OUTDOORS - Adventures up the South Fork Walla Walla River Canyon

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A mature bull snake can be easily bypassed on the trail.

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Nora can't resist adding a bit of rock climbing to the hike. Above: The falls appear to be about 40 feet high.

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A view from a few hundred yards from the falls comes close enough.

From high on Lincton Mountain Road a few weeks ago, I looked through a long camera lens at a waterfall across the South Fork Walla Walla River Canyon.

Judging from ponderosa pine trees near the falls, which may grow over 200 feet tall, I deduced that the water tumbled from 40 to 60 feet down the cliff.

I also deduced the water bubbled into the river about a mile upstream from Harris Park.

I briefly pondered getting a closer look at the falls. The terrain, however, appeared too steep and rocky to climb.

Then one day more recently I felt guilty about napping away most of a bright spring morning. I remembered the falls.

Why not?

It would get me off of the couch, which is a good thing. Nora the Schnauzer agreed to accompany me.

I filled the 100-ounce CamelBak system with ice cubes and water. I filled Nora's anti-leak cup and stuck it into a pocket.

I put snacks for each of us in the pack.

Outside I discovered a chill wind cooled the bright day to about 48 degrees. That would be good for climbing a steep canyon wall.

We reached the South Fork Walla Walla River trailhead well before noon.

We strolled upriver. A few yards before crossing the bridge at a side-canyon stream, a narrow trail slanted steeply uphill on the left. We took it.

It angled to the right, among whispering pines and within sight of the brook. Yellow parsley, white prairie star, dark-blue larkspur and pink phlox wobbled in the wind.

After about 25 minutes of slow climbing, I looked down from a rock ledge. The vehicles at the trailhead looked like toys.

I looked up, and the word "daunting" came to mind. So did "dumb."

Yet, Nora scooted ahead seemingly without effort.

I grunted after her, one slow step at a time.

We followed the ridge for several hundred feet, and the falls remained hidden from view by a curve in the canyon.

When we reached a point approximately as high as the falls, I trudged (north?) along the canyon side. I cut the edges of my boots into the hill to keep from slipping.

Then I came face to face with the snake. Because of the hillside slant, it was about five feet above my feet. That put it about nine inches in front of my nose.

It didn't move, except to flick its tongue. It had no rattles. I relaxed and hurried on.

We edged along the canyon and eventually the falls came into view.

We reached a rock slide and climbed up hill to avoid it. We scrambled up a break between two basalt formations.

Halfway up the 10-foot chute, my feet slipped from under me. I scooted back down on my hands and knees. I started over.

Above the rocks, I had a clear view of the falls, which I mentioned to Nora.

She paid no attention. I opened her water cup and held it for her.

We continued along the canyon side and across another two ridges before turning back.

I rationalized the decision as the easy thing to do.

We followed the hillside back to a point above the trailhead. It looked to be about a mile below us. Perhaps 500 feet or so.

And the route downward slanted like a wall.

I zigzagged across the slant, working my way down. Nora explored nearly every basalt outcropping in sight.

She climbed high to peer down, and she disappeared into cracks and crannies to investigate scents.

Twice I slipped on the descent and bounced along for a few feet on my buttocks. Each time I let out a small "Whoops!" and Nora stopped to watch.

We made it back to the trailhead at 3:37 p.m.

We had seen the hidden falls from close enough to testify to their existence, and we had spent a quality-time afternoon together instead of molting on the couch.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

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