Snowshoeing to Sahalie Falls

22 02 2013

When winter weather hits, you have two choices. You can hunker down in your Hobbit-hole with a good book and a hot beverage … or you can go play in the snow.

When the folks at the City of Eugene Amazon Community Center invited me along on a snowshoe trip to Sahalie Falls, I couldn’t say no. It’s nice to be indoors when it’s cold, but the chance to take a refreshing hike through the snow to see one of the tallest waterfalls along the McKenzie River was irresistible, and I was not the only one who felt this allure.

A group of 12 adventurous souls met on a chilly Saturday morning in February at the Amazon Community Center. For most in attendance it would be their first time on snowshoes. Luckily, there was a brief crash-course conducted by staffer Josh Lutje, to help hikers grow accustomed to the clunky appendages that would soon take them to the roaring water of Sahalie Falls.

Practicing on snowshoesThe 80-minute bus ride was broken into parts, and those who sat close to the driver enjoyed juicy tidbits and details of McKenzie River topography. This is because Lutje is a bottomless wealth of information. His vast knowledge of the terrain is considered by many of the hikers to be part of the trip’s appeal, and for good reason.

“This is one of the more difficult rapids coming up here on the right,” Lutje narrates, nodding at the river while piloting the bus along the scenic Highway 126. “It’s called ‘Screamer,’ and it’s low right now but in the summer the water is way bigger there.”

From fishing holes to secluded campgrounds, from animal identification to general history of the McKenzie River area, Lutje has it covered. Going on a trip with him is like having your own personal tour guide—and one that knows where to find a tasty hot meal in the cold snowy expanse. At lunchtime, we all piled out of the bus and made our way into Takoda’s, a little restaurant with a homey feel to it and no shortage of menu choices. I strongly suggest the buffalo burger, and the French fries at this place are so wonderful you don’t need to use ketchup.

By the time we arrived at the trailhead, strapped on snowshoes and grabbed the walking sticks, all of which were provided, we were full-bellied but hungry to get to the falls. The snow level was high enough to almost completely cover the outdoor restroom facilities, and without snowshoes, a person could easily take a five-foot plunge into a very cold place. Luckily we were all well-prepared to follow Lutje down the trail, although from time to time things got tricky—do not try to back-up in snowshoes—and a few of us ended up horizontal. This did not matter, because falling down only presented opportunities to make snow angels.

Hiking up the trail, determined adventurers were treated to an up-close view of the falls. We’re talking about a deluge of ice-cold water plummeting 73-feet; the sound is thunderous and the sight is breathtaking. Most of the hikers who made it that far up the trail were rendered completely silent upon reaching the viewpoint.

As the afternoon faded into early evening, the temperature dropped quickly. We piled back into the bus after shivering back down the trail and stowing the gear. Most of the ride back was spent talking about other gorgeous snowshoe hikes we could go on as soon as possible.

There’s much to be said for hibernating through the winter, but getting out of your comfort zone and into the snow is worth the reward.

— Dante Zúñiga-West

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