Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rattlesnake Mountain

On my last hike, to Whitehorse Meadows a couple of days ago, I gazed upon Rattlesnake Mountain and then turned around as the mountain was a mile or two ahead and about 1,500 feet above me. Forgoing an eighteen miler and being quite content with my eleven miles, Rattlesnake Mountain was filed away as a future destination. When on vacation, the future is now, so Rattlesnake was visited a couple of days later.

When on vacation, sleeping in is a luxury to be enjoyed so a late start brought me to the trailhead just a few minutes short of high noon. Unbelievably, the temperature in late August at mid-day was a chilly 50 degrees. I tell you, winter is coming!

Rattlesnake Mountain was majestically reposed under a blue sky above one of the many meadows that make the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness one of my favorite haunts. The meadows had overgrown the faint path but a series of rock cairns kept me on track as I crossed diminutive Fish Creek before entering a forest.

Leaf with a designer fungus
Heading downhill for a bit above the creek hidden below me, the trail suddenly turned back the way it came and now headed uphill in earnest. The burning in my legs was assuaged as the forest thinned out and I was able to take lots of pictures of the many small meadows and numerous late-summer floral delights as only a camera-toting flower geek can.

Ugh, it's steep!
At forested Windy Pass, the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail headed uphill, making what I previously thought was uphill seem as flat as a pug's face. Complaints about the grade aside, the scenery was pretty cool as the terrain became more open and grassy interspersed with jagged lava formations. Fish Mountain, Rattlesnake's immediate neighbor began to take shape as the trail climbed above the trees on the mountain's lower reaches.

Rocky things

Back and forth the trail went, always relentlessly uphill.  Every time I looked up, the top of the mountain remained hidden from sight somewhere way up there. On the southeast side of the mountain, the forest had been burned by the mountain's namesake Rattlesnake Fire of last year. Grasshoppers flitted about, the clicking of their wings sounding like airborne rattlesnakes, perhaps that is how Rattlesnake Mountain got its name.

This is why we hike

All "good" things come to an end and eventually the trail petered out in a grassy slope; a short walk uphill brought me to the wide ridge that is Rattlesnake's summit. Striding past concrete piers and other remnants of the lookout that once graced the summit, I walked to the western edge and enjoyed an expansive view of the Rogue-Umpqua Wilderness.

Fleeing rattlesnakes

Nearly 3,000 feet below me, Castle Creek had carved out a significant canyon as it wended its way into the South Umpqua River. Across the canyon rose the formidable Rocky Ridge which is my favorite hike in the whole Umpqua National Forest. On my side of the canyon, the turreted fortress of Castle Rock kept watch over Castle Creek. The peaks of the wilderness stretched south in a rocky chain and  I said hello to some old friends such as Hershberger Mountain, Standoff Point, Jackass Mountain (which, contrary to public opinion, is not named after me), and Highrock Mountain.

Nothing but gray skies in my future
Gone were the blue skies as a weather system had blown in while I was sniveling on the climb up. A chilly wind was blowing briskly and I estimate the temperature had dropped down into the mid to low 40's.  Yup, winter is coming, and it nearly felt like today would be the day.

Castle Rock with Rocky Ridge in back

After descending in blustery weather, at Windy Gap I grabbed the tie-in trail from the gap to the Rogue Umpqua Divide Trail for a little variety, closing the loop on this short but strenuous 6 mile hike. While I enjoyed the hike, there was a underlying bittersweet flavor to the trek as one of these weekends will be my last sojourn into the mountains until next year due to the winter snows that are coming.

For more pictures, please visit the photographs in Flickr.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Whitehorse Meadows

After arriving in Winston, Oregon, back from our vacation up north, it was time to tend to business. Chiefly, it was time to make my rounds with doctors, dentists, and oral surgeons; my planned backpack trip in the Diamond Peak Wilderness was relegated to the trash bin along with the little pieces of my jaw taken out during surgery. If I can offer any words of wisdom from my experience, they would simply be "Don't crash your bicycle."

Flower show at the trailhead

But hey, my legs and feet were in working order and with 2 weeks of vacation left, it was time for a near daily hike. The first of these hikes was Whitehorse Meadows, chosen as as destination solely because Maggie the Hiking Dog and I had never been. Judging by the rickety road to get there, the meadows don't see a lot of visitors. And judging by the brand new picnic table and brand new open air compost toilet, maybe a lot of people do indeed come to eat and poop after driving on the rickety road.

Pearly everlasting

Fire comes to visit, too, and the area had been ravaged by last year's Rattlesnake Fire, leaving tracts of dead trees on the rocky ridges above Black Rock Creek. Despite all the arboreal death and destruction, life was bursting at the seams on the ground as the usual post-fire denizens had taken over: fireweed, pearly everlasting, goldenrod, dwarf bramble, and wild strawberries, just to name a few.

Where o where is Wolf Lake?
The drawback to all this ground-level greenery is that the trail becomes overgrown and can be faint and hard to follow at times. I lost the trail during a short side-trip to Wolf Lake and stopped at a marshy meadow that I presumed was the lake. A subsequent check of a map showed that I was close but just short of the small lake. Oh well, now I have a reason to go back again.

View, sort of, to Mount Bailey through the haze

Continuing on, the trail climbed up a rocky ridge through the ghostly snags and then contoured above a rocky ridge that dropped off precipitously at my feet. Wildfire smoke hazed over the view but I could make out Mount Bailey, Diamond Peak, and Crater Lake Rim. Up the valley and several miles ahead, massive Whitehorse Meadows lay draped over a forested ridge like a green comforter over a snoring wife.

Whitehorse Meadows

What goes up, must come down, and the trail descended gently to Whitehorse Meadows and the edge of the fire zone. The meadows are huge and predictably scenic as there is just something about green meadow under a blue sky. We stopped to soak in the view and Maggie also soaked in the little creek in the meadow, cavorting and romping as only a water dog can.

Still life with rhododendron and sunlight
It was just over 3 miles to the meadows and that was just not far enough for mileage-addicted hikers so we continued on in a beautifully shaded forest untouched by fire. Angling gently uphill, we crossed over from the Black Rock Creek drainage into the Castle Creek drainage.

Rattlesnake Mountain

As we walked upward, brief open areas in the forest afforded views of rocky boulder slopes and of the very deep Castle Creek valley. I had entertained a notion of maybe walking as far as Rattlesnake Mountain but when, at the 5.5 mile mark, a brief view showed Rattlesnake Mountain about a mile farther and about 1500 feet higher, it was time to turn around and head back. Rattlesnake Mountain would have to wait for another day.

Trail through the burn
On the way back, the cool sunny day soon turned into a cold, cloudy, and windy day as a storm system blew in, reminding us that summer is about to end.  It was nice to sneak one more hike in before winter comes for an extended visit.

For more pictures of this hike, please visit my photo album in Flickr.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A day of rest at Heyburn State Park

The original plan, after completing the Coeur d' Alene Trail ride, was to rest a day at Heyburn State Park. It was ironic camping there because "Hey! Burn!" pretty well described my legs as I cycled the last 8 miles up a 6% grade. After the rest day, we were then going to cycle the 60 miles or so to Spokane. However, due to my goobered up hand from the accident and because Dollie was still feeling the 80 mile ride, this just wound up being a lazy day at the campground.

Har-dee-har-har!  Very funny!
We spent part of the morning wading in Chatcolet Lake, where dog Maggie cavorted and frolicked as only simple-minded water dogs can. While we did not go swimming, the cool water felt good on our legs as we waded and dodged the stream of water emanating from periodic dog shakes.

Plummer Creek marsh
After a lazy day at the campground, Maggie and I took a short hike along the marshlands where Plummer Creek empties into Chatcolet Lake. The marshes are quite extensive with waving plumes of grass sprouting up from all the standing water.

Plummer Creek
Boardwalks kept our feet dry, much to Maggie's chagrin, and we observed plenty of birds flitting in the reeds and cattails. Plummer Creek snaked lazily nearby and at the boardwalk terminus, we watched the setting sun burnish the scene with a soft golden glow before walking back to camp.

For more pictures, please visit my photo album in Flickr.
Sunset, and please pass the Ibuprofen

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Trail of the Coeur d' Alenes was a smash hit

This cycling trip was all about "The Accident" so let's just get that out of the way, particularly as it occurred just two miles into the ride. I was taking a picture of Dollie from the bike seat when she stopped. I couldn't figure out why she was getting bigger in my viewfinder until I just about plowed into the back of her at 20 miles per hour.

The last picture before the crash
With only one hand on the handlebar, the swerve-and-break maneuver was doomed from the start. The bike went down and I kept going until the feet tied to the pedals came into play, cracking me like a whip face-first into the pavement. A dropped watermelon sound echoed through my head as my jaw broke and dislocated and I'm not even sure how I hurt my right hand as badly as I did. Plus my head bounced like a basketball off the pavement.

Crashing makes me sad
So we stopped the bleeding from the cheek I'd opened up right underneath the purpling eye and Dollie asked me what I wanted to do. Well, I did what any self-respecting cyclist would do: I got on the bike and kept riding. In my defense, the decision to keep riding was made mere minutes after taking a blow to the head.

On the way to Smelterville

The Trail of the Coeur d' Alenes is a 72 mile converted railway path that runs from Mullan to Plummer in northern Idaho. For those readers unfamiliar with Idaho geography, the trail basically crosses the Idaho Panhandle. The trail is remarkably flat and the smooth pavement allows riders to glide along relatively effortlessly. Still, it'd be a lot cooler without the bone fractures.

Arrival at Kellog

The first third of the trail goes through several historic mining towns:  Wallace and Kellog being the most prominent. There were piles and berms of mining slag on either side of the trail. Near Kellog, we rode past the infamous Bunker Hill Mine, site of a Superfund cleanup where several feet of lead-poisoned topsoil had been removed from most of Kellog. After the cleanup, grateful residents applauded with all three hands. With my purple eye, dislocated jaw, and scraped lip, I probably looked like someone who had drank early and often from the Bunker Hill well.

Osprey, shrieking at us
You have not been anywhere until you've been to Smelterville and once we left the town with the least alluring name ever, it was all rural countryside until Harrison, about 40 miles later. The Coeur d' Alene River would be our pathside companion and we observed bald eagles, osprey, Canadian geese, ducks, and deer living life along the numerous lakes, marshes and river as we cycled past. We did not see any moose but their muddy tracks cris-crossed the paved bike trail as we wandered amongst the many Chain Lakes.

Lake Coeur d' Alene
In the late afternoon, the Coeur d' Alene River suddenly widened and just like that, we arrived at the very large Lake Coeur d' Alene, near Harrison. We stopped for some drinks and ice cream. My mouth did not fit right, my teeth were all loose (they were fractured, I just didn't know it yet) and eating ice cream was quite the painful challenge.

"ooo-ooo-o-ooh" moaned the Chacolet Bridge
Several miles past Harrison, we hit the 10-mile (to go) marker and just past that the trail entered a causeway that took us across the lake on the Lake Chatcolet Bridge. The wind was blowing through the metal railings which emitted an eerie "ooo-o-o-o-ooh" sound as we cycled past, just like a father scaring his young children at night. It took a long time and years of therapy for my girls to forgive me.

Easy for you to say
Once on the west side of the lake, we could see our campground across a narrow arm, just a few miles away. Unfortunately, we had to pedal 15 more miles to get there. Also unfortunately, the last 7 miles of bike trail were all uphill in a cruel trick to play on cyclists after 65 miles. Persevering, we finally plopped down in blessed relief at the Hn'ya')pqi'nn Trailhead. Trying to pronounce the name with a dislocated jaw was nigh impossible.

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz...

...oh, what a relief it is!

We had made arrangements for Dollie's mother to pick us up, but alas, she was not getting cell phone reception at the campground. We had to ride another 8 miles to the campground, up a nice little 6% grade as I cursed cheap cell phones. But we did arrive at the campground just in time for sunset. It was a joyous reunion with Ibuprofen before cutting our vacation short, returning to Roseburg and bone graft surgeries. You could say the Trail of the Coeur d' Alenes was a smash hit!

Nice sunset, but pass me the ibuprofen
For the rest of the pictures, please visit
my photo album of this scenic ride.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A berry and beary hike in Mount Spokane State Park

While on vacation in Spokane, I decided to take a vacation from the vacation, so to speak, and hike to the top of three mountains: Mount Kit Carson, Days Peak, and Mount Spokane.  My guidebook touted the hike as being 15 miles or so with about 3,500 feet of elevation gain. That may be why I hiked this by myself.

Colorful beetle on a pearly everlasting

Uphill, uphill, uphill...
The guidebook lied, as I got nearly 14 miles in without adding Mount Spokane to the mix. The book was right about the climbing uphill, though, but two out of three peaks is still a passing grade.

It's hard to believe we are so close to Spokane
Located near the metropolis of Spokane, this is sort of an urban hike. However, despite the proximity to Spokane, the park is surprisingly wild and untamed, probably due to the fact that most users drive up to the Mount Spokane summit and ignore the trail network. Their loss was my gain, and I enjoyed the walk through lush woods as I began the relentless climb up.

The trails are well marked and signed and eventually the vegetation went from ferny undergrowth to beargrass and huckleberry bushes under a more open forest. The huckleberries were in season and I grazed early and often and my lips and fingers were soon stained purple with delicious huckleberry juice.

The root cause of the hiker-bear encounter

After about 3.6 miles and 1500 feet of elevation gain, the trail spit me out onto a saddle on a forest road. Trails go every which way from this saddle and I headed west onto the Mount Kit Carson Trail. A short climb brought me onto a grassy ridge that I shared with some grouse walking through the grass. Or maybe they were sharing their ridge with me.

The summit of Mount Kit Carson
There were some wildfires burning in nearby Idaho and if I squinted down from the Mount Kit Carson summit, I could see some of the Spokane Valley. This would be a world-class view on a clear day.

A short backtrack from Mount Kit Carson brought me to the Day Mountain Trail and then the "fun" began. The trail descended gently through an open forest carpeted underneath with huckleberry bushes. Hikers are not the only organisms that enjoy the berry goodness, bears are wont to partake of the plump purple berries as well.

Lots of these face-high on the trail

Lots of scary creatures in the forest

As I turned a corner on the trail, I heard a commotion and saw a black wall of fur cross the trail about 10 feet in front of me. BEAR! And I was just about on the outer edge of its personal space, too, and it was certainly inside my circle of comfort! Without having to be told, my feet were moving backward as it stood up on its hind legs. It was about 6 inches shorter than me but about as wide as three Pittsburgh Steeler linebackers, and probably just as mean. I didn't get a picture of the bear as I was TOO BUSY HAVING A HEART ATTACK!!!

Woo-hoo!  (clap..clap)  Bear!
Fortunately, the bear was just as terrified as I was and it took off in the opposite direction, crashing through the forest. Legs wobbling, I had a little talk with myself about finding a new hobby but I calmed down, reasoning the immediate vicinity had just been cleared of any and all bears. For the rest of the day, though, I clapped my hands and yelled "Bear!" in a voice about 12 octaves higher than my normal pitch.

Bears notwithstanding, the path to Day Mountain sashayed to and fro through a series of beautiful and grassy meadows before arriving at the summit where the smoky views were similar to Mount Kit Carson.

View from Day Mountain

Returning once again to the road saddle, I started the steep and brutal climb up Mount Spokane but I was just about of water. I tried to find the CCC cabin near the disturbingly named Bald Knob so I could water up but failed to locate the historical structure. A post-hike review of a map of the area showed I was just about on top of it yet it remained hidden from my view in the forest.

If flowers were hair, I'd be coneflower
It was getting to be late in the afternoon, so back down I went, refilling my water bottles from a creek about halfway down. Mount Spokane will have to be conquered some other time. The only other excitement on the way down was when I startled a herd of elk which in turn startled me. I'll take that over the bear encounter any time.

For more pictures of this hike, please visit my photo album.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Omak, Washington

It was culture shock after we left green and mountainous British Columbia for dry and dusty Omak, located in north-central Washington. If you like sagebrush and jackrabbits, then this is your place.

The whole reason for going to Omak is because the famed Suicide Race was on my bucket list. The race is actually four races, each held after the daily rodeo at the annual Omak Stampede. Not knowing what was at the stampede, we arrived too early but we killed the day by taking in all the mostly Native American crafts and wares. And we enjoyed the Indian tacos!  I could eat those all day long and I think I tried to do just that.

Yum, no description necessary
At the end of the day, we took our seats in the arena and watched the various competitions taking place in the rodeo grounds. One of the rodeo clowns was Tim Vredenburg, from our very own Roseburg. The Suicide Race takes place after the rodeo so we watched it on the video screens and saw the racers when they crossed the finish line in the arena. It wasn't very satisfying, but we would get a better look at the race on the last day.

The wow in pow-wow

The next day, we returned to the Stampede grounds to take in the festivities at the   Omak Pow-wow. Lots of dancers, drums, and pageantry.  And more Indian tacos, too. This was the first day of the pow-wow and it was mostly dancing contests for the younger set.

We had been staying at the small town of Coulee Dam, and the main attraction there is Grand Coulee Dam. The dam is humongous, a massive wall of concrete straddling the Columbia River. The evening laser light show was on Dollie's list so we hiked to the dam and watched the dam laser show, the homonym is intentional.
Grand Coulee Dam (a part of) at night
Sasquatch and Sasquatch Jr.

On the way to Omak, the following day, we saw a Bigfoot on a ridge above the highway. We parked the car and surreptitiously hiked to a nearby vantage point. My pictures are incontrovertible proof that Bigfoot exists and it was quite a special privilege to get that close to the rare and reclusive hominid.

Last but not least, it was time to watch the Suicide Race. The race is a Native American horse race where the riders drop down an incredibly steep slope into the Okanogan River. The horses then swim/wade across the Okanogan followed by a 200 yard or so land race into the rodeo arena.  The race was an action packed 50 seconds and is definitely a contact sport.

That is one steep racetrack!

So that's it for the touristing portion of our vacation. Future posts will return to the more familiar milieu of hiking and cycling.