Friday, September 10, 2021

London Peak


"Call of the Wild", "White Fang", and "Sea Wolf", epic and renown novels all, were each penned by the great American author Jack London. When I was back in school (in the previous century), the aforementioned novels were rightly required reading in literature class. However, my favorite Jack London book is little known "The Star Rover", a sort of science-fictionish novel about astral projection, which is best described as the ability to experience out-of-body travel. London's biography reads like one of his books and he led a busy life full of adventure and travels of the non-astral variety. One such journey was a long and arduous horse buggy trek to Oregon, where he guested at historic Wolf Creek Tavern. After he departed, a small peak overlooking the town of Wolf Creek was then given the name London Peak in honor of the inn's famous guest.

Spectral fern from the shadow realm

Nowadays, a well-maintained trail departs from Wolf Creek County Park and goes up to an overlook perched just below actual summit of London Peak. It's just 2 miles to the top but oh my, it's over 1400 feet of elevation gain, which works out to a daunting 14% grade. From personal experience, that kind of a grade will have you wishing in no time for a leg-relieving astral projection to the summit. But at least the tasking grade of the trail gave my legs legitimate reason to complain, which is when I'm happiest. 

Wolf Creek was not all that creeky today

The hike began with a "wade" across Wolf Creek, completely dry this time of year apart from a few isolated pools of standing water. Ironically, a sign at the edge of the stony creek bed warned "No Lifeguard on Duty". There should have been a sign warning about the prodigious amounts of poison oak encroaching the trail, though, something like "Wear Pants" (I was in shorts). However, the leaves of Satan's favorite plant were already in their autumn glory, the bright red color of the foliage being sufficient visual warning in and of itself. I'm glad to report that despite the sweet caresses of the poison oak leaves on my exposed calves, I managed to evade the madness-inducing itch that sometimes follows.

All that poison oak and me with shorts on

Immediately, the trail began inscribing switchbacks back and forth up the forested slopes of London Peak and had I known the trail would be like this, I would have counted the switchbacks. But I didn't so we'll just have to go with my unsubstantiated estimate of 927 switchbacks, with a margin of error of +/- 900. I know the switchbacks meant well but despite their best efforts to ameliorate the grade, legs were soon burning and lungs heaving as I trudged ever on upward.

One small piece of a lush forest

If you are going to struggle on a hike, you might as well do it in a beautiful forest lush and green (and red too, thanks to the poison oak). Here the woods were almost Siskiyou-like, being comprised of that odd mix of madrone, oak, maple, and conifer you tend to find in the aforementioned Siskiyous. Further adding to the Siskiyou vibe were the dried out husks of ground cones strewn about the forest floor, 
desiccate and shriveled leftovers from this year's spring season. The vegetation was generally dense and tangled throughout, making me grateful for the well-maintained path.

Madrones strive for the sky

At one switchback, I stepped on a branch and it snapped noisily, rendering a loud crack that permeated the very stillness of the forest. Suddenly, a large stampeding animal began running uphill, close enough that I could feel the vibration in my feet. Because of the dense undergrowth, I never got a look at whatever creature that felt the need to flee my presence in terror. I was guessing deer, or perhaps bear after I encountered wet bear scat on the trail when I was coming back down. The scat had not been there when I was hiking up. Yikes.

Whether stairs or switchbacks, the trail was still steep

Eventually, the trail steepened even more, to the point that wooden stair steps were required, which in turn inspired a next-level type of leg-muscle agony. On the map, there was an acute switchback that was the last one, and from there on in it was a straight walk on a ridge crest. I was hoping it would be easier, but of course, it wasn't. It was pretty much a straight charge up a heavily wooded crest that had me wishing for more stairs, with old growth trees guarding the trail like silently disapproving sentinels. 

The reward for the uphill hike

Finally! The trail ended at a viewing platform with a blessed bench on it, and I promptly put it to use. The view from the platform aerie was amazing, although only the vista north of the mountain was visible under a mostly blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Below, lay the small community of Wolf Creek, ensconced in a pronounced valley. From this height, Interstate 5 looked more like country road than freeway, and the cars and semis resembled Tonka toys for ants. Peaks and hills surrounded the area and of course, the terrain was blanketed by forest. Two large towering clouds marked the pyrocumulus clouds of the nearby Devils Knob Fire and the more distant Jack Fire and/or Rough Patch Fire complex.

This trail guarded by tall trees

The path continued past the viewpoint, where it would eventually wind up at a nearby BLM trailhead. After the hike, I perused the BLM brochure and apparently there are other worthy views to be had on that section of trail. But at the time, I was unaware and accordingly, after a nice little lunch 'n laze on the viewing platform, I just hiked back the way I had come, startling yet another large beast that could not be seen in the dense vegetation. I was thinking it would be nice to hike downhill for a change but after 787 of what seemed like 900,000 stairs, my aching knees changed my mind. It was just as hard hiking down as it had been hiking up!

Lichen clings to life on tree bark

While I did not experience any sea wolves or white fangs, there definitely was a call of the wild. But hey, that's what a trowel and toilet paper are for! I kid of course, but on the serious side, I do need to master the art of astral projection if I'm going to continue visiting the summits of peaks.

A California Sister (Adelpha californica) visits Oregon

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

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