As an Oregonian, I’m extremely fortunate to live in such a lush and beautiful part of the country. It seems that we have nearly unlimited access to waterfalls and unique river areas. Located just under an hour away from downtown Portland, Oneonta Gorge is one of my favorite spots to not only photograph but also relax at and enjoy on a hot day. With a river flowing amongst it’s beautiful, mossy walls leading to a waterfall, it has also quickly become a global hotspot for not only photographers but for tourists and locals as well.
Unfortunately, social media has taken it’s toll at Oneonta Gorge so much that even early morning on a summer day there can be hundreds of people squeezing through the channel, thus creating a congested and slightly unpleasant outdoor experience.
Moss covers the walls of Oneonta Gorge in Spring.
Sunlight illuminates Oneonta Falls’ spray creating brilliant light beams.
I envisioned shooting a long exposure image of the water flowing through the gorge surrounded by ice
While the Gorge is inarguably stunning, as a local photographer, the allure of Oneonta has certainly begun to wear off. Some would say that the Gorge has now become nearly ‘overshot.’ That being said, this past winter I was able to experience it in entirely new conditions and for the first time in a while, felt inspired to revisit it with my camera.
After a week of frigid cold temperatures, many of the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge began to freeze over. Curious what Oneonta Gorge might look like, some other photographer friends and I threw on our chest waders and wetsuits, then made our way into the Gorge.
When we got down to the river to begin the hike, we were blown away at how frozen the river had actually become. It ended up being completely frozen and for the most part, we were able to walk over the river only occasionally breaking through the ice and falling into the water below. Thankfully, we all were well prepared with chest waders and wetsuits so this wasn’t an issue and we made our way through the ice with confidence, at times using our tripods as support.
Induro user Jarett Juarez takes a plunge through the ice, thankful that he came prepared with his wetsuit
While walking through the entirely frozen gorge was surreal, I was slightly disappointed. Before arriving at Oneonta, I envisioned shooting a long exposure image of the water flowing through the gorge surrounded by ice but because it was nearly entirely frozen, I was unable to do that except for a few points in the gorge that didn’t work out compositionally.
I’ll always remember what it was like to walk through the ice and photograph it during such unique conditions.
Induro user Jarett Juarez composing an image using our CLT 104 tripod
As we continued through the gorge, we made it to the waterfall. When we arrived, we realized that we were standing on a bed of ice that stood 10 or so feet higher than the river was. For the next thirty minutes or so, we shot the waterfall until we felt our creative options were exhausted.
In search of a new perspective, My friend Ben Canales braved his way below the ice and we ended up finding a hole that framed the ice. I collapsed my CLT 104 tripod till it was as small as it would go and carefully composed my shot using the hanging icicles to frame the waterfall as well as a fallen icicle as a lead-in to the scene. There was an insane amount of spray from the waterfall and any moisture that landed on the lens would almost immediately freeze. After continually wiping and attempting to thaw the lens, I ended up with a frame that was fairly clean of moisture.
In the end, I didn’t photograph what I initially had in mind but I walked away with a photo that I was proud of and could only have been captured on that particular day. Soon it will be summer and the crowds will return to Oneonta Gorge. And that’s fine…for them. As for me, I’ll always remember what it was like to walk through the ice and photograph it during such unique conditions.