Saturday, October 2, 2021

Rogue Gorge Loop

"A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer's wave good-bye" - Unknown

A wall of yellow leaves

If that's true then then this last hike was a thundering round of applause from an appreciative crowd stomping their feet, shouting "Encore! Encore!" at the top of their lungs, hoisting in tribute thousands of lit cigarette lighters that twinkled in the dark auditorium like so many stars against a night sky on a summer campout. I may be dating myself because I don't think they light lighters at the end of concerts anymore, it's probably cell phones nowadays. But at any rate, the autumn's concert was a wonder to behold on the Upper Rogue River Trail.

The trail was oft multi-colored

And speaking of art and artists, I was Supreme Commander of this hike today. Actually Edwin was supposed to lead the charge on this Friends of the Umpqua venture but an injured foot (he'll be ok) put paid to that idea. Additionally, the Jack Fire had overrun the South Umpqua River Road, rendering his hike inaccessible anyway. All that left me free to choose where and how and maybe even why we were going. Since I so enjoyed the autumnal aspects of my last hike at Suttle Lake and was left wanting more of the colored same, it was time for yet another reprise of the Rogue Gorge loop, arguably the best autumn hike in all of southern Oregon.

It's autumn time along the Rogue River

Setting out from the Rogue Gorge Viewpoint, our first little item of interest was the Rogue Gorge itself. The gorge used to be a lava tube but became a gorge when the roof caved in. Whether tube or gorge, the mighty Rogue was not at all happy about being squeezed into the tube, and makes its opinion known in a frothing and roaring diatribe from the bottom of the narrow defile. But tell it to the rock, because rock don't care, and the immovable lava walls do what they have done for epochs, which is to guide the river out of the gorge and into a more benign canyon.

Figurative forest fire!
Someone, call figurative 9-1-1!

Almost immediately after hiking away from the gorge, this hike became mostly all about the fall colors. We were on the shady side of the river so the vegetation was still primarily green in color, but there were plenty of reds and yellows scattered throughout to hint at the upcoming show. But on the other side of the river, where it was sunny and bright, the vine maple leaves had already burst into bright reds that had us putting on sunglasses so as to prevent further retinal damage. 

Autumn reflects on the Rogue

Once the trail made a pronounced turn to the south, we hiked in bright colors for the remainder of the hike. Each vine maple tree was an explosion of color and light next to the river. The Rogue was running slow and ponderous while small whirlpools and eddies made for interesting textures on the surface. The bright colors reflected poetically and it seemed like a whole blurry and colorful world lay just beneath the river’s surface.

A small cascade on an angry river

Most of my charges had not been here before so I communicated that when the trail reached the bridge crossing the river, we were all to stop and regather. Naturally, Lane stopped at the first bridge he saw which happened to be at Union Creek so we regathered twice. Nor harm, no foul though, and after a quick bridgeside confab at the correct bridge, we all decided to cross the river and follow the Upper Rogue River Trail, if only for the reason I told everybody that's what we were doing.

The forest near Natural Bridge was simply sublime

The river at the bridge seethed and roiled as it was confined in yet another narrow gorge but we traded in all that sound and fury for woods peaceful and quiet, excepting the huffing and puffing sounds of hikers attacking the only uphill section of trail on this hike. The woods were eminently beautiful with colors slightly muted as this side of the hill was fairly well shaded.

The Rogue, as it approaches Natural Bridge

Once we hiked up and over that lushly wooded ridge, it was back to a level hike next to the river as we approached Natural Bridge. Natural Bridge was formed when the roof of lava tube that swallowed the Rogue in its entirety collapsed, except for one 25 yard section. As the river pours into all that remains of the lava tube, the visual effect is that the Rogue River mysteriously disappears from sight only to emerge a short distance later in a geologic game of hide-and-seek. For some reason, you never see kayakers here, probably something to do with that brief underground journey.

Why we hike

After a nice little lunch 'n laze next to a busy parking lot, we returned by way of the Rogue Gorge Trail. The afternoon sun shone brightly on an amazingly colorful trail and my inner photographer ran amok. So many leaves and so many colors and so many reflections on the river. Despite the bright sun ostensibly baking the trail, the temperature was mild so sun stroke was not an option today. The day was perfect, as was this hike.

Local color

So, just like my walk at Suttle Lake, I really enjoyed the whole autumn color thing and was left wanting more. They say that too much of a good thing is a bad thing but I disagree, I could do this again and again and again and....

Every leaf a work of art unto itself

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Suttle Lake

Didn't see that coming! I had planned on an easy hike around Suttle Lake, anticipating I'd simply enjoy the blue waters of the lake all day long, barely breaking a sweat on the level trail circumnavigating the azure body of water. And for the hike along the sunny north shore, I was mostly right. However, upon rounding the western end of the lake and commencing hiking on the shadier south shore, brightly colored vine-maple leaves served notice that this from here on in, this would be a quintessential autumn hike and never mind the lake.

Suttle Lake on a grand autumn day

At the start, it was a gorgeously sunny day, although there was a bit of a cold snap in the air. Winter's opening salvo, in the form of a wet rainstorm, was predicted to arrive the following evening and while the sun was out, a brisk breeze of cool air hinted at the cold weather to come. At least the coming rain will help extinguish the forest fires currently plaguing the Cascades and scrub the smoky haze out of the otherwise blue sky.

Creature of the Blue Lagoon

Fire has been a thing here before, and Suttle Lake is surrounded by a vast wasteland of dead and alabaster white tree trunks (also known as snags), a veritable tree graveyard left over from the 2003 B&B Fire. A young forest is taking root at the skeletal feet of their deceased ancestors and provide a close-to-the-ground green counterpoint to the colorless dead trees they are replacing. Over time, a number of the burned trees toppled (and still continue to topple) into the lake, and the branches made it appear like the partially submerged trees were swimming for their lives.

Woodsy trail along the shore

If you ignore that large lake thing on the left, then this trail might best be characterized as "woodsy". The pathway wove its way through trees that, because of their proximity to the lake, generally avoided the fiery death that their upslope brethren had to endure back in 2003. The trail was mostly level, although there were some small ups and downs along the way. A steady stream of hikers walking in the opposite direction exchanged friendly greetings with me before we each continued on with our respective journeys around the lake. Most of us would meet again on the southern shore as we completed our loops.

A watercolor painting by Mother Nature

The peaceful backwoods vibe came to a busy halt at the Link Creek boat ramp, frenetically bustling like a riled up ant's nest, but with picnickers and paddleboarders instead of ants. But that's alright, because a footbridge offered a nice view of Link Creek flowing into Suttle Lake. The creek was placid and unusually calm, like me on tranquilizers, and the surrounding woods reflected on the perfectly smooth creek surface, the reflections looking all the world like an abstract watercolor or an impressionist oil painting.

Bridgeway into darkness

You would think Link Creek got its name because it links Blue Lake to Suttle Lake. But a quick perusal of a topographical map shows that Link Creek also links Link Lake to Blue Lake and who knows where Link Lake got its name in the first place. Allegedly a trail runs from Suttle Lake to Scout Lake and Dark Lake. Sounded good, so I ducked onto the campground road with the intent of adding some more lakiness to this already lakey hike. However, after wandering lost through the braiding roads of the campground like a rat in a maze, I never did find any trail other than the one going around Suttle Lake. Hmm, I now have a mystery that needs solving.

A lone kayaker enjoys an outing on the lake

I'm not sure if this is a seasonal thing or because of the wind sweeping across the lake, but Suttle Lake was swarming with paddleboarders having a grand time in the sparkling lake. Kayakers also partook of the lake's delights, although they tended to paddle closer to shore. I found out that as slow as I walk, it's generally faster than a kayaker and I wrestled with the rare sensation of overtaking and passing as I walked.

The south shore was golden 

Once the west end of the lake was rounded, the trail went colorful with individual vine maple trees displaying their autumn foliage below the dark green of the surrounding firs. In the shade, the colors tended to be pale green or light yellow, but where the sun shone directly upon the leaves, it was the opening verse of a multi-volume sonnet about the oncoming colorful autumn season.

Yellow-veined hands grab at me as I hike by

Basically, all hiking progress came to a screeching halt on the south shore, thanks to the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges flanking the trail. Many of the leaves were red, splotched with orange, with veins running yellow down their fingers as if they had bile for blood. Under the vine maple canopy, it then seemed as if the very air was suffused with color, like ambient sunlight on an alien planet. 

Lake Creek speeds by on its way to to the Metolius River

Link Creek enters Suttle Lake at the west end of the lake and Lake Creek leaves the same lake at the east end. The Suttle Lodge and resort were eminently visible on the other side of wide Lake Creek but unless you wanted to swim across (and I didn't) then there was still some hiking to do. The trail followed the creek to the paved road leading to the lodge and then the loop was closed off by hiking past the resort cabins before reaching the old stone and wood shelter at the trailhead. I did notice the Lake Creek Trail leaving the day use area, heading to the small community of Camp Sherman on the Metolius River. me intrigued although the chill wind has me thinking that'll have to wait till next year.

Every leaf a work of art unto itself

So, this was not the hardest or longest hike I've ever done, coming in at 4.3 miles with maybe 2.3 inches of elevation gain. But, it certainly was one of the most colorful and can only be the harbinger of a vibrant and beautiful autumn season.

Autumn is here!

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, September 10, 2021

London Peak


"Call of the Wild", "White Fang", and "Sea Wolf", epic and renown novels all, were each penned by the great American author Jack London. When I was back in school (in the previous century), the aforementioned novels were rightly required reading in literature class. However, my favorite Jack London book is little known "The Star Rover", a sort of science-fictionish novel about astral projection, which is best described as the ability to experience out-of-body travel. London's biography reads like one of his books and he led a busy life full of adventure and travels of the non-astral variety. One such journey was a long and arduous horse buggy trek to Oregon, where he guested at historic Wolf Creek Tavern. After he departed, a small peak overlooking the town of Wolf Creek was then given the name London Peak in honor of the inn's famous guest.

Spectral fern from the shadow realm

Nowadays, a well-maintained trail departs from Wolf Creek County Park and goes up to an overlook perched just below actual summit of London Peak. It's just 2 miles to the top but oh my, it's over 1400 feet of elevation gain, which works out to a daunting 14% grade. From personal experience, that kind of a grade will have you wishing in no time for a leg-relieving astral projection to the summit. But at least the tasking grade of the trail gave my legs legitimate reason to complain, which is when I'm happiest. 

Wolf Creek was not all that creeky today

The hike began with a "wade" across Wolf Creek, completely dry this time of year apart from a few isolated pools of standing water. Ironically, a sign at the edge of the stony creek bed warned "No Lifeguard on Duty". There should have been a sign warning about the prodigious amounts of poison oak encroaching the trail, though, something like "Wear Pants" (I was in shorts). However, the leaves of Satan's favorite plant were already in their autumn glory, the bright red color of the foliage being sufficient visual warning in and of itself. I'm glad to report that despite the sweet caresses of the poison oak leaves on my exposed calves, I managed to evade the madness-inducing itch that sometimes follows.

All that poison oak and me with shorts on

Immediately, the trail began inscribing switchbacks back and forth up the forested slopes of London Peak and had I known the trail would be like this, I would have counted the switchbacks. But I didn't so we'll just have to go with my unsubstantiated estimate of 927 switchbacks, with a margin of error of +/- 900. I know the switchbacks meant well but despite their best efforts to ameliorate the grade, legs were soon burning and lungs heaving as I trudged ever on upward.

One small piece of a lush forest

If you are going to struggle on a hike, you might as well do it in a beautiful forest lush and green (and red too, thanks to the poison oak). Here the woods were almost Siskiyou-like, being comprised of that odd mix of madrone, oak, maple, and conifer you tend to find in the aforementioned Siskiyous. Further adding to the Siskiyou vibe were the dried out husks of ground cones strewn about the forest floor, 
desiccate and shriveled leftovers from this year's spring season. The vegetation was generally dense and tangled throughout, making me grateful for the well-maintained path.

Madrones strive for the sky

At one switchback, I stepped on a branch and it snapped noisily, rendering a loud crack that permeated the very stillness of the forest. Suddenly, a large stampeding animal began running uphill, close enough that I could feel the vibration in my feet. Because of the dense undergrowth, I never got a look at whatever creature that felt the need to flee my presence in terror. I was guessing deer, or perhaps bear after I encountered wet bear scat on the trail when I was coming back down. The scat had not been there when I was hiking up. Yikes.

Whether stairs or switchbacks, the trail was still steep

Eventually, the trail steepened even more, to the point that wooden stair steps were required, which in turn inspired a next-level type of leg-muscle agony. On the map, there was an acute switchback that was the last one, and from there on in it was a straight walk on a ridge crest. I was hoping it would be easier, but of course, it wasn't. It was pretty much a straight charge up a heavily wooded crest that had me wishing for more stairs, with old growth trees guarding the trail like silently disapproving sentinels. 

The reward for the uphill hike

Finally! The trail ended at a viewing platform with a blessed bench on it, and I promptly put it to use. The view from the platform aerie was amazing, although only the vista north of the mountain was visible under a mostly blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Below, lay the small community of Wolf Creek, ensconced in a pronounced valley. From this height, Interstate 5 looked more like country road than freeway, and the cars and semis resembled Tonka toys for ants. Peaks and hills surrounded the area and of course, the terrain was blanketed by forest. Two large towering clouds marked the pyrocumulus clouds of the nearby Devils Knob Fire and the more distant Jack Fire and/or Rough Patch Fire complex.

This trail guarded by tall trees

The path continued past the viewpoint, where it would eventually wind up at a nearby BLM trailhead. After the hike, I perused the BLM brochure and apparently there are other worthy views to be had on that section of trail. But at the time, I was unaware and accordingly, after a nice little lunch 'n laze on the viewing platform, I just hiked back the way I had come, startling yet another large beast that could not be seen in the dense vegetation. I was thinking it would be nice to hike downhill for a change but after 787 of what seemed like 900,000 stairs, my aching knees changed my mind. It was just as hard hiking down as it had been hiking up!

Lichen clings to life on tree bark

While I did not experience any sea wolves or white fangs, there definitely was a call of the wild. But hey, that's what a trowel and toilet paper are for! I kid of course, but on the serious side, I do need to master the art of astral projection if I'm going to continue visiting the summits of peaks.

A California Sister (Adelpha californica) visits Oregon

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Siltcoos Lake

It's a mad, mad, mad world out there, full of yelling, shouting, fist shaking, spittle-spitting, and all-caps rage tweets, and that's just my family! The rest of the screaming part of the world is about as warm and fuzzy as a cave full of buzzing rattlesnakes too. Hiking has always been an escape from that particular riled-up fire ant nest of venom and vitriol but this year, it's been pretty hard to hike. The mountains have been basically off limits because of numerous forest fires and besides which, health problems have slowed me up a bit. Even the reliable coast has been hiker-unfriendly, with valleys and coast cuddling under a blanket of air foul, smoky, and acrid. But on the Siltcoos Lake Trail on a blessedly clear day, it was a joyful healing time spent in "peace like a forest".

Peace like a forest

This particular hike was a Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club operation and about 10 like-minded friends set foot on the Siltcoos Lake Trail on a pleasant Saturday mid-morning. Almost immediately, you could hear a collective sigh of relief and grateful appreciation from all participants. The path headed uphill through a dense forest mostly comprised of tall conifers. At ground level, it was luxuriously cool and shady, and leaves in the rampant vegetation bobbed gently up and down with the slightest provocation of the slightest stirring of air. Small birds were mostly heard as they twittered and flittered through the nearly impenetrable greenery and we all hummed "Kumbaya" in accompaniment.

Fairybell fruits were a common sight

This time of year lies in that amorphous seasonal netherworld lurking between late summer and early autumn (summumn?). Didn't see any colored leaves but fairybell plants were sporting bright orange fruits that caught the attention of hikers and cameras alike. I don't think the fruits are toxic but they are probably tasteless and/or unpalatable as my ex-wife's cooking so I just left them where they dangled, especially since I wasn't sure if they were indeed toxic. Tastier and definitely not toxic, were vibrant red thimbleberries and yes I did indulge.

Conks endeavor to recycle a dead tree

Our little world under the forest canopy was dark green (it was deeply shaded, after all) and it stood to reason that the perpetually decaying biomass on the forest floor would support a healthy population of mushrooms and other fungi. Seemingly, every color, size, shape, and type were represented, ranging from diminutive parasols sprouting in a bed of moss to tough tinder fungus reposing in pine needle duff to woody conks staking their claim on dead tree trunks. Internally I labeled all the fungal denizens as "poisonous" and thereby resisted the temptation to partake thereof. I'm no mushroom expert so it's just safer that way.

Just a beautiful trail all day long

With so many things to photograph, it wasn't long before I assumed my customary place at the rear of the hiking queue. And before long, I found myself hiking all alone in the woods. A moment of consternation came when the trail intersected the loop portion of the hike. Do I go north or south? Which way did everybody else go? Not having the answers to those questions, I recalled from my last hike here that hiking out on the south trail was really steep and taxing so I opted to go down the south trail this time out. Good move!

C'mon sun, dispel those dark clouds!

Enjoying the downhill hiking, I soon caught up to Ceresse and the two of us hiked in easy companionship at our usual turtle'ish speed. When we arrived at the southern backpacking campsites next to the lake, our comrades had already eaten their lunch and were wrapping up dessert. As our friends impatiently waited, held hostage by Ceresse and I leisurely eating our lunch, we all enjoyed a nice view of Siltcoos Lake from the campsite. Although, the sky was covered up by a layer of ominously dark clouds. It wasn't going to rain, was it?

Gnome plant, macro version

Near the campsite were a couple of saprophytic plants, not to be confused with mushrooms or fungi. A small patch of pink fleshy-colored gnome plants and pale white vampiric-looking Indian pipe vied for ownership of the same fertile patch of earth. Since we spotted both sets of specimens growing next to the trail, we'll call it a draw. Saprophytic plants lack chlorophyll to make nutrients from sunlight, so they partner with certain fungi to parasitize on certain plants, like salal. Professor O'Neill expounded on these amazing plant specimens while his captive pupils fidgeted restlessly, hoping the bell would ring soon.  

It sure looked like it might rain

After lunch, we made the short walk over to the northern set of backpacking campsites. I really must come and spend a weekend here, the hike would be short but those relatively luxurious campsites are an attraction in and of themselves. The north campsites provide better access (and views) to Siltcoos Lake and we stopped for a moment to gawk once again at the lakeside scenery. The clouds had gotten darker and despite an optimistic weather forecast, the foreboding dark cloud cover made us wonder once again if rain was indeed in the offing. 

Logging scar from yesteryear

The hike out on the northern loop trail was not bad at all, the grade was gentle and easy on the quads, unlike its southern loop sibling. The sun came out and dispersed most of the clouds and some sunlight filtered down to trail level. The mottled light in the forest was entrancing and we could only imagine what it had been like before the original old growth forest had been logged back in the day. Massive stumps from the former forest still bore the scars of the cuts where buckboards had been inserted to support a burly lumberjack on either end.  

Everybody should hike like a slug!

It's a shame this hike is so short because its tranquil forest vibe left us replenished and sated, but yet wanting more of the same. I'd gladly trade in uncivilization for the forest and spend the remainder of my days there, but then I'd have to give up watching concerts and soccer games. Besides which, the deer would eventually get me.

Hedge nettle, up close and personal

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Metolius River

Black Butte is an iconic landmark in Oregon's central Cascade Mountains. Visible for many miles around, the Butte is a perfectly symmetrical cone rising at the feet of the Cascade Mountains like a geologic witch's hat that got left behind in haste when the coven meeting was adjourned. At the foot of the butte and nowhere near as obvious from a distance, the Metolius River bursts forth from an underground journey through the area's porous lava-based soils. The river emerges perfectly clear, like vector calculus to a mathematician, the crystalline waters having been scrubbed clean of all impurities during its underground journey. And after two days of trudging over steep trails in the Santiam Pass area, we (Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club) decided that a level walk next to a crystal clear river was just the thing to do.

The Metolius runs amazingly clear

The only way to do a loop hike on the West Metolius River Trail is to return on the opposite bank and see the same old scenery all over again. Since we wanted to see more of the river than could be observed on what amounted to an out-and-back hike, a shuttle was engineered by leaving a vehicle at both ends of the section of trail we'd be hiking on. What this translated to in reality, was that Lane, Cleve, and I did lots of driving from Canyon Creek Campground to Lower Bridge, and back to Canyon Creek Campground again. Meanwhile, in a sign of respect, or more like a lack thereof, our comrades blithely commenced hiking without us while we performed the vehicular tedium required to make their hike possible. It all evened out in the end though, because although they finished their hike first, our so-called hiking buddies still had to righteously wait for the three of us and our ever important car keys to arrive at the Lower Bridge trailhead.

Some of that Metolius color

Anyway, the Three Amigos (me, Cleve, and Lane) sallied forth on a trail that was only marginally tainted by our impatient friends hiking on the trail ahead of us. Here, the river was several miles downstream from its birth spring below Black Butte. The water was still amazingly clear and the aquamarine color of the flowing current was just striking, be it running in sun or shade. In places, I estimate the river was close to 20 feet deep yet the water was clear enough you could see clearly see submerged rocks and pebbles on the bottom.

A series of spectacular springs tumble into the river

On the other side of the river, a series of springs gushed forth in multiple founts from the forested slopes and we stopped to collectively ooh, ahh, and take lots of photos thereof. The white water tumbling through perpetual beds of moss and ferns was quite picturesque. On our maps, the springs were unnamed but Allen Springs Campground was nearby, so maybe we were looking at Allen Springs.

Had to walk uphill thanks to an unstable tree

The trail undulated gently above the river, alternating between sun and shade, and the various sun or shade-loving plants were generally abloom. Fireweed, aster, henbit, and pearly everlasting were the usual late-summer suspects, while Oregon grape offered ripe (but not particularly palatable) "grapes" to the increasingly warm sun. A trail detour served up the only challenging exercise of note when we had to hike straight up a steep slope to get around what the sign said was an "unstable tree". Although, truth be told, the tree behaved quite normally while we were there.

Wizard Falls left us spellbound

Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery marked the halfway point of the hike, and the shady parklike grounds also made for a convenient place to snack and temporarily loll and laze. Seen and admired from a roadway bridge, Wizard Falls plunged all of six inches over a rocky V-shaped cleft in the river. While Wizard Falls will never be mistaken for Niagara Falls, the bubbly blue waters of the falls churning in the cleft is an amazing sight and well worth the hike to get there. Here, our route crossed the Metolius to resume the journey on the other side of the river.

Cleve never met a Ponderosa pine he didn't like

Now that we were hiking on the east side of the river, the sun began to bake our collective noodles a bit more. The vegetation had morphed to an east-side Cascades high desert vibe with the trees in the forest tending more toward orange-trunked Ponderosa pines. Fire has been a frequent visitor here in recent years, and we could see burned forest and dead snags on massive Green Ridge as we hiked. The river was running wider than before (like me!) but still proffered plenty of deep pools that must make for some delightful swimming holes, Although, we never did see any swimmers which tells me the water was too cold or the current too strong.

Trail braid near a campground

The trail gets a lot of use from nearby campgrounds and had a tendency to braid and rebraid into ill-defined routes, irritating serious hikers intent on moving on down the river. At one juncture, the trail made a lengthy inland detour away from the river so as to skirt around some private property. Lane and Cleve were somewhere ahead of me and I negotiated a series of intersections all by myself while being totally unsure if I was going the right way or if Lane and Cleve had gone the right way. However, I soon stumbled upon them waiting for me on a log, entertaining the same unconfident thoughts as I. 

About to have a Friends of the Umpqua reunion on Lower Bridge

Soon, Lower Bridge came into view, crossing the river near the like-named Lower Bridge Campground and we could see our bored comrades waiting for us on the bridge. But we all got onto the same itineraries and timelines again when we piled into our vehicles to complete the shuttle arrangement. We all pretty much agreed this had been a nice hike along a spectacular river that none of us had ever been to before.

A nicely shaded trail on an ever warming day

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.