15th, 2020. I was crushing on waterfalls this time around and had created a list of waterfalls I wanted to see before summer ends. Reaching a waterfall early in the morning and taking pictures has a completely different feel to it. The cold, the mist around the falls and just the fresh morning air makes the experience really special.

Back to the story, I had discovered a couple of Waterfalls around south of Washington state which I had not been to before. One was ‘Panther Creek’ and the other one ‘Falls Creek’ Falls. As soon as I saw Falls creek, I was in love with it. Both were close to each other and in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which by the way is one of my favorite places to spend time in. Gifford Pinchot just seems so unexplored and wild compared to some other places I have been to in the USA. There is a bit of a hike to Falls creek Falls, around 5 miles (8 km) out and back and I expected to spend around 4 or 5 hours here for the hike and the photographs. Panther Creek is nearby as well and it is a very short hike from its trailhead to reach the falls.

The first destination was 236 miles (~380 kms) from home by I-5 South, which is around 4 or 4:30 hour drive as per google. There is a shorter route distance wise which would be around 179 miles (290 Kms), but it takes a little longer as these are forest roads and the speed limits are way lower than interstates. For some reason, google was not allowing me to take this route either. I had been on these roads by NineT before and knew the roads are narrow and can be unpredictable as it was just after winter. With these thoughts, I decided it is best to avoid the shorter route when it is dark. I wanted to reach the trailhead to Falls Creek by at least 7 AM, which meant I needed to start from home around 3 AM. So the final plan was –  I will start from home around 3 AM, will take the longer I5 South route, and reach Falls Creek by 7 am. Finish the hike and be back at the trailhead by around 12 PM, visit Panther creek around 1 PM or 2 PM and return via the shorter forest route.  With this plan in mind, I went to sleep early on the 14th. 

The plan was to go by I-5 South and return by the forest route

I woke up around 2:30AM, but felt lazy. So I slept in for another hour and at last dragged myself out of bed around 3 30 AM. Freshed up and started around 4:00 in the morning. It was a lot colder than I expected – around 4°C and there was some frost on the car. I Kept the camera, extra shoes and other gear in the car and started the drive. Like always, the first stop is the local Arco for a fuel top up.

Another cold Sunday morning…

By the time I got on I-5 South, It was around 4:30 AM. I had songs playing on the music system that I was happily singing along with. The temperature outside dropped to around 1°C or 2°C as I was leaving Olympia City limits. The day looked pretty normal and everything was going according to plan albeit a little delay in schedule, but it was not a deal breaker by any means.

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