Battling the icy currents at Columbia River Gorge’s enchanting ‘Weeping Walls’
Connecting with other landscape photographers often exposes me to little-known locations and it was this that led me to be tipped off about the so-called ‘Weeping Walls’, set deep within the Columbia River Gorge. Along a section of, steep sided walls, draped in wet moss and ferns, tower over the creek bed with a small cascade nestled at their base. After heavy rains, water pours over the gorge walls and creates the beautiful impression of them weeping. I had never heard of it before and while I scanned the internet looking for images, I realized few photographers had ventured there. Not only did you need perfect conditions to pull it off, it was also notoriously difficult to access.
This was made clear on my first attempt to scout the falls. High water levels and sweeping currents in the creek made it far too difficult and dangerous to cross. I returned two weeks later with a couple of fellow male photographers and with water waist-deep and currents pulling strongly against me, I managed to negotiate back and forth along a kayaker’s trail, surviving it’s freezing waters in the warmth of a rented wetsuit. A couple of times I was lucky to not get swept away, and while my independent spirit is fierce, to have the support of the guys there was definitely a lifesaver!
A pre-dawn adventure
We had set our alarms for 4:15am that morning, keen to capitalize on the morning fog that often blanketed the landscape of Columbia River Gorge. Armed with head torches we switch backed down the steep gorge wall to the river’s edge, then trudged upriver for around a mile within a landscape of exposed volcanic rocks and temperate rain forest adorned in epiphytes. We had invested in a dry bag – a priceless necessity for such an expedition!
It had been raining the last few days and when we finally reached the ‘Weeping Walls’ just before sunrise, we were thankful to see they were actually shedding tears as we had hoped! The skies were overcast and a thin layer of fog still persisted at the top of the gorge. Waist-deep in water I setup my tripod and waded further in with the frigid current constantly pulling at me – not ideal shooting conditions!
The semi-submerged shoot
Staying motivated in the freezing (40ish degrees) river waters was definitely the hardest part. Normally while shooting I let my creativity flow, but with every passing minute I was getting colder as the saturation set in, and the morning’s adventures had left me mentally exhausted. Rather than taking the time to play around with settings as I normally did, it felt like a race against the clock to get out before I was frozen to the bone.
This shot was taken shortly after sunrise at around 7:30am. I used a slow shutter speed of one second to capture the movement of the water. For this particular scene, I wanted to emulate the moody atmosphere of what I saw and create the sense of discovering somewhere unknown to the outside world – the luminous green of the moss-covered cliffs and the soft curtain of falling water.
Planning the return
While I’m content with the shots I came away with, I definitely want to venture back again when the walls are ‘weeping’ in wider bands on both sides of the cascade and perhaps attempt to access it by kayak, which will most likely be the only way to gain access. The fog I had hoped for during the shoot was also rapidly dissipating – an element essential for capturing optimal conditions here – so I’d love to try again when it is thicker. Knowing what I know now about the location, conditions and what to expect, I feel mentally prepared to tackle it all again early next year.
I’ve only seen two other images taken by female photographers at this location and, considering its remoteness, difficulty of access and the right conditions needed, I can understand why few attempt it. But finding and accessing these relatively unknown and little-photographed gems is a challenge I relish and the opportunity to create images of enchanting places few have the opportunity to witness.