Sunday, July 21, 2019

Timothy Meadow

This was a hike whose purpose was twofold. First, I wanted to scout the Howlock Mountain Trail, since I was due to lead a hike there in about a month's time. Second, I just needed to get my green meadow fix. Well, I guess the purpose of this hike is actually threefold when you consider I like hiking in general, but that purpose can usually be left unstated as it applies to every hike. While I have hiked in the Timothy Meadow vicinity before, I had only laid eyes on the grassy meadow which is just partly visible from the trail, my boots had never entered the actual meadow. So, this was the hike and today the day to do that very thing for the first time!

Every hike should be hot and dusty...not really!
Leaving the Diamond Lake horse corrals, the trail ducked under the Diamond Lake Highway via a dark tunnel and then immediately began to angle uphill through a thin lodgepole pine forest. Lodgepole grows in poor soils, where no other tree will and as a result, a lodgepole forest tends to comprised of thin and scrawny trees, and this forest was no exception. The day was hot, the lodgepole did not provide much in the way of shade, and my feet kicked up small clouds of volcano dust that hung motionless in the still air as I trudged ever upward on the trail while thinking about returning to the cool tunnel and just staying there until the sun set.

Damage done by lodgepole beetles
Despite the seeming aridity of the terrain, low growing and thin patches of grass grew next to the trail, providing some semblance of greenery. The trees were misshapen as their trunks sported carbuncles and boils, probably from overexposure to the sun, if this hot hike is any indication of the customary summer conditions at the foot of Mount Thielsen. In all seriousness though, the warming climate has caused an increase in bark beetle populations and in the form of dead trees, their handiwork was strewn haphazardly about the forest floor, .

Thielsen Creek flows down below he trail
At the three mile mark, Timothy Meadow made a brief and limited appearance below the trail. Hints of meadowy goodness were visible through the trees but mostly Timothy Meadow was hidden from view. Thielsen Creek also made an appearance at the edge of the meadow, snaking back and forth like a watery oscilloscope readout. I really had thought it was a longer hike to the meadow so for a little extra mileage, I continued on to the trail crossing of Thielsen Creek.

Sparkling clear and fresh off the snow melt
Where the trail meets Thielsen Creek, the Howlock Mountain Trail splits into two, the right fork becoming the Thielsen Creek Trail heading to the base of Mount Thielsen, while the left fork continues to the base of Howlock Mountain. The Pacific Crest Trail connects the two trails but I didn't feel up to a fifteen mile hike (with plenty more uphill hiking) today.  

A dusty path through Timothy Meadow
One little item of intrigue though, was an unmarked but well defined trail heading downhill on a forested ridge well above Thielsen Creek. It wasn't on my map or GPS, so where did this enticing trail go? Inquiring boots want to know! Later on, while exploring Timothy Meadow, I noticed a trail emerging from the trees and entering the high side of the meadow, that just had to be the other end of the same trail! However, on this day the trail was left in play, but a future visit on this mystery path is certainly in order.

Thielsen Creek zigs and zags to and fro
Anyway, I backtracked down the Howlock Mountain Trail and grabbed a side-trail leading down into the meadow where I was perfunctorily attacked by vicious predators. In the lodgepole pines, mosquitoes were mildly annoying but apparently Timothy Meadow is the center of the mosquito universe and they were all overjoyed to see me enter the grassy pasture next to burbling Thielsen Creek. Many of them died by my hand that day but many were also well fed before I was able to obtain safety and shelter behind a thick and frantic applique of Deet. Mosquito survival is a numbers game and you just can't slap all of them.

A beautiful scene, except for the ravenous mosquitoes
Down in the meadow proper, my mystery path from before followed the lush and green grass growing next to the clear running creek as it meandered through the meadow. Actually, the meadow is not as large as I had previously thought, but would make a nice place for a backpack camp, just not during mosquito season. Anyway, I wandered through the green meadow, enjoying the pleasing color contrast with the blue sky above.

The hot and dusty trail back home
Because of the relative shortness of the hike, I decided Timothy Meadow would not be the end destination for my upcoming group hike but on this sweltering day, a short hike to a green meadow next to a babbling creek was just fine fine with me. After my arrival back at the trailhead, with me all tired, hot, sweaty, and covered with an unholy slather of perspiration, blood, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, and pumice dust, I was eminently thankful I didn't do the full 13ish mile hike to Thielsen Creek. Although, a restorative dip in the creek might have been just the thing, given my post-hike dirty and overheated state of being.

It was a nice visit to Timothy Meadow
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Mule Creek Trail

"Grandpa, stop the car!" came the frantic cry from the back seat "I'm going to be sick!" If there's one thing I've learned in my lifetime, it's to immediately honor that particular request so stop we did. The door flew open, Issiah rolled out onto the gravel road and for the next few minutes, us car occupants were treated to a symphony of wet urping noises that had us all (me and other grandchildren Daweson and Coral Rae) holding back sympathy gags. It was pretty much at that point that I became resigned to the fact that this hike was going to be less than epic.

What's a hike without some poison oak?
Before I continue on with the story of this hike, let's take a quick side trip to the tale of how the current incarnation of the Mule Creek Trail came to be, based on my recollection from a presentation I attended, several years back, given by Gabriel Howe, the executive director of the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Gabriel had been hired as a summer caretaker for the Rogue River Ranch, a backwoods museum located near Marial. One day he went to hike the Mule Creek Trail and found out to his chagrin that the trail had long since been abandoned and was no longer in existence.

Mountain goat on a cliffy goat path
Irritated that the trail would be on the map but not on the ground, he formed the Siskiyou Mountain Club to refurbish and maintain hiking trails in southwestern Oregon. One of the first projects completed was the complete rehabilitation of the Mule Creek Trail. Nowadays, the trail works its way up Mule Creek's rugged canyon, eventually joining up with the Panther Ridge Trail (after a whole lor of uphill walking), and then returns to the Rogue River Trail to complete a 25'ish mile backpacking loop. In a case of "if you build it, they will come" the Mule Creek Trail sees a fair amount of use from backpackers looking for a rugged and challenging trek.

Guess which three belong to me
I was really looking forward to getting out on this trail for my first time but an urping child was going to definitely curtail this initial visit. However, Issiah is a battler and he was willing to give it some kind of effort so we continued on to the trailhead, rejoining with the Friends of the Umpqua, who were waiting and wondering what happened to us.

Trees have to get used to growing in rock around here
Mule Creek runs into the larger Rogue River near the remote way station of Marial so it would figure that Mule Creek would resemble a figurative child of the Rogue River Trail. The vibe was all Siskiyou as the rough track meandered through trees consisting of that Siskiyou mix of oak, laurel, madrone, and conifer growing on the slopes of an arid and rocky ravine.

Way too close to the edge (don't tell his mom!)
Didn't take long for the trail to get cliffy à la Rogue River Trail too, as it was etched into a cliff face overlooking Mule Creek's deep and inhospitable gorge.  In many places, it was so deep that the creek was hidden from view as it tumbled and roiled somewhere down at the bottom of the seeming abyss. We stopped for several gawk-stops in between short rounds of hiking like so many mountain goats on a narrow trail. 

Precarious bridge at the first crossing
After a mile or so of hiking, the bridge at the first of three crossings of Mule Creek came into view, the bridge looking ever so frail and tiny when compared to the massive canyon it was spanning. After the bridge crossing, the trail would forsake Mule Creek proper for Mule Creek's west fork. Same old rugged canyon vibe, though, no matter which fork of Mule Creek we were on.

A creek full of caddisfly larvae
The trail crossed the creek for the second time at a shallow pool with stunningly clear water which left no place to hide for the abundant numbers of caddisfly larvae crawling on the bottom. For protection, caddisfly larvae glue small pebbles and twigs around their soft bodies and as a result, it looked like small rocks were scuttling about on the creek bottom.

A cluster of Solomon's seal fruits
Issiah's warrior heart was willing but frankly, throwing up really depletes the body's energy reserves and he was gassed at this point. He graciously offered to sit at the pool and nap while we continued on to the third crossing of the creek, so we left him in the shade and continued walking uphill on a brushy trail. Having to choose between child abandonment and hiking, I'm glad to report we all chose hiking!

A couple of head-dippers
The hot and dusty trail headed up and over a brushy ridge before dropping down to the third crossing located at the bottom of a narrow gorge. The kids decided this was the place to kneel next to the rushing creek and dip their heads into the cool water, much to the amusement of us adults too dignified to do the same, although we all secretly wanted to.

John arrives at the third crossing

From here, the trail begins a long a protracted climb out of the Rogue River canyon (of which, Mule Creek and its canyon were a lesser part of), culminating on top of Panther Ridge. The climb is long and steep enough to make you hate hiking, but fortunately for me and my crew, we were going to turn back and retrieve Issiah. Our hiking friends would continue on for a mile or two before turning back, so we said our goodbyes and returned to the second crossing.

Beetle battle on a common yarrow
So, this wound up being a long drive for a short three-mile hike but some things just can't be helped. It was truly some spectacular landscape and scenery, and my appetite's been whetted for a return visit. And speaking of appetites, Issiah didn't have one but at least he didn't urp up any more and our return to Roseburg was less eventful than the drive to the Mule Creek trailhead.

A deep and narrow cleft contains Mule Creek
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.