Saturday, August 30, 2014

Garfield Peak

The hiking club had a two-part hike scheduled for Crater Lake on the last Saturday of August. I couldn't go because I had grandchildren Coral Rae and Aiden with me but I could kill half a bird with half a stone, so to speak. So, Dollie, (Dollie's) Mom, me, and the two tykes arrived at Crater Lake's Rim Village early in the morning, ready and eager for exploring magnificent Crater Lake.

Are we there yet?
Bidding adieu to Dollie and the Dollie-mom (they were doing the car tour around the lake) Aiden, Coral Rae, and I set off on the Garfield Peak Trail. We had walked approximately about 2 feet when I heard the first "Are we there yet?" I quickly got used to answering calmly "We're halfway" as brilliantly suggested in a recent article in Backpacker Magazine. That same answer heard over and over again confused the kids, and that was a good thing.

Crater Lake on a moody day
The trail is a steep one, climbing around 1,000 feet in its short 2.2 miles. The kids were feeling the climb but did enjoy all the stops overlooking Crater Lake. Well, to be precise, Coral Rae enjoyed the views while Aiden policed her, nervously pulling her back from the edge at every stop. Obviously, he wanted to end the hike with the same amount of sisters he started out with.

After a series of complex and protracted negotiations worthy of a multinational peace treaty, it was agreed we would stop and rest at each mile mark.  Mile one was next to the trail as it crossed a rocky avalanche chute but we did have nice views of Crater Lake Lodge, Union Peak, and Mount McLaughlin. In between the two peaks were numerous small cones dotting the pimply terrain.

I'm adorable!
As we climbed higher and higher and farther away from the lodge, more and more hikers voiced admiration for wee Coral Rae, it was a big hike for a small girl. Once Coral Rae figured this out, she would start up a conversation with each hiker by stating "My Grandpa says I'm an awesome hiker!" After the resultant "How cute" was uttered, she'd say loud enough for all to hear "Grandpa, everybody thinks I'm adorable!" She knows it, too.

That close to the summit
We had been leapfrogging a group from India and about half a mile from the summit, some of the party decided they'd had enough and started to turn back. Acting quickly and decisively, I blocked the way and pointed to the summit, which was within sight, and persuaded them to finish off the hike. They did thank me later.

Awesome view from the summit
We enjoyed the summit lunch and laze at the summit. The views were spectacular with the lake lying nearly 2,000 feet below us. The weather was unseasonably cool and storm clouds hovered dramatically over the rim peaks. Fortunately, the rains held off and we stayed dry all day.

We could see our trail below
On the way down, Aiden was off and running, enjoying the downhill hiking a lot more than the hike up. Coral stayed with me, entertaining the masses with a pert "I'm a trooper!" The hiking club had hiked to Plaikni Falls and were now tackling Garfield Peak. So, on the way down, we got to meet our hiking friends from Roseburg.

Cloud shadow on the lake
When we reached the bottom, we took a short walk to a rather elaborately constructed overlook of the lake. In the roofed overlook, there was a scale model of Crater Lake and I pointed out Garfield Peak to the kids. Aiden said now that we were at the bottom, there was such a sense of satisfaction to be able to point to Garfield Peak and say we had hiked up it. Success!

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

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dry Creek

The hike up Dry Creek is absolutely and indisputably one of the best hikes I've ever done. The route is trailless and involves miles of creek wading on a warm sunny day. Deep pools of amazingly clear water reflect the stately maple trees arching over the shaded creek. While the wet feet thing makes the trek interesting in a soggy-footed way, what really makes this hike special is the pure wilderness scenery. I will do this hike again, again, and again.

Morning on the Sixes River
The South Coast Striders, a Coos Bay hiking club, was putting this one on and I sent all my Friends of the Umpqua friends an invite to come along. Apparently, I have only one Friend. Al took me up on the offer and fully armed with coffee, we made the early morning trek to the coast.

Splashing across the Sixes
It was windy and chilly at the meeting spot in Sixes but a short drive up the Sixes River was warm and sunny and that is the difference folks, between being on the coast and being inland. The hike started off with a rope descent to the Sixes River and how cool is that? The Sixes was warm and shallow and feet barely got wet when we crossed over to the Dry Creek drainage.

Bushwhack through the jungle
At the confluence with the Sixes River, Dry Creek was living up to its name as it was indeed, quite dry. The forests on either side of the creek had been logged and the banks are clogged with bramble and willow thickets. So much fun to bushwhack through but we did that very thing to attain an old road that paralleled the creek. 

A wet Dry Creek
Why hike up an old road instead of the very obvious creek bed? Well, Reg, our hike leader, had a method to his madness. We were taking the road for speed, the idea being that the road would get us to the Grassy Knob Wilderness boundary quicker, allowing us to then hike further up the creek than last year. And sure enough a brisk walk brought us to the wilderness boundary in one hour and then it was time to play.

Maple canopy
Dry Creek was not dry at all inside the Grassy Knob Wildereness. The way Reg explained it (he used to be a hydrologist with the BLM, I believe) is that the big leaf maples flanking the river return moisture back to the air by evaporation through the leaves. Because the wilderness had never been logged, the increased moisture from the maples feeds the creek, while the brambles and willows on the lower creek keep the moisture for themselves. Ergo, the creek is dry near the mouth and full of water underneath the maple trees.

Lots of deep pools to trap hikers
The creek is fairly narrow and is flanked by steep walls festooned with ferns close to the river while conifers grow higher up. Majestic old-growth maples flank the creek and reach across to their maple brethren on the other side. The air was fresher and cooler as we followed the creek upstream, alternately wading in the placid creek and walking on rocky bars.

You go you go first..after you...
As we continued upstream, we began to encounter deep pools of blue water, the clearness of the water was simply amazing. Many of the pools would have been over our heads if we chose to walk through them. We didn't. As we worked our way upstream, the pools increased in frequency and deepness. Not uncoincidentally, our hiking group decreased in number in indirect proportion to the increasing depth of the creek.

Tranquility, picturefied
It is hard to convey in mere words the peacefulness and serenity on Dry Creek. Apart from the noises of our splashing footsteps, the only other sounds were the trees sighing in a slight breeze, the trickling of the creek, and the occasional bird song or two. The crustiest of hikers could not help but feel mellowness enter his or her soul. This is indeed a special place.

Look! A bearded otter!

Dry Creek may have gotten a little too special though as the creek eventually became too deep several miles upstream. When I saw Dave swimming upstream like a bearded otter, I pondered what Dollie would say if I came home with another ruined camera, not to mention a ruined GPS and Spot unit. Fear of wife and waterlogged electronics won out and I began the wade back. Al had stopped a little bit before so I joined him lazing on a rocky bar. And let's just say a laze just feels better when a lush creek is wrapped around it.

It's all newts to me
On the hike out, we were entertained by hordes of newts swarming the creek bed. Skittish frogs leaped into the water in panic at our arrival, the creek was so clear we could see the frogs eyeing us balefully from the rocky creek bottom. Despite the deep pools, we saw no hikers eyeing us balefully from the rocky creek bottom.

Al leads us home

Once we left the wilderness boundary, the big leaf maples disappeared, the willows and brambles returned and Dry Creek ran dry. Al and I walked down the creek bed on rocks painted white by dried algae as we baked under the hot sun like a pair of my abuelita's tamales. Upon arrival at the Sixes River, we rappelled up to the car and headed home, smugly thanking the hiking gods for bestowing such a superb hike upon us. Our Friends, unreasonably allergic to either early starts or wet feet, don't know what they are missing.

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

Clear as invisible air

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mount Bailey

Dollie and I had hiked to the Mount Bailey summit several years ago and what I remember about that hike was it was totally awesome and we gaily skipped up to the summit holding hands while singing "Kumbaya". Ah, memory is so selective about what it remembers and what it forgets. What I had forgotten about and was painfully reminded of on a recent revisiting to Mount Bailey was how long (10.3 miles) and how much elevation gain (3000 feet) was involved. I figured I'd put this all down in the first paragraph as a future reminder should I ever again decide to re-hike Bailey because sure as beans make farts, I will only remember how totally awesome this hike is.

Steep trail
Beginning at the Silent Creek trailhead, just off of iconic Diamond Lake, the dusty trail wasted no time in heading uphill through the lodgepole. There were a couple of other hikers starting out the same time as me: Tom from Springfield, and a younger couple from Corvallis with a short-legged dog. We would leapfrog each other all day long. The day was gloriously sunny yet slightly on the cool side unlike the charcoal oven that is Roseburg. And did I mention the trail was steep?

Just when it couldn't get steeper...
There weren't a lot of views other than me watching my feet on the slog up. Near the one mile mark, there was a temporary respite as the trail followed a blessedly flat roadbed for about a mile or so. The level fun fest ended at Road 388, after which the trail really began climbing in earnest, the previous climb to the road being just a warm-up. It was at this point the Corvallis dog was carried on his master's back, lucky dog.

Looks more like a volcano, now
The forest became thinner and thinner and intermittent views to Crater Lake began to grace the breath catching stops. Dead whitebark pines were strewn about the rocky slopes where they died, their bony fingers reaching up in futile supplication to the hiking gods to make all the bad uphill stop. The path wandered through a world of rock, the landscape tortured and blasted as befits a volcano. At an overlook of an avalanche basin, I could see the Bailey summit, still demoralizingly high above me.

There's a hole in me mountain!
There is a crater off to one side of the moutain, making Bailey about as symmetrical as a painting by Picasso. The trail rounded the crater, with a small patch of snow caked down in the bottom of the pit like lint in a belly button. My friends from Corvallis turned around and headed back and I did a good thing. Blocking their way down, I pointed out the mileage (0.7 miles to go) and elevation left (400 feet to go) and gave them a rah-rah pep talk "Go hike this for the Gipper!" Grudgingly, they turned back towards the summit and continued on. They did make sure to thank me when we were all atop the summit.

Mount Bailey
Speaking of summits, it was less than a mile away with a whole bunch of stuff to go through before getting there. First off, there was a false summit to climb. From the false summit, a jagged lava dike crested the ridge connecting all summits, be they false or true. The trail rapidly dropped away from the false summit, losing all that hard earned elevation. Before we get mad at trail designers, bear in mind the unpalatable alternative would be to hike on top of the jagged lava crest.

But who washes your windows?
The trail (more of a goat path, really) hugged the base of the lava wall and hands were used to steady hikers while loose rocks rolled down the 2,000 foot scree slope. A window in the wall allows for a nicely framed shot of Mount Thielsen and I briefly let go of my handholds to snap a picture. At the far end of the wall, the trail headed steeply to the ridge crest on treacherous footing with some more use of hands required, a short scramble then delivered hikers to safety atop the ridge.

Why we hike
Now it was all about the views. Mount Thielsen, Bailey's pointy neighbor dominated the scene, rising up in all its needle glory to seemingly poke a hole in the heavens; while Diamond Lake reposed at Thielsen's feet like a starstruck groupie. All the peaks of Crater Lake's rim surrounded the hole in the ground that is the lake and to the north was Diamond Peak with South Sister faintly visible in the smoky haze. Forget about a view further south, both Mount McLaughlin and Shasta were lost in the wildfire smoke emanating from California. Or maybe it was just normal California air, I'm not really sure.

Hey buddy, got some nuts?
After an enjoyable view soak with puffy clouds floating above like giant helium-filled cotton balls, it was time to pick our way down Mount Bailey as shadows lengthened in the late afternoon. Going downhill is in some ways harder than going up and I was a tired sore-kneed puppy when I arrived at the trailhead. But by the time I reached Winston, the memory of the pain and misery had faded and what stayed with me was the sweet memory of an awesome hike.

Last push to the summit
For more pictures, please visit the Flickr album.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Oldenberg Lake

Oh happy day! The scale used to scream "225 POUNDS!!!" at me but there it was, the magic number of 209, my short-term goal of less than 210 pounds accomplished. So I give myself a self-congratulatory pat on the back and posted a picture of the scale reading on Facebook for all the world to see. In response, Dale tells me "Gee, Richard, my fully loaded backpack and I combined together don't even weigh 209 pounds" So I pushed him over the cliff. Just kidding, of course, I just consoled myself by realizing that if the tables were turned, I would have come up with a wittier insult and THEN I'd I push him over the cliff.

Dale on the trail
Fortunately for Dale, there were no cliffs on the Oldenberg Lake trail as the path gained only a meager 650 feet in the 5 miles to the lake. At any rate, the insults and banter flew fast and furious as we hiked on the trail, located just south of Crescent Lake. The air was slightly hazy with wildfire smoke but that was OK as this was not a view hike. The trail basically followed the base of a ridge extending from Cowhorn Mountain to Summit Lake. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs on top of that ridge but the Oldenberg Lake Trail is a popular alternate route for the the through-hikers as water is much more readily available on the Oldenberg Lake Trail than on the PCT.

Trailside wet spot, suitable for pooping
It didn't take long for us to run into our first PCT hiker, a bearded gentleman resting on the trail next to two packs. As he told us this area is beautiful, a woman came down the trail, sporting a roll of toilet paper, a small trowel, and a sheepish smile. Without missing a beat, the fellow said "...was it beautiful too where you pooped?" She shot him a look that married men the world over would recognize and since Dale and I are both married men, we hurriedly departed.

Pinewan Lake
There really wasn't much to see between the lakes, just miles and miles of spindly little trees and a dusty trail. We did pass a small, muddy, and oft visited wet spot that was overly dignified with the name Pinewan Lake. Chatting with all the through hikers we kept running into was far more entertaining than the lodgepole trees and Pinewan Lake.

One of the Bingham Lakes
At the 3.5 mile mark we hit the first and most accessible Bingham Lake, the Bingham Lakes being a collection of either 3 or 4 lakes, depending on which map one uses. A small cone (Peak 7021) was visible beyond the lake and the tip of Cowhorn Mountain peeked over the peak. A sandy beach along the lake provided the first of several lollygags and this lake was filed away as a future backpack trip with grandchildren.

Stealthily, Dale stalks the wild photographer
Just past the upper Bingham Lake lies Bingham Meadow, an erstwhile pond that was totally dry this late in this dry year. The grasses in the meadow were going yellow in yet another sign the summer is getting ready to depart. It's been a hot and smoky summer but I'm not ready for the season to end just yet.

Temptation in the form of a trail sign
On the approach to Oldenberg Lake, we crossed the trail heading towards Lakes Suzanne, Darlene, and the plural Windy Lakes, all filed away as a future weekend backpack trip. So many lakes and, given the right time of  year, so way too many mosquitoes. But on this late summer day, there no mosquitoes to torment us.

Oldenburg Lake
Next up was our turnaround point: Oldenberg Lake (or Oldenburg, depending on which map gets used). At the south end of the lake, there were several unmanned tents and we tiptoed around them and ate lunch in some beachside huckleberry bushes. The lake lapped lazily upon the shore and we lapped equally lazily at our respective snacks and/or meals. Past the lake rose the symmetrical cone of Odell Butte with its lookout affixed to the top like a party hat on a drunken conventioneer.

Lodgepole forest
So back through the lodgepole we went after our lake visit, heading back to the car. We were sort of on autopilot, each of us alone in our heads when we passed Pinewan Lake. Just a relative hiking hop away from the trailhead, a brief moment of disconcertment occurred. As we approached a dry creek, the gulley lush with green vegetation, Dale just had to ask "Did we come this way?" To be frank, the terrain looked sort of alien and I was pissed at myself for getting lost so close to the end. Well, we were just being stupid as shortly thereafter, we found our trail junction and just like magic, my car. Turned out we had always been on the right trail and not lost at all, and I do use "lost" in the map sense of the word.

A skinnier silly person
As we were driving away from the trailhead, we gave a ride to two through hikers, a pair of women with the trail names "Hustler" and "In Just A Minute". We accrued valuable hiking karma points by taking them to Whitefish Campground where they resumed their impressive journey. I figure I can accrue enough karma points to withstand the considerable demerits charged when I push Dale over the edge at some future snarky remark.

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

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Highway 140

Sigh. Vacation's finished. All done. Finito. No más. Ding, the turkey button popped out. Sad but true, our allotted time had come to an end and it was time to hop in the car and make the long drive to yet another year of joyless day-slave existence. On the plus side, civilization does have soccer and Mexican food in it. 

The Eureka County courthouse

After our Wheeler Peak hike, we packed up our gear and overnighted in Ely. From there, we rejoined the Lonleiest Highway, following it back to Eureka. A historical mining town, Eureka is like Austin's twin city what with old buildings from the wild west. Plus it has culture in the form of an actual opera house! On our first pass through Eureka a week earlier, we didn't get out of the car as it was pouring rain at the time. However, on the second visit it was all blue skies and sun with the red-bricked buildings contrasting nicely. 

Toto, we are not in Oregon anymore!
At Eureka, we grabbed an even lonelier highway than the Loneliest Highway, heading north to Winnemucca along the Humboldt River. I use the term "river" loosely as I'm not sure the "river" would have even been called a "creek" in Oregon. We were meeting Dollie's cousin Janet and her husband Buggs for a late lunch and we had some time to kill. We visited a street fair and looked at some old buildings and some new casinos. In a signal we were clearly not in Oregon, a sign pointed the way to several brothels. I stopped to take a picture of the sign as Dollie ran rapidly down the street, more embarrassed than usual to be seen with me.

Wild storm at Denio Junction
After lunch in Winnemucca, we continued north to Denio Junction which is at the foot of Oregon's Pueblo Mountains. On the way, we were treated to a spectacular display of lightning emanating from dramatic storm clouds hovering over the sagebrush expanse that is the Great Basin. 

Pronghorn antelope stampede
Dollie took over the driving which allowed me to take pictures of the thunderheads as we whizzed past. Near the Warner Valley and Hart Mountain area we spotted wild horses and a small herd of pronghorn antelope. Now, how cool is that?

Black and white cloud drama
All the nice photography fun ended shortly after Guano Rim, where Highway 140 dropped 1,000 feet down the face of a sheer escarpment. At the top of the grade, there were several chain-up areas for the winter weather and all I could think of was how I will never drive up or down Guano Rim in winter. Yikes! Upon our descent down the escarpment, a white-knuckled wife ordered me to drive the rest of the way home.

Clouds, near Warner Valley
During our entire stay in Nevada, we had enjoyed 70 degree weather but as we approached Klamath Falls at sunset, the temperature rose into the oppressive 90's as a massive smoke plume from the Beaver Fire caught the last light of the day. So good to be back home. Sigh.

For more pictures of our return trip to Winston, please visit the Flickr album