Thursday, April 2, 2020

North Bank Habitat

It's a surreal experience, this living life during a pandemic, isn't it? The other day I was watching the news, something I do a lot more of these days, and in between reporting the gloomy state of the world, the channel took a commercial break and an advertisement for Febreze air freshener came on, complete with perky jingle, like there was nothing at all unusual about the situation we all find ourselves in. Thousands are dying but hey, you do want some air freshener to remove that annoying pandemic stink, don't you?

Bird's eye view of the picnic area lawn
Now I don't really blame Febreze, after all they need people to buy their product or else they go out of business. It is fighting for its survival just as we are fighting for ours. But that sort of illustrates the situation we find ourselves in, living in fear that has so many aspects of normality, the normality thereof being jarringly abnormal during these dire times. For instance, here in Douglas County, while people are staying at home more than usual, nobody I know here has yet contracted the virus. So, I'm gardening, cooking dinner, mowing the lawn, picking my nose, etc; engaged in all these routine activities with a sense of dread as I wait for the plague to travel down I-5 to devastate and ravish our little corner of of the Oregon sandbox. It's like the slowest moving disaster ever. And speaking of slow moving disasters, I recently busted out of quarantine and went hiking at the North Bank Habitat.

The National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had recently closed down all "developed" trailheads and campgrounds in Oregon and Washington so as to comply with the stay-at-home order issued by each state. It's kind of ironic because hiking is the ultimate in social distancing and is healthy both on a physical and mental basis. But having seen the goobers congregating en masse at trailheads, I absolutely comprehend why they felt the need to shut everything down. I made a round of phone calls asking about the possibility of hiking in "undeveloped" areas and was told absolutely no way but was also told they were not going to stop people from hiking, just from congregating. Well, that provided a legal loophole wide enough to stride completely through with trekking poles in hand, so off to the nearby North Bank Habitat Management Area I went to hike or get into trouble, or all of the above.

The world within
There were only one or two cars parked along North Bank Road outside the Habitat's locked gate and I added my vehicle to the impromptu parking lot. After getting geared up, I walked around the gate and headed up a gravel road to the actual trailhead, halfway expecting the SDP (Social Distance Police) to arrest me. As I started walking, it was a mostly sunny day with plenty of clouds puffing along in the blue sky above. The temperature was chilly though, and I began to doubt the wisdom of hiking in shorts and a sleeveless vest, but was too lazy to stop for a wardrobe change.

An Oregon wasp harvests an English daisy
Spring was beginning here at the Habitat, and I spent more than one occasion lying prone in the wet grass to take photos of buttercup, English daisy, red-stemmed storksbill, saxifrage, popcorn flower, dandelion, and Oregon grape, just to namedrop a few. I also saw my first stinky Bob of the year, a small member of the geranium family that has nothing to do with my friend Bob who may also stink, but nobody that I know of refers to him as stinky Bob except maybe his wife. Also of photographic interest was a varied population of winged bees, flies, and wasps visiting the aforementioned flowers. Obviously, this was going to be a slow hike!

For me, this path had that alluring new trail smell
From the East Pavilion, there are a myriad of trail options to choose from, radiating from the picnic area like spidery spokes on a wheel. Today's trail of choice was the Deer Hollow Tie Trail, simply because I'd never been on it. Maybe if I was lucky, the trail wouldn't be steep. Ha, like that would ever happen in the North Bank!

View to the Soggy Bottom drainage

After a short and relatively level walk to a muddy and grassy swale, the Deer Hollow Tie Trail immediately inclined upward in keeping with that quaint North Bank tradition of punishing all who dare to hike there. My leg muscles were not appreciative of that at all! But as the trail gained elevation, the view peering up the Jackson Creek drainage improved and there were lots of contemplative view soaks that were more than adequate compensation for the sweet misery of walking uphill.

Was this a great cloud day or what?

Simply said, this was a great cloud day. Above the rolling hills and creek valleys, small puffy white clouds scudded against a deep blue sky. Because the clouds formed and reformed constantly, the view changed every few minutes as sunlit patches and cloud shadows moved across the hilly landscape. Over the higher ridges of the Habitat, darker and more ominous clouds hovered, causing me to believe rain just might be in my future. 

Two steps forward, one slippery step back
What was in my more immediate future, though, was mud. The trail was damp and the resulting mud was slippery slick, making the labor of walking uphill that more taxing as I constantly fought for traction on the wet soil. I'm glad to report I remained upright for the entire walk up to Middle Ridge, despite a close call or two.

Hey hiker dude, you look like our next meal!
The trail alternated between open grassy slopes and shady woods. In the forest, I spied a couple of turkeys frantically running to get away from the scary hiker. Buzzards floated overhead on upwelling wind currents to check on whether I was going to keep on hiking or succumb to the rigors thereof. I'm also very glad to report I disappointed the gracefully soaring vultures.

The river perambulates around Whistlers Bend
After a couple of miles of this, the trail leveled out and spit me out onto a grassy ridge with a stunning view of local landmark Whistlers Bend, a prominent horseshoe-shaped oxbow in the North Umpqua River. Beyond Whistlers Bend and flanking the river, a scenic jumble of wetlands, pastures, and farms sprawled across the landscape. Of course, all of this lay under a constantly shifting tapestry of clouds as resultant sunbeams and shadows danced and flitted over the terrain. The view was awesome and this new previously unhiked (by me) trail might just become a favorite of mine.

I hate hiking!
I was somewhat disappointed to reach the intersection with the West Barn Road because from prior experience, I knew what trail travail awaited me. After a totally misleading pleasant meander through a copse of still leafless oak trees, a steep hill loomed straight ahead, looking like an attractive grassy wall, but a wall nonetheless no matter how pretty it might appear. And unfortunately, the trail went straight up it, with nary a pretense of a switchback. Sigh, sometimes I really think I should get an easier hobby. Steeling myself with resolve, I plodded wearily up the trail where I was rewarded with another view of Whistlers Bend.

Roseburg and Sutherlin were getting rained on
To the west, the clouds were portentuous, ominous, and dark with tendrils of rain clearly visible underneath the cloud cover. If any of that were to drift my way, I'd most assuredly be in for a wet time. Additionally, I'd be much colder than I already was, because a chill wind washed up from the valleys below, sweeping over the bare ridge (Middle Ridge) I was hiking on. I was still too lazy to stop for a wardrobe change, though. In their own menacing way, the moody clouds were absolutely spectacular as they gloomed over the scenery, and much photography ensued. A bit of rain ensued as well, but the shower only lasted a minute or two and would wind up being the only rain that fell on my little parade.

The North Gate Road took me down into the valley
At about the five-mile mark, all the bad uphill stopped when Middle Ridge Road intersected with North Gate Road. I grabbed North Gate Road for my egress off of exposed and breezy Middle Ridge, and that's when all the bad downhill started. My usual North Bank routes generally have me hiking up North Gate Road and that is one nasty steep trail that has had me muttering, on more than one occasion, about why on earth did I ever decide hiking was a worthy way to spend my time. Based on today's experience, it's not much better going downhill as knees and leg muscles both get taxed by the constant braking on the descent. 

Yup, I hit the ground on this stretch of muddy trail
The route down to Soggy Bottom was unsurprisingly muddy and I had three mud-ski experiences and one pratfall on the descent. I was somewhat amused by the pratfall because on my way down to the ground, I involuntarily uttered something that sounded a lot like a Klingon mating call "Qopbogh meQ jImuSHa'mo' tuj chenmoH mud!" I wonder why those tortured larynx-spraining vowels even came out of my mouth because it wasn't like anybody was going to hear me and if they did, it wasn't really any sound that could translate into anything intelligible or meaningful, unless that anybody happened to be Klingon. At any rate, me and the muddy trail were not very socially distant at that particular point in time.


Once down to Soggy Bottom, I hiked past a woman riding a horse while her two dogs walked behind the end of the horse that should always be more socially distant. At that point, I put the camera away and focused on hiking quickly to stay ahead of the horseback party. Just call me socially distant, much to the chagrin of the two dogs.

Red currant pinked up the trail
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sam Brown Meadow

Not every hike gets to be epic. This hike wasn't even the planned activity for the day but when Cathedral Hills didn't work out as planned, a quick ad-lib hike in idyllic Briggs Valley became the stopgap Plan B destination. Once on the trail there, things didn't work out as planned, either. "Oh well" he said, sighing resignedly and loudly for theatrical effect.

An old-growth Douglas fir tree
dwarfed all the neighboring trees
So we have this pandemic thing going on and Oregon did not have a mandatory stay-at-home order...yet. But based on what I observed at Cathedral Hills, the governor will have no choice but to issue one because our state is populated with idiots. Because of the coronavirus, we really need to stay apart from each other. From my little corner in the Oregon sandbox, it seems like hiking would be a good way to stay healthy while simultaneously avoiding large groups of virus spreaders, also known as "people". But when I arrived at the Cathedral Hills trailhead in Grants Pass, I was horrified to see the parking lot full, with an overflow of dozens of cars parked along the roadway. In the parking lot there was, and this is no exaggeration, at least thirty people congregating in the small lot, made smaller by the throngs who feel that social distancing does not apply to them. These idiots will kill people with their stupidity and selfishness.

A mossy bed fit for leprechauns
Horrified and scared, I quickly drove away from the trailhead and began thinking about what else to do, since I had driven all the way to Grants Pass. The Rogue River Trail and Rainie Falls were ruled out since it was doubtful that Cathedral Hills had a monopoly on attracting knuckleheads who don't care about public welfare; the Rogue River area was probably a popular place this weekend too. Taylor Creek was ruled out because I'd been there twice last year. So, a hike in Briggs Valley it was, simply because I hadn't been since I hiked there like fifteen years ago.

Never did make it to Elkhorn Mine
I found the trailhead just fine, so I decamped from the car and got ready to set out upon the trail. Because this was not a planned hike, there inherently were a few problems with making a spur-of-the-moment decision to hike here. First, I had no map with me. Well, that's not quite true, I did have a really good map of the Cathedral Hills trail system but that wasn't going to help me with the Briggs Creek Trail. Second, the batteries in my GPS gave up the ghost and I had no spares, so I'd be geographically clueless in terms of where on the trail I was. Third, although I'd hiked this years before, it was so long ago I retained no knowledge of where the trail went, which junctions to turn at, etc. Looks like I'd be hiking blind, and what could possibly go wrong?

Briggs Creek at one of several wet fords
Well, a lot could go wrong so to prevent my getting lost or misplaced in the woods, I decided to stay on a well-defined trail and if I ran into intersections, I photographed them for future reference, just in case. As far as which way to go should there be any trail junctions, I would choose the trail that stayed closest to Briggs Creek. If things got confusing, then I'd turn around instead of blundering on forward. Armed with these precautions and a healthy dose of inconfidence, I set out upon the trail.

The scars from the Taylor Creek
Fire were everywhere to be seen
The Briggs Valley area was right in the middle of the Taylor Creek Fire burn area from a couple of summers ago and while there were plenty of live trees still standing, the fire scars in the form of dead or singed trees were visible throughout the hike. The trail initially was a forest road with a stand of dead trees on the right side and a lush and verdant stand on the left.

Trail through the shade and vegetation
It didn't take long before I had to make a decision. After about a quarter-mile of hiking, the Briggs Creek Trail crossed the road and now do I go left or right? Left was toward the campground area, so right it was where I got to make the first of a couple of fords of Briggs Creek. Once across the creek, the trail basically followed the rushing stream through some lush and shady woods comprised of yew, fir, cedar, pine, laurel, madrone, and oak in what is a typical Siskiyou Mountains mish-mash of tree species.

Oaks toothwort was plentiful along the path

After a half-mile or so of enjoyable walking, the trail exited the woods on a forest road that looked like it hadn't been used much. Again, left or right? I did both, walking on the road in either direction, searching for a continuation of the trail. Never did find it, so it was time to be smart and go back the way I came. After looking on a map later at home, I had needed to go left and walk a little bit further than I did, but that's what happens when you have no map, GPS, or knowledge.

The trees watch me make good choices in the woods
After recrossing Briggs Creek, I took the trail that rambled in back of the campground area. I also ran into another trail junction with the same ongoing right-left choice of trails. I went right and a short walk later, the trail ended at a log jam in Briggs Creek. Behind the log jam, the creek pooled and reflected the surrounding woods nicely. I suppose I could have waded and searched for a continuation of this trail but I'll refer you to my previous comments about making smart choices in the woods.

Sam Brown's Meadow
So back I go, taking the left trail this time and that path led to Sam Brown Meadow. After all this shady forest time, the bright sun and blue sky over the large meadow was a welcome sight. At a large picnic pavilion off to one side of the meadow were a couple of informative signboards. Apparently, when gold was discovered in Briggs Creek in the early 1870's, the boomtown of Briggs sprung up complete with saloons, a hotel, and at least one brothel. Sam Brown was a bartender at the hotel and unfortunately met an early demise when he was shot for getting with the miners' women. No doubt his race (African-American) played a large part in this tragic play, and according to the signboard, he was buried somewhere in this meadow.

Rest in peace, my friend
Intrigued, I went into the grassy expanse to search for his grave and found it under a small tree. Where I had been admiring the natural beauty of the meadow, now it was a wistfully sad place, forever tainted by tragedy, especially since so little is known about the life of Sam Brown, like where he came from, who his parents were, etc. We know more about how he died and where he is buried than how he lived, the only consolation being that he is buried in beautiful Briggs Valley in a meadow that bears his name.

Moss obeys the stay-at-home order
Anyway, after all this effort spent into going out for a hike, I managed to get only a mere two miles of hiking in. But going forward, I'll be back but properly armed with knowledge and maps next time. And as far as all the goobers at Cathedral Hills go, our governor issued a stay-at-home order as I was writing this blog post. As my cousin Monica said about a similar order in her state, "I feel like a kindergartner that got recess taken away because the rest of the class would not stop talking". Fortunately, the order specifically classified hiking as an "essential" activity, something that I agree with even when there is not a pandemic. However, no hiking in groups is allowed so I'll be hiking solo from here on in. The Siuslaw National Forest, who oversee the coastal forests and dunes, has closed all their trailheads because of the insane crush of morons that headed out to the coast this last weekend. Likewise, state and county parks are closed too. Looks like I'll be hiking away from the coast and on the more remote trails for the time being. Wish me luck and in the meantime, may everybody stay safe.

Crystal clear (ultraoligotrophic, even!) Briggs Creek
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Crater Lake Rim

What a difference a week or two makes! Glen and I had gone snowshoeing at Crater Lake nearly two weeks prior and the weather was so bad that I left the camera in the car and just snowshoed. That's like only the second time ever I intentionally left the camera behind to protect it from the elements, so you know the weather had to be dire. On that day, the wind was howling, wet snow filled the air, and the lake was hidden from view by inclement weather. It was a great and awesome hike! Because we were both properly clad in snow gear, we were actually quite toasty warm as we trudged in the wind and snow that day.

Paige is prepared for cold weather
Flash forward to this mid-March day and the sun was up, the sky was that deep blue that seems to hover only over Crater Lake, and the crater rim was cloaked in several feet of snow. Oh yeah, there was that lake thingy reposing in the crater itself, the sapphire blue of the water having its own reserved parking spot, so to speak, in the color spectrum parking garage. Lulu enjoyed the snow so much she had to eat it every time we paused in our walk along the crater rim. Of course, Lulu is a dog but there were two other humans in our party besides your merry blogster: Glen and his daughter Paige, who continually referred to Lulu as Wuwu. 

Whitebark pine against an amazing blue sky
Despite the sun, we remained clad in snow clothing and layers as the wind blowing on the rim was downright arctic. The problem was that every time our route dropped down below the actual rim, the wind was blocked and we roasted in the bright sun. However, we mostly kept our gear on because that wind was present at every viewpoint along the rim. Hot, cold, hot, cold, and no happy medium in between. 

Wizard Island, afloat in the lake
Our route was Rim Drive, quite free of tour buses, RVs, and other touristy means of transportation this time of year. In winter, the erstwhile road is well used by snowshoers and skiiers alike and following the well-trod route was eminently easy. The snow was old, having gone through the melt, freeze, remelt, and refreeze process many times over during the winter. For us, that meant the snow was hard and sort of icy, making for easy snowshoeing. You almost didn't need the snowshoes and we did see one couple actually hiking in their boots atop the crusty surface of the snow.

The Watchman and Hillman Peak
rule the western side of the rim
After a mile or so, we hit the first of two main viewpoints, the first being Discovery Point, so named to commemorate the place (sort of) where John Hillman discovered Crater Lake. I get sort of cheesed by the "discovery" of Crater Lake being attributed to Hilllman because the native tribes in the area were well aware of the existence of the lake, but they don't count, apparently. Also, nobody really knows the exact spot that Hillman first spotted the lake but since it could have been at Discovery Point, a plaque commemorating the event marks the hypothetical spot. All this silly and irritating history aside, Discovery Point has an awesome view that was worth the snowshoeing effort to get there.

The peaks of the south end of the lake
Discovery Point lies on the southwestern corner of the lake ("corner" he said, ignoring the fact that the lake is round and doesn't have any corners) and a series of snowy and rugged peaks (Garfield Peak, Applegate Peak, Dutton Cliffs, and Mount Scott) marched in stately procession with Mount Scott leading the charge on the eastern side. To the north was our immediate neighbor The Watchman with fraternal mountain Hillman Peak parked right next to The Watchman. Down in the lake itself was Wizard Island, permanently afloat in the Crater Lake stewpot, with the imposing cliffs of Llao Rock looming over the north side of the lake. Beyond the lake, the tops of Timber Crater and Mount Thielsen were just visible. And always, the stunning sapphire color of Crater Lake itself. Amazing vista and this is why we hike, boys and girls.

Rock 'n roll!
After a round of appropriate oohs and ahs, we continued on up and over a ridge to the next viewpoint. This portion of the snowshoe trek is my favorite non-Crater Lake related part of the short hike. Rim Drive curves up and over the ridge with a steep slope on either side of the road cut. It probably doesn't look like all that much in summer but in winter it's a snow-covered canyon in miniature, replete with cornices, flutings, and other wind-driven snow formations. Rocks had rolled down from above, leaving tracks in the snow that culminated with the body of the culpable party just sitting there, with nowhere else to roll.

Perfectly smooth, like me!
The second viewpoint has a similar vista as Discovery Point, the view changing only in angle of orientation, due to our being a mile further along the rim. Wizard Island was a lot closer though, and we raptly gazed at the magical cone, totally enchanted and entranced at the spellbinding island. Behind us, on the landward side of the rim, was a snowy expanse that I refer to as the "Ski Bowl". Normally, this area is criss-crossed with ski tracks and you can almost feel the skiers' joy as they play in this wintry wonderland. However, today there were no tracks at all, just rolling hills of snow with the most perfect texture. It would have been a shame to mar the perfect smoothness of the snow with our snowshoes so we just looked and did not touch.

Mount McLaughlin and Union Peak have a staredown
After a windy laze taking in the awesome view while one of our quartet ate snow, we turned around and headed back towards Rim Village. Since we had hiked mostly downhill on the way out, it naturally was mostly uphill on the way in. But the grade was not severe, and legs did not complain too much about having to transport our respective torsos to a higher elevation. We stared at jagged and cragged Garfield Peak on the way in, with a nice view of Union Peak and massive Mount McLaughlin well off the crater's rim to the southwest. 

What a difference from nearly two weeks ago!

After the trip ended, we enjoyed a restorative lunch at the Crater Lake restaurant in Rim Village. This would be like the last "normal" activity we'd do for a while as the coronavirus pandemic came in a day or two later for an extended and unwelcome stay. It makes me wish for things as they were, even if it means snowshoeing in severe weather. What a difference a week or two can make, indeed.

Texture on a snow drift
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Cooper Creek Reservoir Trail

One of the many hats I wear is that of Treasurer for the Umpqua Velo Club, a local organization that dabbles in all things bicycle. One active branch of the club goes by the acronym of LUMBR, which cleverly stands for Land of the Umpqua Mountain Bike Riders. One of LUMBR's pet projects has been promoting and maintaining a mountain bike trail around nearby Cooper Creek Reservoir. Because of my affiliation with the bike club, I was well aware that a nice mountain bike trail ran alongside the lake, but it never occurred to me to think of the trail in terms of hiking until the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club went hiking there on a rainy day when snow precluded them from visiting the McKenzie River Trail.

Trail, as it goes through the shady part of the forest
Unfortunately, on that day I had some kind of stomach bug (that was not coronavirus!), and had to sit out that hike. But, after seeing the photos from the club hike and reading the glowing reviews of the trail, I decided I had to experience the Cooper Creek Reservoir Trail for myself. But great minds think alike and the Wednesday group I've been hiking with decided to go there also, and that is the story of how I came to hike this trail for the very first time ever.

Impressionist painting on the lake's surface
Unlike the weekend hike that I did not attend, the weather on this Wednesday was a beautiful sunny day in southwestern Oregon. There wasn't a cloud in the clear blue sky and the temperature was mild, which is always perfect for hiking. We usually number four hikers, but on this fine spring morn we doubled our customary attendance, reaching the lofty number of eight participants.

Dam hikers, pun intended
At the hike's outset, the trail left the parking lot and crossed the reservoir's grassy dam. The lake is finger-like, being long and narrow in shape and form, and we could look down several miles of the reservoir's narrow channel. The air was still and quiet as we hiked across the dam, and the water was like a polished mirror what with the surrounding forest and overlying sky reflecting nicely on the glassy surface. However, the fine spring day sort of came to a screeching halt when the trail entered the forest on the south side of the lake.

The air up there

The trail on the south shore triggered chilly flashbacks to my last hike on the North Umpqua Trail, which had taken place in cold shade the entire day. The Cooper Creek Reservoir Trail had the same vibe as the sun (and the warmth that comes along with it) was just a rumor as we hiked up and down in the forest. The uphill portions of the trail were neither steep nor long so we really couldn't generate our own human-powered heat, so jackets and sweaters remained on.

Trail tunnel through some damp vegetation
If I have any complaint about this trail, it's that logging has taken place fairly close to the trail. On the hillside above us was a large clearcut with an insufficient forest buffer between that and the trail. On top of that, the motor of a bulldozer growled noisily from somewhere above the path. The best thing to do on this hike, was to keep eyes focused to the left, where the blue lake reposed in its scenic little basin.

Oregon grape, all lit up
The forest next to the trail was lush, with ferns growing in frondly profusion. Spring wildflowers were already gracing the trail, the culprits being mainly snow queen, woodland violet, coltsfoot, oaks toothwort, and hound's tongue (which made me think of my ex-wife, for some reason).

A pair of geese warily keep an eye on us
While the lake's shape was basically long and slender, the trail did have to contour around small inlets here and there. By virture of our tromping presence, we irritated several mated pairs of Canadian geese looking to start a family near the lake. The honks of irked geese and the quacking of startled ducks was a common sound wafting across the lake's waters throughout the day.

Lichen hangs from some leafless oaks
Periodically, the forest thinned out and we did get to enjoy the sun on rare and wondrous occasions. But, when we rounded the Cooper Creek inlet on a rustic footbridge at the far end of the lake, the trail ambled through low grassy patches and we were mostly bathed in restorative sunlight. The warm sun replenished our Vitamin D levels and after hiking roughly three miles in a cold and shady forest, it felt so good.

Cooper Creek Reservoir
The trail does not go all the way around the lake, so the logical turnaround point was a boat ramp at about the four-mile mark. From the ramp, we backtracked to a nearby picnic bench on a grassy point and enjoyed a lengthy lunch 'n laze in the warm sun while enjoying the view of the lake ensconced in its wooded valley. But alas, all good things come to an end and we ruefully headed back the way we came.

The trail was freshly maintained
Right now, the trail only goes around about three-quarters of the lakeshore but the plan is for the path to eventually circumnavigate the entire lake. LUMBR has done a great job removing winter downfall (although there was one patch with dozens of fallen trees sprawled partially on the trail) and are to be commended for their fine work. Other hands are also busy restoring this trail however, for we encountered a small trail crew armed with chainsaws heroically toiling to improve the trail. There was also a small bulldozer thingy that was widening the path and smoothing out the rough spots. Apparently, their task is to widen the trail so that two people can walk on it side-by-side. I can't wait to return after the next round of improvements are completed.

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