Friday, December 27, 2019

Mount Pisgah


In essence, Mount Pisgah is an urban hike even though it's out in the rural McKenzie Valley farmlands surrounding the small towns of Pleasant Hill and Goshen. The combination of Pisgah's scenery with its proximity to the large city of Eugene predestines it to be in heavy use by the thundering hordes. However, if you go on a dark and dreary day, then you can actually enjoy some quiet moments here and there.

Lichen thrives on an oak twig

The route from the Main Trailhead to the Mount Pisgah summit is a smallish 3.5 mile round-trip hike which in part, explains Pisgah's popularity. But since it's a two hour drive from Roseburg, I needed to make it worth the long drive by figuring out a way to make the route longer. With the help of some online maps, I cobbled together a route involving Trail 17, Trail 7, Trail 3, Trail 4, Trail 1, Trail 6, Trail 56, Trail 3, Zig Zag Trail, Upper Plateau Trail, Jette Trail, Incense Cedar Trail, Quarry Road Trail, Pond Lily Trail, and finally the Tom McCall Riverbank Trail. There'll be a pop quiz in the morning, kids. Needless to say, a good map is essential to precisely navigate the dizzying array of trail junctions. 

Some of the Trail 7 ups and downs

The weather was wet and drizzly, but never quite morphed into out and out rain. Pisgah's summit was hidden in the low clouds so it stood to reason fog would be a large part of my hike, particularly as the route gained enough elevation to enter the mist blanketing the mountain summit. I grabbed Trail 17 not only because it's a prime number but mostly because it connected with Trail 7, also a prime number. The path charged up the hill and within several minutes of hiking, the views were already fantastic as the path overlooked the rural farms, wetlands, and woods situated between the Coast Fork Willamette River and the small town of Goshen.

Still life with leaf and water drop

As stated, the weather was wet and drizzly and I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to take the perfect photograph of water drops hanging on twigs, branches, and tendrils of moss and lichen. After a short uphill walk on Trail 17, I grabbed Trail 7 which went both up and down at a rather rigorous rate. The slopes here consisted of dried grass with leafless oaks etched stark against the gray sky. The valley bottom, dotted with wetland ponds glistening in the dreary air, was spread out like the largest picnic blanket ever. I couldn't really stare at the scenery and walk at the same time, for the trail was muddy and slippery as it undulated up and down on the grassy slopes.

Moss rules the forest

Trail 7 dropped down to the North Trailhead and then began a charge uphill to both meet Trail 3 and to get out of the open slopes and into the forest. Trail 3 was a muddy track that met Trail 4, which commenced the forested portion of this hike. This part of Pisgah probably sees a lot of drizzle moisture, judging by the thick layer of moss covering all that does not move. I made sure to stay in constant motion, so as to avoid becoming just one more indistinct green lump on the forest floor.

Silent woods but for the drip, drip, drip

Here, the woods were mysterious and misty, the trees resembling ghostly spirits from the netherworld. Thick seines of branches strained water from the mist and the resultant drip, drip, drip was a constant accompaniment to what little sound I was making as I labored around the mountain. This was probably my favorite part of the hike. I probably made a little more noise when the trail rounded the mountain and began a pretty good climb up to Pisgah's summit, causing me to breathe more heavily and to mutter invective with ever increasing feeling and frequency.

The clouds begin to lift over Goshen

From the summit, one can allegedly see all the way to the Cascades but on a cloudy day with the summit socked in by fog, not so much. However, neatly coinciding with my arrival at Pisgah's summit apogee, the clouds began to lift and thin out, offering me something to look at besides gray mist. I hung around on the summit for a bit, totally entranced by the ethereal and evocative dance of clouds vainly attempting to retain their misty grip on the lands below the mountain. Little by little, the surrounding farmlands, pastures, and wetlands began to make an appearance. Since I'm old enough to remember tube TVs, the simile is that the landscape gradually swam into focus like a television set warming up.

Mud run on Trail 6

Trail 6 dives off the south side of Pisgah and when it's wet and muddy, it is eminently slippery and on more than one occasion hands and hiking poles were put to use in order to maintain me in my customary upright and erect position. From there, a reunion with Trail 3 took a longer route across the grassy slopes on Pisgah's west side. The trail was rough, rocky, and at times kind of sketchy, and it felt like home.

Trail 3 was rough and rugged, and I liked it

After a couple miles of Trail 3's rugged love, it was time to enter the Mount Pisgah Arboretum trail system. Most of the trails are short little loops or connecting trails that wander about the oaken woods of the aboretum. I grabbed the Upper Plateau Trail only because it had the words "upper" and "plateau" in it. Can't say it was as mountainous as the name suggested but it was a pleasant walk through some oak savannas and a grassy meadow. 

Weathered wood on a rustic water tower
The network of arboretum paths gradually dropped down to a series of swamps, ponds, and the Coast Fork Willamette River before closing the loop near some working farm buildings at the trailhead. By using the combination of trails cited earlier, this hike wound up being a respectable 7 miles long and was well worth the drive from Roseburg.

Scene from the winter of our content

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

Monday, December 23, 2019

Cape Arago night hike

Pop! Hissssss... Those are the sounds of a murder. In this case, the helpless and hapless victim was the right rear tire on my Jeep and the perp was a hollow metal tube that impaled itself at right angles to the tire wall, neatly allowing the air contained within to escape in a mere minute. At least I know the tire sensor and dashboard indicator work. At any rate, Coral Rae, Daweson, and I were temporarily stranded in Myrtle Point by the slain tire, wondering if we'd even be able to do our night hike at Cape Arago.

My hiking companions

Bad weather had raised havoc with my plans to formally lead a group on a night hike and eventually the whole project was given up on because there was no way to get a weekend hike in this close to Christmas. The whole point of the night hike was to see the Christmas lights at Shore Acres State Park which is why the hike needed to be done before Christmas. Anyway, the weather eased up briefly on the Monday before Santa's arrival and spurred on by some friends associated with the South Coast Striders, a hiking group based in Coos Bay, I decided to go and secured the attendance of grandchildren Coral Rae and Daweson.

We started out later than intended

However, the Striders were beginning a bit later than I wanted to, so the kids and I left early, fully intending to hike by ourselves, ahead of our Strider friends. But a strategically placed metal tube in a comparatively soft rubber tire put paid to that idea and the end result was that because of time lost by the tire repair, we wound up at the trailhead at the same exact time that buddy Tom and his Strider companions were beginning their hike. It was like it was meant to be!

And so it begins

Starting at the unusual time of 4:00 pm, a half-dozen hikers or so set foot on the trail beginning at Sunset Bay State Park. The afternoon already had that pre-sunset burnished glow about it and despite the sunlight, it was what could charitably be referred to as "chilly". And, after a mile or two of casual hiking, the sun and sky looked more like sunset than afternoon. By the time we arrived at Shore Acres State Park, the Oregon coast was definitely basking in the last hurrah of daylight. The golden glow was perfect for photography and we mingled with the hordes of sunset shutterbugs gathered at the whale watching station, most armed with cameras at the ready with which to capture the sunset.

Christmas lights, courtesy of Mother Nature

Hiking quickly, we dropped onto relatively quiet Simpson Beach, and then walked through some dark woods to reattain the coastal bluffs overlooking the restless ocean. Grabbing a faint path took us atop a secluded rocky point where we all plopped down on grass to ooh and aah at the coming sunset. The day's denouement was mere minutes away so we didn't have to wait very long before day slipped into night to the accompaniment of the roaring surf. The orange sun coloring sky and clouds was Mother Nature's own version of Christmas lights.

Even the lights have lights at Shore Acres

Once the sun was down, it was time for the true "night" portion of this night hike. We whipped out the headlamps and flashlights and backtracked down to Simpson Beach, the waves barely visible in the fading light. And from there, it was just a short walk to the bright lights of Shore Acres State Park, the glow in the inky black forest advertising the Christmas light display from afar like the neon lights of Las Vegas do as you approach on a lonely desert highway.

Shore Acres at its Christmas finest

Shore Acres State Park goes all out for Christmas and the formal gardens were flamboyantly adorned with all manner of lights, colors, and Christmas motifs. The grounds were a fairyland of glowing colors and a choir serenaded visitors from a brightly lit pavilion. Neon frogs jumped from lily pad to lily pad in the reflecting pond and heron statues eternally stalked but never caught a school of koi statues that never swam away. And, as is its wont, the reflecting pond contained a mirror world of light and color living their lives underneath the surface. As far as the kids were concerned though, the highlight of the Shore Acres gardens was free hot cider and a peek at Santa enjoying a bubble bath in the caretaker's cottage.

Excuse me, I'm taking a BATH here!
(How we got on the naughty list)

I've been night-hiking in the Cape Arago area for many years now and often felt like I was the only one adventurous enough to do such a thing. However, in recent years, it has been a more common occurrence to encounter hikers walking from Sunset Bay to Shore Acres, their presence announced in advance by headlights bobbing and weaving like drunk fireflies in the forest. There's a really good reason to night hike, beside the fact that night hiking in general is an awesome experience, and that is because the traffic into Shore Acres is horrendous, often backing up for several miles. But the train of cars were nice enough to us to let us make a left turn out of the parking lot and we felt grateful and maybe a little bit smug at having avoided the long line of vehicles moving slower than we could hike in the dark.

Season's greetings!

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

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Eel Lake

Eel Lake is a reliable go-to hike during Oregon's wet winter and does provide a healthy dose of lakeside scenery while tracing a route along the lake's forested shoreline. And so it was that on a damp and dreary December day, about eight of us set out on the trail to partake of the lake, rain, and all the mushrooms you could ever want to look at. Didn't see any eels though, not that we necessarily would have in any case.

Eel Lake on a gray day

This was mid-December, right on winter's cold and watery cusp, and naturally our venture turned out to be your basic quintessential winter hike. The sky was gray, full of pregnant clouds seemingly just about to deliver the baby, and we hiked underneath them while waiting for the water to break, colloquially speaking. There was nary a ripple on the placid surface of the lake which was as glassy as the eyes of a losing boxer. The recent rains had rendered the trail a muddy mess and the sound of boots slipping and sliding in the ooze could be heard as we hiked. Vegetation was wet and the sounds of complaining hikers with soaked pant legs could also be heard as we hiked. Winter is mushroom and fungus season and the forest was full of all kinds of them, slowing down a certain hiker with a compulsion to photograph each and every one.

A clump of ginormous mushrooms

As the civilized environs of William Tugman State Park receded behind us, we pretty much had the trail to ourselves. The basic rhythm of the hike was a walk through dark and damp woods to a viewpoint of the still and quiet lake on a gray day, then rinse and repeat for about six miles. The path also went up and down along the lake so we were able to keep internally warm from the exertion of hiking. Most of the alder trees flanking the path were bare but maples still sported a yellow leaf or two in a vestigial remnant of the recent fall season. 

The lake had more arms than a mutant octopus

Eel Lake at its widest point is only about a third of a mile wide, but the lake consists of two long arms making the body of water look like perhaps a U-shaped eel when seen from above. Each of the two arms have lots of little coves and bays serrating the eel-arm shoreline. The ins and outs add to the mileage of the hike but the trail only manages to conquer about 3.5 miles or so of lake shore. Frustrating, because there are several dozen more miles of shore to follow. I'd love to see a trail go all the way around.

Some of that swampy mess on the "trail"
After passing an idyllic little backpack campsite, the damp footpath rounded the entrance to a small cove and plunged down to lake level. The trail was slippery with mud and we sort of mud-skiied down to the bottom. I say "lake-level" but to call that swampy and fetid water part of the lake is an insult to lakes the world over. Basically, this was where forest met lake and if we thought it was muddy before, this was a whole other level of boot sucking. There was a sign that said "End of Trail" but you know us, we shouldered our way past and continued on to see what we could see.

On a winter's day

And what did we see, boys and girls? Muddy water, muddy boots, and muddy mud! We also saw an impenetrable wall of brush and a trail that faded into all of that tangle. It really was the end of the trail, so we turned around and headed back the way we had come. As we hiked back to the trailhead, the day became noticeably much more beclouded and quiet. The lake was like a slab of polished onyx and the whole lakeside atmosphere had that air of wet expectancy about it.

On a rainy December afternoon

Sure enough, the rain arrived as we were about a mile and a half away from the trailhead. Fortunately, raincoats and rain hats in combination with heavy forest cover aided in keeping us mostly dry. The smooth polished surface though, was now ruffled by thousands of overlapping concentric ripples caused by thousands of rain drops simultaneously striking the surface of the lake. The day was gloomy to start with but had darkened considerably, annoying those hikers toting cameras and trying to take pictures of everything.

It's now official: It's raining!

So, the hike finished with somewhat of a wet splash but you know what? It would have been a lot worse up high in the mountains. Besides which, we were all pretty much in unanimous agreement that a wet December hike was more fun than mowing the lawn in the sun. 

Dainty mushrooms thrive in a bed of moss

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