Saturday, January 27, 2018

Rogue River Trail 1/2018

Last December I hiked at Cape Blanco and then the Rogue River. In January, I hiked at Cape Blanco and then the Rogue River. See a trend? Yup, me too, but rest assured that in February, I will not hike at Cape Blanco or the Rogue River. I did have good reason to double up on Cape Blanco though, as I was helping Lane get acquainted with the route and then helping him lead a very large group on the subsequent outing, But the twin Rogue River hikes were more happenstance than actual intent.

Tumbling creek falling into the river
Daweson and I had hiked on the Rogue River Trail in December and shortly afterwards, the Friends of the Umpqua added the Rogue River Trail to their schedule. So my choice on this January Saturday was to hike elsewhere alone or reenact the hike with the club. Apparently, I needed company on this day, for I joined up with the club and hiked the oh-so-familiar Rogue River Trail with my friends. Well, maybe it's a stretch to say that I have actual friends, but at any rate I had company and companionship on this hike, if for no other reason than I had the car keys in my possession.

Rain was a constant threat
Actually, the decision to hike along the Rogue had more to do with weather than having comrades somehow validate my meager inconsequential existence as a human being. It had been pretty rainy which meant snow in the Cascades and less than optimal conditions at the coast. Chances were pretty high that we would get rained on at the Rogue but at least it would be a short drive for that dubious privilege.

A waterfall tumbles across the trail
The theme of the December Rogue River hike was cold air and it was definitely warmer now than it had been back then. The current hike was much wetter, though. About a half-mile from the trailhead, a small creek waterfalls onto the trail at the infamous "wet spot". The trail is narrow and due to the year round waterfall, the rocks can get quite slippery when the algae grows. Normally, you cross the wet spot very carefully, placing your hands on the cliff side for support. However, the waterfall was carrying so much volume that there was no hope of staying dry, and my right leg was promptly soaked from the hip down, thanks to immersing said leg in said waterfall as I crossed. Good thing it wasn't as cold as that December hike!

Typical view from the trail
Because of the increased water volume, the Rogue River was not its usual blue-green, aquamarine water machine. Today, the water was greenish-brown like dooky water backing up behind a pipe blockage, with the increased bulk of the river appearing somewhat menacing when seen from up close. Fortunately, we hiked mostly high above the river, enjoying views of the river safely ensconced in its canyon.

Whiskey Creek
On any spring day, numerous creeks and seasonal runoffs cross the trail and today was no different. What was different was the volume of water, as almost all of the intermittent streams were larger than normal due to the recent run of rain. The good news was that while we were occasionally spattered with raindrops, the day remained relatively dry. In fact, about two miles into the hike, the sun  even broke out and we basked in its warm bright glory...for all of two minutes. The day then went dark and cloudy and so it would remain.

Oregon sunshine says spring cometh
We ate lunch at rustic Whiskey Creek Cabin before turning around. I soon lagged far behind everybody else but there were so many things to take pictures of. I actually spotted my first wildflowers of the year, in the form of Oregon sunshine, oak toothwort, and cliff-hugging moisture-loving saxifrage. That's OK, though, as I was driving and my car-mates had to wait for me out of necessity. That's it for this month's version of the Rogue River hike and we'll see you at Cape Blanco next month...not!

An unnamed creek splashes across the trail
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Cape Blanco 1/2018

Several weeks prior to this hike, Lane and I had hiked at Cape Blanco on the Best Day Ever. Nothing could top the magic of that December day, but Round 2 sure came close. The only reason this January day came up shorter than that December hike, was a slight misty haze at beach level. But that's just me nitpicking, for this day was bright, sunny, and cool enough to qualify as a perfect hike when not compared to the Best Day Ever.

The queen and her human
I had gone hiking at Cape Blanco with Lane on that December day because he was going to lead a Friends of the Umpqua hike there, but had never been. So our venture to the cape was to familiarize him with the route and thereby impart some degree of competency to his leadership. But on this January day, I went again because there was like about 40 hikers that showed up and Lane needed moral support if not some out and out assistant co-leading. I'd like to think the multitudes showed up because they were inspired by my brilliantly written blog, but that little theory is quickly disproved by the average head count of 3 attendees per Richard Hike.

Nature's track lighting
Anyway, the thundering hordes set out on the Oregon Coast Trail which cut across the grassy pastures flanking the Sixes River. Lane hung back and I walked somewhere in the middle, to direct hikers at the numerous trail junctions between the Sixes and Cape Blanco itself. Because of a high tide, we saved the beach walk for the end of the hike, heading instead through the dark woods overlooking the beach below. Very little sunlight penetrates the thick forest on top of the coastal bluffs, making this stretch of trail one of the darkest places found on this planet. However, on a sunny morn, sunbeam spotlights illuminate the trail here and there.

View to Cape Blanco, as we left the forest
The walk through the dark forest was broken up by several side trips to intermittent overlooks of the Oregon Coast. After a mile or so of this, the path broke out onto the grassy cape itself and our eyes watered in the sudden exposure to bright sunlight. The day was glorious and we basked in the sun as we enjoyed lunch next to the historic lighthouse atop the cape. Lunch and basking is always more enjoyable with a view and to the north, an epic vista to the Sixes River and Blacklock Point, with all manner of islands dotting a bay of blue water, entertained lunching baskers (or is it basking lunchers?). To the south, a long beach arced towards Port Orford with Needle Rock being a prominent feature below the cape. A thin layer of mist clouded up the beach while it was nothing but blue skies atop the cape. Life was definitely good!

From Cape Blanco all the way to Humbug Mountain

After a lazy lunch, our rather large group straggled out back onto the trail which entered another thick coastal forest after an easy ramble along and atop the windblown bluffs. Once we went past the campground, a short road walk dropped us down to beach level about a mile south of Cape Blanco. To the south rose the forested mound of Humbug Mountain with the rest of the coast disappearing into the misty haze.

Driftwood swirly
From here on in, it would be pretty much a beach walk back to the car, although the beach walk was bisected by the formidable redoubt of Cape Blanco. Large driftwood logs lined the beach below the yellow (gorse was blooming on the hillsides) cliffs. At the end of the beach, Needle Rock loomed, seemingly trying to pop the blue sky balloon above. We all sat and rested for a bit, gathering our strength for the steep climb to the top of the cape.

This was the first time I had hiked this loop in a clockwise direction and "Ugh!" is all I have to say about the hike up. There is no official trail, just a muddy goat path that is challenging enough on the descent, never mind the daunting challenge on the way up! Looking down at the beach on the climb up, we spotted small army of hiker ants marching on the sand and stopping to rest at Needle Rock like we did.

Gulls taunt the dog from across the river
Another steep and muddy path took me off the cape and down to the beach on the north side. I unleashed Luna and she was overjoyed at her freedom and I was somewhat inspired to keep walking by watching her frolic and caper in the waves. A mile later, we arrived at the Sixes River, which was carrying a lot more water than it had been during our December visit. A flock of seagulls napped on the opposite bank, much to the consternation of Luna who could see but not chase the gulls across the river.

Light show
In December, a herd of sheep had been grazing in the pastures flanking the Sixes River, but they were not there any more. That was a good thing, considering I was walking an easily excited dog at the end of this hike. All in all, this wound up being another great hike on another great day at the Oregon coast, even if the day did not match the standard of the Best Day Ever.

Spiders try to snare passing hikers
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

North Bank Habitat 12/2017

Last hike of the year! (Disclaimer: even though I am writing and posting this entry in mid-February 2018, the hike was actually done last year. Confusing, I know, but I am way behind!). Traditionally, the hiking club always closes out each year with a hike in the North Bank Deer Habitat and 2017 would be no different. One unique feature of this year's version was that yours truly was tabbed to lead the hike and since I prefer not hiking the same route over and over again, the normal route was changed up a bit as we hiked up Soggy Bottoms Road and came down East Boundary Ridge. Nobody complained through, because the route could have gone up the incredibly steep East Boundary Ridge for 4.3 miles instead of coming down it like we did.

Drip, drip, drip...

It was chilly at the beginning but not quite icy. The habitat was socked in with fog that muffled sound, sight, and mental acuity alike. Soggy Bottoms Road was just that: soggy and at the bottom of a valley. Soon our boots were coated in mud which is normal when hiking in the habitat in winter or early spring. I'd say the views were nice but you had to squint really hard just to barely perceive the outline of the nearest hill somewhere in the dense fog.

The views were less than expansive

The expectation was that as we climbed out of Soggy Bottoms, we'd be hiking out of the fog and into a sunny day but that never quite panned out, for the day could never really decide whether to be sunny or foggy. There were times where we enjoyed ample sunlight and there were times where we looked nervously around, halfway expecting a North Bank version of Jack the Ripper to materialize out of the soupy mist.

Rays of hope gave us hope
As normal, our hiking party of 9 separated into two groups: fast hikers and photographers, where "photographer" is used as a synonym for "slow hiker" in this context. I'll leave it to the reader's imagination as to which group I was in, although I will point out I do carry a camera. Anyway, by the time us laggards reached Grumpy's Pond, we were far behind the speedsters. Gaoying was waiting for us at the pond, welcoming us with a sarcastic "I thought you guys had stopped for lunch!". I believe "stopped for lunch" was used in this context as a synonym for "slower than sloths".

Why we hike
At the crest atop the North Boundary, the heavy fog lifted, the sun came out, and we enjoyed the usual great views from the habitat's higher reaches. A spectacular rainbow arched over us and we could actually see the end of the rainbow touching down upon the trail. The rainbow was so spectacular, we didn't really care that there was no proverbial pot of gold.

Ghostly snag in the ghostly mist
The habitat is a working ranch still, and we had to pass a series of gates to get past the electrical fences marking the cattle range. Yow! One such fence bit me and my empathetic companions doubled over in hysterical laughter when I yelped with pain. Very funny, guys, but I would have done no different had it been anybody else besides me shaking hands with Freddy Kilowatt.

Mist in the valley

Now on the East Boundary Ridge, the trail descended for the next 4 miles. "Descended" is a misleading term though, as there were a number of steep uphill pitches to surmount even though we were in theory losing elevation, but such are the trails in the North Bank. We enjoyed ample sunlight on the ridge while a thin and patchy mist still filled up the valleys below.

Scraggly oak, a common sight in the Habitat
Below us, the North Umpqua River glinted in the noonday sun as it perambulated around Whistlers Bend. The river was flanked by a patchwork quilt of bright green pastures and farms, a few of them bisected by the unerringly straight North Bank Road. A small herd of cattle flanked the trail and we "enjoyed" a nice view of how cattle poop gets made, where "enjoyed" means "not really". We made sure to step around the cow bombs on the trail and no boots were harmed in the hiking of this hike.

Trail atop East Ridge
Because of an illness in my family, I didn't do a lot of hiking early in the year and had grudgingly consigned myself to a lesser year, in terms of hiking miles; not that any of that mattered in the face of what we were dealing with. However, at the start of this hike, I was only a half-mile away from reaching 400 miles for the year. The final 2017 stats are 408.3 miles, 57 hikes, and a 7.2 mile per hike average, not too bad at all. This last hike in the North Bank left me cautiously optimistic for 2018 and let's all please enjoy a catastrophe-free 2018.

The North Umpqua River, as we descended
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album

Friday, December 22, 2017

Rogue River Trail 12/2017

After we finished this hike, I dropped Daweson off at his home. On the front porch, his parents and other assorted other relatives were sitting and conversing in the early evening. "How was your hike?" they asked. Daweson replied with an air of casual nonchalance, "We weren't feeling it today, so we only hiked 7.5 miles". It was kind of like a mike drop without the mike and I do believe he has mastered the fine art of bragging without braggadocio. He's definitely my grandson!

The trail makes my inner mountain goat happy
Of course, those of us that live in the hiking world are quite aware that 7.5 miles is just another hike, the moderate distance not necessarily constituting an epic test of manhood or womanhood. But the day was cold and chilly, and a brisk wind intermittently swept up the Rogue River canyon so we were both OK with the rather bland length of the hike.

Snow, in the mountains above
According to the car themometer, it was 34 degrees at the start and it would "warm" up to 38 degrees by hike's end. The sky was darkly overcast and foreboding, it felt like rain was an imminent eventuality and snow a distinct possibility.  Snow line was about 500 feet above us, although the snow covered ridges and peaks were all hidden by the cloud cover. And just to hammer the cold nail point home, a gusty wind cuffed and buffeted all life forms shivering in the river canyon. This was Daweson's first time on the Rogue River Trail and it was a rather chilly initiation by one of Oregon's premier hiking trails.

The Rogue River, all day long

The trail charged up to the cliffs above the river and provided view after view after view of river and canyon. The river was running fairly clear and was showing off a deep blue green color. Despite the gloomy weather, there is something about an aquamarine river coursing through a mossy green rocky canyon on a gray day. The one member of our party with a camera soon lagged behind, taking picture after picture of the moody scenery.

Daweson gawks at ospreys and Sanderson Island
After a mile or so, bouldery Sanderson Island hove into view. The trail here seems particularly cliffy and is one of my favorite photo stops, even though I probably have taken thousands of photos from the same spot. It never gets old and I never tire of the views on the Rogue River Trail. Anyway, as we stopped to gawk at the island, an osprey sped up the canyon, barely flapping its wings as it rode the air currents. 

The high-water-mark mark

A short climb up a brief paved section of trail brought us to the high water mark. By way of explanation, the river flooded in 1964 and a sign marks where the river crested about 50 feet above river level. There used to be a bridge here, and all that remains of the bridge are cement piers on the south bank. The rest of the bridge was swept away in that massive flood event from 1964. That would have been a rare good day to cancel hiking on the Rogue River Trail. 

Madrone and laurel
After the high water mark, the trail entered a forest comprised of that odd Siskiyou Mountains mix of laurel, tan oak, madrone, and conifers of various specie. We could hear Rainie Falls roaring below, but the falls were pretty much hidden from view by the trees. This time of year, all manner of creeks and runoffs were splashing across the trail and we got plenty of practice rock-hopping across wet spots.

Whiskey Creek

At Whiskey Creek Camp, a campsite for the rafting crowd, we strolled on the sandy beach next to the river. The river was slow and tranquil here, its ponderous bulk still somewhat menacing. Across the river, Rum Creek splashed noisily into the Rogue while on our side of the river, Whiskey Creek did likewise. With Booze Creek up ahead another mile, one could infer that the Rogue River drove prospectors of yesteryear to drink.

Mushroom at Whiskey Creek Cabin

Despite my urging, Daweson refused to touch the wires of the bear pen fencing. The bear pens (my term) are small corrals, connected to a car battery,  in which rafters and backpackers store their food inside for the purpose of deterring habituated bears from raiding camps. From personal (accidental) experience, those wires do pack a sharp bite, so it's probably a good thing Daweson doesn't always blindly obey his supposedly wiser grandfather.

Daweson, working on his spaghetti arms
We turned around at Whiskey Creek Cabin, a former prospector abode now doing duty as a backwoods museum of sorts. The cabin is stuffed with tools, tin cans, and antique bedsprings, providing a rusty look into the pioneering and mining history of the Rogue River. Strewn about the site are large heavy pieces of rusting mining equipment while the remnants of a flume ditch can still be seen in the woods above the cabin. 

Cliff-hugging trail at Sanderson Island
From there it was back the way we came, the wind at our backs this time. Despite the dark sky, the clouds never made good on the threat of rain. Even though we walked in less than optimal conditions, Daweson averred that his first Rogue River Trail experience was indeed a grand venture. Plus, it gave him the rightful opportunity to artfully boast about the hike.

Manzanita tree
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Cape Arago Night Hike 12/2017

Merry Christmas, everybody! Of course, it's late January as I type out this missive so a very, very, very belated "Season's Greetings!" to all my readers (assuming I have any). I suppose I could take the position that I am seasonally greeting far in advance of next Christmas but everybody knows I'm not that organized. Anyway, the reason Christmas came up is that the hike I'm writing about today is my semi-annual Christmas night hike to Shore Acres and Cape Arago. And by "semi-annual", I mean not quite every year, it sort of depends on my mood, the weather, and whether my followers have sufficiently sung enough laudatory praises and accolades. Whining helps, too.

Cape Aragaliens
This year, enough sycophantic-toned requests for this hike rolled in, and it looked like the weather was going to give us a break. Since I was in the mood too, it was a perfect storm of proper hiking conditions and this hike was quickly penciled onto the hiking calendar. Unlike years past, the Roseburg contingent showing up for the hike was sparse, consisting of me, Daweson, Diana, and Brad. However, a like-numbered crew from Coos Bay showed up, bringing our numbers up to a more proper 8 hikers.

The spectacular coast at Cape Arago
Strange though, when we arrived at Sunset Bay at the duly appointed hour, it was just us Roseburgians. Turned out, some of the Coos Bayliens (ha, just made that up!) had parked further up the large parking lot and Rachel, who was parked right next to where we would park, wandered over there to talk to them. While they were all prattling their Coos Bay prattle, we were industriously lacing up our boots and setting out on the trail. Thinking we were running late, our Coos Bay friends waited another half-hour before Rachel took charge and led them on a very fast hike to catch up with us, which they did at Cape Arago. I believe that was the very first time Rachel ever led a hike and she did such a fine job, she earned a spot on the "list" of upcoming hike leaders. Of course, her biggest fear was that we would not be at the cape and she'd have to lead her people back in the inky black of night. 

Phatasmagorical rock formation
My grandson Daweson is a growing lad, so his boots fit too tight and he popped some debilitating blisters. Darn kid needs to stop growing so fast! Because of the blisters, he had to put out at Shore Acres and Diana stayed with him, so it was just me and Brad continuing on to Cape Arago. As we hiked along the rugged coast, the sun was sinking low in the late afternoon and waves lapped up against the shoreline cliffs. Brad made some comment about large waves and I responded with a dismissive "Pssh", explaining to him that this was low tide and he should come back during high tide to see what real waves looked like.

Simpson Beach was a sea lion sick bay
Simpson Beach was under quarantine as a sick sea lion was recuperating on the sand. Apparently there is an outbreak of leptopirosis affecting sea lions all along the Oregon coast. Respecting the wishes of the park, we merely sideswiped a corner of the beach as we continued hiking south to Cape Arago. And by the way, the following Monday I called in sick with leptopirosis and they bought it!

"You go first!"
The weather gods were so very kind to us at Cape Arago. It had been a semi cloudy, semi-sunny day and a raft of clouds hovered overhead, ready and fully prepared to squelch a would-be spectacular sunset. But when the sun slipped below the clouds, the sky and sea turned brilliant orange while appreciative hikers oohed and aahed. I was fully engrossed taking pictures of the sunset show when somebody smacked me in the back of my head and said in a British accent "There you are!" And a "Happy Trails!" to you too, Rachel. 

There is no sunset like an Oregon coastal sunset and we enjoyed the show as we pieced together the events that led us to hike in two separate groups. As the sun dropped behind the horizon, we gathered up our gear and headed back the way we had come. We enjoyed the view of the coast as day morphed into night and finally, I whipped out my puny headlamp and officially commenced the night hike portion of this hike.

Rachel models the proper night hike attire and attitude
Suddenly, behind me, there was a huge blinding light that illuminated virtually all of southern Oregon. In fact, the astronauts in the space lab orbiting the planet reported an unusual "light event" on the west coast of the United States. Jets were scrambled to find the source and Area 51 went to threat level "Bright Light". Well, it was just Brad and his atomic-powered headlamp. I'm not sure how many lumens it was putting out, but it was bright as a miniature sun, overpowering all the headlamps in front of him. Plus, it kept us warm as we hiked through the cold night.

One small piece of the Shore Acres gardens
Besides a spectacular Cape Arago sunset, one other reason for doing this hike at night during Christmas season is to cruise through the Shore Acres gardens. Shore Acres was once the baronial estate of timber magnate Louis J. Simpson. The actual lordly mansion at Shore Acres burned down and no longer exists but the caretaker's cottage is still there, presiding over some stately gardens. And this time of year, the gardens are bedecked with Christmas lights of every color possible within the visible light spectrum. A plethora of kinetic light displays offer up flying pelicans, leaping frogs and splashing orcas while Christmas carolers serenade visitors from a brightly lit pavilion. I was still wearing my headlamp (turned off) and a woman asked me where the cave was. Seriously, that really did happen.

Fierce creatures
After enjoying the lights in the garden it was time to head back. There is a point where you have to cross a road and find a faint path to the main trail but with the assistance of Brad's atomic light, it was unusually easy to find. As we walked through a pitch-black forest I was telling Daweson about how you can often see eyes reflecting back at you when you wear headlamps. And right on cure, four eyes were floating in the forest ahead of us. Upon closer inspection it was a mother deer and her fawn. They disappeared in a puff of smoke when Brad shined his atomic light beam on them.

Daweson models his teenager's angst
Anyway, a good time was had by all, except for maybe Daweson's right foot. We'll have to do that again in a couple of years and Merry Christmas, everyone!

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