Saturday, May 30, 2015

Baker Beach Dunes

After a camp meal, grandsons Daweson, Issiah, and your merry blogster went for an after-dinner walk around pristine Baker Beach Dunes. On the dunes, we ran into a hiking couple doing the same thing from the nearby car campground. During the exchange of pleasantries, my two young charges puffed out their chests and with a great deal of pride Daweson blurted out "We're hiking!"

"No," corrected his younger sibling "we're backpacking!"

On their first Richard Backpack
The two boys had been wanting to backpack in the worst way and I finally relented and set up a short 5'ish mile route from Baker Beach to Sutton Creek.  However, when I'm in charge it's a Richard Hike and why should this weekend be any different just because I have 9 and 12 year old companions in tow? The route basically followed the western edge of the dunes but as we left the dunes behind and entered the woods, the trail tread soon disappeared under a foot of standing water.

I'm not even sure why they brought shoes
Boys being boys, as soon as we hit the sands of the dunes, footwear came off and they hiked barefoot with shoes in hand. As we entered the wet-footed portion of the trail, the squishy sensation of mud oozing up between the toes was not much of a deterrent but the further we went along the trail the deeper the water became. Finally when the water level nearly reached my waist, it was time for a Plan B as hiking in the deep end of the pool is not allowed.

Splish splash!
We retreated back to the dunes and crossed the wide expanse of smooth sand. Baker Beach Dunes are not as large as popular Dellenback Dunes but they are less visited than Dellenback and are generally unsullied by human footprints. There is just something about gently undulating swells of pristine sand touched only by coastal breezes. Of course, the aesthetic qualities of the dunes were somewhat lost on the boys who tend to look upon the dunes as one big cat-turdless sandbox to play in. Packs and all, they were soon sliding and rolling down the dunes, the concept of actually walking across the sands being totally lost on them.

Our home for the night
We set up camp on the eastern edge of the dunes with a great overlook of an unnamed lake. Right away the boys lamented the fact they had no swimming trunks so I told them to skinny-dip.  "Skinny dip, what's that?" they chorused and before I could finish explaining the concept, their empty clothes fluttered to the ground and two naked boys were swimming in the lake. It was kind of like hiking with Lane and Dale.

A darn fine sunset
After setting up tents, they boys hit the dunes again and for some odd reason, they just had to frolic on the sand in their shorts. It didn't matter there were hours and hours left in they day, all that time had to be used for the sole purpose of play. I too played in my own little way, using the time to harvest pictures of the minimally clothed boys capering in the dunes. The photos will be saved for later use, such as when they graduate from high school. This went on until the sun went down and speaking of which, it was mostly a darn fine sunset too, even though a bank of clouds took away the last-light-of-day denouement. 

Morning view from our campsite
We were up and at 'em bright and early the next day and I think the boys did not find taking camp down to be all that much fun, especially when Grandpa barked out commands like the meanest drill sergeant ever. Extra-especially when all that sand was within sight of our camp, just waiting to be played on. 

At play in the world's biggest sandbox
On the way out, the boys wanted to tear across the dunes but I forbade them from doing so, telling them we had an obligation to at least leave this portion pristine and untouched for the next hikers to enjoy. It was then that Issiah said something that told me I had done the right thing. "Grandpa," he said "are there bugs that bite and their venom is such that your hair falls out?"

"Not that I know of", I replied

He pondered my answer for a bit "Oh, I thought that might have happened to you!"

Awesome and in the face
Okay, that was not "the moment" but this was: as he was forcefully expressing his opposition to leave-no-trace dune hiking, he stopped and gazed out across the dunes from our overlook. He noticed the grassy foredunes across the sandy expanse; he saw the ocean shimmering in the morning sun; the ponds serenely reposing in the low spots; the wind-made ripples on the sands; he recited to me all the things he was suddenly seeing and the boy certainly has a keen eye for detail. After telling me all the things he liked about the view he capped it off with "I feel like I'm staring awesome in the face." And if that's not awesome and in the face, then I don't know what is.

Baker Beach Dunes in the late afternoon
For more pictures of this weekender, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Siskiyou Wilderness

I hiked to Polar Bear Gap last year and on that hike, I had taken the Black Butte Trail down into the East Fork Illinois River canyon. There were a couple of backpacking campsites down there and I made some comment on my blog about the "...thought of lugging a backpack down and up this rugged terrain nearly made me want to cry with empathy for the abject human misery that particular labor had to have entailed" and while I didn't say it, I probably thought something along the lines of "pity the fools" or something like that. 

Pity the fools!
Well, misery loves company so I sallied forth onto the Black Butte Trail accompanied by Dale, Lane, and Rick; all of us eagerly anticipating 4 lovely days of backpacking pain. Basically, the Black Butte Trail goes downhill, losing a mere 700 feet or so of elevation on its way down to the East Fork's headwaters which doesn't sound particularly daunting. However, we are talking about the Siskiyous, and elevation gain/loss data can be misleading. So naturally, our descent began with a mad charge up the flanks of Black Butte on a rocky chute of a trail.

Snow plant
Despite this being a downhill hike, there were plenty of steep uphill stretches and there were no level spots at all.  Up or down and nothing in between. Since we were starting high above the East Fork, we had great views of the mountains on the opposite side of the canyon. Periodically we'd cross small creeks which were nameless little forks of the East Fork. Forklets, if you will. When we crossed the actual East Fork, Dale posed with one foot on either bank of the Illinois River like Paul Bunyan straddling the mighty Mississippi River.

Dale Bunion
Speaking of Dale, he entertained us all a bit by tripping and rolling downhill off the trail. A small tree wedged its way inconveniently between the back of his head and pack frame and he was flailing away like an upside down darkling beetle trying to regain the upright position. Lane, in his best faux PBS-nature-documentary-announcer voice, narrated "Here we see the turtle attempt to right itself". Three out of four guys laughing means the whole situation was funny and Dale's trail name is now "Turtle".

Young's Valley, our home for 4 days
Fortunately, there were no other pratfalls on the way down and eventually the sketchy trail widened onto an abandoned roadbed. Thankfully, the grade eased up on the old road, demonstrating once more we care more about cars than hikers. A short push up and over a forested saddle took us out of the East Fork Illinois watershed and into the Clear Creek drainage. And just like that, the forest thinned out and we were treated to a jaw-dropping vista of a large meadow reposing in meadowy glory below some tall peaks. We had arrived at idyllic Young's Valley, our home for the next several days. Camp was made next to a huge pile of bear poop at the south end of the meadow but fortunately, no bears came to visit (that we know of) during our stay. My theory is that they were kept away by fear of the large over-sized airplane hangar that was Rick's tent, dubbed "The Chalet" by us ultralighters. I think it even had a disco-ball inside it.

Raspberry Lake

Lane leads the charge to Raspberry Lake
Day 2 dawned bright and beautiful and we headed up the Raspberry Lake Trail. It was easy walking at first, the route following an old mining road above Clear Creek. The only travail was the occasional tree step-over and the plentitude of rocks on the trail. This being the Siskiyous, we were never going to get away from rocky trails.

We all took pictures of each other
taking pictures of each other
Anyway, after a short and easy stretch, the road angled steeply uphill and then the fun began. As we climbed, we were treated to several awesome overlooks of the Clear Creek valley. Below, we could see a grassy hole in the forest and that would be the meadow we were camping at, but from this distance we couldn't quite make out the huge pile of bear poop next to our camp. Above and beyond the meadow rose craggy Young's Peak. On our side of the canyon loomed a rocky wall with a waterfall plummeting off of it and that would be our first introduction to El Capitan. Further to the south were a chain of prominent peaks: Rocky Knob, Twin Peaks, and Bear Mountain. We also had periodic views of the snow-flecked pyramid of Preston Peak.  Much photography ensued.

Rick hikes on the edge and likes it
Cyclone Gap is the site of former mining operations and the trail went narrow at the mine, climbing over slag and debris, some of which included weathered timbers from the mine. On a rocky slope, the trail went faint and sometimes invisible but rock cairns on the slope kept us going in the right direction, which was up. All uppy things turn to down eventually, and the rocky goat path made a precipitous drop down into the Raspberry Lake basin. A backpacking party was coming up the trail and none of the participants were smiling. Must be some of that abject human misery discussed in preceding paragraphs.

Raspberry Lake
Raspberry Lake sits in a rocky bowl on the slopes of Copper Butte and is nothing but scenic and picturesque. The lake was calm and ripples from jumping fish slowly expanded Zen-like across the surface. Such a peaceful place demands an extended lollygag and we obliged, snoozing here and there in the many sunny spots next to the lake.  Eventually, we all wound up on top of a huge boulder overlooking the lake where we did nothing for an hour or so.  It was great!

Heading back to camp
All the ups became downs and vise versa on the way out and it was no easier leaving the lake than it was coming in.  Well, I suppose it was a bit easier once we hit the mining road but we still had to watch for ankle-hungry rocks with each step.

Private Lake

Bear Cub and Polar Bear Mountain 
And then we were three. Lane had to work on Monday so he got to hike out by himself, departing camp to the accompaniment of snickers from the rest of us non-workers (for a few days, anyway). So Rick, Dale, and I head up the Twin Valleys Trail and it didn't even pretend to switchback as it charged straight uphill, the route about as subtle as an AC/DC concert. At least the trail was shady.

Miniature onion (Siskiyou version)
After a mile of that, we plopped in grateful appreciation at a mountain pass that provided great views of neighboring Bear Cub and Polar Bear Mountain. The pass was all serpentinitic rock and the rock gardens were putting on a show what with  quill-leaved lewisia, penstemon, stonecrop, Siskiyou lewisia, and phlox stuffed into cracks in the rock and blooming madly away.

Small pond on the ridge
From the pass, the trail sashayed to and fro atop a bare rocky ridge right below a series of craggy peaks known as The Lieutenants. This was my favorite part of the hike as not only was the trail level, but no trees grew on the ridge which meant we could see all the surrounding peaks and valleys of the Siskiyou Wilderness. Totally awesome! On top of the ridge was a small pond full of tadpoles and just beyond the pond, the trail headed uphill to a second pass. The pass was shady and we stopped to eat lunch there. Just beyond the pass, the trail dropped steeply down into a creek canyon and we were filled with dismay because what goes down would certainly have to come back up.

View toward the Red Buttes
Gluttons for punishment, Rick and I headed down the trail to see what we could see, and boy we could see some stuff. On the horizon were the Red Buttes and below a cliffy overlook, a large meadow was stuffed into a rocky bowl. Across the creek canyon was a tall ridge which this trail would eventually climb up and over for the privilege of dropping down into Twin Valleys. Polar Bear Mountain was prominent, looming over us against a deep blue sky. The trail leaving Twin Valleys would then have to climb up and around the mountain for the privilege of dropping down to Young's Valley. That was a whole lot of serious up and down for one day so we contented ourselves with a visit to a small cirque lake at the canyon's head. The amazing thing about this rugged and challenging trail is that it is part of both the long distance Bigfoot Trail and Coast to Crest Trail systems. All that up and down with a backpack on...ugh!

Private Lake, or else a private lake
The map shows this small lake as an unnamed lake but William Sullivan's "100 Hikes in Southern Oregon" refers to it as Private Lake and so shall I because a lake this special deserves some recognition. Rick and I beat our way through the brush to access the shore and a throng of inquisitive trout checked us out, no doubt curious about the rarely seen visitors to the small body of water. The lake is not very deep and lily pads ringed the shallows along the shoreline.

Day ends on El Capitan
So back we go up the steep trail but that was nothing new on this trip, and we got to enjoy the splendid ridge-top views all over again. On the descent down to Clear Creek and Young's Valley, we better appreciated the steepness of the trail and it suddenly made sense why we had been huffing and puffing so much on the morning climb.

Young's Valley to Black Butte Trailhead

On our way to abject human misery
Day 4 was getaway day and it started pleasantly enough in the early morning. The trail was on the wide mining roadbed and angled gently uphill through the lush and shady forest. And then the easy hiking on a gentle grade ended as the trail began to dole out some of that abject human misery I had mentioned earlier.

Typical Siskiyou Wilderness trail
The hike out was up and down, never level, but more up than down as we climbed out of the East Fork Illinois River canyon. The rocky chute of a trail required we put our heads down and concentrate on where we placed our feet, lest we turn an ankle. Although the out hike was only 6 miles and would gain only about 700 feet of elevation, it sure felt like it was more than both of those stats due to the ruggedness of the trail and surrounding terrain.

Rick crosses the East Fork Illinois River
Actually, it was inadvertently longer than 6 miles because after we crossed an East Fork fork, the old roadbed angled steeply uphill on a mad charge seemingly to the Polar Bear Mountain summit.  It didn't feel right, so Dale and I whipped out our GPS's and quickly deduced we had missed the faint trail at the creek crossing. At least we got some more miles and elevation gain in, sarcasm intended.

Young's Peak, across the East Fork canyon
As we worked our way up the East Fork canyon, the forest thinned out to a sparse concentration of Ponderosa pines and Brewer's weeping spruce, a Siskiyou tree oddity. Scrubby Sadler oaks clawed at our legs as we walked by and several specimens of bright red snow plants were spotted below the trees. This was work and we were soon bathed in a mixed-up goo of sunscreen, sweat, trail dust, and blood (I had taken a pretty good scratch to the back of my hand, thanks to a dead tree). 

Pretty happy for abject human misery!
Despite the travails and trudgery involved in climbing out of the canyon, the views of Young's Peak and Sanger Peak on the other side of the valley were stunning. Further down the canyon, the East Fork opened up to the farmlands and towns of the Illinois Valley with the peaks of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness making for a jagged skyline just beyond. As I had surmised a year ago, there was plenty of "abject human misery" and while I did indeed pity the fools (us),  I must say it was a fantastic 4 days of hiking!

For more pictures of this backpack trip, please visit the Flickr albums:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Saturday, May 16, 2015

North Umpqua Trail - Lemolo Falls

Last year, hiking buddies Toresa, Lisa, and I hiked on the Dread and Terror Section of the North Umpqua Trail. This year, there had been talk of hiking the whole 13'ish mile section but logistics got in the way somewhat. I'm not sure if hiking the Dread and Terror is going to become an annual event or not, but at any rate we decided to hike the Dread and Terror from the northern end for this year's rendition.

Waterlogged trillium
The day dawned as damp and chilly as last night's hairball left on the living room carpet, but it never actually rained. There was a heavy drizzle in the air and the temps stayed in the low 50's: in other words, conditions were just perfect for hiking!

Water black and cold, like my heart
From the Lemolo Lake trailhead, the North Umpqua Trail dropped rapidly through a drippy forest. Visibly waterlogged trilliums drooped their sodden flowery heads from the weight of the water and I knew just how they felt. Small creeks and runoffs trickled across the mossy trail. As we dropped down into the canyon, the North Umpqua River made an appearance, the cold making the waters seem profoundly black.

"That's no waterfall..."
Well, the river was black when it wasn't white and it was white quite a bit as the river leaped from pool to pool. Some of the leaps were 10 to 15 feet high, causing Toresa and Lisa to inquire if one large cascade was Lemolo Falls. In my best Crocodile Dundee impersonation, which really is not very good, I answered "That's no waterfall. Now THIS is a waterfall!"

Half of Lemolo Falls
After a mile and half or so, the real Lemolo Falls showed up. However, it's hard to get a good look at the falls from our side of the river without executing a dangerous tree-hugging scramble down a near-sheer cliff with wrists not partially fused like mine. There is a trail on the other side that provides a great look at the falls but getting there would require a swim across the cold black river, so we had to content ourselves with an obscured look at the nonetheless spectacular waterfall.

Speaking of works in progress...
From the Lemolo Falls overlook, the trail dropped down to the river where some obvious construction is taking place at the plank bridge over the river. In years past, logs had piled up against the bridge and there were obvious cracks and chunks taken out of the footbridge by the logs. But now, the logs had been cut and removed but judging from all the earth removal and tarped equipment hanging around, the bridge repair or installation is still a work in progress.

Tenants on Baughman Bluff 
Our next work in progress, so to speak, consisted of a steep climb up to Baughman Bluff. The path soon acquired a cliffy flavor as it narrowed and clung to the bluff's face like a baby monkey clinging to its mother's back. We sat down and ate lunch there and were treated to a pair of nesting ospreys calling out to each other as they took turns feeding their nestlings.

The river flows next to the Best Campsite Ever
The next several miles were a steady descent from Baughman's Bluff to the best campsite ever at B.D. Bluff. The campsite is sited right next to the river underneath a dense canopy of vine maple. And I do mean dense, the very air was suffused with a soft emerald glow from the ample leafitude.

One more step to the river

Since we had walked 6 miles to get here, it seemed like a good idea to turn back and that long descent then became a long ascent. It's just not a hike unless it goes uphill! We did stop at a viewpoint atop a rocky needle overlooking the river's canyon. Here, the canyon is quite narrow, and it seems almost possible to reach out and touch the cliffs on the opposite side. However, that would not be a good idea as the canyon floor is several hundred feet below; so narrow and deep is the canyon that the river cannot be seen from this trailside aerie.  Much photography ensued.

Moss carries its own hydration bladder
One more protracted climb away from the river and past Lemolo Falls capped this hike off. The hike came in at 12 miles and a couple of more miles would have equaled the distance covered by the entire Dread and Terror Section. As we bid each other adieu, we all agreed it was a great hike with good friends and next year we should do the entire section. It sounds like hiking the Dread and Terror will become an annual event, after all.

The North Umpqua River, above Lemolo Falls
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fish Lake

It had been over 7 years since the last time I hiked up to Fish Lake from the Lakes Trailhead. At the time, the area had been ravaged by a series of wildfires and the trail was nearly impassable due to all the dead trees laying across the trail. Because most of the erstwhile shady forest was strewn over the trail, it was hot and because it was hot, it seemed like it was a really long and steep slog up to Fish Lake. For some reason known only to my inner sadist, I volunteered to take the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club on a reprise of that challenging hike. So imagine my surprise when the first mile of the 2015 version took us through a pleasantly shaded forest with green undergrowth bursting forth in the usual spring exuberance with nary a log to step around, over, or under.

Shade? There's no shade in hiking!
The Forest Service had cut and/or removed the logs on the trail and the scraggly trees then struggling for survival are now thriving and providing welcome shade to erstwhile overheated hikers. What a change from seven years ago! It's safe to say the forest on Fish Lake Creek is in full recovery and the trail is in great shape. And because the trail was nicely shaded, hikers were cool, and the uphill grade didn't seem all that bad. I think the only person disappointed the hike wasn't tougher was my inner sadist.

A bee enjoys brambles because it
does not have to hike through them
Fish Lake Creek was coursing nearby but we mostly heard the creek as the rushing stream was hidden from view by all the vegetation. After a mile, the creek noise receded into the distance as the trail inscribed a climb up a side canyon. Here the scars of the fires were still visible as the forest was fairly thin and sparse. No complaints though, as we had nice views of the Fish Lake Creek canyon several hundred feet below. Periodically, the tip of Highrock Mountain peeked over the forested ridge immediately in front of us.

Feel the burn!
At about the halfway point, the route captured some of that previous hike-as-a-test-of-manhood (and womanhood, too) flavor. On the upper reaches of the Fish Lake Creek canyon rim, the "forest" was comprised of dead snags rising above the ceanothus and other brushy friends. During my 2008 visit here, the brush had encroached the trail and I continually plucked ticks off of my clothing for most of the latter half of the hike. But now, the trail had been cleared and was both brush and tick free. Despite the ample sunlight, temperatures were mild and my inner sadist uttered a dispirited "meh!" and went back to sleep.

Lane and Colby cruise past a cliff
Along the way to Fish Lake, the trail hugged the base of a massive cliff and hikers with shorts on had to step carefully around the poison oak growing along the path. That was pretty much the lone travail on this hike, darn it. Again, great views of the Fish Creek Valley abounded.  One last uphill pull from the rocky cliff then delivered us to Beaver Swamp.

Beaver Swamp
This time of year, the swamp is more lake than swamp and the trail made a U-turn around the small body of water. Fish were jumping, causing ripples to expand zen-like upon the tranquil surface. Small logs in the water were populated by turtles sunning themselves as they too enjoyed this fine spring day. A pile of branches indicated the location of a beaver nest and small beaver-made paths through the aquatic grasses showed Beaver Swamp is aptly named.

Fish Lake
The last mile was probably the toughest, hiking-wise, as the trail steepened on the final push up to Fish Lake, our most worthy destination. The large lake reposed lazily (as did we when we ate lunch) underneath the warm sun. Massive Highrock Mountain loomed overhead and further to the north we had a nice view of the ramparts of Rocky Rim. Such fantastic scenery requires an extended lunch-n-laze and we obliged.

Rhododendrons bloomed next to the lake
The nice thing about a moderate uphill hike is that it is moderately downhill on the way back, making for a relatively quick exit back to the trailhead. We got to partake of the shady and log-free (darn it) scenery all over again and everybody enjoyed the hike, except for my inner sadist.

Star-flowered Solomon seal
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.