Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tahkenitch Creek weekend backpack

Hello keyboard, did you miss me? Yeah, I know, it's been a while since I've posted and to all you who have been asking: I am fine but have been just plain old blog lazy. In my defense, Blog Central is upstairs where all the heat goes and it just seems like there are better things to do than literally drip rivers of sweat while typing out the latest inane entry that somehow involves a hike somewhere in southern Oregon. But anyway, the hikes are piling up and their stories are waiting to be told, so here goes the first attempt at catching up.

Tall rhododendrons provided ample shade
Several years ago, I took granddaughter Coral Rae on a backpack trip to the coast and that particular trip was somewhat of a fail. A pebble of sand had locked our food canister lid tight which was darn inconvenient, as our weekend nutrition was just on the inaccessible side of the lid. So, Coral Rae got to double up on the planned mileage when we hiked out the same day. Since she didn't like the inbound hike in the first place, she was doubly sour on backpacking by time we reached the car under setting sun. Way to make great memories, Grandpa!

Our route
But time heals all wounds and here in 2018, a couple of years after that first abortive attempt, Coral Rae was ready and willing for another attempt at this backpacking thing. So off we go to Tahkenitch Dunes, eager to complete our unfinished business from two years ago. She didn't do too bad this time, we indulged in a couple of rest stops in the shady spots and arrived at Tahkenitch Creek (sort of) before the heat ramped up in the afternoon.

View from our campsite
What a difference a year or two makes! Last time I backpacked here, there was an epic campsite attained by bushwhacking off the trail towards the creek. Perched atop the creek bank, the campsite proffered up a soothing view of the wide but languid creek S-curving into the ocean. Since then, unfortunately, a very rainy winter overly filled up the marshes behind the beach foredunes and the resultant runoff carved a deep gully that trashed the trail. 

Small girl, large ocean
Additionally, the creek has been migrating south and the trail has already been relocated several times during my acquaintanceship with the sandy path. This time was no different and the path had again been rerouted back into the woods south of the creek. And my awesome campsite had long since disappeared into the maelstrom waters of a rampaging creek. 

One of several bugs with large jaws
However, a section of the old trail remains, perched at the edge of the creek banks, and the Forest Service has strategically placed logs, branches, and brush to deter hikers from attempting to follow the old trail. However, the old path makes for a perfect camping spot with a similar view as that of several years ago, so Coral Rae and I illicitly bushwhacked through a dense thicket of trees and brush and set up camp on the once and former trail.

"I'm sailing away..."

One other change made by the Forest Service is that they have roped off creek banks on the beach and the dunes on the other side of the creek, in an attempt to save the snowy plover, an endangered beach-dwelling bird. While I always enjoyed exploring and swimming in the creek, giving all that up is good when done for a worthy cause, so Coral Rae and I dutifully obeyed the restrictions...except for our camping on the closed trail, of course.

Crazy kid at play
Since we had half a day to kill, we pretty much did that, wading in the ocean and digging for sand crabs. I showed Coral Rae how the sand crabs swim in the water around one's feet. But yikes! The little <bad word, plural version> started biting my feet and it was somewhat painful. It was like "Attack of the Carnivorous Crabs" starring My Feet. Needless to say, I'll never again walk barefoot in the beach, for the remainder of my life.

On the beach in the late and chilly afternoon
The beach was littered with jellyfish, their dried purple sails still catching the breeze after their boat had beached, so to speak. There were odd little insect critters with large and formidable jaws afoot (one more reason not to walk barefoot on the beach!) and much photography ensued while lying prone on the dangerous sands.

Late afternoon at Tahkenitch Creek

Coral Rae, seemingly impervious to cold (a brisk chill wind was a constant on the beach), waded across the mouth of Tahkenitch Creek and also spent some time lying down in the rushing water. When the temperature began to drop in the late afternoon, we beat a retreat to our campsite, made dinner, and then sat down atop the creek bank for the sunset show.

Clap, clap, clap!
The best sunsets are at the coast, there can be no argument about this. Predictably, the sun sank, and the air was cast with a brilliant golden glow as the creek sparkled with a million points of orange light. In what is a tradition of mine, we gratefully applauded when the last light of the sun sank behind the horizon.

Morning comes to camp
After a restful night, I got up early and let the snoring girl sleep. The creek was smooth as polished marble, and everything was tinted pink from the morning sunlight. A lone bald eagle swooped in and perched atop a post on the opposite side of the tree-clogged creek. Later, after Coral Rae woke up, I was telling her about the eagle when right on cue, the eagle returned for an encore performance. Thanks, eagle!

They may be small, but they sure are tasty
All good things come to an end though, so we struck camp, hoisted our packs and began trudging in the soft sand. It was quite warm this morning, and the open dunes did not provide any succor. Coral Rae and I diverted our attention from our hot and sweaty toil by nibbling on wild strawberries which were plentiful along the trail. We also debated for several miles whether Coral Rae's favorite aliens were kinder and gentler than my favorite aliens. Inane, to be sure, but several years ago all I heard was how miserable one grumpy granddaughter was. What a difference a couple of years can make!

The 2018 version of Coral Rae
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Windy Pass Trail

The mountains call after the long winter layoff. Invariably, restless hikers will attempt a hike in the Cascades when the clime is hot and summery in the Umpqua Valley, only to find out the mountains are still undergoing some version of winter weather. I thought I'd be smart and hold out for another month but then Edwin called and I said, almost reflexively, "Ok sure, I'll go with you!" And that is the story of how I came to hike the Windy Pass Trail on an early June day.

Nothing but blue skies...for now

The basic plan was to hike from Timpanogas Lake to Cowhorn Mountain. However, a winter storm was blowing in with snowfall predicted so we had a most-of-the-day window of opportunity. But just in case, winter gear was stowed into daypacks before Edwin, John, and I set out from the lake. Although a chill breeze was moving cool air around as we set out, the day was initially sunny and totally at odds with the predicted forecast.

Rodent house, also known as Timpanogas Snow Shelter
A quarter of a mile along Timpanogas Lake's shoreline, lies the Timpanogas Snow Shelter and we stopped by to check it out. You never know when you might want to snowshoe to the lake and spend the night! During the summer, the resident rodentia are only too happy to scurry across sleeping camper's faces and raid their packs. At any rate, after our cursory visit to the shelter, we scurried ousrselves onto the Windy Pass Trail heading up to the Pacific Crest Trail.

One of several small ponds along the trail
Ah, uphill hiking is so much fun and soon our leg muscles were burning in unhappy companionship to that activity. We passed by a number of small ponds and lakelets, all coated with a film of tree pollen. Mosquitoes came by to visit, probably freshly hatched from the aforementioned ponds and lakelets. However, their numbers were not yet up to the usual summery multitudes, thankfully.

Orange peel fungus
We continued to angle upward through a forest of homogeneous trees, all covered with fuzzy moss like so many giant unshaven legs. There wasn't much vegetation underneath the trees but there were plenty of orange peel fungi sprouting alongside the trail like brightly colored doll cups. Periodically, there'd be a break in the trees and we enjoyed views of Sawtooth Mountain when that happened. Hidden by the forest, Amos and Andy Lakes lay below us somewhere, but we did get a glimpse of a lake which may have been one of the watery siblings. And then snow became an issue.

Edwin ponders the mystery of the disappearing trail
We had started hiking at 5,200 feet of altitude, at Timpanogas Lake, and had worked our way up to about 6,200 feet when the trail ran under a small snow drift. It wasn't too daunting, for we could see the trail continuing on the other side of the drift. But as we continued to hike, the drifts became more frequent and larger, really putting our route-finding skills to the test. Between my GPS and John and Edwin's stubbornness, we would find a piece of the trail and thus, were always able to continue.

Yup, this is the trail
I wasn't feeling all that walky on this day and found the hiking in soft snow to be quite tedious and before long, my quads were burning in quiet agony. At the point where my GPS said we were at the intersection with the Windy Pass Trail and the tie-in trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (and Windy Pass itself), I called it, or "wussed out" as John and Edwin termed my departure. They wanted to reach the PCT at least so we parted ways and I headed back down to snow-free environs.

At the wrong pond
On the way down, I hit a walking rhythm, which is easy to do when walking downhill. I stopped at a small pond that for some reason did not look familiar. After taking some pictures, I continued on the trail, which looked faint, sketchy, and even less familiar than the unfamiliar pond. Out came the GPS and I ascertained I had walked past the intersection with the trail leading to Timpanogas Lake. A slight backtrack was executed and I  soon found myself on familiar trail again.

Incoming bad weather
By now, clouds had scudded over and blotted out the sun. A breeze picked up and the temperature began dropping faster than a roller coaster in free fall. The predicted snowstorm was arriving, although any precipitation at this point was just raindrops here and there. After I consumed lunch and a small bottle of wine at the trailhead while slapping at mosquitoes, Edwin and John showed up and we quickly hightailed it out of there. They had made it to Cowhorn Mountain but then decided to turn back without summitting the craggy peak because the wind had picked up and it was uncomfortably cold. Despite the not so-summery hiking conditions, it felt good to be back in the Cascades after the long winter layoff.

Timpanogas Lake, as the storm rolled in
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Jack-Ash Trail

Regular readers (if there are any) of my blog will have duly noted that I have a new love-affair going, the object of my affections being the East Applegate Ridge Trail (ART). Ambitious in scope, the ART will hopefully connect Grants Pass and Jacksonville via hiking trail. However, there is a companion to the ART project in the Jack-Ash Trail, whose ambition is to connect Jacksonville and Ashland via another dirt trail for hikers. To hike the two trails would be an epic backpack trip, although water is in short supply along the trail. Anyway, I've hiked and fallen in love with the first installment of the ART but had not yet hiked the first installment on the Jack-Ash Trail. Well, it was about time!

Spotted coralroot
Lane is due to lead a hike here so we headed down south to perform a scouting foray for his upcoming hike. Medford hiking buddy Glen joined us so we were three Jack-Ashnees out for a first-time hike, always an exciting venture. Sad to say though, the dirt road leading to the trailhead was lined with trash. I'm shocked but unfortunately, not really surprised at the depravity of low-lifes who think it's OK to dump their garbage on public lands instead of paying the landfill fee. I'd love to pick up the garbage and re-dump it inside their squalid homes but enough ranting, we have a hike to do.

What a pair of Jack-Ashes!
The original plan was to start at the Griffin Gap Trailhead but the "trail" between Griffin Gap and Greenstone Trailhead (the next trailhead in line) was the very same gravel road we had driven up on. So we hopped back into the car and decamped at Greenstone, eager to set foot on this brand new trail with signs already shot up by some target-practice cretins.

Star-flowered Solomon's seal
The well-marked trail soon put uncivilization behind us and we strolled through grassy meadows underneath an uncrowded stand of tall fir trees. In the grass were blooming clumps of Siskiyou iris, along with other flowers such as salmon polemonium and star-flowered Solomon's seal. All of us were camera-toting Jack-Ashers so the hiking was stop-and-go depending what was catching the interest of who's viewfinder. Our attention was pulled from meadows, trees, and flowers by occasional hints of the surrounding Siskiyou Mountains. The views of the mountains would definitely improve later on in the hike.

A happy sign!
We hiked steadily up through the woods and meadows, basically contouring around Anderson Butte. When we crested at a saddle west of the butte, a sigh enticed, I mean warned us of a narrow trail with rocky outcrops and my thought was "be still, my beating heart, I'm in love!" At the crest, all the nice shade stopped and we began a sidehill traverse on the south-facing and exposed sunny slopes of Anderson Butte. The terrain dropped steeply away at our feet, bottoming out at the Little Applegate River.

The views impressed 
Without saying, the lack of trees allowed for some impressive views of the nearby Siskiyous. A prominent peak rose up on the other side of the Little Applegate canyon, I theorized the peak might have been Scraggy Mountain but an at-home perusal of an area map showed we were looking right at Stein Butte. The larger peaks of the Siskiyou crest were more easily identified: Kangaroo Mountain, the Red Buttes, and Grayback Mountain, just to name-drop a few. Closer to our hill-hugging trail were a pair of forested ridges separating Gulches Muddy, Deming, and Grub.

The mid-day heat had enticed all the bluebelly lizards to caper and frolic on the aforementioned rock outcrops and they watched us pass by, comically doing push-ups like little scaly Arnold Schwarzeneggers. A whole new cast of flowery characters were blooming in the drying grasses and spring azure butterflies had their choice of sipping nectar from California poppies, western flax, fiddlenecks, ookow, farewell-to-spring, and elegant cat's ear. Although, I don't think sipping nectar from a cat's ear would be all that elegant, but then again, I'm not a butterfly and don't have butterfly tastes.

Stein Butte on the horizon
After a mile and a half of angling downhill across Anderson Butte, we arrived at a trailhead with the obvious name of Anderson Butte Trailhead and that was a good place to seek shade, sit down, eat lunch, and deliver a constant stream of bad jokes and atrocious puns from two of us. If it's any consolation Glenn, Lane and I are sorry. All our friends...well, people who know us... offer their condolences. On an interesting side note, there was a register at the trailhead and the noted hiking guidebook author William Sullivan had been here the day prior. But at any rate, after a nice bit of relaxation, it was time to head back the way we came.

Glenn and Lane clear the path of ticks
Because we had lost elevation since the west-facing saddle on Anderson Butte, it stood to reason it would be all uphill to the saddle. But really, it wasn't too bad, we'd only gain a mere 200 feet over the 1.5 miles back to the high point of the hike. Lane and I had wanted to hike this trail earlier in the year but had to scratch due to snow, which was nigh impossible to imagine as we hiked in bare naked sunshine. But at least it wasn't as hot as it can get in the Siskiyou foothills, and for that we were grateful.

Pretty faces
It is possible to make a nice little 8 mile hike by leaving cars at Anderson Butte Trailhead and at Griffin Lane. Apart from the 1.5 mile section of uphill hike that we just did, it would be all downhill for the next 6.5 miles or so, the very antithesis of a Richard Hike. But if we were to hike it in the opposite direction however, my hiking friends (assuming I have any) might refer to me as a Jack-Ash and not in the good way, either.

I want a T-shirt with this logo
For more photos of this new trail, please visit the Flickr album.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Point Reyes Backpack

Roughly about 20 miles north of San Francisco, the 800-mile long San Andreas Fault disappears into the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes. Over time and innumerable earthquakes, the San Andreas created a rift zone that has sort of peeled Point Reyes away from the rest of California. As long as the iconic point remains attached to California though, there will be hikers and backpackers traipsing on the many trails networking across the wooded ridges and rugged coast. However, I'm glad to report that thankfully, there were no earthquakes during our three-day visit to Point Reyes and for the time being, the point still remains firmly attached to California.

Light as a feather!
Lane and I had recently taken an REI class on ultralight backpacking and after applying our newly gained knowledge, both our packs weighed slightly more than twenty pounds each. Give those two students a golden sticky star and an A+ each! Brad joined us for what was his first backpack trip ever, and we removed about ten pounds of gear that left him toting nearly forty pounds up and down the steep trails of Point Reyes National Seashore. That student should have received an F but despite the heavier weight, he hiked tirelessly at thrice the speed of Lane and I. Of course, Lane and I were each carrying extra weight that was not pack load, if you get my midriff meaning.

Day 1

Hikes begin with but a single step
We started out from Bear Valley Visitor Center, which was a very active place on Memorial Day weekend. Day hikers abounded and we three backpackers were soon overtaken by six-year old children and arthritic grandmothers. Well, two of us were passed up, to be accurate. Brad was pretty much a rumor somewhere ahead of Lane and I.

A small creek flows under a bridge
and Shadow Man approves
I figured that Point Reyes would provide some awesome wild coast scenery but I certainly did not expect the luxuriously shaded forest that we would encounter on the point. All that coastal fog filtering through tree leaves keeps things moist and as a result, the forests were remarkably lush and verdant. The day would have also been hot but for the cool, refreshing air stirring underneath the trees.

Brad disappears on the Glen Camp Trail
The Bear Valley Trail was in actuality a well-maintained gravel road that angled gently to a meadow on a forested pass. Once the pass was crested, the road descended at an equally gradual rate. Hey, this is going to be easy! Like that would ever happen! Sure enough the Glen Camp Trail wasted no time charging uphill to Glen Camp through some dense forest. The trail was a real path, no more easy gravel road for us, and we toiled up the trail, wondering how a twenty-two pound pack could suddenly feel so heavy. 

It's not California without poppies
Eventually, the trail leveled out before joining up with another gravel road that would descend down to the coast. The grade was gradual at first but before long, we were plunging downward at a pretty good rate of descent. The closer we got to the coast, the less trees there were, and we were soon feeling the California sun.

Psst! Got peanuts?
Wildcat Camp was a grassy rectangle atop a coastal bluff, and a primitive runway bordered the actual campsite area. Hopefully, no planes would taxi down the runway while we were sleeping. The camp had running water and vault toilets, which were more luxurious amenities than we were normally accustomed to.

Double Point lies at the south end of Wildcat Beach
After setting up camp while blue jays and quail begged for handouts, we walked to nearby Wildcat Beach. At the beach, a small creek zigzagged to and fro before becoming one with the ocean. The beach was bordered by two craggy points: Millers Point to the north and Double Point to the south. The beach is popular with the day-hiking crowd and frisbees were flying and soccer balls were being kicked back and forth. We just sat in the sand, idly watching the waves and generally taking it easy as the day inexorably headed toward late afternoon.

Day slips into night

Our camp was atop a coastal bluff and we walked to the cliff's edge and watched the sunset show. The sun slowly sank, imbuing all with a warm orange glow before sinking into the ocean with an imaginary hiss. A heron waded along the shore, his feet disappearing in the golden shimmering waters of the sea. As soon as the sun sank, a full moon rose from behind a ridge and on that celestial note, we crawled into our tents and went to sleep.

 Day 2

Dawning of a new day
Day 2 dawned bright and sunny, with just a touch of mist in the air. Remember that steep drop down to Wildcat Beach? We did, because that steep drop was now a steep hike out. Basically, we'd gain almost 1,000 feet in just over a mile, a prodigious rate of ascent that had hearts racing and lungs heaving in short order.

It was a steep hike away from Wildcat Camp
We'd be on the Coast Trail for most of the day, and it was a real trail that continued to climb up and over a wooded ridge. Fortunately, all the bad uphill ended after a mile and a half and we enjoyed the leveling out, especially as the path parted a meadow consisting of chest-high brush. Regrettably a poison-oak branch whipped my neck pretty good and left a red mark as I hiked through what I thought was just tall lupine bushes next to the trail. I couldn't get to the wet-wipes fast enough but I'm glad to report all my frantic scrubbing paid off in that no itchy rash ever appeared.

Path on the edge of the world
So, after a moment of horror inspired by poison oak, it was back to the fun part of hiking. The trail gradually descended across the slopes of the mountain range we'd been hiking up and over. The lush forests of yesterday were just a distant memory as there was nothing but golden grasses and wildflowers swaying in the sea breeze. 

We really appreciated the occasional shady parts
Of course, the lack of trees allowed for some epic views of the rugged California coast arcing towards Point Reyes, unseen and hidden by a layer of mist. Rock islands dotted the brilliantly blue ocean and we could see miles and miles of Coast Trail undulating atop the rocky cliffs that marked the edge of California. Periodically, the trail would head inland to cross a creek, providing a shade break or two that was greatly appreciated.

A quail sentry warns the others
Along the trail, giant eucalyptus trees reached for the sky and we gawked like the Oregonian rubes we were. California quails chirped in the underbrush and the trail was flanked by California golden poppy and California blue-eyed grass blooming away, each item reminding us that we were strangers walking in a strange land. 

No shade today!
After nine-ish miles of hiking, Coast Camp came into view and it pretty much resembled Wildcat Camp: grassy and treeless. Comprised mostly of does with fawns in tow, deer were hanging out about the campground. Fortunately, none of the deer were interested in purloining my hiking poles. In a neighboring campsite, I was lucky enough to spot a ringtail fleeing our arrival and more on that critter in a bit.

Windblown surf at Coast Camp
Like the day before, we went down to a nearby beach but nearly had our skin taken off by sand driven by a brisk wind. It really was uncomfortable so we beat a retreat to our camp and eschewed the sunset show. The wind kept it up all night long, and I know I nervously watched my tent poles flex every which way with each strong gust, wondering if the tent would remain standing. It did.

Lane's shadow flees the fearsome ringtail
Lane was woken up by our ringtail friend who was trying to drag his pack away from inside the tent vestibule. I didn't know Lane's voice could go that high. Well, yes I did really, because I had heard that piercing screech once before when he espied a belligerent snake, but whether I had heard that sound once or twice, it really didn't matter. I didn't know that he had such an extensive vocabulary that can't be repeated in a G-rated hiking blog, either. At any rate, all packs were immediately stowed inside tents with their respective owners and the ringtail did not attempt another raid, probably because his ear drums had been ruptured by Lane's high-pitched shrieks and wails.

Day 3

Day 3 started out cold and foggy
Another day, another steep morning hike. What was different, however, were the weather conditions. Gone were the warm sun and blue sky, supplanted by the same gusty wind that had kept us awake all night. While we were trying to sleep, a cold mist and fog had padded in on silent cat feet. We raced through breakfast and taking down camp, wanting to get an early start while the temperature was cool and besides which, we still had a nine hour drive home waiting for us after the hike.

Lane and Brad trail in my wake

The trail du jour was the Fire Lane Trail and both Brad and I thought it was indeed a pretty good idea to fire Lane. And speaking of Brad, he had taken a few wrong turns during the first two days as he charged unsupervised ahead of us. Recognizing the importance of staying close to the person with the car keys, he brought up the rear on this day, hiking at Lane-and-Richard speed, impatiently restrained like the caged hiking beast he is.

A rough-skinned newt, also out for a hike

The Fire Lane Trail climbed relentlessly to a trail intersection and then things got rougher and steeper. The trail hadn't seen a lot of trail love recently and was badly overgrown with brush, much of it being of the poison oak variety. One plus to the vigorous growth were blackberry and salmonberry vines and bushes, and we partook of the fruit even though they weren't fully ripe yet. Poison oak has no berries and is not good to eat so we just left it alone. 

One of millions
Like a macabre scene from a B-grade horror movie, millions of black caterpillars crawled on the trail and on nearby bushes with branches stripped bare by the leaf-eating larval piranhas. When the hike was over, we were still plucking wormy hitchhikers off of clothing and backpacks. There were so many on the trail that unfortunately, caterpillars were harmed in the hiking of this hike. There was simply no way to avoid stepping on them.

Big ol' honkin' laurel trees
The trail re-entered a lush forest, crossed a gravel road, crested a broad wooded ridge, and then proceeded to go downhill for the last three miles. Life was good and downhill is not overrated. The forest on the east-facing slope of Mount Wittenberg was luxuriously green and teeming with vegetation. The path maundered through a stand of the largest laurel trees I've ever seen and the scent from the fragrant leaves was intoxicating. 

Trail, at the end of the trip
Eventually, the trail widened back into a gravel road which then morphed into a freshly mowed path through a pasture, all of that signalling a return to civilization and an end to our trek. On the plus side, there were clean clothes (clean underwear is awesome, just saying) waiting at the car. Plus-plus, there is also Mexican food to be found in civilization and we availed ourselves of the food of my people when we hit Petaluma. All in all, Point Reyes proved to be a most affable host and the three us were each impressed with our backpack experience there. Now, if I can only get my pack weight down to ten pounds!

The Three Ringtail-a-teers
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.