Sometimes it’s Best to Listen to that Guardian Angel

Log Jam, Oneonta Gorge, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

We as photographers, particularly landscape photographers, often take risks beyond what good judgement would allow, just to get the shot.  I have read of several instances where a photographer met an untimely fate by not following simple rules of common sense.  I guess some would say that common sense may not be really be all that common.  Nonetheless, photographers will take that one extra step, if only to get slightly closer, fine tune that composition, stay just a bit longer along the sea stacks (not realizing one is about to be trapped by a rising tide).  I have a photographer friend who a few years ago fell from a height of over 40ft while photographing in the Columbia River Gorge area trying to get into position for a unique shot of Punchbowl Falls.  He was very lucky, a couple of broken ribs, a ruptured spleen after hitting the cold water below,  and then several days in the hospital after having to be carried out of the gorge in a rescue basket.  Maybe there was a little injury to his pride as well.  As a side note, his camera and tripod were unharmed.  They remained standing on the outcropping from where he fell into the cold pool of water below the falls.

During my trip to the gorge two summers ago,  I wanted to photograph an area called Oneota Gorge, a popular area for many hikers and photographers.  One can hike this gorge when the water levels are accommodating,  much like Virgin Narrows in Zion National Park.  But unlike the  high red rock walls of the Narrows, the Oneota Gorge has high moss-covered granite walls lining the edges of the creek.  If you hike up Oneonta creek a little over a half mile you can reach Oneota falls, another great photographic opportunity.

One challenge I immediately faced when I arrived at Oneota Gorge was this huge log jam blocking easy access to the creek.  No problem I thought.  I could carefully climb the numerous granite boulders supporting the jam and then hop across the various logs to reach an area I could easily navigate upstream.  Easy right?  NOT!  I slowly climbed atop a few of the boulders, being very careful.  Even with good hiking shoes, these rocks were very slick.  Okay, now what?  As I considered my options of which logs to traverse to the other side, I watched two young couples on the opposite bank appear to easily navigate through and over the logs.  They had obviously done this before.  Well, if they could do it why not me?  Then I think my guardian angel tapped my on the shoulder and said…wait dummy!!  You are not 30yrs old anymore.  And by the way, have you considered the amount of gear on your back, and its cost?  And those logs you are about to do a balancing act on are slicker than the rocks you just climbed.  If you break a leg in the process, how long before someone comes by?  Okay, I convinced myself to retreat to maybe come back another day.  Possibly research other points of access.  So I turned and began my route back down the rocks.  By the way, has anyone ever noticed how it is much easier to climb up than to climb back down?

After careful effort, I did make it back down safely and managed a few shots of the log jam and the walls of the gorge.  I will explore a little deeper on an upcoming visit back to this beautiful area.  This time I managed to listen to my guardian angel.

9 Comments on “Sometimes it’s Best to Listen to that Guardian Angel

  1. Thanks for posting this Craig. It is something we all should be talking about. One other thing that needs to be mentioned is that before heading out is to be prepared. Conditions can change and if you are not prepared for them, you can get hurt or far worse. Yet I see hikers and photographers in the back country with nothing more than their cameras or maybe a small bottle of water. A friend of mine was hiking and broke his ankle in a freak accident. It took 10 hours and over 30 volunteers to move him 6 miles to a road for rescue. However, he and his friends had what they needed to survive the cold wet weather. If they didn’t, it would have been far worse for him. You talk to some of the rangers in the parks and you will hear some nightmare stories of what they had to do to save someone after doing something stupid.

    • Rich, thanks for your comments. We often take too much for granted. I remember one time when I was much younger, and a hunter at the time, I got lost in a forest in southern Georgia. It was getting dark and I could not get my bearings. The terrain was flat and everything looked the same in every direction. I began to think I was going to have to spend the night in the forest, for which I was not prepared. This was long before cell phones, gps, or other modern day tools. But there were maps, compass, flashlights, and survival tools that I felt too cocky to need. WRONG. I finally happened on a logging trail that I could not see beyond 50ft of the trail. Another time I was briefly lost in a short afternoon photographing in a wooded area in Ohio. I tried to navigate toward a direction in a straight line only to realize after about 30 minutes that I had just navigated in a complete, almost perfect circle. Very humbling it was. I finally secured my position and way out but it drives home the point that you must be prepared before venturing out in as we often do. Today, I am much wiser and more prepared. But still I admit I take unnecessary risks more often than I should.

  2. Oh yes … I’ve been there and my guardian angel has spoken to me too! I have noticed my balance is not as good as it used to be and I am often most fearful of damaging the equipment in my pack! A great post and reminder for us all to stay safe in 2017!

  3. Sometimes common sense trump the desire to get just a bit further. I have so many times been there myself, and sometimes listened to common sense, and sometimes not… In this case you got a gorgeous photo even without having to pass those logs. They actually make for an important element in the composition. Add a sense of scale and depth.

    • Thank you Otto. This is such a beautiful place it’s hard not to come away with some decent images. But you are right about the logs providing a sense of scale. And that log jam, from base to top, was well over 5 meters. Thank you again for your comment

  4. You have a beautiful blog and I admire your work. I agree with what you’re saying about not taking chances just to get the shot. I’m guilty of it myself, though, and I think sometimes my guardian angels just shake their heads in disgust. LOL!

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