Sunday, March 27, 2022

North Umpqua Trail (Swiftwater Segment)

In 2020, the Archie Creek Fire raged along the North Umpqua River, immolating over 130,000 acres of beautiful forest, not to mention numerous homes and businesses. Also falling victim to the massive wildfire, the lower 30 miles or so of our beloved North Umpqua Trail was rendered impassable for hiking. Even if one is inclined to stealth hike on the officially closed trail, the incessant piles of scorched and fallen trees are an effective deterrent. However, rumor had it that part of the Swiftwater Segment of the North Umpqua Trail had been recently cleared and opened, so I just had to go get a look-see.

Here, the trail was untouched by fire

The fire scars and damage were eminently visible from the Susan Creek day use area, the starting point for today's venture. However, the day use area itself was relatively untouched by fire but just after the Susan Creek crossing, trees proudly bore their scorch marks like so many tribal tats. The fire did not get very far into the picnic area, although it did hop-scotch up into the surrounding slopes after jumping the North Umpqua River.

Snow queen bloomed in purple abundance

From the first step onto the trail, it was eminently obvious that spring was very much happening along the North Umpqua River. The forest floor was carpeted with healthy layers of snow queen, woodland violet, and trillium flowers. Also playing their part and vying for the Miss Supporting Wildflower sash were oxalis, bittercress, spring beauty, and candy flower. With all the flowers to photograph, this was not a very fast hike.

Here bee, bee, bee!

There's something insidious about spiders and trilliums. Here, you have an elegant and stately wildflower to entice bees, photographers, and other invertebrates. And yet, cream-colored crab spiders lurk among the pistils and stamens within the flower's interior and on more than one occasion, I have caught the conniving arachnids in flagrante delicto, happily dining on their victim. It just doesn't seem fair, from the bees' perspective, it'd be like a lion ambushing you as you ate a steak at Applebee's. Predictably enough, crab spiders were spotted on the abundance of trillium flowers blooming away on the forest floor and pity the bees.

Tioga Bridge now has battle scars

After a short walk along the North Umpqua River, the trail crossed over the river via photogenic Tioga Bridge. Built on the piers of an old roadway washed out by a 1964 flood, the stout bridge has become a local landmark since its restoration in 2012. The Archie Creek Fire had swept over the river here and while the bridge survived, scorch marks now adorn the wooden beams and trusses. However, the structural integrity of the bridge remained intact and I hiked across, safe and secure on the stout span.

What this part of the Swiftwater Segment
looks like for most of the three miles

Just after the bridge, there is a T-intersection with the North Umpqua Trail where one can go left on the Tioga Section or right on the Swiftwater Segment. The Tioga was clearly closed although the trail showed obvious signs of having been worked on. The Swiftwater at this end is an old road bed which means it's much wider than a footpath and presumably easier to clear fallen trees from. Despite some strong inner temptations to hike the Tioga Segment, closure notwithstanding, I made the right turn onto the Swiftwater.

Seasonal creeks kept things fresh

Seasonal creeks soon became a thing, as they flowed in abundance across the trail. Because the forest is now bare and stark, the noise of flowing water clearly carried all along the route. The small gullies that contained water were green and overly mossed while moisture-loving plants, such as spring beauty and candy flower, happily flourished as if there had never been a fire in the first place.

Life abounded on the forest floor

The forest was mostly dead and if not completely dead, then on life support. However, despite the arboreal skeletons standing everywhere, a veritable choir of songbirds were twittering and tweeting among the charred trees. On the ground, grass, moss, and wildflowers thrived, the vivid green vegetation in sharp contrast to the surrounding tree graveyard.

Wreckage at Bob Creek

After a couple of miles, the North Umpqua Trail morphed into a real footpath and descended steadily down to Bob Creek. The trail used to cross Bob Creek on a stout bridge but the fire ruined the bridge, the remnants of which were haphazardly piled up next to the creek. It would be indeed a strenuous and sketchy endeavor to scramble up and down the creek's formidable and bridgeless defile, only for the privilege of bushwhacking on what appeared to be an unmaintained continuation of the scorched North Umpqua Trail. I called it good here, and headed back the way I had come.

A halo of woodland violet

This section of the North Umpqua Trail used to be one of my favorite hikes because of the lush and verdant greenery flanking either side of the trail. Naturally, things are markedly different than before and during my remaining time on this planet, the forest here will never be like it was. However, I still enjoyed this walk and found it quite beautiful in its own ashy way. Forest fires are part of life, although they don't really need to be as destructive as the Archie Creek Fire had been, and life abounded among the bones, carcass, and general air of death of what once was a vibrant forest. It's just a different kind of beauty and despite the carnage, it's still very much a pleasant hike.

If you like charred wood, then this is your hike

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

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