Friday, November 30, 2012

Newport weekend

Come visit the Oregon coast!
One late November, thirteen years ago, Dollie and I got married. In hindsight, we should have gotten married in the summer as it can be difficult to stoke the fires of love when on an anniversary campout on the coast with all that "wonderful" November weather.

Surf's up!

But camping stupid is what we do, so we piled into the car and negotiated all the mudslides, floods, and fallen trees that makes driving to the coast so interesting. The weather was awful what with gale force winds and heavy rain prompting the National Weather Service to issue a weather alert and flood warning inland with a high surf and a high wind advisory called for the coast.

Normally, this is the sandy Yachats Beach
As we approached Yachats on the way to our Beverly Beach yurt rental, we stopped to take some pictures of a very rambunctious ocean at Yachats Beach. Normally there is a sandy little beach here but on this day, the beach was entirely submerged by the heavy surf. We literally were staggering like losing boxers as we took pictures while getting cuffed around by the wind.

At least the wind blew the clouds away
At Beverly Beach Campground, just north of Newport, we attempted (and failed) to get a good night's sleep while 60 mph winds shrieked like a school of rabid banshees and the rain pattered on the canvas walls of the yurt like overly caffeinated rodents. Since the campground was set in the forest, I was cringing all night long at the thought of falling trees.

There's no place like foam
However, no trees fell and the rain stopped, the wind eased up a bit, and the following morn dawned sunny and clear. It still was blustery and cold so armed with windbreakers, Dollie and I set off for an early morning hike on Beverly Beach.

When in foam, do as the foamans do
Unfortunately, we didn't get very far as the tide was still pretty high and large waves were chasing us all the way to the cliffs lining the beach.  The ocean had been churned to a froth and the wind was blowing the foam probably all the way to Astoria. Also unfortunately, another storm system arrived by the time we returned to the yurt with the wind shrieking loudly all over again.

Stormy day at Devils Punchbowl
Having most of the day to kill, we hopped in the car and did some sightseeing on the coast to the north with the first stop being Devils Punchbowl State Park. By now the storm had arrived with a vengeance and once again we were trying our best to admire the view while battling the wind.

View to Yaquina Head in foul weather

Not staying outdoors for too long a time, we quickly sought shelter in the car.  It was fitting that we drove up to the appropriately named Cape Foulweather. There were impressive views all the way to Yaquina Head underneath gray skies. We went into the souvenir shop and I muttered something to clerk about the nasty conditions outside and he dryly noted "Yes, it is foul weather". I bet he says that a lot.

Dollie, celebrating our anniversary
South of Depoe Bay, we stopped at the Rock Creek Wayside near Whale Cove to take pictures and videos of the waves crashing on the rocks. We were standing on cliffs about 50 feet above the surf yet the grass we were standing on was covered with sea foam in testament to the wind's fury.

Marina, at Depoe Bay
At touristy Depoe Bay, the wind finally let up and allowed for a short walk along the beach promenade. There are a couple of spouting horns below the promenade and they were in full spouting glory due to the tempestuous conditions. Crowds of tourists gawked at the spray of water emanating from the horns, although I noticed none stayed very long.  

W-w-welc-c-come t-to was c-c-cold!
Returning to Newport in the evening, we walked downtown on rainy streets while the car tires hissed on the wet pavement. There were piers and docks in between all the waterfront shops and restaurants, we went to go stand and shiver on wet planks for the next hour or so. Why? To see the Christmas boats of course!

The Coast Guard entry
The gaily lit boats circled around Yaquina Bay, most had a party and a drenched Santa on board to wave and  yell out "Merry Christmas" to poor people like us standing on the cold and rain-soaked docks with chattering teeth. We were glad to return to our heated and dry yurt, I think I even slept through the howling pack of wild demons that were the night's windstorm.

Newport, on a rainy night
We cut the trip a bit short and returned back home a half-day earlier than planned. Lest any of you readers think that I was committing wife-abuse by making Dollie go camping in such adverse conditions, I will point out the trip was her idea; I'm just the victim here.

For more pictures of this wet and wild weekend, visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tahkenitch Dunes and Butterfly Lake

Tahkenitch Dunes is one of my favorite places on the coast for hiking.  However, once the dunes loop had been hiked several hundred times or so, I began a desperate search for a way to change up the routes to prevent Tahkenitch boredom. Let's see, there was the hike via the Threemile Lake Trail, there was the long and rainy 14.5 mile loop from the Oregon Dunes Overlook, there were the clockwise and counterclockwise renditions, and there was a memorable weekend backpack trip right before last Christmas. So, when I looked at the map and saw Butterfly Lake, my antennae were tickled and a plan for a new route started flitting around in my brain.

Slimy mushroom
Maggie The Hiking Dog and I started at Tahkenitch Campground on a chilly but sunny morn. The morning sun filtered through the trees and fog, the sunbeams lighting up sprays of rhododendron leaves. Mushrooms sprouted everywhere through the moss on the forest carpet while ferns drooped over the trail.

Threemile Lake
Taking the loop in a clockwise direction, it was a fast descent over several miles before crossing a footbridge on Threemile Lake's outlet. A short walk up a sandy trail brought us to an overlook of impressive Threemile Lake. The lake was full and was one single lake as opposed to two separate lakes as is the norm when the water level drops in the summer.

Dune slog
All of this, so far,  had been familiar territory as the trail left the lake overlook and crossed the dunes, heading towards the beach. However, a right turn before reaching the beach was the start of something new: the hunt for Butterfly Lake.

Mindless fun in a marsh
Initially, the hunt followed the trail through the dunes, the trail being a series of tall posts hammered into the sands. I was taking a picture of a picturesque marsh in the dunes when a cavorting and frolicking dog jumped into the viewfinder, whooping with joy as she splashed through the water. Oh, to be a dog in the dunes!

Trees that want to eat me

At a tree island (a mound of trees in the middle of the dunes) we veered right, climbing steeply up a sandy track that eventually petered out altogether. When I had researched how to find the lake, the satellite photos showed the sandy track leading to a forested dune above the lake. The reality on the ground was that a newborn forest had taken over the dunes.  I was having to beat my way through branches that scratched and clawed at my face. The dog portion of my hiking party, however, had no problem running on game trails through the trees.

A not so very good picture of Butterfly Lake

The route worsened on the steep descent through an increasingly hostile forest to the lake; a sudden break in the trees allowed me to lay eyes on the black waters of Butterfly Lake. Much to my dismay, dense brush filled the 70 yards or so between me and the lake. Hanging onto a tree, I quickly snapped a picture of the lake, called it good, and then began the arduous task of returning to the dunes through trees intent on removing my facial skin.

 The "trail"

Getting back to the dunes was also tricky but suddenly I burst out of the forest and rolled down onto a steep dune. On the far side of the dune, I espied a blue banded pole which was my trail marker. A short ways beyond, a bona fide trail left the dunes and entered the forest just behind the beach foredunes.
Follow the bouncing dog!
So, while the Butterfly Lake expedition had been a whole lot of work, the fact remained we had not covered a lot of miles. There was no glory at heading back to the car at this point, so we made a left turn at a trail junction and headed to the beach where Tahkenitch Creek meets and greets the Pacific Ocean.

Brush-clogged Tahkenitch Creek
Right next to Tahekenitch Creek, I noticed a large black bird squatting stoop-shouldered  like an aged monk: it was a bald eagle! I descended to the beach and tried to get as close as I could without spooking it. Maggie, on the other hand, saw the creek and she ran up and down splashing in the water with mindless canine exuberance, totally unaware of the potential peril of becoming eagle food. And so much for not spooking the eagle!

And what's wrong with being bald, eagle?
Tahkenitch Creek was swollen with winter runoff and was more of a river than a creek. The eagle was on the other side of the creek and was not at all concerned about our crossing the formidable stream. After several minutes, the eagle gave a dismissive flap of  its mighty wings and soared out of sight while the gulls on the beach scattered in screeching panic. It's not every hike I get to see one of these majestic birds, how cool was that?

Tahkenitch Dunes in the afternoon
As the sun sank, we walked up the Tahkenitch Creek Trail for a mile and back, there was not much to see as it just ambled through pleasant woods. On the plus side, I think I just found another future route to keep Tahkenitch dunes interesting.

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


Friday, November 23, 2012

North Umpqua Trail (Calf Section)

...always longer on the return

Proof the hike is...

I'm not that a big fan of the North Umpqua Trail (or NUT, to us hiking nuts).  My beef with the venerable 78 mile long NUT is the busy North Umpqua Highway (we don't call the road the NUH, but  maybe we should) across the river from the trail. The highway is a nice and scenic drive but it's hard to get that wilderness feeling on a trail when cars whiz noisily by. However, when the weather turns bellicose in the winter, the NUT is a nice hiking destination, being snow-free most of the year at the lower elevations. I dare not complain too loudly about the NUT because I need it come each winter and spring

Panther Creek joins the North Umpqua
The weather's been dreadful this November and December but a break between storms allowed Maggie The Hiking Dog and I an opportunity to explore the Calf Section of the North Umpqua Trail. A recent rainstorm had left the trail soggy but thankfully, no water fell from the sky while we hiked.

Jump, Maggie, jump!
At the bridged crossing of Panther Creek, a sign warned us that the bridge had been damaged and not to jump on the bridge. Sounded like a dare but I heeded the warning as I could see the damage underneath the bridge. Obviously, logs had stacked up against the bridge during a recent flood; a nearby pile of logs removed from the creek supported my supposition.

The North Umpqua and the Apple Fire burn zone

One of the things I do like about the Calf Section is the ruggedness of the trail. In 2002 the mammoth Biscuit Fire in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness commanded headlines and firefighting resources. South of here, the Tiller Complex Fire was allowed to burn at will while everything was thrown at the Biscuit. Towards the end of that smoky summer, an untended campfire at nearby Horseshoe Bend started the Apple Fire which burned south and eventually merged with the Tiller Complex, effectively putting out both fires. The scars visibly remain from the Apple Fire as the trail winds through the burn area.

Water drops
The Forest Service had a tough time keeping this trail open after the fire as dead trees and landslides closed the trail a number of times over the intervening years. Nowadays, the trail contours across rocky landslide slopes through acres of dead or singed trees.

Splish splash, water on the path
Numerous creeks and creeklets trickled across the trail allowing a certain canine to slake her thirst at will. And always, the muddy green waters of the North Umpqua River churned as the trail went up and down along the river. The open rocky areas were well mossed and mushrooms were happily feeding on all the fallen timber.

Watch for falling rocks
Several boulders the size of the Biggest Loser (before they became the Biggest Loser winner) had tumbled down into the river from an avalanche long ago. Across the river were interesting sights such as Dog Creek Falls and a large cave.

Calf Creek

After 3 miles, the trail rose high above the river with a forest-impeded view of Horseshoe Bend. A short crest over a forested ridge brought us a short descent through woods untouched by fire to Calf Creek, our lunch and turnaround point.

Mushrooms on a log cut

On the return leg, we got to enjoy the same scenery all over again, but in reverse. I think I just stated the obvious, didn't I?  Another obvious point is that I'll be back on the NUT again this winter between storms.

For more pictures of this hike, see the Flickr album.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

North Bank Deer Habitat

Add extra pounds of mud for a harder workout

I usually don't get to see the North Bank Deer Habitat at its finest. In spring, when carpets of wildflowers cover the grassy hills of the habitat, I'm usually off making exploratory forays into the mountains. Nope, usually the habitat gets a Richard Hike in winter when skies are gray and leaking water, when trees are leafless and skeletal, and when the trails are muddy with at least 10 pounds of wet clay glomming onto hiking boots.

Can't see the forest for the moss

On several notable past backpacking treks, I have spent more than one 2 AM looking for my hiking poles, pilfered by salt crazed deer. As a result, I've come to detest the antlered burglars so it is ironic that one of the best places to hike in the Roseburg area is a preserved dedicated to the continued well-being of the cervine larcenists. Fortunately, I rarely run into any of the Columbia white-tailed deer (the preservation of which are the reason for the habitat's existence) on my many hikes in the area, the cloven-hoofed purloiners of hiking poles must sense and fear my loathing.

Canine joy

The weather forecast was pretty dire, calling for high winds, rains, and floods. So what is a dedicated hiker to do? Why, go hiking, of course! Maggie The Hiking Dog was agreeable so we made the short drive to the habitat and commenced hiking. The habitat was formerly a cattle ranch and the old ranch roads now serve as hiking trails. Personally, I like the wide trails as it's easier to avoid the plenty of poison oak ready and willing to encroach on narrow footpaths.

Nature's stair stepper
No matter what trail combination is used in the habitat, hikers will at some point find themselves hiking steeply uphill. The West Barn Trail soon did that very thing after passing its namesake barn (I find the idea of a barn built to help feed deer abhorrent, but that's just me) and climbing up a road carpeted with sprouting baby thistles to Middle Ridge.

A hawk rides the wind
Middle Ridge basically bisects the preserve and is typical of ridge trails: up, down, but never level. Climbing up away from the North Umpqua River, the views opened up to the river perambulating around horseshoe-shaped Whistlers Bend. Farther off in the distance, I could see snow covered Black Butte, totally white in spite of its name.

I hate hiking
In writing several newspaper articles about the preserve over the years, I have used the adjective "windswept" to describe the grassy rolling hills and ridges. On this day, the adjective was absolutely accurate as the forecasted high winds were heartily pummeling Middle Ridge. I was grateful for the lack of trees. Maggie was grateful too, but then again she's just simple-mindedly grateful about everything.

Numquam visus anteo!
While gasping for breath, I stopped to admire the distant ridges well above me. Then I'd notice a road going up and over the ridge or hill and realize that was my trail. My new hiking motto became: "Numquam visus anteo!" (Never look ahead!). After a couple of miles, the uphill hiking was relieved at the junction with the North Gate Trail.

I've hiked the North Gate Trail before, coming up from Soggy Bottoms, whose name has nothing to with that embarrassing incident in high school that I don't want to talk about. But I digress, on this day I was grateful to be hiking down the North Gate instead of up. I was also grateful about dropping off Middle Ridge and into the valley; the descent took us out of the wind messing up my hair...well, if I had any hair to mess up, that is.

  I wag my tail in glee over the Wrong Way
Before arriving at Soggy Bottoms, Maggie and I went the right way on the Wrong Way Trail. The Wrong Way obviously does not see a lot of use, degenerating quickly into an overgrown and faint deer path. Imagine that, a deer path in a deer preserve. The Wrong Way Trail probably got its name from hikers who hiked up the trail as the trail was steep and muddy as it plunged straight down to Soggy Bottoms with nary a switchback. It was bad coming down, I can only imagine the abject misery hiking up it.

View down Jackson Creek
The Soggy Bottoms Way was a welcome sight and we headed up while my best Soggy Bottoms jokes were lost on Maggie. We were in a valley bottom and the plan was to hike up (why do I hate myself so?) to the North Ridge. The road's grade was not as bad as the previous section as it angled upwards through leaf littered woods before breaking out into the open. Views down the Jackson Creek drainage all the way to the North Umpqua River abounded and much photography ensued.

Witching tree, near Grumpy's Pond
Maggie and I crossed the steep Powerline Road and lunched at Grumpy's Pond, probably named after somebody whose husband took her hiking up to the pond via the incredibly steep Powerline Road. A short walk from the pond brought us to a 4-way junction and we had a decision to make. The longer loop choice would be a return on the East Ridge, the shorter loop would be to drop down into Blacktail Basin, whose name has nothing to do with another  embarrassing incident which I also don't want to talk about.

Some oaks have the gall
Up to this point, no drops of rain had landed on me and I was OK with that. Rain was on its way though, buckets and buckets of rain. It was just a matter of time, a very short time. So, Blacktail Basin it was and we dropped down into the valley and followed the basin road for a couple of miles back to our car. An enjoyable 10 mile hike and one of these days I'll have return for a habitat hike in the spring.

For the rest of the pictures, please visit the Flickr album.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Castle Rock

This was the hiking equivalent of making lemonade when you have lemons. The hike is only two miles round trip unless you begin on the King Castle Trail in which case you can look forward to an 11.4 mile round trip hike with nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Sounds good to me!

Leaf on a leaf

The original plan was a hike in the Horsepasture Mountain area but alas, the forest service had closed the road for the winter. The irony was that this was a particularly sunny day, they could have waited until it actually snowed. But anyway, a road closure was what I had to deal with so I backtracked and headed up the road to nearby Tidbits Mountain. That road was closed too, causing me to get out of the car and throw a tantrum under the blue sky.

Blushing red with embarrassment
Since I wasted already half the day driving around on forest roads, I lowered my standards and parked at the Castle Rock trailhead, gritting my teeth at the shameful ignominy of hiking only two miles as I silently debated whether I would tell my hiking friends about this.

It's yellow in there
Since this was going to be a short one, I figured I could turn the hike into a photo shoot and take pictures of everything. After the first few steps, it was obvious that the theme of this hike would be "Autumn". The vine maples were running riot with colors, exhibiting every shade of yellow in the known universe.

Yellower than a coward's liver
Tall firs kept the forest shady with the occasional sunbeam filtering through and illuminating a lucky vine maple tree. The combination of light, shadow, and yellows was absolutely entrancing and I quickly forgot about being embarrassed.

Mini-castle rock

The going was slow, due to all the camera fun, and switchbacks kept the grade manageable. After a bit, rocky things began to appear underneath the trees, the green moss on the rocks adding to the color mix. It was quite a shock to suddenly exit the forest onto a dry slope with a big blue sky overhead. A short traverse across the slope brought me to a small saddle with a view for the ages.

View straight down
Castle Rock is a comparatively short 3,808 feet high, looming about 1,500 feet above the McKenzie River valley. So precipitous was the difference between the valley floor and the summit that if I were to pee off the summit (of course, I would never do no such thing) someone in the community of Rainbow would be unhappy about warm rain on a sunny day.

The McKenzie River valley
The McKenzie River follows a glacial trough and I could follow the river's path from its inception at Clear Lake to a much wider version tractoring its way westward to Eugene. The valley floor was an arboreal fireworks display of yellows worthy of a jaundiced lemon. As I lunched there, the clouds lifted and the Three Sisters made an appearance.

Peace in the forest
After a lengthy and relaxing summit lunch, I returned to the forest and all the autumn colors bursting forth as the shadows lengthened in the afternoon. My legs were wondering where the rest of their hike was when we arrived at the car but there was no complaining for me as this small hike delivered in a large way.

For the rest of the pictures, just click on this link.

Family reunion with the Three Sisters