Monday, May 30, 2016

Grasshopper Mountain Loop

I often joke that I hate hiking. But, really I don't, I just complain in my own humorous self-deprecating way about the travails of the trail. But on a recent hike to Grasshopper Mountain I was serious, I really did hate hiking and it wasn't much fun at all. It wasn't like I hadn't been warned: Lane had emailed me that this was a tedious hike. But then again, he shrieked like a little girl at a teensy-weensy gopher snake so how reliable was his warning, really? Very reliable, as it turned out.

Rhododendron was putting on a show
Southern Oregon was experiencing a heat wave and it was warmer than a tortilla fresh off the comal on a stove burner. In fact, I pretty much felt like spicy meat wrapped up in a tamale of heat as I sallied forth from Skimmerhorn Trailhead. Good thing the forest was shady! Underneath the trees, rhododendrons were blooming en masse and it was slow going due to rampant photography. Blooming closer to the ground, were woodland phlox, Columbia windflowers, and Oregon grape, just to name-drop a few.

The unusual snow plant
The first time I hiked on the Lakes Trail, many years ago, the rather unusual red snow plant was sprouting everywhere on the forest floor. In the intervening years, several forest fires had come to visit and, while not as plentiful as before, there were still several specimens of the bright scarlet saprophyte coloring up the otherwise drab forest in the burn zone.

Uphill in the burn zone
Where the fire had burned hottest, the trees did not survive and all that is left of the forest are acres of ghostly black snags. However, new trees are sprouting and growing rather vigorously, too. Despite the dead trees, the open slope is bursting with life. Unfortunately, some of the life had thorns and my shins were raked by brambles and gooseberries on more than one occasion as I hiked up the steep slope under the hot sun. Yes, I am complaining but have not yet gotten to the I-hate-hiking point.

Gotta love those vine maples
Once up and over the open burn zone, the path entered a forest where the vine maples were just leafing out. I swear, vine maple has to be one of the most photogenic trees around what with their numerous leaves catching what little sunlight makes it to the forest floor. The air was suffused with a soft green light due to the galaxies of lime-green leafy constellations  and stars overhead. Who could ever hate hiking when there are vine maples to hike under?

Cliff Lake, below Grasshopper Mountain's cliff
The trail passed by lakes Buckeye and Cliff in quick succession, each reposing below the massive cliff of Grasshopper Mountain. At a trail junction after Cliff Lake, a right turn got me onto the Grasshopper Trail and that was where the fun started. First of all, the trail went steep in the stultifying heat and dripping sweat made my eyes burn. Still, it was nothing out of the ordinary as I climbed up.

This was where I started to hate hiking
Then a fallen tree lay across the trail. No problem, I scrambled over it and continued on. Ten yards later, there was another tree. Ten yards later there was another...and another...and another. Eventually it was three to four trees in a pile every few yards or so. At times, the trail disappeared under the jumble of wood and it was getting harder and harder to resume the tread on the other side of the piles. My shins were bleeding and sore from barking them on the fallen timber. Progress was slow and nigh negligible.

It's official, I'm getting a hiking divorce
It was like some kind of exponential logarithmic thing in that the closer I got to the Grasshopper Mountain summit, the more trees there were in the way. Finally the trees pushed me off the trail altogether and I tried walking cross-country but there were fallen trees there too. I had enough and made a solemn vow to myself that if I encountered three more piles in the way, I would give up the quest for the summit, even though I was quite close. And sure enough the third pile had like ten trees involved and that was it for me.

Grasshopper Meadows
I had some sort of vain hope that the Acker Divide Trail would be more hiker friendly so rather than return the way I came, I continued forward for a 10'ish mile loop hike. It wasn't too bad dropping off the mountain to scenic Grasshopper Meadows but alas, the Acker Divide Trail was in worse shape than the Grasshopper Trail. And for an added factor of misery, the forest was full of mosquitoes. I just wanted to be someplace else other than here, somewhere where I didn't have to scramble over and around trees. Someplace with pavement, even. 

A trio of morels
This 9.9 mile hike took over 7 hours to complete and I was exhausted when it was over. To speed things up, at one point I stowed my camera in my pack and did not take any photos from Grasshopper Meadows on forward. You know it's bad when I put the camera away, that never happens! Lane may shriek like a little girl at snakes, but maybe I'll heed his warning next time. Assuming there will be a next time, because I hate hiking, you know.

Bridge over Cliff Lake's outlet creek
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Little Hyatt Lake

This Friends of the Umpqua hike was sparsely attended, probably because of the cold rain and/or baking hot sun in the forecast. Or more likely, the sparse attendance was due to the fact it was led by yours truly. Whatever the reason for staying at home, the weather was simply schizophrenic, changing every 10 minutes or so. I tried to keep up, putting on and taking off rain gear with the changing climes but eventually I gave up and just left the rain gear on, guaranteeing I'd be sensibly attired at least half the time.

Henderson's fawn lily
Leaving Greensprings Summit on Highway 66, the Pacific Crest Trail ambled through intermittent meadows and forest. Regardless of the terrain, the vegetation was always lush and green. Spring was in full song and wildflowers soon kept my camera busy and me lagging at the tail end of the hiking queue, but what else is new? The meadows were soggy, making the PCT a muddy and gooey mess in places. The general consensus of PCT thru-hikers is that this particular stretch of the venerable trail is boring and uninteresting but I beg to differ. I do love my meadows and am definitely a fan of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. 

What's a hike without an obstacle or two?
After crossing gravel Hyatt Lake Road for the second time, the trail perambulated around Greensprings Summit. In several places, a few chunks of snow were still hanging around from winter but we didn't need to break out the snowshoes and crampons just yet. Once the PCT got onto the western slopes of Greensprings Mountain, the really cool stuff started to happen. The slopes were bald and green, just like me, and provided limited but still pretty awesome views of Bear Creek Valley. 

View to Bear Creek Valley
Bear Creek Valley contains the towns of Ashland, Phoenix, and Talent with the I-5 freeway linking them all together. Sounds pretty urban but the valley is mostly rural and surrounded by mountains. On this day, the mountains were all hidden by clouds but the valley was enjoying a sunny morning as were we, and the views of the valley stretching north to Medford were impressive.

Hyatt Meadows blushes with sea blush

After enjoying just under a mile of meadows and views, the PCT ducked back into the forest and once again we crossed Hyatt Lake Road. The next item on our PCT sampler was Hyatt Meadows which is actually one incredibly large meadow. I think the entire principality of San Marino could fit in Hyatt Meadows, it's so big. The sun cooperated with us as we crossed and the meadows were tinted pink with thick patches of sea blush in bloom.

Little Hyatt Lake
A series of ups and downs brought us to Keene Creek, flowing fast and clear over the Little Hyatt Lake dam. We all plopped down for rest and relaxation next to the scenic little lake but not so fast duckies! Before we could get fully relaxed, ominous dark clouds scudded over, the wind picked up, and the temperature plummeted. Quickly, we packed up and headed back the way we came and of course 5 minutes later the sun came out again, baking us in our own rain gear like so many foil-wrapped potatoes on an oven rack.

Storm's a comin', Ma!

Despite the inermittent warm sun, the weather trend was toward the rainy and when we returned to the western slopes of Greensprings Mountain, Bear Creek Valley was barely visible in the doom and gloom. A steady rain over the last two miles made sure we were all wet. And of course, just before we arrived at the trailhead, the sun came out and the meadows steamed in the afternoon light. Darn weather was more psychotic than an ex-spouse.

Mission bell
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Oregon grape

Striped coralroot

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Why have I never heard of Cottonwood Canyon? Why haven't I been here already? How come none of my many hiking acquaintances have ever let me know this place existed? Why, why, why? For the life of me I can't understand why the second largest state park southeast of The Dalles is not more renown, because the scenery here is unrelentingly spectacular and world-class.  Take a look for yourself on the park's website: the pictures of the deep canyon with the John Day River snaking its way on the canyon floor have to be seen to believed. Or even better yet, take a look at your humble blogster's photos in Flickr. Sweeping views of the canyon with grassy slopes and basalt walls can be attained by scrambling up to the canyon rim high above the river. The park is fairly undeveloped and is mostly without trails. A couple of formidable side canyons invite cross-country exploration. Poison ivy grows in abundance along the river and the arid hills sport a healthy population of rattlesnakes. I think I might have just answered the question of why the park is not so popular but still, why have I never heard of this place?

Impressive hill across the canyon
The original plan was to backpack in to Lost Corral but the drive took longer than I thought it would. I arrived in either the late afternoon or the early evening, take your pick. At any rate, a slight adjustment was made to the plans in that I set up camp in the hiker/biker campground, in which I was the lone hiker or biker. The short backpack trip plan was amended to two day hikes.

The Murtha Ranch
Since there was a late afternoon or early evening to kill, an enjoyable post-dinner walk of a couple of miles around the park oriented myself to the general layout. From camp, a well-maintained path through the sagebrush linked up with the camp headquarters, where some barns, farm machinery, and outbuildings from the original Murtha Ranch still exist today.  

The canyon is calling to me and I must go...
After exploring the old buildings and rusting farm equipment, a path along the John Day River returned me back to the campground and provided a tantalizing view of the undeveloped canyon calling out to me as the sun set. The campground's official name is Lone Tree Campground and there is actually a large juniper tree there and yes, it is very lone as there are no other trees around for several time zones. Makes one wonder how Baby Juniper came to be born here. 

Morning yoga routine

The next morning dawned overcast and breezy. Rain and thunder was in the forecast but it was still dry early in the morning. After a quick breakfast I headed out to the Lost Corral Trail which runs along the east side of the John Day River for 4.5 miles. The other option was to hike the Pinnacles Trail which does the same thing as the Lost Corral, but on the west side of the river. I liked the sound of "Lost" in Lost Corral so Lost Corral Trail it was.

Trail into Cottonwood Canyon

The trail is an old road bed and was pleasantly level. The first mile or so runs past the park buildings and campground and then from there, it was nothing but wild canyon in front of me. I cannot overstate the grandeur of the scenery here. The John Day River silently coursed along on the canyon bottom, flanked by tall walls and bare slopes of basalt. And best of all, the deep and formidable canyon has a Lost Corral Trail to lead hikers into further exploration thereof.

Snake in the grass
Dragonflies and wasps flitted ahead of me as I walked and several gopher snakes were spotted, sunning themselves on the trail. Several times in the outer limits of my peripheral vision, I caught glimpses of scaly creatures slithering into the brush along the trail. I'm still thinking gopher snakes, it makes me feel better that way. I ran into the only other hiker I'd see, a fellow from Portland who bragged about watching carefully for rattlesnakes. "Oh", says I, "care to see the snake you just stepped over?" Yes, he had walked right over a 4 foot gopher snake stretched motionless across the trail. When prodded with the tip of my hiking pole, it quickly disappeared into the sagebrush. After a moment of stunned silence, he said "Wow, if that had been a snake, it would have bit me!"

World-class scenic
The river banks were lush and green and for me, quite exotic as it was all desert vegetation which we don't normally run into in western Oregon. However, I wasn't all that excited about spotting canes of poison ivy. On the landward side of the trail, it was all sagebrush, though. The trail did pass through several pastures, the end result of an ongoing tumbleweed eradication project.

I'll refer you to the previous photo caption
As the miles clicked by, each bend of the river revealed with exquisite slowness, more and more of the canyon. Occasionally, several small side canyons came in at right angles to the main canyon of the John Day. It is possible to explore these canyons and attain the high ridges above, but that will have to wait for a subsequent trip. For today, it was enough to gawk at all the riverine and geologic wonders.

Basalt cliff detail
And speaking of geologic wonders: around the 4 mile mark,  a series of pronounced cliffs rose up from a bend in the river. Beyond the cliffs, large Esau Canyon met up with the John Day. At the base of the cliffs, piles of little bones indicated the presence of raptors nesting in the imposing basalt wall. The cliffs were comprised of layers of layers of basaltic pillars, a formation created when molten basalt cooled and solidified.

View up Esau Canyon
Just beyond the cliffs was the actual corral of Lost Corral, I was only slightly disappointed the corral wasn't all that lost. Spring water ran from a pipe into a pond full of cattails. Although always near the trail, the John Day is not all that accessible due to the thick vegetation flanking the river, so a piped-in spring makes Esau Canyon a very viable backpacking destination. I'll definitely be back!

Dancing shadows and light
On the return, the dark clouds broke up while sunlight and shadows danced a romantic tango upon the hillsides and canyon slopes. Much photography ensued. And of course, the weather turned to the nasty after that little sunny tease. The rain started just as the hike ended and that was it for the rest of the day and night. Let's just say I got plenty of tent time during my stay at Cottonwood Canyon State Park. In the night, the wind picked up and I wondered if it was going to knock my tent down but fortunately, my little Eureka Spitfire held up to the onslaught. And if that wasn't enough, thunder boomed down the canyon and by the time morning came, I waved a white flag of surrender and headed back home to Roseburg a day early. But I'll be back!

Why have I never heard of Cottonwood Canyon before?
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the following Flicker albums:

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Lost Corral Trail

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Blacklock Point

My last hike in the Owyhee Uplands was all about dry sagebrush and arid terrain. A week later, I'm at Blacklock Point in a veritable coastal jungle bursting with rampant and unrestrained greenery. Talk about extremes! However, the comparison to the Oregon desert is the only thing extreme about Blacklock Point. The trail is user-friendly, mostly flat, and the view north to Bandon from a clifftop perch is my favorite view in all of Oregon. So why where there only 5 of us at the trailhead on a semi-sunny morning? That's because all the stay-at-homes are slackers and that's OK because we got the better deal, enjoying a fine spring morning on the Oregon coast.

One of 1,012,058,216 rhododendrons seen on this hike

From the start at quiet Cape Blanco Airport, it was obvious this was rhododendron time at the coast. The trail was a narrow alley carved through 10 foot high bushes all flecked with pink from the showy blooms. Rhododendron petals carpeted the trail and most of the winter and early spring mud puddles that customarily swamp the trail were dried up. We only had to take a dry-footed detour around just one or two of the seasonal watering holes.
Wind, personified

The hike to Blacklock Point from the Cape Blanco Airport is short and sweet and we arrived there in short order. The cliff-edge trail sports great views of the wild coast stretching out to the Sixes River and Cape Blanco. And of course there is Blacklock Point itself, a rocky pyramid with a chain of small islands extending out into the ocean. It seems like every time I've been here, a strong chilly wind blows and today was no exception. Dave worked his way out to the top of the point while the rest of us dithered about where to eat lunch, the consensus being nobody wanted eat lunch in the frigid breeze.

It's a Richard Hike even when it's not
Rheo, who was leading this hike led us on a bushwhack venture down into a small ravine with an unseen creek lurking in the waist-high brush. She warned us to watch our step but that didn't stop me from disappearing into the creek's cleft hidden in the tall brush. Once the creek crossing was safely navigated by all but yours truly, it was a rather rigorous scramble up a steep slope covered with thick brush and trees.

Bushwhacking makes us happy!
Caryn and I were lagging behind the others and Rheo called down to us, telling us to take a path to the left. We did and boy, was it ever the wrong way to go! The two of us slithered and crept through a thick tangle of small trees wanting to pluck our eyes out with their bony claws. With a sarcastic "Thanks, Rheo!", we rejoined our comrades on a cliffy viewpoint with a nice overlook of Blacklock Point. Arguably, the scratchy bushwhack could qualify this hike as a Richard Hike, but hey, I'm the victim here, this time.

Tunnel of doom
We continued onward on the Oregon Coast Trail where I led our little group to a hidden viewpoint with what may be my favorite view in all of Oregon. However, getting there was all the "fun". The path to the viewpoint, in years past, has always been brushy and has always required a rather rigorous bushwhack. However, the thick coastal scrub has pretty much claimed the old path nowadays so I led my innocents on a different route that still left scratches. This was the Richard Hike portion of this little venture and I accept full culpability.

The best view ever!

The view north from this viewpoint toward Bandon is superb with a row of cliffs resembling an ancient colonnade marching off into the misty distance. The sun was sort of out and the fog was sort of in and the sight of the endless procession of waves crashing onto the narrow beach was awesome. A small creek plunged off the cliff here, and we all admired the resulting waterfall. Well worth the blood, sweat, and tears to get here, in my opinion.

Paintbrush hanging out with the lupines

After lunch, Dave and I continued on for a longer loop hike while the others headed back to the car. The Oregon Coast Trail ambled through a dense forest comprised of spruce with a healthy undergrowth of salal and rhododendron. Periodic openings allowed us the odd view from the cliffs every now and then.

Salal was also in bloom

We went as far as Floras Lake and by this time, a gray cloud cover had scudded in, there would be no more sun the rest of the day. The rest of the hike was a pleasant amble on an old road bed with one airport runway crossing interspersed. All in all, a nice hike on an old friend of a hiking trail.

Dave and Caryn scramble down Blacklock Point
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.