Wednesday, December 9, 2020

North Umpqua Trail (Jessie Wright Segment)

That little in-between season residing twixt autumn and winter is that special time of year spent trying to frantically squeeze in just one more hike on the North Umpqua Trail (NUT) before the winter snows arrive. I offer into evidence recent hikes on the Marsters, Dread and Terror, and Hot Springs segments of the venerable NUT. Of course, this year it's been substantially difficult to even hike on the NUT, what with nearly half of it rendered unusable by last summer's devastating Archie Creek Fire. But who's counting and what's one more hike on the NUT before winter's onset arrives?

Fire-scarred forest surrounded the trail

The day was ostensibly sunny but here on the cold bottom of the North Umpqua River canyon, a thin film of mist occluded the views and I kept rubbing my eyes just in case I was developing filmy vision or something like that. Even the river looked colder than normal, the water running as dark and black as a tyrant's soul as it rumbled underneath Marsters Bridge. In a telling sign that winter is indeed nigh, I wore a jacket for the entire hike.

A goblet of water for the wee folk

Several years ago, fire rolled through this section of the NUT and nowadays, the forest floor is littered with dead trees and limbs to go along with all the normal customary forest detritus. All that decaying lumber on the forest floor just begs for mushrooms and fungi to come dine and they so obliged. There were so many different ilk, color, and specie of mushrooms, ranging from tall parasols large enough to shelter me and other rodents in a rainstorm to tiny fungal caps small enough to shelter just a few individual atoms in that very same rainstorm. Not to mention, there were fungi of the non-mushroom variety ranging from tough and woody tinder fungus to bright yellow dollops of witch's butter. Toss in a healthy population of lichen and moss clinging to tree trunks and you could almost hear the communal munching of dead wood echoing throughout the forest.

The North Umpqua River, all hike long

At roughly halfway between Marsters Bridge and Deer Creek, the river widens considerably where it makes a graceful bend as only a river can. My own personal bends are pretty much limited to beginner's yoga and are nowhere near as graceful. The thick forest cover, which had been doing a pretty good job of hiding the river from view, thinned out and allowed your merry blogster to stop and contemplate the fantastic riverine vista. The water flowing past and over a series of small cascades was perhaps enhanced by the steep terrain rising away from the river, culminating in the rocky spire of Old Man Rock (unseen, from the river's edge), which was not named after me no matter what the grandchildren say.

Snag Rock, living up to its name

The former wooden footbridge crossing Eagle Creek had been vaporized in the wildfire from several years ago and its replacement is wisely made out of metal this time.  After crossing the aforementioned creek and bridge, the trail commenced another stretch of fine river scenery. Here, the river bounds in a series of energetic cascades and rapids that might challenge a river rafter or kayaker. In the middle of all the watery turmoil and roil squats a troll-like boulder aptly named Snag Rock. The huge rock lives up to its name, for it had snagged several snags (another word for dead trees) that had attempted a doomed river float. 

I crawled like the lowly worm I am, and I liked it!

A recent storm had knocked down a bunch of trees onto the trail right near Boulder Creek and I used my well-honed crawling skills to slither past them. Another large, albeit wooden, footbridge spanned Boulder Creek and that was my turnaround point. The creek was running low as it exited its namesake Boulder Creek Wilderness, the water collecting in languid greenish-blue pools. As I ate my lunch by the creek, some large winged insect crawled by, which was strange for it did have those wing things for added mobility. I doubt the wings were just for show, maybe the bug just needed the exercise.

Some of that amazing light and mist on the hike back

The hike back to the trailhead at Marsters Bridge was uneventful but I did get to enjoy the awesome river, forest, and fungal scenery all over again. However, the river fog had thickened considerably, rendering the woods as mysterious and inscrutable as the calculus of complex numbers. As the day waned, the sun finally made it down to the canyon floor, illuminating the mist with ethereal sunbeams that awed this hiker who thankfully, had a camera with which to commemorate the show.   

Fog? What river fog?

At the trailhead, the fog lifted just long enough to put Rattlesnake Rock (which was not named after me, no matter what my wife says) on display against a rare blue sky. If this run of conducive weather continues, maybe I can get in a few more North Umpqua Trail hikes before winter arrives for good.

Vestigial remnant of autumn glory

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

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