Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Humbug Mountain

I saw a meme recently that said "Sex is good, but have you ever tried fresh air after breathing wildfire smoke for a week?" That was a perfect way to describe the not so lovely experience of having your entire state go up in flames. Filled with choking and suffocating smoke, the acrid air turned us all into dedicated Air Quality Index (AQI) watchers. The AQI scale runs from 0 (best) to 500 (worst), and the very worst AQI category or rating is that of Hazardous, which requires an AQI reading of 301 or higher. Much to our horror, our AQI numbers climbed to a point completely off the scale, reaching a peak reading up into the mid-700s. The high numbers made for a macabre cause for celebration when the AQI numbers finally dipped below 300. "Yay, our air improved to Very Unhealthy!" is a so very 2020 thing to say.

Welcome to Mars, Oregon!

Now, we've experienced forest fires before but this was different. The fires not only immolated our favorite forests but also burned in towns and cities where amazingly, we could not put the flames out. The mountain towns of Blue River, Detroit, and Mill City were virtually wiped off the face of the earth. And in what to me was absolutely shocking, the Alameda Fire, driven by strong winds, roared up the urban setting of Bear Creek Valley and destroyed huge chunks of the cities of Phoenix and Talent, including the downtown areas. Unbelievable. At the time of this hike, large swaths of Forest Service lands (and trails contained within) had been declared off limits along with many state parks. Obviously, my humble little pastime of hiking went on hiatus for a couple of weeks.

A tree wants to give a Humbug hug

Fortunately, cool weather and some rain rolled in, which immensely aided the fire crews charged with tamping down the wildfires filling up the air with choking smoke. It was nice to have normal and natural gray-colored sky instead of one tinted that weird and ungodly Martian orange. Because of the aforementioned closures, the only go-to place really was somewhere out at the coast. Taking a longer drive than usual, I headed to a trail that I had only done once before: Humbug Mountain. 

Moss claims all that does not move

Lore has it that in the mid-1800s, Captain William Tichenor dispatched a scout party that went north in error instead of south. An irritated captain renamed the peak from Sugarloaf Mountain to Tichenor's Humbug to forever memorialize the directionally-challenged expedition. Over time, the name shortened to Humbug Mountain and that’s how the mountain got its name. In our present-day modern time, the mountain is now the centerpiece of Humbug Mountain State Park and a nice five-mile loop trail takes hikers up to the top of the forested peak. At a little over 1,760 feet tall, the peak is not the tallest mountain in the world but it is a 1,700 climb to get to the summit and you have just 2.5 miles to get there. In any part of the world, that is a steep trail.

Magical forest on Humbug Mountain

But while you are huffing and puffing your way up the path, you do get to immerse yourself in a gorgeous forest with some dense stands of myrtlewood trees perfuming the forest air with their fragrant leaves. Maples also populate the slopes and on the day that I went, they were beginning to blush yellow in advance of the coming fall season. At ground level, rampant greenery encroached the trail and the sweet caress of fern fronds on my legs were a constant as I hiked by.

Cape Blanco lies in the distance beyond Port Orford

I had been to the top of Humbug Mountain something like 15 years ago and decided, much like Captain Tichenor and his dispatchees, that the mountain was indeed full of humbug. At the top back then was a bench sited in a small meadow ringed by tall trees, a complete lack of view the bitter payoff for all that uphill slogging. However, sometime during the intervening years, the offending trees were cut down and now a vista of epic proportion is the appropriate reward for persevering hikers.

The reward for hiking to the top of Humbug Mountain

On the way up, a couple of breaks in the forest cover did offer tantalizing peeks at Battle Rock, Port Orford Head, and the small town of Port Orford itself. But at the summit, the view to south is unimpeded and the smooth curve of the coast arcing all the way to Otter Point is broken up only by the rocky point of Sisters Rocks. Beyond and inland of the coast, rise the formidable high peaks of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, although the cloud cover clinging to the mountains afforded me just fleeting glimpses thereof. Several rustic benches provided the means for appreciative hikers to rest, eat, and generally just sit and meditate upon the coastal splendor absent any trace of humbug.

My legs and ferns became well acquainted 

At the trailhead, there had been a sign warning hikers that a fallen tree was blocking the East Summit Trail and don't you know that a sign like that means I had to go hike the East Summit Trail on the way down? Yes, there was a large tree blocking the trail but really, it was like a million other trees I've had to clamber over. A little tedious to scramble off the trail on the downhill side to get past but really, it was not that big of a deal. I'm glad I did return by the East Summit Trail because the huge old growth giants in the forest were amazing. Huge and majestic Douglas fir trees were collectively battle scarred, all proudly bearing singe marks from some fire of yore. Per the state park website, a fire had burned on the north side of the mountain in 1958 so maybe the fire scars on the trees are that old. So am I, for that matter, but at least I don't have burn marks on my legs.

Photographic allegory of my hiking

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