Saturday, October 13, 2012

Clear Lake plus Sahalie and Koosah Falls

I always seem to catch Clear Lake on a dark and dreary day. There's a reason for that as Clear Lake gets visited (by me) in early winter or spring when snows conspire to keep hikers out of the mountains. Situated at just over 3,000 feet of elevation, Clear Lake offers a year-round hiking nibble at the mountains when the higher mountain trails are off limits. And even on a not so nice day, Clear Lake is reliably enticing as a hiking destination, especially when adding Sahalie and Koosah Falls into the hiking mix.

Maybe we should hike on a real trail

So, the drizzle in the air on a gray day came as no surprise when the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club disembarked from their vehicles at Carmen Reservoir. Of course, the wet and cold weather meant there were only 8 hikers on hand to follow their fearless leader, which would be me. The hike got off to an awkward start when the trail we grabbed quickly degenerated into a brushy game trail alongside the McKenzie River. We had to backtrack and look for the official McKenzie River Trail. Oops, my bad!

Koosah Falls

Restarting the hike on the correct trail, we followed the McKenzie River upstream on cliffs above the river where we had nice views of the McKenzie tumbling down the mossy canyon. In less than a mile, a roar heralded our arrival at Koosah Falls, with a dizzying view thereof. We were on a "real" trail which meant no hand rails and you better watch your step. On the other side of the river was the "tourist trail" which meant handrails, pavement, and stairs and we could see hordes of gawkers on the other side while we we ran into only two other hikers on our side of the river.

Sahalie Falls
Just a relative hop, skip, and an uphill climb away was thundering Sahalie Falls, with more gawking ensuing. We worked our way downslope a bit for better views, hanging on to tree roots and branches for support. The people on the other side of the river didn't have to do any of that.

Yellow is the color of the moment
As we continued up the considerably calmer McKenzie above the falls, it was obvious that this was going to be a good autumn hike as the vine maples were flashing yellow along the river banks. I think I tried to take a picture of every leaf on the way. A log bridge across the river signaled the temporary end of the river portion of the hike as we crossed Highway 126 and continued on to Clear Lake.

Clear Lake is just that

Clear Lake is aptly named as the waters are remarkably pristine. Allegedly, boaters can see a dead forest about 100 feet deep on a sunny day and that would not surprise me one little bit. The lake's source of water is the Great Spring whose waters are filtered and purified through miles of porous lava. Not content with only being clear, the lake's waters are a picturesque sapphire blue color even on a gray day.

As red as a sunburned tomato
Working our way around to the lake's eastern shore, the autumn colors tended towards the reds due to increased exposure to sunlight. The combination of blue water, yellow and red leaves under a gray sky was entrancing and camera-afflicted hikers made slow progress.

Fire and lava

Also on the eastern side, were some extensive lava flows that emanated from a distant Sand Mountain millenia ago. Fortunately, the trail was paved through this section and I'm happy to report no boots were harmed in the hiking of this hike. Not much grows in the lava except for the odd vine maple or two, their red leaves resembling fire fountains. With a little imagination, one can picture the hot lava burping fire as it oozed along.

The Great Spring, followed by the So-So Summer
The next item of interest was the Great Spring, a deep sapphire pool where the McKenzie gushes out of the ground, fully formed. The water comes out at a uniform 38 degrees all year and as a result, Clear Lake never freezes over.

Sushi, anyone?
While we were at the Great Spring, a merganser paddling in the water dove and came up with a wriggling fish in its beak. We watched, totally enthralled, as the bird swallowed its Great Spring sushi; the fish probably did not appreciate the experience as much as we did.

Time to admire the colors

Rounding the north end of the lake with maple leaves gone wild with color, we returned to civilization as we hiked past cabins and the Clear Lake Resort. Returning to the McKenzie River, we continued on the touristy side of the river, taking advantage of the railed viewpoints to take better pictures as we didn't have to cling to tree roots with one hand while snapping photographs with the other.

Steamy Carmen Reservior

As we reached the end of the hike, a cold mist had settled in, clouding up the Koosah Falls view. Carmen Reservoir was steaming, due to the warm waters emanating several miles upstream from the Great Spring. Peeling off my wet raingear, I promised myself a return to Clear Lake on a clear day.

For more pictures of this picturesque hike, click on this link for the Flickr photo album.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sixes River backpack trip

This was an unusually lazy weekend backpack trip. None of the usual tests of endurance and manhood, nosiree. Nope, we eschewed the Man Hike in favor of a Dog Hike. In particular, the dog in question was Teddy as my Maggie can run circles around us humans as we trudge along. John, who was dogsitting Teddy, said Teddy "...has the heart of a lion" but alas, he was born with the stubby legs of a Welsh Corgi and the unassuming shape of a Tootsie Roll.

Day 1

John and the children

We started on a beautiful sunny morning at Floras Lake, on the Oregon coast. A short walk along the sandy shore of the preternaturally still lake joined us up with the Oregon Coast Trail. We didn't stay long on the OCT for long as we cut across a dense patch of vegetation to get on the beach, our "trail" for the next couple of miles.
On the beach until Battleship Bow says to stop
The coarse sand sloping away from the imposing cliffs made for pleasant hiking, especially with fully loaded backpacks on. Discerning readers can sense the sarcasm rolling off the keyboard as I type this. Our cue to leave the beach was the imposing wall of Battleship Bow, otherwise we'd do a slow hiker-speed splat onto the bow as the beach ends rather abruptly there.

Aargh, the trail be here mateys!

A small valley had been cut into the cliffs where a creek makes made its way onto the beach; a trail started there, heading back up to the OCT. In case we were not sure where to find the trail, some enterprising beachgoer had marked the spot by hoisting and raising a mast from a log found on the beach. All that was needed was a Jolly Roger on the top, blowing in the breeze.

A "wow!" moment
The next several miles on the OCT took us through wonderfully shaded coastal forests, the shade not particularly needed on this cool day. Occasionally, we'd beat through the bush to scramble out on top of the cliffs with magnificent view after magnificent view of the coastline stretching out towards Bandon. We had lots of "Wow!" moments on this portion of the trip while simultaneously keeping hold of gnat-brained dogs (yes, I'm talking about you, Maggie) at the cliff's edges.

View towards the Sixes River
Near Blacklock Point, a path dropped off the bluffs and returned us to sea level on a dark-sand beach. The sea had been somewhat boisterous  here because the sand had been carved into slopes, bars, and canyons. Pretty to look at but again, tedious to walk through. Small creeks trickled across the sand and grateful dogs lapped up the refreshing water.

Let the show begin
After setting up camp above a debris strewn beach at the mouth of the Sixes River, we kicked back and watched a magnificent sunset show. I got up in the middle of the night and the wind had blown all the clouds away and I lay in the grass gazing at the multitude of stars above while the beam from the nearby Cape Blanco lighthouse swept overhead, all accompanied by the steady roar of the surf. It was just perfect.

Day 2

Scene from a horror movie
The day dawned brisk and clear, but not for long as fog swept in and became the theme of the day.  A sand bar had dammed the Sixes River but it sure made getting to the other side of the river much easier as all we had to do was walk across it.  The bar served double duty as a seagull hotel and clouds of them lifted off into the air, shrieking indignant at our intrusion.

Maggie wants a new owner

We followed the beach to Cape Blanco and the sand was packed hard and was easy to walk on, unlike the day before. Not much to see but fog and rocks, and at the end of the beach we took the trail up to the top of the cape. Once there, we could not even see the lighthouse which was only a quarter-mile away. Not even the light emanating from the lighthouse was visible. So this wound up being a long water walk as we refilled bottles and hydration bladders at the Cape Blanco campground. The dogs refilled their bladders, too.

Land bridge across the Sixes

So back we go, overland on the Oregon Coast Trail this time, as the fog dripped from the seine of pine branches overhead. We had a limited but nice overlook of the Sixes River. The natural dam at the mouth had caused the river to back up and the river trail was now on an island. But not to worry as there was an alternate trail through the grasses that brought us back to the beach with half a day to kill.

Killed half a day watching waves and birds, yup

Basically, the rest of the day was spent sitting on a log watching the winter migration fly by. Squads of pelicans flew by every few minutes or so, flying in a follow-the-leader formation that undulated like some feathered sine wave. The Sixes River seemed to be the dividing line between fog and sun as it was gray and dreary to the south but sunny and clear to the north; the birds were flying from warm sunshine to cold fog and I know just how they must have felt. In the late afternoon, fog won out and there would be no sunset.

Day 3

Driftwood and rocks
This was getaway day and we had noticed the dogs' paws were bothered by the sand so we hiked on a cow trail in the beachgrass back towards Blacklock Point. We made it about halfway up the beach before the going got too tough so we scrabbled through piles of logs and driftwood back to the soft sands of the beach.

First light transforms a rock island

We had begun the hike out in early morning and we observed the rock islands catching, each in turn, the first light of the day. Eventually it was our turn to be shined on and we enjoyed the sudden warmth of the sun. A short climb away from the beach provided the always pleasing view to Cape Blanco while waves crashed on the rocks below.

You hike barefoot, see if you like it!
Eschewing the sandy beach walk north of Blacklock Point in order to take it easy on the dogs, we stayed on the OCT the rest of the way, hiking through viewless but beautiful woods. The forest ended at Floras Lake and we followed the sandy shore back to our car. All in all, a lazy and unambitious backpack trip but I really should do that more often.

For more pictures of this relaxed weekender, visit the photo album in Flickr.