Monday, December 12, 2016

North Umpqua Trail - Tioga Segment

It's been kind of hard to hike lately. I mean, it does rain in Oregon but sheesh, enough already! The rain has been pouring non-stop, like from a garden hose, and poor waterlogged Douglas County has more standing water than a walk-in freezer in a power failure during a heatwave. At the higher elevations, the non-stop precipitation has translated to higher than normal snow levels, forcing me to hike along the lower elevation rivers and creeks, or on the Oregon coast. I heard on the news the other day, snow levels in the Cascades are around 130 to 140% of normal. That's a good thing, so I suppose any complaining about snow and rain is not warranted but sheesh, enough already!

It's warm and sunny everywhere I am not
Any break in the constant rain is cause for a celebratory hike and two days after my raingear test on the North Umpqua Trail's Swiftwater Segment, I returned to the same trailhead for a hike on what happily turned out to be a rainless day. The weather forecast had called for "mostly sunny" but that forecast never applies to the south side of the North Umpqua River. It's always shady and cold there, presumingly more so during the winter. Still it was nice to wistfully observe blue sky and sunlight on the  seemingly remote and unattainable mountains on the other side of the river. 

Bob Butte, if you squint
When I last reported from Tioga Bridge just two days prior, the color of the river was a milky brown color. Two days later, the normal winter turquoise color was returning to the still-turbulent North Umpqua River, although just like me, the river was still plenty wide, deep, and fast. No water was falling from the sky, although low clouds and river mist still occluded the view downstream to Bob Butte.

An unnamed creek crosses the trail
Once across Tioga Bridge, instead of turning right onto the Swiftwater Segment, I turned left onto the Tioga Segment. Where the Swiftwater heads uphill and away from the North Umpqua River, the Tioga keeps the rushing river fairly close at hand. Despite the nearness, thick forest kept the river hidden from view but the roar from the winter flow was always audible.

Sorry, boots
So, there was no water in the sky but it sure was all over the ground. Small creeks and runoffs ran across the trail and in many places, right on top of the trail itself. Given the amount of mosquitos and standing water in the Cascades in summer, I've often remarked that "Cascade Mountain Range" is merely a synonym for "large swamp with firs". However, in winter there are no mosquitoes on the Tioga Segment but oh man, was there ever a lot of water sitting on the trail, just waiting to pour into my boots.

Fern capital of the world
The first mile of the western end of the Tioga Segment was under 2 to 3 inches of water and the roar of the river, the splashing of my footfall, and some muted wet-feet related salty language were the only sounds in the forest. But at least the trail was flat and photogenic, what with wet ferns growing in thick profusion next to the trail. The fern growth was so thick that ferns were growing on top of ferns growing on top of ferns. Thick moss and fungi of all type were consuming the numerous fallen trees and the occasional hiker who stopped too long for lunch. 

Trail on a ridge
After a watery mile of hiking, the trail left the standing water behind as the North Umpqua Trail began switchbacking uphill. Ups and downs are very much part of the entire 78 mile North Umpqua Trail experience and it's no different on the Tioga Segment. For some reason, I was feeling pretty walky so the hill was conquered in short order before it began dropping back down at an alarming switchbacking rate. "Man, I really would hate to hike up this beast" I thought to myself, willfully ignoring the fact that I would be doing that very thing on the return leg.

Footbridge, several switchbacks below 
The trail was contouring a steep ridge and what little I could see of the river and highway below was shrouded in river fog. The mountains above the river on the south side were still enjoying the sun and blue sky and I was peevishly jealous. After what seemed like several hundred switchbacks on the knee-jolting descent, a footbridge over a rather large creek hove into view.

Raindrop, still hanging around
Amazingly, considering the amount of water flowing under the bridge, this creek is nameless. My theory for its anonymity is the creek probably dries up in summer. Anyway, after dropping down to a rushing creek, what does our lucky hiking participant receive in return? Tell him what he won, Don Pardo (I'm probably dating myself there but hey, I'm a 60 year old now). That's right, our lucky contestant has won another climb away from the creek up and over another forested ridge. Fortunately, it was not nearly as hard work as what I had just climbed up and over.

British soldiers
Moss-covered cliffs flanked the right side of the trail while the left side dropped rapidly down to the misted-over river. All the cliffy goodness had my inner mountain goat bleating happily although I carefully watched my steps, as I lack a mountain goat's agility and balance. Yup, clumsy and unbalanced, that's me! 

Very swollen Fox Creek
Fox Creek was heard long before it was seen as it was carrying way more water than normal. Dale and I had hiked to Fox Creek from the eastern trailhead a couple of years ago and we had eaten lunch there. However, that'd be a difficult trick on this day for the grassy picnic spot was under rampaging creek water. Besides which, a tall tree had fallen right on the picnic spot to futher hammer the point home that there will be no more picnicking at that spot. Strewn about were smaller trees, limbs, and other tree-related debris and carnage, all miraculously missing the fragile footbridge across the frothy white water of Fox Creek.

One small piece of Buttkicker Hill
It was cold, so I didn't tarry long at Fox Creek. After a quick lunch on the bridge it was back the way I came and I decided that the nameless ridge really needs to be called Buttkicker Hill. The climb disappointingly gained only 285 feet in 0.4 miles, it sure seemed both steeper and longer than that. But, doing the math, it was a 13% grade so my tired legs and heaving lungs were somewhat redeemed by that stat.

Mushrooms were everywhere
Once off Buttkicker Hill, it was back to the mile-long North Umpqua Trail splashfest before crossing the North Umpqua River on Tioga Bridge. It actually had been a sunny day in Roseburg while I had been splashing along in deep canyon shade. On the drive home, the bright sunlight was harsh, leaving my eyes blinking myopically in the glare like an albino cave salamander. But not to worry, the next day things were back to wet and rainy normal, making me quite grateful to have snuck this one in. 

Moss was everywhere, too
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. A lovely trail despite the abundance of water. Glad you had one dry hiking day this fall - they've sure been few and far between! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  2. Know what you mean about the rain and snow!! Good, but not neccesarily good for hikers at this time of year. If you look at our background right now, it has a picture of Roxy Ann on our recent hike -- snow everywhere!! Keep trudging....spring will come.