Punchbowl Falls during a rare snow in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. On 1.26.2014 I yelled for help for the first time in...


Punchbowl Falls - Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Punchbowl Falls during a rare snow in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

On 1.26.2014 I yelled for help for the first time in my life.

My friend and I headed to Cape Kiwanda because it was a beautiful day. It was more of an escape and day at the coast than it was a photographic outing. But yes.. I still took my gear with me.

We were walking around and with the tide fairly low.. went lower on the north side of the cape. The waves weren't crashing where we were but the rocks were wet and some.. slippery with seaweed. We looked around for a little bit and then I turned back when I heard my friend yell. I looked back to see her on her back sliding down a seaweed covered slope with a 10 ft. drop into the churning water at the end. She was just a couple of feet away and I instinctively stepped towards her and reached for her only to find myself sliding down that same slope. I knew I was going in.

I remember thinking as I was sliding that 'maybe' the water was shallow enough to stand in and that I'd land on my feet.. but knew that it wasn't. I was watching it from above and was thinking about how deep it would be. It looked pretty deep.

I ended up going in feet first and underwater. Yup. It was deep. Luckily I'm a strong swimmer. I looked around and didn't see my friend. Still unsure if she had actually fallen in I looked around... wondering what the hell I was going to do. I was in a 'chasm' surrounded by walls and the water was drawing me out. It was either find a way out here or go out to the dangerous cliffs. You know.. the cliffs that everyone takes photos of. I swam to the nearest wall that looked like I could grab a hold of something. I was happy to find a short ledge underwater that I was able to get footing on. The wall was covered in mussels and barnacles and the areas I tried to grab onto broke off in my hands. I looked around and saw my friend standing on the rocks above me. Somehow.. she had stopped sliding. Soon enough a huge sneaker wave came and washed over my head, hit the end of the chasm and then came back at me, knocking me off. Again I felt the waves pull me out.. that's when I yelled for help at the top of my lungs. I was scared. I didn't think I was going to be able to get out on my own.

Another surge came and pushed me back towards the wall. I was able to swim to it and grab on. This time I was in a different spot and I was able to stand on that same ledge but get a different handhold and foothold and lift myself up a couple of feet out of the water. The wall was still over my head and my friend had made her way over to me but couldn't reach me.. not to mention the rock above me was also covered in slippery seaweed. I took my bag off and threw it to her. Oh yeah.. did I mention that I had my bag on my back with all of my uninsured gear in it? Yeeeeeeah. I was then able to work my way out. A guy had come to help but there was little he could do. He tried to throw me a dog leash as I was climbing up but it was easier to do without it.

I was a little banged up physically. A couple scrapes.. a torn fingernail... but mostly I had a headache from the adrenaline rush and was emotionally excited. I can't get that vision of my friend sliding helplessly on her back towards the water out of my head. And the look on her face during it. It makes me sick and I still replay it in my head.

She's not a great swimmer.. so I'm happy that she was able to arrest her slip more than anything. And I'm lucky that I didn't take her in with me. We're very grateful to have walk away relatively unscathed. This was definitely the scariest moment in my life.

As for the gear.. my bag was on my back and I spent several minutes swimming in water with it. It was submerged. I dumped salt water out of my camera.

After a thorough inspection by a local camera repair shop,  my camera was deemed 'beyond economic repair'. My lens was damage in that the autofocus and image-stabilization motors were non-functioning. The quoted repair on the lens was $700.

With the financial hits I have taken in this past year, I did not have insurance on my gear. When it came down to the decision of child support and food on the table or insurance on my gear.. it lost out. I don't have a lot of money. But I think most people who know me know how much my photography means to me.

In the following days I was convinced by friends to take donations to replace my gear. What happened next blows my mind and gets my emotions flowing.. even thinking about it now. In two days... friends, family, and complete strangers pulled together and raised MORE than enough money for me to replace my gear. It's one of the most meaningful things that's ever happened to me.

A week or so later I had a new camera and a new lens.. just in time for a very rare snow storm in the Columbia River Gorge. My friend Tula and I hike to the popular Punch Bowl Falls on Eagle Creek. I had never shot this location but have hiked to and past it many times.

I spent a good hour here.. taking it in and shooting away. It was good to be out in the elements with my equipment. It's impossible to convey the emotion that was running through my veins... the warmth of this moment even as I stood waist deep in a frozen, rushing stream with snow coming down. It really put life and existence into perspective for me.

To be alive.. to have friends and family that care about me.. that support me.. and to get another chance means the world to me.

And for that I'll be forever grateful. Photo © copyright by TJ Thorne.