Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Rogue River Trail

I was sort of playing hooky from work (although it's not really playing hooky if you have permission from your employer) and joined friends John, Jennifer, Lindsay, and Penny on a mid-week hike. This was the day after the 2018 mid-term elections and already the sonic space that had previously been filled up with toxic political ads was blissfully quiet. Given our politics these days, the reflexive cacophony will soon resume, the relative silence being fleeting and ephemeral. Just a thought: Let's suppose I am going to vote for Candidate A. At the halftime break of a Portland Timber's game, while I'm assembling a taco in the kitchen, a commercial runs and the narrator says with snark and condescension dripping off of every hanging syllable, "Candidate A: Bad for you, bad for America". Am I supposed to think to myself "Wow, I had no idea Candidate A was bad for me, thanks for letting me know!. And bad for America too? Why, I'd be unpatriotic if I voted for him or her so I'm switching to Candidate B!" Does that ever really happen? And what happens to my vote when next I see an anti-Candidate B ad? Yeesh, my mind yearns for more intelligent discussion and a world with no election ads of any sort.

A photographic metaphor for elections
Speaking of more intelligence, we were out hiking on the Rogue River Trail. The trail showed signs of recent use but not by people avoiding election commercials. Nope, the frequent piles of dark black/purple poop evidenced fitness-oriented bears also enjoy hiking on the cliffs above the Rogue River. Or maybe they were expressing in their own bear way, their opinion of all the "Vote for Smokey" ads. Not that I am a poop connoisseur or poopologist, but many of the piles were seemingly just a few minutes old and answered the age old question "Do bears poop in the woods?", the answer being "No, but they do poop on the trail!" At any rate, I'm glad to report that no live bears were encountered by live hikers on this hike. I daresay there'd be a few more piles of poop on the path if that were that to happen.

The mountains were mist-covered
before the morning burn-off
It was a chill morning but the day was mostly sunny. The tall peaks surrounding the river all had their noses up in the clouds but after a mile or so of hiking, the clouds had burned off. The river was running a dark green but still had a little silt due to the rains from the week prior. The air had that pre-winter snap to it and we all hiked in jackets, despite the sun.

A weak sun filters through the trees
I tend to hike this trail in the early spring so it was a little surprising to see the small tributary creeks either dried up or just barely trickling, Sunlight trickled through the maze of tree leaves and branches arching over the trail, illuminating some of the autumnal-colored leaves and warming the hearts of hikers, if not their actual bodies.

The iPads of yore

We hiked as far as the historic Whiskey Creek Cabin where we took in the artifacts and rusting mining equipment surrounding the rustic abode. After the cursory visit to the backwoods museum, we plopped down in cool sand by the river at Whiskey Creek Camp. Jennifer, John, Lindsay, and I had all previously hiked full 40 mile length of the Rogue River Trail, and we regaled Penny with tales of our respective ventures, some of which were surely embellished.

Madrones, with some winter fur
Penny and I were both taking photographs and we soon lagged behind the front three of our small group. But hey. the river was ensconced deep in it's canyon with tranquil pools that reflected nicely in the shade, and each pool just had to be photographed. The big-leaf maples still had yellow leaves hanging off their limbs, further adding to our lagging behind.

Candidates A and B
After taking photos of everything we could think of, which included bear poop, we eventually arrived at the trailhead and our patiently waiting comrades, It had been a pleasant day and we all averred we had enjoyed the chilly weather, if only for the rare sunlight between rainy days. As we left the parking area, we spotted some goat creatures that for some reason, reminded me of Candidate B.  At least the they didn't bleat "Vote for me-e-e-e-...!"

I'm likin' the lichen
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

North Umpqua Trail - Panther and Mott Segments

On a hike several years ago, our group was debating whether to return or continue on for a more lengthy and arduous hiking endeavor. One of our hikers said "Is it farther? Is it steeper? Good, then I will hike it!" Those are good words to live by but not everybody agrees with me on that. That's why, on a recent hike I led for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club, it was most gratifying when all but two hikers opted to take the longer option on the North Umpqua Trail, which consisted of stringing together both the Panther and Mott segments of the 78 mile trail, affectionately referred to as the NUT. Yay all ye hikers, and a tip of the hat to the hiking newbies who dared to challenge themselves by hiking the full route.

Tiny mushroom sprouted on a fallen tree
It had been raining off and on all week, but fortunately this day was all off. It still was fairly brisk, though, the air had that cold snap that hinted at the coming winter. The forest was damp but the encroaching vegetation was not all that encroaching so there was no repeat of the leg-soaking that was an issue on my last hike. At least not the leg-soaking related to rain on shrubbery and I shall say no more on this subject. 

A hikin' we will go
Beginning at the eastern terminus of the Panther Segment, we wasted no time gaining elevation as the trail charged up a densely forested slope. The group quickly separated into two canps: athletic uber-hikers in the front and huffers and puffers bringing up the rear. Not totally uncoincidental, the two groups also were without and with cameras, respectively.

Just gotta hike uphill, always
The trail, once it gained peak elevation, then spent a lot of time going up and down; the net effect was that it felt like we were constantly walking uphill. You tend to pay more attention to the slope when your legs are burning with exertion. The North Umpqua River flowed several hundred feet or so below the trail but was only occasionally visible through the dense forest comprised mostly of Douglas fir with a thin interspersing of big-leaf maple and madrone.

I can still hear the swish of the
eaves as we walked through
There wasn't much in the way of leaf color but the trail still had that autumn vibe due to a thick blanket of maple leaves covering pretty much all of the ground on the forest floor. I can still hear the swish of dead leaves as we waded through the autumnal detritus.

Small creeks crossed the trail
Periodically, small streams would cross the trail and moss-covered rocky outcrops would flank the path on the uphill side. And always, ferns fought through the dead leaves to grace the trail with their ferny greenery. you might say this was a "frondly" hike for the Fronds of the Umpqua. I've got a million of them, folks.

The North Umpqua River, seen from its namesake trail
After several miles well above the river, the trail lost elevation, eventually winding up on the banks of the North Umpqua River. And that's where it would stay for the duration of the hike as we closed out the Panther Segment when the trail spit us out on the roadway over the historic Mott Bridge. As mentioned, everybody was feeling walky and willing to tack on another five miles by hiking the Mott Segment of the NUT.

Steamboat Falls
The Mott Segment is one of my favorite sections of the NUT, for virtually all of its five-ish miles are spent within close proximity of the river. With the recent run of rain, the river was swollen, alternating between tranquil and languid pools to seething and roiling rapids. Steamboat Falls, more wide than high, was putting on a show as it made a short drop into a series of noisy whitewatered chutes. 

Red-head in the forest

About halfway through the Mott, several hikers began walking slower and slower, feeling the unaccustomed miles on their legs. No problem, since I was leading from the rear anyway. Much of this segment was spent photographing lichen, moss, and mushrooms; all of which were found in ample quantities on trees both standing and fallen. Waxing professorial, I was able to show my newbies what a wild ginger, British Soldier, and a drum tree was.

Decaying leaves made bridges treacherous
There were several creeks crossing the trail, each big enough to warrant a footbridge across. The bridges were coated with decaying maple leaves which can be treacherously slippery. After admonishing my people to "walk like a penguin", I'm glad to report all hikers remained in an upright position as we carefully waddled across the bridges and boardwalks on the slippery boards.

Leaves upon leaves
The hike ended at the small campground at Wright Creek and we all gratefully hopped into automobiles full of that wonderfully warm air emanating from heater vents. All our newbies were suitably impressed with themselves at tossing off a ten-mile hike on their first attempt.

A zen garden of leaves and logs
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Castle Creek Trail

So, when I get behind in posting my hikes, I set up a skeleton post and type in a few words to help jog my memory for when I do get around to writing about the hike. Accordingly, on my last hike on the Oregon coast I typed in the notes:

Angry ocean, high surf warning
Got caught by a sneaker wave
Incoming storm

Fungi, reclaiming some of that
decaying biomass in the forest

Sounds like a moody poem or almost a haiku, except the number of syllables don't quite meet the definition of haiku. But after I wrote those memory-jogging notes to myself, I inadvertently pressed the "Publish" button and that dire and gloomy missive posted directly to my blog. I had no idea until several weeks later, Glenn and/or Carol asked me if I was OK and if I managed to outrun the wave and make it back safely home.

A day damp and dreary
My first inclination was to wax sarcastic and say "No, I was swept to sea as I was typing what you read. I couldn't finish because the ocean water ruined the laptop I always take with me when I hike, and besides which, I'm dead!" But because I generally try to mimic socially acceptable behavior, I instead thanked Glenn and/or Carol for their concern, and promptly deleted the very strange blog post.

Water drops, just waiting to soak my legs
Now, there are several ways to look at this situation. First, only one person follows my blog and cares about me. Or, many people follow my blog but only one person cares about me. Or, that person follows my blog and since he and/or she waited a couple of weeks to perform a welfare check, he and/or she doesn't care about me at all but does have a delayed morbid curiosity. Things to ponder, to be sure, but the one truth in all this is that there is not much point in having a blog if you are not going to blog in it so here we go about my hike on the Castle Creek Trail, located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. Right now, as I type this, it is early February and this hike was done in late October. I do have some catching up to do now, don't I?

Trail through a slightly singed forest
I had hiked the Castle Creek Trail several years ago and the trail was faint and sketchy back then. After several years of neglect and after a large forest fire swept through the area in the smoky summer of 2017, I harbored no expectations of following a wide and well-maintained trail. Not surprisingly, my low expectations coincided exactly with the sketchy and overgrown reality on the ground.

The forest was quiet...too quiet
One surprise though, was that while the fire (part of the North Umpqua Complex Fires) singed the trees and cleared out the underbrush, the forest was pretty much left as it had been before the fire. In fact it was pretty hard to see in places whether a fire had actually been here or not. But it had, and already vegetation had robustly grown back over the trail, adding to one of the recurring themes of this hike.

Plenty of opportunities to hone the
fine art of water-drop photography
It had rained on the drive up but it never would rain on me during the hike. However, the vegetation was soaked, and since the vegetation encroached the trail, water was then transferred from bush to hiker via the mechanism of wet hiking pants. On the positive side though, I got to practice and further hone my skills at photographing water drops on leaves.

Tried to see sunlight but I mist it

Besides my wet legs, one other overriding impression was how quiet it was in the forest. Normally, there is an aural backdrop of animals pitter-pattering and chitter-chattering, but not on this cold and damp day. The forest was quieter than a classroom during a vector calculus final, but with much less mental anguish. The reason probably had to do with the local fauna either starting to hibernate or perhaps migrating to lower elevations in advance of the impending winter.

I wet my pants!
And winter it was, for any hopes I had of continuing my run of spectacular autumn hikes were quickly dashed by a splash of cold water from a near leafless but twiggy bush brushing up against my pant legs. Apart from a few dogwood trees with a handful of orange leaves fluttering with the slightest air current, autumn had already come and gone. I really couldn't dwell on the changing of the seasons though, as much of my attention was intently focused on discerning where the footpath was ahead of me.

See the trail?
Me, neither!
In some places, the trail tread was eminently visible and in others it was as faint as the runes carved on a prehistoric monolith. At least it was all downhill as the trail gradually dropped down into the Castle Creek canyon, the creek becoming more and more audible along the way. But it was getting cold. And wet. My pants were so soaked that when I brushed against encroaching shrubbery,  I could feel rivulets of water running down my legs. I hadn't felt that sensation since that time in kindergarten and the liquid was a lot warmer back then, and enough said about that. At any rate, I was beginning to feel the chill so I turned around at the 3-mile mark, about a mile short of actually reaching Castle Creek.

Peace like a forest
Of course, no sooner than I started walking back to the car, the sun did break out for a bit, simultaneously taking care of both excess moisture and cold temperature. Still the same old uphill trail to the car, though. Despite all the my sniveling about wet vegetation and cold temperatures, I really did enjoy this hike. The forest was beautiful and peaceful, two of my favorite reasons for hiking.

The morning rain made sure
this hike would be a wet one
As far as whether I escaped the sneaker wave or not, my readership (apparently consisting of just Glenn and /or Carol) will have to read my blog at some future unspecified date to find out. For more pictures of the Castle Creek Trail, though, please visit the Flickr album.

Despite the rain, I was really lichen this hike

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Upper Rogue River Trail

The latest installment of my Southern Oregon Autumn Tour continued with a rather colorful hike along the upper Rogue River, one of my favorite places for hiking in what might be my favorite season for doing so. This time though, I was leading a Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club outing so no quiet introspective hike for me today, I had responsibilities and people to look after.

The Rogue River seethes in a narrow gorge
Nine hikers began the hiking day at the Rogue Gorge overlook and it was immediately obvious that today was just going to be glorious. The sky was deep blue, cloudless, and best of all, the air was smoke-free (wildfires had smoked out a lot of hikes this year). Despite the ample sun, the temperatures were mild enough to prevent overheating yet warm enough to encourage hiking in shorts. The gorge was a good way to start the hike off, with the Rogue River seething at being so constrained in the narrow defile. 

The story of this hike
After oohing and aahing at the gorge, we grabbed the Upper Rogue River Trail and followed the river for the next 4 miles or so. The river alternated between boisterous rapids and peaceful pools but was always photogenic. I was leading and counting heads, so not much photography ensued, unlike my customary hiking norm. Unlike the previous day's hike on the North Umpqua Trail, where vine maples were the star of the show, it was the dogwood trees serving the color buffet this time. The bright pinks and reds were striking, especially when contrasted against the cobalt blue sky. I must confess that some photography did ensue every now and then.

The Rogue River was always nearby
About two miles into the hike, we crossed the Rogue on a footbridge spanning the river where it roiled in the narrow confines of a collapsed lava tube, as unhappy at the confinement as King Kong in a shipping crate. Some more photography ensued of the river zigzagging in the narrow crack. From there, we'd hit the only uphill part of this hike.

Forest, as we huffed and puffed our way uphill
The Upper Rogue River Trail left the river briefly, heading up and over a forested ridge. Here, it was all about the vine maples, not that we noticed all that much as we huffed and puffed up the brisk climb. We did run into a family huffing and puffing in the opposite direction and they asked me if I knew where Natural Bridge was. "Yeah," I replied, "it's where you started from, it has a fence around it and a sign that says 'Natural Bridge' ". Call me sarcastic but to their credit, they continued on, planning to do the loop back to the tourist attraction, and good for them is what I say.

Cascade on the Rogue, near Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge is where the Rogue River disappears into a lava tube only to emerge about 75 yards downstream. It was busy with tourists enjoying the geological oddity on a fine autumn day, but nonetheless it is amazing to see a river vanish from sight before your very eyes. Also, Natural Bridge has restrooms and picnic tables and we availed ourselves of the amenities, stopping for lunch and a rest before continuing our journey.

Just a beautiful day for a beautiful hike
I just couldn't stand it anymore, I just had to give in to my photography muse, so I announced to the club that I would be leading from the rear. The route back was uncomplicated, all hikers had to do was keep the river on the left side, so I wasn't particularly worried about losing any on the return leg.

Impressionist watercolors
So, the next four miles (for me, at least) were spent on the sunny side of the river, admiring and photographing all the dogwood and vine maple trees one could ever want to focus a camera lens on. The river ran mostly placid, the autumnal reflections blurring like some impressionist painting. You just can't beat art by Mother Nature. 

It was nigh Halloween
A disconcerting or humorous moment took place when I was walking on a sandy patch of trail. A movement on the ground caught my eye, it was a spider and the thing was as big as Portland. It too, was out for a hike, and was walking at speed. I got ahead of it, lay down on the trail, and began taking photographs of the creepy-crawly beast. Click, click, click...I was getting some nice shots when I realized it was about to walk onto my face. Gah! I back-crawled spastically and staggered to my feet, totally creeped out but laughing aloud at my sudden discomfiture.

Autumn on the Upper Rogue River Trail
Well, I wound up with plenty of photographs but hiked slow enough that I halfway expected to find skeletons and cobwebs waiting for me at the parking lot. But no, all my peeps were happily taking in the Rogue Gorge again, so I heard not one complaint. Life had indeed been good on this hike.

As red as an irate tomato
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, October 19, 2018

North Umpqua Trail - Hot Springs Segment

The North Umpqua Trail wanders along next to its namesake river for 78 miles and in some future year I WILL backpack the entire route. The last three years, fire has kept me from doing this very thing but maybe 2019 will be the year. Because of the proximity of the North Umpqua Trail (hereafter referred to as the NUT) to Roseburg, I have hiked on most of the NUT but there are yet three pieces of trail that have yet to be graced by an O'Neill boot. Before the hike covered in this brilliantly written blog post, it had been four bits of unhiked trail, but I did manage to cross the Hot Springs Segment off the short list on a beautiful autumn day.

Moss covers all that does not move
The Hot Springs Segment is a relatively short 4'ish mile long section of trail that connects the power grids (there are a number of hyrdroelectric projects and diversions in the area) at Toketee Lake to the naked bathers at Umpqua Hot Springs. Depending how you look at it, both ends have their pluses and minuses, and I should be more circumspect about using the word "ends" in close sentence proximity to "naked bathers". My preconceived notion of the Hot Springs Segment had been that it was a fairly utilitarian segment of trail and thereby not particularly worthy of hiking on. After this gorgeous hike, I'll have to admit that I was wrong (for the very first time, ever).

Rock formation in the forest
Luna (my dog) was mindlessly happy to go hiking, whether the trail be utilitarian or not. I was a little more doubtful but had to admit that the hike got off to a nice start. Toketee Lake was like glass and reflected the surrounding mountains nicely. A footbridge crossed over the North Umpqua River where it poured into the lake, and the trail on the other side of the span headed uphill into a dense forest. 

Mushroom eats what moss does not
In hindsight, the forest was comparatively drab when compared to the forthcoming autumnal delights yet ahead of me, but I enjoyed the greenery surrounding the trail anyway. Mushrooms were sprouting everywhere and moss covered all that did not move. The cedar and fir trees were encrusted with lichen clinging to their trunks. 

Leaf-covered North Umpqua Trail
Vine maples were in full autumn swing, but in the deep shade the colors were a rather subdued pale yellow. That began to change when the trail dropped down to river level. The increased sunlight (not that I felt any of the sun's warmth on the shady side of the river, but that's just me whining) had the vine maples and dogwoods sporting a more vibrant autumnal palette of bright red, orange, pink, and yellow hues. 

Dew formed on leaves and hikers alike
The river moisture sustains an ample supply of moss which grew everywhere, and even though it was mid-morning, the day was at dew-point. Water drops condensed out of thin air and formed on nearby vegetation, dogs, and hikers. You could really feel the moisture in the atmosphere, and I could certainly feel the moisture on my pants legs as I waded through the damp vegetation. When the trail got close to the river, Luna was unleashed for quick sip and dips and she was also became quite wet. It almost felt like we were hiking in the interior of a water balloon.

Trail tunnel
However, the trail eventually peeled away from the river and we quickly dried out as we hiked on a trail covered with fallen leaves. The colors were entrancing and much photography ensued, making our hiking pace quite slow, much to the chagrin of a certain dog who hikes a lot faster than her incredibly handsome owner.  

The North Umpqua was always near
At about the two-mile mark, the trail egressed onto gravel Forest Road 3401 and crossed over to the sunny side of the river on a road bridge. Aah, now this was living! The sun warmed us both up and layers were shed and I converted my pants to shorts by zipping off the lower leggings. The trailhead here had a fair number of cars parked there by hikers looking for a slightly longer walk to the hot springs. 

Bright colors on the sunny side of the river

Autumn was simply awesome on this section of trail. The colors were astounding, made even more so when illuminated in the sunlight. I daresay that at times, the very air was glowing orange underneath the vine maples. And lest the vine maples hog all the fall glory, taller big-leaf maple trees were glowing bright yellow against a cobalt blue sky while dogwood contributed bright colors somewhere between pink and orange to the autumn ambiance. Much photography ensued.

Put your tongue in, I'm trying to take a picture of you
A brand new bridge spanned Deer Creek and that was our turnaround point. Over the last few years, the bridge had been taken out by falling trees and floods. Accordingly, this version of the bridge was brand new and you could still smell the creosote on the planks. Around the bridge, trees had been cut down and the logs were stacked up next to the creek, hopefully this iteration of the bridge will last longer than its predecessors.

Why we hike
On the return, the afternoon sunlight slanted through the forest and shadows were cast longer and longer as the day waned. At the end of the hike, I was kicking myself, wondering why I had never hiked this segment of the NUT before, it had been pretty spectacular. Now, if I can only get to backpack it in summer of 2019. Wish me luck!

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