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Oregon: Hiking is life

There are many benefits to hiking and being in the outdoors. One of them is how the mind clears up and becomes less focused on the frivolous. I really got a sense of that this last summer, when I ventured up to Vivian Lake. Vivian Lake is a small lake that rests up in the mountains around Salt Creek Falls. Salt Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall that lies just outside of Oakridge, Oregon, along the Willamette Pass. It is a waterfall I’ve visited several times; it’s almost 300 foot fall definitely makes this a favorite. It has a stone paved viewing area, with a big paved parking lot and bathrooms. (Salt Creek Falls Information) During the spring, I discovered that near the day-use picnic tables a network of trails begins, leading to other beautiful places and other major hikes, like the Pacific Crest Trail. In reading about the area, I learned of a trail that had multiple waterfalls and ended at a small lake high up in the mountains. I began planning for this hike.

There was little information out there on Vivian Lake, and some of the information was conflicting. But, enough data was gathered to set a course. It was going to be about a 5 mile hike to Vivian Lake. I invited a fellow hiker–and waterfall junkie–along for this adventure. We showed up early and prepared. We started off our hike by stopping at Salt Creek Falls. Our first trail was going to be the Diamond Creek Falls trail (Diamond Falls Trail Information). That would later connect us to the Vivian Lake Trail. The path started off running along the rim of the canyon. Dramatic views of the surrounding mountains, forest, and the canyon below are the highlights of this section of trail. Soon we passed a small lake, known as Too Much Bear Lake. While no bears were spotted, swarms of mosquitoes were. We both had an ample supply of bug spray, but this did little to deter them, so the lake was passed quickly.

Not too far past the lake, we saw a sign telling of a viewpoint. It’s a rocky outcrop that overlooks a small section of the canyon. The scene from this viewpoint was much less impressive than those from earlier. But, you can catch glimpses of a waterfall on the far side of the canyon. Unfortunately, the view is blocked by one giant Douglas fir. The viewpoint was made to overlook Lower Diamond Creek Falls, but over time, the area has become overgrown with trees. Due to the steep rugged walls of the canyon, the viewpoint is the only spot for viewing the falls. Poking around, you can catch glimpses of the waterfall between trees. You can see multiple tiers and a possible a pool between one tier. I have read it is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Oregon, as told by those rare people who rappel down into the canyon. Finding information on this waterfall is hard, mostly because people are forgetting it’s there and few have the skill to venture down to it.

Venturing along we approached Upper Diamond Creek Falls. There is confusion over this waterfall as well, as the sign clearly says Lower Diamond Creek Falls. This sign was likely misplaced, since trail workers may not have been able to see the elusive Lower Diamond Creek Falls. The trail offers a beautiful view of the waterfall. From here we could have continued onward to the Vivian Lake trail junction, which is nearby. We could also take a side trail that goes to the base of Upper Diamond Creek Falls. We decided to take the side trail, and this was an excellent decision!

Soon after entering the trail to Upper Diamond Creek Falls, we came across a unique staircase. The staircase is a large log laid on the side of the hill, with steps cut out of it. It was a fun way to descend into the small pocket canyon. We then crossed a bridge that took us to the other side of the creek and the base of Diamond Creek Falls. This is a beautiful waterfall. It is a large fanned out waterfall, which makes the flow appear soft and gentle. The 120-foot cliff face provides a dramatic canvas for the water flow. It was instantly a favorite. The interesting geology of the canyon, the shady micro-climate, and the soothing nature of this waterfall kept us for a while. The mosquitoes weren’t as bad next to the waterfall, which was a nice break. I doubt I could visit Salt Creek Falls again, without taking the 2.5 mile hike to visit this waterfall. After some much needed water, we set off to connect to the Vivian Lake Trail.

Once we connected to the Vivian Lake trail, the path began to steepen. The trail no longer followed the canyon rim, but headed up the side of a mountain. We crossed another creek and an active railroad track. After crossing the train tracks, the forest thickened and the dramatic views disappeared. But, the forest is rich with life and many kinds of mushrooms and other unique plants can be found. The mosquitoes became more abundant in the shade of the forest. These demons of the forest became our hiking companions as we ascended this now very-steep trail. It was on this last section where our calves began to feel the incline. Unlike other trails I’ve been on, there are no switch backs or level areas; this trail is a straight shot up of over 2 miles. The trail began to pass an unnamed waterfall, but the terrain and the path of the trail made seeing this one impossible. The sound of it provided a little extra motivation to continue up the hill. Many stops–and some wonderings on why we chose this hike–occurred along our way.

Soon, we approached Lower Fall Creek Falls. Due to the terrain and the path the trail took, you can’t see this fall from the trail. We decided to leave the trail and push up the creek in an attempt to reach the waterfall. The creek was heavily overgrown with brush, so progress was near impossible. The steepness of the hill made this even harder. We turned around and headed back to the trail. This used up a lot of energy, and we were about ready for a break. We decided that the next waterfall, Fall Creek Falls, would be where we would have our lunch.

With mosquito-fest in full swing, we arrived at Fall Creek Falls. While not one of the most exciting waterfalls, it was exciting to reach the last major landmark before Vivian Lake. We enjoyed a hot meal and some much needed rest next to this 100-foot-drop waterfall. The steep terrain made viewing a little tricky and there was no real viewpoint, but it was a soothing place to rest and recover. After eating, taking pictures, drinking some water, and relaxing for a while, I was content to end my hike here. It was one more mile of steep hiking and more mosquitoes. My hiking partner decided she was getting to Vivian Lake, even if it meant crawling the last mile. She provided a rousing motivational speech that William Wallace himself would’ve been proud of. That last mile was a blur of calf pain and mosquito bites, but push up that hill we did.

After an eternity, the incline gave way to level ground. The sides of the trail were lined with blooming Bear Grass, almost as if to greet us to the top. A few minutes later we were sitting on the shore of Vivian Lake. It was a small lake, but beautiful nonetheless. A thick, healthy forest grew right up to the shore. What made it truly amazing was the pure silence. Gone were any kinds of noises from the highway and train tracks. Only the gentle buzz of insects flying and the swaying of the towering fir trees could be heard. And sitting there on the shore, quietly enjoying the beauty of the scenery, I realized one of the most beneficial aspects of hiking: It gives you perspective on your life.

As I sat there on the shore of Vivian Lake, I did not think of the 2 miles of steep incline I had to hike to get to this spot. I did not stop and wonder how many mosquitoes bit me through my clothing. I didn’t contemplate how much weight my friend had lost, due to mosquito bites. I did not bother being disappointed that bug spray could not deter these flying leeches. I did not sit and complain about the hardships of getting to the lake. In fact, the opposite was true. I was disappointed I didn’t show up earlier. I was regretful that I was not in better physical condition so I could make it up the hill faster. I was sorry I didn’t, and couldn’t, carry a heavier load, as I would’ve loved to set up camp and spend the rest of the weekend exploring the lake.

Maybe this is why GOD sent his prophets out into the wilderness. Being in the wilderness, in GOD’s world, not the one created by man, has a way of putting life in perspective. It is in the wilderness that we learn that our lives are fragile and passing. It is far away from the constant whisperings of people that you learn just how unimportant those whisperings are. It is one of the very few times where life will slow down enough to allow one to notice all the creation around them. Maybe, it’s only then that we quiet down long enough to listen to HIM. And it was with these thoughts that I quietly packed up my gear and we headed back. While the return hike was just as strenuous, it was made easier by the satisfaction of knowing we had achieved personal victories and discovered one of the hidden gems in Oregon’s Cascade Mountain range. And, it is definitely a trail that will be hiked again. It is certainly a story we can share with friends and family.

A resident of Oregon for about 20 years, my passion is the outdoors. I love to share these amazing places and hope you love them as much as I do.