Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cone Peak

It was a simple enough plan: Hike up the Cone Peak Trail, scramble up to the top of Cone Peak, then work my way along a ridge to South Peak, and depending on time and energy, maybe do Echo Mountain too. But a balky wrist sapped my enthusiasm for all this peak summiting and this wound up being a mountain climbing fail on a nice day for hiking.

Very little snow on the Santiam Wagon Road
I parked at the Tombstone Pass snow park and there was virtually no snow there in what surely is an ominous portent for a bigger and badder fire season. I did make sure to display my Oregon Sno-Park permit on the dash, for lack of snow surely would not deter the ticket writers from making their appointed rounds. The trail to Tombstone Prairie begins on the historic Santiam Wagon Road which was covered by mere inches of old snow. So not good.

So not good!
Snow is nature's timed-release water pill, and even though we've had lots of rain, the lack of snow bodes ill for the upcoming wildfire season. I tried to be happy about the lack of snow because after all, I would be enjoying an early season hike due to the aforementioned lack of snow. But still, I'd happily sacrifice hiking if it meant giving up the wildfires that will rampage in summer.

Tombstone Prairie
Anyway, the trail to Tombstone Pass descended from the Santiam Wagon Road under a thin cover of crunchy snow. Tombstone Pass got its name from a 1871 incident where 18 year old James McKnight accidentally killed himself when his gun discharged as he retrieved it from between two bedrolls. I believe there is an actual tombstone nearby but I've never seen it, but then again I haven't really looked for it either.

Aren't you glad there are
no pictures of hiker raisins?
Tombstone Prairie is a prime snowshoeing and Nordic skiing destination in a normal winter with snow in it but on this day the only prairie visitors were the occasional hiker and lots of elk, to judge by the number of hoof prints and piles of elk raisins. I didn't see any hiker raisins, but then again I didn't really look, either.

The Cone Peak Trail was littered with fir parts
Leaving Tombstone Prairie, the Cone Peak Trail angled sharply uphill and crossed Highway 20 before resuming its mad charge up the forested slope lying between Cone Peak and Iron Mountain. Apart from the occasional small drift, the snow disappeared as the trail climbed. The climate was almost balmy as the sun shone overhead in a cloudless blue sky.

First view of Cone Peak
After several long switchbacks and a whole lot of elevation gain, the trail broke out of the forest and entered a series of pumice barrens.  Nice views were had of South Peak and the tip of Cone Peak, each flecked with small patches of snowy dandruff on their respective bald heads.

Iron Mountain

Despite the name, the Cone Peak Trail basically sideswipes its namesake peak as it continues a loop hike toward Iron Mountain; an off-trail scramble is required to get to the top of Cone Peak. The rounded peak seems rather kind and gentle...until you have to hike up it. The first order of business once I left the actual trail was to beat through a dense stand of trees that raked at me as I worked my way through. As I fought the tree army repelling any would-be summiters, the slope was already working its way to near vertical. During this hand-to-branch combat, I was leaning heavily on my hiking poles and therein would lie the cause of my demise, hiking-wise.

The climb up was steep, to put it mildly

Several summers ago, I had crashed my bicycle and broke my wrist and jaw while on a ride in Idaho. Four surgeries later, I have a partially fused wrist and my wrist and I generally get along. However, the torque exercised on the joint during the climb left the unfused part of the wrist screaming "OUCH!". Lest you think me a namby-pamby, I will point out that I cycled 78 miles with a broken jaw and wrist. I do know how to handle pain, so if I say it hurts, it hurts!

Slippery slope
Unsuccessfully trying to block out the nerve signals emanating from a joint in distress, I tried walking with the wrist holding the pole on both the downhill and uphill side to see if it was easier on the wrist or not. Didn't help, so I folded my poles and put them in my pack and bravely soldiered on. The slope was incredibly steep and melting snow made the ground soft and slippery. Where the ground was harder rock, little pebbles rolled under my boots, it was like walking on marbles. The first time I put my hand down to steady myself, the wrist told me in no uncertain terms to never do that again.

All Three Sisters in a family photo
I sat down and ate lunch, hoping a brief rest might help. And really, the views were totally awesome once I quit focusing on the climb up. Nearest mountain neighbor Iron Peak was eminently visible, thumbing its lava pillar in permanent disdain at Cone Peak. The steep slope dropped away at my feet into the Hackleman Creek drainage with Browder Ridge on the other side of the valley. Beyond Browder Ridge were the glistening white peaks of the Three Sisters and Mount Washington.

North Peak, Echo Mountain, and South Peak

Just to the east was South Peak, Echo Mountain, and North Peak. Hikers without a throbbing wrist could work their way along the connecting ridge and along with Iron Mountain and Cone Peak, bag 5 peaks. The down side to that is that on the return from North Peak, 3 of those peaks would have to be bagged twice. That'd be a 8 peak hike! Feeling peaked just thinking about that, I made one last attempt at conquering the short distance to the Cone Peak summit. A few steps further, a steadying hand on the muddy slope made me change my mind and regretfully, I began the descent.

Cloud cover, at the end of the day
So next time, and there will be a next time, I'll wear a wrist brace and hopefully that should do it. And also hopefully, a snowstorm will hit in February and restore snow levels back to where they belong.  I'm more hopeful about the wrist.

Not your basic snowshoe trip
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sterling Ditch

Where have you been all my life, Sterling Mine Ditch Trail? Why have I never hiked you before? Why all the questions? And who am I talking to? So many questions to ponder in that that internal dialogue that takes place when one spends way too many miles alone in the woods.

Picturesque madrone
So much of the Siskiyou Mountains culture and landmarks involve mining in one way or another. The tectonic processes that created the Siskiyous also extruded heavy metals to the surface. The shiny metals embedded in the mountains were then (and are still being) harvested although nowadays we are somewhat more environmentally circumspect than in the days of yore.

A squadron of oaks
There already had been mining in the area of the Little Applegate River but when gold was discovered on Sterling Creek in 1854, the boom town of Sterlingville sprung up to support the sudden influx of prospectors. The town went bust about 50 years later but hydraulic mining continued another 50 years or so, much to the detriment of the Little Applegate River and surrounding topography. To facilitate the mining, in 1877 a 26.5 mile long ditch was dug to divert water from the Little Applegate to the Sterling Mine operations.

Part of the uphill walk up to the ditch
Nowadays, the ditch no longer carries water but the overgrown ditch still is in evidence today and the downhill-side bank makes for a wonderfully level trail for hikers and bikers. Of course the ditch is halfway up Goat Cabin Ridge which meant a brisk walk uphill from the Little Applegate River was required to reach the ditch. But then again, it's just not a hike unless it goes uphill.

View to Bald Mountain
Even though we (my internal dialogue avatar and I) were hiking in the Siskiyou foothills and not the mountain range proper, tall peaks still surrounded the Little Applegate valley. Open and grassy (read: treeless) slopes provided ample views thereof all during this walk. To the west were grand vistas to Point Mountain and the disturbingly named Bald Mountain. Further up the Little Applegate Valley was the tall snow-dusted mountain of Wagner Butte, a totally awesome hike in its own right. 

It was simply a gorgeous day
For the first couple of miles, the trail ambled alongside the ditch but alas, private property intruded into all the pleasant walking. In order to contour around the property line, the trail parted ways with the ditch and headed several miles uphill through grassy slopes studded with leafless oaks, orange-trunked madrone, and equally orange colored ponderosa pines, all situated under a gloriously blue sky.

A tree clings to life on a steep slope
What goes up most come down or so they say. And who are "they" anyway? Why do we care what "they" say? More mindless questions with which to ponder away the miles, but I digress. Anyway, at a wooded saddle, the trail plunged precipitously down into Muddy Gulch, trading sunlit grassy slopes for murky woods. At the bottom of the trail plunge our friend Sterling Ditch rejoined the trail, giving me something to share rambling soliloquies with.  

Trail, next to Sterling Mine Ditch
Most hikers on the Sterling Ditch Trail begin at the Tunnel Trailhead. When the ditch was constructed, a tunnel was bored through the aptly named Tunnel Ridge. The historical oddity of the tunnel is the main destination for hikers but I had started from the Little Applegate Trailhead, about 6 miles away from the tunnel trail. At this point, I had about 5 miles in but the shadows through the trees were getting longer. Unless I wanted to hike back to the car in the dark, I'd have to turn back soon.

The tunnel was a little underwhelming
Fortunately, at the 5.3 mile mark, a small little hole in the ground marked the seemingly insignificant tunnel entrance.  That was good enough for me and I turned around and began walking quickly back to the car. Well, I walked quickly until the trail and ditch split ways again. Remember that steep plunge down Muddy Gulch? Now it was a steep climb out of the canyon, gaining about 500 feet in 0.6 miles.  At least it was short, distance-wise.

The afternoon glow on the way back
It was a magnificent next few miles as afternoon headed into twilight. Shadows lengthened across the grassy slopes while I re-enjoyed the expansive views of the Little Applegate Valley and the surrounding peaks on Goat Cabin Ridge. Isn't Goat Cabin Ridge a cool name? Do goats really build cabins? More questions, I know, and while I don't have the answer as to why I've never hiked the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail before, rest assured I'll be back to further explore this superb hiking destination.

Conversations I have
with myself when I hike
For more pictures, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Blacklock Point

"The day is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Here we are, hiking in the wet; my wife wishing we'd never met"
Richard O'Neill
View to a distant Blacklock Point
Actually, it wasn't all that bad. While it wasn't out and out rain, the air was basically drizzle with attitude. Gills were nearly required, but not quite. The atmosphere, vegetation, and earth were all damp and drippy wet, a driving wind on the cliffs made sure to wet camera lenses and hikers equally. Dollie and I were joined by Coos Bay hiking buddies Toresa, Susan, and Judy. While we all had an enjoyable walk, our enjoyment paled in comparison to the sheer unrestrained joy of our canine companions Sophie and Rosie.
Trail through the rhododendron gardens
The consensus in our group was that nobody besides myself wanted to walk the full 9 mile loop at Blacklock Point, so a shuttle hike was quickly organized where we'd walk a moderate 6 miler from the point to Floras Lake. So off we went, skirting the large bodies of standing water that tends to accumulate on the old road bed that is the trail to Blacklock Point. The dogs did not skirt the ponds, instead splashing through the puddles in boundless doggie exuberance. We all should hike like dogs, I think. At one point Toresa briefly stepped off trail and sunk up to her knees in a muddy sinkhole, causing her to utter the phrase "I just did a Richard!" I've certainly heard that phrase a time or two! 
What fun, Rosie!
Walking like the dainty dry-footed humans we are, we followed the trail along the coastal cliffs to Blacklock Point. We didn't tarry long there as a blustery wind was driving the wet air onto camera lenses and glasses. I could only get a off a shot or two before the camera lens got occluded by the moisture and unfortunately I didn't pack the windshield wipers with me. The dogs didn't care, the whole walking in the wind and rain thing was more fun than a yard full of squirrels.

The Richard Hike section

After the desultory visit to Blackock Point, we returned to the Oregon Coast Trail, gratefully finding drier hiking underneath the leafy shelter of the trees overhanging the trail. Just past a small creek Susan and I had a discussion about how best to obtain an overlook of the waterfall caused when this particular creek plunges over the edge and onto the beach below. Apparently, the South Coast Striders use a different path than my little bushwhack route. 

Damp view of the Oregon coast
The path I normally use is a life and death wrestling match with the chest-high salal and there were a few looks thrown my way that come along with finding out what a Richard Hike is like. Apparently, the South Coast Strider's route is much kinder and gentler, to gather from what I was told afterwards. Anyway, after our mano a mano combat through the salal, we attained the orange colored bluff top with a view for the ages...on a sunny day, that is. On this day, we really couldn't see much in the wind and drizzle. On the plus side, we got to bushwhack back to the trail.

Toresa nimbly hops over a creek
At a small campsite next to a creek, we were mildly dismayed to find the wooden bridge that used to be here apparently had floated away. Fortunately, the creek was narrow enough that we crossed dry-footed with just a small leap across. The dogs, on the other hand, frolicked and cavorted in the creek's waters, they can't understand our obsession with dry feet.

Floras Lake
Normally, the return to Floras Lake would be by way of the beach but it was high tide, the wind was blowing, and conditions were fairly wet, so the inland trail option through the woods was taken. After a couple of miles, we arrived at Floras Lake which was totally devoid of windsurfers, a most unusual occurrence. Apparently, windsurfers don't ply their avocation during wet weather.

A short walk along the beach was taken before following Floras Lake's shore to the end. While we had been hiking in the woods, the drizzle had stopped and the clouds were breaking up, treating us to a tantalizing glimpse of blue sky miles offshore. All in all, this wound up being a nice and easy hike in less than optimum conditions.

Tunnel through the murky woods
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album. 


Saturday, January 3, 2015

North Bank hike

This is getting to be an annual event for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club. The club's first hike of the year takes place in the North Bank Deer Habitat, conveniently located in Roseburg's figurative back yard. Each year. we freeze our little colitas off hiking in the ice and fog, enjoy sumptuous views by hiking steeply uphill, and then warm fingers, toes, ears, and spirits with hot soup at Lois's house. It's a great way to start the hiking year.

Tree of Mystery
As we started the 2015 version of this hike, the ice chattered underneath our boots while our teeth chattered inside our heads. Besides being cold, the deer preserve was cloaked in thick Jack-the-Ripper London fog. The grasses were all covered with heavy frost and the faint tracings of leafless oaks and maples could just be seen in all the gray.

Just a tad bit nippy
At the humorously named Soggy Bottom, we split up into two groups hereafter referred to as Long Hikers and Short Hikers. The long and short of it did not refer to stature but to the length of the hike, although there are some whose stature would match the corresponding descriptor. Anyway, I led seven Long Hikers and Lois led the remaining Short Hikers.

No views...yet
The Soggy Bottom Road climbed gradually uphill, contouring across the steep hillsides of the north boundary ridge. A marginally brighter glow in surrounding grayness indicated the possible location of the sun. There weren't any views to be had so we just had to talk to each other. 

Why we hike
The fog began to thin out just before arriving at Grumpy's Pond and there was a hint of blue sky above as we hiked ever upwards. By the time we hit the north boundary ridge, we were free and clear of the fog and oh my, what a view we had.

Steaming jungle
The North Umpqua River valley was covered in a soft white blanket of foggy felt that stretched for miles and miles. The sky was gloriously blue and the tips of mountains and hills poked their pointy little heads out of the cotton sea. Much gawking and photography abounded. The scene was so spectacular that I almost didn't pay attention to my burning leg muscles as we climbed the steep hills of the preserve.  Almost.

First leg pain of the new year
At the Middle Ridge Road we said goodbye to Medium Hikers Elona and George and then we were five. The next couple of miles were a series of steep ups and downs over several high points on the northern ridge. The grassy slopes dropped precipitously away from our feet, disappearing into the foggy stewpot below. After the last knob, the trail headed downhill for good.

Our view on the way down
While the downhill was welcome after all the leg-burning uphill grades, what was not welcome was the return into the fog. The fog was incredibly thick and we could barely see where we were going. Bill and I kept company by talking politics and whatnot and it had been some time since we had last glimpsed our fellow Long Hikers. We eventually dropped below the fog cover and about 50 yards in front of us was John, Merle, and Edwin; thanks to the dense fog, we didn't even realize we were walking that close to each other.

I like this view better!
After this 10 mile epic, we all regrouped at Lois's house and her pozole restored warmth to noses, ears, and other miscellaneous extremities. I can't wait for the rest of the 2015 hikes, it's just going to be a great year for hiking! For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Day snowshoe hike

This was supposed to be a short snowshoe hike to Summit Rock but starting at the right trailhead would have helped. Even though all of us were scouting for the Summit Rock road as we drove on Highway 138, we still managed to somehow miss it, winding up instead at another forest road about 4 miles east of the Summit Rock turnoff. Further adding to the confusion was a sign at a three way junction at the start of the hike which said Summit Rock was 4 miles away.  Of course, the same sign said Chemult was 27 miles away and the sign was quite mute as to which of the three forks would take us where. Nothing like starting the new year by not knowing where we were, where we were going, and how to get there. 

94 miles in snow?
I like the sound of that!
I had a GPS but could not find Summit Rock on it because at the time we had not yet deduced we were starting at the wrong road and I was looking for the rock in the wrong quadrant. At the aforementioned three-way junction, the middle fork headed north and offered a nice view of snowy Mount Thielsen and for no other reason, we (John, Katsuaki, Merle, and yours truly) grabbed the middle fork.

Katusaki leads the way
There wasn't a lot of snow but there was enough to shoe on as the road descended gently through the trees. It was a gloriously sunny day and the temperature was in the high 20's. Despite the chill, several layers of clothing were shed as we soon warmed up from the exertion.

Snowshoe hares have been busy 
There wasn't a lot to see, it was just a pleasant walk through trees with their shadows mottling the pristine white blanket of snow. Snowshoe hare tracks crisscrossed the road and occasionally some predator tracks showed up too. Despite the lack of human activity here, the snowy wilderness is indeed a busy place, judging by the number of critter tracks.

Photo session

At just under the 2 mile mark, the road unceremoniously ended at a loop turnaround in the woods. So what do 4 guys do when they don't really know where they are? Why, leave the road and head off through the forest, and we didn't even stop to ask for directions. Trails are so overrated anyway. We headed northeast with some vague notion of either reaching the Pacific Crest Trail or getting a nice view of nearby Mount Thielsen. We didn't know it at the time but we were already at the base of the mountain, it'd have been a pretty good pull uphill to get to any vantage points.

Katsuaki and the blessed flask
After a short stretch of heading gradually uphill by stepping over logs and pushing past young trees we cleared the snow off a large fallen tree and ate lunch. Katusaki earned the Hiker Most Likely to Get Re-Invited Award when he whipped out a flask of whisky. The potent brew took our breath away but it certainly made a nice little glowing warm spot in our insides.

Discussing the options
While sitting on the log, I was finally able to find Summit Rock on the GPS, turns out we were about 3 miles east and just a little bit to the north of the rock. There was some discussion about going cross-country to the rock but that was all put to rest when we found out it'd be three-plus miles back to the car after that.

On the way back
Oh well, so back we go and navigation was simple as all we had to do was follow our clearly visible tracks in reverse. However, the the hike back was much tougher as the snow had become quite sticky as it warmed up in the sun, it had the consistency of ice cream left out a little too long at the party. The snow stuck to the bottom of our snowshoes, reminding me of hiking in wet clay.

Speaking of flick and kick...
Merle and Katsuaki took off their shoes but they both found the hiking no less tedious as they slipped and slid on the forest road slush. I tested out several methods of keeping the snow from accumulating on the shoes. There was the "shake and bake", the "shuffle-step" and the "felonious assault" which consisted of beating on the shoes with my hiking poles. In the end, I found the most expedient method was the "flick and kick" which consisted of flicking the shoe by sharply pressing my toes into the shoe on the back step. The hinged shoe joint then flicked (if successful) the sticky snow into oblivion. It still was tedious and tiring, though.

Happy New Year!
So, in the end this was just a bunch of guys walking in the woods and going nowhere in particular. I can't think of a better way to start the new year!  For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.