Monday, November 2, 2020

North Umpqua Trail (Marsters Segment)

Four years ago, I hiked on the Marsters Segment of the North Umpqua Trail (NUT). Back then, the forest was lush and mostly green (sporting a little bit of autumn yellow, too) while dense and vibrant undergrowth of fern and salal carpeted the forest floor. It was so peaceful and beautiful and so impressed was I by the rampant vegetation and forest that four years later, I was given to say at a planning meeting "Say, I have a great idea for a hike!" I really should know better.

The North Umpqua on a cold late autumn morn

Sometime during the intervening years after that 2016 hike, fire had come to visit, plunder, and pillage this once and former green section of the NUT. Seems like lately, the North Umpqua River area is ground central for summer lightning strikes and accordingly, fire has become a yearly thing on the NUT. This year, the massive and catastrophic Archie Creek Fire immolated over 100,000 acres of beautiful riverside forest and as a result, about half of the NUT was rendered unusable and officially declared off-limits. I'm not sure which of the many fires in the area was responsible for ravaging the Marsters but at least the segment was open for business when I went there for a scouting trip in preparation for the upcoming Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club venture.

If you like fire damage, then you will absolutely love the Marsters

It was obvious that the green forest residing in my memory pixels had succumbed to the fire. Gone were the salal and ferns, now supplanted by a post-fire population of fireweed and dewberry vines. The lush forest had been converted into several miles of blackened and dead trees, all victims of the fire's rampage. However, life was returning anew and young hardwood trees like bigleaf maple and dogwood were already establishing themselves on the blackened slopes above the North Umpqua River. Since this was late autumn, the young trees were adding yellow, pink, and orange colors to the otherwise stark terrain.  

This landslide was treacherous, yet I
stopped halfway across to take this photo

The bucolic woodland path of yesteryear was likewise gone, now transformed into an uneven and sketchy track undulating up and down across steep slopes. Even though it was ostensibly the same pleasant path I had hiked on in 2016, somehow the fire had imparted a rough and rocky quality to the trail. After a wildfire, trails become damaged by landslides and fallen trees and both of those obstacles were present to be contended with. There was one small slide that was not too bad but a more daunting second landslide was perched high above the river, and was fairly slick too, thanks to a small water runoff trickling down the face of the muddy scar. One really had to be very carefully picking one's way across the shifting soils of the slide and this One made sure to do that very thing.

Got some practice hiking through trees today

The trail crossed Deception Creek and several other small gullies by means of wooden footbridges that did not look new, and I was grateful they had either survived the fire or had been replaced shortly afterward. Either way, it would have been a tedious scramble in and out of the gullies without the bridges, considering each gully was choked and cluttered with litter and debris from the fire. As mentioned, there were plenty of fallen trees that were a pain in the you-know-what to scramble over, under, or around with one notable pile of many trees blocking the way as I neared the trailhead at Calf Creek. My people are going to hate me when we do the actual hike which, in my twisted way of thinking, makes the hike an absolute success!

Bridge across Deception Creek, which was
not named after me (but could have been)

This side of the river was not bathed in warm sunlight and it was a pretty chill day, but several layers of clothing combined with some exertion kept me plenty warm. Because of the cold air and lack of sunlight, the river was running dark, there'd be none of that distinctive North Umpqua River turquoise color today. Across the river, rugged forested slopes were bathed in warm sunlight as if to taunt one certain lone hiker suffering from light and warmth deprivation on the shady side of the river canyon. Local landmark Rattlesnake Rock was eminently visible on the other side of the river, along with an unnamed massive cliff painted greenish-yellow by lichen splotching the cliff's craggy face. All this scenery was made visible courtesy of the fire clearing out the forest and vegetation which is just about the only good thing wildfire accomplishes, although a happy post-conflagration population of woodpeckers, fireweed, and tree-eating fungi might disagree with me.

My lunch time view of Calf Creek

After a rough clamber over the aforementioned pile of fallen trees, the trail then dropped steadily down to Calf Creek, which denotes the western terminus of the Marsters Segment. Calf Creek was a logical stopping point for rest and repast and I partook of both. The Calf Segment begins where the Marsters ends but was now officially closed because of the Archie Creek Fire. The Calf already had fire scars from 2002's Apple Fire so it would be interesting to see what the damage the Archie Creek Fire did. With fire being such a frequent visitor, you could say the Calf is well-done. From ground level however, the Calf did not look either closed or any more fire-damaged than usual. The road to the trailhead was closed though, and people stationed on the highway to prevent would-be hikers from getting to the trailhead would be the problem getting onto the Calf, unless one surreptitiously backpacked in from the Marsters. (Note: the Calf Segment has since been opened for hiking).

Watercolor painting upon the North Umpqua

After lunch, it was back the way I came and I enjoyed the same rough fire-scarred terrain all over again, including hair-raising traverses across landslides and tedious scrabbles over piles of fallen trees.  It would have been nice on the return leg if some more sunlight actually would have made it across to my side of the river, thereby illuminating the autumn leaves and warming the body and soul of this erstwhile cold-hearted hiker. But then again, it just wouldn't be the North Umpqua Trail in late autumn/early winter.

Fireweed, gone to seed

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

No comments :

Post a Comment