Saturday, May 29, 2021

Yellow Jacket Loop


Mrs. O'Neill and I have long had a fundamental philosophical disagreement about meadows. We both agree that meadows are a totally worthy destination for a hike, and that the combination of vibrant green vegetation and bright blue sky appeals to humans almost on an instinctual level. But she strongly disagrees with my assertion "Since meadows are so cool and awesome, what's wrong with having one in the back yard?" To the accompaniment of theatrical sighs and glowering looks, I was summarily issued an edict (with a menacing "Or else!" tacked on to the end of it) to mow that backyard jungle immediately upon my return from the hike on the Yellow Jacket Loop.

Michael and Chuck slog through a small grassy patch

Meadows are never mowed on the Yellow Jacket Loop and are the raison d'ĂȘtre for the hike. You'd never have known that on our first Yellow Jacket outing many years ago on a gray November day, where the erstwhile lush meadows were as brown and dry as a mummy's skin. No views, no green meadows, and not even any remaining autumn color; basically that hike was just six miles of exercise. While we both agreed the hike was just a tad bit better than doing six miles on a treadmill in the gym, overall we really weren't impressed with the Yellow Jacket. 

It was not uncommon to hike through patches of melting snow

We just needed to hike the Yellow Jacket at the proper time, which would have been either spring or autumn. Once our current backyard jungle dispute was resolved by my empty promise to mow it first thing upon my return, I revisited the Yellow Jacket with the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club. On a gorgeous spring day with nothing but blue sky overhead, we set out from Hemlock Lake by walking into a forest whose floor was carpeted with stately trillium flowers and patchy snowdrifts, both guaranteed to slow down a certain hiker armed with a camera.

There were trilliums by the trillions

Good thing the trilliums were so profuse, for they provided a nice distraction from the task at hand, which was chiefly walking up a brisk uphill trail for the first couple of miles. The forest was shady and large patches of snow dozed between the trees and blanketed the small creeks flanking the path. The snow was not very deep so we had no issues with trail-finding, and the snow did provide a modicum of refreshing refrigeration as we slogged ever upward.

A dilapidated trail sign near Dead Cow Lake

After a couple of miles, we hiked past a stagnant swamp that is overly dignified with the name of Dead Cow Lake (don't drink the water!). In hikes past, the swamp-cum-lake was easily visible but on this day, I did not see the grotty little mosquito hatchery. That means that either the "lake" has dried up, become overgrown with vegetation, or I am about as observant as a tinder fungus; all of which are distinct possibilities.

The rugged topography of the South Umpqua River basin

Whether the fetid body of water is seen or not by passing hikers, Dead Cow Lake marks the easing of the trail grade, and the next phase of the hike was an up-and-down ramble atop a forested ridge circling above Hemlock Lake. Meadows began to appear among the trees with increasing frequency, the open areas providing nice views of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide overlooking the rugged terrain of the South Umpqua River drainage. Beyond the Divide, the tip of snowy Mount McLaughlin presided over all its lesser peak brethren and sistren. Union Peak, Crater Lake Rim, Mount Bailey, and the peaks of the Seven Lakes Basin all made an appearance at different junctures of the hike.

Mild route-finding was required because of snow

As mentioned, snow did cover the trail but never impeded navigation. On the other hand, a fallen tree lying across the trail did. We walked around the tangle of broken branches, limbs, and tree trunks and resumed hiking on the path leading through the woods. It didn't seem right though and after a short 10-yard walk, I turned around to get my bearings and spotted a trail sign further in the woods in totally the opposite direction. The tree had fallen on the exact intersection of the Cavitt Mountain Tie-in Trail and the Yellow Jacket Loop. When we went around the tree, we picked up the (wrong) trail heading to Cavitt Mountain. I'm glad I caught that when I did!

Flat Rock presides over a strategically sited meadow

The aforementioned trail intersection was basically the highest elevation point of the hike and from here on in it was a steady descent through the famed meadows of the Yellow Jacket. Snow had mostly thawed out and just recently, so the meadows were as stubbly as a three-day beard on an unshaven chin. White-ish avalanche lilies and yellow glacier lilies flowered in the thawing snow's wake, aided and abetted by pink Oregon bleeding hearts and deep purple larkspurs. All of this reposed under a cobalt sky with views of the distant Cascades peaks. This is why we hike, boys and girls!

Boardwalk through the largest meadow of them all

The largest meadow of the bunch was also the last one, spanned by a wooden boardwalk. The melting snows of this meadow are the headwaters of Hemlock Creek and just past the boardwalk, the Hemlock Creek Trail forked ever so invitingly to the left. The meadow was gorgeous and if Mrs. O'Neill were here, she'd probably tell me to mow it. 

In about three weeks, the vegetation will be waist high or better

Speaking of mowing meadows, I lucked out. Turned out Mrs. O'Neill couldn't stand looking at flourishing Mother Nature in the backyard any longer and took it upon herself to raze it all down in my absence. Works for me, although it'd be nice if she would let me come inside the house anytime soon.

Trillium with bloodshot eyes

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

Friday, May 14, 2021

PCT (West from Soda Mountain TH to livestock pond)


Some niggling little health problems (I'm fine, thanks for asking!) predestined this overnight backpack trip in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to be a short one. However, despite the diminutive mileage, this hike was big in forests, scenery, and hugely epic (but not in a good way) when it came to weather conditions. Still, two out of three is a passing grade and I could have always stayed home to file my crusty old toenails. 

Look, a hiker, let's get him!

When I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders at the trailhead, the sky was blue, the temps were mild, and all was bathed in bright sunlight despite a looming bank of baby thunderhead clouds parked several safe miles to the east. Perfect conditions for hiking in and you'd never suspect bad weather could become an issue on this hike, but such is Oregon weather and keep on reading, dear readers of mine.

Not all the snow had yet melted off

May is, in my humble opinion, the optimal time to visit the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. The small mountain range of the Monument bridges the gap between the Siskiyous and Cascades mountain ranges and the whole vibe is at turns, either or neither or both Cascade and Siskiyou in terms of vegetation, climate, and geology. In about a month or so, the terrain will brown out due to the aridity of the area, the dried out hellebore meadows then rattling in the summer breeze like thousands of cackling witches. But in May, the snows have not completely melted, the forests are damp, the mountains are cloaked in a green blanket of lush vegetation, and wildflowers put on a show for camera-toting backpackers.

After the storm

The Pacific Crest Trail bisects the Soda Mountain Wilderness, a wilderness preserve set within the Monument's boundary. In the Wilderness, the forest was cool, dark, and shady while a virtual army of marching trilliums bloomed on the forest floor, if thousands of elegant flowers could be accurately described as a marching army. Maybe that's not an apt descriptor but it would not be the first time I babbled or dabbled in inept metaphors. At any rate, there were lots of white trilliums blooming, with bluish Oregon anemone and nodding glacier lilies playing a significant supporting role.

Avalanche lilies were everywhere

Periodically, the trail would break out of the forest and onto open slopes that tended to be somewhat on the rocky side. On either side of the trail sprawled huge meadows with nubs of sprouting hellebore being just a few inches tall. A byproduct of the open meadows or rocky slopes were expansive views of Bear Creek Valley with Mount Ashland dominating the skyline and crest of the Siskiyou Mountains. Snow had been here until just recently, evidenced by the sprouting hellebore and rampant patches of avalanche lilies, the dangling star-shaped flowers pointing face-down toward the ground, which was still wet and muddy thanks to the recently thawed snow.

The water pond and yes, I drank the water


In one of the meadows, there is a small livestock pond that is an important water source for PCT hikers as water gets to be in very short supply in August, when the through-hikers pass through Oregon on their way to Canada. Camping near the pond was a little problematic because the soil was wet and mushy during my initial search for a camping spot. However, a long and broad meadow extended north and I set up camp on the meadow's edge, with an awesome view of the valleys and mountains dropping and rising from my campsite as my reward.

Larkspur inhabited the meadows, too

The low grasses were chock full of short flowers, notably those of larkspur and the ever plentiful avalanche lily. When not crawling on my hands and knees in my never-ending quest for the perfect wildflower photo, I spent time at the edge of the meadow, admiring the view as the day waned into late afternoon. But clouds rolled in overhead and the day went dark while a gusty breeze began to shake trees and tent alike. Yet, looking north and west, Medford, Ashland, and Mount Ashland were enjoying a sunny day while I was having to unfairly contend with ever increasingly belligerent weather.

Rain cometh, it has been foretold

The weather continued to turn and the light clouds turned as dark and oppressive as a pessimist in a bad mood. The breeze increased in velocity and I was having to restake my tent every now and then as bellicose air currents worked the stakes loose from the very soft soils of the meadow. Soon a nonstop pitter-patter of raindrops on my hat brim announced the change from intermittent shower to out-and-out rain. Yet, the sky to the north was tinting yellow and orange as sunset drew nigh while I was stuck on my meadow having to endure the elements.

Strange weather over Emigrant Lake

Tired of getting wet, I retired early, listening to the soothing sound of rain on my tent. Not so soothing however, was the rumble of distant thunder. In short order, I could see flashes of lightning and discerned the lightning was fairly far away, for I could count up to five before the thunder arrived. Pretty soon though, I couldn't even count up to one and if I closed my eyes, I could see the veins in my eyelids every time the lightning flashed. And that thunder was loud too, each boom starting in the left ear and finishing in the right like an Airbus A380 from Hell dive-bombing my puny tent from east to west.

Sunset at the same time as the hail
storm was pummeling my tent

The staccato noise of the rain on my tent fly suddenly changed in tenor and intensity. Those raindrops were now fat and heavy and I stuck my head outside of my tent to see the latest weather wonder. What fresh new Hell was this? Instead of rain, my tent was being pelted by heaviest hailstorm ever. I almost said "Well, at least it's not large-sized hail!" but managed to catch myself before that thought was uttered out loud. Because the wind insisted on working my tent stakes loose, the tent's roofline sagged a bit and the hail began collecting in the dip. Removing hail off of the tent was added to my list of weather-related duties. Yet, while hail accumulated on and around the tent, light from a beautiful sunset over Mount Ashland was slanting into my eyes. Weird.

The next day was like "Rainstorm? Lightning? Hail? Really?"

The hail lasted about an hour and a half and the whole storm about five hours in duration. But eventually and for no reason at all, all went quiet as if the Supreme Storm Master had capriciously flipped the "OFF" switch just because she could. The peace and quiet were most welcome and I then fell into a relaxing slumber that was probably more exhausted stupor than sleep. The next day dawned bright and near cloudless, making for a nice and easy hike out while at the same time, reminding me I had definitely picked the wrong evening for my first backpack trip this year. 

Right outside my tent door

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

Friday, May 7, 2021

Bandon Beach (Face Rock to New River)


Late one night, I found myself mindlessly perusing YouTube videos and somehow got onto the subject of sneaker waves. I sort of consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject because I've had the dubious pleasure of running from the sly surf many a time, with the outcome being uncertain in several of those mad sprints. I can state from experience that sneaker waves really are that sneaky, they look just like normal waves until you realize too late that what looks like a normal wave just keeps coming and coming. Anyway, watching videos of people getting chased by sneaker waves made me want to go hike at the coast. Weird, but then again, that's me.

The coast is calling and I must go...

The basic plan was to hike on Bandon Beach from the Face Rock Viewpoint to the New River and back. High tide was cresting at the start of the hiking festivities, so from here on in the tide would be waning and I'd be less likely to have to flee any would-be sneaker waves like a lumbering pregnant rhinoceros. Despite it being high tide, it was not overly high, leaving me plenty of beach available to hike on.

The still formidable remains of the morning storm

I had driven to Bandon in a miserable rainstorm which did not augur well for today's outing. However, the storm broke up shortly before my arrival at the trailhead and it wound up being a mostly sunny day on the beach. But a large wall of clouds, remainders of the morning storm, piled up menacingly above the town of Bandon all day. Likewise, a cute little cloud bank formed and re-formed just out over the ocean but never migrated from that spot. Both cloud banks were a favored photography subject throughout the day.

Rock gossip "She thinks her barnacles make her SO special!"

Bandon Beach is spectacularly adorned with islands, rocks, and sea stacks piled up in acute jumblage and the scenery attracts beachgoers the world over. But hike south for a bit, you then pretty much have the beach to yourself, not counting gulls, oystercatchers, and twittering flocks of sanderlings. Once you hike past the end of Bandon, then it's nothing but a beach in its natural and wild state for the next 20ish miles, of which I'd only be hiking about 4 of those miles.

China Creek weaves its way to the ocean

After the first mile or so of hiking, Bandon Beach showed me its Johnson. The first of three creeks requiring a wet ford across was Johnson Creek, well engaged in every creek's quest to join forces with the ocean. Next up and maybe a mile further was Crooked Creek, which really was crooked as it sashayed across the beach. Last but not least was China Creek, which was likewise snaking its way across the sands. Needless to say, boots got wet on this hike.


Haystack Rock and island friends

Just past the Devils Kitchen area, whose name reminds me I need to brew up another batch of salsa, the fantastic island scenery recedes behind as one hikes south, with looming Haystack Rock being the last of the islands large enough to have a name. Flocks of seagulls floated around the imposing monolith topped with green vegetation while waves broke against the island in futility. These islands are part and parcel of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and no doubt serve as rookery for the oceanic waterfowl population. 

Nothing but empty beach lies ahead

Once past Haystack Rock, it was just a handful of much smaller rocky islands stranded on the beach by the receding tide, with each island or rock formation being smaller than the preceding one. And then just like that, it was nothing but soft sandy beach with no rocks at all, just miles of wet sand glistening in the mid-day sunlight. Lane, Dale, and I backpacked this stretch of wild coast several years ago and came to hate hiking in the soft sand but loved the coastal scenery.

The New River gracefully curves across the sands

At just under the four-mile mark, the New River hove into view. The river looked more like creek as it was roughly the same size as China Creek and was an easy splash across. While the river was not that large, the vast expanse of bare sand at the river's mouth was an indicator that this river does carry plenty of water in winter. The mouth of the river is migrating north and was about three miles from where the map said it should be. In fact, when I've been here before, the New reached the sea at the confluence of the New and Twomile Creek. However, today Twomile Creek was nowhere to be found so presumably the New has migrated further north since my last visit, proving that a large river can go anywhere it wants to.

The tide was quite low on the hike back

After lunch on a large driftwood log at the river's edge, I went upstream (searching for Twomile Creek) along the graceful bends of the sinuous river. I ran into one lone hiker and we were both a little surprised to have company at this lonely place. And from there, it was a 4'ish mile walk back at waterline toward the rock formations of Bandon Beach and the relative throngs of admirers thereof. The ocean had drawn way back because of the low tide, creating a maze of sandy walkways between the islands, allowing for exploration of tide pools and such.

Kind of hard for waves to sneak up on me today!

Well, because of the waning tide, I did not have to make any mad dashes to safety, as there had been no sneaker waves sneaking up on me. I was most grateful for that, as well as for hiking on our beautiful Oregon coast on a sublimely beautiful day.

A small bank of puffy white clouds float just offshore

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

Friday, April 30, 2021

Takelma Gorge


Squeeze the atoms and they get excited. And when atoms get excited, great things can happen. For instance, expanding gases within the narrow confines of a piston cylinder can move a car to a trailhead. Pinching atoms through a narrow nozzle can propel a rocket into the upper atmosphere and in the unfortunate case of Space-X, the same overly excited atoms can blow the whole thing up upon landing. Watch Cousin Fred stuff himself into his cycling shorts and you realize some excited atoms are much more useful than others. And moving on from poor Cousin Fred, force a placid river into a narrow defile and you get a seething white-watered maelstrom of riverine ire. And that leads us to today's topic about hiking along the Rogue River and Takelma Gorge, and here you were all hoping I'd spew more prose about Cousin Fred and the miracle fabric that is Spandex!

British soldiers stand at attention

You'd never know an angry river would be part of this hike, judging by the scene at the Woodruff Bridge Trailhead. Initially the river was as serene as a contemplative monk in a state of bliss. The surface was smooth and if we weren't in the shadows and if the day hadn't been cloudy, the river would have reflected the scenery back at us with all the aplomb of a master painter. So much peace and tranquility reigned in the bucolic woods, I nearly wanted to fold my legs up into the lotus position and meditate, but then I'd have to call 911 to come unfold me. Besides which, a sudden explosion of fur and hooves from a stampeding elk rudely disrupted my harmonious ponderings about peace and tranquility in the forest. The atoms in my lower intestinal tract became "elk-cited" too, like a poor man's version of a SpaceX rocket but without the subsequent explosion upon touchdown.

Newborns

I've hiked on this trail many times and always, the vine maples have been one of the main attractions apart from the river and gorge. In spring or summer, the galaxy of leaves overhead imbue the very air with a soft green glow. In autumn, forget the green because it's all brilliant orange, gold, and red when the foliage set off their annual arboreal fireworks show of autumnal color. But in late April, the vine maples just kind of look at me, yawn a disinterested "Meh!", and go back to sleep. Although a few leaves were emerging, the pleated folds somewhat resembling a Spanish fan, mostly the trees were twiggy, bare, and bereft of any leaves.

Trillium matriarch (or patriarch)

So, while the vine maples said it was still winter, the trilliums were not in agreement. A healthy population of the elegant tri-petaled flowers were profusely abloom on the forest floor. Beetles and flies were happily bathing in pollen contained within the flowers, their legs and antennae coated with fine yellow dust. The older and more mature trilliums were turning various shades of pink, maroon, or magenta. So, according to the vine maples and trillium it was neither winter nor spring but somewhere in between or both at the same time,

The Rogue undergoes a personality change here

After a mile or so of a relaxing hike alongside the languid river, things began to change. The river picked up speed, practicing for its upcoming gorge run. Rapids formed with increasing rapidity and the river was now making noise. I too may have been making some noise but definitely was not picking up speed. There were a number of large fallen trees spanning the river as well as several others stranded on small islands or shoals in the current, all in mute testimony that the river (just like me!) is not always as easygoing as it likes to make itself out to be.

Entrance into Takelma Gorge

Takelma Gorge was formed eons ago when lava flowed across the landscape. A river is not to be denied and after patient probing, the persistent Rogue River found a small crack in the lava and then wormed itself into the soft ashy underbelly beneath. The volcanic ash was then easily eroded until the small crack became much larger Takelma Gorge, where the differing strata of lava and ash are clearly visible on the gorge's walls. The gorge begins where the river makes a sharp turn at a rock formation I call "The Fishhook" and from a clifftop vantage point, one can stare straight down a hundred-yard length of the gorge itself.

The river eventually disappears from sight in the gorge

The trail generally stays level while the river loses elevation so the net effect is that the river drops out of sight somewhere down in the bottom of the chasm. It can still be heard though, complaining vociferously about the claustrophobic conditions in the gorge. For the next mile or so, the canyon scenery was stunning and I periodically left the trail to photograph things from the edge (but not too near the edge, I do want to see my 65th birthday, after all!). And after that display of geologic awesomeness mixed with self-righteous hydrologic fury, the Rogue River exited the gorge and returned to its natural peaceable state of enlightened contemplation.

Newly minted dogwood blossom

On the hike's return leg, my own little enlightened contemplation was rent asunder when a startled deer, no doubt surprised by my incredibly handsome arrival, burst out across the trail and got my intestinal atoms agitated all over again. While the deer disturbed my commune with the overtly calm environs of the Rogue River flowing above the gorge, the deer was still a more preferable sight than Cousin Fred and his cycling shorts.

It's all a matter of perspective

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



Thursday, April 22, 2021

Buck Rock Tunnels


Hey, I wet the bed last night! No, not THAT wetting of the bed! After I received my second Covid-19 vaccination, the following day was spent feeling ill, feverish, and generally sorry for myself. Sometime in the middle of the night though, the fever apparently broke, leaving bed and blankets soaked with cold and clammy perspiration, or at least I hope it was cold and clammy perspiration! It's so ironic that a vaccine designed to keep you from getting sick has to make you sick to keep you from getting sick. On the plus side, the ordeal left me feeling peppy, energetic, and as upbeat as an optimist on mood enhancers, which in turn directly led to my lacing up my boots the following morning at a primitive trailhead in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Lichen adorns a standing tree trunk

The Buck Rock Tunnels began life in 1883 when the Oregon and California Railroad began excavating both ends of a tunnel through Buck Rock as part of an intended rail route up and over Siskiyou Pass. Just a year later in 1884, the railroad company had exhausted its capital (boy, can I relate!) and the project was abandoned, leaving behind two tunnels that will never meet in the middle. Nowadays, the tunnels make for the endpoints of a nice and short 5'ish mile hike to the historical tunnel entrances. The east tunnel is partially collapsed but the west tunnel is in pretty good shape and naturally, is a more logical and oft-visited destination.

The trails are mostly on old jeep roads

Before it became a monument, the area was crisscrossed with a braiding network of jeep roads. Flash forward to post-monument designation, the roads have since been co-opted into hiking trails. It's a good thing too, for poison oak absolutely thrives in the area and the wide roads keep the pernicious itch-giver well away from my bare legs and arms. However, the quality of the roads comprising today's route was not always that great and on occasion the roads degenerated into faint single-track paths through grassy swales and meadows.

Ceanothus perfumed the trail and called in the bees

At the start, the road gently angled upwards through what initially was scratchy ceanothus blooming away in mad profusion, perfuming the trail and calling in all bees. Representing the tree end of things were scraggly oaks just beginning to put out leaf buds. Before long, the trail entered a shady forest comprised of madrone, big-leaf maple, cedar, and other conifers. Despite the greenery surrounding the trail, the whole vibe felt kind of dry and no doubt, it can get quite warm here in the summer. 

Typical forest scenery on this hike

I thought I had the place to myself but a rustling in the undergrowth caught my attention. I just managed to get a glimpse of a large grayish mammal slinking through the brush, about the size of a medium-sized dog, trailing a bushy tail that resembled that of a squirrel. But this was no squirrel, it was too large. At the end of this hike, I ran into the only other person I'd see today, a fellow hiker who was a Monument regular and she speculated I had seen a groundhog. I had been guessing maybe a raccoon but who knows, I just did not get a good look at the critter fleeing into the brush.

Epic view to Peak 6678

After a mile or so, the old road broke out onto an open slope surrounded by low growing chaparral, and a nice view of the valley created by creeks Carter and Hill was had. The Old Siskiyou Highway could be seen snaking its way up the valley floor up to Siskiyou Summit. On the other side of the valley loomed Peak 6678, mottled with dark forest and some small snow patches, while toy trucks labored up I-5, the freeway traversing the peak's slopes while also on its way to Siskiyou Summit.

Follow this gully up to the west tunnel entrance

Despite the aridity of the terrain, there were several seeps and springs when the trail re-entered the shady forest. The relative humidity and coolness was invigorating and no doubt the local wildlife appreciate the life-giving aspects of the small pools of water just off trail. At a dry gully, somebody had made a trail arrow out of some rocks and the gully would be the route up to the west tunnel entrance. As an aside, there are no trail signs at what turned out to be plenty of intersections so as always, bringing a map is really a good idea

Free hugs inside!

An obvious path in the gully led to the tunnel entrance, the black portal appearing dark and mysterious in the forest. Ignoring the low growl emanating from the inky blackness of the tunnel, I went in for a look see. Of course, I am kidding about the growling, the tunnel was fairly benign and free of trolls, bears, lions, deer, or any other hiker-eating creatures of the night. It was dark though, the only light (besides my flashlight) being that spilling into the tunnel from the entrance. The walking part of the tunnel ended at a shelf that really ended after a short crawl where a certain lone hiker was heard to utter "Well, the Buck stops here!" After a quick exploration of the tunnel, I headed back out to daylight, blinking myopically in the bright sunlight like the pallid cave creature I am, and resumed my journey. 

The upper route was more open

It is possible to continue on to the eastern tunnel entrance and I'm sort of kicking myself a bit for not doing so. However, I'm still taking it easy from the hernia surgery and was still feeling a bit peckish from the vaccine fallout so I opted to return from the west trailhead by taking a loop that climbed up fairly close to the Buck Rock Summit, and was glad I did.

Nothing but scratchy ceanothus and ticks at the high point

The trail went through a forest that transitioned from trees to swaths of scratchy and thorny ceanothus, the aromatic blooms attracting bees and butterflies alike. The rough track crested on a ridge before dropping through a series of grassy meadows where the trail at times went somewhat faint but still remained followable. There were great views to the north and east and the simple activity of admiring Tom Spring Mountain, Greensprings Mountain, and Grizzly Peak kept me adequately entertained on the descent. Bear Creek Valley sprawled well below with Emigrant Lake notably not containing all that much water. 

I don't like to see wildfire smoke

While the scenery was cool and all that, my attention was drawn to Peak 6628 and Wagner Butte, for wildfire smoke was clearly boiling up from behind. Last summer, the Alameda Fire catastrophically burned up Bear Creek Valley, immolating and vaporizing huge swaths of the towns of Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix so we are all a little sensitive about fires these days. However, the aforementioned only other hiker I ran into told me what we were looking at was a prescribed burn so not to worry. But still...

Tom Springs Mountain, to the northeast

So, this was my first time hiking on this trail and I enjoyed the experience. I don't think you'd want to do this when summer heats up though, but for now it was fine. I think I'll definitely come back because after looking at a map of the area post-hike, there is an old road that circumnavigates Buck Rock and that would be a worthier seven to eight mile hike, plus you can also access the eastern tunnel by doing so. In the meantime, I'll try to avoid accruing another hernia, or receiving another vaccine shot and will continue working myself back into hiking trim.

Shooting stars doing their shooting thing

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