Sunday, January 26, 2014

North Umpqua Trail (Dread and Terror section)

On January 1, I hiked at Mount Ashland on an ice covered Pacific Crest Trail. On January 2, just 7 minutes after opening time at REI, I was the proud owner of a brand new pair of crampons. On January 22, the Friends of the Umpqua scratched an upcoming hike on the North Umpqua Trail's Dread and Terror section due to icy roads and trails. On January 26, Ray and I hiked the Dread and Terror section. All of these events are related.

Care for a swim?
Ray had had his own ice issues last October when hiking up the hilariously named Opie Dildock Pass in the Three Sisters Wilderness. He too, became the proud owner of a pair of crampons shortly thereafter. Seems like icy trails have spurred rapid growth in the crampon manufacturing sector of the economy. After doing our part in helping jump start the nation's commerce via the conspicuous consumption of crampons, Ray and I decided we needed to try out our unused crampons and besides which, the club's hike cancellation sure sounded like a dare.

Streaker at the hot springs
It was a slippery drive to the Umpqua Hot Springs trailhead on an ice covered forest road and there were lots of cars and tents at the trailhead. Apparently neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor icy roads will deter dozens of hot spring aficionados from sitting naked in smelly sulfur water bubbling with what I hope are natural sulfur bubbles. The hot springs denizens we encountered at the trailhead looked like they'd been living in the woods too long, sporting Sasquatch type hair and beards. And the men were no different! Sallying forth on the North Umpqua Trail instead of taking the trail to the hot springs, we were the odd ones out among the unclad hordes. Especially since we were fully clothed,  I might add.

Ray beholds the magical power of the crampon
The biting cold was in direct contrast to the balmy weather we'd been having for the last couple of months and the ice crunched under our feet as we walked. Both Ray and I were quite pleased with the crampons as we magically hiked on ice, as sure footed as an eight-legged goat.

A creek emerges from the earth

You'd be hard pressed to find a prettier mile of trail than the first mile of the Dread and Terror section. Springs gush on either side of the trail and the forest is amply mossed and ferned. You can almost imagine leprechauns and gnomes (besides Ray) leaping and cavorting in all the greenery. Creeks and waterfalls gush forth from the slopes, fully formed at their hydrologic inception.  Toss in some freezing temps and snow, and the hike becomes simply sublime.

Moss, entombed in ice
The trail undulated up and down from the river's edge to narrow catwalks on rocky cliffs and our inner mountain goats were happy with each cliff. Of course, the springs gushing over the trail created large icicles and ice patches and we walked past with nary a pratfall, thanks to the awesome magical power of the crampons. Life was good, although the further we walked, the more snow and ice on the ground we encountered.

We couldn't (safely) get past this ice patch
Our crampons were the hiking boot equivalent of chains on tires but they do have limits. We arrived at a thick patch of ice on a cliff and discovered our crampon-lites did not work on a clear ice slab several inches thick. We should have bought and brought a set of man-crampons, the kind with sharp ice-gripping teeth underneath. Because we were on a narrow path about 40 feet above the river, the consequences for slipping were fairly dire. The odds of slipping were pretty high too, so we turned around at the 2 mile mark, living to slip and fall some other day.

Gnome (besides Ray) homes
On the way back, we checked out a very nice riverside backpack campsite. A weak sun made an appearance and we sat down for lunch. Basaltic pillars formed a cliff across the North Umpqua and further up the hill, a steam cloud gave away the location of the hot springs bacchanalia. Some intrepid gnome or leprechaun (besides Ray) had balanced rocks nearby, creating odd little architectural structures worthy of a Hobbit movie scene. The whole vibe was awesomely magical, like crampons.

Columnar Falls
For more pictures of this hike, see the Flickr album.

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