Saturday, May 16, 2020

Little River Waterfalls

I had choices. I could have gone hiking on Friday but procrastination won out. Hiking was put off for one more day, making Saturday the day to engage in my favorite activity. Naturally, Friday had been a perfect day for hiking: sunny, cloudless, and comfortably warm. And of course, Saturday turned out to be windy, rainy, and cold. That's why in the O'Neill household, I'm not allowed to make any decisions related to anything other than hiking.

Wolf Creek Falls dwarfs all

No complaints though, the theme for the day's hikes was all about waterfalls, even if that meant water falling from the sky on occasion. There are four short waterfall hikes up Little River Road, and I don't hike them much at all because they tend to be on the short side. However, by doing all the cascades in a single day, reasonable trail mileage can be accrued, justifying the effort and trouble of driving to three different trailheads in a single day.

Quality forest time near Yakso Falls
The first hike turned out to be a bust though. The road to Grotto Falls was heavily covered with trees felled by winter weather. Somebody had cut a car pathway out of all the timber litter but there wasn't a lot of room between the sawed-off logs and my wide and reasonably pristine Jeep. As the debris kept increasing with frequency and intensity, I eventually turned around and figured I'd see what condition the road to Lake of the Woods was in. In hindsight, I could have just parked and walked down the road to Grotto Falls but that just didn't occur to me at the time. Oh, well.

Lake of the Woods, as a breezy storm rolled in
As it turned out, Little River Road, once it turned to gravel, had also experienced fallen trees but nowhere near the volume and ferocity encountered on the road to Grotto Falls. Plus, the road was wide enough for two cars so the trees never encroached my precious vehicle on the drive to Lake of the Woods, the trail nexus for two of the waterfall hikes on my prospective itinerary. From the small lake in and of the woods, trails lead to Yakso and Hemlock Falls, and just because and for no other reason, Yakso Falls was elected to be the first hike of this overcast and dark day.

Drab flower in spring, juicy berry in late summer

These trails see a lot of use, and accordingly the path was wide and well maintained. The woodland approach climbed gently uphill as it rounded a forested ridge. It was a veritable jungle what with dense vegetation consisting of vine maple and pretty much everything else flanking the trail. In late summer, the hike to the falls must be berry nice, based on the amount of huckleberry flowers blooming on the tall bushes.

The dividing line between geology and forest
Eventually, Little River was spotted flowing well below the trail and after the path hugged a formidable mossed-over cliff, Yakso Falls hove into view. This time of year is the best time to see waterfalls as all the rivers and creeks are rain swollen and put on quite the show when it comes to cascades, and Yakso Falls was no exception.

Yakso Falls

As I had mentioned, the day was pretty dark with impending inclement weather coming in, the gloominess of the day enhancing the white water of the falls glowing nearly luminescent in its rocky bowl. Much photography ensued and a fair amount of time was spent just taking in the splendor of the falls, both on a photographic and metaphysical spiritual basis.

Trail signs in the age of coronavirus
After the 0.6 mile hike back to the trailhead, I crossed the road, hopped over the Lake of the Woods Campground gate (closed due to the pandemic) and walked past the small lake to the Hemlock Falls trailhead. Where Yakso Falls was on Little River, Hemlock Falls does its thing on Hemlock Creek. And while the hike to Yakso Falls had been fairly mild in gradient, the trail to Hemlock Falls dropped rapidly down to Hemlock Creek in alarming fashion, with the dreaded opposite effect coming back out.

Hemlock Falls tumbles down its cliff
Hemlock Falls was predictably spectacular and like Yakso, much photography and recharging of soul batteries ensued. I think there might be more to Hemlock Falls than what can be seen from the splash basin, for at the top, it seemed like the noisy cascade was already a pre-existing condtion before becoming the visible spectrum of Hemlock Falls. The creek has cut a deep canyon here and when trees fall, they apparently tumble all the way down to the creek, for the cascade's splash basin was littered with a plethora of trees long since mossed over.

Some of that rushing water on Hemlock Creek

After the steep hike back to Lake of the Woods, where a certain lone hiker said "ugh!" a lot as he trudged uphill, it was another drive on Little River Road to Wolf Creek Trailhead. Wolf Creek Falls are extremely popular with the casual hiking crowd and since this was the first week of partially relaxing the pandemic stay at home order, there were no expectations of encountering solitude on this hike. And sure enough, expectations were borne out by a full parking lot at the trailhead.

Wolf Creek Trail was lined with candy flower

This hike began in spectacular fashion on an arched footbridge spanning Little River just upstream of Wolf Creek. Once the trail entered the lush forest thriving at the bottom of Wolf Creek's canyon defile, it was apparent this would be more nature walk and photo shoot than actual hike. The greenery was profuse and dense, and the wide path was lined with white Columbia windflower and diminutive candy flower.

Columbia windflower was abundant
While windflower and candy flower were a constant throughout the hike, other bloomers also flowered up the joint, notable species thereof being sea blush, starflower, thimbleberry, inside-out flower, and Hooker's fairy bell. Sword ferns were a thing too, with their "elephant trunks" not yet being fully rolled out into the more familiar fern fronds.

Wolf Creek flows past a rocky bench
Wolf Creek was also a constant on the left side of the trail, although it wasn't always easy to see the creek through the vegetation and forest. But when the creek was visible, the water was notably silty and opaque as the stream burbled and babbled at the bottom of its green and mossy creek bed.

The upper Wolf Creek Falls
After a short climb near the end of the trail, the lower half of magnificent Wolf Creek Falls became partially visible through the trees. The falls are a two-stepper and both parts of the falls are stunning in their watery beauty. However, the lower falls are not visible from the viewpoint but can be enjoyed from the trail leading up to the viewpoint.

Lower Wolf Creek Falls was visible from the trail
Since this hike was all about the enjoyment of water, it stood to reason that of course, it would start to rain as I enjoyed the roaring cascade. The precipitation wasn't too bad at first, but would increase on the hike out. On the return leg, the wind picked up, the rain fell a bit steadier and the camera was stowed away to aid in getting back to civilized dryness as soon as possible.

The silty waters of Wolf Creek
Despite the wet weather, it felt like a pretty good choice to hike on this wet day instead of the glorious sunny day before. Lest I feel too good about that decision however, the following day dawned sunny and warm. That figures!

Simply elegant starflower
For more pictures of these hikes, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Fish Lake Creek

The dry stats for hiking to Fish Lake via Fish Lake Creek Trail were 8.7 round trip miles to and from the lake, 1,500 feet of elevation gain, 90+ degrees of heat, and 4,692 whiny snivels to myself. My dispirited legs felt every mile, every foot of climb, and every degree of heat. Maybe I should exercise in between hikes but then again, that would be exercise. Maybe I should make myself younger, too.

Just another beautiful day on the trail
But while the legs were noodly, the resolve was steely and this hike began with your merry blogster full of expectant anticipation of getting out onto the trail after a short layoff from the wonderful avocation that is hiking. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and the forest growing along Fish Lake Creek was lush and well-shaded. Life was good indeed, at least until the hiking started.

A galaxy of vine maple leaves
My frame of reference for this trek is my very first visit here, occurring shortly after the 2002 Tiller Complex Fire(s) ravaged the forests along the trail. Back then, the hiking was hot, dusty, and totally shadeless. Most of that laborious epic was spent wading over, under, and around tons of dead trees lying on the trail. Flash forward sixteen years and those fallen trees are almost decayed out of existance, the surviving trees are all leafed out, and the undergrowth has been restored to its usual dense green jungle. Best of all, the path is clear of downfall for all of the distance to Fish Lake.

False Solomon's seal was just one of many
species of wildflowers beautifying the trail
For the first couple of miles, the trail is well shaded and joyously cool on a hot day. The grade was gentle so I was one happy hiker enjoying the rampant greenery and wildflowers blooming along the trail. Fish Lake Creek was nearby but mostly more heard than seen, due to the vegetation and forest surrounding the stream. My pace was relaxed and slow because of the scenery and photography thereof, and life was good.

It's just not a hike unless you
have to hike through poison oak
To be honest, life was also good when the trail broke out into the open burn zone and warm sunlight. It was just a warmer good. After about a mile and a half of hiking through the forest, the trail peeled away from Fish Lake Creek and headed uphill in the sun to contour up and around a nameless side creek. Poison oak was thriving happily here and I took care to avoid the oily red fronds of itching madness. Speaking of itching and given my last tick-infected hike, frequent tick-check stops were a thing because because I could just feel a veritable tick army marching with military precision on the parade ground of my skin. The final stats in that regard were just one tick found all day long, but it's still a mental condition.

Rocky cliffs loomed next to the trail
As the trail steadily gained elevation across drier south-facing slopes populated with dead trees and buckbrush, the views of Fish Lake Creek's forested canyon continually improved. The trail contoured the base of a prominent cliff and the poison oak was at its worst among the rocky soil and open sunlight. There was no western fence at this trailside locale but there were lots and lots of western fence lizards scuttling about on the rocky ramparts and battlements. Those lizards closer to the ground stirred up dead leaves, the dry rattle making sure to startle one certain incredibly handsome hiker with yet another mental condition, stemming from a rattlesnake encounter of several years ago.

Beaver Swamp in all its swampy glory
The trail rounded a ridge and Beaver Swamp made an appearance, the blue-green waters looking particularly swampy on this hike rendition. Normally, turtles are spotted sunning themselves on logs floating in the pond but not on this day, not sure what happened to them. In the middle of the pond there is a notable beaver lodge but it had that air of abandonment, particularly as there were no fresh animal paths tracking through the swamp grasses. A burbling inlet creek flowed into the pond and the vine maples were lush and profuse. A convenient log was sited next to the trickling stream and was the perfect place to eat lunch and generally just sit and ponder in the cool shade.

Highrock Mountain presides over Fish Lake
By now, the day was hot and yes, I am well aware it will get hotter yet. The trail angled steeply uphill  away from the swamp and a trudge now entered into what had previously been a joyful hiking rhythm. But Fish Lake was less than two miles away so really, there was no other manly option other than to determinedly plod to the lake. And when the lake was reached, the immediate reward was a magnificent vista of snowy Highrock Mountain presiding over beautiful Fish Lake, making all the toil and trouble to get there well worth the effort. Standoff Point standoffishly stood off at the northeast corner of Fish Lake, reminding me I'm overdue for a visit to Rocky Ridge (of which, Standoff Point is part of). Anyway, views like this are why we hike, boys and girls.

Trail, as the day cooled and shadows lengthened
It was nice to be walking downhill on the hike back to the trailhead, especially since my legs wanted to go on a sit-down strike. The forest became even more pleasant as the day cooled and afternoon shadows lengthened beneath the trees. The only occurrence of note was when a startled grouse exploded out of the brush next to trail in a flurry of feathers and whirring wings. A grouse won't kill me but the heart attack might, darn birds that wait until you almost step on them. anyway.

Fish Lake Creek was always heard but seldom seen
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Deer Leap - Bradley Trail Loop

The trail stretched out before me, cutting a swath through the brush high above the North Umpqua River. The tension was palpable as I stood there, paralyzed with fear, struggling to convince myself to push forward. Seconds, and then minutes began to tally, amassing in some unseen ledger of time: tick...tick...tick. But this was not the ticking of a clock. Nope, these were actual ticks. Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them, each patiently waiting on branches, twigs, flowers, and leaves, ever ready to bury their heads under the skin of their one true Tick King. I couldn't stand here dithering forever so with a philosophical "Oh well, Lyme waits for no one", I stepped forward and waded into the tick-infested shrubbery of the North Umpqua Trail. 

What could ever go wrong on such a beautiful trail?
This short hike was memorable for all kinds of obstacles, some bigger than others, and not all of them were tick related. Of course, none of the obstacles were anticipated when putting together the original plan for an elegantly simple out-and-back hike on the North Umpqua Trail's Deer Leap Segment. Hiking the entire segment was not a realistic option, for that would have made for a longish sixteen mile hike from Medicine Creek Road to Toketee Lake and back. However, the idea of hiking just four or five miles before turning around sounded appealing on an overcast spring day. Ah, but the best laid plans of mice and hikers often go awry, and some on-trail mayhem forced me into an ad lib route through a veritable gauntlet of blood-sucking ticks.

A pile of trees lay across the trail
In a harbinger of things to come, just a mere hundred yards into the hike, a jumbled pile of trees lay across the trail. A pain in the derriere to scramble over but based on past experience, winter downfall would more than likely get worse as the hike continued. However, I would never know how much more trail was covered with tree wreckage because in less than a half-mile of hiking, the bridge spanning burbling Medicine Creek was in sore need of some healing medicine itself.

Bridge with some back trouble
Seems a huge house-sized slab of rock had tumbled down from the slopes above and the sheer ponderousness of its bulk leveraged a large tree to effectively karate chop the bridge in two. I scrambled partway down the bridge and debated scrambling over to the other side but really, that looked kind of dangerous. The other option was to bushwhack down to the rushing creek, wade across it, and then bushwhack back up to the trail, with the opposite effect on the hike back out if one was so inclined. One was not.

Oregon grape, putting on a yellow show
So it was a walk back to the trailhead at Medicine Creek Road, with yours truly barely warmed up from just 0.8 miles of hiking. Fortunately, the North Umpqua Trail is seventy-eight miles long and there were still plenty of those miles available for hiking in the opposite direction, provided no other rocks, trees, or slides had taken out the route. As it turned out, a fallen tree had taken a pretty good bite out of the trail when its root ball was upended but other than that, the path was in pretty good shape and not in need of any medicine at all. Bug repellent might have been required, but more on that later.

An empty bird's nest fungus on a decaying log
The trail headed steadily downhill for a couple of miles through forest lush and green from the winter weather. Oregon grape and wild strawberry were blooming all throughout the verdant forest while plenty of seasonal creeks splashed over the footpath. On the arboreal side of things, dogwood trees were putting on a show with copious amounts of elegant and stately flowers twinkling like so many little white stars. In a hint of things to come, curious mosquitoes stopped by to visit and inquire as to how I was doing, but they weren't yet biting as it's still a bit early in the year for that wonderful experience.

Candystick sweetens up the hike
The North Umpqua River  was mostly hidden from view because the trail starts out fairly high and well inland from the river, with a whole lot of forest between trail and river to effectively block the view. Eventually, the river did make a token appearance when the route neared the impound area of Soda Springs Reservoir where the river pooled behind the like-named Soda Springs Dam. The air was still and the lake's surface was as smooth as glass just for a moment, until rain started roughing up the waters. The day had been cloudy when hiking activities commenced in the morning, but now the clouds were making good on their promise of inclement weather. Fortunately, the squall lasted only a few minutes and that was the worst of it for the day. 

Fish and human ladders at Soda Springs Dam
After taking in impressive Soda Springs dam with its maze of fish ladders, catwalks, and human ladders, I continued hiking toward Soda Springs Trailhead. As the dam receded behind, an alarm intermittently buzzed, always a disconcerting sound when hiking below a dam doing its level best to restrain thousands of cubic feet of water. However, apart from the sound, nothing untoward happened riverwise to further worry a certain lone and incredibly handsome hiker making his way along the North Umpqua Trail.

Tick tock, the tick crawled up my sock!
As the trail neared the trailhead, it began to go in and out of grassy meadows and ticks live for moments such as this. After negotiating the first fifteen yards of knee-high grass, a perfunctory tick-check revealed two tick interlopers crawling on my calves. I just knew it! And that was the pattern for the grassy patches of trail: I'd hike through the grass and then stop to remove the ticks crawling on my calves (maybe long pants should have been worn, instead of shorts). And after finding the first couple of eight-legged vampires, my creeped-out imagination could just feel the legs of millions more crawling all over me. At some point, it becomes a bona fide mental condition.

The Soda Springs "spa"
At any rate, it had been a fairly short hike down to Soda Springs Trailhead and this was a hike that needed a destination and a few more miles. Soda Springs is always an interesting visit so I headed up the trail to the rust-colored springs. I'm not sure how salubrious the waters of Soda Springs are, seeing as how the mud is colored an unappealing orange-brown hue, but the meadow surrounding the springs is incredibly lush, vibrant, and healthy. Where the water flowed, it was crystal clear but just the same, no need to risk good health by drinking the water.

The tick-harboring brush on the Bradley Trail
Since I had gone to the trouble of hiking to the springs, it seemed like the thing to do was to continue uphill for another quarter mile and grab the Bradley Trail to turn this hike into a loop. The Bradley Trail basically parallels the North Umpqua Trail but at a higher elevation. The terrain is somewhat drier in places, particularly as the area has undergone several wildfires in the last decade or so. Replacing the trees were dense thickets of twiggy buckbrush, tick-laden enough to make hikers pine nostalgic for the tick-infested grasses encountered earlier. The ticks were so pervasive that the numerous oily red-leafed poison oak fronds waving across the trail barely registered. Many scuttling ticks were frantically plucked from my precious body, giving rise to speculation that the reason it's called Deer Leap is because the deer leaped in desperation to get away from those nasty little arachnids.

A small earwig hangs out on an iris
In the open areas were lots of yellowleaf iris, blooming profusely in low ground-hugging mats. My wildflower guidebook says these flowers are uncommon but obviously the book's author has not seen the densely packed iris displays on the Bradley Trail, for they were everywhere.

A smaller sibling of Soda Springs

On either side of the trail, numerous springs (some were orange colored à la Soda Springs) seeped down the hillside, creating thick beds of moss that covered rocks and logs alike; the moss beds being interspersed with healthy patches of tall tick-harboring grass. More tick removal operations ensued. I was grateful to get out of that brushy area and into a tick-free forest where all my only worry was giant sized boulders rolling down the hill.

I like dogwood, there's no ticks on them!
No official score was kept but the final tally must have been up to two dozen of the creepy crawlies, but it's the ones you don't find that you have to worry about. Hours after arrival at home, two more of the little buggers were found stealthily crawling on me. Despite the imagined sensation of thousands of phantom tick feet doing parade maneuvers on me, apparently all of the arachnid marauders had been interdicted before any burrowed under my least that I know of. However, it had been a good hike, despite the tickitude. It's always nice to get out and commune with nature, even though it's not always as nice when nature communes back.

The forest has loose morels
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

North Bank Habitat - Thistle Ridge/North Gate Loop

I'm actually OK with this socially distant hiking, it melds well with my personality. Or maybe I'm confusing "socially distant" with "socially awkward". At any rate, I spend enough time walking in the woods by myself that I really don't have to make any major adjustments to my hiking style other than frantically bailing off the trail in terror when another hiker appears on the trail, accidentally getting within my social nearness boundary. Come to think of it, that's not all that abnormal a hiking behavior for me, either.

Wild iris purpled up the hike
Staying at home these days has been fairly easy as I'm retired and there's always yard work or no work to entertain me. Besides which, Mrs. O'Neill is working from home so there's always company even though that requires me to mimic socially acceptable behavior. But it's a different story for my friend Jay, however. He too is working from home and he's a programmer so it's just him and the computer screen all day long. Apparently, he's getting cabin fever, for he asked if I could take him hiking, socially-distant style. So off to the North Bank Habitat we went (in separate vehicles) and when I picked up a gopher snake slithering across the trail, we became extremely socially distant when he fled screaming for the next time zone to the east.

Panoramal activity
The original plan percolating in my brain was a loop involving the Middle Ridge Road from the western trailhead. However, the trailhead parking lot was full of vehicles so I made a spur of the moment decision to continue to the eastern trailhead. The Habitat's gate was locked of course, and we added our vehicles to the cars parked outside the gate. The developed trailheads are closed these days to prevent cars and people from congregating in the parking lots but all that happens is people congregate at the point of closure anyway, but there we are.

It it's in the North Bank, it goes uphill
Anyway, to avoid coming into contact with would-be virus spreading people-type persons, we grabbed the Thistle Ridge Road instead of taking the well-used gravel road to the Comstock Day Use Area. Immediately, the trail angled uphill and that was Jay's first exposure (from a socially distant distance of ten to fifteen feet behind me) to what is typical hiking in the North Bank. Initially, the scenery wasn't particularly awesome as we hiked under some buzzing power lines but once we left those behind us, it was all good for the rest of the day.

Blazing star blazes away

After a short and rather utilitarian climb away from the power lines, the junction with the Deer Hollow Tie Trail was reached and I was back on familiar territory, seeing as how I had hiked this same trail just several weeks ago. But what a difference a few weeks can make! On this day, the grass was green and lush instead of just sprouting like a couple of weeks ago, and wildflowers were blooming in rampant profusion.

The prettiest evilest leaf ever
Also growing rampantly but not green, were thick patches of poison oak bushes. I tested Jay quickly, because he is a both a hiking and Oregon neophyte, and I'm proud to say my student passed the exam each and every time by correctly pointing out the poison oak when asked. In the sunny patches of trail, which was about 90% of the hike, the leaves were coming out in shades of dark red, burgundy, and sometimes nearly black in color. I generally try to stay away from Satan's favorite shrub but in this case, I made an exception as I was quite struck by the beauty of the oily itch-spreading leaves. Anyway, I got within the plant's personal space to take some photos of the colorful foliage. Normally, I try to stay at least two miles away from the accursed itch disseminating bushes.

Parallel lines
The trail headed uphill across grassy slopes before ducking into a forest on a relatively level trail. Where I had struggled with the muddy track several weeks ago, the trail was now dry and hard-packed, just like me! And after walking out of the forest, it was time to soak in the totally awesome view down to Whistlers Bend.

The view to Whistlers Bend never gets old
Rain and clouds had been an issue on my prior hike but not today. The sky was a deep blue and there were just a handful of small clouds floating in the sky. While the sun was out, the breeze upwelling from the creek valleys kept us cool and the air had that clarity and crispness normally reserved for a clear day in winter. And below the aforementioned deep blue sky, the North Umpqua River idly circled the peninsula of Whistlers Bend. Surrounding farms greened up the valley with pastures, and the terrain was dotted with farm ponds. Just a magnificent scene and we took a short break just to take it all in for a few minutes.

The Thistle Ridge trail goes through a thicket of oak trees
The kind and gentle grade at the overlook soon became just a distant memory, driven out of our thoughts by burning quad muscles as we continually headed uphill on Thistle Ridge first, then Middle Ridge next, both bereft of shade of any sort. Our leg pain was assuaged somewhat by fantastic views of the North Umpqua River and windblown Middle Ridge looming in front of us. The terrain was all covered in grass, which was well-populated with flowering blue-eyed grass which is in fact, yellow-eyed and not actually a grass. Who names these things, anyway?

At the intersection with the North Gate Road, we availed ourselves of the facilities which consisted of just a picnic table and an awesome view. We spent a little bit of time there to eat lunch, rest, and relax. I had a notion of continuing up to the North Boundary Ridge but once we started up yet another steep section of trail, the whining started and not necessarily from Jay, either! No problem, it was still a beautiful day and hike, so we backtracked and headed down the steep North Gate Road.

A gopher snake on the trail and Jay was nowhere to be seen
Wild iris was in bloom all around the trail and as I was photographing several, I noticed a large gopher snake basking in the warm sunlight. Seconds later, the snake was in my hands hissing and showing its teeth and that's how I found out that not only does Jay really not like snakes, he doesn't even like people picking them up either. I also found out his voice could squeal high enough to drop stunned squirrels out of trees. We were able to resume both hiking and our friendship once the snake was returned to its grassy habitat.  

Blue-eyed grass is yellow-eyed and not really a grass
By this time, we were down in Soggy Bottom, which was no longer soggy, and a short walk on the gravel road returned us to our vehicles. Most of the vehicles were gone and despite all the cars parked there in the morning, we only saw only one other hiker all day, a woman out hiking with her children (candidate for Mom of the Year, in my opinion) on Middle Ridge. Generally, most people probably avoid the steep trails and do the easier hikes to either Soggy Bottom or Blacktail Basin. Me, I'll probably keep going on the steeper routes to maintain that social distancing protocol and avoid people like the socially awkward hiker person that I am.

Just a gorgeous day in the North Bank
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album