Monday, May 28, 2018

Point Reyes Backpack

Roughly about 20 miles north of San Francisco, the 800-mile long San Andreas Fault disappears into the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes. Over time and innumerable earthquakes, the San Andreas created a rift zone that has sort of peeled Point Reyes away from the rest of California. As long as the iconic point remains attached to California though, there will be hikers and backpackers traipsing on the many trails networking across the wooded ridges and rugged coast. However, I'm glad to report that thankfully, there were no earthquakes during our three-day visit to Point Reyes and for the time being, the point still remains firmly attached to California.

Light as a feather!
Lane and I had recently taken an REI class on ultralight backpacking and after applying our newly gained knowledge, both our packs weighed slightly more than twenty pounds each. Give those two students a golden sticky star and an A+ each! Brad joined us for what was his first backpack trip ever, and we removed about ten pounds of gear that left him toting nearly forty pounds up and down the steep trails of Point Reyes National Seashore. That student should have received an F but despite the heavier weight, he hiked tirelessly at thrice the speed of Lane and I. Of course, Lane and I were each carrying extra weight that was not pack load, if you get my midriff meaning.

Day 1

Hikes begin with but a single step
We started out from Bear Valley Visitor Center, which was a very active place on Memorial Day weekend. Day hikers abounded and we three backpackers were soon overtaken by six-year old children and arthritic grandmothers. Well, two of us were passed up, to be accurate. Brad was pretty much a rumor somewhere ahead of Lane and I.

A small creek flows under a bridge
and Shadow Man approves
I figured that Point Reyes would provide some awesome wild coast scenery but I certainly did not expect the luxuriously shaded forest that we would encounter on the point. All that coastal fog filtering through tree leaves keeps things moist and as a result, the forests were remarkably lush and verdant. The day would have also been hot but for the cool, refreshing air stirring underneath the trees.

Brad disappears on the Glen Camp Trail
The Bear Valley Trail was in actuality a well-maintained gravel road that angled gently to a meadow on a forested pass. Once the pass was crested, the road descended at an equally gradual rate. Hey, this is going to be easy! Like that would ever happen! Sure enough the Glen Camp Trail wasted no time charging uphill to Glen Camp through some dense forest. The trail was a real path, no more easy gravel road for us, and we toiled up the trail, wondering how a twenty-two pound pack could suddenly feel so heavy. 

It's not California without poppies
Eventually, the trail leveled out before joining up with another gravel road that would descend down to the coast. The grade was gradual at first but before long, we were plunging downward at a pretty good rate of descent. The closer we got to the coast, the less trees there were, and we were soon feeling the California sun.

Psst! Got peanuts?
Wildcat Camp was a grassy rectangle atop a coastal bluff, and a primitive runway bordered the actual campsite area. Hopefully, no planes would taxi down the runway while we were sleeping. The camp had running water and vault toilets, which were more luxurious amenities than we were normally accustomed to.

Double Point lies at the south end of Wildcat Beach
After setting up camp while blue jays and quail begged for handouts, we walked to nearby Wildcat Beach. At the beach, a small creek zigzagged to and fro before becoming one with the ocean. The beach was bordered by two craggy points: Millers Point to the north and Double Point to the south. The beach is popular with the day-hiking crowd and frisbees were flying and soccer balls were being kicked back and forth. We just sat in the sand, idly watching the waves and generally taking it easy as the day inexorably headed toward late afternoon.

Day slips into night

Our camp was atop a coastal bluff and we walked to the cliff's edge and watched the sunset show. The sun slowly sank, imbuing all with a warm orange glow before sinking into the ocean with an imaginary hiss. A heron waded along the shore, his feet disappearing in the golden shimmering waters of the sea. As soon as the sun sank, a full moon rose from behind a ridge and on that celestial note, we crawled into our tents and went to sleep.

 Day 2

Dawning of a new day
Day 2 dawned bright and sunny, with just a touch of mist in the air. Remember that steep drop down to Wildcat Beach? We did, because that steep drop was now a steep hike out. Basically, we'd gain almost 1,000 feet in just over a mile, a prodigious rate of ascent that had hearts racing and lungs heaving in short order.

It was a steep hike away from Wildcat Camp
We'd be on the Coast Trail for most of the day, and it was a real trail that continued to climb up and over a wooded ridge. Fortunately, all the bad uphill ended after a mile and a half and we enjoyed the leveling out, especially as the path parted a meadow consisting of chest-high brush. Regrettably a poison-oak branch whipped my neck pretty good and left a red mark as I hiked through what I thought was just tall lupine bushes next to the trail. I couldn't get to the wet-wipes fast enough but I'm glad to report all my frantic scrubbing paid off in that no itchy rash ever appeared.

Path on the edge of the world
So, after a moment of horror inspired by poison oak, it was back to the fun part of hiking. The trail gradually descended across the slopes of the mountain range we'd been hiking up and over. The lush forests of yesterday were just a distant memory as there was nothing but golden grasses and wildflowers swaying in the sea breeze. 

We really appreciated the occasional shady parts
Of course, the lack of trees allowed for some epic views of the rugged California coast arcing towards Point Reyes, unseen and hidden by a layer of mist. Rock islands dotted the brilliantly blue ocean and we could see miles and miles of Coast Trail undulating atop the rocky cliffs that marked the edge of California. Periodically, the trail would head inland to cross a creek, providing a shade break or two that was greatly appreciated.

A quail sentry warns the others
Along the trail, giant eucalyptus trees reached for the sky and we gawked like the Oregonian rubes we were. California quails chirped in the underbrush and the trail was flanked by California golden poppy and California blue-eyed grass blooming away, each item reminding us that we were strangers walking in a strange land. 

No shade today!
After nine-ish miles of hiking, Coast Camp came into view and it pretty much resembled Wildcat Camp: grassy and treeless. Comprised mostly of does with fawns in tow, deer were hanging out about the campground. Fortunately, none of the deer were interested in purloining my hiking poles. In a neighboring campsite, I was lucky enough to spot a ringtail fleeing our arrival and more on that critter in a bit.

Windblown surf at Coast Camp
Like the day before, we went down to a nearby beach but nearly had our skin taken off by sand driven by a brisk wind. It really was uncomfortable so we beat a retreat to our camp and eschewed the sunset show. The wind kept it up all night long, and I know I nervously watched my tent poles flex every which way with each strong gust, wondering if the tent would remain standing. It did.

Lane's shadow flees the fearsome ringtail
Lane was woken up by our ringtail friend who was trying to drag his pack away from inside the tent vestibule. I didn't know Lane's voice could go that high. Well, yes I did really, because I had heard that piercing screech once before when he espied a belligerent snake, but whether I had heard that sound once or twice, it really didn't matter. I didn't know that he had such an extensive vocabulary that can't be repeated in a G-rated hiking blog, either. At any rate, all packs were immediately stowed inside tents with their respective owners and the ringtail did not attempt another raid, probably because his ear drums had been ruptured by Lane's high-pitched shrieks and wails.

Day 3

Day 3 started out cold and foggy
Another day, another steep morning hike. What was different, however, were the weather conditions. Gone were the warm sun and blue sky, supplanted by the same gusty wind that had kept us awake all night. While we were trying to sleep, a cold mist and fog had padded in on silent cat feet. We raced through breakfast and taking down camp, wanting to get an early start while the temperature was cool and besides which, we still had a nine hour drive home waiting for us after the hike.

Lane and Brad trail in my wake

The trail du jour was the Fire Lane Trail and both Brad and I thought it was indeed a pretty good idea to fire Lane. And speaking of Brad, he had taken a few wrong turns during the first two days as he charged unsupervised ahead of us. Recognizing the importance of staying close to the person with the car keys, he brought up the rear on this day, hiking at Lane-and-Richard speed, impatiently restrained like the caged hiking beast he is.

A rough-skinned newt, also out for a hike

The Fire Lane Trail climbed relentlessly to a trail intersection and then things got rougher and steeper. The trail hadn't seen a lot of trail love recently and was badly overgrown with brush, much of it being of the poison oak variety. One plus to the vigorous growth were blackberry and salmonberry vines and bushes, and we partook of the fruit even though they weren't fully ripe yet. Poison oak has no berries and is not good to eat so we just left it alone. 

One of millions
Like a macabre scene from a B-grade horror movie, millions of black caterpillars crawled on the trail and on nearby bushes with branches stripped bare by the leaf-eating larval piranhas. When the hike was over, we were still plucking wormy hitchhikers off of clothing and backpacks. There were so many on the trail that unfortunately, caterpillars were harmed in the hiking of this hike. There was simply no way to avoid stepping on them.

Big ol' honkin' laurel trees
The trail re-entered a lush forest, crossed a gravel road, crested a broad wooded ridge, and then proceeded to go downhill for the last three miles. Life was good and downhill is not overrated. The forest on the east-facing slope of Mount Wittenberg was luxuriously green and teeming with vegetation. The path maundered through a stand of the largest laurel trees I've ever seen and the scent from the fragrant leaves was intoxicating. 

Trail, at the end of the trip
Eventually, the trail widened back into a gravel road which then morphed into a freshly mowed path through a pasture, all of that signalling a return to civilization and an end to our trek. On the plus side, there were clean clothes (clean underwear is awesome, just saying) waiting at the car. Plus-plus, there is also Mexican food to be found in civilization and we availed ourselves of the food of my people when we hit Petaluma. All in all, Point Reyes proved to be a most affable host and the three us were each impressed with our backpack experience there. Now, if I can only get my pack weight down to ten pounds!

The Three Ringtail-a-teers
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Roxy Ann Peak

Roxy Ann Peak is just an insignificant little volcanic cone outside of Medford, but oh the things you can see from on top. The peak resides inside Prescott Park and a network of steep trails can get hikers up to the summit in a jiffy. I don't get out to this park very often as it's hard to get enough hiking mileage to justify the long drive to Medford. However, it's perfect for taking children out for a moderate hike, and I had four children on hand for the day. Might as well wear the grandchildren out on a 6'ish mile hike with 1,000 feet of elevation gain, although they always seem to have energy to fight over who rides in the front seat. But then again, they always seem to have too much energy before, during, and after a hike, now that I think about it.

Tree monkeys
So far, it had been a pretty warm May, but on this day gray clouds hovered over Medford and the tip of Roxy Ann Peak was hidden by the cloud cover. The temperatures were fairly cool and the five of us (me, Daweson, Aiden, Issiah, and Coral Rae) all started hiking with extra layers of clothing for warmth.

I'm not all that familiar with the park layout and the park's website was down so I couldn't look at a trail map beforehand, so we were going to wing it today. However, there are plenty of signboards with maps at trailheads and various trail junctions so I quickly perused the map to plan our route. Meanwhile, Daweson and Aiden were wrestling and trying to give each other head noogies, Issiah was mock swordfighting with my hiking pole, and Coral Rae was playing catch with her water bottle. Given such mature and decorous behavior, well, it seemed like the Greenhorn Trail was the way to go.

Walking through the oaks and poison oaks
There are two basic trails to the summit: short but steep, and long but gradual. The Greenhorn Trail was of the latter category, as it switchbacked to and fro across grassy slopes dotted with oak trees and a daunting amount of poison oak bushes. Gotta give a tip of the hat to my young peeps though, they stayed on trail and avoided the poison oak. Plus, they dutifully stayed together as one group and waited at intersections, seems like they've finally got the hang of following Grandpa's rules. 

Trail on top of the world
After several switchbacks and about a mile of walking, the Greenhorn Trail spit us out onto the road that circumnavigates the (relatively) small symmetrical mound that is Roxy Ann Peak.. A short walk on the road twent past a rock quarry and rounded the southern flank of the peak before the Manzanita Trail heading uphill through the grass, called out to us.

Grizzly Peak was hibernating today
The grade increased noticeably as we neared the summit. Back and forth we went, continually gaining elevation as the trail left the open grassy slopes and entered a forest comprised of oak and madrone which in turn, morphed into a forest comprised of conifers near the summit. The views of southeastern Medford had been stunning at the trailhead but improved with each foot of elevation gained.

Time to ooh and aah
Voila! We finally made it to the summit, where a visually unappealing collection of microwave transmitters, receivers, and satellite dishes did the very important work of ensuring we can send spam text messages to our friends, family, and people we don't even know. But we weren't here for the mountaintop gadgetry, a nearby rocky viewpoint was our destination and reward for all that uphill toil to the Roxy Ann summit.

The view was simply stunning
The kids were suitably awed by the view, whipping our their cell phones to record the event. It gladdens my heart (which my grandchildren state I lack) to see them appreciate a good hike. Before long, they were clambering over the boulders like the rock rabbits they are, exploring the rocky outcrop. Meanwhile, yours truly was photographing the stunning vista laying at our feet.

So rare to see them reposing in peaceful contemplation
The urban sprawl of southern Medford was immediately below our bouldery aerie and on the other side of Bear Creek Valley, rose the forested peaks of the Siskiyou Mountains. The cloud cover had lifted off of the summit of Roxy Ann Peak but the surrounding taller mountains such as Grizzly Peak and Mount Ashland remained hidden from view. (Issiah said my hair was well hidden from view, too. Ouch!) That's OK though, the view of the valley was such that it surely would have been sensory overload had the mountains also been visible. A long and leisurely lunch and view-soak was called for before heading down off the mountain, and we partook thereof.

Massive madrone tree

For additional mileage, we grabbed the Ponderosa Trail which switchbacked down the northwestern side of Roxy Ann. With all the going back and forth, our route wound up resembling a five-armed spider monkey from Saturn. One of the highlights on the descent was a grove of magnificent ancient madrone trees that provided the kids an opportunity to act like five-armed spider monkeys from Saturn, as they swung and hung from the branches.

Tree frog on a tree
All good things come to an end though, and it was a relatively tired bunch of children that closed the loop hike at the trailhead. We engaged, in what is rapidly becoming a tradition, in a robust lunch of Chinese food before getting back in the car and returning to Roseburg. Still had one last argument over who got to sit in the front seat though, in what regrettably, also is becoming a tradition.

The least effective job of camouflage ever!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Taylor Creek

Hmmm...getting a feeling of deja vu about Taylor Creek, but with reason. A month prior, I had taken an exploratory scouting trip in advance of a scheduled hike with the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club which was to be led by your merry blogster. But now it was show time, so to speak, and  it would be interesting to see the difference from a month ago.

The ever ubiquitous larkspur
The first different thing was that we could not park at the trailhead as there were a ton of vehicles occupying the small parking lot. Turned out that this was the day of the Sasquatch 50k and Relay Run and the parking lot was full of Sasquatchresses manning a rest stop for the trail runners. Sheesh, us hikers never get anyone to handout snacks and refreshments but then again, these guys and gals were running 31 miles on uneven trail so I'll quit sniveling and bow down to their athletic prowess.

My namesake flower
So down the Taylor Creek Trail we went, "down" being the operative word here. The trail began high above the creek's deep canyon and we dropped down to creek level, losing elevation in the process. Already, I could see the difference from a month ago. The vegetation was more lush and encroached the trail in many places. Gone were the trillium, calypso orchids, and snow queen, supplanted by later-blooming stalwarts such as Siskiyou iris, false Solomon's seal, and the ever present larkspur. Also fairly profuse in sunny open areas, was a dainty six-petaled flower known as Pretty Face, which I swear is named after me. 

We had to share the trail, or vise versa
It didn't take long for us to meet the runners running up the trail, and they seemed to be a fairly congenial bunch, despite having already run for many miles. I know what my disposition would be were I to attempt such a venture and I certainly wouldn't be wishing hikers a cheery "Good morning" and I probably wouldn't say "Thank you" when they stepped aside, either. However, I did make the observation that the latter half of the runner contingent were less talkative and seemingly less happy about running 31 miles in the woods, than the front half.

Golden iris
The hike quickly degenerated into more photo-shoot than hike since I had done this a month ago, and also because I had hiked 10 miles the day before. Legs were tired and bored, apparently. But that's OK, because there were plenty of things to take pictures of, mostly of the floral variety.

A moth basks in the sun
Spring was in full song. I know that's what I said last month but it was definitely more songier on this May rendition of the Taylor Creek hike. A whole new cast of floral characters were blooming away, dominated by the irises, and I think I got a photo of every single one! Most photos were taken while standing erect on the trail, for the poison oak was exuberantly waving newly leafed fronds and branches everywhere, just daring hikers and photographers to take an itchy step off-trail.

Fairy moths are apparently impervious to poison oak rash
Naturally, I soon was walking alone and far behind as my non-camera toting friends power-walked somewhere far ahead of me. Where the trail left nearby Taylor Creek and hied it uphill for a bit, that seemed like a good place to turn around. On the way back, I got to meet and greet the trail runners all over again as they were on the return leg of their run, and they seemed more amicable after having enjoyed the fruits and refreshments at the rest stop. Unfortunately for me, the rest stop was all packed up by the time I arrived at the trailhead, so I couldn't mooch a snack or two.

A beautiful day on the Taylor Creek Trail
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Boccard Point

Just had to go get me some Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument! I love this place and really, spring is the time to go as the dry summer climate can brown out hills and meadows fairly early in the year. Ah, but in spring, meadows are green and lush, the shady forest is burgeoning with spring growth, and erstwhile arid barrens sport colorful rock gardens. Regrettably, this beautiful jewel in the National Monument system is currently on the chopping block, thanks to a misguided president who does not hike. It really would be a shame to ruin this wilderness with logging, grazing, and motorcycles.

Dangling gooseberry

Brad is slated to lead a Friends of the Umpqua hike here in June and he didn't know Boccard Point from a bagel. Naturally, that would bring into question his leadership abilities: knowing where you are going does tend to automatically impart an air of confidence and competence. Richard to the rescue, though! I was enlisted to show him the way ahead of the official hike, and I only too gladly obliged, seeing how this wilderness is one of my favorite hiking haunts.

Dwarf hesperochiron ruled dry soils
We couldn't have picked a better day. It had rained the evening before but we began hiking under a gloriously blue sky. Despite the ample sun, the temperatures were fairly mild and the forest had that whole post-rain moistness thing going on. Leaving the Hobart Bluff Trailhead, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) ambled under some power lines right at the start and entered an arid field. Despite the dryness in the open and rocky soil, phlox, larkspur, and thousands of dwarf hesperochirons were coloring up the rocky barren. We hadn't walked even a quarter-mile and already, I was crawling on my hands and knees, photographically cataloging every wildflower specie thriving in the small barren. Welcome to "Hiking with Richard", Brad!

Trillium dominated the shady forest

One of the things I particularly enjoy about this stretch of the PCT is that the scenery alternates stark hardscrabble with verdant forests and meadows. It's like a patchwork quilt of contrary macro-ecologies. So, after the hands-and-knees photo-shoot of low-growing wildflowers, we followed the PCT into a wonderfully shaded forest with elegant and stately trillium blooming in profuse rampantness (Rampitude? Rampantenacity? Rampantage?). 

Meadow...'nuff said!
Once past the intersection with the Soda Mountain Trail, the PCT leapfrogged from meadow to meadow, all colored bright green under an equally bright blue sky. There is just something about blue and green that is inherently pleasing to the eye. We were hiking on the Cascade-Siskiyou crest and and enjoyed constant and great views down Bear Creek Valley, Ashland, Medford, and the Siskiyou Mountains near Mount Ashland. 

The venerable Pacific Crest Trail
The trail had been remarkably level for the first several miles but then it plunged for a mile or so, losing elevation at an alarming rate, considering we would have to gain it all back on the return leg. The mile-long descent ended at a jeep-road/trailhead combo and that was our cue to leave the PCT and follow the faint path to Boccard Point.

Sketchy path near Boccard Point
Before losing all that elevation, we had a pretty close sideswipe view of Boccard Point but the PCT had continued on past the point for the aforementioned mile of downhill walking. Now, the Boccard Point Trail doubled back below the PCT and gained all the lost elevation and distance back, with the same deleterious effects on the way out. Trail designers are sadistic demons, there is no other way to explain the route.

Trail, barely visible atop Boccard Point
While faint and sketchy, the path followed an old roadbed so the route was easy to follow as it angled gently and steadily for the two miles leading up to Boccard Point. The day had warmed up considerably from our cool start, and we were feeling the sun on the open roadbed. Finally, the trail leveled out in shady forest atop Boccard Point and we ate lunch on a small promontory.

You can see California from here!
Lunch always tastes better when spiced up with a view, and this lunch was delicious. To the west, Pilot Rock was the nearest neighboring peak, it's silhouette backdropped by the slightly snow-covered Siskiyou Mountains. But it was the view to the south commanding our rapt attention. The Cascade-Siskiyou mountain range dropped at our feet and Irongate Reservoir glistened in the afternoon sunlight. Mount Shasta, its snowy tip hidden by clouds, rose up on the opposite of the Shasta Valley.  Bowing down at Mount Shasta's feet like a devoted disciple, Black Butte displayed the reverence that is only proper when in the presence of greatness. To the west of Shasta was Mount Eddy and the rest of his Scott Mountain friends. It was amazing to consider the very same PCT we had hiked on today, also traverses Mount Eddy in the far distance

The view was epic and eminently enjoyable and besides which, us Oregonians derive a certain smug satisfaction from looking down our noses on California, both literally and metaphorically. The magnificent scenery just compelled us to act like the idiots we are, so I broke out my "Running Man" pose while Brad busted some sword-fu fighter move which he called "The Brad".

The tip of Mount McLaughlin, from the PCT

All that re-gaining of lost elevation was not fun and I was pooped by the time the PCT crested a mile or so west of Soda Mountain. But fortunately, the trail was level from there on in. The act of taking a photograph is the last refuge of a tired hiker, and more pictures were amassed as this 10 mile hike came to a close. Despite the fatigue, I still remain madly, deeply, and truly in love with the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Hazy view down Bear Creek Valley
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.