Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pine Bench

Robinson Crusoe was lost and until he made friends with his man Friday. The Lost Boys were just that in Neverland until Peter Pan and his Tinkerbell showed up. America got "Lost" every week until ABC ended the show. Will Robinson, Robbie the Robot, and the simpering Dr. Smith took a wrong turn just past Mars and became lost in space in what has to be the worst navigating job ever. The Donner Party got lost and ate each other. Lost happens. While I don't ever like to say I've been lost, I have been location challenged, or misplaced, a time or two. I just didn't expect to be, make that "alternately located"...on a trail that I've hiked a million times. But hey, lost happens.

Bird's nest fungus
The night before, Dollie and I had gone to Eugene for a Kitty, Daisy, and Lewis concert. By the way, here's my plug: Great band! Since we rolled into into Winston around 2 AM with ears still buzzing from the show, it made for a late start for the next day's hike. Gotta get my beauty rest, you know. Because of the much needed sleep-in, it stood to reason it'd have to be a short drive to do a short hike and Pine Bench fit the bill.

Spring fed water for your health
Beginning at the ungodly hour of high noon, a short walk away from the North Umpqua River brought me to Soda Springs. The rust colored waters seep from a steep hillside and in spite of the rather putrid looking water, the grasses surrounding the springs were green and lush. Little froggies hopped frantically in front of me as they fled the big scary, yet incredibly handsome, hiker. Deer tracks were visible in the orange muck but hey, deer will drink anything. I don't know if the water is drinkable or not, but the springs do support an abundance of flora and fauna. I wasn't going to try the water because I generally like my water clear and sparkling, and not rusty orange.

What a bushwhack looks like
Rejoining the trail after visiting the springs was where I went wrong. The clearly defined trail paralleled a large waist-high fallen tree before crossing a small creek and then disappearing altogether. This particular area is in a burn zone from the 2008 Rattle Fire and the undergrowth was brushy and full of brambles. Fallen trees littered the slope in chaotic profusion. I made the incorrect assumption the trail had been lost to the fire regrowth, something that happens all too often in fire-scarred Oregon.

So glad to see the poison oak!
I knew if I kept walking uphill, I'd eventually hit the Bradley Trail so I struggled uphill in all the junk. I kept going and going and going and going and....but never did find the Bradley Trail. My visual tether was a small creek canyon way below; the GPS also helped. When the creek canyon disappeared from view, it was time to turn back before I became lost for real. Later, after looking at the map, I discovered that I was basically paralleling the Bradley Trail. While I would have eventually reached it by walking uphill, it would have been another mile or more. Glad I turned back.

A good trail is not overrated
So back down I go to the burbling creek, stepping over the trickling waters.  And just on the other side of the creek was the well-defined Soda Springs Trail. Turned out, that tree next to the trail was actually lying upon the trail. All I had needed to do was clamber over the tree trunk and continue on my merry way. The path I had taken was probably a side trail that provided a brief look at the small creek. Once I stepped over the creek, there was no more trail and the bushwhacking commenced.

View towards Mount Bailey
Now on a real trail, I merrily skipped uphill towards the burn zone from not one, but two fires in proof that lightning does strike twice. But lightning requires clouds and there weren't any on this day, making this a pleasant electricity-free hike. In between the ghostly snags, nice views were had up the North Umpqua River canyon with snowy Mount Bailey reposing above. The peaceful view was interrupted by a noisy roar from a presumably large rockslide that lasted about 10 to 15 seconds. I could not see the slide and the cars on the North Umpqua highway inched forward like ants on a kitchen countertop; clearly the slide had not covered the busy road.

View across the Boulder Creek chasm
The trail leveled out on Pine Bench and I followed the grassy path under the pines and firs to the intersection with the Boulder Creek Trail. After a nice lunch at a grassy lea overlooking the chasm containing Boulder Creek, I headed down a short distance towards the North Umpqua Trail but began imagining the route below covered by that unseen and mysterious rockslide. I didn't want to discover an impassable trail below and then have to backtrack back for a long and arduous hike in the little daylight that was left. I'd done enough bushwhacking and backtracking for one day. So back on the Bradley Trail I go, plucking off the occasional tick crawling on me. I made it back to the trailhead without getting misplaced again.

Snow queen
For more pictures, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Oregon Dunes

Generally, trails are like my children: I love them all but unlike children, I don't necessarily love all my trails equally. Come to think of it, though, there are a couple I don't care for at all and relax kids, I'm referring to certain trails and not my children. But now that I think about it, though...kidding! Anyway, an empirical measure of how much a hike was enjoyed can be found in the amount of pictures taken on a particular outing. Generally, I take about 150 photographs per hike but on a hike that is better than average, I've been known to snap off over 400 shots. So, consider a recent outing to the Oregon Dunes where my camera shutter was tripped a mere 25 instances: yes, the hike was awful.

Sure, we're smiling now before the hike starts!
The abject human misery inflicted on the 6 hikers (including brave first-timer Barbara) who followed their fearless leader (me!) into the sands is not the fault of the beautiful Oregon Dunes. Blame must instead lie at the wet feet of a storm system that had blown in to visit, about as welcome as a bout of diarrhea. The weather forecast had called for a 98% chance of rain and those optimistic hikers who parsed the weather report saw the 2% chance of nice weather and went with those odds. Also, the rainfall was predicted to be less than a tenth of an inch per hour, so at least if it did rain, it would be a light and tolerable rain.

The suave and urbane Mr.Malone
Wrong on so many levels. I think by the time we reached Reedsport on the drive to the coast, the odds had increased quintuple-fold to 490% and the tenth inch of rain was now measured in half-minutes instead of hours. On the plus side (sarcasm!), the wind was whipping the rain at just the right angle to sneak fat raindrops under hat brims and umbrellas.

Tahkenitch Creek in the rain
One interesting geographical feature of the dunes is that no trees grow upon the sands so we caught the full brunt of the storm. Normally, we are pretty chatty bunch on the trail but I don't think even one word was uttered as we got soaked on the open dunes; each hiker was intently focused instead on their own little wet watery world of woe. After a mile or so on wet sand, we arrived at the beach. The original plan had been to do a 9 mile hike to Tahkenitch Creek and back but it literally went without saying that we were not going to do that. I suggested we hike a mile up the beach for an even 5 miles and all I got were glazed looks which I mistakenly took to be non-verbal assents.

"Can we go back now?"
Yikes! The dunes, as stated before, were open but at least they were sort of humpy, kind of like a grandmother. On the other hand, the beach was flat and totally exposed to the winds blowing off the sea. With eyes pointed down towards our feet, we trudged into the wind, holding on to hats with one hand. After a whopping quarter-mile, I turned around to monitor the progress of my charges and found out that except for Consuelo, they had all pretty much stopped walking. And Consuelo asked me in a plaintive voice if we could turn back. After careful and deliberate consideration of the options, I concurred that heading back would probably be the most gracious thing to do.

Rain, wind, and bushwhacking
So back we go and once on the dunes, we arrived at a trail junction. I had never been on the left fork before so with a "why not?" we made the left turn and hiked on the trail paralleling the foredunes between us and the beach. Oops, again. The trail dead-ended at a roped off area that was set aside as a nesting area for the snowy plover. Not wanting to backtrack back to the junction, we bushwhacked a bit alongside the nesting area before John read the fine print. The signs hanging off the ropes and posts stated the area was closed commencing March 15th. Since this was the 14th, we were legally free to trespass and besides which, it didn't look like the plovers were using it much yet. So we hopped the rope and walked along the edge of the cleared-off nesting area. 

Newt rescue
A short bushwack once the nesting area ended took us to the trail leading back to the trailhead. It was a pretty sodden bunch piling into cars but spirits were restored on a curative visit to Los Amigos Burrito in Florence. Nothing like tongue tacos to combat the bad memories of what was truly an awful hike.

Perfect weather for slugs
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.  Hot chocolate is recommended while looking at the pictures.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Larison Creek

I'd never hiked on the Larison Creek Trail before and for no other reason than that, Larison Creek became the destination of choice on an early March weekend. After exchanging pleasantries with a mountain biking couple at the trailhead, I sallied forth onto the Larison Creek Trail, looking over my shoulder every 15 seconds or so, fully expecting speeding bikers to run me over. I need not have worried, for a number of fallen trees and a narrow cliffy trail made sure the bikers also got in some quality on-foot time, especially those biking with a wife as a first time cyclist (as was the case with the couple encountered at the trailhead).

Unappealing Larison Cove
Most of the cool stuff, visually speaking, came within the first couple of miles of this hike. The trail begins at Larison Cove, where Larison Creek empties into fjord-like Hills Creek Lake. The water level was well below the trail where the dry and desiccate banks indicate how low the lake's water level is, in an ominous harbinger of another dry summer. The trail hugged a steep and brushy slope that provided views of the mostly empty cove and the fetid waters contained therein.

Real hikers take the bridge on the left
Once past the end of the cove, the trail entered a mossy and well-ferned forest and that would be the theme for the rest of the hike. Larison Creek was always near the trail but remained mostly unseen due to the dense vegetation. However, the burbling of the creek provided a nice counterpoint to twittering birds, chattering squirrels, and one lone hiker talking to himself. 

Larison Creek
There were several use paths that did provide occasional access to the creek and I availed myself of one of them. The creek flowed in a series of stair steps from pool to pool with rock islands inviting a step-across for a better view. Much photography ensued.

My view for most of 9 miles
Leaving these little pools behind, the trail peeled somewhat away from the creek and began to head steadily uphill. At a small crest the forest opened up briefly and offered a limited view of the blue sky above. Since leaving Larison Cove, the sky's presence had been as faint as light from a distant quasar.

Why mountain bikers don't speed on the Larison Creek Trail
The turnaround point was where the trail crossed Larison Creek on a footbridge right before a serious climb to a trailhead on Forest Road 101. Now in the middle of the afternoon, the mountain bikers began to appear on the trail on a more regular basis as they apparently prefer to head downhill on a one-way shuttle ride. They aren't tough like us hikers! However, since the trail was narrow, rocky, and with plenty of fallen trees blocking the trail, the cyclists tended to ride with an uncharacteristic degree of prudence and care. I was not afraid of getting run over, unlike other trails I've had to share with mountain biker crowd.

Rhododendron sprout
So, this hike up Larison Creek was basically a long walk in the woods but it did fit the bill for an easy hike when snow rendered the higher elevations inaccessible. But spending all day in the moss and ferns is a preferable alternative to watching "Glee" reruns on TV. Come to think of it, pouring turpentine on an open wound would be more preferable than watching a "Glee" rerun, but that's beside the point.

Drink out of my evil black cup
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.