Saturday, August 25, 2018

Tidbits Mountain

When compared to the larger peaks in the Cascades, Tidbits Mountain barely registers on the chart. The reason we hike to the top of this inconsequential small pimple of a peak though, is Tidbits serves up an epic panorama of those larger peaks. The expansive view from the Tidbits summit is the reason hikers drive all the way from Roseburg to make the 4.5 mile round trip hike to the top. However, on a day when a major forest fire breaks out, those views aren't so epic after all.

The elegant blue color of gentian
On our drive up the McKenzie Highway, we sort of knew we were in for it when smoke first appeared, soon becoming thicker and thicker, like some toxic fog. We pulled over and after a quick roadside confab, decided to keep going and see what conditions were like closer to the Tidbits Mountain Trailhead. Turned out that the day before, the Terwilliger Fire had broken out, sending the nude bathers at Terwilliger Hot Springs running down the trail in be-sandaled panic. I don't know how clothed they were but literally, the bathers had to run for their lives. While we didn't have to run for our lives (or frantically put on clothes) we did have to drive through increasingly acrid smoke.

Baneberries added some color to the hike

Good call on our part, for as we gained elevation the smoke cleared and we found ourselves above the mess as we drove to the trailhead on a gravel road. However, there wasn't any clear blue sky above because the larger (or I daresay huge) fires in California contributed a high cover of gray smoke. At least we were above the Terwilliger Fire smoke but underneath the California smoke, kind of like a metaphoric slice of baloney in a smoke sandwich.

Be afraid...

Several years ago, a small sinkhole had formed at the trailhead and the it was still there, but some wag had labeled the hole with a sign that read "Welcome to Cornhole Canyon". I could almost hear distant strains of banjo music in the still air. From that dubious start, the trail ducked into an incredibly lush forest that would be a worthy hiking destination in itself without the added bonus of having to walk to the summit of Tidbits Mountain.

Sour-tasting thimbleberry
A starry universe of green vine maple leaves shaded the trail, not that there was shade needed on this smoky overcast day. While there were some flowers blooming (like fireweed, pearly everlasting, and penstemon), most of the plant life had gone to fruit already. Accordingly, we grazed on ripe huckleberries and spit out sour thimbleberries. On the unpalatable side were pithy mountain ash fruits, marbled Solomon seal "berries", and the dark black beads that give bead lily (also known as Queen's cup) its name.

Trail through a beautiful forest on Tidbits Mountain
The steady climb through the beautiful and peaceful forest soon weeded camera toting hikers from non-photographers, and those who were out of shape from the uber-hiking crowd. Since Lane and I were both out of shape and toting cameras, we were in short order, way behind everybody else. The trail soon crested at a forested ridge at the site of the former Tidbits Mountain Shelter, right where two trails met.

Dense canopy of vine maple
When I had been here before, the trail coming in from or going to Road 1509 was an abandoned tangle of impenetrable brush. However, on this day, the trail had been cleared and reconstituted, offering a worthier hiking distance to Tidbits Mountain. I'm thinking I may try that next year during autumn, when the vine maples are sure to put on a show.

Smoky view to the west 
At any rate, we had a temporary reprieve from both taxing grade and viewless forest as the trail contoured across Tidbits Mountain. Already, we could see the first of our group of hikers standing on the summit laughing at us laggards. The path was crossing an avalanche slope with rocks deposited courtesy of Tidbits Mountain over the epochs. No trees grew in the rocks so we enjoyed the expansive view to the west, extending all the way to the coastal ranges of Oregon.

Just a short scramble left to attain the summit
Our reprieve soon ended when the trail circled around the mountain and then charged up the final push to the summit. Decaying boards, remnants from the ladder to the former lookout atop Tidbits, were strewn about on the last rocky bit which required mild use of hands (or use of mild hands) to ascend to the actual summit. 

Fire smoke filled up the valleys below the mountain
Actually, the Terwilliger Fire smoke made the view quite interesting. The brand new fire (already at 4,000 acres after burning for a day) had filled up all the river valleys with an ashy blanket of smoke, while surrounding peaks and hills poked their forested heads through the the smoky tapestry. Tidbits Mountain is actually two mountains and the near Tidbits twin was eminently visible. To the east were the Three Sisters, mostly hidden but with their pointy heads eerily rising above the smoke, like ancient pyramids of mystery from Teotihuacán. As far as seeing any further peaks, forget about it, the haze kept views near and dear to us Tidbitters.

Patty picks her way down the summit
After a lunch and laze atop Tidbits, we carefully picked our way down the rocky summit and Lane and I decided to take the lesser-used path round the back side of the mountain while everybody else used the regular trail for their return. Good move, everybody else! The path the two of us we were on grew fainter and sketchier and soon petered out altogether leaving us lost in the forest. Good thing we both had GPSs! We bushwhacked and scrambled down, popping out onto the trail just behind our bemused comrades. 

Yummy huckleberry
From there, it was another slow hike through a beautiful forest while nibbling on huckleberries and taking photos. In no time at all, Lane and I were soon lagging behind, per usual. The Terwilliger Fire wound up being a pretty big deal, eventually burning 11,555 acres. Had we hiked this trail a day or two afterwards we would have definitely hiked in unpleasantly thick fire smoke. So all things considered, we didn't do too bad by sneaking this one in when we did.

Bead lily beads
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. Boy your timing was good! Glad you got some views despite all the fires.