In February, 2016, Oregon Field Guide aired their expedition to a beautiful and lush hidden river canyon, revealing what were a series of previously unexplored waterfalls within a deep gorge. The episode, titled Discovering Valhalla, gave an unofficial name to the inner canyon of the South Fork of the North Fork Breitenbush River. The canyon's rugged inner gorge is only accessible by experienced canyoneers with a healthy appetite for adventure.
Just getting to the entrance of the inner gorge's slot canyon, nicknamed the "Gates of Valhalla" by the expedition team, is a three-day round-trip trek up the river. It ends with an arduous trip through the inner gorge to the Gates of Valhalla and Jared Falls. This is an off-trail route demanding rugged travel, bushwhacking and surmounting logjams.
Start the hike at the end of Forest Road 4600013. The route starts along the base of a scree field adjacent to the parking area. The river reaches the rocks halfway across the scree field. From here, continue your journey headed southeast along with river, which you will continue to follow for the remainder of the trek. The river is your trail. You will have to spend a considerable amount of time walking up the riverbed itself, while at other times there is sufficient room to pick your way along the shore that is sometimes heavily littered with the debris of fallen logs. The river is cold, and in a high water year the water volume may be too heavy to continue the hike. If you are unprepared for long, cold and wet travel conditions and you don't have the proper gear, do not try to make this hike. There is no cellular service in the river canyon, and rescue operations would be highly constrained by the steep and rugged conditions.
Eventually the canyon becomes exceedingly narrow, and parties will run out of camping options. The best place to camp is at the confluence of the North Fork and the South Fork of the North Fork Breitenbush River. Here you will find a forest shelf where people can find just enough room for a couple of tents. This spot is only 3 miles up the river from the trailhead, but it can take well over seven hours to reach this spot given the terrain hazards involved. This location can serve as a base camp for further exploration into the inner gorge.
This base camp is less than a mile away from the Gates of Valhalla, which references the entrance to the slot canyon, but to navigate this short distance takes an experienced team at least three hours. From here the path is blocked by a waterfall that the Oregon Field Guide expedition crew nicknamed "Jared Falls." To go further requires technical climbing gear, canyoneering experience, and the right conditions. Heavy water volumes will make any further exploration impossible, making this trek only doable by a very small subset of adventurers during a small window of time on a very dry year.
But reaching the Gates of Valhalla and Jared Falls is adventure enough. The three days of travel to get in and back out are three days spent wading through frigid waters, climbing over boulders and old-growth snags, and avoiding an understory overgrown with devil's club, a plant with spines that irritate when they contact the skin. This area is on land designated as wilderness, so the placing of permanent bolts is prohibited, and Leave No Trace practices should be strictly followed.
Oregon Field Guide is OPB's long-running local weekly TV series. The program covers natural resources, ecological issues, outdoor recreation and travel destinations across the Northwest region. This award-winning show is one of the most-watched local productions in the public broadcasting system.
Oregon Field Guide also extends the work it does in the field for the television series across radio and the Web, providing a greater degree of coverage.
Oregon Field Guide airs Thursday evenings at 8:30 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 1:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. In the Mountain Time zone of Eastern Oregon, the program airs at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, and at 7:30 p.m. Sundays.