Sunday, November 27, 2016

William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Oh, I had such grandiose plans for this hike. By combining loop trails and roads, it was possible to cobble together a 12'ish mile hike through the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge near the small town of Monroe. But alas, "Closed for Winter Breeding" signs confined hikers to a small corner of the refuge and my 12'ish miler became a 6 miler instead. Oh well, I guess I'll have to come back at some future date and hopefully there'll be no spring or summer breeding closures to contend with.

Booga booga!
Dollie and I had hiked here many many years ago and my recollection was of large flocks of geese surrounding numerous ponds and swamps. Memory being what it is, that wasn't entirely accurate for the two loop trails I took this time out spent most of their miles inside lush oak and maple forest. There were a few swamps however, with miles and miles of boardwalk to keep feet out of them. I didn't see any geese, they were probably having a goose orgy in the closed section of the refuge. I know I would too, if I were a goose. And stop with the "But Richard, you are a goose!" comments already!

Staghorn fungus sprouting through the moss
The drive to the Woodpecker Loop Trailhead was interesting. The weather was not great what with cold temps, gray sky, and falling rain and all that rain collected in a marshy lowland which happened to be the same marshy lowland that Finley Road ran through. It doesn't take much water for my KIA to start swimming and Finley Road was quite the daunting challenge, being underwater with the brown water coming up to the bottom of the doors. I'm glad to say the car made the wade as I really sweated the outcome.

Some kind of view!
The Woodpecker Loop headed gradually uphill through a forest of scraggly and leafless oaks. A dilapidated wooden stand underneath a massive oak provided what would normally be a great view across the Willamette Valley. Clouds, mist, and winter breeding took care of the view on this day however, I'll probably have a greater appreciation for the panorama when I come back.

You had me at "Hill"
A short walk through a grassy pasture past some ponds of gray-brown water and a creek or two of the same colored water brought me to the Intertie Trail, a short path that connects the Woodpecker Loop with the Mill Hill Loop. Not knowing too much about the refuge, the "Hill" in Mill Hill appealed to me so off on the Intertie I went.

Boardwalks abounded

The forests are surprisingly lush which shouldn't be all that surprising given the amount of standing and running water underneath the trees. And equally unsurprisingly, all the standing water supported a healthy population of blackberry vines, ferns, moss, and assorted fungi. Didn't see any wildlife though, they were probably all having fun in the closed-off other three-fourths of the refuge.

On the Intertie Trail
The trail was nicely picturesque as it wended its way through dense oak and maple stands. The path was carpeted with a thick layer of soggy dead leaves in an indication that the autumn display has to be quite colorful here. One more reason and season to come back for another visit!

Maze of branches
Disappointingly, the Mill Hill Loop did not go to the top of the hill, instead choosing to perambulate around the base. But the hits kept on coming as each new curve in the trail revealed more forest, dead leaves, and running little creeks. One such creek took over the trail and boots finally got both wet and muddy, always a sign of a good hike.

A swampy piece of Gray Creek
Below the trail was a basin full of leafless trees under a gloomy sky. The map said Gray Creek was down there but the creek was well hidden by the thick vegetation. When I finally got to see Gray Creek, it was easy to see how the creek got its name because the water was as gray as a zombie's complexion.

Refuge headquarters

For extra mileage, I grabbed a small loop that led to the refuge headquarters, a collection of ranch buildings with a sodden flag hanging limply on a flagpole. By this time the air was quite wet. It wasn't really rain but the atmosphere definitely had a heavy liquidity to it that had me wishing I'd brought the man-gills. Below the headquarters was what was termed the "display pond" although the only thing displayed was brown water.

Slipping and sliding on a muddy trail
A return to the Woodpecker Loop finished off this hike. After peeling off wet layers of clothing it was time to make the scary drive out. I again held my breath crossing the swamp over Finley Road but we made it. After the rains subside, it'll be a less risky drive which will be one more reason to come visit the refuge again.

Mill Hill Trail
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cape Arago Perimeter Trail - club hike

The weekend prior was a mere scouting expedition and this weekend was the real deal. Armed with knowledge gleaned from my information-gathering foray 8 days earlier, I was confidently ready to lead the Friends of the Umpqua onto Cape Arago Perimeter Trail. Just call me a modern day Jedediah Smith! Except Jedediah didn't drive to the trailhead, there was no established trail to follow, and he didn't feel compelled to take pictures of every wave that crashed upon the rugged Oregon shore. But other than that, yeah, I'm a modern day Jedediah Smith alright.

Perimeter newbies (except for Rachel)
Weatherwise, we were between storms so we hiked in dry but blustery weather with a gray cloud cover overhead. Spirits were high as we set out on the forest trail to Shore Acres State Park where we picked up the hard to find Perimeter Trail. From here on in, it would be all new trail for my fellow hikers who (except for Rachel) had never been here before.

Ariel enjoys a downhill section of trail

Because I had taken lots of photos the week before, had written a blog entry about the hike, not to mention a newspaper story about the same hiking experience, I had pretty much decided to take little or no photos and simply concentrate on making sure I didn't lose any hikers along the way. So blah, blah, blah, and I'll refer you to my previous blog posts for more details about about the joys and travails of hiking on the Perimeter Trail.

Jedediah Smith (not!)
After lunch, we dropped down to Cape Arago where we paid a visit to the cape overlook, a coastal delight I had bypassed last weekend. The wind buffeted and cuffed us as we walked on the exposed cape, and if I had any hair, it would have been messed up.

From there, the short road walk on the Cape Arago Highway delivered us to the Simpson Reef Overlook, where we took in the sights, sounds, and rank odors of the sea lions hanging out on Shell Island. And then it was back to the trail.

Photogenic surf at Shore Acres
I'd say it was the same old stuff but the coast is always different, that's one of the reasons I enjoy hiking at Cape Arago on a regular basis. Before you could say "spectacular Oregon coast", the camera was out and clicking and I soon found myself well behind everybody else, like usual.

Life on the edge
The clouds were breaking up in the late afternoon and the sun valiantly tried to shine its sunny magic on us Vitamin D deficient seasonal affective disorder sufferers (which has the appropriate acronym of SAD). However, a massive bank of clouds several miles offshore quickly rolled in, blotting out the sun and making us very SAD. But the war between sun and clouds resulted in a bad case of great lighting affective disorder (or GLAD) and much photography ensued from a very slow but GLAD hiking leader.

A storm is coming!
So that was our hike, in a nutshell, I've short-cutted a more engaging description as it was the same old spectacular stuff I wrote about just a week earlier. I bet Jedediah Smith would have done the same.

View to Gregory Point
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Oregon Dunes 11/2016

It's been a wet November. The constant rain really tests one's resolve to get some regular trail time in. So much nicer to slap the alarm clock into submissive silence, roll over and go back to sleep to the soothing accompaniment of rain striking the roof outside the bedroom window. However, on November 12th I actually dragged my droopy self out of bed and slithered into the car, coffee cup in hand. Before the coffee molecules in my blood stream could take effect, I was halfway to Reedsport. And when the coffee molecules finally began working their perky magic, the first thing I noticed were the windshield wipers working valiantly to keep the prodigious rainfall off of the windshield, and not entirely successfully, either.

But there's no "paved" in hiking!
Fortunately, the rain abated pretty much when I parked the car at the Oregon Dunes day use area. It was a fortuitous omen and things looked good for taking a longer hike. The basic plan was to hike across the dunes to the beach, follow the beach and wade across Tahkenitch Creek and return by way of the Tahkenitch Creek Trail (with another wade across) back to the Oregon Dunes Overlook. And with lofty route in mind, I set out on the paved trail from the parking lot.

I'm late, I'm late, it's getting late!
The clocks had been set back a week prior and it was obvious that certain coastal denizens hadn't made the adjustment quite yet. The trail was literally crawling with rough-skinned newts, all on their way to work an hour early, thanks to the time change. The newts blended in with the forest duff on the trail and were rather hard to spot. My hiking pace was fairly slow as I tried my best to avoid stepping on any of the rough-skinned amphibians, I don't think any newts were harmed in the hiking of my hike.

Trail tunnel
Once the trail dropped out of the forest, it was goodbye pavement and hello sand. This area gets a lot of use, particularly so close to the overlook at the day use area, and numerous feet had chewed up a track across the sand, making the route easy to follow. A short walk across the dunes led into the deflation plain forest, with the trail tunnelling through the dense vegetation.

Swamps behind the foredunes
The trails through the deflation plain forest can be fairly wet and swampy but not yet, it's still early in the rainy season. So, it was a dry-footed hike through the forest before the trail spit me out into the marshes behind the beach foredunes. Fortunately, the trail was not yet swamped over with water so again, it was a dry-footed sand walk to the beach. So far, so good!

No beach hiking today!
Stupid high tide! So far, it had been too easy, there had to be some travails. The tide was high with the ocean lapping at the base of the foredunes like a hyperkinetic lake. I took a moment to evaluate the feasibility of a beach walk to Tahkenitch Creek when a large foamy wave literally chased me up the foredune. "Unfeasible" was the word that came to mind after careful evaluation of the possibility of hiking the beach to Tahkenitch Creek.

So there I was, all dressed up with nowhere to go, what to do? Back to the dunes it was, where I grabbed the dune trail leading to Tahkenitch Creek, well inland of the beach. Things took a turn for the macbre there at a spot on the trail where a small mammal had met its demise at the clawed hands of a predator. Scattered on the trail were tufts of fur, bone, fresh blood, and a pile of entrails. Gruesome enough, to be sure, but brown-green slugs were all over the carnage, looking all the world like those skin-burrowing alien space leeches normally seen in science fiction movies. I dared not stay long for fear the slugs would start to eat me too, and here I thought it was only deer I needed to worry about. 

In Oregon it rains and I hike
The day was overcast and rain came back to visit naturally, when I was totally exposed on the treeless dunes. Fortunately, it was just a short-lived squall and for the most part it was dry, in spite of the threatening sky overhead. 

Tahkenitch Creek
Tahkenitch Creek zig-zags next to the dunes in a series of pronounced oxbow and horseshoe-shaped loops. Tahkenitch Creek was about waist-deep at the normal crossing point so once again, my hike had to be rearranged. After a Tahkenitch Creek photo shoot, it was back to the sandy path heading up through the woods to the beach. At the beach, the tide was not as high as it had been an hour earlier, but it still was high nonetheless so at this point, I gave up on the longer hike.

Purple fairy club
So back through the dunes I went and now the trail was devoid of carnivorous slugs and ambling newts. The only other creatures I saw were some children running down the tall dunes, squealing with delight. As I was taking my boots off at the trailhead, the rain resumed, so it probably was a good thing I didn't do the longer hike as intended. There were enough travails on this day, as it was.

Slug on the prowl
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Cape Arago Perimeter Trail

On occasion I lead hikes for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club. And since the club hikes Cape Arago coastal trail on a weekly basis (or so it seems), I thought I'd change it up a bit by taking the club on a new (for the club) hiking experience. A year or so ago, I'd been exposed to the Perimeter Trail, thanks to my South Coast Strider friends who showed me the route. However, there are several trail intersections on the loop and as I sat on the living room sofa ruminating on the twists and turns of the trail, several questions came to mind: "Was that a left or a right turn on the Pack Trail?" "Left or right on the gravel road?" Clearly, if I wanted to complete the hike with the same amount of hikers I started with, I needed to better familiarize myself with the route. And that is why a week before the scheduled hike, I found myself on the Perimeter Trail with Luna, who came along for some leash training.

The old entrance to Shore Acres Estate
After a short walk through a misty forest on the "short cut" trail to Shore Acres State Park, I followed the park roadway to the Cape Arago Highway. The trail begins on the inland side of the highway and would be impossible to find if one did not know already where the trail was. There is no sign and no obvious trailhead, although someone did tie a pink ribbon to a tree to mark the spot. For some reason, the pink ribbon reminded me of hiking buddy Lane, who may no longer be a buddy after he reads this sentence.

The Perimeter Trail heads uphill
Anyway, after parting the brush and getting on the trail proper, it was a brisk uphill climb along a creek that was totally hidden by the thick jungle that grows in the coastal woods. Ferns and coastal huckleberries were everywhere, the wet fronds making sure my pant legs got wet too. Fallen trees and forest duff were decaying everywhere, thanks to the wet clime.

Eat this and feel curiouser and curiouser!

And thanks to all that decaying biomass, mushrooms of every size, shape, and color were sprouting profusely along the trail, my hiking pace slowing in indirect proportion to numerous mycological delights entertaining the camera. White-dotted red fly agaric was a common sight and I wondered why a toxic and psychoactive mushroom has to look as enticing as an Easter egg or large candy.  Talk about false advertising!

Lichen "flowers"
After a mile or so of brisk climbing, the trail leveled out in an oddly sparse forest comprised mostly of waist high coastal huckleberry bushes and dead trees. Some of the snags showed fire scars, leading me to surmise that a fire had swept through here many years ago. Because of the open terrain, sun-loving reindeer lichen grew in thick patches upon the ground. Also, because of the lack of tree cover, rain pitter-pattered on my hat brim, I hadn't really noticed the rain while hiking underneath the thick forest cover.

A small galaxy of mushrooms
The trail seemingly zig-zagged for no reason but what it was actually doing was following the stair-step boundaries of Cape Arago and Shore Acres State Parks. In particular, what it meant for me was that I had to leave that wonderful level trail and descend down to a creek drainage. What's wrong with that? Well, after reaching the creek drainage, the path then climbed out of the creek drainage. And what's wrong with that? Well, after climbing away from the creek, the trail crested a forested ridge carpeted with emerald green moss, dropping steeply down to another creek crossing. And what's wrong with that? Yup, had to hike uphill away from the creek. Up and down, up and down, that's what happens when the trail follows an squiggly arbitrary line on a map.

Leafless alder trees along a creek
There used to be an old road leading from timber magnate Louis Simpson's Shore Acres estate to Arago Peak. Nowadays, the old road bed does duty as the Arago Pack Trail and the first of three turns (left, for those keeping notes)  was made onto the Pack Trail. The trail was wide and fairly flat as it followed a forested ridge. Moss carpeted the forest floor and you could almost see forest gnomes scampering between the trees. Luna probably wanted to scamper too, but she was hampered by being tethered to her forest gnome of an owner.

Trail through the greenery
After a half-mile or so, the route intersected with the Arago Peak Trail. Not wanting to add 2 or more miles to the hike, I turned away (right) from the peak and toward Cape Arago itself. The trail dropped in a hurry and best of all, the what-goes-down-must-come-up rule did not apply in this case. Luna and I stopped for lunch at the group picnic area and she ate her lunch quickly, followed by most of mine. After a brief rest, made briefer by the arrival of a light rain, we continued down (left turn!) a gravel road to the paved Cape Arago day use area, replete with bathrooms, parking lots, and picnic tables. All the good progress Luna had made with walking without yanking the leash flew away on the ocean breeze due to all those people and dogs in the day use area. So many noses to bump and so many butts to sniff. Dog noses and butts, just to clarify. Luna was the only one of our party doing any sniffing, too, to further clarify.

Not your basic wilderness hike
Well, now that we arrived at the cape, this was all familiar territory to me. A short road walk delivered us to the Simpson Reef overlook where all the barking seals reminded me of our recent election, for some reason. Maybe it was the unintelligible cacophony, or maybe it was the foul stench wafting on the breeze, I'm not really sure. From a hiking standpoint, the reef overlook marked the resumption of actual trail as a dirt path ducked into the coastal forest above the dramatic cliffs that make Cape Arago so special.

The sea at war with itself
It seems like every time I visit Cape Arago, there is a little less of Oregon to hike on, making our new motto "Come and visit Oregon, before it disappears entirely!"  The pace of erosion seems to have accelerated over the last 5 years or so, I suspect rising sea level and climate change to be the culprit. North of Shore Acres, a substantial portion of the trail system has had to be rerouted inland and before long, they are going to have to reroute the trails south of the park as well. 

Shore Acres coast on a gloomy day
But the land meeting the sea provides for some scenic drama as wave after wave dashed against the cliffs and rocky shoals. The tide was fairly low so the waves weren't as thundering as they can be, but the camera was clicking away anyway. The sky was dramatic with swirling clouds competing with sun for control of the sky. The clouds eventually won out. 

Golden glow

The loop route was then closed by several miles of scenic coastline hiking as the day darkened. Cape Arago is always a fun place to hike and that held true for this day as well. And now that I am in total command of all the trail lefts and rights, the day was a total and unqualified success. Plus, Luna was so tired she slept all the way home. Not having your ears licked as you drive also qualifies as an unqualified success. 

Clouds painted the sky
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Fairview Peak (fail)

Not every hike gets to be an epic, but not too many turn out to be an outright fail, either. However, a recent Friends of the Umpqua hike turned out to be pretty much a fail. At least it was a happy fail as we all were in a good mood throughout; but happy or not, it was a fail.

Fireweed dreadlocks
The failure wasn't our fault though, sometimes Mother Nature just has a way of squelching all hiking hopes and dreams for the day. Our Fairview Peak misadventure started with the weather as the forecast was pretty dire, calling for heavy rain and high winds. In deference to the gloomy prediction, the hike to Fairview Peak was scratched and the lower-elevation Calf Segment of the North Umpqua Trail was penciled in as a replacement. However, on the drive to the Calf, the weather really wasn't all that bad so the six hardy hikers on this trip made an impromptu decision to go to Fairview Peak after all. Oops.

All dressed up and nowhere to hike

So, instead of driving to the Calf Trailhead, up Steamboat Creek on paved Road 38 we went for many miles, before making the left turn onto gravel Forest Road 3831. And after more miles we rounded a curve and were suitably awestruck at some massive cliffs above the road. And then we were suitably dismayed to see quite a bit of those cliffs lying across the road in a large rockslide comprised of boulders about the size of my KIA. There would be no hiking to Fairview Peak on this day.

"Trail" shot
Since we were all dressed up and ready to go with legs all quivery with eager anticipation, what to do? Well, in the hiking equivalent of making lemonade when you have lemons, we scrambled past the rockslide and started hiking up the road.

It's still autumn!
Basically, we were walking to nowhere and there was not a lot to see. The willows were turning yellow and we had intermittent views of a mountainous skyline to the southwest. The day was overcast, as befits a day forecasted for rain, and as we gained altitude a brisk wind blew as the temperature dropped. Periodically, a light rain would fall and it felt like snow was only a few less degrees away. Winter and snow are definitely coming, so we were happy with just a light rain..

View to unreachable Fairview Peak
At about the 2.5 mile mark, we arrived at a T-intersection on the Calapooya Divide. We had a nice view to imposing Fairview Peak, another 7 road miles of hiking away. Well, since 5 miles isn't really a hike, we hung a left turn for no other reason other than it would take us in the direction of Fairview Peak. Several miles later, at a saddle below Peak 4909 we sat down and ate lunch, shivering in the wintry breeze.

Eerie sunlight to the southwest
To the north and on the skyline, there was a bright white object that had us all pondering whether it was a snowy peak or a cloud. Turned out it was a cloud, but there were a few other white thingies that actually were mountains and that had us all speculating which peaks we were looking at. The consensus was we were looking at the tips of Diamond Peak and Broken Top but after consulting MapMyHike, I can definitely rule out Diamond Peak. It may have been Broken Top but the other hitherto unknown peak was probably South Sister.  

Thimbleberry leaves
So back down the road we went and the wind abated while the temperature climbed a few degrees as we descended. On the way down, we could see the snowy tips of Mount Thielsen and Mount Bailey to the south. A scramble back over the landslide ended the hike to nowhere.

Time for the second hike of the day

At the finish, we were all feeling unfulfilled, even though we had hiked 7 miles. Not having a real destination will do that to you. On the drive to the landslide earlier, at a road intersection we had noticed a road sign with the magic words "McKinley Rock Trailhead" on it. In a desperate search for a proper destination, we drove the 7 miles to the trailhead and disembarked from our vehicles. It was only a mile to the rock so how hard could it be?

Yikes, the trail was as merciless as Attila The Pilates Instructor. It headed straight up a forested mountainside and about a half-mile in, I bonked. It was a slow and steady trudge on tired legs by myself as my apparently fitter and haler comrades practically ran up the trail, singing happy songs as they went.

McKinley Rock

You really can't see all of McKinley Rock as it rises out of a thick forest. The trail ended at the base and we craned our necks to the sky, looking up a sheer cliff of gray rock. Despite the partial view, one could sense its largeness and we were impressed. 

Generally I approve of places with the
words "Long" and "Ridge" in the name
Down was definitely easier than up and quick work was made of the descent. At least, now we could say we had hiked somewhere that had a name and we all felt fulfilled. For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.