Chasing 500 Waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest: An Interview with Tim Burke

In 2013, Portland hiker Tim Burke and his girlfriend, Melinda Muckenthaler, visited 500 waterfalls in Washington and Oregon, an astounding feat by any measure. What makes Tim’s story even more captivating is the incident that sparked it. Burke shares his story with RootsRated.

Have you always been a hiker?
I grew up in southern California and had a great view of a canyon with mountains in the background. I dreamed about exploring all of the time. My family was great but vacations and day trips were always to touristy places, no hiking or camping. As I got older I explored my canyon deeper and deeper, no official trails, just lots of old roads and game paths. Once I started to drive, my world became a lot bigger. My friends and I were now able to travel to places we had only read about. I always had an interest in old mines and caves so that's where we would mainly hike to.

When did you see your first waterfall?
Believe it or not but the first waterfall that I can remember visiting was Multnomah Falls when I was 17. I came to Portland to visit my older brother and his family and he took us there. At that time the trail behind the falls was still open. It was very cool!

When did waterfalls become such an integral part of your life?
Melinda always had a huge love of waterfalls and it was her thinking that brought our interests together. My interest was caves and historic ruins and hers, love of waterfalls. She did some research and found the best hike ever. The Clackamas Falls area, south of Estacada. There's huge hidden waterfalls, tunnels and a lot of history that is slowly rotting away. After that trip we started hiking a lot more to historic places and lots of waterfalls. Melinda made waterfalls fun!

Multnomah Falls was one of the 500 Pacific Northwest waterfalls Burke and his girlfriend visited.
Multnomah Falls was one of the 500 Pacific Northwest waterfalls Burke and his girlfriend visited. Szapucki

How did the goal to visit 500 waterfalls in a year develop?
500 waterfalls in a year wasn't the goal we were shooting for at first. In fact the unrealistic goal we set was 365 waterfalls in a year. A few years ago a friend had a goal to visit 100 waterfalls during the summer. I thought that was really neat to have a goal like that, so for 2012 Melinda and I set out to see 100 waterfalls for the year. We made that goal and kept on hiking until I had a bad accident.

The first day of my vacation August 2012 I went outside to clean up the yard before our trip and was moving a car engine with my son and the chain broke. The 750-pound engine and transmission fell and crushed my foot. I could see my bones through my shoe. A week in the hospital, a couple of surgeries, pins, and a lot of pain, my doctor told me my days hiking were behind me. The first day out of the hospital I went to the top of Rocky Butte on crutches just to take in the outside. One week later Melinda and I drove to White River Falls on the east side of Mt. Hood, I hiked on crutches to the bottom and to the lower falls beyond that. I hiked about 30 miles those next few months and we saw another 50 waterfalls. By years end we had seen 223 waterfalls for 2012. Wanting to prove that my hiking days were not behind me, the goal was set for 365 waterfalls in 2013. Goal was reached in September but we kept on hiking. When we reached 400 we decided we had to finish the year off with 500. We saw our last 100 waterfalls during November and December. Stressful, crazy but a hell of a lot of fun.

What’s next? Any new goals?
For 2014 I know I don't need to prove anything to myself or to Melinda. Waterfalls were Melinda's passion in the beginning but now we share that interest. We did see a lot of neat waterfalls and hope to return to some bringing along others to share the experience. I ran across quite a few unnamed waterfalls and also undocumented waterfalls that we plan on seeing this year; we have already discovered a few. There are still so many waterfalls in the Northwest we haven't been to, I'm looking forward to exploring the unknown and revisiting our favorites this year.

Written by Adam Sawyer // Posted by Rick Gilbert //

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