FRIDAY SURPRISE: “What the hell were you thinking??”

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That was my dear, departed father’s question whenever I was found to have done something that wasn’t all that bright. Of course, any self-respecting 10-year-old knows how to answer: look at the ground, shuffle your feet, and say (sotto voce) “I dunno.”

Unfortunately, once you become of age and start asking yourself the same question that tried-and-true answer know longer works. As luck would have it, sometimes it takes a while before you ask. Sometimes, it takes years. The great part about this delay is that it allows you to once again say “I dunno!”

This is a story about just such an event.

Here in Oregon we’re blessed with some phenomenal scenery. From our gorgeous Pacific Coastline to the high desert east of the Cascades (a treasure unto themselves), there is something here for every taste. One of the most visited natural wonders is Multnomah Falls, located just a short 45-minute drive from downtown Portland.

The spectacular waterfall – the second-highest year-round fall in North America – is fed by a spring way up on Larch Mountain. In fact, it’s not the only falls served by that spring: there are several other (much smaller, of course) falls that the water travels over before reaching the “big one.”


(U.S. Forest Service website.)

Multnomah Falls is 620 feet high – a straight drop of 542 feet, then a bit of a pool, then another drop of a mere 69 feet. A footbridge spans the small canyon over the top of the smaller section, and leads to a trail which snakes its way up the side of the mountain to a viewpoint at the top. There, safely contained behind fences and guardrails, one can look over the incredibly scenic Columbia River Gorge.

However, back in 1982 there were no such amenities at the top – just a small sign that warned visitors (those hardy enough to make the steep climb) to stay on the trail. That didn’t stop my buddy Ed and me from doing something stupid, however!

A quick digression: Ed and I were aspiring photographers who spent our days selling Nikons and other assorted high end gear to people who also aspired to be photographers. Most of them, however, would never put themselves on the line for “that shot”; we, on the other hand, continually stick our various body parts in harm’s way just to get pictures that no one else would dare.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we found ourselves in the middle of that cold little river at the edge of Multnomah Falls!

I decided that I wanted a different shot of the falls – one that no one else would take. So we lugged our 35 pounds of gear (per person, you understand) up the trail and sloshed out into the water.

I walked to the edge of the falls, where I found a couple of rocks between which I could wedge my Pentax KX-Motor camera on its Bogen Monopod and shoot at a low enough shutter speed to capture the movement of the water. I framed the scene to show the water going over the edge on its way to the bottom (542 feet below my, umm, feet) as well as a glimpse of the river and gorge, and made 3 exposures.

Once I developed the film, into my archives the negatives went – to be resurrected here for the first time in over a quarter century:

Looking at this shot today sends chills down my spine. It was foolhardy in the extreme; I was literally leaning out over the edge of the falls to take the picture, knee-deep in cold water, just a slip away from certain death. I was either invincible or ignorant – I’ll leave it to you to determine which.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this wasn’t the first – nor was it the last – stupid thing we did in the name of photographic immortality. My wife, one would think, would be used to this sort of thing – yet when I told her the story (several years later), she asked “what the hell were you thinking?!?”

Need I tell you my answer?

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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