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.

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