Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cowhorn Mountain

Cowhorn Mountain used to be a lot taller. But in 1911 a storm dehorned the mountain like a bleating 4-H project lamb. However, the natural desecration of an iconic landmark can be cause for celebration as the mountain summit is now much easier to attain.  

Cowhorn Mountain, from the Pacific Crest Trail
So with an "everybody say moo" where I was the only one mooing, the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club sallied forth onto the Pacific Crest Trail on a beautiful, albeit very warm, day. My recollection of this trail from prior hikes was that it was a  4 mile gradual climb to the mountain but the climb didn't seem all that gradual on this day. More than likely it was just me, the trail probably didn't steepen since the last time I hiked here.

One of the Windigo Lakes
The trail basically followed a rocky ridge leading straight to the 'horn. Most of the time was spent in the forest with occasional views to the local landmarks of Mount Thielsen, Mount Bailey, and the two Windigo Lakes below the trail. It wasn't long before camera-addicted hikers such as myself lagged far behind the main group.

We have to climb that?!

Periodically, we had nice views of Cowhorn Mountain which always looked insurmountably craggy and always was demoralizingly much higher than our viewpoints. Eventually the PCT brought us to the base of the mountain where a rock cairn marked the trail jump-off point.

Up, up, up....
Whew!  The trail immediately shot straight up the mountain in soft brown and black pumice. The trees thinned out and those trees attempting life on the mountain were gnarled and stunted. The slopes were littered with dead trees glinting white like bony skeletons. The top of the hill was actually a saddle and false summit combo where we traded black lava for bright red lava, it was like the mountain version of Jupiter's red spot.

Only another half a cowhorn to go
Jane and Robin were  lunching there, content to soak in the views from halfway up the mountain when I arrived.  The peak's jagged summit was right above us and I could see the little dots on top that was the remainder of the hiking club. Unfortunately, I could also see the faint path zigzagging back and forth up the spine of the crest leading to the summit. I tell you, I need to quit looking ahead.

Crescent Lake distracts from the scramble up
Just short of the summit, the path petered out altogether and the summit was attained by scrambling up a rocky stairway.  Use of hands is required and I put my surgically repaired wrist to the test. As I neared the summit, I could hear the heathens on top saying "Here comes yon laggard" or something along those lines.

Diamond Peak and Summit Lake
Cowhorn Mountain sports one of the best views in the Oregon Cascades. Directly to the north was large Crescent Lake, it's sapphire waters in a bowl surrounded by miles of forest. Surrounding the lake were a number of lesser lakes comprising the Windy Lakes and the Oldenburg Lakes.

Sawtooth Peak

We could see some mountains too, notably Diamond Peak and immediate neighbor Sawtooth Peak. In the far distance were snowy North Sister, Middle Sister, and the top of Mount Jefferson.

Al, on the Cowhorn dismount
After lunch, we picked our way carefully down the mountain where all that leg-braking left my legs wobbly as a jellyfish in a sea current. Walking 4 miles back to the car on tired legs in the heat made for slow going and I straggled in behind everybody else. It could have been worse, though, Cowhorn Mountain could have its horn and be taller than it is now.

The Pacific Crest Trail
For more pictures of the hike, please visit the Flickr album.     

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Matthieu Lakes Loop

For most of this summer, southwest Oregon had been on fire. We've had to give up hiking along the Rogue River, the Illinois River, and up the South Umpqua River. To a lesser extent, we've also had to give up blue summer skies as a smoky haze periodically filled the Umpqua Basin, depending on how the wind blew that day. But the fire gods have been kinder north of us and on a crisp clear day on McKenzie Pass, I gave thanks for smoke free air. Of course, my thanks were somewhat in vain as fire did eventually become part of my hike, but more on that later.

Gotta love that wilderness solitude

It was a gorgeous day at McKenzie Pass, nary a cloud in the sky, a breeze kept things cool, and the air sparkled with clarity. Of course, a nice day just invited like-minded people and the Pacific Crest Trail parking lot at Lava Camp Lake was full of cars, backpackers, and day hikers. One gentleman with two young boys stopped by to ask for directions to North Matthieu Lake as I was lacing up my boots. Carry a map, boys and girls, your family and your local search and rescue department will thank you.

Happy place!
Entering the Three Sisters Wilderness, the first part of the hike was in viewless forest (with no mosquitoes!) on the Pacific Crest Trail, hereafter referred to as the PCT. There were a number of through hikers on their way to Canada. The through hikers were easy to distinguish from the weekenders due to their athletic builds, light packs, and a certain "air" about them that lingered in the forest long after they passed by. At about 1.5 miles of steady climbing, the PCT left the forest and the fun stuff started.

These are lava lands and rivers of black rock coursed along the trail before emptying into a black rock sea. Small cones dotted the landscape like geological gooseflesh, but it was the larger peaks of the Cascades that commanded attention. Spaced equidistant and arrayed in a row like trail cairns for the hiking gods, were the volcanoes of Belknap Crater, Mount Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, and 80 mile distant Mount Hood.  Truly a vista for the ages,

South Matthieu Lake
At around the 3 mile mark at Scott Pass, South Matthieu Lake lay nestled between the two red cones flanking the high pass.  From the north side of the lake loomed nearby Black Crater, looking more red than black.  But it was the south side view that stole the show as the upper half of craggy North Sister loomed over the blue lake.  A breeze was blowing but the reflection must be particularly beautiful on a calm morn.


I hadn't planned to hike very far as it had been a 3.5 hour drive to the trailhead.  I figured I'd just grab the trail to North Matthieu Lake and then loop back to the trailhead for a moderate 6 miler. But Yapoah Crater, a symmetrical cinder cone responsible for the massive lava flow next to the PCT, called me "Richard...Richard..." My feet began moving and it was futile to resist.

No shade for me

Leaving South Matthieu Lake it was just me and acres and miles of black rock with North Sister looking down at me like the big sister she is. The wind died and I began to bake like a spaghetti squash with the crunch-crunch of footsteps in pumice as my only companion. At the base of of the crater, the PCT snaked its way up and around the cone.

At the base of Yapoah Crater

A tip of the hat to the Yapoah Crater groundskeepers is in order, here. The cone was perfectly conical and the grounds were seemingly raked smooth as a major league baseball diamond. I briefly entertained a notion of hiking to the top of the crater but it was way too hot and I still had to hike around the cinder cone to get to the summit use trail. Saving a crater climb for a cooler day, I turned around and headed back north on the PCT.

Wildfire smoke arrives at North Matthieu Lake
On the return to Scott Pass, I did take the trail to North Matthieu Lake which dropped several hundred feet below the PCT.  A short downhill hike brought me to North Matthieu Lake where I exchanged pleasantries with the weekenders ringing the shoreline. I was glad to see the guy with his two sons had found the lake because of, or in spite of, my directions. As I left I caught a whiff of campfire smoke.

Orange light indicated a fire was nearby

Internally hurling invective at stupid campers willfully ignoring a fire ban in fire season, I continued hiking. However, the weird orange color that happens when sunlight filters through a seine of smoke began to color the air. The forest filled up with thick smoke and ash flakes flitted through the trees like moths of death. And I had no idea where the fire was. The hikers I encountered on the trail had no idea either. I soldiered on quickly, listening for the crackling of flames while plotting escape routes should it come to that. Disconcerting, to put it mildly.

Yapoah Crater's lava flow
As it turned out, 4 miles away, the Hand Lake Fire decided to announce its presence that afternoon. By the time I drove home a massive plume was rising from the lake basin like an ashy tornado. Fire fighters and equipment were gathering at the Hand Lake Trailhead where I found out they don't like cars to stop and take pictures. Despite that failing, a round of applause for the fine work they do as the Hand Lake Fire was fully suppressed after it had grown to ten acres.

For more pictures of this hike, but not the fire (I put my camera away and walked fast to the car, sorry I wasn't thinking about my readers), see the Flickr album.

A time to reflect

Saturday, August 10, 2013

New River

About 150 years ago it rained in Oregon. Not an especially rare event but on this particular occasion it rained enough to fill up the rivers. In other parts of the world, this is referred to as "flooding" but as "just another storm" in our little waterlogged corner of the sandbox. So, you can imagine the surprise farmers and ranchers residing in the Langlois area felt when they found a river coursing through their pastures, no doubt causing cow's milk to sour while still in the udder. The obvious observation to be made in this case was something along the lines of "Hey, that's a new river!" And that, roughly, is how the New River came to be.

If not the New, then it's good as New
The New River is a work in progress as its mouth has migrated quite a bit north over the years. In fact, the mouth of the river is about 5 miles further north than the current maps show, answering the question of where does a river go: anywhere it wants to. The New River parallels the Oregon coast directly behind the beach foredunes and I've bumped into the New a time or two on various hikes, but this would be the first time I'd ever visited the New River Natural Area.

Manzanita trunk after the morning rain
The trails in the New River are too short for my standards but since 5-year old Coral Rae was spending a weekend with Grandpa, the New River was just right for both new and old hikers.  Beginning at the nature center, we grabbed a sandy track through coastal woods bursting with the green growth of madrones, manzanita, salal, rhododendrons, and huckleberries.

Hey, we have a hike to finish!

Ah yes, the huckleberries. Intent on imparting my formidable fount of knowledge to the young, I showed Coral Rae how to distinguish the huckleberries from all the other greenery. Of course, the berries kind of helped with the plant identification. Once Coral Rae sampled a single berry, she grazed with the best of them. It was slow going because she apparently wanted to eat every berry she saw.

That's my girl!
We took a berry break and ate lunch at boat ramp next to the New River.  The River was shallow but fairly wide and neither one of us wanted to wade across to the beach, particularly as the weather was threatening rain.  Coral Rae found a small garter snake and just like a true descendant of mine, she touched the slithering reptile on its back.  My heart nearly burst with pride!

Slug aerodynamics
This was definitely a tactile hike as Coral Rae had to touch everything from soft moss to slimy slugs.  There were a number of large slugs on the trail and she carefully transported several of them to safety off trail.  On one occasion, the slug rescue was rewarded with a discovery of a thicket of ripe blackberries.

When I grow up I want to be a purple poop pooper

Speaking of ripe berries, we came across some bear poop, stained purple from the berries.  Coral voiced her ambition to eat enough berries to turn her poop purple. It's nice to have goals.

Insect social on a Queen Anne's Lace
After visiting Mud Lake, which was not muddy, we returned back to the nature center, closing out this three mile hike. Inside the center, animal skulls were arrayed on a table and much skull touching ensued from a delighted 5-year old before we headed back to Roseburg.

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