Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sutton Creek (all by myself)

Anyone who experienced the week that was the Oregon Tasty-Freeze will know that winter has come to visit, about as welcome as a fart in a crowded elevator. Who'd a thunk 32 degrees would be the new warm? After a sunny (but not warm) stretch last week, it finally got so the roads were mostly clear of ice so it was time to brave the elements and go hiking.

This was the nice part of the drive!
Oops. Turned out Roseburg was in its own little bubble of warmth (in the 30's) and once out of town, everything was still frosty and icy.  Nice to look at but it was a pretty tense car-ski trip up and over the coastal range on my way to Florence.  The trip took way longer than normal (40 miles per hour top speed will do that) but at least the temperature was 41 degrees at Dune Lake which, in these wintry times, was almost tropical.

Crossing a small dune area
I'm leading an upcoming Friends of the Umpqua hike in the Sutton Creek area and was looking for a way to jazz the hike up a bit. The trail is only about 5'ish miles long and is even paved in places. It's nice but tame and the very antithesis of a Richard Hike. A mid-week exploration was called for in a search for a route around Sutton Creek's pronounced bend south of Baker Beach.  The problem is that there are no trails in that area and that sounded pretty much like a dare and a good reason to try it.

Wind patterns
After a half mile walk on the official trail from Dune Lake to Sutton Creek, I hung a right on a sketchy path through tangled woods and climbed up a short but steep sandy wall; the hike was on at that point. The path had spit me out onto a small dune area and a faint footpath headed straight across the sands.

Snow in the dunes ??!!

The beachgrass has really taken over the small dunes in this area with a young forest seriously encroaching at the edges. The dunes will fade in time, like a maple leaf decaying on a fern frond; it's a shame but that's what happens when mankind imports invasive species. The sun was out but snow from the prior week's storms lay across the path in the shady parts. Strange to see snow in the sand dunes, it's kind of like seeing polar bears in the Sahara.

Hey, I felt that!
The problem foreseen from a midnight satellite photo research session was the dark forest between the two sand dune areas on the intended route. However, at ground level a sketchy trail led through the forest with the only travail of note being the encroaching gorse on the trail. The spiny thorns on the hardy gorse made me well aware of it's invasive presence.

It's a Richard Hike!

The path petered out in the second dune but by following the edge of the dune and forest, a muddy trail was found leading into the marshlands. Unfortunately, my feet sank deep into the mud despite the hard ice on top. While retreating to the dune, the mud and I wrestled for possession of my boots with the mud making loud sucking noises like my brother nursing his Budweiser bottle. It was close but the boots stayed on my feet as they should.

Trail through the pervasive standing water
Another trail leading off the dunes was found and I was back in business, at least until a large pool of swampy bilge water about two feet deep covered the trail.  However, it looked like someone had laid some branches across and the water contributed more branches, mud, and other assorted debris until it formed a dam of sorts.  I stepped tentatively on the dam and promptly sunk all the way into the water with cold swamp liquid pouring into my boots.  At that point, it's "oh, well" and full splashy speed ahead, no sense trying to keep wet feet dry.

Sutton Creek
The next half mile or so on a badly overgrown path was a water wade and my boots were grateful when we traded forest and marsh for sand and sun. The trail (I had joined up with the Baker Beach Trail, unbeknownst to me) followed copper colored Sutton Creek, running deep and fast as it snaked through the grassy marshes behind the beach foredunes. At my arrival, the creek exploded in furious feathered panic as a flock of ducks fled the scary hiker.  

I had the whole place to myself
A short walk up some really tall foredunes gave me a delicious view of an empty beach on a beautiful winter day. It was low, low, low, low, low tide and entire cities could fit on the sandy acreage exposed by the retreating ocean. My only company was the occasional gull flying by on an urgent gull errand.

Bird tracks

There was a large break in the dunes leading to the presumption that the dunes had been bulldozed in an attempt to help the endangered snowy plover survive. Wrong! Actually, it was the former site of Sutton Creek's mouth which evidently had migrated another mile south, this little factoid discovered when perusing maps post-hike.

Hiking as the sun set
I could see the blue ribbon of the creek but did not walk all the way there. Remember the long trip to the coast? There were two hours of daylight left and that was just about enough time to get back to the car before the sun set. Walking back in the dark without proper trails would have been as welcome as a spider at an arachnophobe convention and not nearly as much fun.

One of the few dry things found on this hike
One last note:  That elevator fart was not my doing. Just for the record, I was unjustly accused.  And for the rest of the pictures, please visit the Flickr album.


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