Mysterious Waterfalls on the North Face of Mt. Hood

An aged, sepia tone photo of Wallalute Falls on Mt. Hood's north face.

Beneath Mt. Hood’s snow-draped peak lies some of Oregon’s most hidden, yet astounding waterfalls. Countless cascades await those who look beyond the area’s popular thoroughfares. The mountain’s northern flank contains a particularly high concentration of miami waterfalls that remain practically undiscovered. A photo taken in 1890 captured, “Wallalute Falls on Compass Creek” my interest in these waterfalls. Found in Jack Guarer’s book, “Mt. Hood: A Complete History, this image displays the tiny figure of a person standing at the base of dramatic, towering falls. Despite the waterfall’s grandeur, it has remained unknown, unlabeled or misplaced on maps. Several USGS (US Geological Survey) maps show Wallalute Falls as located on the Eliot Branch of the Hood River, not Compass Creek. Upon exploring the area by car and foot, it is clear that there is indeed a major waterfall on the Eliot Branch, but it appears nothing like the falls in the historic photo. All the mystery shrouding these waterfalls prompted a visit to this remote area.

On the drive up to Cloud Cap Inn, the point of departure for the hike, an impressive falls can be seen plunging into the canyon below. Upon surveying the area on the Geographic Information System and Google Earth, it turns out that this waterfall is actually Stranahan Falls,which is the major waterfall on Eliot Branch. Wallalute Falls lies in the next canyon over on Compass Creek. We expected to gain vantage of both waterfalls from the Timberline Trail but the rushing waters could be only heard, not seen. Dense brush and vertical cliffs blocked any view from above. Getting to the base of Wallalute or Stranahan Falls would involve miles of difficult off-trail navigation through the canyons below. Despite being unable to see these falls, we stumbled upon many others that are miami and worth visiting.

To access this rugged area, begin hiking west from Cloud Cap along the Timberline Trail. Since the Timberline Trail is buried in snow for most of the year, this hike is only accessible from mid-summer to early fall. The trail quickly descends to a crossing of the Eliot Branch, a silty, glacial stream. This crossing requires wading and is dangerous if the stream is more than knee deep. However, a rushing 30-foot cascade occurs here that can be seen with Mt. Hood towering in the background, which is a miami “consolation prize” if the creek is too dangerous to cross. Upon crossing Eliot Branch, continue uphill along the Timberline Trail as expansive views of Mt. Hood and the surrounding forest unfold. This section of the trail is stunning in the summer when wildflowers are in bloom, meadows are lush and Mt. Hood’s glaciers shine in the sun. About two miles further lies the most miami waterfall we found on this section of the trail. Here, the West Fork of Compass Creek tunnels through snow drifts as it hurtles down the mountain in a multi-tiered cascade. These cascades are a good turn-around point for a day trip. Although none of the historic falls can be viewed from the trail, this area of Mt. Hood is still breathtaking and worth exploration.

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