Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bullpup Lake

Sometimes, it's just the "being" of hiking and not the destination. As an example, consider a recent Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club sortie to Bullpup Lake. Actually, saying we hiked to Bullpup Lake is somewhat misleading as we arrived at the small lake in less than a mile. The rest of the day was spent wandering aimlessly on an up and down ridge trail in viewless forest. That's a statement of fact and not a complaint, as we all enjoyed the forest walk despite not really going anywhere in particular.

Bullpup Lake
Starting at the chilly trailhead, the trail immediately began heading uphill before delivering panting hikers to Bullpup Lake. The lake is small and the water is less than pristine but it made for a nice camera stop as the lake reflected the surrounding forest quite nicely. And then the "fun" started.

I'm NOT tired, I'm just taking pictures!
The trail left Bullpup Lake and headed up a forested slope, emphasis on the word "up". The trail ascended 1,000 feet in about a mile, and I quickly realized I had forgotten to pack my uphill leg muscles this morning. However, the camera is a reliable refuge for tired hikers and lots of pictures of mushrooms and the morning sun slanting through the trees were taken. 

We were switchbacking up a ridge and eventually we found ourselves at the edge of a treeless lava flow. It was culture shock of sorts to find ourselves under a blue sky instead of a tree canopy. A nice view was had to Bohemia Mountain, Fairview Peak, and other high points in the Calapooya Mountains range across the Big Bend Creek drainage.

Diamond Peak
Shortly thereafter, we attained a ridge crest and the hike then became typical of ridges: up and down but never level. The ridge was heavily forested and offered little or no views. I bushwhacked briefly to a rocky viewpoint that offered a partial view of Diamond Peak, South Sister, and Mount Jefferson, the tips of which rose above the Middle Fork Willamette River valleys. 

The North Umpqua River valley
At a rare open meadow, we ate lunch while enjoying views looking down the North Umpqua River valley with a number of large peaks faintly visible on the horizon.  I'm not sure which particular peaks we were looking at but they were probably in the Siskiyou Mountains range. The sun felt good after the cool forest.

The Quest for Bulldog Rock

After lunch, a contingent continued on in what would turn out to be a futile quest for the summit of nearby Bulldog Rock. The forest made navigating difficult and they wound up walking past the rock, never realizing they were actually on the Bulldog Rock slope. So they got to enjoy a long walk in the woods without particularly going anywhere, part of the "being" of hiking in a forest.

No mountain lion pictures, this will have to do!
Oh, one more cool thing happened on this trip. On the drive out, a mountain lion darted out in front of my car, followed by another mountain lion. Now, how cool is that?  For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Iron Mountain

A friend of mine recently offered this solution for solving the next budget crisis and government shutdown: Lock up Congress in a room and until an agreement is reached, they can't leave except for food and bathroom breaks. I strongly disagreed with my friend:  Why give them food and bathroom breaks?

Iron Mountain's spire, from the summit
I offer the above paragraph to point out that the problem is not that members of Congress don't speak to each other to solve problems but that none of them are hikers. It's just too hard to not get along when hiking. In all my miles of trail, I have found hikers to be one of the friendliest bunch of people around. People of disparate backgrounds, different philosophies, and competing religions can all unite for the common goal: namely, reaching the car at the end of the trail and stopping for ice cream on the way home. Case in point was a recent hike to the summit of Iron Mountain by two people that can be as opposite as can be and I am referring to me and Mrs. O'Neill.

Scary things inhabit the woods
The full autumn show had passed us by but there were a few desultory yellow leaves as we started at the Tombstone Pass Trailhead. Tombstone Prairie was brown and dead due to the snows that had hit this area late September. The snow confused the vine maples and the leaves died on the vine, so to speak, and the dry brown leaves rustled with the slightest air current.

Autumn glory
After a short walk, we crossed busy Santiam Highway (look both ways before crossing, boys and girls) and the hike began in earnest on the Cone Peak Trail. "Up" was the operative word as the trail climbed almost 1,000 feet in just a little over 1.7 miles. No complaints yet as we were still pretty fresh and we enjoyed the shaded forest with the yellow and brown leaves in the understory.  The floor was carpeted with ankle-high thimbleberry, their leaves all glowing bright yellow.

Arrival at Cone Peak
Two miles into the hike, we took a respite from the uphill trudgery to admire views of Cone Peak and South Peak. The trail had left the forest and entered some lava barrens and the lack of trees led to the nice views under a deep blue sky. We also got our first glimpse of Iron Mountain with its distinctive pillar forever standing at respectful attention. We were trail-overlapping a family with two young girls around 5 and 8 years old. The kids were noisy with enthusiasm but on the plus side, we would not surprise any bears today. The parents are my candidates for Parents of the Year as they were taking the tykes on the full 7 mile loop, steep climbs and all.

Down into the murky woods
Leaving the slopes of Cone Peak, the trail then dropped down off a ridge and entered another shady forest which meant we had to climb out of the forest instead of staying on the level ridge. Why do trail designers hate their clients so? I think they should be locked in a room with no bathroom breaks or else be made to hike their own trails. But I digress.

How not to have a happy wife
So a brief climb took us around the shady side of Iron Mountain and then the fun started again. The side trip to the Iron Mountain summit was a seemingly interminable series of switchbacks up a treeless and rocky slope. It was about here we started to have our own budget crisis, hiking-wise. Fortunately, we averted a shutdown by making use of several stone benches conveniently sited at the switchbacks.  

That's it, I quit!
At a rocky viewpoint, Mrs. O'Neill lay down on the ground, her head dangling awkwardly as she was too tired to even remove her daypack. "That's it, I quit!" she stated ever so dramatically. "You go ahead to the summit, how far is it anyway?" I didn't bother to answer, pointing instead to the summit platform about 20 yards away. After a good laugh, she trudged the short distance to the summit.

Summit platform
The summit used to have a lookout on top but winds removed the structures several times so now we have a sturdily constructed viewing platform. A memorial plaque dedicated to Michael Robin, a lookout staffer who fell to his death in 1990, is a somber reminder about the danger of getting too close to the edge.  Nowadays, the summit platform is well railed to prevent another tragic accident.

The Three Sisters
The views were stupendous with the snowy Three Sisters rising to the southeast. Mount Jefferson was even closer, rising well above Crescent Mountain as it should, seeing how Jefferson is Oregon's second tallest peak. Mount Hood, 70 miles away, was clearly visible and amazingly beyond Hood was a ghostly white mound that could only be Mount Adams in southern Washington, a mere 128 miles away! Diamond Peak was brooding to the south and yet further south were the Crater Lake Rim peaks, faintly visible on the horizon.  To the west above the smoke filled valleys (it's wood stove season) was Mary's Peak, a Coast Range stalwart.  You really can see forever if you get high enough on a clear day.

Late afternoon
All good things come to an end and we picked our way carefully down the switchbacks and dropped back into the forest, descending into the Hackleman Creek drainage. As shadows lengthened, a short walk on the Santiam Wagon Road (now a trail) brought us full circle to our car. In a last cruel twist of fate, it was a very steep climb to the trailhead. I think Mrs. O'Neill wanted to lock both the trail designers and myself in a room with no bathroom breaks.

Uphill through the colors
For more pictures of this hike on a beautiful day, please visit the Flickr album.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dry Creek

First of all, Dry Creek was not dry. The hike had been billed as a hike up Dry Creek which would be intermittently dry and wet with "...occasional sections of ankle deep to knee deep water". Actually, Dry Creek was intermittently wet and wetter and yes, there were occasional knee deep and ankle deep sections to go along with the one chest high section. At least there were no sections that were over our heads! Lest this be interpreted as a complaint, I'll go on record stating this was a fantastic hike, wet feet and torso notwithstanding.

Every hike should start like this
Acting upon an invite from trail buddy Toresa, we joined up with the South Coast Striders, a hiking club based in the Coos Bay area. Along with Toresa's friend Jessie, we drove over to a nondescript pullout near Edson Creek County Park along the Sixes River.  A rope was tied to a boat trailer and everybody sort of crabbed down the steep embankment to the river's edge, hanging on to the rope for safety. From there it was a knee deep wade across the river.  So, we'd hiked about 50 yards and already had done some rappelling and some water walking, it already was a great hike!

And every hike should start like this, too!
A short walk on a faint and rough sandy path along the river brought us to Dry Creek, the object of our affections on this hike.  Flanked by dense brush, the only option was to hike up the creek bed, picking out the shallower parts. Most of it was knee deep, causing hike leader Reg to wryly note the tropical storm from two weekends ago had really messed with this hike.  But, hey, the sun was out and the water was rain temp, not snow temp, and the cool water felt good on the legs.

Dry Creek
Thick stands of willow and patches of blackberry brambles discouraged hikers from leaving the creek as we worked our way upstream with occasional island and rocky bar. When we crossed the Rogue River - Siskiyou National Forest boundary, the forest had been left alone and big leaf maples draped themselves over the creek. The maple leaves were turning yellow and reflected nicely over the shaded creek. Moss hung from the branches with some of the drapes nearly as long as I am tall.

Dry Creek wasn't very dry
At one point, there was a deep pool lined by willows and there was no shallow wading here. I sallied forward and each step took me deeper and deeper, and there I was, waist deep in the creek. A branch barred my way and when I took the next step to get around, I was chest deep, frantically holding my camera above my head. I could hear the conversation behind me stop in shocked silence, the unspoken question being "Will it get any deeper?"  At that point, a contingent headed up into the forest in search of a bypass while some followed me, although I noticed they hugged the willow trees to keep the water at a manageable waist height. Even though I was a guest of the Striders, it was beginning to feel a lot like home.

Bridge into the Grassy Knob Wilderness
We ate lunch at a picturesque and slightly dilapidated bridge on a logging road. Dangling our feet over the edge, we dried out socks and boots and generally worshiped the warm sun. Leaves floated idly by in the languid current, matching my mood perfectly. It was an ideal lollygag.

Life drifts by slowly
The bridge denoted the boundary with the Grassy Knob Wilderness. The wilderness is undeveloped and the only official trail I know of is a short path to the top of Grassy Knob itself. Entering the wilderness, we continued on upstream as the creek canyon got deeper and the trees became bigger. The pools were deeper  too, with the deep blue crystalline water allowing us to see occasional small fish swimming around in panic. Frogs also hopped away from the scary hikers, paddling frantically in the water to escape.

Forest fire
After nearly three miles through this sumptuous autumnal feast for the eyes, we turned around and headed back as the shadows lengthened. We got to enjoy the autumn colors draped overhead under a blue sky all over again. For variety, we did try to find a way back overland and got to "enjoy" a bushwhack through ankle-grabbing, leg-raking brush and brambles. Moss, sword ferns, and mushrooms kept camera toting hikers happily entertained despite the travails. When we recrossed the creek, I was happy to perform the water aerobics all over again, hiking down the creek with Toresa and Jessie. Plus, we got to rappel back up to the car! Was this a great hike, or what?

Tiny mushroom on a log
For more pictures see the Flickr album.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cape Blanco 10/2013

The weather forecast called for 20% chance of showers which meant conversely there was an 80% chance of no showers. Nearly a sure thing for gamblers but the ones winning the bet last Saturday were those who placed their life savings on water falling from the sky. I was leading this hike in the Cape Blanco area for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club so the odds were probably skewed somewhat by the Richard Hike factor.

Let's go the rain!
Fourteen friends braved the elements and the rain started to pitter-patter on hat brims and ponchos pretty much when we started hiking through the brown and green grasslands flanking the Sixes River estuary. A short walk on the Castle Rock Trail through the grasses hissing from either the rain or breeze took us up and over the beach foredune to a face to face encounter with the Castle Rock island just offshore.

Gloomy day in paradise
Once on the beach, we turned left and headed towards Cape Blanco looming at the end of the beach like the ramparts of a black castle wall. The lighthouse was affixed to the top like a tassel on a Shriner's fez, its light flashing every thirty seconds or so in the gloom. It was low tide, and we had plenty of room to walk on the rain-soaked sands below the cape. As an aside, long walks in the rain on the beach are not as romantic as touted. Some romances wind up feeling like a long walk in the rain on the beach, but that's another story.

View to the south
At the foot of the cape, the route took us on a brisk climb away from the cape as a large flock of seagulls took flight squawking in noisy annoyance, protesting our intrusion onto their beach. It's just not a hike unless it goes steeply uphill at some point and this walk officially became a hike on the brisk climb away from the shore. Sweeping vistas awaited us atop the cape, though, where even on a gloomy day the views can impress. To the north, a curving bay containing the mouth of the Sixes river arced to distant Blacklock Point. A similar scene unfolded to the south with the Port Orford Headlands and Humbug Mointain in the distance. And numerous rocks and islands dotted the steel-gray waters of the Pacific Ocean, sprinkled liberally like ground pepper on an oceanic salad.

Rapunzel lives here
A short walk up a rain-slicked road took us to the lighthouse where several of our group took the docent's tour to the top of the tower with its massive Fresnel lens shining its powerful beacon many miles over the seas. The rest of us just wandered aimlessly on the grassy grounds next to the historical building.

Needle Rock is not all that needlely
After hanging out at the Cape Blanco lighthouse for a bit, we dropped down a steep goat track to the beach next to Needle Rock where we sat on a log and ate lunch. Needle Rock didn't look so needlely up close. Last time I was in this area, the beach was covered with logs and tsunami debris but not so much this time. There was a large pole that was covered with odd little shellfish that resembled a flock of butterflies resting on the eighth day of an intercontinental migration. I'm no marine biologist but I wonder if these organisms are unwelcome travelers from the Japanese tsunami.

My call to Dial-a-Sun paid off
The weather abated as we ate lunch and we continued our beach walk while the clouds thinned out. By the time we climbed back up to the cape, blue sky and a weak sun provided a nice counterpoint to the rainy morning. All in all, a nice way to spend a Saturday.

How pictures get made
For more pictures of this hike, See the Flickr album.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Brown Mountain

It definitely was time for some mental floss.  I've been having a crappy attitude that comes with working and not getting paid due to the government shutdown. Watching little men with big egos endlessly bloviate and palaver on TV, posturing for meaningless sound bites while my salary is held in abeyance is just not healthy. It was time to seek peace and enlightenment on the trail where the only things to be held hostage are my leg muscles.

The Pacific Crest Trail calms angry government workers
Starting out at the Summit Sno-Park at the foot of Mount McLaughlin, I followed the shady Pacific Crest Trail downhill towards busy Highway 140. The trail followed the dry Cascade Canal which looked less like a canal and more like a seasonal creek. I'm not entirely sure but I think the canal was a misguided and heretical attempt to drain water from Fourmile Lake down to Fish Lake.  

A tribe of fungi
Autumn has come to the Cascades as the thimbleberry leaves on the forest floor were turning yellow while white snowberries and red rose apples graced their respective bushes and shrubs.  Mushrooms of various shapes and colors sprouted forth from fallen trees, decaying logs, earth, and pine duff. Not even a mile into the hike, and already I could feel mellowness enter my soul.

River of black rock, no diving allowed
After crossing Highway 140, the PCT crossed the High Lakes Trail, a rather utilitarian hiking trail that connects Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods. Shortly after, the trees suddenly ended and spit me out into acres of black basalt.  The rocks had been delivered courtesy of Brown Mountain which was unseen somewhere above me while rivers of rock tractored downhill through the forest.

The Pacific Crest Trail

A lot of work had gone into constructing the PCT in this stretch as the trail had been dynamited into existence through the black lava flows; the trail bed afterwards was filled with red volcanic cinder. The trail tread was brightly visible in the black geology and all one has to do is follow the Red Brick Road, so to speak.

A pictorial metaphor of my mood
Naturally, vegetation is somewhat challenged to gain a foothold in the lava fields but chinquapin didn't seem to have a problem as large tracts of the bushes flanked the trail. Chinquapin is fairly nondescript as plants go but their spiny seed pods are quite distinctive and the trail was littered with the "porcupine eggs".

This is why we hike
Climbing steadily on the flanks of Brown Mountain, the trail soon offered sublimely expansive views of Mount McLaughlin, its cone lightly frosted as a freshly made doughnut. Periodically, Fish Lake (or part of it, anyway) could be seen in a forested bowl below the majestic volcano. Much photography ensued as I gained elevation.  

Thimbleberry, going all autumn on us
At the three mile mark, the trail reached a crest with the last view of McLaughlin before dipping into viewless forest.  It was the logical turnaround point and I enjoyed a lengthy lunch in the cool sun while soaking in the panoramic vista figuratively laying at my feet.  On the way back down to the car, the PCT kept me pointed at Mount McLaughlin and I never tired of the view.  Mental floss, in the first degree.

A glimpse of the future

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Cape Arago (lite)

Grandson Daweson surprised us with an unexpected overnight visit but I gladly returned my backpack to the hanger in the basement. I can always do a coast weekender some other time, weather permitting. In a giving mood, I added Daweson's cousins Aiden and Coral Rae to the mix and we headed off to Cape Arago for a kiddie hike.

The little darlings
When the kiddies got restless, which was only about 5 minutes into the drive, I trotted out the old tongue-twister "I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit..." Peals of laughter broke out every time one of them inadvertently said the bad word that particular tongue-twister is designed to elicit. Juvenile and puerile and not my proudest moment as a grandfather, but on the other hand that particular activity kept them engaged for the rest of the trip.  I didn't have to hear one whiny "How much longer?" on the two hour drive

Calm, just like me after the lobotomy
Starting out at Sunset Bay, the boys were off and running down the trail while Coral Rae stayed with me, prattling on about unicorns, princesses, sparkly dresses, and such. As a Cape Arago veteran, I'm always amazed at the how much of the park's acreage and trail system has been gobbled up by the ocean over the last 5 years or so. At one point, a fence herds hikers off onto the new trail system that works its way inland and away from the cliffs. Safer, but the old trail used to be so cool. The boys saw the fence and immediately climbed over to see what was on the other side, earning a stern admonishment from their grandfather.

Atop the shoreline cliffs
I was nervous as we hiked on the unfenced trail that hugs the cliffs above the restless ocean below but by this time the kids had gotten the message and they sensibly saved the horseplay for a safer stretch of trail. From the cliffs we had nice view of Sunset Bay and all the islands and shoals dotting the surf. The Cape Arago lighthouse was eminently visible on the largest island across the turquoise waters.

A concretion in the sandstone
At the site of the old (and eroding) tennis courts belonging to the old Simpson estate, the waves crashing over the reefs have eroded the inclined sandstone layers into all sorts of phantasmagorical shapes that resemble a herd of macabre sea lions. Despite it being high tide, the sea was as uncharacteristically calm as a mountain lake at dawn. The boys were off and scrambling up and down the rocky shoals and exploring the tide pools.

Stinky calamari, anyone?
After a lunch at the whale observation building, we continued on to Simpson Beach which wound up being the highlight for the kids. There was much wading, splashing, swimming, followed by a body-burying session in the warm sand. Aiden found a squid tentacle that smelled atrocious and Coral Rae filled her pockets with shell and rock treasures.

Golden gods 
After the hike, I treated them to burgers, soda,  and ice cream.  Fully sugared up and confined in a cramped car on the way home, they quickly became bored and restless.  It was time to trot out "I'm not the pheasant plucker, I am the pheasant plucker's son; I just pluck pheasants until the pheasant plucker comes"  I'm either the best or the worst grandfather, ever.

For more pictures of scenic Cape Arago, see the Flickr album.