Saturday, October 30, 2021

North Umpqua Trail (Hot Springs Segment)


Last year, the Friends of the Umpqua's outing on the North Umpqua Trail's Hot Springs Segment had been all about the autumn colors. It was Halloween weekend and the weather had been gloriously sunny, the sky inspiringly blue, and the forest brilliant with fall colors. I happily hiked as one with the elements, because I too am bright and flamboyantly colorful. However, this year's hike was the exact opposite. Three weeks of rain had knocked most of the leaves out of the trees, the temperature was on bordering on cold, and the overcast sky rudely dumped water on our heads. What a difference a year makes!

Colorless grubs and crawly things

Beginning from the trailhead at Toketee Lake, ten hikers warmed up with a pleasant up and down ramble through a dimly lit forest above the mostly unseen river. This section was all green with ferns, moss, Oregon grape, and a whole forest comprised primarily of Douglas fir. The dark forest seemed to be darker than usual though, thanks to a gloomy gray sky overhead and a general scarcity of sunlight. Underneath the trees, we scuttled in the low light like so many colorless grubs and crawly things slithering away from underneath a freshly overturned garden stone.

The Golden Path

After a bit, the trail dropped down to the North Umpqua River and commenced one of my favorite sections of trail. Here the path follows the river and in autumn, is blanketed with a thick layer of fallen leaves. Just follow the Golden Path, Richard, and you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams, the richness in this case pertaining to the glorious autumn vibe. When not ambling beneath maples and their fading leaves (mostly on the ground), the trail wound its way through a cathedral of tall firs flanking either side of the trail and I gaped in reverential awe like some humble pilgrim finally reaching his sanctified destination.

Trees (and maybe a hiker or two)
get buried by the leaves

As mentioned, the forest floor (and trail) were shag-carpeted with a thick layer of leaves. Already, the processes of decomposition and soil regeneration were well underway. Individual fronds of Oregon grape and ferns had snagged some of the fallen maple leaves which were now decomposing on the evergreen plants and shrubs. The contours of fallen trees of seasons past were barely visible underneath mountains of accumulated leaf litter. Mushrooms and fungi of various ilk and specie were taking advantage of the decaying biomass and just generally thrived all over.

The North Umpqua Trail gently
climbs up to Deer Creek

At just under the two-mile mark, the North Umpqua Trail egressed onto a forest road and the path then resumed on the other side of the river. The only uphill hiking commenced here, but fortunately it wasn't daunting at all, just a steady climb through a lush and tangled forest. Here, the North Umpqua Trail diverged from the North Umpqua River but Deer Creek happily took the river's trailside place and burbled merrily somewhere down there in the forest below. As I hiked through the bucolic scenery, the peace and quiet of the forest was suddenly interrupted by John hiking in my direction with an obvious limp. Uh-oh.

Final score: This little creek 1, Knees 0

Up ahead there is an unnamed creek that was just a trickle last year. This year, it was running vigorously and enterprising hikers had fashioned a primitive creek crossing made up of branches and rocks. One of these rocks broke in two when John stepped on it, causing him to have an unwanted sit-down in the creek. Also unwanted, was a knee bending the wrong way and John had to take his sprained joint back to the trailhead, one gimpy step at a time.

Deer Creek flows under the hiker's bridge

After making sure John was in reasonable enough shape to hike back without assistance, I continued on to Deer Creek, my turnaround point. Everybody else had continued on to Columnar Falls but because I had lagged behind, this hike had turned out to be more photo shoot than hike so Deer Creek was as far as I would get. At the stout metal and wood bridge spanning the stream, I took a moment or two just to simply appreciate the beauty of the creek approaching from upstream, well on its way to joining forces with the North Umpqua River. 

Natural leaf arrangement on a log

Shortly after turning around and heading back, the ominous gray clouds delivered on their threat to rain on us. The day darkened considerably and the pitter-patter of raindrops and the surround-sound hiss of millions of raindrops striking millions of fallen leaves were a soothing counterpoint to the rhythmic noise of my boots swishing through the leaf litter cloaking the path. Since I was now ahead of everybody else, I took my appreciative and thankful time as I walked, while valiantly trying my best to keep the camera dry.

New arrival

It was a short wait at the trailhead before everybody else began straggling in, all wet and bedraggled like my dogs get when I've forgotten to let them back in the house on a rainy day. The day was now dark and gloomy with that hint of cold that says winter is on its way, and all hikers, including me, were rain-soaked and sodden. Despite the discomfiture caused by the inclement weather, nonetheless I had happily hiked as one with the elements, for I too am gloomy, gray, and chill.

A family of mushrooms make
a happy home on a rotting log

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

No comments :

Post a Comment