Saturday, June 25, 2022

Hemlock Creek

Sometimes, the forest is the hike and the hike is the forest. What I mean by that when you hike, there's usually a destination in mind, a place to go to, a particular something to see, as the reason for your being out on the trail in the first place. But then again, sometimes there is no raison d'etre for the day's venture, it's just about the being of it. Hemlock Creek was such a hike, because once I entered a forest sublime, it became all about the journey and not the destination.

Pink rhododendron flowered next to Lake in the Woods

This tree-centric hike began at smallish Lake in the Woods, ringed not only by campers trying to escape the heat cooking the Umpqua Valley, but also by flowering rhododendron bushes gracing both lake and woods. Not wanting to disturb sleeping campers, I grabbed a use trail that skirted around the camping spots along the semi-stagnant lake. This led to some momentary confusion when I egressed onto a gravel road and had to spend a few minutes searching for the resumption of the trail.  

A log spans Hemlock Creek and tempts the adventurous

From the aforementioned gravel road, the trail entered a thick forest and headed uphill at a moderate grade. But who cares about uphill hiking when the forest was so out-of-this-world beautiful? The shade was as refreshing and as cool as a waterfall's mist. Sunlight filtered through trees, limbs, branches, and leaves, winding up on the trail as dappled light and shade. Life was good here and I considered staying in this place for the remainder of my days, it was so pleasant. 

Elegant cat's ear with that fuzzy feeling

A diverse collection of wildflowers mostly shared the forest in a harmonious rainbow coalition of specie and color. However, Columbia windflower and elegant cat's ear each practiced a form of floral apartheid, staking their claim on a particular patch of ground, making sure that not one pistil or stamen belonging to the lower castes of flower rabble dared cross over their territory. They couldn't stop me from taking photographs, though.

Lower Hemlock Falls wasn't easy to get to

Hemlock Creek was seldom seen from its namesake trail but did provide a couple of notable waterfalls to gawk at. The first cascade was Lower Hemlock Falls, which was kind of hard to see, you have to bushwhack a bit to get a decent photo thereof. The second waterfall, encountered on a side creek, is Clover Falls and is a lot harder to see, seeing how it's effectively screened from view by trees and tree parts. In fact, I didn't even notice the cascade when I hiked past but caught it when I returned in the opposite direction. Such are my keen powers of observation.

Trail into the forest darkness

After the two waterfalls, the route temporarily departed from Hemlock Creek and inscribed what seemed like an endless amount of switchbacks but were probably only four. My GPS said I was about to cross another forest road but the back and forth through the dense vegetation made the road crossing seem a lot farther away. 

Stout bridges crossed and re-crossed Hemlock Creek

After crossing the forest road, the trail did provide some quality Hemlock Creek time and miles. The path crossed and re-crossed the pristine and clear-flowing creek passing underneath the stout footbridges. Initially, the bridges were sturdy and sound except for one span showing its age by sagging in the middle, just like some hikers do. The final creek crossing had no bridge at all and required an easy ankle-deep wade.

The forest was a pleasure to hike through

Once Hemlock Creek was forded, the route commenced a more rigorous climb through the forest in yet another series of switchbacks that seemingly went on forever but probably only numbered four. Orange and salmon-colored clumps of coral fungus pushed their way into existence along the trail, emerging from the dark depths of the earth below. Flowers bloomed in the forest undergrowth and always, there was that delightfully mottled light keeping things cooler than they would otherwise have been. 

The meadows at the Yellowjacket Loop junction

After a mile of slogging ever on upward, the trail grade eased up and the forest thinned out, providing views of intermittent meadows with willow thickets in the middle, where Hemlock Creek flowed somewhere within the small trees, hidden away from the prying eyes of passing hikers. And just like that, the forest ended and the trail spit me out into some large meadows near Hemlock Lake. 

A wasp enjoyed the shade, just like me

These meadows are part of the Yellowjacket Loop, a great hike in its own right if you like meadows (and who doesn't?), wildflowers, and yellowjackets. I briefly entertained a notion of hiking the full Yellowjacket Loop and turning this moderate eight mile hike into an exhausting fourteener. But it was a hot afternoon by now, giving me the perfect excuse to turn around and head back to Lake of the Woods. But you know I would have done the longer loop except for the heat, and quit your sniggering! 

Fern frozen in mid-furl

It was all downhill back to the opaque green waters of Lake of the Woods, through the same beautifully shaded forest I had so enjoyed when hiking up. But, the easy downhill walking allowed me to better appreciate the shade, rampant greenery, and tall trees just that much more. When the hike ended at the trailhead kiosk, I turned around and said out loud "Thanks, forest!" but not too loudly. No need to get the nearby campers wondering about the lone sweaty dude talking to trees.

Peace like a forest

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

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