Saturday, December 30, 2017

North Bank Habitat 12/2017

Last hike of the year! (Disclaimer: even though I am writing and posting this entry in mid-February 2018, the hike was actually done last year. Confusing, I know, but I am way behind!). Traditionally, the hiking club always closes out each year with a hike in the North Bank Deer Habitat and 2017 would be no different. One unique feature of this year's version was that yours truly was tabbed to lead the hike and since I prefer not hiking the same route over and over again, the normal route was changed up a bit as we hiked up Soggy Bottoms Road and came down East Boundary Ridge. Nobody complained through, because the route could have gone up the incredibly steep East Boundary Ridge for 4.3 miles instead of coming down it like we did.

Drip, drip, drip...

It was chilly at the beginning but not quite icy. The habitat was socked in with fog that muffled sound, sight, and mental acuity alike. Soggy Bottoms Road was just that: soggy and at the bottom of a valley. Soon our boots were coated in mud which is normal when hiking in the habitat in winter or early spring. I'd say the views were nice but you had to squint really hard just to barely perceive the outline of the nearest hill somewhere in the dense fog.

The views were less than expansive

The expectation was that as we climbed out of Soggy Bottoms, we'd be hiking out of the fog and into a sunny day but that never quite panned out, for the day could never really decide whether to be sunny or foggy. There were times where we enjoyed ample sunlight and there were times where we looked nervously around, halfway expecting a North Bank version of Jack the Ripper to materialize out of the soupy mist.

Rays of hope gave us hope
As normal, our hiking party of 9 separated into two groups: fast hikers and photographers, where "photographer" is used as a synonym for "slow hiker" in this context. I'll leave it to the reader's imagination as to which group I was in, although I will point out I do carry a camera. Anyway, by the time us laggards reached Grumpy's Pond, we were far behind the speedsters. Gaoying was waiting for us at the pond, welcoming us with a sarcastic "I thought you guys had stopped for lunch!". I believe "stopped for lunch" was used in this context as a synonym for "slower than sloths".

Why we hike
At the crest atop the North Boundary, the heavy fog lifted, the sun came out, and we enjoyed the usual great views from the habitat's higher reaches. A spectacular rainbow arched over us and we could actually see the end of the rainbow touching down upon the trail. The rainbow was so spectacular, we didn't really care that there was no proverbial pot of gold.

Ghostly snag in the ghostly mist
The habitat is a working ranch still, and we had to pass a series of gates to get past the electrical fences marking the cattle range. Yow! One such fence bit me and my empathetic companions doubled over in hysterical laughter when I yelped with pain. Very funny, guys, but I would have done no different had it been anybody else besides me shaking hands with Freddy Kilowatt.

Mist in the valley

Now on the East Boundary Ridge, the trail descended for the next 4 miles. "Descended" is a misleading term though, as there were a number of steep uphill pitches to surmount even though we were in theory losing elevation, but such are the trails in the North Bank. We enjoyed ample sunlight on the ridge while a thin and patchy mist still filled up the valleys below.

Scraggly oak, a common sight in the Habitat
Below us, the North Umpqua River glinted in the noonday sun as it perambulated around Whistlers Bend. The river was flanked by a patchwork quilt of bright green pastures and farms, a few of them bisected by the unerringly straight North Bank Road. A small herd of cattle flanked the trail and we "enjoyed" a nice view of how cattle poop gets made, where "enjoyed" means "not really". We made sure to step around the cow bombs on the trail and no boots were harmed in the hiking of this hike.

Trail atop East Ridge
Because of an illness in my family, I didn't do a lot of hiking early in the year and had grudgingly consigned myself to a lesser year, in terms of hiking miles; not that any of that mattered in the face of what we were dealing with. However, at the start of this hike, I was only a half-mile away from reaching 400 miles for the year. The final 2017 stats are 408.3 miles, 57 hikes, and a 7.2 mile per hike average, not too bad at all. This last hike in the North Bank left me cautiously optimistic for 2018 and let's all please enjoy a catastrophe-free 2018.

The North Umpqua River, as we descended
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album

Friday, December 22, 2017

Rogue River Trail 12/2017

After we finished this hike, I dropped Daweson off at his home. On the front porch, his parents and other assorted other relatives were sitting and conversing in the early evening. "How was your hike?" they asked. Daweson replied with an air of casual nonchalance, "We weren't feeling it today, so we only hiked 7.5 miles". It was kind of like a mike drop without the mike and I do believe he has mastered the fine art of bragging without braggadocio. He's definitely my grandson!

The trail makes my inner mountain goat happy
Of course, those of us that live in the hiking world are quite aware that 7.5 miles is just another hike, the moderate distance not necessarily constituting an epic test of manhood or womanhood. But the day was cold and chilly, and a brisk wind intermittently swept up the Rogue River canyon so we were both OK with the rather bland length of the hike.

Snow, in the mountains above
According to the car themometer, it was 34 degrees at the start and it would "warm" up to 38 degrees by hike's end. The sky was darkly overcast and foreboding, it felt like rain was an imminent eventuality and snow a distinct possibility.  Snow line was about 500 feet above us, although the snow covered ridges and peaks were all hidden by the cloud cover. And just to hammer the cold nail point home, a gusty wind cuffed and buffeted all life forms shivering in the river canyon. This was Daweson's first time on the Rogue River Trail and it was a rather chilly initiation by one of Oregon's premier hiking trails.

The Rogue River, all day long

The trail charged up to the cliffs above the river and provided view after view after view of river and canyon. The river was running fairly clear and was showing off a deep blue green color. Despite the gloomy weather, there is something about an aquamarine river coursing through a mossy green rocky canyon on a gray day. The one member of our party with a camera soon lagged behind, taking picture after picture of the moody scenery.

Daweson gawks at ospreys and Sanderson Island
After a mile or so, bouldery Sanderson Island hove into view. The trail here seems particularly cliffy and is one of my favorite photo stops, even though I probably have taken thousands of photos from the same spot. It never gets old and I never tire of the views on the Rogue River Trail. Anyway, as we stopped to gawk at the island, an osprey sped up the canyon, barely flapping its wings as it rode the air currents. 

The high-water-mark mark

A short climb up a brief paved section of trail brought us to the high water mark. By way of explanation, the river flooded in 1964 and a sign marks where the river crested about 50 feet above river level. There used to be a bridge here, and all that remains of the bridge are cement piers on the south bank. The rest of the bridge was swept away in that massive flood event from 1964. That would have been a rare good day to cancel hiking on the Rogue River Trail. 

Madrone and laurel
After the high water mark, the trail entered a forest comprised of that odd Siskiyou Mountains mix of laurel, tan oak, madrone, and conifers of various specie. We could hear Rainie Falls roaring below, but the falls were pretty much hidden from view by the trees. This time of year, all manner of creeks and runoffs were splashing across the trail and we got plenty of practice rock-hopping across wet spots.

Whiskey Creek

At Whiskey Creek Camp, a campsite for the rafting crowd, we strolled on the sandy beach next to the river. The river was slow and tranquil here, its ponderous bulk still somewhat menacing. Across the river, Rum Creek splashed noisily into the Rogue while on our side of the river, Whiskey Creek did likewise. With Booze Creek up ahead another mile, one could infer that the Rogue River drove prospectors of yesteryear to drink.

Mushroom at Whiskey Creek Cabin

Despite my urging, Daweson refused to touch the wires of the bear pen fencing. The bear pens (my term) are small corrals, connected to a car battery,  in which rafters and backpackers store their food inside for the purpose of deterring habituated bears from raiding camps. From personal (accidental) experience, those wires do pack a sharp bite, so it's probably a good thing Daweson doesn't always blindly obey his supposedly wiser grandfather.

Daweson, working on his spaghetti arms
We turned around at Whiskey Creek Cabin, a former prospector abode now doing duty as a backwoods museum of sorts. The cabin is stuffed with tools, tin cans, and antique bedsprings, providing a rusty look into the pioneering and mining history of the Rogue River. Strewn about the site are large heavy pieces of rusting mining equipment while the remnants of a flume ditch can still be seen in the woods above the cabin. 

Cliff-hugging trail at Sanderson Island
From there it was back the way we came, the wind at our backs this time. Despite the dark sky, the clouds never made good on the threat of rain. Even though we walked in less than optimal conditions, Daweson averred that his first Rogue River Trail experience was indeed a grand venture. Plus, it gave him the rightful opportunity to artfully boast about the hike.

Manzanita tree
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Cape Arago Night Hike 12/2017

Merry Christmas, everybody! Of course, it's late January as I type out this missive so a very, very, very belated "Season's Greetings!" to all my readers (assuming I have any). I suppose I could take the position that I am seasonally greeting far in advance of next Christmas but everybody knows I'm not that organized. Anyway, the reason Christmas came up is that the hike I'm writing about today is my semi-annual Christmas night hike to Shore Acres and Cape Arago. And by "semi-annual", I mean not quite every year, it sort of depends on my mood, the weather, and whether my followers have sufficiently sung enough laudatory praises and accolades. Whining helps, too.

Cape Aragaliens
This year, enough sycophantic-toned requests for this hike rolled in, and it looked like the weather was going to give us a break. Since I was in the mood too, it was a perfect storm of proper hiking conditions and this hike was quickly penciled onto the hiking calendar. Unlike years past, the Roseburg contingent showing up for the hike was sparse, consisting of me, Daweson, Diana, and Brad. However, a like-numbered crew from Coos Bay showed up, bringing our numbers up to a more proper 8 hikers.

The spectacular coast at Cape Arago
Strange though, when we arrived at Sunset Bay at the duly appointed hour, it was just us Roseburgians. Turned out, some of the Coos Bayliens (ha, just made that up!) had parked further up the large parking lot and Rachel, who was parked right next to where we would park, wandered over there to talk to them. While they were all prattling their Coos Bay prattle, we were industriously lacing up our boots and setting out on the trail. Thinking we were running late, our Coos Bay friends waited another half-hour before Rachel took charge and led them on a very fast hike to catch up with us, which they did at Cape Arago. I believe that was the very first time Rachel ever led a hike and she did such a fine job, she earned a spot on the "list" of upcoming hike leaders. Of course, her biggest fear was that we would not be at the cape and she'd have to lead her people back in the inky black of night. 

Phatasmagorical rock formation
My grandson Daweson is a growing lad, so his boots fit too tight and he popped some debilitating blisters. Darn kid needs to stop growing so fast! Because of the blisters, he had to put out at Shore Acres and Diana stayed with him, so it was just me and Brad continuing on to Cape Arago. As we hiked along the rugged coast, the sun was sinking low in the late afternoon and waves lapped up against the shoreline cliffs. Brad made some comment about large waves and I responded with a dismissive "Pssh", explaining to him that this was low tide and he should come back during high tide to see what real waves looked like.

Simpson Beach was a sea lion sick bay
Simpson Beach was under quarantine as a sick sea lion was recuperating on the sand. Apparently there is an outbreak of leptopirosis affecting sea lions all along the Oregon coast. Respecting the wishes of the park, we merely sideswiped a corner of the beach as we continued hiking south to Cape Arago. And by the way, the following Monday I called in sick with leptopirosis and they bought it!

"You go first!"
The weather gods were so very kind to us at Cape Arago. It had been a semi cloudy, semi-sunny day and a raft of clouds hovered overhead, ready and fully prepared to squelch a would-be spectacular sunset. But when the sun slipped below the clouds, the sky and sea turned brilliant orange while appreciative hikers oohed and aahed. I was fully engrossed taking pictures of the sunset show when somebody smacked me in the back of my head and said in a British accent "There you are!" And a "Happy Trails!" to you too, Rachel. 

There is no sunset like an Oregon coastal sunset and we enjoyed the show as we pieced together the events that led us to hike in two separate groups. As the sun dropped behind the horizon, we gathered up our gear and headed back the way we had come. We enjoyed the view of the coast as day morphed into night and finally, I whipped out my puny headlamp and officially commenced the night hike portion of this hike.

Rachel models the proper night hike attire and attitude
Suddenly, behind me, there was a huge blinding light that illuminated virtually all of southern Oregon. In fact, the astronauts in the space lab orbiting the planet reported an unusual "light event" on the west coast of the United States. Jets were scrambled to find the source and Area 51 went to threat level "Bright Light". Well, it was just Brad and his atomic-powered headlamp. I'm not sure how many lumens it was putting out, but it was bright as a miniature sun, overpowering all the headlamps in front of him. Plus, it kept us warm as we hiked through the cold night.

One small piece of the Shore Acres gardens
Besides a spectacular Cape Arago sunset, one other reason for doing this hike at night during Christmas season is to cruise through the Shore Acres gardens. Shore Acres was once the baronial estate of timber magnate Louis J. Simpson. The actual lordly mansion at Shore Acres burned down and no longer exists but the caretaker's cottage is still there, presiding over some stately gardens. And this time of year, the gardens are bedecked with Christmas lights of every color possible within the visible light spectrum. A plethora of kinetic light displays offer up flying pelicans, leaping frogs and splashing orcas while Christmas carolers serenade visitors from a brightly lit pavilion. I was still wearing my headlamp (turned off) and a woman asked me where the cave was. Seriously, that really did happen.

Fierce creatures
After enjoying the lights in the garden it was time to head back. There is a point where you have to cross a road and find a faint path to the main trail but with the assistance of Brad's atomic light, it was unusually easy to find. As we walked through a pitch-black forest I was telling Daweson about how you can often see eyes reflecting back at you when you wear headlamps. And right on cure, four eyes were floating in the forest ahead of us. Upon closer inspection it was a mother deer and her fawn. They disappeared in a puff of smoke when Brad shined his atomic light beam on them.

Daweson models his teenager's angst
Anyway, a good time was had by all, except for maybe Daweson's right foot. We'll have to do that again in a couple of years and Merry Christmas, everyone!

Merry Christmas!
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cape Mountain 12/2017

Normally, it's a simple idea: Hop in the car and drive to the trailhead. However, the drive to Cape Mountain was more like a bus route than a simple put-it-in-gear-and-go. Not too many of my hiking buddies had ever been to Cape Mountain and I had only been once, so this hike was penciled nto the Friends of the Umpqua hike schedule with your merry blogster designated to lead the way. Well, my friends from South Coast Striders wanted to join us so we arranged a pick-up stop in Reedsport; and Lane was coming over from Springfield, so another stop in Florence was arranged. Who knew leading a hike could be so complicated? However, we managed to get all 13 hikers from all their disparate towns and walks of life to the trailhead, in spite of all the logistics. Surely, things would be simpler on the trail.

Moss and trees
Well, maybe not. First we had to hike uphill on the Princess Tasha Trail, then continue on the Scurvy Ridge Trail ("Aargh" he said, in his best scurvy buccaneer pirate voice), take a left on the Berry Creek Trail, followed by a right onto the Nelson Ridge Trail. And all that involved ignoring trail junctions with trails named Lookout, Wapati, Berry Lane, and Cape Mountain. No small wonder we started out with 13 hikers but only wound up with 10 when the hike was over. Spoiler alert: everybody eventually showed up, so all was well.

Eight miles of coastal forest
The scenery is pretty basic at Cape Mountain. Elegantly simple (like the hike leader), the "views" consist of dense growths of, ferns, salal, and moss. If you want to experience 8 miles of deep coastal forest, then this is your hike. Of course, all this simplicity came with a price, as  all of us were soon breathing heavily in short order due to a rather brisk climb to the crest of Scurvy Ridge.

Edwin squashes a hitsi-bitsy spider
A couple of miles in, we arrived at the replica hitsi (a primitive Native American shelter) that had been built as part of an Eagle Scout project. I'm not sure how long ago it had been built but the hitsi is falling into a state of disrepair as it should. since they were never intended to be permanent. Since I was the hike leader, I felt compelled to teach my charges what I know about hitsis, mainly that there is a small spider that inhabits these types of structures: it's known as the hitsi-bitsy spider. Sorry, I just can't help myself and for some reason, I hike alone a lot. 

Spooky branches

The vegetation changed somewhat on the Berry Creek Trail as we exchanged tall conifers for leafless alder trees. We also exchanged the uphill hiking for a trail that lost elevation at a dizzying rate. This was a loop trail and everybody was glad we didn't have to hike back up this path but I kept quiet, knowing we'd have to gain all that elevation again, albeit on a different trail. For stats lovers, the trail lost nearly 1,000 feet in 1.5 miles.

We now head up to Nelson Ridge
Berry Creek was waiting for us at the bottom of the canyon and we all crossed the creek on a log with no pratfalls or mishaps. And then the climbing began. In fact, most of the day was spent walking uphill even though we were hiking a loop route with no net gain or loss in elevation, . Accordingly, after a mild wade across a Berry Creek Fork, the trail charged to the top of Nelson Ridge, angling through a stand of homogeneous trees on the way,

Our lunch time view
There were a series of grassy meadows on top of the broad ridge crest, the grass currently brown and dry in preparation for winter. Fresh elk poop dotted the meadow, so we know a) elk come here to visit and b) the grass is well fertilized. There was also a bench in a meadow with a partial view down to the coast, so we plopped down after checking for elk poop, and ate lunch under a gray sky. 

Seemed like we walked uphill all day long
There used to be a forest road atop Nelson Ridge, and the former roadbed inter-braided with the actual trail and it wasn't always clear which way to go. A few more signs here would be helpful, Forest Service, if you are reading this. The road was actually the Berry Lane Trail and basically continues in the same direction as the Nelson Ridge Trail; so if anybody did take the wrong trail, they'd wind up at the trailhead anyway.

Former road, now doing duty as a trail
When we arrived at the trailhead we were short 3 hikers. Dave showed up about 15 minutes later but Lane and Ceresse were missing in action. Turned out they had come up the Wapati Trail but had to turn back to retrieve some clothing left behind at Berry Creek. It's not what you think either, the clothing item left behind was a sweater or similar accouterment that had been removed to adjust body temperature. It was duly noted that the leaver of clothing was not the same person who was appointed to do the retrieving. I'm not saying which was which, but will also note that Lane's GPS had more miles on it than Ceresse's.

Dense growth made sure we stayed on trail
Anyway, Lane and Ceresse did eventually show up, none the worse for the wear. We went to Florence and stopped at Burritos Los Amigos for some post-hike tongue tacos. That was the simplest thing that happened all day.

A nice view to Sutton Lake
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Cape Blanco

If this was not the best day ever on the coast, then it was at minimum, the second best day ever on the coast. In Roseburg, December 2017 will forever be remembered for a protracted air stagnation weather thingy that resulted in dense fog smothering the Umpqua Valley all day and every day, or at least for 57 days of the month. So, by time Lane, Colby, and I drove over to the coast for a hike, the dearth of sunlight had nearly become a medical condition. Probably some kind of neurosis, too. Maybe even a psychosis. At any rate, the lack of sunlight had us all standing under florescent lights in the kitchen, in a vain attempt to remember what sunlight even felt like. Given all that, it was nigh a religious moment when we parked the car at Cape Blanco under a cloudless blue sky.

Needle Rock is the Oregon's largest candle
The temperature was balmy too, hanging around 60 degrees all day. It was absolutely glorious to be able to hike in shirt sleeves under sun and sky. We weren't the only ones enjoying the weather either, as other hikers were also out and about, taking advantage of this miraculous turn in the weather. Even the wildlife were deliriously happy to bask in the sun, as evidenced by a fox skittering into tall grass, its restorative sunbathing rudely interrupted by our drive-by.

A very large Boulder Bar on the Sixes River
We grabbed the trail that follows the Sixes River to the beach, and it's always amazing how the Sixes rearranges itself from season to season, On this day, the river coursed past a boulder bar that had never been as large or extensive on my prior visits to the area. Same old sea lions, though, and one popped out of the cold river to enjoy the sun on the opposite bank, and we could totally relate.

The end of the Sixes's journey
Startled by our intrusive arrival, a bald eagle rose up from the grassy pasture, majestically soaring towards Castle Rock. The Sixes pooled languidly behind the beach and ripples from large watery sea creatures swimming just under the surface had us wondering what kind of creatures they were. I guessed mermaids. Where river met sea, an otter fled the beach and disappeared into the waves, conceding the sand to us humans. Wow, that was quite a lot of wildlife diversity for just a half-mile of hiking!

Castle Rock, looking particularly castle-ish
Castle Rock, a large island in front of the Sixes River mouth, dominated the scene as the beach arced to eminently visible Cape Blanco, the historic lighthouse affixed to it like one of Lane's birthday party hats. The bay between us and the cape was scenically cluttered with random rocks and islands strewn about, with Gull Island and Castle Rock being the only two deemed worthy enough to merit a name by the Oregon Geographic Names Board. 

View towards Blacklock Point
The sand is very soft on the beach and Lane and I were having PTSD (Plenty of Trudging in Sand, Darn it) flashbacks to a past three-day backpack trip along the coast, but the splendiferous sunlight somewhat eased our mental anguish. After a mile of not-so-painful hiking in soft sand, the beach ended at Cape Blanco itself and the soft sand was exchanged for the solid dirt path charging up the grassy coastal bluffs. Getting to the top of the bluffs was work, so a stop-and-gawk at the historic lighthouse was in order, as was an early lunch. Sun, sky, views, lighthouse, and a jalapeƱo sandwich: life was good, indeed.

A giant dragonfly, hunting giant mosquitoes
There was a group paragliding off the cape and we observed them practicing their craft, riding the wind currents like giant dragonflies. Cape Blanco is renown for high winds and holds the record for the highest recorded wind speed in Oregon; the record being 179 miles per hour on what surely must have been a memorable day in 1964 for all the wrong reasons. Don't think the paragliders of the time were riding wind currents on that particular day. If they were, they probably landed in Topeka.

City on a hill
A steep and muddy track down the south face of the cape dropped us on the beach. Fortunately, we all remained upright on the descent, although there were a few near misses. A pointy spire with the descriptive name of Needle Rock marked the start of the next segment of beach walking. I'm not sure why sand is piling up against the imposing cliffs here but perhaps rising sea level is the culprit. My little theory is that the rising ocean is bringing more sand onto the beach and because of the cliffs, the sand has nowhere to go. Trapped between surf and cliff, the sand unhappily accumulates at the base of the cliff. At any rate, the damp sand had been eroded by wind, surf, rain, and sun; the resulting formations were amazing, resembling so many ancient cities carved into mountains.

Deep, dark woods
Less than a mile later, we arrived at the driftwood pile where the Cape Blanco Campground road met the beach, and that was our cue to leave all the sand behind, and burning leg muscles were grateful. But not so fast, leg muscles, you still have a short but steep climb yet to perform. The paved roadway climbed briskly to the top of the coastal bluffs, the keyword being "up". Fortunately, the uphill grade mellowed out a bit when steep pavement was exchanged for mostly level dirt-treaded Oregon Coast Trail. The OCT threaded its way through a dense and dark forest before abruptly spitting us out into the bright sunshine atop the bluffs.

The forest is too dense to bushwhack through
Blinking myopically like blind cave salamanders in the open sunlight, we followed the trail through dense growths of waist-high salal. We had spent most of the day hiking, so by now the sun was sinking low, imbuing the coastal scenery with the soft golden light that heralds the imminent arrival of sunset. At the cape, we enjoyed the epic view towards Blacklock Point, the Sixes River, and Castle Rock in the fading light. Instead of returning by way of beach, we entered the forest and continued hiking on the OCT.

Gull Island in a big ocean
Man, it was dark in them thar woods! The trees are packed so closely together that not much light penetrates the dense tangle of branches. The deep shade would be nice on a hot day but at the end of the day, the woods were darker than a black hole in space. We did reacquaint ourselves with what daylight looked like by taking a short side trip to a viewpoint overlooking the coast.

Not so wild life
We had seen quite a bit of wildlife on this trip and there would be one more wildlife encounter when we inadvertently ambled into a flock of sheep on the descent into the grasslands flanking the Sixes River,  Panicked, the sheep comically ran down the only place they could, which was the trail. So we got to scare them for a half mile or so, good thing I didn't have Luna with me, she would have made sure the sheep got plenty of exercise.

Lane and Colby enjoy a father-son hike
So, on this hike we saw wildlife, experienced awesome coastal scenery, and most of all, enjoyed a superlative sunny day. The only blot on the day, however, occurred on the way back when a pickup towing a trailer in front of us left the road and spectacularly wiped out in a ditch. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the accident. Hiking is so much safer than driving!

Colby carefully picks his way down Cape Blanco
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.