Saturday, April 28, 2012

Blacklock Point

"My traveling companion is nine years old..."
Paul Simon, from the song "Graceland"

That line kept playing in my head as I took eight year old grandson Aiden on his first backpack trip. I was reminded of the fact I was hiking with an eight year old when, a mere half-mile into the hike, he plopped down on the trail and said "I'm tired, I can't go on!" This was going to be a long trip, and I'm not just talking about the mileage.

Are we there yet?
Mud puddles and boys go together

We had started with the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club on a recent hike to Blacklock Point and we had left the car at Floras Lake, where we would be putting out. The trail initially tunnelled through tall rhododendrons not yet in bloom on an old roadbed that was full of deep standing water that were more like ponds and less like puddles. It wasn't long before all our hiking friends left us behind as we were walking at boy-speed.

On the cliffs at Blacklock Point

As stated previously, approximately a half-mile into the hike Aiden plopped down and said he was tired and couldn't go any further. What the...?  After I explained that our car was 7 miles away and it was either continue walking or go missing in the woods, he reluctantly continued on the trail. A short bit through a ferny forest brought us out onto the cliffs overlooking Blacklock Point and some epic views.

Blacklock Point

It was a gorgeous spring day with nary a cloud in the sky and the view south consisted of the rocky bay arcing to Cape Blanco. To north, stretched the Oregon coastline towards an unseen Bandon. And due west, virtually at our feet, was craggy Blackock Point with a small chain of islands, seemingly tossed out there by Blacklock. Views like this require a sit down and we found out the boy's miracle food was nut-bar snacks. 

Drink this for a diarrhea song inspiration
Totally rejuvenated we set off on the Oregon Coast Trail.  To while away the time we played, for lack of a better word, the "diarrhea game". Not as gross as one might initially surmise, the game consisted of making a rhyme about diarrhea, as in "no pain, no strain, just sit and let it drain!" The obvious rhymes consisted of "poop" and "goop, or "creamy" and "steamy" but I was particularly proud of my rhyme using "fish emulsion" and "jet propulsion". Now, some readers, or even most readers, would question the value of this little game but the game's true value was that it kept Aiden walking without complaining.

The Oregon Coast Trail followed the cliffs above the beach and periodically we would bushwhack and sally forth onto a russet colored bluff top to explore and eat more nut bars. The views were all magnificent as the cliffs stretched several miles north, looking like a massive Egyptian temple a la Abu Simbel. Truly magnificent under a clear blue sky.

Ooh!  Aah!
We set up camp at the 4 mile mark alongside a small creek and went to explore the beach a short walk away. Our creek snaked back and forth through the coarse sand before joining up with the Pacific Ocean. Aiden crossed and recrossed the creek, scrambled up some rocks, and played tag with the ocean. In short, he was being a boy. The beach is quite steep so the waves made up for lack of inland distance with power. One particular wave tagged Aiden and said in wave-speak "you're it!" Aiden somersaulted several times in the white water and rolled up stating "I'm ready to go back to camp now" as salty water dripped off of his face
Welcome to the sand canyon

Sunset, sort of
So he got to wear some of my shirts which were comically big but seriously dry and we hung up his clothes on some bushes to air out over the night. After dinner, we returned to the beach and were quite surprised to see a storm system had come in. Rain was definitely in the offing and Aiden played in the sand (Grandpa wouldn't let him get near water) while I took pictures.

While we were telling scary stories in the tent, the wind began to whip up and eventually the rain came and kept it up all night. It was a "howlah" like they say in Australia. This was the first occasion I had to field-test my tent and I'm glad to say we stayed dry. 

Camp Waterlog
The Hunchback of Notre Blacklock

The rain let up by morning and we struck camp in a muddy campsite and returned to our beach. As we did so, the cloud cover broke up and we were treated to another magnificent day on the coast. Our going was slow because Aiden is a rockhound and the beach was covered with rocks. My pockets became heavy as they  were slowly stuffed with Aiden's treasures.

After a mile, the imposing cliffs petered out and a small creek was our ticket off the beach where we followed an overgrown trail to Floras Lake. Aiden waded in the shallows while I stayed on the trail. Eventually, we arrived at the car and our reward was a lunch of Chinese food in Bandon. We both got a lot out of this hike as it was a nice bonding experience in a Graceland of our own.
A great time was had by all

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mule Creek

Many years ago, I volunteered to lead a Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club hike up Mule Mountain. In the annals of club lore, that hike will live in infamy. The trail was basically 4 miles of uphill with no shade under the hot sun. That was the first time I heard the phrase "Richard-Hike" bandied about, and not in a complimentary way, either.

You ain't nuthin' but a hound's tongue

Despite the relentless climb, I enjoyed the hike. There are magnificent views of the Siskiyou Mountains and given the right time of year, the slopes are festooned with wildflowers of every color. Because I've enjoyed this hike, I have returned to visit the Mule Mountain area many times since. And many times since, I have questioned why I hate myself as sweat mixed with sun lotion runs into my eyes, ticks burrow into my skin, poison oak makes me itch for the next three weeks, and of course all the trails run straight uphill.

Shooting stars carpeted the forest floor
A couple of days ago, we caught our first taste of summer heat as the temperature reached the 90's. Tree-lined Mule Creek (below infamous Mule Mountain) looked like it was shady and that was the only reason this trail was chosen. The Mule Creek Trail is accessed 3/4 of a mile up the Mule Mountain Trail which meant I got to relive the Mule Mountain leg-burn experience by climbing steeply through a shaded forest carpeted with bright fuschia colored shooting stars.

View to Little Grayback Peak above Mule Creek
Once on a Mule Mountain spur ridge, the Mule Creek Trail heads steadily down through grassy and brushy slopes into Mule Creek's canyon. On the way down, I enjoyed nice views of the Applegate River valley and of Little Grayback Peak looming at the head of the canyon. Of course, I had to be careful to dodge poison oak encroaching the path but the tick-checks yielded none of the little vampires, thankfully.

Build me up, buttercup
From glacier lilies to red bells, the spring flowers were putting on their usual show.  A member of the onion family with one of my favorite names (ookow) was also prevalent.  Ookow is also known as blue dick, which prudish Webshots censures, thereby denying Webshots users some crude hilarity.  The hound's tongue were blooming in profuse clusters of blue flowers; the term "hound's tongue" refers to the shape of the leaf and has nothing to do with my ex-wife.

Once at the bottom of the canyon, the trail follows an old road bed alongside the creek.  The creek was overgrown with brush and was mostly heard and seldom scene.  At the point where the roadbend ended, the path crossed the creek and became a bonafide trail.  The mid-afternoon heat was rolling down the slopes and collecting at the bottom of the ravine and I paused to stick my head in the remarkably clear waters of the stream.  Yikes!  The water was not far removed from snowmelt and gave me what felt like a brain freeze, only the freeze was in the whole brain and not confined to just the upper sinuses. 

C'mon in, the water's freezing!

Steep trails make me hate hiking
After a second crossing of the creek, the trail charged up a dry hill covered in madrone. The trail had been heading uphill all along, but this was steeper than the price of gas nowadays. It was hard to gauge my progress because of all the trees but it did seem like I was heading up the creek's headwaters below the disturbingly named Baldy Peak. Several miles later, I was still wondering where the @#$% end of the trail was and I was hot, tired, and as sweaty as a Zuma class in a sauna.

I turned around at my self-imposed 4:30 PM deadline and headed back down the trail, totally defeated. I didn't feel so bad on the way down because it was readily apparent why I was tired:  this was a long and steep trail. Of course, there was the steep climb out of the creek canyon to the Mule Mountain Trail to look forward to. 

Typical hike in this area:  I came back with lots of nice pictures and yet again, I'm wondering why I hate myself so.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Taylor Creek

Spring is here, hooray hooray!  Of course, there is plenty of snow in the higher elevations denying us the privilege of visiting, but we do get to nibble at the mountains by judicious selection of low elevation hikes, particularly in the Siskiyou Mountains where it is drier.  Taylor Creek fit the bill and I invited my hiking friends to enjoy springtime in the Siskiyous several weeks ago.

Trail through the poison oak and brush
Taylor Creek is a small creek that has carved a big canyon, and the first half mile or so of the trail drops down to the bottom of the canyon. It's nice to start a hike by hiking downhill but it's plain wrong to have to hike uphill to the car. Oh, well. At any rate, the steep descent to the canyon through the oak, madrone, and poison oak brought us to English Flat.

Lois, crossing the English Flat homestead
English Flat is the site of an old homestead and is now a grassy meadow with an apple orchard gone feral. There were some daffodils in bloom and I always wonder if they are descended from the original homestead garden or randomly dropped from above in a clot of crow crap.

Cross Taylor Creek on the bouncing bridge!
The first crossing of Taylor Creek happens just after English Flat on a rickety log bridge that bucked and swayed as we crossed. Then, after all that downhill, the trail climbed steeply away from the creek through a forest of trees covered with moss. Down. Up. The trail spends a lot of time doing the up-and-down thing and is rarely level and I began to hear muttered grumblings in the ranks.

The only other time I had hiked this trail was 2 years ago and there were a couple of bridges that were on their last legs. Actually, they were closed but I went across them anyway as the rotten wood creaked and swayed under my tread. On this day, the bridge crossing Minnow Creek was gone but there was a fallen log spanning the creek.

Taylor Creek
It must be some genetic predisposition from the x-chromosome crowd, but none of the women in our bunch attempted the log crossing. The cheap shot would be to conclude that the reluctance to cross on a log is yet another demonstration that women are inherently unbalanced, but let's just say that it became a man-hike after Minnow Creek.

xy-chromosome types
We only made it 3/4 of a mile further because the second dubious bridge was no longer spanning a much larger Taylor Creek.  Eschewing a wet ford, we 6 man-types sat down and ate lunch.  We did cheat on the way back, however, by walking on the Briggs Valley Road a bit to bypass the Minnow Creek log crossing, proving that we men are unbalanced when it suits us.

Vulcan John sends greetings
Visiting the homestead site
On the way back, Ray and I left the trail for a bit to explore the homestead site at English Meadows before tackling the steep uphill pitch to the car.  All in all, it was a beautiful spring hike in the Siskiyous, the hiking will get better and better from here on in.  


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lost Creek Lake

I've always been fascinated by the Dog Whisperer: he flips a hand signal, makes a shushy sound, and the miscreant canine magically obeys. But then there are my dogs, totally impervious to any of my hand signals and shushing sounds which invariably evolve to out and out red-faced shouting. Per the Whisperer, all dog problems can be solved by walking. And that is how lucky Maggie got to go hiking with her incredibly handsome master at Lost Creek Lake, near Medford.

Red bell
Grass widow
It was a beautiful spring day at the lake, the temperature was not too warm and a slight overcast kept things cool, it was perfect hiking weather. Spring was in full song in the low Cascades and the wildflowers kept my camera clicking.  The usual early season culprits were to blame: shooting stars, buttercups, oak toothworts, and acres of nodding fawn lilies. Less common but more noteworthy were the bright red bells and the elegant grass widow.

The trail (called the Rogue River Trail) basically follows the lake's shoreline and is mostly level. The usual Siskiyou mix of cedar, ponderosa pine, manzanita, oak, and madrone grew on the dry slopes on the north side of the lake. And always, views of the lake were there to be enjoyed.

A female horned grebe
Her mate goes for a dive

I had hiked this trail many years ago in the middle of summer. I wasn't impressed at the time because the lake was busy with noisy motorboats towing waterskiers and screaming tubers; the lake's surface was crisscrossed with the wakes of all the wasn't a wilderness hike at all. However, on this day, apart from the occasional fishermen, the lake was devoid of boats and the surface of the lake was glassy as a defeated boxer's eyes. Much picture taking ensued, as a result.

Hate in its evil goose heart
The innocents
Evil triumphs over good
A brief moment of hilarity ensued when we observed a pair of Canada geese peacefully and innocently floating on the lake. Several hundred yards away, a lone and embittered goose was eyeing them and the body posture screamed pure and unabashed hatred. The bad goose took flight and chased the two good geese away with much hissing, honking, and spitting. "Does not share lakes well with others" will be noted on his personnel file.

Rounding a point, the trail climbed out on a rocky bench with a manmade bench on it, near Blue Gulch. The panorama of the lake just begged for a contemplative sitdown on the bench and Maggie and I obliged. Blue Gulch was aptly named, for the waters were a stunning turquoise color; a warning posted on the sturdy bridge spanning the gulch hinted the blue tint might be attributable to the toxic blue-green alga, taking the romance out of the Blue Gulch experience.

The Grotto
This lake has more arms than a mutant octopus and the next arm was where we left the lake briefly, heading up a steep trail to The Grotto. The rocks here were a strange blue-gray color, reminding me of mold which in turn reminded me I need to clean out the refrigerator when I got home. There were turrets and towers on the canyon rim and a small creek cascaded over the edge. All of this was very scenic and pretty and we sat down for an extended view soak.

There's a tick on my nose
So there I am, taking pictures of Maggie and I noticed a little black dot on her nose: a TICK! I plucked it off and then I saw another, and another, and another. Of course, she just sat there wagging her tail because her master was looking at her and by doing so, was validating her existence here on this planet. She was a little unclear on the concept, as they say. On the plus side of things, I did not have any ticks on me all day as the little buggers flocked to her.

Fawn lily
We continued on our hike while executing frequent tick stops, following the lake through some grassy meadows with primitive backpacking sites replete with picnic tables. I think the boating crowd does a lot of camping on this side of the lake. A pair of mountain bikers emerged from the woods setting off a round of hysterical dog barking. 

After this 10.3 mile hike, I had one tired dog. Normally hyperkinetic and constantly in motion, Maggie had an "old woman" walk for a couple of days. Of course, we had to spend the following week plucking ticks out of her but she was OK with that because it meant that the masters were, once again, validating her existence on this planet.