Saturday, January 25, 2020

Cape Blanco (via Sullivan Gulch)

This seemed like such a simple undertaking. Hike about 2.5 level miles to the beach, follow a ridge to the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, make a beach walk to the Elk River, and then back on a flat trail to the trailhead. So easy, what could ever go wrong? Well, the weather, for starters. An eight-foot foot high tide, too. And a mile of mud puddles, let's not forget those, either. Nice to know I still have the Richard Hike touch.

Twenty-nine hikers took the green flag
The weather forecast called for 100% probability of rain but you'd never know that when the Friends of the Umpqua gathered at the meeting place in Roseburg. My theory about only three morons show up for a hike in poor weather was put to lie by eight hikers who piled into cars under a remarkably clear blue sky. While the weather was somewhat cloudy and foggy by the time we arrived at Cape Blanco, the air was nonetheless happily dry and there were twenty-one more hikers waiting for us, courtesy of our sister club the South Coast Striders. Wow, twenty-nine hikers to keep track of and I immediately felt sorry for the hike leader, which was me.

Wetlands, accent on the wet
From a large parking lot on the Cape Blanco park road, we executed a short walk on the road to a gate, opened said gate, and then commenced hiking in earnest. The first part of the hike was on a grassy path that looked like it had been a jeep or farm road in in its prior incarnation. The path basically followed the edge of Sullivan Gulch, a large marsh in a broad valley. The waterlogged gulch was full of overgrown ponds, canals, and other amorphous wetlands that faded into the fog. Didn't see any waterfowl though, they had either sought shelter from the impending storm or had fled the arrival of twenty-nine hikers. Smart birds, either way.

Scraggly alder trees
Besides sideswiping Sullivan Gulch, the trail provided plenty of quality coastal forest time over the several miles to the beach. Leafless alder, their branches stark against the gray sky, contrasted nicely with the evergreen conifers flanking the path. In a taste of things to come, large muddy puddles lay across the trail, forcing dainty hikers to tiptoe around them to keep feet clean and dry.

Nice view for a few minutes
After a pleasant walk to the dunes overlooking the beach between Cape Blanco and the Elk River, the first little downer reared its salty water head. I knew it was going to be high tide (check your tide tables before you go beach hiking, boys and girls) but since the beach here is fairly wide, I was hoping there'd be some way to hike to the Elk River. The decision to hike to the Elk was postponed until we could visually assess the situation and one look at the eight-foot tide covering ALL the beach sent me figuratively scrambling for Plan B.

The storm arrives
Plan B was a hike up the spectacular coastal bluffs where we'd eat lunch on the high point thereof, followed by a short amble to the cape itself. After a brief uphill ridge walk, we all sat down upon arrival at the high point, munching our various lunches and snacks, and admiring the awesome view as we ate. While slightly overcast, the sunlight made it past the clouds here and there, casting spotlights that flitted and fluttered upon the silver ocean surface. Further to the south, the sky was ominously black and the rugged Oregon coast simply disappeared into the heavy dark mist. The storm was coming and mere minutes later, it was pretty much arriving, about as welcome as a visit from the mother-in-law, as we cut our lunch short to skedaddle.

Remnant of a steam donkey
From our lunchtime coastal overlook, the trail ducked into a heavily wooded forest with traces of mist sifting through a skein of tree branches. Some of us stopped to gawk at the ruins of a steam donkey, the mossy and massive timbers a nostalgic reminder of logging operations of yore.

Here is where the rain caught us
We grabbed the Oregon Coast Trail at the campground and the trail spit us out onto the windblown and barren grassy bluffs just south of the lighthouse. Naturally, since we were out in the open, it figured that would be where the storm would catch us, all unprotected and exposed like that. By the time we reached the lighthouse parking lot, there was unanimous and silent wordless agreement that this was as close to the lighthouse as we needed to be. The wind was gusty, but not as yet as powerful as was forecast. The rain did pick up in intensity, putting all our rain gear to the test. It was at this point I ruefully removed the battery from my camera and stowed the camera in its case, to be safely inoperative for the rest of the day. From prior experience, it's kind of an awkward conversation between me and Mrs. O'Neill when the conversation begins with "I have to buy a new camera!", no sense repeating that dismal experience for the fourth time.

Stormy afternoon at Cape Blanco
Too bad the camera was temporarily retired because it might have been fun to photograph hikers navigating deep and wide mud puddles for a mile or so before the trail plunged rapidly down to Sullivan Gulch. First there was one small puddle and hikers could step over and around with no problem. Next puddle was larger and the dense coastal huckleberry bushes flanking the trail effectively deterred hikers from bushwhacking round. Then the puddles were tens of yard long and ankle deep and the only thing to do at that point was just splash through, dry feet be damned. My feet were fairly dry because my high-ankle boots are waterproof but most hikers had trail-runners or some facsimile thereof, and the sound of water squishing inside shoes could clearly be heard, along with mutinous mutterings about a certain gleeful hike leader who was obviously enjoying the whole splashy experience.

Misty forest
The precipitous descent down to Sullivan Gulch was safely executed, and I witnessed no pratfalls, be they mine or anybody else's. Most hikers were fairly philosophical about the hike, noting that we were hiking at the coast in January and the inclement weather is to be expected. But they didn't thank me, either.

Rain clouds deliver
Because of the heavy rain, I didn't take my usual quota of pictures, but what few I did take are in the Flickr album.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Fall Creek Falls

Oh, what an effete snob I am! "This hike is too small" and "this hike is too large" and I'm not sure I've ever found a hike that is just right. Because the walk (I deign to call it a hike) to Fall Creek Falls lands in the too-short category, that would be why I've only hiked there just once, and that was back when I was a single parent and the kids were small. But the opportunity to get out with friends I hadn't seen in a while cropped up, so I decided to be more tolerant and accepting, and take the namby-pamby "hike" to the falls. And hey, I can always take a small walk and turn it into a big photo shoot in the hiking equivalent of making mountains out of molehills.

Slow shot of a fast creek
So, inclining my head towards the horizon so as not to snootily look down my nose at this tiny stroll, I joined Jennifer, John, Dianne, and Connie for the amble to the falls. Right at the start, it was obvious this would be all about the creek. It had been raining off and on during the week, filling up the North Umpqua River and all its tributary streams (of which, Fall Creek is one) with water. That would explain why the creek was so noisy and vociferous as it bounded from pool to pool below the trail. I don't think there was any other color to the water besides white. 

Green and white all day long
The hike was bichromatic as colorwise, there was only the white of the creek and the green of literally everything else. The falls and creek fill up the narrow canyon with moisture, providing watery sustenance to all the thriving ferns, moss, trees, lichen, and other assorted vegetation. Since this was a short walk-cum-photo shoot, I set out to photographically document everything I saw growing and flowing around the trail. Didn't take long, naturally, for me to find myself walking solo, lagging well behind my camera-free comrades.

Trail shot 
A point of interest on this trail, besides the waterfall, is a large house-sized rock squatting on the trail like an oversized mossy river troll. It probably fell eons ago from the slopes above and when it did fall, it cracked in two like a geologic Humpty-Dumpty. Nowadays, the split between the two halves of what used to be one whole is the actual trail. The narrow cleft is not a place for those who dislike confined spaces and reminded me I really should start my diet soon. Back in the day, my children thought it was the coolest thing ever to run back and forth through the rocky confine.

Fall Creek Falls
After a green mile with the whitewatered creek churning next to the trail, a larger roar began to permeate through the forest. Yup, it was Fall Creek Falls, in all its thundering glory. Using the shoot-and-wipe technique, which consists of hurriedly snapping a photograph and then wiping off the ample moisture from the falls that managed to accumulate on the lens' surface (on my glasses too, I might add) in the 1/100th of a second that it took for the camera shutter to trip. Not really done hiking (it had been just over a mile, I think) at this point, I continued on the trail as it headed up to a trailhead above the falls, but not before stopping at a viewpoint with a bench to admire the falls some more. 

Fall Creek was always reliably photogenic
The trail ended at a gravel road and I knew that Jennifer and John had continued hiking on the road for extra mileage but in which direction? Not sure and not wanting to confuse my people as to my whereabouts, I dallied where the roadway crossed Fall Creek. The creek was particularly photo-friendly here where it streamed in a series of attractive stair-step cascades and pools. After a bit, Diane popped out from the trailhead and pointed me in the right direction and the two of us continued hiking along the gravel road.

It's starting to rain
The air had that liquidity that hovered somewhere between drizzle and rain. Clothing got soaked in no time at all despite the lack of direct inclemency. Liquid weather must occur a lot up here, for the surrounding forest was covered in thick layers of fern and ever-present moss. The forest understory greenery was just that: eminently green everywhere, broken up only by occasional mossless tree trunks. Puddles reflected the surrounding branches and dark clouds, and before long, concentric ripples on the puddles told us it was starting to sprinkle, as if the pitter-patter sound on hat brims were not clue enough.

Raindrop on a cedar frond
So back toward the trail was the direction in which we went, and I fitted an extension tube (used for taking macro photos) onto my camera and figured I'd just take photos of small things. It's what you do on a short hike. Accordingly, I now have lots of photos of lichen, moss, mushrooms, water drops, and witch's butter (a yellow-orange fungus that resembles a dollop of butter). As Diane and I snacked in the wet atmosphere above the falls, Jennifer and John appeared and the four of us headed back down the muddy trail. Since this was more photo-shoot than walk, I soon found myself in my customary spot all alone, way behind everybody else. But to be honest, I re-enjoyed the trail all over again since my last visit here several decades ago. So much so, I might even quit looking down my nose at all the other little unworthy trails but then again, probably not.

Fall Creek emerges from its lair
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Monday, January 20, 2020

North Umpqua Trail (Swiftwater Segment)

Three weeks into the new year and I finally get in my first hike of 2020. Wow, that puts me on pace for a whopping 130 miles for the year! If I want more miles than that, and I do, I guess I really need to hike more often.

It didn't rain, looks can be deceiving
Weather, concerts, and just a wee bit of laziness had all conspired to keep me from my perennial New Year resolution of hiking more. However, enough is enough and it was time to confront my inner slothfulness and whatever weather was lying in wait for me on the trail. There was a high likelihood of precipitation as it had been raining all week but as it turned out, the only weather issue was that it was cold, getting close to but not quite freezing. But thankfully, no water fell from the sky during my short visit to the North Umpqua Trail. There was plenty of water on the ground though, and all the little creeks along the North Umpqua Trail were running as full and noisy as a constipated goat. Boots did get wet, but, that's a lot more preferable than atmospheric rivers waterfalling from the sky, drenching me from above.

White staghorn fungus was plentiful next to the trail
The Swiftwater Segment was chosen as the destination du jour simply because a friend of mine had posted a photo of the view from Bob Butte and what Tim can do, so can I. Setting out from the Susan Creek Day Use Area, I grabbed the Emerald Trail which is a short connector trail to Tioga Bridge. Emerald was the key color of the forest, as anything not moving fast enough was cloaked and covered with copious layers of moss. I spent a few minutes crawling through the forest cover in search of snow queen, one of the first wildflowers to bloom. While I found many budding out, none were displaying the small lavender flowers that I wanted to photograph. At least my hands and knees got dirty.

Lichen on a tree trunk
It was kind of a slow walk on the Emerald Trail, for there were so many standing trees with small (tiny, even) mushrooms, lichen, and moss thriving on the trunks: much photography ensued. Below the trail, the turquoise'ish waters of the North Umpqua River coursed by, swollen with rain runoff this time of year. Leafless maple trees provided some color what with their mossy branches and trunks contrasting against the dark gray of the sky.

The Tioga Bridge is like the 12th Wonder of the World
The Tioga Bridge was constructed in 2012 and it amazes me that you can still smell the creosote on the stout timbers. The arched bridge is not only stout, but scenic as well and a few minutes were spent taking pictures of the span and the river flowing underneath. On the other side of the river, a T-intersection with the North Umpqua Trail heralded the beginning of the real hike, but not before I stopped to photograph a creek cascading right next to the trail junction. Whew, with so many things to appreciate and look at, it sure was hard to commence hiking in earnest.

The creeks were in full torrent on this day
This portion of the North Umpqua Trail is on a gravel road bed and the grade was gentle as it angled uphill away from the river. Cedar fronds waved over the trail, and mushrooms along with  the ever ubiquitous moss consumed dead trees both standing and fallen. The forest ground cover was a dense and sodden green knee-high carpet of fern, salal, and Oregon grape. Periodically, rustic footbridges spanned the frequent creeks running across the trail. Hikers who like to photograph really appreciate the rustic bridges because the rails allow one to take those exquisite slow creek shots without having to pack a tripod.  

The "real" trail enters the forest
After several miles of this, the trail departed the road bed and became a real trail with rough tread. Unfortunately, this led to the only un-scenic portion of the hike when the path ran underneath some power lines for a brief bit. Much photography did not ensue. Once past the buzzing power lines, the trail entered the forest and I was back in business with the camera.

Bob Creek flows below the footbridge
The path was dropping rapidly in the forest and Bob Creek came into view with plenty of white water shining through the trees. I might not have been able to see the creek much, but I sure could hear it. Running full, the stream was loud as it rambunctiously tumbled over boulders in the bottom of its canyon. At yet another stout footbridge over the boisterous torrent, more photography ensued. I've hiked here before, but nearby Bob Butte had always been hidden up in the clouds which conveniently provided me the cover (pun intended) to avoid the hike up. But today, the dark clouds were high enough to allow views so I cinched up my internal fortitude and continued hiking past Bob Creek.

Let the uphill begin!
Oof! That was kind of steep for the first hike of the year and my winter-atrophied leg muscles were soon complaining. But hey, I like hot food, so I'm used to ignoring the burn and I did that very thing as I trudged up the switchbacking trail through the forest. Just as the trail broke out into the open, I met up with the only other hikers I'd see all day. These two ladies were on the first leg of their goal of hiking the entire 78 miles of the North Umpqua Trail by dayhike. Cool, and so nice to see ambition on the trail.

View of the North Umpqua River canyon from Bob Butte
There is an open area on the side of Bob Butte, consisting of low growing grass and a bunch of rocks. Water seeps out of the ground here and all the rocks were accordingly covered with moss. Oak trees, seemingly out of place among all the conifer and maple, dotted the green slope. And of course, the open greensward provided an impressive view of the North Umpqua River canyon upstream. Small nearby peaks were covered with snow, and I probably was just several hundred feet below snow level.

A rock feels true love's mossy embrace
After a brief stay where I couldn't really sit down because of all the water seeping out of the ground, it was back the way I came, where I could enjoy the creeks and forest all over again. But at least it was all downhill, excepting the climb away from Bob Creek, and leg muscles were appreciative of that. So, the first hike of the year came in a little under seven miles, and my poor flaccid body felt every bit of it. But that was to be expected since it had been about a month since I last had hiked. I really should do this more often. 

Moss rules all on the North Umpqua Trail
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.