Monday, February 18, 2013

Clearwater Falls

I've been having the urge to snowshoe lately but I happen to be a fairly fair-weather snowshoer. It's not so much the nasty weather as much as it is the driving in nasty weather. Apparently, my trepidation stems from my formative years in California and Mexico where the only time we saw snow was every four years when the winter Olympics were on TV. Anyway, on President's Day, a storm was coming in by late afternoon but that left the morning open for a short snowshoe trek to Clearwater Falls with John.

A curve, my kingdom for a curve!

Starting at a cut out in the snow banks flanking the North Umpqua Highway, we headed slightly downhill on the Trap Creek forest road which headed unflinchingly straight like a mosquito's path to a hiker. The road was uniformly flanked by snow draped trees with moss swaying in the branches. Snowshoe hare tracks criss-crossed the road interspersed with the tracks of a small predator, most likely a pine marten. An old ski track was the only sign that humans had visited, apparently we were just the second group of visitors to visit the area in the entire winter so far.

Snowshoe hare tracks
A mile later, we had yet to see even the slightest hint of a curve on the road. The road was uniformly flanked by snow draped trees with moss swaying in the branches. Snowshoe hare tracks criss-crossed the road....yup, there was a sameness to the scenery that was broken up after 1.5 miles when we arrived at the Clearwater Falls Campground.

Chewy picnic table in the middle
We strolled into the campground which was vacant, no reservations were needed this weekend. The campsites were only distinguishable by the round mounds that contained a picnic table in the snowy center, in a frozen woody version of the candy kernel at the core of an Easter Bunny chocolate. Maybe the Easter Bunny is really a snowshoe hare, but I digress.

Clearwater River
The Clearwater River runs by the campsites and on this winter day, the scene was delightfully pastoral. The river was placid, streaming tranquilly through a myriad of snow-rimed logs strewn about like spilled toothpicks across the slow current. Much gawking and content appreciation ensued, the river view was well worth the walk.

Jump, John, jump
Because we had more tamales to roll, so to speak, we continued on the road a short bit where we could hear but not see the falls. It was time for all good snowshoers to leave the road and go cross country down a snowy and forested slope to the Clearwater River which was running a bit faster down here.

It's a Richard Hike!
Just as we were pondering how to cross the river we came across a very narrow and unrailed footbrige with a slab of snow cake, the slab being several feet high. The river coursed under the bridge, eagerly anticipating the delivery of a snowshoer; my first thought (sanitized and reworded for publication) on seeing the bridge was something along the lines of "Oh golly, that looks a wee bit chancy!"

Viewing area, without the summer tourists
Now we could debate the stupidity or safety of crossing the bridge all day, but we didn't and we found ourselves happily dry-footed on the opposite side of the river. A short (and much safer) walk brought us to Clearwater Falls viewing platform and another round of gawking.

Clearwater Falls
The geology around here is lava based and is quite porous.  Clearwater River runs mostly underground before popping out in a meadow about a mile away from where we stood. So, when the river careens over a rocky ledge, much of the underground flow also has to tumble down as well. The net effect, visually, is it looks like the cliff leaks water like tears leak from a granddaughter whose  favorite balloon just popped. 

Snow storm was coming in
We worked our way as close to the falls as was possible in clumsy snowshoes and eventually headed back to our car. We actually continued on past the car for a little additional mileage as we had not walked very far. We found the road to be unerringly straight, flanked by forest, moss in the trees, with hare tracks underneath....etc.

For more pictures of this wintry trip, see the Flickr photo album

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dellenback Dunes (again!)

Just a month prior, I took grandchildren Aiden and Coral Rae for a short 3 mile hike on Dellenback Dunes. While we enjoyed the experience, the fact remains that the expansive dunes just beg for more exploration than can be experienced in a three mile hike. So, when the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club penciled in a hike on the Dellenback Dunes, it was time to put on the man-boots for a serious hike in the dunes. Dollie and 9 year-old Aiden came along too, so maybe it would not be all that serious.

Hiker ant line
Rain was in the forecast for the afternoon and as we started, clouds were hanging around the dunes here and there in preparation for the afternoon rain festivities. The sun was out also, and the combination of clouds, blue sky, and warm sun was extremely camera friendly and it wasn't long before I found myself lagging behind the group, the only sound on the quiet dunes being the click-click-click of my camera shutter.

Halfway down the "Great Dune", John (the hike leader) took a right turn and headed north, away from the main dune. Dropping steeply off the dune crest, we bottomed out on a sandy trough with ponds before heading steeply up the next dune. You see, the dunes tend to run east-west and since we were heading north, the hike quickly became a trailless up-and-down hike as we crossed tall dunes in soft sand.

Unclear on the concept of walking
There was a prominent tree island ahead and I assumed we would head to the beach after rounding the island. After working our way (we were walking at wife, boy, and photographer speed) up the steep tree island, a huge series of dunes rose ahead of us. Actually, dune is too kind of a word. These dunes were more like the Cascade Mountains of sand with the troughs in between being more like the Grand Canyon of sand. Actually, after climbing up and out of the valleys, it was more like Hells Canyon of sand. And, much to our dismay, we could see our people far ahead climbing up the tallest one, looking like the ant line on my kitchen counter. It was about then we began to refer to John as Sir John the Cruel.

Dramatic scene
But if you are going to have burning leg muscles, you might as well have them in a beautiful place like Dellenback Dunes. The clouds were the story of this hike.  Big black, white, and gray clouds hovered dramatically over the sand mountains and canyons while sun warmed tired hikers. Lots of pictures were taken of the incredible cloud scenery while hiking up steep sand hills. 

No running boy on this one
Aiden had been running up the dunes, as is his wont. However, a veritable wall of sand rose up, nearly vertical, and there would be no running up that. The tracks of the club angled upward across the face of the wall through a leafless willow thicket and my legs ached in anticipatory pain just looking out our route. Trudging up slowly but surely, we traversed up and over the massive dune crest and I noticed Aiden was done running up dunes after that. 

Feeling froggy at lunch
The good news was that this was our last big uphill sand walk; it was now a gentle downhill and we made a left turn towards the now visible ocean. In between the ocean and our hiking party was the deflation plain forest (which was full of standing water) and we could not find a way to get through the dense brush to the ocean. Improvising, we walked south, parallel to the forest's edge and sat down in a small clearing for lunch. Aiden, in activity totally unrelated to eating lunch, explored the swamps and caught a number of frogs. At least, I hope the frog catching was totally unrelated to eating lunch.

Walking next to the marshes
After lunch, we continued south to the bonafide trail leading from the dunes to the beach. Aiden was back to his old tricks, running ahead of his slower grandparents. At the trail junction, hardy hikers turned right for a longer hike to the beach while the short-distance hikers and wife turned left for a return to the car. Aiden was to return with Dollie but he instead went to the beach so I had to follow and retrieve him.

Feet got wet on this hike
The trail through the forest was very swampy and it was impossible to keep feet dry. It was like a Richard Hike without all the responsibility. As we neared the beach, an elevated boardwalk kept wet feet from getting any wetter in a case of "too little, too late".

Aiden explores the beach
At the beach, clouds came in and it looked like and felt like rain was coming in. We hung out for a bit and some of our group doffed shoes and went for an ocean wade. That was an open invitation for a 9 year-old boy and he joined the waders. After a bit, everyone left except for a boy who took forever to tie his shoes, much to the consternation of his impatient grandfather.
The beauty was lost on Aiden, at this point
We figured Aiden's maximum hiking distance was about 5 miles or so and we were well above that with the beach detour. So the next three miles or so were spent cajoling, yelling, and enticing a very tired Aiden to keep his feet moving. It was a big hike for a small boy. After it was all over, he wound up eating a promised hamburger after a tough 7.6 miles.

Our route

For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album, the scenery was fantastic.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pizza Connection Trail

" I don't like to snowshoe,"  said Dollie " they make me feel like I'm waddling". Sigh, an opening for so many jokes best left untold in interest of marital harmony. So in concession to a reluctant wife, the groomed and flat (read "easy") Pizza Connection Trail would be the snow hike of choice.

Me and a hiking buddy
In winter, Diamond Lake freezes over and becomes primarily a playground for the snowmobile crowd. Throwing skiers a snowy bone, the groomed road through the summer campground is designated as a cross country ski route. Running from the Diamond Lake Lodge to the pizza parlor on the southeast corner of the lake, the manicured road has been dubbed the Pizza Connection Trail. The restaurant is accessible only by snowmobile (on their own road, apart from the ski trail), by ski, or by snowshoe (the poor step-relative to cross country skiing). Pizza and a heated restaurant interior is the reward for intrepid skiers and 'shoers.

Ice fishing on Diamond Lake
Beginning at the boat ramp parking lot, we set off alongside the east shore of frozen Diamond Lake. Gone were the sparkling blue waters of the lake, replaced instead by an expanse of white ice. Like ants on a wedding cake, ice fishermen dotted the snow-covered ice.

My view for 5.5 miles
A low cloud cover hung over the lake and Mount Bailey played coy with snowshoeing photographers, the mountain never quite making a complete appearance over the frozen lake. As we walked, the cloud cover became thinner and thinner just like underwear over time, and before long, we had blue skies, white snow, and a sunny day. However, the sunlight was as weak as a bowl of watery gruel and temperatures remained well below freezing.

All that can be seen of a drinking fountain
The campgrounds were covered with snow and the only indication we were even walking through a campground were the tips of drinking fountains poking up out of the snow or an occasional mound of snow that was barely recognizable as a picnic table. Snowshoe hare tracks crisscrossed the trail but we never saw any as the noisy crunch of our snowshoes warned them well in advance of our arrival.

A word from our sponsor
After nearly 3 miles of steady walking on the groomed trail, we arrived at the pizza restaurant and the sweet odor of pizza was entrancing. However, Dollie was not hungry so I had to make do with sniffing the aroma over a rumbling stomach. Trail mix is a poor substitute for pizza.

Mount Bailey
We walked out onto Diamond Lake for a better view of the large frozen expanse of the lake. Mount Bailey was nearly visible in its entirety and we could see the craggy peaks on Crater Lake's rim.

The sound you hear is my teeth chattering
On the way back, an arctic breeze kicked in and dark clouds covered up the scenery, sucking the warmth and light out of the air like a surprise visit from a parole officer. We picked up our pace, eager to beat the impending storm. I'm glad to report that no wives were frozen in the hiking of this hike and a good time was had by all.

For more pictures of this trail, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Riverview Trail (loop version)

The Riverview Trail is one of those winter standby hikes. The scenery is fairly mundane and unimpressive and normally I wouldn't ever hike on it. On the plus side, the trail is wide (being the North Umpqua Highway in a former incarnation), the tread is smooth and even, and the trail is blessedly snow-free most of the year. Ergo, when snow keeps hikers out of the mountains, the good old Riverview Trail reliably fills in for unappreciative hikers.

The Riverview Trail
The Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club normally jazz up this hike by hiking straight through and putting out at Fall Creek Falls, shuttling drivers back to the trailhead afterwards. Being in the mood for a longer hike than the 8 miles to the falls, I set up a loop which involved a walk along the North Umpqua Highway and a return on the Mott Segment of the North Umpqua Trail for a nice little 11.7 mile round trip hike.

A chilly start to the hike
The sun was sort of out with some clouds taking issue to the sunshine; it still was pretty chilly, though. It was cosmetic sunshine: it looked nice but lacked the warmth necessary to induce hikers to offer their winter-white legs in grateful tribute to the sun gods. Jackets, vests, beanies, and gloves remained firmly attached to hikers despite the exertion of the walk.

Williams Creek

The Riverview Trail quickly climbs above the North Umpqua River (and highway) before leveling off with limited views of the river peeking through the trees. We were on the north side of the river and sunlight slanted poetically through the forest. At the two mile mark, we crossed over the Williams Creek footbridge. Because of the good condition of the trail, I was making quick time and before long, it was time for me to leave the Riverview Trail and head downhill to the Bogus Creek Campground.

Bogus, dude
I just had to say "Bogus Creek, dude" in my best California surfer accent before exiting the campground and crossing the North Umpqua Highway. A mile long walk along the unusually quiet highway brought me to the Wright Creek Bridge and a crossing of the North Umpqua River. The return back to my car would be along the Mott Segment of the North Umpqua Trail.

Wintertime color
The North Umpqua Trail was narrow, rocky, muddy, and I had to wade through encroaching vegetation. Ah, so good to be on a real trail again! Being on the shadier side of the river, the forest was a dripping and gooey biomass of ferns, moss, mushrooms, and rushing creeks. And always, below the trail coursed the strikingly turquoise colored waters of the North Umpqua River.

Hefty cascade on the North Umpqua
Just past the impressive cascades near Steamboat Inn, I could see the bridge crossing of Steamboat Creek across the river. My car was parked there and it seemed cruel that I had to hike nearly two more miles to return to my car, but that's hiking life for you. The only way to get across the river, short of swimming, was to hike upstream to the historic and picturesque Mott Bridge.

...speaking of hefty
Jennifer, Edwin, and Merle had all agreed to hike the longer loop with me but I had not seen them since we started hiking. Determined to catch up to them I walked at a pretty good clip. Turned out, they had missed the Bogus Creek turnoff and had to backtrack. They too were walking fast, in an attempt to catch up to me.  With all of us trying to catch up to each other, we naturally never made contact until the end of the hike. They stated they'd "...figured we'd catch up to you at some point".  I think I was just called slow.

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