Thursday, November 28, 2013

North Bank East Loop

You're supposed to burn off the calories after the Thanksgiving Day feast. Of course, the smarter thing to do in the first place would be not to overeat to the point where the ungodly mix of gravy, bread rolls, cheesecake, ice cream, and habanero hot sauce send all the male relatives to sleep it off on living room sofas, recliners, and rocking chairs with our distended abdomens making us look like poster children for male pregnancy. This year I did it backwards though, hiking before the gala of gluttony that is Thanksgiving Day dinner. I'm not sure if walking before the food fest was smarter or not, but I did get a good hike out of the holiday and that is never a bad thing.

Sun...need more s-s-sun
Getting up early Thanksgiving morning, I hopped in the car and quickly drove over to the nearby North Bank Deer Habitat before the coffee molecules stimulated my brain cells and made them reconsider the decision to go hiking. A couple of things were noted getting out of the car parked next to the closed gate: dang, it was cold and dang, it was foggy.  Kind of dark too, since the sun allegedly was just rising, I really couldn't tell from the light or warmth, or lack thereof.

Drink coffee before picking your hike

The thick fog was probably a blessing as the hike started, because the East Boundary Road charges up a formidable ridge without preamble, about as subtle as a flaming meteor striking the earth. The trails in the habitat are all steep but the East Boundary Road is probably the steepest, climbing nearly 1,000 feet in the first mile. Since visibility was limited, there were no demoralizing views of the trail ascending the so-called gentle and rolling hills of the habitat.

OK, the hike just got totally awesome
It was a quiet morning with the only sounds in the fog were those of boots crunching into icy soil and the gasping breaths of your intrepid blogster. The trail climbed up and out of the fog and oh my, what an utterly fantastic view. Below me was a blanket of low clouds filling the North Umpqua River valleys with the tips of mountains rising out of the soft white cottony sea like small forested islands. Quickly forgetting about burning quad muscles, I stopped frequently in solitary appreciation of the view. Who am I kidding?  I stopped frequently because of burning quad muscles but I was also appreciative of the vista.

The fine line between light and dark
After the first couple of miles, the trailed leveled out, relatively speaking. There was still plenty of uphill walking yet to be done but the grade was nowhere nearly as taxing as it had been. Below the trail, the shadows cast by the ridge crest played upon fogbound Blacktail Basin and I tried to get a picture of my own shadow doing a funny pose but could never quite pull off the trick.

Oh, deer
At a bench strategically sited at the top of the steepest stretch of trail, it was time to shed some clothing layers before heading up the trail in the morning sun. Birds twittered in the bushes and hawks keened their distinctive piercing whistle. A solitary Columbia white-tailed deer scampered across a hillside about a half-mile away from me. I pulled out the camera and switched to the telephoto lens, locking it onto the camera body. Click! That deer heard me! It does makes one appreciate the stealthiness of deer-hunting cougars because that deer demonstrated a very keen sense of hearing.

I make bad choices
About three miles up the ridge, a fork in the road offered another rest spot and it was decision time. The left fork angled gently (relatively!) across the north boundary ridge while the right fork charged madly straight up the slope, reminiscent of the first mile of this hike. Sometimes, you just can't get any more tired than you already are and armed with that dubious logic, I headed up the steeper right fork.

Sutherlin, somewhere in there

There was much rejoicing at the north boundary ridge, even though the uphill walking was not yet finished. From the ridge, there were stunning views of fogbound Sutherlin and the equally fogbound North Umpqua River basin. The slope dropped away steeply from my feet with Blacktail Basin directly below. Even though much of the morning fog had burned off, there was still plenty of white cloud blanketing the valley like a snow white virgin Huggy. Still a vista for the ages.

Do you like my highlights?
After a short climb, the trail dropped down to the purple martin sanctuary with purple martin apartments dangling from a man-made tree of sorts.  Purple or otherwise, no martins were nesting here today, though. Leaving behind the purple martin condo complex, the trail angled gently downhill and the transition was permanent:  it was all downhill from here as the road dropped down to the hilariously named Soggy Bottoms.

Soggy Bottoms does not look its name
My GPS data showed me walking 40 minute miles on the climb up and clicking off 23 minute miles on the way down. Empiric proof I walk faster downhill.  Whee, it was fun to go downhill and in no time I found myself in the car heading towards a destiny with a plateful of food. This was a great hike and call me thankful!

Beautiful trail flanked by ugly poison oak
For more pictures of the hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Roseburg to Winston walk

The inspiration (if you can call it that!) for this hike came last April during National Walk to Work Week. Walking to work is a little bit problematic for me as I live in Winston but work in Roseburg. It'd be a bit much to do before work unless I want to begin the walk at 2 in the morning, and I don't. But I do want to walk to work but not from home, so the pertinent questions were where to start from and how much time would it take? Data was required and a fact-finding expedition was launched last weekend.

Not feeling the love, here

Dollie was going to the YMCA in Roseburg Saturday morning so she dropped me off at the office where I was greeted by the fattest cat in the world. Fat Cat is our office cat and she meows by croaking like a frog. The other office cat, Blaze, hates Fat Cat and both cats wanted my attention when I showed up. The end result was that this walk began with a whole lot of hissing and spitting, why should this hike be any different from any other hike?

Autumn in Stewart Park
Leaving the feline sworn mortal enemies behind, the route followed city streets before picking up the Stewart Park bike path. Geese populated the nearby duck pond with several flocks taking flight in full goose honking song. The sky had been overcast and it'd been cold. To the west, however, the clouds were dissipating, maybe it would be a nice day for a while.

Bridge over the South Umpqua River
The park is nice and quiet on a chilly morning and the South Umpqua River pooled tranquilly below the bike path. A few intrepid disc golfers were out as the sun suddenly broke out for a glorious morning after all. Unfortunately, the nice weather lasted all of about 30 minutes and ended as I grabbed the path below the freeway overpass.

I so love a wilderness hike!
Interstate 5 would be my friend for the next several miles as the bike path followed the freeway. We used to have to ride our bikes to work on busy Highway 99 so we are most grateful for this relatively new bike path between Winston and Roseburg. From a hiking standpoint, however, this is not your wilderness hike as the whoosh-whoosh sound from speeding cars and trucks was a constant.

On the Winston-Roseburg bike path

The fairgrounds was a busy place this morning as a dog show was going on. I don't think some of those dogs were in their natural state as they were all foo-fooed up with ribbons and mauve colored fur. Actually, the same could be said about some of  the dog owners too. Bypassing the canine hullabaloo, my walk resumed on a bike path situated between the polar opposites of the South Umpqua River and I-5.

Wouldn't be the first time I've gone the Wrong Way
The fairgrounds is where Roseburg sort of ends and it was like a walk in the country where the country has a noisy highway in it. I was passed by a lone cyclist and three joggers on the approach to the I-5 bridge between Green and Roseburg.  By this time, the sun was long gone and dark clouds were approaching with tendrils of rain falling out of them.  Rain would be in my immediate future.

View from underneath the freeway
The bike path is an engineering marvel, hanging underneath the I-5 bridge. The South Umpqua flows lazily underneath the wide and paved path dangling from the span overhead. Best of all, the freeway above kept me dry as the skies opened up. Unfortunately, the bike path ends at the bridge and home was still about 5 miles away. Also unfortunately, my brand new athletic shoes were well into the process of wearing a hole in the bottom of my foot. Perhaps the hiking boots would have been a better choice for this hike.

Well, say hello Dollie
At 8 miles and shortly after leaving the bridge, the feet really became uncomfortable so this hike ended with a cell phone call to Dollie who came to pick me up. That was a first!

Colorful leaf pile
For more pictures of this urban hike, see the Flickr album.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

North Bank Deer Habitat

I was naughty and needed to be punished. How else to explain hiking in the North Bank Deer Habitat? It's not like I did anything really bad, I just slept in on a Sunday morning. But a 10 AM start out of the house means having to hike close to home and since the Habitat is in our back yard, figuratively speaking, there really wasn't any other realistic destination. So, with some muttering of "I hate hiking!", I shouldered my day pack and trudged up yet another steep trail section heading straight up the so-called gentle rolling hills of the Habitat.

The scraggly oak capital of the world 
The North Bank Deer Habitat is a former ranch property in the gentle (ha!) rolling hills on the north bank of the North Umpqua River. The grassy hills are dotted with oak, maple, and cedar trees and hikers don't want to generally go off-trail due to poison oak and thistles with both plants ready, willing, and able to torment would-be explorers.

Old man's beard

All trails in the Habitat begin low, next to the river, and wind up high on the grassy ridges about 1,200 feet above the river. The trails get up there in a hurry and despite the relatively low elevation, there is plenty of steep uphill hiking involved. While the Habitat trail system is a medieval torture chamber with trails, it is nonetheless a beautiful place to visit and the views of the North Umpqua River valleys make all the sweat and toil worth it.

Beginning at the western parking lot, a level trail through the working part of the Jackson Ranch warmed up legs in pleasant preparation for the uphill hiking. The oaks were all scraggly and leafless while the odd big-leaf maple tree provided some autumn color.  A hawk in a tree whistled an alarm, ensuring I'd see no wildlife today. After a mile or so, a junction with the Chasm Creek and Bear Tree Roads (all the trails are jeep roads) put an end to the level hiking and the real "fun" began.

The Bear Tree

A steep climb (a phrase that will get used often in this blog entry) pulls hikers out of the Chasm Creek valley floor and delivers them to the Bear Tree. This tree is the oldest and largest madrone tree that I have seen, so much so that it has a name and a namesake trail. A remark in the visitor's log indicated someone had a bear encounter at the tree but I'm glad to report no bear was visiting the tree when I arrived, thanks to the tattletale hawk.

Up, up, up...
After taking some Bear Tree pictures which do not do justice to the majesty of this ancient giant, it was back to the uphill grind. The trail took off at a steep rate up a hill and how many steep hill climbs can there be on this trail anyway?  The answer is 1,418 hills were climbed on my way to the Boundary Ridge, for those wanting an empirical answer to a rhetorical question. At any rate, there were plenty of opportunities to admonish myself for sleeping in as my penance was paid on the push up through the grass covered hills.

I hate hiking!
Up, up, up the trail went, rising 800 feet in just a mile, or a 15% grade as we like to call it. Finally the boundary ridge was reached and the trail leveled out, comparatively speaking. The ridge consisted of a series of grassy knobs and the trail went up and down, up and down, up and down, but never level as it surmounted in turn each of the knobs.

View to the North Umpqua River
No complaining allowed, though, as the views really do make it worthwhile. From the ridge, I could peer down into Sutherlin while smoke plumes from rustic wood stoves floated poetically out of the North Umpqua River valley. Looking southwest, layers of layers of blue mountains marched as far as the eye could see. Virtually at my feet, about 1,300 feet below, was the river perambulating around Whistlers Bend, the water glinting silver in the afternoon sun. A perfect place for a lunchtime lollygag and I obliged.

Oaks, overhead
The 7.8 mile loop was closed after lunch by dropping down the steep (what else?) Middle Ridge Trail as the afternoon shadows lengthened.  The steep descent was broken up by the occasional steep ascent up a grassy or oak covered rolling hill. The Habitat is a cruel and capricious taskmaster, indeed. Dropping closer and closer to the car, I encountered hikers just starting out; they must have really slept in late. Well, they did come to the right place for atonement.

Blackberry doing the autumn thing
For more pictures of the Habitat, please visit the Flickr album.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tenmile Creek/Dellenback Dunes

The coast has been calling me lately, with possible hiking destinations ping-ponging randomly in my head like lottery balls bouncing around before they make somebody other than me quite wealthy. At random and for no apparent reason, the idea of hiking along Tenmile Creek in Dellenback Dunes popped out of the lottery machine that is my brain, leaving all the other destinations percolating in my skull waiting for the next draw at some future date.

Ideas emerge from my brain
Dellenback Dunes is one of my favorite little playgrounds on the coast what with plenty of square miles of scenic sand dunes set aside for the hiking crowd. However, I've been there a couple of times this year already and the hiking club has a planned hike there coming up. Favorite place or not, it needs some changing up to keep things interesting and that's where Tenmile Creek came in.

Sand, everywhere I look

Tenmile Creek runs between many-armed Tenmile Lake and the ocean but not before wandering along the southern edge of Dellenback Dunes. A nice hike can be had by taking the dunes trail to the beach and going south to the creek's delta. A tough bushwhack through the wilds to the dunes then completes the standard loop. Been there, done that, yawn. So, this time would be a brand new exploration of the expansive dunes.

The hinterlands beckon

When I arrived at the trailhead, a contingent of hikers from the Obsidians out of Eugene were also lacing up their boots. We left at the same time but I quickly fell behind as the forest floor was sprouting a varied and prodigious amount of mushrooms. Darn camera slows me down every time! After the mycological photo shoot, I continued on to where the trail spits hikers out at the base of the "Great Dune". A hiker-churned track led straight up the massive sand pile but this time, I worked my way around the bottom and headed due south away from the standard route.

The world is not flat

A large expanse of sand stretched ahead with a tree-covered hill in the distance marking the opposite bank of Tenmile Creek. The sands were pristine with only critter tracks sullying the perfect surface.  It was easy to imagine that I was the first human to set foot in the area. Besides being perfectly smooth, the route ahead looked sort of level. After a  mile of walking through the "level" sand, the point was made that looks can be so deceiving as the sands were as level as say, the Himalayas. Actually, I am exaggerating as I am sadly prone to do, the sands were relatively level but there were a few moments going up and down dune faces.

Pastoral scene, sort of

A wooded canyon marked the edge of the Dellenback Dunes with Tenmile Creek hidden below in all the vegetation. After several miles of climbing up and down dune versions of Mt. Everest with the occasional bushwhack mixed in, the coffee colored water of Tenmile Creek finally came into view as the creek snaked its way through the dunes.

Happy place with no OHV'ers

And now for a bit of rectitudinous ranting: The other side of Tenmile Creek is set aside for the OHV and dune buggy crowd and I could hear the whine of the motors as I walked. There is no reason that they have to cross Tenmile Creek and sully the Dellenback Dunes but there they were, tire tracks all over the pristine sands. There were even tracks upon the "Great Dune" which is well beyond the pale in what could be conceivably construed as an incidental incursion. I know there are many OHV'ers that follow the rules but there is an element that doesn't give a damn and they suck. End of rant.

Tenmile Creek
At the two mile mark, I was able to follow the creek without having to deal with dense forest. Periodically, flocks of ducks fled the scary hiker, taking flight in quacking panic. There had been what I thought were dog tracks all over the sands but since there were no human prints nearby, I'm not sure what animal runs all over the dunes when we are not looking. There were occasional piles of bear poop in the grasses, but the prints were too small for bear.

This sort of reminds me of my bike crash last year

The creek horseshoed its way south and it would zigzag through the dunes before reaching the sea. Easy for the creek to do but it was getting harder and harder for a certain hiker to follow the creek. Random hummocks of beachgrass and dunes caused tedious sand climbing while a dense brushy growth deterred easy exploration. Because I was in a good mood and preferred to remain that way, a retreat back to the dunes was effected.

Hikers go in but never come out
In the middle of the Dellenback Dunes, there is a large and notable "tree island" that serves as an effective navigation tool in the trailless dunes. Accordingly, I headed straight towards the tree island, skirting the edge of the deflation plain forest providing a formidible obstacle between the dunes and the beach. However, there is a trail cut through the forest that allowed for a quick beach visit.

On the boardwalk
The trail here has seen some love, what with sturdily constructed boardwalks delivering dry-footed hikers to the beach when all this forest is a big fat marsh during rainy season. It was slow going, not because of the dense growth encroaching the trail but because of all the mushrooms that entertained the camera all over again. It was not time to tarry at the beach because it felt and looked like rain was coming, a cloudy mist limited views to several miles only.

Dunes as far as the eye can see (but I wear glasses)

The rain held off thankfully on the return as I slogged up and down the formidable "Great Dune" which pointed directly to the trailhead. There were other hikers on the dunes and I could see the Obsidians about a mile ahead of me. A class of teenagers were sliding down the dunes with all the boisterousness of youth while their dog appreciated a behind-the-ear scratch from yours truly. All in all, a nice way to spend a Saturday and I'm dune sated, for the time being.

Get your red-hot mushrooms right here!
For more pictures of the hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Silver Falls

Just another day on the calendar but this particular day holds an uneasy significance for me, marking yet another year since the October evening I entered this world, crying and screaming because the doctor spanked my little baby butt. It was probably then I was instilled with the desire to hike, mostly to get as far away from the stethoscoped baby-spanker as I could get. So the days have since circled by on the calendar, in their own little circle of life ritual.

Look, it's a little old man!

I have attempted to stave off the effects of having too many birthdays by keeping physically fit and acting immature. But it is ironic that having too many birthdays makes it harder and harder to do the things to counteract having too many birthdays. Life is a terminal disease though, and despite my best efforts to do otherwise I will eventually become a little old man scaring the great-grandchildren by taking out my teeth and yelling "Hah!" at them.

One of 1,000 marathoners
However, the circle of life that interested me last weekend was the circular loop trail in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon's largest park. The spectacular scenery boasts ten waterfalls and because of the park's proximity to Salem, the park is visited by thousands of people.  I just didn't expect the thousands of people to all show up on the same cold and rainy day that Dollie and I visited the park.

A camera is required marathon gear

Turns out there was a marathon taking place on the muddy trails in the park and there were over 1,000 runners on the trail, each attempting to delay becoming little old men and little old ladies with way too much exercise. We spent a lot of time stepping aside to make way for the competitors in deference to a level of fitness far surpassing ours.

Oregon "duck" country
The hoots of the crowd acknowledging yet another marathoner crossing the finish line was a noisy backdrop to thundering South Falls, the first waterfall encountered on the hike. I noticed the marathoners were walking but not running up the stairs taking them from the Silver Creek canyon up to the finish line. What is cool about South Falls is that the trail ducks behind the waterfall. Fear of bonking heads on rocky ceilings is a great equalizer and hikers and marathoners alike had to duck underneath the rocky shelf above the trail.

Lower South Falls
The aptly named (and paved) Trail of Ten Falls continued downstream, losing elevation nearly all at once at Lower South Falls, a wider and more picturesque version of South Falls. A steady rain pitter-pattered on my hat brim as we stepped around mud puddles surrounded by waterlogged vegetation along the creek.

Wet trail and wet wife
At the confluence of the South and North Fork(s) of Silver Creek, we left the South Fork and began following the North Fork upstream on a muddy trail, sans pavement. The canyon became more pronounced with rocky cliffs looming above with one small creek contributing its own anonymous little waterfall to the hike. Ferns sprouted on the rock walls and mushrooms popped up everywhere. 

Double Falls, aptly named

A short walk on a side trail took us to Double Falls, the park's tallest waterfall at 178 feet. Shortly after Double Falls, a side trail crosses the North Fork and heads over to Winter Falls. The Winter Falls Trail bisects the Trail of Ten Falls loop, allowing hikers to see most of the ten falls on a shorter loop, if they are so inclined. Those so inclined were several packs of feral Cub Scouts; between the cub scouts and the marathoners, the trail was indeed a very busy place. We were doing the 8 mile longer loop and eschewed the Winter Falls shortcut and the noisy young lads.

Middle North Falls
The trail climbed gently up the canyon with ferns and moss festooning the rocks and trees along the trail and in short order we splashed our way to Drake Falls, Middle North Falls, and Twin Falls. A short side trail runs behind Middle North Falls and we availed ourselves of the wet opportunity to get close to the aqueous jet stream.

Noisy North Falls
After passing Twin Falls, a roar signaled our impending arrival at North Falls, probably the park's most spectacular cascade. Because of the recent rains, some of which was still falling, the creek was carrying a pretty good flow and the falls were deafening. The trail here also ducks behind a large grotto behind the falls. There are a number of benches here for those who enjoy wet butts with their prolonged waterfall viewing. 

Real runners would run up those
A climb up a seemingly endless staircase of mossy and wet stone steps took us to the North Falls parking lot where we crossed under Highway 214 for the short hike to Upper North Falls. The falls were impressive with fallen trees strewn pell-mell in testimony to the power and size of the waterfall.

My view for the last two miles
From here it was several miles of viewless forest on the return to the park headquarters at South Falls. The last of the marathoners had long since passed by and we had the place to ourselves as the temperature dropped and the heavens opened up while thunder boomed. Wet and cold was the story on the return and the camera was put away as we concentrated on getting back to the car as soon as possible.

Mushrooms hiking on a log
It would be easy to complain about the weather conditions and we did do so, but it sure beats being a little old man any day. For more pictures of this watery wonderland, see the Flickr Album.

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