Sunday, March 23, 2014

Little Hyatt Lake

The first order of business is a well deserved plug for a couple of backpacking gear companies. When I took down my tent on a short February backpack trip in the Tahkenitch Dunes, I noticed one of my tent poles was cracking lengthwise. An email was subsequently sent to tent maker Kelty, my intent being just to simply purchase a replacement. Their response was unexpectedly pleasant: just send the poles in and the repairs would be done free of charge.  Well, that was cool, so a similar email was then sent to Osprey Packs concerning a broken buckle. The email plea for help yielded the same result, and now that I'm fully armed (and dangerous!) with a newly repaired pack and tent pole, let the backpacking begin! Once again, go buy something from Kelty and Osprey Packs and tell them you want the Richard Hikes discount. And after they finish hysterically laughing at you, just buy something from them, at full price of course.

Break out the crampons!
Commercial over, now let's talk about hiking. I had recently read an article about our ongoing drought and among all the boring predictions about water shortages and extended fire seasons, what really caught my eye was that the current snow level was at 7,000 feet. Yeah, yeah, dryness, fire, blah, blah, but WE CAN GO HIKING UP TO 7,000 FEET!!!

Life is good
So, last weekend I and my misplaced priorities set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail, starting at Green Springs Summit, just north of California. A short walk through a forest of orange-barked Ponderosa pine brought me to the first of several road crossings and my first encounter with winter elements. Well, to be clear, the day was sunny and springlike but a layer of slushy snow lay wherever there was shade. Crampons weren't needed but the trail was quite muddy in places. Despite the sunlight, it was c-c-cold in the shade.

Snow queen

This surely will be a superb hike in a few more weeks when the meadows green out. On this day however, the meadows were still an unfortunate dull brown color as winter had just departed probably about an hour before I showed up. When not hiking in brown meadows, the trail went through shady forest with purple snow queen abloom everywhere on the forest floor. Well...abloom at least on the parts not covered by snow.

Rocky things in the forest

At the two mile mark and just after yet another dirt road crossing, the PCT intersected the Green Springs Mountain Loop Trail and it was decision time. The PCT makes a protracted trip around the mountain while the Loop Trail basically short cuts straight past the mountain.  In the simplest of hiking terms, the PCT was long and the Loop Trail was short. So naturally, I chose the PCT while leaving the Loop Trail in play for the return leg.

Happy, happy, happy!
Contouring around the west side of Green Springs Mountain, the PCT left the forest and snow behind for sun drenched meadows with stunning views. Ah, all life should be like this section of the hike. The grassy and oak studded slopes dropped away down into Bear Creek Valley with snowy Mount Ashland rising on the other side. The towns of Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix lay nestled together on the valley floor. Pilot Rock was prominent to the south, playing caboose to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument train of peaks. Tall mountains, deep valleys, warm sun: happy, happy, happy!

A small piece of Hyatt Meadows
Over the next 2.5 miles, the trail returned to the forest and gradually lost elevation, the joy at walking downhill tempered by the knowledge I'd surely have gain back all that lost elevation on the return leg. At the lowest point, the trail spit me out like a used chaw onto expansive Hyatt Meadows.

Cairns along the trail
I really need to come back here later when the grass and flowers run riot in this meadow which happens to be the same size as the state of Rhode Island. A series of rock cairns marked the way even though I could see the trail tread just fine. Much photography ensued, although the photographs don't do justice to the grand splendor of the prairie.

Little Hyatt Lake spillway

From Hyatt Meadows, it was a series of ups and downs through forest and meadow before the sound of roaring water carried throughout the forest. That sound happened to be Keene Creek pouring over the spillway of the small dam to which Little Hyatt Lake owes its existence. From a picturesque footbridge below the dam, Keene Creek flowed south through another large meadow, the waters sparkling in the afternoon sun like a thousand points of light.

Little Hyatt Lake
The guidebooks I've read have described Little Hyatt Lake as stagnant pile of watery goo, encouraging PCT backpackers to continue hiking to Hyatt Lake. However, Little Hyatt Lake was a pleasant surprise as its crystal clear blue waters lay in a small bowl ringed with pine trees. Probably this was an early spring phenomenon but nonetheless I was impressed with the pre-stagnant waters of the small lake.

The dividing line between brown and white
The idea floating in my head was that the hike to Little Hyatt Lake was a 9 mile round trip, but it was actually 6 one-way miles to the diminutive lake. Returning the way I came would make for a 12 mile round trip but on the way back, I grabbed the perfunctory and rather businesslike Green Springs Mountain Loop Trail, eventually winding up with a healthy 10.7 mile hike. I'll have to come back for the full spring glory, maybe take a weekend backpack trip to Hyatt Lake...with my newly repaired tent and pack, of course.

Ponderosa trunk
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Upper Rogue River Trail (Woodruff Bridge to Prospect Ranger Station)

There's a symbiotic relationship between work and hiking. Work is jam-packed with deadlines, claimants, deadlines, goals, more deadlines, and all sorts of other distasteful stresses ( deadlines!). But hiking is my stress release and helps keep me sane. If you doubt I'm sane, take away the hiking and then see what happens. Hiking on weekends allows me to face another week day-slaving in a generically bland cubicle.

Mental floss

However, work allows me to go hiking too, as it pays for gas, boots, tents, food, parkas, sleeping bags, dehydrated food, bug spray, and ice cream on the way home. Plus, it's a great motivator to get out on the trail for my weekly mental floss. So, no complaining about work allowed, as hiking and work go together like a tamale and salsa. I may change my tune when I retire but that is a long way off, seeing as how I'm so young still and stop with the snickering already !

Let's go hiking!
The latest chapter in Richard's mental health therapy took place on the Upper Rogue River Trail with Medford hiking buddies Glenn and Carol (plus dog Katie). We had become friends when Glenn contacted me several years ago through my blog. Or as I like to put it: Glenn is a Leo, likes to take long walks, and we met through the Internet.  But we do not make a cute couple!

The first of several fallen trees
We left my car at the Prospect Ranger Station so we could hike one way from Woodruff Bridge to the ranger station. The morning was sunny and cool, just perfect for hiking as we started out. The Rogue River here is placid and serene with emerald pools of water lazily flowing just below the trail. Winter had been here not too long ago and we were reminded of that when we had to perform a tedious bushwhack to get around a freshly fallen tree.

Snow queen
Normally, this is a good wildflower hike in spring as the forest is carpeted with all manner of flowers. But again, winter had just departed minutes before we started our hike and the only sign spring was on the way were the little lavender flowers of snow queen. Apart from one solitary specimen of yellow woodland violet, that was it for the wildflower show. 

Takelma Gorge
The Rogue River soon became boisterous and noisy and at two miles, we arrived at spectacular Takelma Gorge. The river has cut a narrow cleft in the lava flows covering this area and is not very happy about being so confined, judging by the seething and roiling waters in the gorge. At a fishhook bend in the gorge, logs lie strewn about like spilled toothpicks of the gods. Even though I've been here bunches and bunches of times, the view never gets old.

Gorgeous gorge
The gorge would be our friend for nearly another mile and the river at times dropped completely out of sight in the narrow gorge. Much photography ensued when the river was visible. After the gorge petered out and the river went all mellow again, we stopped for lunch at Trail Bridge Campground as crows cawed crudely from the treetops. I became Katie's friend for life when she found out I had bananas which, oddly enough, are her favorite food.

Rapids on the Rogue
Up until this point, this had been a familiar hike as I've hiked to Takelma Gorge around a million times, give or take a 50,000 or two.. But the minute I stepped off of Trail Bridge and returned to the Upper Rogue River Trail, it was a brand new trail experience for me. Part of this section was also new for the Glenn and Carol contingent.

It's a Richard Hike!
After Takelma Gorge, the Rogue had returned to its easygoing persona but once past Trail Bridge, the river became a series of noisy and scenic rapids. It would retain that flavor for most of the latter half of the hike. The trail flavor changed too, as along Takelma Gorge the trail is mostly level, but here trail went steeply up and down the slopes above the river.

Part of the annual spring migration
At one point near the end, the trail peeled away from the river and executed a prolonged tour through the forest atop a level bench. Not particularly exciting after hiking all day along a scenic river, but that's what happens when you have to detour around private property. It was a welcome change to return back to the river which had changed personality again. We had started our hike along the wild Rogue River but now we were walking along the totally domesticated Rogue River, it's the river equivalent of what happens to a single man after he gets married (present company excepted!).

The Rogue gets tamed
The Rogue River pooled into inviting swimming holes behind a diversion dam at North Fork Park, near Prospect, and the dam spillway was putting on a noisy and thundering display.  It was Rogue's last hurrah before getting unceremoniously stuffed into water pipes, the water flow generates electricity so we can use our cell phones.

More mental floss
This was an 11 mile hike and, combined with the Dellenback Dunes hike the day before, the weekend produced nearly 20 miles of hiking. Mental floss of the first degree and I'm good for another week of work with maybe a little bit of overtime. 

Our view for most of the 11 miles
For more pictures, please visit the Flickr album, and for Glenn and Carol's take on this hike, click on this link.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dellenback Dunes

There is just something about a meadow. We hikers have been known to hike all day just to reach one. With acres of green grass and wildflowers, a meadow is indeed a special place. Then, why is it so wrong to have a meadow in the back yard? I posed this question to Dollie as we gazed on the wilderness wonder forming behind the house and got a "harrumph" for an answer. She didn't tell me to go take a hike but I took one anyway, yard work will just have to wait for another weekend.

Castles on the dunes
Joining up with other Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club yard work truants, the weekend began with a trailless trek on Dellenback Dunes. The dunes get a regular workout from not only me, but from the club as well. And just like me, the dunes are large and expansive, with plenty of sand to explore. Since there are no trails in the Dellenback, the route is limited only by one's imagination.

...and they were never seen again
At the start, a large dune runs perpendicular to the ocean and most hikers walk on top of the "whaleback" to the beach. Boots have chewed up a sandy path on top but we veered southwest off of the dune and headed across the sandy hinterlands towards Tenmile Creek. Kevin (and dog Talon) and I lagged behind, our camera shutters clicking merrily on the cool overcast morning. 

Tenmile Creek
After two miles of trudging in sand, we arrived at the banks of Tenmile Creek, the brown waters snaking languidly through the dunes. We followed the banks of the creek and Kevin, Talon, and I walked slower than the other hikers while the pace of the camera clicking sped up. The two events are related.

A former hiker in the deflation plain forest
When Oregon was being settled, the settlers did not like all the sand blowing in the wind so they planted European beachgrass to stabilize the dunes. The transplanted beachgrass was ever so happy to emigrate and now the Oregon shoreline has tall foredunes on it, formed by sand piling up around the beachgrass. The air currents on the shore were interrupted by the resulting barrier so lighter sand particles stacked up at the base while the wind scooped out the sands behind. The resulting depression is called a deflation plain and a forest is taking root behind the foredunes. 

Yup, had to wade across that
So, as we walked along the sandy banks of Tenmile Creek, the sand eventually gave way to thick deflation plain forest, forcing us to walk in the increasingly marshy area next to the creek. When I saw my hiking buddies backtracking towards us, it was obvious that the route had become overly marshy. So we had to splash our way through some standing water and feet got wet on this hike.

Lindsay on the bushwhack
Now we had to beat our way through the forest and in single-file formation, we followed fearless leader John as we worked our way to the mouth of Tenmile Creek. Lindsay, Kevin (and Talon), and I were at the tail end of the line and as we walked down a less dense path in the thick forest we became aware that we could not see or hear our compatriots, nor could we see any of their footprints. To be politically correct, we were not lost, we were just location challenged.

Tenmile Creek was more like a river
Situations like these call for compasses and GPS's and all of those were consulted. We were heading west towards the ocean but Tenmile Creek lay between us and the shore, we really needed to head north. Unfortunately, dense vegetation kept pushing us west despite our best intentions to head north, and we finally wound up on a sandy bluff above the Tenmile Creek estuary. Looking like a bunch of ants on the other side of the estuary were our hiking compatriots. Thanks for waiting for us, guys!

Captain Hook
Another short bushwhack brought us upon the sandy shore of the creek's bay followed by another marsh crossing. I quickly splashed across the marsh and feet got wet. Kevin (and Talon) and Lindsay quickly veered inland in search of a drier crossing. Apparently they will not follow me everywhere and what a shocking display of disloyalty!

Uncaring hikers
Well, we finally caught up to our uncaring so-called hiking friends lunching on a sandy bench overlooking Tenmile Creek as it met the Pacific Ocean. This was a wild place as Tenmile Creek was more like Tenmile River, it was wide and coursing fast. The collision between creek and ocean was quite spectacular with waves exploding violently in random fashion. 

The ever shrinking Oregon coast
According to Wikipedia, Oregon is the ninth largest state, having 98,381 square miles of land. Oops, make that 98,380 square miles of land as we watched our ever shrinking state disappear into the ocean in large chunks. The violent wildness of the place put on quite the show as we dined. Oregon was down to 93,372 square miles by the time I had eaten my sardines, crackers, and grapefruit.

I think we go this way
The shoreline mayhem was pretty much confined to Tenmile Creek as we had no problem walking on the beach after lunch. Periodically, a large wave would move us inland a bit as the dark clouds above kept raindrops to themselves. After a mile and a half, a hiker's sign atop a grassy dune signaled our exit off the beach.

David has a new appreciation for boardwalks
Crossing over the grassy foredunes, the trail dropped back into the woodland marsh. Not to worry, though, an elevated boardwalk kept our feet mostly dry, there were some puddles on the trail once we dropped off the boardwalk.

Me, on my way to yard work
On familiar ground now, we followed post markers back to the whaleback dune from whence we started. From there it was the two hour drive back to Roseburg where presumably yard work is still waiting there for me.

Umbel of manzanita flowers
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cape Arago (new trail)

I recently received an email for an upcoming hike put on by the South Coast Striders out of Coos Bay. The hike was at Cape Arago and interest rapidly waned as I had been there about a month and a half ago on a wildly stormy day. But out of politeness, the email was opened up and this is what the email said, roughly speaking:

"...blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah..."

But there were two words in the middle of all that mundane prose and what I read was:


And just like that, your merry blogster became very excited . The words "new trail" drain all willpower and common sense from my brain and I simply must go, there is no other option. 

A stump bench built for two
One other fun aspect of hiking a new trail is I get to send an e-mail to hiking buddy Ray. Ray is always interested in new trails and as a courtesy I always send him a helpful email along the lines of "Nyah, nyah!" So, imagine my disappointment when his voice called out to me from the hikers gathering at the trailhead, "New trail, Ricardo!" We do think alike!

The thundering herd
It was a pretty large bunch of hikers as 30 or so adventurers took the green flag, so to speak. The trail started next to the Cape Arago Highway and unless you knew a trail was there, you'd never find it. The trail was well hidden and hopefully, a sign will be posted soon. The path headed quickly uphill through a lush forest and soon the woods were filled with the sounds of gasping hikers.

New trail!
Reaching a ridge crest, the forest thinned out and we walked on a level trail through waist high brush. I'n not sure how recently this trail came into existence but it's obvious it wasn't too long ago as the branch cuts on the encroaching shrubbery were pretty fresh, just like me. The trail seemed like it was wandering aimlessly through the woods but we were basically following the Cape Arago State Park perimeter.

Dogs enjoyed the steep parts
Level trails are not overrated, especially when they are such a rare commodity like they were on this new trail. The path returned to the forest where massive stumps showed how big the trees used to be in these parts. Moss, lichen, and mushrooms were everywhere on the muddy trail. While there were skid marks on the muddy track, no hikers (that I know of) actually hit the ground.

And it's not even a Richard Hike!
Larry, our guide, stopped at all intersections which was a good thing because there were a number of unsigned trail junctions that could certainly confuse hikers, especially since this trail is not on any map. The path angled up and down the forested ridges at a grade worthy of a Richard Hike.  It was nice to hike these steep trails and not get blamed, for a change.

While there may not have been a spring in our step as we scrabbled up the steep portion of the trail, there definitely was spring in the air. Yellow wood violets and candy flower were a common sight on the mossy forest floor. Even lichen was in bloom. The spring deal was cinched when I came upon my first, but certainly not the last, trillium of 2014. Let the wildflower photography begin! Camera, are you ready?

View south to Cape Arago
After a couple of miles, the new trail intersected with the Pack Trail, familiar ground to Ray and I. After a couple of mild ups, it was all downhill to the viewpoint at Simpson Reef. Now on our regular and familiar Cape Arago haunts, we grabbed the scenic trail to Shore Acres followed by a short road walk back to the car. 


My only complaint about the hike is that it was on the shortish side, about 5.5 miles or so. However, by combining the usual walk along the shoreline from Sunset Bay with this new trail gem,  the hike can be turned into a walk of proper distance. I'll have to tell my hiking buddies:

"Hey guys, guess what?  "...NEW TRAIL NEW TRAIL NEW TRAIL NEW TRAIL NEW TRAIL NEW....!!!!" 

I'll probably get nominated to lead a hike there!

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