Getting beat-down by Stuart Falls
Zach Urness/Daily Courier

Stuart Falls in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

Shampoo commercials have forever been glamorizing the notion of taking a shower below a waterfall. I gave it a shot on summer afternoon at the Sky Lakes Wilderness’ Stuart Falls, a 40-foot cascade that gave me a solid morning beat-down.

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By Zach Urness of the Daily Courier

Shampoo commercials have always made me laugh.

They usually begin with some extremely attractive actor or actress stepping drearily into the shower. It’s like any other morning. It could be you or me.

But wait! The featured shampoo smells so fresh and the feeling is just so clean, that the person believes he or she is showering in an exotic waterfall surrounded by purple wildflowers and magic unicorns.

The actress or actor smiles happily as they lather and rise their hair in the pure waters of the gushing waterfall.

Cut.

I need to set something straight: Taking a shower under a waterfall isn’t really that great.

I was camping at Stuart Falls in the backcountry of the Sky Lakes Wilderness one morning, when it occurred to me that I’d never tried a naturally occurring shower. I’m not sure how today’s shower system became popular, but I have to imagine waterfalls were the inspiration.

So on a warm August morning I rolled out of my sleeping bag and tent, threw on my trunks and made my way to the base of Stuart Falls, a 40-foot basalt cliff of cascading silver water fit for the set of any shampoo commercial.

I scrambled over logs and wet rocks to the base and paused for a moment. The thundering sound of free-falling water was deafening and a cool mist filled the air.

Finally I stepped into shallow pool and leaned against the rocks under the falls.

The initial feeling was that of getting pummeled over the head with a 2-by-4. The sheer weight of tumbling water was astonishing.

The initial shock eventually gave way to the realization that the water was colder than a bathtub full of ice cubes.

I quickly stepped out, stumbled back down away from the falls into a small patch of morning sunlight where I sat down.

Two girls I’d met the night before looked at me skeptically. “How was it?” one asked.

“Not at all pleasant,” I said. “I wasn’t aware water could actually kick the crap out of you.”

Stuart Falls is located about five miles east on the Red Blanket Trail near Prospect. The trail meanders up 1,500 feet through a hemlock, dogwood and sugar pine forest along Red Blanket Creek.

The trail is soggy in places, and after two miles, I came upon Red Blanket Falls, another roaring falls which is slightly smaller than Stuart Falls but is surrounded by deeper sections of the creek.

According to Eugene writer William L. Sullivan, the creek gets its name from the red blankets early Prospect-area settlers used to purchase the area from the Takelma tribe.

There are small batches of blackberries along the trail, and I was tempted to sample the local cuisine. But after watching a good friend get horribly sick after sampling a few berries in Montana, I’ve sworn off eating them unless completely necessary.

Past the top of Red Blanket Falls are a few cutoffs heading southeast toward the Pacific Crest Trail.

I continued north toward Stuart Falls (there are signs pointing the way) along a small grassy brook.

I made camp about 200 yards downstream from the falls among a cluster of pleasant rivulets. The site was clean and well-kept, with a stone fire ring and stumps for sitting and cooking.

Of course the ever-present roaring of the falls is what makes this spot special. And honestly, despite the freezing, painful experience of a quick shower under Stuart Falls, it’s pretty refreshing and something I’d recommend trying.

Just don’t expect anything that resembles a shampoo commercial.

NOTES: If you follow the trail pointers toward the Pacific Crest Trail, after a short while you’ll come across a pointer toward the Lucky Camp Trail, a great place to look for huckleberries — although it can be confusing without a proper map or compass. ... There are plenty of visitors to the area, and I found a few hidden campsites above the falls that would work nicely for anyone who found the area at the base of the falls too crowded. ... The trail is closed from mid-December through April.


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