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Oregon Field Guide

Discovering Valhalla: Oregon's Hidden Gorge



Writer/Producer: Jule Gilfillan   Videgraphers: Todd Sonflieth, Michael Bendixen, John Waller, Ben Canales   Editor: Todd Sonflieth   Audio: William Ward, John Waller, Jule Gilfillan
Canyon Field Producer: John Waller   Safety/Rigging: Jared Smith, Mike Williams, Brian French, Benjamin Trapanese   Associate Producer: Karrie Carnes   Camp Managers: Cole Hansell, Heather Latham, Clarence Ng   Safety Officer: David Cummins   Camera Assistant: Pat Gaylord
Porters: Ashley Lowe, Michael MacKenzie, Mitch Beardsley, Victor Whitacre, Pat Ross, Nate Eshleman, Steve Mattsson, Sam Wilson   Production Assistant: Rachel Grozanick


Mike Malone, a retired Forest Service employee, was working as a helicopter manager on the View Lake Complex fire in the summer of 2010. Thick smoke made a detour and low flight over the Mt Jefferson Wilderness Area necessary and as the chopper buzzed across the treetops, Malone happened to look down and see what he thought was a slot canyon, a canyon of tall walls and narrow pathways.

Further upstream, he also noted a big waterfall, maybe 100 feet high.

 

“I knew that was something that was really unusual like I’d never seen before.”


Mike Malone

Malone recruited a friend and into the wilderness they went… only to be stopped dead by a huge waterfall they could not get over. Four years later, Mike and a couple of experienced climbing friends finally reached the slot canyon he’d glimpsed from the air. Malone named it “Valhalla” after the mythic Viking hall of the slain.

An estimated 40-foot waterfall tumbles into the Valhalla canyon. The crew discovered more than 25 waterfalls in the canyon — some close to 100 feet tall.

An estimated 40-foot waterfall tumbles into the Valhalla canyon. The crew discovered more than 25 waterfalls in the canyon — some close to 100 feet tall.

Uncage The Soul/OPB

“It’s been an obsession, is a good word for it,” admits Malone.

Malone then reached out to OPB’s Oregon Field Guide to reveal the remote gorge. Producer Jule Gilfillan and OPB Senior Videographer Todd Sonflieth, along with Mt St Helens Volcano Rescue member and backcountry guide Jared Smith joined the next expedition. They followed Mike on the grueling 10-hour hike up the South Fork of the North Fork Breitenbush River to capture video of the canyon.

Towering moss-covered cliffs rose straight-up from the riverbed. Deeper inside the canyon, a 20-foot waterfall gushed over an enormous boulder; Jared Smith found a way through a hidden cave, summited the waterfall and captured images of the upper slot canyon – and another enormous waterfall.

Those few tantalizing video frames would fill Malone’s imagination for another year…

One more scout trip in June 2105 confirmed that the 100-foot waterfall Malone had seen from the air was not one falls but in fact a two, coming from two separate streams. The scout also convinced safety lead Jared Smith that Mike Malone would likely never see the entire canyon.

“It’s a very expert environment and unless you have rappelled and ascended ropes and you understand the dangers of rappelling, it’s not a very safe environment to travel up or down.”


Jared Smith

So for the main expedition, Mike Malone would again travel upstream with his son Sean and meet Smith at the “Gates of Valhalla” for a deep exploration of the slot canyon above the Falls.

After five scouting trips in total (three with Oregon Field Guide), the crew wraps up its final three-day excursion in the Valhalla slot canyon.

After five scouting trips in total (three with Oregon Field Guide), the crew wraps up its final three-day excursion in the Valhalla slot canyon.

John Waller / Uncage The Soul /OPB

In July 2015, Oregon Field Guide assembled its largest, most complex expedition ever to document the exploration of the canyon. A crew of five fearless canyoneers, including Uncage the Soul adventure photographers John Waller and Ben Canales, arborist Brian French and Smith’s Mt St. Helens Volcano Rescue partner Mike Williams to navigate the half-mile canyon from the 100-foot waterfall Malone saw from the air, all the way down through the “Gates of Valhalla” entrance.

With just two brief scout trips and some aerial reconnaissance the “canyon crew” of Valhalla explorers had almost no idea what they were getting themselves into.

The canyon’s isolation and extreme conditions also made it one of the most dangerous projects OFG has ever filmed.

On a second scouting trip, the team, including OPB videographer Michael Bendixen, right, explored a “top-side” route to the terminal waterfall at the top of the Valhalla canyon.

On a second scouting trip, the team, including OPB videographer Michael Bendixen, right, explored a “top-side” route to the terminal waterfall at the top of the Valhalla canyon.

Uncage The Soul/OPB

OPB videographer Michael Bendixen and safety rigger Benjamin Trapanese paralleled the canyon crew’s progress along the canyon rim, sometimes hundreds of feet above. Their mission was to shoot down into the canyon as well as serve as the canyon crew’s only communication lifeline of communication to the outside world, should something go wrong.

But the gods of Valhalla were smiling; three days after they began, the exhausted but elated canyon crew met up with Mike Malone and his son Sean, who had never seen his father’s object of obsession before, right on time.

For Jared Smith, the expedition was “life-changing.” The rest of the canyon crew agreed with Smith’s assessment and all rated it a “10” on their adventure meters.

“My goal was to see the whole thing… But still I feel pretty satisfied ‘cause I have made it into the heart of Valhalla,” says Malone.

You can read more behind the scenes stories and see web exclusive video on OPB’s series page: Discovering Valhalla: Oregon’s Hidden Gorge.

Special Thanks

Production Equipment Provided Courtesy of:

Additional Equipment Supplied by:

  • The Mountain Shop
  • SealLine
  • Sony

 

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Part of Episode

Discovering Valhalla: Oregon's Hidden Gorge (2709)

Oregon Field Guide: Episode #2709
Most Recent Broadcast: February 4, 2016