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.

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