Saturday, March 23, 2019

Payette Trail 3/2019

A month prior, I had hiked the Payette Trail to familiarize myself with the route and thereby imbue myself with a certain air of infallibility that comes with knowing where you are going. But then again, my comrades know me already and their opinions of my leadership, good, bad, or indifferent had been cemented into their minds long ago. At any rate, this was the day to actually lead a group on the hike. 

Good weather to start with

The weather gods were not kind to me. A pretty good rainstorm was forecast and accordingly, only three hikers (regulars Diane, Brad, and Lindsay) decided to go on a Richard Hike. Well, at least that made carpooling a whole easier. However, when we arrived at the trailhead, patches of blue sky appeared here and there in the cloud cover and the air was decidedly dry. Would our good fortune hold out?

It's a beautiful day, for the time being
Well, for the lakeside contour portion of the hike, yes it would. We had a rather enjoyable hike in dry weather and I daresay, we even enjoyed that wonderfully warm sensation of sunlight on skin here and there. Unfortunately, the weather forecast came to fruition just as we sat down for lunch at the intersection of the Payette and Osprey Trails.

Here comes the rain!
As we ate, the blue sky disappeared, overtaken by a fast-moving wall of ominous looking clouds. A gusty breeze announced the presence of the rainstorm and we'd have a steady rain falling on us for the rest of the hike. Accordingly, we all opted for a shorter route back by grabbing the Osprey Trail and now I was back in unfamiliar territory. So much for preparing the route ahead of time!

Totem in the middle of the forest
The Osprey Trail basically climbs up and over the peninsula lying between the French Gulch and Squaw Creek arms of Applegate Lake. Accordingly, the trail headed uphill at a moderate grade, which warmed us up sufficiently enough to ward off any cold from the inclement weather. After a mile or two, we arrived at Dagelma Trailhead, the parking lot empty because apparently, we were the only people in all of Oregon out for a hike on this wet day.

Lindsay hops over a trail obstacle

At least all the bad uphill stopped at the Dagelma Trailhead and it was all downhill from there. Our only travail (besides the steady rain) were a couple of large trees lying across the trail and we got to practice our clambering skills getting over them. At least no trees fell nearby, like in my previous outing on the Payette Trail. We unanimously agreed it had been a fine walk and we pitied all our friends who didn't go hiking out in the rain on this day.

Spiders from Mars
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Lost Creek Lake 3/2019

Years from now, old-timers will refer to late February 2019 as "The Snowpocalypse" or as I refer to it in a losing cause, "Snowmageddon". The rest of the world probably refers to it as "Meh" or "I have no idea what you are talking about". You just had to have been here when two feet of snow fell on Roseburg over a day or two. Now two feet may not seem like much but this was a wet snow and weighed more than the usual powdery fluff. The trees couldn't handle it, and entire trees and/or branches fell over and/or snapped off, landing on cars, homes, and power lines. As a result, we were without power (and heat) for four days and we were the lucky ones: my daughter was out for eleven days and a hiking buddy of mine was out for thirty-one days! I sat on my deck, clad in like seven layers of parka, and listened to the trees fall, at least one every thirty seconds or so. Needless to say, not much hiking was accomplished during this Snowtastrophe, although the dog thought this was the coolest week of her life, she likes snow so much. The cat meanwhile, thought it had died and gone to hell which contrary to popular belief, has icicles in it. Me, I'm with the cat on this one.

Lost Creek Lake and what Snowpocalypse?
Given the backdrop of  the Snowsaster, you can imagine my joy when the sun came out and melted the snow off the roads so as to make them driveable again. Time to go hiking and make a happy reacquaintance with normalcy. Perennial favorite Lost Creek Lake was the chosen destination because the Snowtaclysm was, amazingly enough, pretty much a Douglas County-only experience, meaning Medford was spared from experiencing similar misery. In the context of hiking, it also meant their trails weren't covered in fallen trees like ours were.

The trail curves through a stand of oaks
On a gloriously sunny day, dog buddy Luna and I set out on the Rogue River Trail, not to be mistaken with the Rogue River Trail. Confused? That's what happens when two separate trails in the same geographical area have the same name. After a week of freezing temps both indoors and out, with dark clouds that made it seem like nighttime at high noon, I can't tell you how mindlessly happy we both were to be hiking in warm sunlight. Of course, Luna is mindlessly happy no matter the circumstance, she'd be happy in any event as long as it doesn't involve fireworks or vacuum cleaners. But for me, the sun was profound and warmed not only body parts but soul parts as well. It was way more than just mere sunlight.

The trail follows the shore of Lost Creek Lake
The first part of the hike was a pleasant ramble through woods comprised of spindly conifer, madrone, and oak trees. The oak trees were still leafless, although budding new growth could clearly be seen emerging on the ends of branches. Openings in the forest revealed Lost Creek Lake below the trail, the waters glowing blue-green under a cobalt blue sky. The surrounding mountains were all covered with a thin layer of snow, the sight of which triggered flashbacks and a severe facial tic. Take deep breaths and focus on the lake and sky, Richard.

A tangle of manzanita branches
The trail tunneled through dense stands of manzanita, their burgundy branches draped with hanging lichen barely swaying in the still air. The scene was quiet enough that I unleashed Luna, and the the two of us strode in easy companionship as the trail wended its way through the bare oaks.

Hey, look at me here, the dude with the camera!
The lake was calm, about as serene and tranquil as a pacifist practicing Zen after a good meal. Nary a ripple or wind zephyr dared to mar the mirror-like surface of the lake. The trail traversed a rocky bench with an amazing view of the lake: this little spot is one of my all-time favorite happy places in all of Oregon. A nearby bench allows hikers and silly dogs to sit and contemplate the lake at meditative length, and we indulged. On a not-so happy note, I lost several minutes of my life attempting to persuade Luna to pose for a photo. Frustratingly, that dog has the attention span of about one gazillionth of a Planck time unit and just will not look into the camera no matter how much I cajole or threaten. 

The waterfall at Blue Grotto
We left the lakeside trail and headed up Blue Gulch to see Blue Grotto. The grotto did not disappoint, its odd greenish-gray rocks photogenically contrasting with the deep blue sky above. Due to the recent rains (and snow!) Blue Gulch was in full song and the waterfall was carrying a healthy torrent over the ledge and into the grotto. We sat for a bit and ate lunch and doggy treats and I used the occasion to inspect Luna for ticks. To be clear, I ate the lunch, Luna ate the doggy treats, and the searching for ticks had nothing to do with lunch whatsoever. Luna didn't have any ticks on her, but then again we had put bug spray on her prior to the hike. 

One of a pack of box elder beetles
We continued alongside the lake for a couple more miles before making another contemplative lakeside picnic stop underneath  a shady copse of pine trees. The preternatural quietude of the lake was contrasted with the frenetic business of box elder beetles scurrying off the log we had just claimed for our own.

Luna is all like "Dude, why you walk so slow?"
On the way back, we ran into a pair of hikers out for a spring hike next to Lost Creek Lake. They were from nearby Medford and stated they were glad to get out in the sun after all the rain they had received. Rain? What a bunch of slackers! You just can't complain about rain when your next-county neighbors were busy experiencing a Snowrricane.

Silty creek at Blue Gulch
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Luna enjoyed the weather disaster as only Luna can
Just for fun, here are some photos I took of our house during Snowlamity.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Payette Trail

Rain, rain, go away; please come back another day. It had been raining quite a bit, and that's no big surprise in February. But the whole upshot from a hiking standpoint, was that I really didn't feel like hiking in the wet stuff, but I had to. You see, I was scheduled to lead a group on the Payette Trail, and that was a trail that I had never been on. Clearly, some pre-hike reconnaissance was required and this was the wet weekend to do that very thing. While I'd be leading a group in a few weeks hence, on this day it would be a solo venture, chiefly because all my so-called hiking buddies conveniently found something else to do, like stay warm, dry, and rain-free inside in a house.

Fish shelters, exposed by the low water level

The Payette Trail follows the shoreline of Applegate Lake which sits just north of the Oregon-California border. Since I'd be hiking in Oregon the entire time, no passports would be required. Applegate Lake has more arms than two dozen angry octopuses and this hike would be embraced by two of them: the French Gulch and Squaw Creek arms. Basically, the Payette Trail would contour the peninsula between the two.

View to Mule Mountain and Little Grayback Peak
Despite the proximity to the lake, much of the hike was spent walking in forests above the body of water. At the start, the woods were quiet enough to highlight the various bird calls emanating from our feathered friends. Cawing crows, quacking ducks, honking geese, and keening hawks all contributed their own little song to the avian choir. Tempo was kept by the soft staccato rhythm of a light rain falling onto my hat brim. 

Madrone teenagers
This forest consisted of a madrone, pine, and oak mix. Someone had attempted to cut down a patch of madrone, as evidenced by the old stumps, but madrone has a rather unique survival mechanism. When a tree is damaged, be it by wildfire or chain saw, the tree sends up dozens of shoots to continue the species. That's why it's common to see five to seven fully grown madrone trees growing in a circle. So, whoever cut down these trees only encouraged the reestablishment of the madrone patch, for each stump had like ten saplings replacing what had been one tree.

View to Applegate Lake's dam
Applegate Lake is a man-made lake and this time of year, the lake is drawn down, exposing an ugly lake scar.  A "bathtub ring" of brown soil surrounded the lake while the water contained therein reflected the dark sky above. Despite the ugliness, it was also impressive to see how deep the lake is, something you really don't think about when the lake is full.

Fruiting bodies on a lichen

Being alone as I was, I could hike at my own speed which was slow because when I hike solo, much photography is involved, or at least much more than usual. Accordingly, I was happily photographing lichen and culling photographic samples from an ample supply of fungi growing on trees standing and fallen. Obviously, this was mushroom season, but spring was also on the way, as evidenced by flower buds dangling from still leafless alder branches. 

Abney Butte in the doom and gloom
There was one short but steep pitch on the trail but the route was mostly and relatively level. As I rounded the peninsula between the lake arms, manzanita grew in profusion along the trail with raindrops splotching their burgundy colored limbs. A large bird, probably an osprey but maybe a bald eagle, patrolled the sky above the drawn-down lake. Breaks in the vegetation offered views of the nearby Siskiyou Mountains underneath an increasingly foreboding cloud cover. Despite the light rain, I was reasonably comfortable as I hiked on the trail, which by now had morphed into a gravel road.

Where Squaw Creek meets Applegate Lake
Not being familiar with the Payettte Trail, I inadvertently passed a junction where the trail left the gravel road and contoured the road in the woods above. The road had better views anyway, and I had a good look at the tortured landscape in the dry Squaw Creek arm of the lake. I also had a good look at the incoming storm but just in case I couldn't see it, the rain naturally picked up in intensity when I was out in the open and at the farthest point from the car. It seemed like a good idea to turn around at that point.

Rain spatter on a madrone trunk
So back to the trailhead I go, enjoying the day despite of, or maybe because of the rain. The return leg turned into a photo shoot, as I happily snapped photos of everything that attracted my attention. The skies became more and more ominous but fortunately, any heavy rain that was forthcoming was held in abeyance. Before long, the hike ended with a crossing of French Gulch on a rustic footbridge. No sooner had I crossed the bridge when a large tree fell about 20 yards behind me, the vibration felt from the ground beneath my feet.That had to have registered in all the seismographs and no doubt the evening news would report a small earthquake in the Applegate Lake area. They probably wouldn't mention the required change of underwear by a certain hiker at the epicenter of the seismic event, though.

A dollop of witch's butter
 For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

North Umpqua Trail (Tioga Segment) 1/2019

In the summer of 2017, the North Umpqua Complex Fire(s) swept over the Tioga Segment of the North Umpqua Trail, leaving behind acres and acres of blackened forest. Fast forward to January of 2019. when  the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club swept through the Tioga Segment of the North Umpqua Trail and likewise left behind acres and acres of blackened forest. Of course, the dead forest was not the club's fault, we'll assign blame to the nasty wildfire for that.

The creeks were full today
The Tioga Segment used to be the longest segment of the venerable North Umpqua Trail, being 16 miles or so long. In 2012, the BLM constructed the stout and picturesque Tioga Bridge across the North Umpqua River, neatly splitting the Tioga Segment into the Swiftwater Segment and the current incarnation of the Tioga Segment. Prior to the bridge's construction, I had never hiked the middle of the Tioga and I could still say the same after the bridge was put into place. All that would change though, with this hike.

The dividing line between shiver and bask
At the start, the weather really acted like it wanted to rain but before long the sun broke out and warmed hearts and souls, if not bodies. It's kind of a truism that no matter what side of the North Umpqua River the trail is on. the warm sun will be on the other side of the river. Backpackers hiking the full 78 miles of the North Umpqua Trail have been known to begin as tanned individuals and finish the hike with complexions like those of pallid grubs that live under rocks. I exaggerate of course, but suffice to say our hike was spent entirely in deep shade and chilly temps.

We did this often
Naturally, as the trail charged uphill immediately from the trailhead, we became quite warm from the exertion thereof. The trees were mostly dead with trunks blackened by the fire and we had to step and clamber over several that had fallen, which is a common occurrence post-conflagration. Turkey tails were spotted on many of the fallen trees and to clarify, I will point out that I am referring to a fungus and not alluding to the fact that Lane was hiking in front of me. In spite of all the arboreal death and destruction next to the trail, a healthy green undergrowth was already sprouting, well under way in the business of restoring things as they were before the summer of 2017.

Charred rock garden
Another byproduct of wildfires is landslides. Forest is nature's way of engineering land stabilization on sloping terrain. Kill the plants and trees and you kill the the ability of the forest to sop up rain and snow. Without the vegetation to absorb moisture, the moisture goes into the ground, softening it to the point where a landslide occurs. After 2002's Apple Fire, the Forest Service had their hands full keeping the North Umpqua Trail's Calf open because landslides were such a recurring theme after the fire. Let's hope that the same thing does not happen on the Tioga Segment, but back to the hike.

All this talk about landslides is because a big one had taken out a piece of the trail. We could see the path end at the scar and resume on the other side. The trick was to cross the slide itself and so we did, picking our way across the slide scar, soft soil shifting and moving underneath our boots. I'm glad to report, though, no hikers took a quick and wild trip down to the river but yikes.

Thunder Creek waterfalls down to the North Umpqua

Amazingly, the bridge at Thunder Creek survived the fire even though the surrounding woods did not. The creek, as is wont this time of year, was flowing rather robustly, tumbling down to the North Umpqua in a series of pools surrounded by green mossy boulders. The creek drainage upstream of the footbridge was clogged with charred fire debris and this was typical of all the drainages in this area, be the creek large or small.

The North Umpqua is just one step away
We stopped briefly at Elevation Rock, a rocky promontory overlooking the North Umpqua River in its water-carved canyon. Our taking in the view was somewhat on the wistful side for plain to see was the ample sunlight on the other side of the river while we shivered in the cold shade. Virtually one step away was the the green-blue river itself and we made sure to stay away from the edge.

Sooty basalt formations
The fire had done the most damage in the area between Elevation Rock and Fox Creek and the undergrowth had not yet come back in the charred woods. This was a graveyard with the blackened bodies of the trees not yet interred. The woodpeckers, fungi, and other assorted dead-tree eating life forms will no doubt be happy in the years to come. However, the fire did improve the views by clearing out that annoying vision-blocking forest and I never realized there were rocky cliffs above the trail. However, these cliffs were no longer mossy green but blackened with soot.

"It's just a flesh wound!"
Fox Creek marked the rough halfway point of the Tioga, accent on the rough. There used to be an awesome backpack campsite next to the creek but now a large tree lay across the campsite. The bridge had taken a hit too, to judge by the broken railings, but it was just a flesh wound and the bridge still soldiers on, faithfully performing its designated mandate of helping hikers cross from one side of the creek to the other. Also providing double-duty was the fallen tree itself, functioning both as campsite smasher and lunchtime seating.

A small waterfall next to the trail
As we resumed hiking away from Fox Creek, we left the burn zone and entered a forest as it should be. Green was the dominant color and all the trees had those leaf-things that had been in such short supply up unto this point.  Small creeks small-waterfalled onto and across the trail and life was good until the trail rudely headed uphill at a prodigious rate. So cruel.

The river was always nearby
The trail went up and over a wooded ridge in a series of short but sweet switchbacks that had hikers considering getting a new hobby, or maybe it was just me. After the ridge was crested, a whole new set of other leg muscles were set aflame on the descent, as we leg-braked down the slope.

Susan Creek at the end of the hike

Once down to river level, I'm glad to report the trail was flat for the next several miles to the Susan Creek  trailhead. The forest was lush and green and the river was always nearby and mostly visible. Legs began to forgive their hikers at this point and life was good. Despite the fire damaged scenery, hiking on the North Umpqua Trail is always a beautiful experience, steep trails notwithstanding.

An unnamed creek slides down a rock face
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bandon Beach 1/2019

I really should know better. It's not like this hasn't happened before. Oh wait...that was yesterday's blog about being attacked by waves near Floras Lake. On this day, the same old high surf warning was still in effect, so heeding the experience from the day prior, I led a small group scrambling over the slippery rocks at the foot of Grave Point because the incoming tide and high surf had taken our beach away. Like I said, I really should know better...but I don't.

Table Rock sets the table for this hike
The day was briskly cool as our group set out on the beach just south of the Coquille River jetty. Sun, mist, and clouds competed photogenically for sky supremacy with the sun mostly prevailing, but not always. Despite the sunlight, the day was still chill and most of us hiked with some jacket or coat on for warmth. The tide was out, but because of the high surf activity, low tide was not all that low. However, we did have plenty of beach to safely walk on while the sea seethed from a safe distance away. What a difference a day and a whole different beach can make!

Some of that amazing Bandon scenery
The high surf first affected us at Coquille Point. Normally, one can just walk around the point on the beach during low tide but on this morn, the ocean was still lapping around the point. However, a well-used short scramble route over the point delivered us to the arcing bay of Bandon Beach. The jumble of rocks and islands always delight and those of us with cameras soon found ourselves straggling behind the speed-walkers who don't care about photography at all.

A furtive peek at Cat and Kittens
Elephant Island has a tunnel boring completely through it and the ocean was busy applying vigorous colonic hydrotherapy to the island, whether the island wanted it or not. Further up the beach was Cat and Kittens, a collection of small islands beyond the waves and an unnamed rock that I euphemistically refer to as "Seal Rock" because it does resemble a seal. At any rate, an entire Noah's Ark of rocks resembling animals were strewn about the beach and surf with Princess Elwauna (mostly known as Face Rock) being the head zookeeper of it all.

Why we hike
Scenery like this is why Bandon is world-famous and why hotels, houses, and condos crowd the clifftops above the beach. It also explains the relative crowds of beach-goers like ourselves out enjoying the sand  and winter sun on a chill morning. Despite the seeming overpopulation, especially when compared to our usual hiking destinations, the scenery commands attention and it is quite easy to ignore the thundering hordes and their abodes. Needless to say, much photography ensued.

Doing the Crooked Creek dance
"Graceful" creek crossing
The recent rains had Crooked Creek full of water as it snaked in serpentine fashion across the sandy beach. Time for boots to get wet although many tried all sorts of leaps and high-steps, some more graceful than others, in a vain attempt to remain dry-footed. Me, I've just learned over the years to simply wade stoically across; it's only water, boys and girls. Still, the interpretive dancelike contortions employed to get across were amusing and much photography ensued, much to the regret of all participants.

High tide moved us up the beach
We turned around at Devils Kitchen, which is where most of the shore and offshore rockery begins to peter out. By the time we had hiked to the Kitchen and lazily consumed lunch, the low tide had become a rising tide. Accordingly, we had less beach for walking on the way back and on more than one occasion, we had to jog away from an incoming wave. On the positive side, the sneaker waves here could not even come close to matching the ferocity of the waves of the day before and thankfully, no hikers were smote on this day. The dryness of our feet were under constant threat, though.

The world's biggest candle
On the return, our group of about 10 hikers or so became strung out and per the natural order of things, I found myself hanging out near the tail end of the pack when a couple of funny things happened. We had hiked, in several instances, on the seaward side of the rocks and sea stacks on the beach when the tide was low. But now, the sea was in the process of overtaking the rocks. That didn't stop Lane from trying to walk around the front anyway and who knew the water was waist deep? Lane didn't but now he did! He had wet trousers and Lane-wet-his-pants jokes as a temporary souvenir of his excursion around the sea side of the rock.

We all should know better
The second point of amusement occurred at Grave Point where the ocean had likewise lapped up against the sheer cliffs of the point. The front (and prudent, too) portion of our hiking group left the beach on a staircase and walked on city streets to bypass the point. But, that's not how I roll! I gauged the situation and decided I could just scramble over the rockpile at the base, warily keeping an eye on the incoming waves wanting to eat me. Several hikers followed me over in blind and trusting faith. Given the situation of the day prior, where I was assaulted by a sneaker wave, you'd think I would know better, but I don't. On the plus side, all hikers got past the point safely and we didn't have to go up a steep flight of stairs either.

The ocean was riled up, to say the least
Once past Coquille Point, it was a sandy beach hike where there was less sand for us to hike on, due to the rising tide. On the seaward side of the rocky Coquille River jetty, the ocean had churned itself into a white frothy bowl of watery anger issues. Large waves rolled up the river, entertaining hikers who had scrambled up to the top of the river jetty at the end of the hike. Occasionally, a wave larger than the rest saw fit to splash us, even though we were on top. Like I said, I really should know better.

Jay tempts the wave gods
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.