Sunday, October 26, 2014

North Bank Deer Habitat

They say misery loves company.  But if that is true, then why was I hiking all by myself at the North Bank Deer Habitat? And who are "they" anyway? The fact that I was out all alone hiking the ungodly steep trails of the habitat in a torrential downpour proves that even misery has the good sense to stay home when I do not.

Graceful oak on a hillside
Because of heavy rain, I spent all day Saturday cooped indoors like a life-without-parole convict. However, the legs became quite restless on Sunday morning. The alluring siren song of freedom called to me and since the rain was not coming down with the same intensity as it did on Saturday, I made my great escape by driving the short distance to the nearby habitat in a steady rain.

My life for the next 12 miles
Lucky me though, because the rain abated as boots were laced up at the west trailhead. It was actually pleasantly cool, just perfect for hiking, as I set out on the dirt road leading to Middle Ridge. What was not perfect, though, was the uphill grade as all trails in the habitat are quite steep. Oh well, it's what I do, though.

A great day to hike...temporarily
Once Middle Ridge was attained, a nice view was had overlooking Whistlers Bend on the North Umpqua River. As I hiked, sunbeams broke through the heavy blanket of dark clouds, lighting up the farms next to the river. It matched my mood perfectly as in my head, sunbeams of optimism poked holes in the heavy tapestry of doom and gloom in direct correlation to the scene unfolding below me. Another hiker came traipsing down the trail and we agreed it was indeed a fine morning for a hike. But he was heading down and I was heading up and therein lies the difference.

Moody view
Middle Ridge is a broad and grassy ridge leading from the North Umpqua River up to the North Boundary Ridge and halfway up is a high point known unimaginatively enough as Middle Knob. A quick side trip to the knob provided more views. However, the north ridge above me had been overtaken by a wall of dark black clouds full of watery trouble. Bad weather was coming and it was a matter of when, not if.

From day into night
Naturally, I continued walking up Middle Ridge to immerse myself in the impending weather mayhem. The scene was quite photogenic as golden grass was lit up by the sun while the sky above was a dark and gloomy black. And sure enough, as the camera was happily taking pictures, the rain finally arrived.

The day was sunny, then rainy, then sunny, then...
It was a light rain though, and I quickly planned an out route back on a left turn down the Chasm Creek Trail. Unfortunately (in hindsight) I was feeling quite walky and a five mile hike just wasn't going to do it so I headed uphill to the North Boundary Ridge where another left turn and an 8 mile loop awaited. However, the clouds had now scattered, the sky was blue, and I was still feeling walky so I took a right turn and committed myself to a much longer hike.

That deer path is my trail
The trail on this section of the north ridge is dotted with rocky points and pinnacles and is probably the wildest section of trail in the habitat. And of course, the rain came back while a knot of white-tailed deer grazed on a grassy hillside; they easily loped uphill into the forest at my arrival. I, on the other hand, cannot easily lope uphill and it was slow going along the ridge as the deer wondered what the heck a human being without a gun was doing up there on a rainy day.

Rainy view
Normally, the view is great from the ridge but all I could see by now were curtains of rain and naturally at the point furthest from my car, the heavens absolutely opened up. Lashed by a fierce downpour, I quickly donned my wet gear and kept on walking in the monsoon. At a junction with the Powerline Road, a right turn was taken and now I was heading back towards the car instead of away from it, unfortunately there were still many miles between me and dryness.

Hiking in the rain...whee!
The weather forecast had called for showers which implies on and off rain but the "on" part lasted for well over an hour on the descent into the aptly named (today, at least) Soggy Bottom. However, the showers in the forecast probably referred to the stream of water falling from the sky which matched the volume of water that emanates from my shower nozzle, minus the happy hot water. The mud was slippery and there were several near pratfalls as I passed Grumpy's Pond, which was probably named after a guy hiking in a heavy rainstorm. The camera was stowed safely away in a dry case and there was only one picture taken on the way down, one water-ruined camera this year is enough. 

Steamy Oregon tropics
At this point, I so wanted the hike to be over and a plan was quickly formulated where I'd hitch a ride at the east picnic area from someone who'd feel sorry for me. Unfortunately, the east parking lot was empty, like anyone besides me would be visiting the habitat in a biblical rainstorm. But at least the rain eased up a bit as I pitifully began the slog up the West Barn Road to Middle Ridge.

Sun broke out at the West Barn
No longer feeling walky, I trudged uphill to the barn where a brief and dry breather was taken while listening to the music of the rain on the tin roof. By the time I hit Middle Ridge the sun had come out again and the rain had stopped for good. At a crest and trail junction, I took the left turn onto Middle Ridge, happy to be winding this hike up.

I hate hiking!
On the way down, the view to Whistlers Bend didn't look quite right as the angle of the river was a bit peculiar. Out came the GPS and lo and behold, I had turned left onto the Thistle Ridge Road with Middle Ridge being, much to my dismay, over a mile away across a deep creek drainage. So back up I go and naturally, the steepest section of trail rose above me like a muddy and grassy Great Wall of China. I hate hiking!

Autumn comes to the North Bank
The final stats for this hike were 12.7 miles hiked and 2,275 feet of elevation gain. I was a very tired guest of honor at my birthday party that night; my guests enjoyed the festivities while I nursed sore legs in a lonely corner in the living room. Actually, my house is round so there are no corners but that's beside the point, the point being misery does not love company despite what "they" say.

Farmlands at Whistlers Bend
For more pictures of this wet one, please visit the Flickr album.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rosary Lakes

The Rosary Lakes are one of my favorite hiking destinations in the Willamette Pass area. As the story has it, the three lakes all lined up in a row resemble beads on a rosary; ergo, the Rosary Lakes. The lakes would not have suggested rosary beads to me as I'm not a particularly religious person,. I probably would have given the lakes a name more closer to my particular world view, like Fart Bubbles in a Tub Lakes, since in my mind the lakes more resemble a stream of bubbles of dubious origin than a string of rosary beads. That's probably why I'm not allowed to name things and besides which, it'd be too long of a name to fit on the topo maps.

Warming fingers by the fire
At any rate, it was a nice cool autumn morning and I eagerly sallied forth onto the Pacific Crest Trail for a moderate hike before winter's arrival shuts down the trails. The trail angled away from busy Highway 58, steadily climbing upwards through the forest as the car noises gradually faded away. So uniform was the trail at this point, it was quite jarring when the trail passed through a small opening in the forest with bright blue sky above, sunlight touched my skin and I'm glad to report I didn't burst into flames...this time.

Lower Rosary Lake
After a couple of miles of sidehilling across the slopes of Peak 6693 (I think the Willamette Pass ski-place calls the peak Eagle Mountain or some facsimile thereof) the Pacific Crest made a left turn to the north as it surmounted a forested bench with some lava flows on it. A short and relatively level walk on the bench then delivered me to to Lower Rosary Lake. 

Pulpit Rock
Any discussion about the Rosary Lakes must mention Pulpit Rock. The prominent point does indeed look like a pulpit from where a messianic zealot can preach to the faithful. It doesn't matter from which of the three lakes the pulpit is viewed, it dominates the scenery above the lakes; no matter where you go, there it is.

View to Maiden Peak
So back to my arriving at Lower Rosary Lake: mountain ash was all yellow leaved around the banks and Pulpit Rock loomed overhead. To the north was the symmetrical cone of Maiden Peak, whose summit I WILL hike to someday. In the middle of the pond was a large flock of ducks that probably numbered in the thousands, if not millions. As I hiked around the lake, the flock rotated around so as to be as far away from me as possible; but that's OK, it sort of reminded me of work.

Middle Rosary Lake
Middle Rosary Lake was next and the lake's main distinction is that it is the closest lake to Pulpit Rock, forever kneeling at the rock's base like a brainwashed devotee. I'll always remember the middle lake for a memorable snowshoe trip that Ray and I did one Valentine's Day (...and don't read too much into that!), the lake was frozen solid and we ate lunch on Middle Rosary Lake's middle.

A fellow hiker out on the trail
A small isthmus separates Middle and Upper Rosary Lakes and at the upper lake it was decision time. I was really feeling walky and it felt like I had arrived at the lakes in mere minutes, so what is an unfulfilled hiker ever to do? Why, continue hiking northward on the Pacific Crest Trail, of course.

My only picture of Maiden Lake
At an intersection with the Maiden Lake Trail, I so wanted to continue on to the lake. However, it was about 3 miles away and the round trip hike would wind up being 14 to 15 miles. I was OK with the distance but the timing would have put me back at the trailhead past sunset and my headlamp was where it didn't belong, namely in the trunk of my car. 

I'm likin' the lichen
I then entertained a notion of hiking to the Maiden Peak Shelter but once I measured the distance from Maiden Peak Saddle (where I had hiked to) it still was going to wind up being the same kind of mileage as presented with the Maiden Lake option. So at that point, I bid farewell to all the unrequited Maiden destinations and returned back the way I came, happy with my nine mile hike.

A sign winter is coming, darn it
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Waldo Mountain

The latest stop on the 2014 Waldopalooza Tour was the steep slog up Waldo Peak. While not particularly long, the hike certainly offered a stiff challenge in the form of 1,900 feet of elevation gain and one slight navigation issue. However the payoff, as with most mountain summit hikes, was well worth all the sweat and leg burn as the view of Waldo Lake and the chain of Cascade Range peaks predictably impressed.

I hit the monochrome button by mistake
The trailhead was beautifully shaded and seductively forested but the true personality of the Waldo Peak Trail became apparent in the first half-mile of the hike. After passing a cute little trailhead kiosk, the path shot straight up the mountain and quickly gained several hundred feet before one could say "Oh my god, this trail is steep!" Surely, I'd be working harder than a centipede lacing up all his hiking boots.

My view for 3+ miles
Fortunately, the grade eased up from that first initial trail torture and went from maliciously cruel to just uphill for the rest of way. The going was all forest and the morning sun filtered photogenically through the trees and rhododendron bushes. The forest floor was carpeted by dense clumps beargrass with my little path weaving its way through. 

Rhododendron bush
The guidebook I was using said to take a right turn at the 1.9 mile mark and turn right I did. However, the trail headed downhill with the same enthusiasm that it had came up with. I began to harbor grave doubts about the route after a half-mile of losing all that hard-won elevation gain. A quick consult with the GPS showed I was on a tie-in trail between the Waldo Mountain Trail and the Salmon Lakes Trail, darn it. I wonder how many other hikers went down this trail thinking they were on the way to Waldo Mountain?

Hike to the light, hike to the light!

At least I got to experience some extra uphill hiking as I made my way back to the Waldo Mountain Trail, sarcasm intended. Fifty yards later on the Waldo Mountain Trail, another trail junction showed up and the proper right turn was taken this time. The shady path followed a forested ridgecrest when suddenly all the trees ended and I walked out into bright sun. After all those miles in the shade, I felt like an albino cave salamander blinking in the blinding sunlight. The terrain was rocky with bright red huckleberry bushes dotting the trail as it made its way to the Waldo Mountain summit.

Room with a view
I didn't find Waldo, but I did find his lookout, a square cabin perched precariously atop the mountain. The views were outstanding with a superb airplanesque view of Waldo Lake below. To the north of the lake was the burn zone I had been in when I hiked to the Rigdon Lakes the weekend before. Rigdon Butte was ridiculously small and insignificant when seen from high up.

Why we hike

To the north stretched out a chain of Cascade peaks: Broken Top, South Sister, Middle Sister, Mount Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, and a distant Mount Hood. A deep canyon had been carved out by the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River with Lower Eddeeleo Lake perched precariously above the canyon. Views like this are why we hike uphill for miles and miles.

Showing its gills
Going down was quicker and easier than going up and it was a rather leisurely descent due to all the mushrooms growing along the trail. I became one with the trail, frequently laying prone taking pictures of all the mycological delights sprouting forth. All in all, it was a good day in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.

Short and warty, just like me!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.