There are a few things that really bother me when hiking....poor planning, crowds, heat, exposure and pain. Oneonta offered all of these. And yet it turned into one of our most exciting and memorable hikes ever.
We arrived at the Oneonta Gorge parking lot and spent 30 minutes trying to figure out where the trailhead was. We started down a staircase to the creek but noticed a huge deadfall 100 yards up creek that completely blocked the gorge....no way that could be the trail! We climbed back up and walked the parking lot to either end but could find nothing else that resembled a trail head. Back to the car where we dug out the trail guide. The guide said to "hike up the gorge to beautiful Oneonta Falls. Some wading will be required in the rainy season." Okay then, back to the staircase!
Finally descending the stairs to the creek, it became apparent that there was no other way to go but over the dead fall. By this time others had made their way on to the trail so we just followed the crowds. A short 5 minutes of creek bed strolling finally brought us to the deadfall. A jumble of dead logs wedged between the slot canyon walls, 30-40 foot wide and 10-12 foot tall. A potentially lethal combination of rotted wood and broken branches that screamed "Here! Impale yourself here!!". We watched a few groups wind their way through the jumbled mess and finally figured the best plan of attack.....head on. It took us 5 minutes of scrambling and log walking to get through, but not as bad as we feared.
Beyond the deadfall we were finally able to stop and take in the incredible beauty of this canyon and its mossy green walls. It's only 20 foot across at the top, a hundred foot above you, so the lighting was beautiful despite it being midday. We followed once more the masses southward, noticing that most of the hikers were wearing flip flops , tennis shoes and swim suits....an insight to the casual hikers of Oregon we thought. A few minutes more brought us to Obstacle #2....40 feet of creek, 18" deep. 40 feet of 18" deep, cold water. It was time to shed the boots (the flip flops and tennies made sense now) and wade in. The water was crystal clear and you were able to see the large, smooth river stones on the bottom....should be smooth sailing! A few feet in it became apparent that between the smooth river stones were pieces of jaggedly sharp spear points and barbed wire, or so it felt. What looked like smooth sailing became 20 minutes of shear pain. Every step was met with a "OWWW!!" or "@%!$^"! Even Sandy....that tells ya right there how awful it was! This section of trail was probably the most painful section of trail that I have ever hiked. Period. Ever!
At long, painful last we made it through. We re-booted and began limping our way onward to the Falls....for 30 feet. Obstacle #3....crossing a fallen log, 5 foot above the creek. To cross through the creek would require un booting and subjecting yourself again to the pain, so the obvious choice was over, via the log. We discovered there are two ways to do this....I chose the straight forward "stroll down the sidewalk" method while Sandy opted for the "Butt scoot". Either worked...it was just a matter of how much dignity you were willing to lose. Finally, the dismount (a 9.5 from the judges) and we're at....Obstacle #4.
We now understood where the swim suits came in to play. Before us, stretching a good 40 feet, was Lake Oneonta (seemingly). Once more we sat and watched. There had to be an easier way than wading through the waist deep pool. We watched 3 or 4 groups and finally decided that the only way forward was to take the plunge. Boots off and stowed in my back pack, Sandy's camera held high over her head we slipped in...to the cold, deep, cold, clear, cold water. The walking was a little easier here, either the cold had numbed our feet or they had neglected to litter the bottom with the fish hooks and broken glass from the earlier crossing. We sat to pull on our boots and take inventory of our gear, oblivious to the crowds. Standing to walk on the short 50 yards to the falls, we noticed an approaching fellow hiker. Swimming through Lake Oneonta hauling a log from the deadfall, came the prettiest Golden Retriever, followed closely by his humans. He paid us no mind, he was completely focused on hauling his precious cargo. We played with him and chatted with his humans for a bit and then turned our focus on the job at hand.
At long last....no more obstacles. Only the wonderfully gorgeous Oneonta Falls! It falls 75' to a pool surrounded by the sheer, moss and fern covered canyon walls. Forgotten were the obstacles, now only the roar and cool spray of this beauty! We spent an hour or so taking pictures and visiting with other hikers. It's interesting how people who will avoid eye contact in the parking lot, will sit and bare their souls at the end of a hike....Fellowship of the Hike I guess!
The return trip went smoother, more so because we had to me thinks. The only "uh-oh" moment was re-crossing the deadfall, when I (accidentally) almost knocked Sandy into the middle of that gnarled death trap. We made it back to our car 3 hours after we began.
Reviewing the hike that evening over dinner we both decided this was one of our All Time Favorites. Though the trail was hot early on, crowded, painful and much too wet, it offered us the chance to experience some breathtaking views and incredible hiking experiences. Would I do it again? Oh, heck yeah!!!
Here's some "in the flesh" viewing of the adventure! The Oneonta Adventure