Saturday, June 8, 2019

Illinois River Trail (to Indigo Creek)

A quick limerick about this hike:

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus
This is a tale of a hike in extemis
If I may be so bold,
This story to be told
Of a tick, a man, and his penis!

Quintessential sunny day in the Siskiyous
Yup, and here I thought it was only deer I had to worry about! You know, it had been an enjoyable run of several years where the ticks completely left me alone while simultaneously pestering and tormenting my hiking buddies. Being the totally empathetic individual that I am, all kinds of jokes, quips, taunts, and verbal slings and arrows of outrageous fortune were directed at hikers less fortunate than my tick-immune self. Clearly it was time for karma to champion the cause of my picked-upon comrades by making me repent for every tick-magnet joke that ever found its way out of my mouth or onto my blog page.

Unsullied by the Biscuit Fire
After our challenging hike on the Oregon Coast Trail the day prior, it was made known to me that today's venture needed to be a "mountain hike". Well, fortunately for your eminent hike director, the Siskiyous were just a short drive from the coast so we headed up the Rogue River to Oak Flat, a primitive campground next to the Illinois River just upstream from where it joins up with the Rogue. This area had been burned in Oregon's largest wildfire ever, the massive Biscuit Fire of 2002. Burning just a few acres short of a half-million, the fire nearly burned all the way to Oak Flat. So, it was no real big surprise when after a short walk on the Illinois River Trail in a forest untouched by fire, and as green and shady as a forest should be, we walked out into the Biscuit burn area. 

World, meet Bridges' triteleia
The Siskiyous, unlike most other mountain ranges in Oregon, were not created by processes volcanic in origin. Nope, the rugged Siskiyous were seismically extruded from deep within the earth and are comprised of serpentinitic soils and heavy metals. Accordingly, the soils here are nutrient poor, which would explain the slow recovery from the Biscuit Fire, ably demonstrated by our hiking in terrain still denuded by the fire, even though the fire occurred eighteen years ago. Plant life must adapt to the peculiar blend of minerals in the Siskiyous and that would explain why we saw so many plant specimens common in the Siskiyous but not so much anywhere else. I was able ro recognize some of the usual suspects like California ground cone, luina, yerba santa, and elegant brodiaea. Growing all over the first part of the trail was another brodiaea type of flower, one that I had never seen before, that I was able to identify after copious research on the Internet: Bridges' triteleia (Triteleia bridgesii ). I learn something new every hike!

The bridge at Ethel Creek might, just
might, be in need of some repair
Even though we were just twenty-five or thirty miles from the coast, it can get quite hot in the comparitively arid and dry mountain range and we quickly shed jackets and sweaters as we toiled uphill in the rapidly heating-up sun. In spite of the relative aridity of the terrain, numerous creeks flowed across the path, seemingly at odds with the overall dry clime. The bridge at Ethel Creek had taken a hit from a falling tree and the fence railings were irretrievably shattered beyond repair. We were still able to walk safely across, despite the lack of safeguards.

Epic view from Mother-in-Law's Buzzard's Roost
Walking uphill should always provide a reward and this one did, the climb culminating in a superbly scenic overlook at Mother-in-Law's Buzzard's Roost. The pointed tip of the Roost would be a worthy destination in and of itself, but when the roost is poised over the deep Illinois River canyon, well it just goes to a whole other level of landscape view. The tip of the rocky spire was only about ten feet higher than the overlook and the rough terrain dropped away at our feet into a river canyon that was about one thousand feet deep. At the bottom of the canyon, the remote and inaccessible Illinois River snaked in between the surrounding mountains like the watery turquoise serpent it is. Much higher above and still mostly denuded from the fire, rose the rugged peaks of Horse Sign Butte, Lawson Butte, and Game Lake Peak. Amazingly, a trail allegedly leads from Oak Flat Campground (a low-water wade across the Illinois is required) to Game Lake, which would be like a four-thousand foot climb over eight miles or so. You'd really have to hate yourself to pull that one off and besides which, I'm not even sure if the trail exists anywhere else besides on maps.

Horse Sign Butte, in the rugged Siskiyou Mountains
At any rate, we had a much easier time of it after we crested at Mother-in-Law's Buzzard's Roost, beginning a long descent down to Indigo Creek. Here on the south-facing slopes, there was no real wildfire recovery in process. Most of the snags from the Biscuit Fire had toppled over long ago to be replaced by nothing. Well, that's not entirely accurate for the once and former forest had been supplanted by a regrettably robust growth of poison oak and buck brush. The poison oak as we all know, is more than willing and able to make hikers rue a hike through the accursed oily-leaved devil-spawned spreader of itchy torment. However, ticks thrive in malevolent abundance in the buck brush, patiently waiting for months and months to leap on the first warm blooded animal that walks by and on this day, that would be us. We quickly discerned that we were prime candidates to become tick dinner, so we stopped frequently to perform tick checks and we all plucked the odious arachnids (ticks are not insects, by the way) from our respective selves. For the remainder of the hike, this would be the hiking mode du jour because the ticks were so pervasive.

Silver Peak rules over the Illinois River and Indigo Creek
We had been hiking steadily downhill and the complete and utter lack of forest provided a great and awesomely unimpeded panorama of the surrounding landscape. Way below the trail, the Illinois had forsaken its snaky to-and-fro journey for a route that was straight as an arrow in a slot canyon for about a mile or two. At right angles to the river and between us and the Illinois was the equally impressive canyon of Indigo Creek running into the larger canyon of the Illinois. A grassy pasture at Frantz Ranch lay below the massive pyramid of Silver Peak, which someday I will hike to the top of. On our side of Indigo Creek was Fishhook Mountain, looming like a lesser version of Silver Peak. The view was magnificently epic and this is the reason we hike through tick-infested brush.

Indigo Creek, on its way to the Illinois River
The trail bottomed out at Indigo Creek, where a stout footbridge spanned the wild stream tumbling in a narrow and rocky defile. Downstream of the bridge were a series of beautiful swimming holes, if you could actually find a way down there, that is. The canyon was rough and rugged and I'm not sure you could safely get down there without mountaineering equipment and know-how. The canyon and creek scenery deserved an extended session of contemplation so we sat down in the shade of a sheer cliff and ate lunch while admiring the view.

Be glad there are no photographs of the "tick incident"
After the climb out of the Indigo Creek canyon under a hot sun and through tick-laden brush, we rounded Mother in-Law's Buzzard's Roost, and began the relatively gentle descent down to Oak Flat. It was definitely shadier and cooler on this side of the ridge we had just hiked over and around. However, an uncomfortable burning sensation "down there" was calling my attention with ever insistent urgency. During the hot slog away from Indigo Creek, I had drank enough water to feel it sloshing in my belly with each step taken. Because enough water had been drunk to stimulate the call of nature, I went behind a nearby tree with the dual purpose of relieving myself and performing a primitive backwoods medical examination. 

California ground cone was a welcome diversion from ticks
I remember being totally aghast and gasping "Noooo..." Right where a tick should never be, right next to The Anaconda's lone eye, there it was, completely embedded with disgusting little spider legs flailing in annoyance at being discovered. If I thought the pain had been uncomfortable before, that paled in comparison to the removal of the evil eight-legged invader of southern nether regions and as that little backwoods surgery took place, I could almost hear Glenn, Lane, Dollie, John, Dale, Rheo, and all the other hordes of tick victims I had ever made fun of over the years laughing in triumph as they all high-fived each other in it's-about-time celebration. We should all be thankful that in the horror of the moment, photography was completely forgotten, which was OK because I didn't bring the wide-angle camera lens anyway.

I can just sense the ticks waiting for to hike through

Because of my impromptu tickectomy procedure, I arrived at the trailhead well behind my compatriots who were blissfully unaware of my mentally scarring episode with the tick. Some of them were just putting on their shirts, sheepishly explaining they were doing tick checks in case I presumed they were having wild sex while waiting for me to arrive.  "Heh-heh", I laughed "I have a funny story about that!"

Victims of the Biscuit Fire
I've got to hand it to my people. If it would have been me listening to a hiking buddy recalling a penile encounter with a tick, I'd be rolling on the ground with laughter at my buddy's discomfiture. But not my peeps! After listening to my tale, a look of mutual horror crossed each one's face and with all the dignity that each could muster, they each dispersed behind their respective trees for a subsequent and more detailed tick check. I guess it's universal, no male likes to hear about tick bites on certain body parts, except for maybe me, I still would have laughed.

A tiger beetle is a much nicer alternative to ticks
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. Yup. What goes around comes around. I will watch more closely what I say and joke about when hiking with others.