My trip to Pandora
One of my eagerly awaited and anxious places to visit was The Panther Creek Falls on the Washington state side of the Columbia River Gorge.
I have seen great pictures of this ‘Tiered Horsetail’ type waterfalls taken by thousands of photographers. However, no two images are alike due to varying factors like water flow, vegetation, foliage color and light making them different. One of the factors that caused anxiety was the fact the falls are not easily accessible and I was told requires off-trail scrambling, rappelling, scooting down on your rear end, or any other way possible and the same time take care not to end up in the icy cold waters of Panther Creek.
Marc Adamus sometimes called me “Ragesh” perhaps mixing up my name with my friend Nagesh Mahadev who has known Marc for many years and is a photographer extraordinaire himself. As we were walking after parking our vehicles, Marc turned to me and said “Ragesh, you will see what I am talking about when we get to the bottom of the falls, it is like Avatar down there”.
Despite wearing hiking boots, and dressed in layers I was cold and I found the trail slippery and treacherous. I wished that I had brought hiking poles with me so I improvised my 3 Legged Thing Winston Tripod with metal boots called claws that can grip the ground and fashioned out a hiking pole albeit with three legs. Some kind soul had left a rope tied to one of the trees that we used to gingerly climb down the slippery path. It is not advisable to visit this place alone. I know at least one person (whom I shall not embarrass :-)) that was here all alone, slipped and fell. He apparently cursed himself in language he would never use in polite company and was very lucky to get out on his own strength without too much damage to self.
Once we got down to the base of the waterfalls, I did feel like I had been teleported to a different world. The fine spray from the waterfall was everywhere explaining the glowing mosses and glistening ferns that covered the pristine location. The sound of the falls while not thundering was roaring enough to make the place come alive.
There was very little space to set up our tripods and shoot pictures so we took turns and soaked in the awe inspiring energy. When my turn came, Marc told me, “Remember, do not fall in the creek”, which I was not going to test. Obviously the water is very cold and it would only take a few minutes to get hypothermia. I asked my friend Steve Kendall to keep an eye on me as I shot some pictures which he kindly did. The routine was, set focus in manual, wipe the lens, keep it covered until you press the shutter, repeat until you got what you wanted and move over so the next person can shoot. And also, remember not to fall in the cold waters.
We were one of the first people at the falls that morning having left at 5 am from the hotel. A few people began to arrive at this time as daylight grew. What was impressive was the amount of water flow that morning. The volume of water was a lot more powerful than I have chosen to show here. I preferred to depict what was behind that curtain of water on the right hence chose a relatively faster 1 second exposure. Marc told me later that in all the years that he had been coming there, this was the most water flow he had seen at anytime other than during the winters. I was mighty pleased that I got to witness it. He also remarked that it was good that the small tree that is growing out the mossy log at the bottom of the falls had not leafed out yet covering up the prominent part of the waterfalls which pleased me even more.
As the rest of my group started to leave, I noticed the first rays of the sun coming though the trees. So I moved to a different spot and shot this composition which I think is nothing to crow about and is fairly straight forward. At the same time it provided the full panorama of the falls, up close and personal.
As I soaked in the spray of the Panther Creek Falls, I did not see any 10 feet tall blue skinned people with tails or hear anyone speaking Na’vi but my 4.4 light-years trip to Pandora felt complete.
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