Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dellenback Dunes

This was going to be either the last or the next to last hike of 2014, depending on how things went. You see, my New Year's Day resolution had been to hike 500 miles in 2014.  Not much new there, that's always been my goal for a number of years and yet I've always wound up somewhere around 425 miles. Pacific Crest Trail through hikers can do 500 miles in less than three weeks but several impediments called "work", "wife", and "laziness" have always gotten in my way.  But this year, the mystical magical goal of 500 miles was well within sight as I began this hike on Dellenback Dunes with only 8.3 miles to go. 

Sand slide
The Dellenback sandbox is always fun to play in, but I've also hiked in it a bunch of times and was trying to figure out a way to keep things fresh and interesting. So, instead of continuing straight to the beach, a hard right turn was made and wisdom of that move was immediately brought into question. In front of me was a large and tall dune, rising up to the sky like a soft and sandy Mount Rainier. I sensed burning leg muscles in my future.

That was work!
Huff...puff... hands were required on the way up and it was two steps up and one step sliding backwards down the sandy slope. At the top of the "peak" was a trail marker which was somewhat surprising, didn't know people came up here at all.  From the top of the broad sand dune, a nice view was had across the sandy expanse that is Dellenback Dunes.

Dune #2
The dune was oriented in an east-west direction, pointing directly to the beach about a mile and a half away. To the north was a series of equally formidable dunes running parallel to this first dune. So, what does our lucky contestant get in reward for climbing this dune? Why, he gets to do it four more times!

Where alien pod babies come from
In between Dunes 1 and 2 was a deep canyon and growing nearly everywhere at the bottom, were some type of fungal pitchers or vases. They looked all the world like eggs from the nasty creatures in "Alien". I figured they were more likely discarded deer egg casings from the spring hatch.

Dead zone
Dune #3 was noteworthy for a forest of dead trees on top, sparsely crowning the summit like the equally sparse hair on my head. Apparently a forest thrived up here at one point, eventually giving up the whole exercise of staying alive. It had the solemn air of a cemetery and I tiptoed respectfully past in silent homage to the resting spirits.

C'mon sun, you can do it if you try
It couldn't!
On the climb up the face of Dune #4, the sun broke out and bathed the dunes in a soft golden glow. Hey this would be a nice day after all! However, by the time I reached the top of the dune, the sun had disappeared behind incoming rain clouds and would never make another appearance.

Hall Lake
Dune 4 was probably the biggest and baddest of the bunch and I angled across the steep slope instead of making a futile charge straight up the hill. Paddling frantically with my feet just to maintain altitude, I managed the summit, collapsing in a heavily breathing and gasping heap of goo on the sand. There were footprints all over the summit in an indication of a nearby trailhead at Hall Lake.

Bridge over Hall Lake's creek
Hall Lake straddles the border between forest and dunes and I paid a quick visit there. A fellow hiker was out for a walk with his dog and we briefly discussed the movie "Wild", both agreeing that watching a movie about the Pacific Crest Trail for two hours on the big screen has to be pretty awesome.

A rare bona fide trail encountered on this hike
Between Dunes 4 and 5 was a formidable canyon full of thick vegetation and nascent forest but the good news was that there was a trail from Hall Lake leading through the canyon. That simplified the route finding and besides which, the climb out was not too bad either, thanks to the trail. 

Dune #5 was probably the most photogenic due to all yardangs on top. "But Richard, what the heck is a yardang?" you ask. It sounds like my attitude about yard work but it really is a term for sculptures made by the wind. The wind had been busy here lately and all manner of turrets, pyramids, and other sand structures ran along the crest like the dorsal plates on a stegosaurus's spine. Much photography ensued.

Sand swirly
By this time, the hike had covered just over two miles and despite the short distance, I can honestly say it was the toughest hiking I've done all year. Climbing steep slopes of soft sand was nothing but hard work. However, once atop Dune #5 it would be all downhill as I followed the dune down to the plain and forest tucked just behind the beach foredunes. 

...and then the rains came
By this time, dark clouds had dimmed the light from a feeble sun and the temperature was dropping rapidly. A blustery wind blew and rain was in the offing, the only question being how far away from the car I would be when it hit. And of course, the answer is at the farthest point possible from the car. It always happens like that, it must be a weather god rule.

Rain puddle
There were were more puddles on the flats than could be found on a kitchen floor when housetraining a puppy. The terrain was quite marshy and I quickly discarded the notion of wading through the standing water to access the beach. I wandered hither and yon, skirting the larger ponds and puddles, sometimes sinking in quicksand as I beelined towards a prominent tree island in the sandy expanse.

Marshes kept getting in the way
At the tree island, a left turn would take me back to the car and the end of roughly a 7.5 mile hike, leaving me short of my goal of 500 miles. So, for additional mileage I headed south towards Tenmile Creek. Unfortunately, a series of marshy canyons kept turning me east. And with cold rain continuing to fall, I was rapidly losing enthusiasm for hiking.

Marching dunes
So back to the trailhead I go, figuring that even if I was so much as a tenth of a mile short of the magic number of 8.3 miles, I'd be hiking in the rain the next day. However, at the trailhead my GPS read 8.3 miles and my yearly total wound up being 500 miles exactly. Now I'll have to figure out how to top that in 2015!

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cape Arago night hike

I've hiked Cape Arago something like 18,753 times but who's counting? Cape Arago is a worthy destination and is always reliably spectacular but if you don't think it is possible to overindulge a good thing, just ask a 6 year old granddaughter after she ingested 5 pounds of candy on Halloween night. Several years ago, in an attempt to keep Cape Arago fresh and interesting, Dollie and I began the hike mid-afternoon and caught a spectacular sunset at the cape. After the sunset show, we broke out on the headlamps and hiked to the famed Christmas lights display at Shore Acres State Park. From personal experience, walking atop ocean cliffs surrounded by lavender, pink, orange, red, and dark blue hues as day slipped into night was a singularly special experience. 

Why we hike
After regaling my hiking friends with tales of this superb night hike, the next year I received several requests to lead a reprise of this rather unique hiking experience. So, while this has not formally evolved into an annual event, it does seem to happen every other year and 2014 was the every other year.

A perfect afternoon
Thirteen of us made the drive from Roseburg and the afternoon sun was slanting through the forest as we started hiking, the light already imbued with a soft golden tint. The weather had been awful all week but we couldn't have asked for a better day and the trail was clear of fallen trees knocked down by the storms.

Search and Rescue thanks you for your business
The waves were still on the largish side, not as big as in other visits to the cape, but you could still hear the "boom" up and down the shore as the swells crashed into the rocky shoals and cliffs. At the ruin of the Shore Acres tennis courts (Shore Acres used to be the estate of timber magnate Louis Simpson) the waves were exploding higher than the cliffs and I think I tried to get a picture of every wave.

The restless sea
We left two hikers at Shore Acres State Park with the remaining 11 continuing on for the longer hike to Cape Arago. And yes, we did retrieve the two hikers on the way back. There is an overlook of Simpson Reef and several of us lagged behind the main group to observe the noisy seals barking on Shell Island and the surrounding lesser islands and rocks. 

Waves, in the late afternoon
Between the reef overlook and Cape Arago proper, there is a brief road walk and I could see the lead group about 100 yards ahead of me. So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Cape first.  Where did they go? Turned out John took them up the Pack Trail and they made fun of us namby-pamby road walkers when they finally did arrive at the cape. 

Clouds took the sunset away
Well, so far, it had been an awesome day as we watched the sun sinking low, illuminating the mist thrown up in the endless war between land and sea. Unfortunately, a cloud bank came in and denied us the pleasure of a sunset. A small hole in the cloud cover provided a pinprick of orange light, and you could almost hear the ember hiss as it sunk into the sea.

Glow from the party
So back we go and it got dark in a hurry, no mauves, no purples, no blues, no fuschias, just the inky blackness of night taking over the cape with not even a whimper from the day. Feeble headlamps lit the way and we stumbled through the coastal forest like a procession of drunken fireflies. After a mile or so, an orange glow lit up the trees like a bonfire at a woodland fairy party, you could almost hear the tribal drums beating as they cavorted and danced around the flames.

Shore Acres
The glow in the forest was from Shore Acres State Park and the gardens and caretaker's cottage were festooned with a twinkling phantasmagoria of Christmas lights of every color in the visible spectrum. Christmas is universal but the colorful light exhibits of tufted puffins, lighthouses, schools of salmon, rhododendron bushes, and one large land orca gave Christmas its own little Oregon touch.

The koi kept very still
There were even a school of koi swimming in the reflecting pond. Well, since they were light exhibits, they weren't swimming anywhere which was not a liability at all because two nearby heron statues were likewise not moving or hunting koi. Visitors are given free hot cider in the cottage but a large line of people dissuaded us from partaking thereof.

Oregon Christmas
All good and magical things come to an end though, and we returned to the inky black forest again. In the years that I have done this little hike, we have always had the forest to ourselves but on this night there were a fair number of other hikers likewise doing the night hike to Shore Acres. There was a reason for that because traffic was backed up for about 3 miles, cars were allowed into the parking lot only when another car left, so it was pretty slow going. Slower than walking, even, and we felt sated and perhaps slightly smug when we piled into our cars at Sunset Bay.

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


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oregon Dunes

Several years ago, one of my more memorable hikes on the Oregon coast took place when I combined the Oregon Dunes loop with the Tahkenitch Dunes loop for a seemingly endless 15 miler in soft sand. The two hikes were connected by a knee-deep wade across Tahkenitch Creek. While hiking yesterday at nearby Butterfly Lake, I had entertained the possibility of leading the hiking club on a similar wade across Tahkenitch Creek, but the rain-swollen and fast moving Mighty Tahkenitch quickly disavowed me of any such notion. I still reached the other side of Tahkenitch Creek anyway, by cheating and driving to the Oregon Dunes overlook on the following day.

Traffic signs
It was good weather news as the hiking festivities commenced: it was a beautiful sunny but crisp  morning on the Oregon coast at the tourist overlook of the dunes. Most visitors take the short and very civilized trail to the dunes and stop there. Too bad for them, for there is a nice little loop trail through the extensive dunes that is a moderate and worthy hiking destination. Of course, there are longer route options for the mileage addicted, involving creek wades, hill climbs and such.

Just me and nobody else out here
Anyway, it was sunny at the start but a chilly breeze was blowing and my long-sleeved layers of clothing stayed on. After crossing the sandy dunes, I took the trail through the deflation plain forest and reached the beach at the one mile mark. The walk so far had been kind of like a pizza as there was a little bit of everything sprinkled on the coastal pizza dough: spruce trees, large sand dunes, mushrooms, beachgrass, shoreline foredunes, and the beach itself all in the first mile. But hold the anchovies, please. 

Sunset at high noon
The beach would be my little world for the next 3 miles. The roar of the always restless ocean was my constant companion, not to mention seagulls, sanderlings, and my own idle thoughts. A storm system was blowing from the south and a bank of dark clouds gradually disposed of my beautiful sunny day. The light was eerie, glowing orange at through thin spots in the cloud cover, it was like sunset at high noon.

Ye be walkin' the plank, matey!

The beach was fairly monotonous but in a good way. However, the easy beach walk came to an abrupt end at rowdy Tahkenitch Creek. The area where creek meets sea was a wild and untamed place. There was no beach here as Oregon simply ended at a 5 foot sandy cliff with waves lapping at the base thereof. Logs and driftwood were strewn about the sands in testament to the rushing tides and waves. Lunch was quickly eaten under ever darkening skies while a pod of sea lions cruised the creek's mouth, probably hoping I'd fall in.

Purple fairies, get ready to be clubbed
A short backtrack down the beach brought me to a trail marker atop a foredune and the resumption of the Oregon Dunes Loop Trail. Heading past the beach foredunes, the trail wandered on sandy soil and through a mossy low-growing forest. The soil was seemingly alive with macabre maggoty looking worms emerging from underneath.  These weren't corpse-eating grubs though, merely the thick and dark fingers of a fungus called purple fairy club.  I'm not sure why it's called that except maybe the fungus was used somehow to club purple fairies.

Tahkenitch Creek oxbow
After lying down in the mossy sand taking pictures of fungal tentacles, the next items of interest were the oxbow bends of Tahkenitch Creek. While the creek had been a raging river at its ocean terminus, here it was more like a creek on Ambien, placidly wandering aimlessly in a series of curlicues next to the sand dunes.

Mountains of sand
After another round of camera clicking, the remainder of the hike consisted of hiking in the sands from trail marker post to trail marker post. On the inland side of the trail, tall hills of sand rose, looking like a veritable range of sandy Ruwenzori mountains, but without the monkeys. There were deer nearby though, judging by all the fresh tracks crossing the dunes here and there. I didn't see any deer but I'm sure they were stealthily watching me walk by as they planned an ambush.   

That was work!
Just before the hike finished, a Mount Kilimanjaro of sand rose up ahead of me and a viewing platform on the top was my end destination. The last bit of this 8 mile hike was the steepest and one should never have to walk uphill to the car, especially in sand. But if I wasn't going to walk uphill to the car, then I wasn't going to get to the car so the final trudge was grudgingly performed. At least I wasn't as tired as I had been after the 15 mile loop from a couple of years ago. And at least the rain held off until the drive home, that doesn't always happen, either.

Boardwalk through a marsh
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Butterfly Lake

Our state bird
Consider Robert Peary's expedition to the North Pole in 1909. The expdition party had to contend with such savage and harsh conditions that the participants barely survived. Fast forward a couple of years to 1911 and now imagine Robert Peary telling his friends "That was fun, let's do it again!" And that's kind of how the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club came to follow me to Butterfly Lake in yet another of the world's great and epic expeditions.

And away we go!
The weather gods taunted us at the start as the drive from Roseburg was done underneath a gloriously blue winter sky that gladdened our hearts. However, at Reedsport, just 7 miles from the trailhead, the blue sky was covered up by dark clouds that saddened our hearts and our hike began in a light rain. We never did see blue sky again on this hike.

Worms writhe up out of the ground
Leaving behind that last bastion of civilization known as Tahkenitch Campground, the path tunneled through dense coastal vegetation. Mushrooms were rampant in the forest's mossy carpet and the group quickly divided into those with and those without cameras. There were strange clumps of fungus that looked like macabre earthworms emerging from possessed cemetery soil in a bad zombie movie. Also spotted on the trail was one lone newt crawling on the ground, but enough about me. The newt was picked up and moved to safety, I'm glad to report no newts were harmed in the hiking of this hike.

Land coral

After a steep climb up and over a heavily forested ridge, the trail took a longer but equally steep descent down to the Tahkenitch Dunes collective and lunch was eaten quickly at a rainy overlook of Threemile Lake.  The lake was full of winter runoff, looking like it could really be all of three miles long (It's not!). A few quick pictures of the lake were taken as wind and rain combined to occlude camera lenses before two photographs in succession could be clicked off. Before we reached the beach, a right turn on a sandy track took us across the dunes, paralleling the coast about a half mile inland as we did so.

While hiking under a dark and gloomy sky, the rain did ease up a bit and everybody followed me on the sandy trail, since I was the official Knower of the Route. Up ahead was a large tree island and when the forested mound was reached, it was time to begin the bushwhack.

Dour faced hikers
A climb up a steep sandy dune on an obvious route eventually became overgrown with dense coastal scrub and young trees. However, the going was not all that tough (yet!) as it was fairly easy to follow a series of game trails through the nascent forest. A quick consult with the GPS was taken and I pointed directly off trail to the left at the impenetrable wall of scratchy vegetation and said "That is where we must go!"

A climb up a sandy hill started the bushwhack
I could just see the headlines in Monday's newspaper: "Hike Leader Lynched by Hikers". I had done this hike before, but I didn't really remember the bushwhack being as long as it was. It was a tough go and as Maureen put it, she stood " a place where no human being would ever have enough room to stand" and asked the rhetorical question "what am I doing here?" much to the amusement of everybody within earshot. The dense vegetation made it hard to see past 10 feet and the group was quickly split up into the Edwin and Richard factions. We kept in touch aurally, hooting at each other like demented owls every 15 seconds or so.  Heard over the hoots, the angy rustling of belligerent vegetation, and the gasps of panting hikers, were frequent mutterings of "...stupid Richard Hike!" Trees and shrubs clawed at us as we clawed by, this was definitely a bushwhack where the bush whacked back!

The rarely seen Butterfly Lake

After working our way down a steep and overgrown gully, we reunited with the Edwins and there it was: the legendary, the mythical, the elusive Butterfly Lake. "Is that all there is?" asked my fellow hikers.  Butterfly Lake, as a destination unto itself, is rather underwhelming, the lake is definitely all about getting there. It's just another small coastal lake surrounded by acres of nearly impenetrable forest and at about 10 yards above the lake, we called it good. Amazingly, the hike leader was not left strapped to a tree to be eaten by deer.

Enjoying the sand slide
A bushwhack in calls for a bushwhack out, and Edwin's easier game trail route provided a natural path out to the dunes. An increasingly easier push through an ever thinning forest spit us out onto the dunes and hikers slid, ran, and generally capered down the steep dunes in sheer joy and ebullience at returning to treeless terrain.

Tahkenitch Creek
The traverse across the dunes ended at the trail running between Tahkenitch Campground and the beach next to Tahkenitch Creek. After the left turn onto the sandy track leading to the beach, Tahkenitch Creek became our trailside companion. The creek over the years has migrated south and is still continuing to do so. Trees and brush clogged the creek bed in mute testimony to the creek's ravenous appetite for coastal forest. The trail soon disappeared as it had been consumed by the creek's southerly rampage and horror of horrors, my favorite little backpack campground next to the creek had been likewise devoured.

Behold the mighty Tahkenitch
In response to Tahkenitch Creek's unauthorized migration, the Forest Service has rerouted the trail to the beach and we followed the path to the shore. Several of us continued on to the mouth of Tahkenitch Creek which was running dangerously fast and deep, there'd be no wading across it today or anytime soon.

Return through the dunes
A short hike back through the forest and dunes returned us to the campground and civilization. While the bushwhack to Butterfly Lake had been arduous and difficult, years from now all of us can regale great-grandchildren with the 1,187th retelling of the great Butterfly Lake Expedition. And on the plus side, unlike the Donner Party we didn't have to eat each other to survive.

Bridge crossing near Threemile Lake
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.