Saturday, July 24, 2021

Metolius River

Black Butte is an iconic landmark in Oregon's central Cascade Mountains. Visible for many miles around, the Butte is a perfectly symmetrical cone rising at the feet of the Cascade Mountains like a geologic witch's hat that got left behind in haste when the coven meeting was adjourned. At the foot of the butte and nowhere near as obvious from a distance, the Metolius River bursts forth from an underground journey through the area's porous lava-based soils. The river emerges perfectly clear, like vector calculus to a mathematician, the crystalline waters having been scrubbed clean of all impurities during its underground journey. And after two days of trudging over steep trails in the Santiam Pass area, we (Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club) decided that a level walk next to a crystal clear river was just the thing to do.

The Metolius runs amazingly clear

The only way to do a loop hike on the West Metolius River Trail is to return on the opposite bank and see the same old scenery all over again. Since we wanted to see more of the river than could be observed on what amounted to an out-and-back hike, a shuttle was engineered by leaving a vehicle at both ends of the section of trail we'd be hiking on. What this translated to in reality, was that Lane, Cleve, and I did lots of driving from Canyon Creek Campground to Lower Bridge, and back to Canyon Creek Campground again. Meanwhile, in a sign of respect, or more like a lack thereof, our comrades blithely commenced hiking without us while we performed the vehicular tedium required to make their hike possible. It all evened out in the end though, because although they finished their hike first, our so-called hiking buddies still had to righteously wait for the three of us and our ever important car keys to arrive at the Lower Bridge trailhead.

Some of that Metolius color

Anyway, the Three Amigos (me, Cleve, and Lane) sallied forth on a trail that was only marginally tainted by our impatient friends hiking on the trail ahead of us. Here, the river was several miles downstream from its birth spring below Black Butte. The water was still amazingly clear and the aquamarine color of the flowing current was just striking, be it running in sun or shade. In places, I estimate the river was close to 20 feet deep yet the water was clear enough you could see clearly see submerged rocks and pebbles on the bottom.

A series of spectacular springs tumble into the river

On the other side of the river, a series of springs gushed forth in multiple founts from the forested slopes and we stopped to collectively ooh, ahh, and take lots of photos thereof. The white water tumbling through perpetual beds of moss and ferns was quite picturesque. On our maps, the springs were unnamed but Allen Springs Campground was nearby, so maybe we were looking at Allen Springs.

Had to walk uphill thanks to an unstable tree

The trail undulated gently above the river, alternating between sun and shade, and the various sun or shade-loving plants were generally abloom. Fireweed, aster, henbit, and pearly everlasting were the usual late-summer suspects, while Oregon grape offered ripe (but not particularly palatable) "grapes" to the increasingly warm sun. A trail detour served up the only challenging exercise of note when we had to hike straight up a steep slope to get around what the sign said was an "unstable tree". Although, truth be told, the tree behaved quite normally while we were there.

Wizard Falls left us spellbound

Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery marked the halfway point of the hike, and the shady parklike grounds also made for a convenient place to snack and temporarily loll and laze. Seen and admired from a roadway bridge, Wizard Falls plunged all of six inches over a rocky V-shaped cleft in the river. While Wizard Falls will never be mistaken for Niagara Falls, the bubbly blue waters of the falls churning in the cleft is an amazing sight and well worth the hike to get there. Here, our route crossed the Metolius to resume the journey on the other side of the river.

Cleve never met a Ponderosa pine he didn't like

Now that we were hiking on the east side of the river, the sun began to bake our collective noodles a bit more. The vegetation had morphed to an east-side Cascades high desert vibe with the trees in the forest tending more toward orange-trunked Ponderosa pines. Fire has been a frequent visitor here in recent years, and we could see burned forest and dead snags on massive Green Ridge as we hiked. The river was running wider than before (like me!) but still proffered plenty of deep pools that must make for some delightful swimming holes, Although, we never did see any swimmers which tells me the water was too cold or the current too strong.

Trail braid near a campground

The trail gets a lot of use from nearby campgrounds and had a tendency to braid and rebraid into ill-defined routes, irritating serious hikers intent on moving on down the river. At one juncture, the trail made a lengthy inland detour away from the river so as to skirt around some private property. Lane and Cleve were somewhere ahead of me and I negotiated a series of intersections all by myself while being totally unsure if I was going the right way or if Lane and Cleve had gone the right way. However, I soon stumbled upon them waiting for me on a log, entertaining the same unconfident thoughts as I. 

About to have a Friends of the Umpqua reunion on Lower Bridge

Soon, Lower Bridge came into view, crossing the river near the like-named Lower Bridge Campground and we could see our bored comrades waiting for us on the bridge. But we all got onto the same itineraries and timelines again when we piled into our vehicles to complete the shuttle arrangement. We all pretty much agreed this had been a nice hike along a spectacular river that none of us had ever been to before.

A nicely shaded trail on an ever warming day

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

Friday, July 23, 2021

Tam McArthur Rim

Several weeks ago, the Seattle Sounders had their way with my beloved Portland Timbers on the soccer pitch. After the game, while the salty tears on my cheeks were still wet, I read an online recap about this terrible tragedy and the headline put it thusly: "Seattle Mollywhops Portland". Now, if you peruse your Oxford English Dictionary to find the meaning of "mollywhop", your inner lexicologist will be unrequited, for "mollywhop" is more than likely a totally made up word. I'd love to create a catchy word like that myself, but it's no easy feat to meld two unrelated words into a single word that upon the first hearing, the meaning is nonetheless immediately clear. When you can pull that off my friends, you have reached the pinnacle of word nerdvana. The rest of us mere blogsters can only wish we could be that inventive. 

Lane leads the mad charge uphill

Speaking of words, how about some real words about our hike? I'd been only one other time on Tam MacArthur Rim (about 15 years ago) and back then, everything was covered with snow. Flash forward to present time and this latest rendition of the hike was arid, dry, and stultifyingly hot. There was no snow to be found anywhere on the rim and while you could legitimately blame climate change, the real culprit was the inherent difference between hiking in November and hiking in July. 

Short life expectancy for trees on Tam McArthur Rim

What was unchanged between now and then was the grade of the trail as it departed the shoreline of beautiful Three Creeks Lake. The path inscribed a switchbacking course to and fro through a thin and sparse forest where at least half of the trees were lying prone on the ground, right where they fell. Fortunately, the trail had been cleared by a trail crew so there was very little scrambling over downed trees which was fine with me anyway, for the grade of the trail was mollywhoppery enough to get me considering lying prone next to the trees myself.

The trail hugged the edge of the Tam McArthur world

It was kind of hard to tell what with the forest surrounding the path, but we were basically contouring up Tam McArthur Rim itself. Occasional breaks in the forest cover did serve up some stunning scenery. Directly below the abrupt edge of the rim's escarpment, reposed the azure waters of Three Creeks Lake with the surrounding fire-scarred terrain sloping steadily all the way down to central Oregon. A thin haze of smoke from the Bootleg Fire limited the visibility somewhat, otherwise I daresay we could have seen Chicago skyscrapers on the distant horizon.


Judging by all the dead tree skeletons on the rim, life is tough on trees up here. Accordingly, they were sparsely bunched. The soil was dry pumice, and our boots kicked up dust clouds that lazily floated above the trail as we scuffed along. But at least you could see the scenery in front of you as you hiked, and while I may have, given the right frame of mind, appreciated the scenery and geologic wonders we were hiking through, all I could see and focus on was the trail madly charging straight up a slope underneath the hot sun. Oof!

Psst, buddy! Spare some peanuts for a friend?

All the bad uphill stopped, officially at least, when the trail ended at a viewpoint. There is an ad hoc use path leading to Broken Hand that delivers plenty more uphill hiking but I was going to keep my promise to my surgical scars and limit my hikes to about 5 miles or so for the time being. So, my comrades abandoned me but that's ok, for I made new friends with numerous ground squirrels begging for peanuts at the overlook.

Broken Top and the Three Sisters rise above the escarpment

The untrammeled views here were astounding. To the east sprawled central Oregon and discerning hikers (like me!) could pick out the crater of Fort Rock just north of Hager Mountain. Yamsay Mountain was south of Hager and lay in the Bootleg Fire's red evacuation zone, yet there was no smoke to be seen other than a thin hazy layer floating on the distant skyline. Mount Jefferson was nearby with faraway Mount Hood coyly peeking over Jefferson's shoulder. In the forested basin immediately below the rim, sprawled sapphire-colored Three Creeks Lake and Little Three Creeks Lakes (there are several). A massive escarpment blocked most of the view of the Three Sisters although the tips of Broken Top and all Three Sisters loomed above the imposing rock wall. Way cool and it was a pleasure to just sit and take it all in.

Cobwebby paintbrush (castilleja arachnoidea)

All good things come to an end though, and eventually I packed up my gear and headed back down the trail. It was a lazy walk back, primarily because I'm lazy, but also because I spent a lot of time photographing the low growing rainbow of cobwebby paintbrush flowers populating the pumice plains on the rim. On the descent, I startled a pine marten, a seldom seen member of the weasel family, and that was also pretty cool. I also lightly rolled my ankle and took what I presume to be a spectacular tumble down a rock staircase, which was not nearly as cool as running into a pine marten. I think I just got mollywhopped by the trail.

One of the dearly departed

Now, I have spent more time than is advisable in pursuit of a word that could mollywhop "mollywhop". I've come up with sarahslapped, lanelurched, and in keeping with my header on the trail, tamthwacked. But apart from my feeble alliterative attempts, a fresh scab on my knee, and mostly pleasant memories of this spectacular hike, I've got nothing.

Little Three Creek Lakes, from the Tam McArthur overlook

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

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Canyon Creek Meadows

Timing is everything. Last year, the hiking club camped at Odell Lake right at the end of August and enjoyed a great three-day hiking extravaganza. The following weekend, the catastrophic Holiday Farm Fire roared down the McKenzie Highway and had the campout been scheduled for just a week later, we would have found ourselves right in the middle of two apocalyptic blazes (the Archie Creek Fire being the other fire). 

The scars from the B&B Fire were felt throughout the hike

At the time of this year's campout in late July, the Bootleg Fire (near Klamath Falls) had burned over 200,000 acres (it would eventually get to be over 400,000 acres in size) so it stood to reason we could expect smoky skies. But miracles do happen, for prevailing wind currents carried the smoke off to the east and we enjoyed blue sky all weekend long. Bad for everybody living to the east but we congratulated our self-centered selves on once again, our perfect timing. It's always all about us!

This bunch got lost in a parking lot!

The first hike on our itinerary was Canyon Creek Meadows, and things got off to a comedic start at the Jack Lake Trailhead. We eagerly grabbed the trail and enthusiastically walked 30 yards where the hike unexpectedly ended at a picnic table. Our group of about a dozen confused and consternated hikers then scattered in different directions in a search for the real trail and some of us even resorted to consulting our maps. Once the Old Summit Trail was found, we found wry humor in a group of experienced hikers that can't even find their way out of a trailhead parking lot.

You don't know Jack, but I do!

Once on the proper route, Jack Lake was encountered about a quarter-mile into the hike, the small lake not containing as much water as usual in this hot and dry summer. After side-swiping the body of water, the trail then began a nice little climb up a brushy ridge in the middle of the recovering 2003 B&B Fire burn zone. The forest is gradually returning but for now, the path was surrounded by sun-loving manzanita bushes with ghostly white snags poking out of the brush cover like so many quills on a mangy porcupine. 

A dry and scratchy trail 

The day was warm, maybe even hot, and the trail was dusty. Encroaching shrubbery offered no shade but did cheerfully scratch our legs as we trudged by. Continually gaining elevation as we hiked, it didn't take long before tips of taller mountains, chiefly Three-Fingered Jack and Mount Jefferson, could be seen rising above the wilderness acreage of silver snags and partially forested ridges,. In due time, and with more elevation gained, the bulk of both peaks would come to dominate scenery and skylines alike.

The first of many meadows

After a mile or so the trail began to level out, commencing an up and down transition from dead trees to a genuine live forest. We were on the east side of the Cascades though, so the terrain still had that high desert vibe in places, particularly in scrubby meadows comprised of hardy lupine and blooming subalpine mariposa lilies. The sparse meadows served advance notice of the meadowy wonders awaiting us on the other side of Canyon Creek.

Three Fingered Jack: You shall not pass!

Canyon Creek flows down from the two-toed foot of Three-Fingered Jack and yes, it does run at the bottom of a flat-floored canyon. The canyon floor is filled with a series of lush meadows, collectively known as Canyon Creek Meadows. The raised hand of Three-Fingered Jack loomed at the end of the creek's headwater, stating emphatically "Halt, your hike ends here!" It didn't take long for me to find myself lagging way behind my comrades, but on the other hand I have a bunch of nice photographs of larkspur, lupine, columbine, subalpine mariposa lily, and the like. My companions continued hiking to a glacier moraine wall where they espied mountain goats while I uncharacteristically turned back just a mile short of that worthy goal in concession to my post-hernia surgery recovery.

Some of that Canyon Creek Meadows glory

Wow, the lower meadows flanking Canyon Creek were stunning and totally way cool! The color combination of blue sky and green meadow appeal to humans on a primeval and instinctual basis and this particular human was instinctually and primevally pleased by the color combo. The sound of buzzing insects and twittering birds were a constant in the verdant meadows as I hiked past. The forested canyon walls loomed on the other side of the creek snaking its way through the vegetation like the sinuous watery serpent it is. Much photography abounded as I hiked through a couple of miles of the idyllic pastures.

Mount Jefferson presides over many
    square miles of recovering burn area

The loop was closed off by a gradual descent through brush and old burned forest before ending the hike just past Jack Lake. A fantastic vista of the fire-scarred landscape stretched to the north with snow-capped Mount Jefferson rising over the desolate expanse like the Great Snow King it is. Again, the clicking of the camera shutter was a constant.

Subalpine mariposa lily was a plentiful denizen of the meadows

Obviously, summer wildfires are now a thing these days but we were once again fortunate in our timing. About a week after the campout, lightning storms used the Cascade Mountains for target practice with the unfortunate side-effect being our forests were once again set alight. Maybe we should concede the point and just begin scheduling our campouts in January! 

Guard ant on duty!

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