Friday, May 27, 2022

Rogue River Trail (backpack)

So there we were on the last day of our Rogue River Trail backpack trip, eating lunch in the shade and sitting next to the trail. A fellow backpacker came up from the opposite direction and as is customary, we greeted each other, he by giving us a friendly nod and a curt acknowledgment of "Gentlemen". Three out of the four people in our party thought it no big deal while one was singularly nonplussed. The one irritated member of our quartet was not gentleman nor man and Missy was fuming at being so mistaken for a member of the male species. "Couldn't he see that I'm not a man?" she wailed, our laughter no tonic for her discomfiture. We decided Missy's trail name could be Sir or Mister, but looking at her long braids draping over the front of each shoulder, I'm of the opinion that our erstwhile dude could have no greater honor than to accept with pride, her given trail name of  "Willie Nelson".

Day 1

Golden iris put on a show for
the entire time of our visit

The first day of our forty mile journey was overcast but we (Rogue River Trail newcomers Missy, Mike, and Terry) were off and hiking anyway, except for yours truly, who had to backtrack to the car to retrieve a rain hat, which would be sorely needed on this trip. But at least I get the Golden Boot Award for hiking farther than everybody else. 

Whiskey Creek, as we arrived

All participants were familiar with the first three miles to Whiskey Creek, but once we passed that first major stream, it was all new trail for my Rogue River Trail newbs. However, by the time we reached Whiskey Creek, we had all become accustomed to the basic pattern of the trail, consisting of a climb to a cliff overlooking the river in its canyon and then a descent down to a tributary creek, followed by another climb away from the creek to a cliff overlooking the river. Up and down, in and out, and repeat for forty miles. Also repeated for forty miles were the soft caresses of poison oak leaves on our arms and legs as that pernicious shrub was constantly encroaching the trail.

These flower smelled lovely, Blogger
needs to add a scratch n' sniff option

We passed creeks Whiskey, Alder, Russian, Bronco, and Bunker over the first nine miles of trail and so far so good as far as my aged legs were concerned. However, the next three'ish miles had some pretty steep grades and by the time we reached Horseshoe Bend I was thoroughly pooped, but on the plus side, we had knocked off nearly twelve miles which wasn't bad for us old hikers.

Day 2

A cloudy dawn yet Terry said
the storm was dissipating

Day 2 will live in infamy in the memories of all participants. Although, there were just some clouds in the sky when we struck camp, the day would soon be as wet as the interior of a water balloon, Terry's cheery and overly optimistic prognostication of "it's dissipating" notwithstanding.

Missy has a bonding moment with the wet earth

After an hour or so of hiking on a trail covered with numerous piles of bear poop, the first raindrops began to fall. We hiked another hour or so before we all began to feel the need to put on raingear. Missy should have put on mud gear too, for she took a spill crossing a creek and suffered an ignominious sit-down upon the wet earth. 

OK, it's raingear o'clock

One highlight of the second day was a side trip to Zane Gray's cabin, a rustic ramshackle cabin in the middle of a grassy meadow where the famed author stayed when he fished the Rogue. Shortly after leaving the cabin and resuming our hike on the Rogue River Trail, we ran into a party of about eight day hikers. It was our friends, the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club, day hiking to the cabin and they looked wet. They probably thought we looked wet, too.

The rain did not dissipate

After exchanging pleasantries with our friends, we continued on and at the eleven-mile mark, we arrived at the Rogue River Ranch, now a historical backcountry museum. And that was when the wind started. We were all soaked at this point, having hiked in the rain for the last six hours or so, and that wind had us all shivering in no time flat. Backpacking is so much fun!

Arrival at Rogue River Ranch

We went to the ranch and sat on the porch with about a half-dozen other backpackers in a vain attempt to seek shelter from the elements. The caretaker offered the services of his wood stove to dry out clothing and gear but we all politely declined for there's no wood stoves in backpacking. He was a nice guy though, and it was a relief to know hikers in trouble could have a place to go to for help, if needed. At any rate, we camped by the river and all of us were in our tents by three o'clock in the afternoon, listening to the wind and rain raging on the other side of our flimsy tent fabric.

Day 3

Still not dissipating, Terry

The ranch caretaker did share with us that the storm would abate this morning, but you'd never know it from the rain that was still vigorously pelting our campsite. Humorously enough, we held a quick meeting to decide that we'd start our hike later in the morning when the weather would break, the humor being that the meeting was held verbally, each one of us participating from inside one's own tent. It was like the backpacking version of a Zoom Meeting.

Overjoyed when the sun broke out

From the ranch, there is a short road walk to the Marial Trailhead and it was somewhere around there that the mid-morning sun came out, warming limbs and souls alike. From Marial, the trail entered an amazing world comprised mostly of black jagged rock at the bottom of the river canyon. Here, the Rogue funnels into narrow Mule Creek Canyon, famed as a formidable challenge for rafters. The precarious trail is etched into a cliff face and you really want to watch your step here, for the drop-off from the trail is sheer. The highlight of this section is Stair Creek, which tumbles into the Rogue in a series of awesome waterfalls. One other highlight was that because of the sun, we removed rain gear, jackets, pant legs, and applied sunscreen to our pale and pallid skins. 

Precarious trail etched onto a cliff

Continuing onward, we passed through the grounds of Paradise Lodge, which was not as backpacker friendly as it had been in years past, although they graciously let us picnic on their deck. From there it was the usual up and down ramble over flowing creeks, through lush forests, and across dry and open cliffs. At the ten mile mark, we set up camp at Tacoma Camp, well populated with rafters camping there.

Day 4

Tacoma Rapids as we began the hike out

Day 4 was getaway day. It also was our shortest day, coming in at a paltry 7.9 miles. Good thing too, because hiking in wet shoes during Day 2's deluge had given me some blisters. Of course, the last and easiest day also had the best weather, something that had also occurred during my two other through-hikes of the Rogue River Trail. It must be a rule.

Peaceful Flora Dell Falls

The main highlight as we left Tacoma Camp was Flora Dell Falls, where Flora Dell Creek tumbles over a cliff to splash into its basin. The weather wasn't particularly warm but the cool spray blowing off the picturesque cascade still felt refreshing.

Pathway through the woods

The remainder of the hike crossed several creeks and was mostly wooded. The Rogue had been the official Wild and Scenic Rogue River during our hike but here, the river widened and began flowing a lot more in keeping with its now ponderous bulk. Welcome to the Tame and Civilized Rogue River, boys and girls. We did have two steep uphill sections to hike over though, as the trail had to detour around some private property parcels, much to our annoyance.

Advertisement for "Come to Oregon!"

The end of the Rogue River Trail was pretty spectacular, though, as it went through a long extended pasture in a valley ringed by forested mountains.  As we hiked by, appreciating the postcard view under a blue sky, incurious cows impassively gazed at us. The trailhead put an official end to the Rogue River Trail but we still had a short walk on a roadway to where my car was waiting for us at Foster Bar.

We did it!

We did it! Even though this was my third go-round with the Rogue River Trail, I still felt a profound sense of accomplishment. No doubt my newbs felt a similar sense of accomplishment, unburdened by the ennui that multiple hikes on the same trail can engender. And as a reward, we stopped in Gold Beach for barbecue sandwiches that were to die for, in our deprived post-hike condition. There are some things about civilization that you just appreciate more after a long backpack trip.

Elegant brodeaia, looking elegant, as always

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

Monday, May 16, 2022

Lost Creek Lake (weekend backpack)

It was just a small sign tacked onto a trailhead kiosk, measuring maybe a foot square but the words on it were sufficient enough to throw my plans for backpacking around Lost Creek Lake into chaos. The stern blue letters on the sign advised the bridge at Blue Grotto was closed to hikers, no reason given other than it was unsafe. Somewhat uncharacteristically, I heeded the terse message and on the fly, rearranged my itinerary.

All life should be walking in a field of daisies

Spring was in full song at Lost Creek Lake as I began hiking from the lake's dam, at the time blissfully unaware of any upcoming closures. Everything was green as the trail initially set out across a grassy field of shin-high daisies. I had never been on this part of the lakeside trail and was immediately impressed with the lushness of the vegetation growing alongside the large lake.

One of several million elegant cat's ear flowers

Life was burgeoning all along the trail but elegant cat's ear was the dominant life form on this two-day hike. Figuratively purring in the sun, the white fuzzy flowers brightened up grassy hillsides and leafy duff alike. My pace was slow as I seemingly took a photo of each and every bloom, for no two ears are ever alike.

Green was the color of the day

There was plenty of shade to be enjoyed on this sunny day, for the lake's shore was heavily wooded with firs and other conifers. A lush understory of ferns and other moisture-loving plants thrived in the shade beneath the trees. Just past Four Corners Camp, a backpackers' camp where there were no corners at all to be seen, much less four of them, the fir forest was then supplanted by oak woodland.

So nice to see Lost Creek Lake full of water

Periodically, the trail would leave the oak woods and traverse across open semi-arid patches of manzanita and dry grass, the lack of trees allowing hikers to spend some quality time with Lost Creek Lake. The lake was ringed by forested hills and mountains with distinctive Flounce Rock being the nearest and most prominent. The lake's water level had been low the last several years, thanks to an extended drought, so it was nice to see it full of water after this wet winter.

The relatively narrow Lost Creek arm

Lost Creek Lake from overhead, would resemble a pollywog were it not for the Lost Creek arm of the lake. Thanks to the aforementioned arm, the lake looks like a pollywog with a giant dorsal fin holding a flashlight. Actually it really resembles nothing more than an amorphous blob but my imagination feels the need to come up with some kind of simile.  At any rate, the trail went up and around the arm which eventually felt more like narrow fjord than significant-sized lake. 

Well, this screwed up my plans

There's a trailhead located where the route crosses burbling Lost Creek, and that was where the sign filled me up with consternation. What to do? I was about four miles into the hike and Blue Grotto was probably another four miles ahead. I dithered as I hiked some more and at roughly the six mile mark, I decided to stop and camp, if only because the trail passed through a series of amazingly beautiful meadows atop cliffs with spectacular overlooks of the lake. If I wasn't going to circumnavigate the lake, then these bucolic pastures were certainly an appealing place to spend the night at.

My home away from home

After pitching my tent in the middle of an idyllic copse of oak trees, I then stealth-cooked dinner. Stealth cooking is that technique where you cook and eat dinner on the trail and then hike another hour or so before setting up camp. This is done so as to prevent bears from getting too interested in your campsite, lured in by enticing food aromas. Bear scat had been spotted on the trail, so I hiked ahead to a scenic overlook and cooked and ate on a convenient bench while enjoying the late afternoon scenery. 

An up-close look at German knotweed

After dinner, I slapped a macro lens on my camera and began crawling through my meadow home, photographing all things small and smaller. It's amazing the things you can find at the other end of a macro lens and I noted a tiny plant with prickly green leaves that when magnified, were actually miniscule green flowers. Hello, German knotweed, I believe we haven't ever met before, pleased to make your acquaintance! 

Got an early start on the hike out

After a breezy night spent listening to the pleasant soughing of windblown oak branches, I bid the German knotweed "auf Wiedersehen", struck camp, and hit the trail somewhere around eight o'clock in the morning. Doing anything by eight o'clock is a rarity in my retirement years but I was glad I did, for the temperature was cool and the morning light slanting through the woods was most enjoyable. Although, it did feel strange to finish hiking before eleven o'clock in the morning.

Tall silvercrown was a common sight

Upon my return to home and computer, I researched the question as to whether the closure at Blue Grotto was still in effect. I had my doubts because in all honesty, the sign did look a little weatherworn, like it had been there for quite some time. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any info so I'll just have to hike at the other end and find out, or take my chances on another circumnavigation attempt. Nonetheless, I really did enjoy my meadow camp and outing so I'm not too upset at not being able to do the full hike around the lake, it was all good.

This lake patrolled by guard geese

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

Saturday, May 14, 2022

North Bank Habitat (Best Hike Ever!)


In what was definitely not truth in advertising, this hike was dubbed the Best Hike Ever. Back on New Year's Day, Brad, our hike leader, had led a North Bank hike  that will forever live in club lore as The Worst Hike Ever because of formidably steep trails. Flash forward a few more months to the present and now we were going to do the same route, but this time in reverse, exchanging the incredibly steep Powerline Road for the incredibly steep East Boundary Road. Because this hike was the opposite of the Worst Hike Ever, it acquired the rather Orwellian title of Best Hike Ever.

Rheo commences the Best Hike Ever

The hike began with an easy amble down the Habitat's entrance road and we gaily skipped along, a song in our hearts, if not on our lips. We made a left turn onto the trail and all happy songs immediately died in mid-trill, supplanted instead by a chorus of horrified shrieks sounding like so many Aztec death whistles. In front of us, looming like a grassy Great Wall of China (but way taller) was the East Boundary Road, seemingly rising straight up to Mars or beyond. Yikes, legs quivered and ached before we even began the dismal trudgery of hiking The Best Freaking Hike Never.

Photo of the trail, taken while I was not resting

About halfway up the first major slog, I think my calves began to cramp up, followed in short order by hamstring pulls, respiratory distress, hives, and maybe dilated pupils. Whew, this was hard work and I did lots of photography because I was NOT resting, no matter how much it may have looked like I might have been. 

Douglas' iris decorated the grassy slopes

But if you are going to flame out on your Last Hike Ever, you might as well do it where it's scenic and this North Bank Medieval Torture Chamber Trail fit the bill. Spring was in full song and the vertical walls (oops, I meant to say "rolling hills") were covered with lush green grass. And if I were tempted to plop down on the ground in total exhaustion, the colorful red and oily leaves of the ever-present poison oak were more than adequate deterrent, the fear of itchy rash being sufficient motivation to remain upright, if not necessarily to keep walking. 

What a changing forget-me-not looks like

The wildflowers were putting on a show, best admired when bent over with hands on knees, lungs heaving mightily. Fiddleneck, wild iris, and Indian pink were all abloom, just to name several species from a cast of thousands. During one of my photo-ops while NOT resting, I spotted an odd little flower resembling a fiddleneck that sported flowers ranging from blue to yellow to white, all on the same flower head. It was a changing forget-me-not (Myosotis discolor), whose flowers start out blue but like my hair, turn white with age. I'd never seen this wildflower before, so that was kind of cool. 

Vista to a neighboring ridge

As we slogged on ever upward, crying for our Mamas all the while, the views began to entertain, expanding in direct proportion to the hard-won elevation we were gaining. Directly below the East Boundary Ridge, lay a quilted picnic blanket of farmlands extending all the way to the small town of Glide. Nearby and in the Habitat, were the wooded crest and grassy mounds of Middle Ridge, and we could peer directly down into the valley of Blacktail Basin, whose trail was a much easier route up to North Boundary Ridge than our current route, Brad.

Yay, the grade is merely uphill!

At about a mile and a half of hiking up a wall with a trail on it, the grade eased and the path morphed into what charitably could be called a "merely uphill" route. The dirt road undulated up and down a series of high points on the ridge and we all rejoiced at the newfound normalcy of the grade.

Fortunately, it never rained on us, despite the threat

At about the four-mile mark, the trail attained North Boundary Ridge which also served up its own daunting up-and-down route on its grassy crest. But if you hiked up the East Boundary Ridge Road to get there, well then it almost seemed like you were hiking downhill as the grade was nowhere near as demanding. On top of North Boundary Ridge, we availed ourselves the opportunity to snack, rest, regroup, and curse all things Brad.

Just when you didn't think the
hike could get any "better"

On the New Year's Day Worst Hike Ever venture, our foe back then had been Powerline Road. However, we'd be hiking down Powerline today and Brad assured us it was all downhill. I reminded him that no, there actually was a pretty good uphill pull to perform before we could say it was all downhill. At least there was no snow this time, although there was mud, wildflowers, and views as we descended. Some of us lay in the mud in protest when we gave up on the aforementioned steep climb on Powerline Road.

Pastoral scene on the steep
descent down Powerline Road

After a leg-braking, knee-taxing, soul-sucking descent down lush grassy slopes, we plopped down in exhaustion at the pavilion area, some of us face first. Brad served us lunch and snacks, if only to prevent us from kicking him in the rear for coming up with this hike. My own opinion is that he should have doled out ibuprofen instead of food to stay in our good graces.

What's a North Bank hike without poison oak?

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