Saturday, October 19, 2019

North Umpqua Trail (Hot Springs Segment)

The year before, I had hiked on the Hot Springs Segment of the famed North Umpqua Trail (NUT) and the fall colors were astounding. So vibrant, so colorful, so eminently autumnal, I just had to come back and show my friends what a great fall hike the Hot Springs Segment of the NUT was. Chalk it up to the Richard Hike effect, but naturally on the day of this edition of the Hot Springs Segment hike, it just would have to be a gloomy, gray, and all-around dreary day dumping cold rain on my autumn hike dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It also stood to reason that when the weather gets bad, three people will nonetheless show up for the hike, preventing me from canceling the hike and spending the day indoors, all cozy warm and comfy dry. Props to Lindsay, Tim, and Patti though, for forcing me to "enjoy" a wet and rainy hike in a sodden but colorful forest. 

They don't look very happy to be rain hiking

Beginning at Toketee Campground, we crossed the North Umpqua River on a gracefully arching footbridge and traipsed up and down through a dark but lush forest. The rain was coming down fairly heavy and Oregon grape leaves, fern fronds, and hiker heads all glistened from the accumulated wetness. Autumn was in full song, albeit on the soggy side, and the trail was covered with leaf litter. I always enjoy the swishing sound of boots scuffing through leaves, but that's a sound which does not get made when the leaves are waterlogged.

A beautiful trail on a not so beautiful day

It's hard to pick a best section of the North Umpqua Trail's seventy-eight miles, but the segment after the trail drops down to river level would be a prime candidate. The path is covered by a leafy bower of yellow leaves with colorful forest on one side and swiftly flowing river on the other. When not meandering through dense stands of vine maples, the track weaves through a cathedral-like aisle of tall firs. And always, fallen leaves covered the trail, having been knocked down to the ground en masse by the unrelenting rain. Despite the moisture falling from the sky, much photography ensued, along with muttered apologies to my camera.

The North Umpqua flows through the autumnal woods

Just under the two-mile mark, the North Umpqua Trail popped out onto gravel Forest Road 3401 heading towards Umpqua Hot Springs. Driving there is cheating in my humble opinion, the hot springs should only be enjoyed after a good long hike to get there. Although to be honest, driving to the steamy springs would make more sense on a cold and rainy day, but that's not how we roll. At any rate, we crossed over to the opposite side of the river via road and bridge and resumed hiking.

Decaying leaves make a bridge crossing treacherous

After crossing the rushing river, the trail acquired more of an uphill quality as it began to gain some elevation. However, the rate of acquisition was not all that steep, and it was fairly easy walking except for the rain falling from the sky, imparting the forest with a surround-sound hiss of raindrops striking dead leaves. At about the three mile mark, the stout metal bridge at Deer Creek hove into view and given the wet conditions, it seemed like a good place as any to turn around at.

The forest was full of mushrooms, big and small

After a quick look-see at Deer Creek flowing under the bridge, we headed back and thankfully, the rain began to ease up. The Tim and Richard half of our crew had cameras and per the natural order of things, we soon were bringing up the rear. And can you blame us? Mushrooms and fungi were sprouting everywhere in the damp forest, in all manner of shape, size, and color. And where there were no fungal delights to entertain us, there was an ample amount of fall color thanks to the maple and dogwood trees.

The Golden Road

Since this was an out-and-back hike, we enjoyed the same old beautiful forest and river scenery all over again, the main difference being that we were comfortably dry and generally unrained upon on the return. While dry, we were not necessarily warm as the sky still remained dark and portentous, and the air chill. Hiking in comfortable camaraderie, we enjoyed the simple activity of walking on a leaf-littered path in an arboreal cathedral nave comprised of tall trees. 

"Raindrops keep falling on my head..."

As we neared the end of this hike, we were feeling pretty superior to all our hiking comrades who had opted to stay home. The forest had been sublime, the river peaceful, and the autumn colors spectacular in their own rain-soaked way. But before we reached the end, the heavens opened up and began dumping water on the woods below along with the few people hiking in them. Our friends might have made the drier choice, but we definitely had more fun!  

Deer Creek was our turnaround point

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

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