Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lost Creek Lake

Well, we've pretty much gone right from summer into winter, haven't we? Even the vine maples are confused, keeping their green leaves on as they tremble in the chill. The current winter weather culprit was Typhoon Pabuk which decided to travel across the Pacific Ocean to die in Oregon after grazing Japan. Its death throes wound up being a watery dump of 7 inches of rain on my hiking weekend with the rain being delivered via the medium of high winds. Whatever is a hiking addict to do? Why, go hiking of course! 
Cloud reflection
Originally, the weekend predictions had called for sunny weather so my backpack was loaded and a weekend trip in the Diamond Peak Wilderness was penciled in. Mid-week snow took care of that so a campout at nearby Odell Lake replaced the backpack trip. But then the typhoon with its high winds was prognosticated and since I am allergic to trees and tree parts falling on my head, no more campout for me.  The coast is always a safe destination in September except the coast was going to catch the brunt of Typhoon Pabuk's final act. I might have to stay home with Mrs. O'Neill and watch Twilight movies if this keeps up. Fortunately, the last bastion of weather common sense lay in Medford as the storm would not really hit that area until Saturday evening, thereby offering a window of opportunity to sneak a hike in.

Itchy and beautiful, just like me!

Starting out at the Lewis Road Trailhead on the north side of Lost Creek Lake, it was obvious the poison oak had figured out it was autumn. The leaves of the accursed itch-spawner ran the full gamut of the autumn rainbow with colorful displays of yellow, gold, orange, russet, red, and every other shade in between. I felt compelled to take pictures while feeling itchy just by virtue of getting that close. My poor camera was given a bath upon arrival at home. After apologizing to my faithful camera, I bought it flowers to atone for the mistreatment.

Lost Creek Lake, drawn down low

The trail (the Rogue River Trail, formally) undulated up and down the man-made lake's shore through thick stands of manzanita with their distinct dark red trunks. Intermittent views of the lake and Joseph Stewart State Park on the opposite bank were enjoyed. On my last hike here several Aprils ago, the lake was full with water lapping virtually at the trail's edge. Now, in late September, the water was about half a mile away through brush, grass, and poison oak. During the long and dry summer, the lake had obviously been drawn down by all those thirsty souls in Medford, good thing not all of them bathe!

Fire Glen Camp, sans Bubbas and beer
About a mile into the hike, the trail ran through the middle of peaceful and idyllic Fire Glen Camp. The camp is primarily designed for boaters if one is to draw conclusions from the outhouse station floating just offshore. However, the car campers have cheated and have created a rough track that ends near the camp, but they still have to walk in their beer cases and ice chests. But in late September with a typhoon about to visit, there were no campers there at all.

This is why we hike
Leaving the camp, the trail rounds a peninsula and commences my favorite part of the whole hike. The trail stays above the lake, contouring around on a rocky bench that provides a magnificent view of the lake towards the dam.  Storm clouds reflected off the blue-green waters of the lake and a man-made bench on the geologic bench just demands a contemplative sit-down and I gratefully obliged.

Old man's beard
If you like manzanita then you will love this hike as it tunnels through dense patches of the unique shrub with its smooth, twisted, and dark red limbs.  Old man's beard (not a true beard, it's actually a lichen) hanging off the branches swayed in a slight breeze with the beards being just a smidge longer than my ex-wife's. Periodic winds had knocked pine needles into the manzanita, where they straddled small limbs, the needles somewhat resembling a toddler straddling a saw horse.

Engineering marvel
The lake has more arms than cojoined octopus quints and numerous gulches, gullies, and dry creek beds crossed the trail. However, marvelously constructed bridges spanned all of these crossings where I could only shake my head, remembering how the gullies had been all full of water the last time I was here.

Spiky mushrooms
At nearly 5 miles, a solitary lunch was enjoyed while a few squirrels scampered up and down the oak trees in a savannah. The squirrels and a small knot of geese were the only animals I'd see all day in yet another sign winter is near.

Rain arrives
While cloudy, the skies had not yet delivered any of the forecasted rain and winds but it was just a matter of time. Sure enough, it began to shower off and on with me three miles from the trailhead. Mildly annoying, but the rain gear stayed inside the pack as the exertion from hiking was sufficient enough to stave off hypothermia. The main thing was there was little or no wind which meant no worries about tree parts falling on my head.

Kindred spirits
The views improved on the way back with dramatic cloud fronts hovering over the lake. Fishermen are an intrepid bunch and I exchanged friendly waves with several, sharing a common kinship as we enjoyed the outdoors in threatening weather.

I felt a kinship with this wet leaf
So, all in all, the weather let me off the hook considering southern Oregon was going to get slammed this weekend. However, I did catch it on the way home with powerful gusts of wind pushing my poor little Kia around. Needless to say, there was no hiking on Sunday and I had to stay home with Mrs. O'Neill, although I did manage to evade watching Twilight movies.

Trail through the oaks
For the rest of the pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Crater Lake Rim

Crater Lake is awesome! Unfortunately, the lake's beauty attracts hordes of visitors and is busy with both foot and tour bus traffic, it's not the place to seek wilderness solitude. However, it is possible to find quiet places around the lake without requiring winter and snowshoes. Mid-September is a good time as summer vacations are all done with and everybody has gone back home, for the most part. As an aside, in July the park teems with both mosquitoes and tourists and you get to hear  the phrase "&$%!  mosquitoes!" in 3,476 different languages. Anyway, the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club enjoyed some recent peace and relaxation on a moderate hike along Crater Lake's rim.  

Camera moment, en masse
Beginning at Rim Village, we quickly left all the hustle and bustle associated with the souvenir store and restaurant, heading instead to the paved walkway on the rim. And just like that, the air was filled with clicking and whirring as about a dozen cameras were whipped out and put to use. The view is impressive with the lake's water colored a deep and profound sapphire blue. The lake is ringed with cliffs and peaks colored tan, red, black, and every shade in between. And of course, Wizard Island, permanently bobs in the Crater Lake stewpot. Fantastic view and we had walked maybe 50 yards!

Up and down, all day long
Fortunately, another 50 yards or so took us off the sidewalk and we were doing what we do:  hiking on a genuine bona fide trail with rocks and real dirt.  The rim trail hugs the lake rim and goes up and down and is never level.  Since we were at altitude, hanging around 7,000 feet or so, all of us were breathing hard after minimal exertion.  It made the steep uphill sections seem steeper and uphiller, if there is such a word.

The Watchman and Hillman Peak

The basic pattern of this hike, as previously  stated, was up and down all day long. But no complaining allowed because there were frequent viewpoints of the lake, and the slight smoke haze was not thick enough to detract from the wondrous beauty of the cratered jewel that is Crater Lake.

Lunch tastes better with a view
After several miles, we plopped down and ate lunch at one of the many viewpoints and nut bars just taste better with a Wizard Island in front of them. After the lunch 'n laze, we gathered ourselves up and tackled the ups and downs on wobbly legs and heaving lungs. As we continued north along the lake, a large mountain loomed ahead of us as we broke out of the shady forest rimming the lake: that would be The Watchman, the next stop on our itinerary.

The old road section of the trail
Because The Watchman was inconveniently in the way, the trail left the lake and contoured up and around the prominent peak. No longer a footpath, the trail followed the old roadbed of the historical Rim Drive. Large boulders lay in the middle of the path, delivered courtesy of The Watchman who probably gets a kick watching hikers run from boulders. Hiking on the treeless roadbed, we were really feeling the heat when puffy white clouds formed overhead. We were grateful for the shade they provided as they obscured the hot sun.

Hillman Peak
All the way around the mountain by now, most of us grabbed the trail to The Watchman's summit and we enjoyed the uphill trail as it switchbacked to and fro. Stone benches were at most of the switchbacks and there was some resting on the benches, which incidentally had great views of the lake and surrounding countryside.

The Watchman's lookout
At the top, a stone staircase took us to the parapets below the lookout. It was not staffed on this day as we are hopefully getting past fire season. The lake in all its iridescent glory was spread out below us with superb views of Mount Scott and the east-side rim reflecting nicely upon the lake's surface. Jagged Hillman Peak, and the imposing cliff of Llao Rock were nearby as cloud shadows danced on the slopes. Behind Hillman Peak rose the pointy point of Mount Thielsen and we could see as far north as Diamond Peak. The southern view was partly occluded by haze but we could make out Union Peak and Mount McLaughlin. A fun time was had by all on The Watchman.

Devil's Backbone
The difference between a 5 mile hike and a 10 mile hike is the return leg which was eliminated by shuttle vehicles. So this hike wound up being relatively easy and it was unusual (for me, at least) to arrive back in Roseburg in broad daylight.

A zen moment on Crater Lake
For more pictures of the magnificence that is Crater Lake, please visit the Flickr album.

View from The Watchman

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tidbits Mountain

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! In my many trail miles, I've run into the hiking equivalent of those fearsome creatures in the form of bears, rattlesnakes, cougars, and deer. And after last weekend on Tidbits Mountain, yellow jackets have been duly added to the list. At least the bears and cougars ran away from me, but the yellow jackets buzzed angrily towards me en masse with malevolence in their hearts. 

Either a sinkhole or the world's biggest wasp nest
The hike got off to an interesting start when a sign proclaimed the parking lot was closed due to a sinkhole. Stepping around the small pit, we (brother Don and friend Jesse) set out onto the Tidbits Mountain Trail. I must have left my brain in the sinkhole because I'd forgotten to put a fresh battery into the camera. Of course, I didn't realize it until we'd hiked a half-mile or so, I did a quick dash back to the car to retrieve the spare battery. Gotta get my extra miles in, somehow!

Making movies of the trail kind
Hiking for reals now, the trail angled gently for the most part through some beautiful forest typical of the west-side Cascade Mountains: lots of tall fir trees, lush undergrowth, and sunlight filtering through a green canopy of vine maple leaves. On occasion, the trail went steep, and we got to exercise our heavy breathing muscles.  Don was making videos and I was taking pictures, so it was a stop-and-go hike. 

Reenactment of me running from the wasps
About halfway up, I noticed a swarm of flies buzzing on the trail.  Curious, I stopped to see what the buzzing was all about. My mistake! The flies were not flies at all but yellow jackets nesting on the trail. My first inkling that I might have misidentified the insects was communicated to me by the nerve endings in my calves which reported to my brain that my legs were on fire in multiple spots, like a forest the day after a lightning storm. The darn wasps were stinging me and I got my morning sprint in on this hike. And I didn't even get a picture of the wasp nest!

"Trail" to Road 1509
At a wooded saddle, the Tidbits Mountain Trail intersected with a trail that had been long abandoned. Timber and rusting metal marked the site of a former shelter, also long abandoned.  A sign marked this as the Gold Hill Trail and pointed us in the direction of the Tidbits Mountain Lookout, also abandoned a long time ago.  Too bad those yellow jackets couldn't abandon the trail.

Tidbit gives us a finger
After a short climb through the forest, the trail spit us out like chewed up sunflower seeds onto a talus slope right below Tidbits Mountain proper.  From the slope we could see down the Canyon Creek drainage as it emptied into the Santiam River drainage, also visible.  On the western horizon, Mary's Peak on the Coast Range poked up out of the haze.  And above us, small rocky columns on Tidbits Mountain waved greetings, looking like Three-Fingered Jack's other two fingers.

Just about at the summit
A short and steep climb through a forest spit us out like watermelon seeds onto the summit where we whooped with joy. Well, we might have been a bit premature with the whole whooping thing because the actual summit was behind us, requiring another short but steep push up a rock cliff where mild use of hands was required. Apparently, the lookouts used to climb a ladder and the rotting timbers of the ladder still lie on the mountainside.

But who's taking a picture of me?
From the summit, we could see some more stuff.  Tidbits Mountain had a twin and we watched peregrine falcons soar and float around the sheer cliffs.  On the eastern horizon, we had nice views of the Cascades from Diamond Peak to Mount Jefferson, with the Three Sisters being the nearest.  Way cool, and we enjoyed a lengthy lunch and gawk.

Camera gear abandoned to the yellow jackets
On the way down, I got to share the wasp love with Don as he was tagged just before I got tagged a couple of more times on the legs before I could laugh at his discomfiture.  What possessed these yellow jackets to build a nest right on the trail tread?

The children climb Wolf Rock

After the hike, we drove up the Blue River to visit impressive Wolf Rock which had been eminently visible from Tidbits Mountain. Don wanted to take me scrambling up the 1,300 feet or so of cliff to the top of the massive monolith. Heeding the advice of my inner physical therapist, I declined as my surgically repaired wrist is still not ready for such adventure. Don and Jesse scrambled up a rocky amphitheater on their way to the summit while I stayed behind. At least there were no wasps to sting me as I waited for the two tykes to return.
Tidbits Mountain's twin

For more pictures of Tidbits Mountain and Wolf Rock, stop by and visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Little Belknap Crater

Back when my three daughters were infants, I had occasion to change their diapers despite my best efforts to avoid that onerous chore. Peeling back the diaper, it never ceased to amaze me how much ejecta could emanate from such a small source, just like Little Belknap Crater. And isn't ejecta such a nice word for <censored!>?.

Sunscreen is required
Surrounded by tall volcanoes such as the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Black Crater, and Belknap Crater, the wee volcanic pimple that is Little Belknap Crater is the source for most of the lava flows in the McKenzie Pass area with the amount of lava totally incommensurate with the diminutive size of the small cone. But all that lava makes for an interesting and moderate hike on the Pacific Crest Trail through a stark moonscape comprised of all that black rock ejecta.

Mountain ash berries, in another sign fall is here
The Pacific Crest Trail begins in a forest as it contours up and over and around a pair of tree islands spared the destruction from the lava flows of a bygone age or two.  Huckleberry bushes, totally gleaned of the delicious berries by passing hikers, were all turning red in a sad reminder that this summer is about to end.  

Rough trail
Entering the lava lands, it was time to say bye-bye to all the nice trees as it would be several miles before I'd see a live tree again. The PCT trail tread has been chiseled into the rock and was always easy to follow as it gained elevation. Round rocks rolled under my boots and one really has to step carefully to avoid a twisted ankle. Every where I looked was jagged rock and I gave silent thanks that there was a trail to walk on, it'd be nearly impossible to travel cross county here.

Belknap Crater
Since there were no trees, there was plenty of stuff to see under a crystal clear blue sky. To the south, North and Middle Sister dominated the view, with glaciers clinging to each sister for dear life. Nearer and to the east, was the aptly named Black Crater, although it looks red from the Matthieu Lakes. But the north grabbed my interest the most as the PCT kept me pointed to the sandy tan cone of Belknap Crater and the inconsequential little red mound that is Little Belknap Crater.

The "forest" on Little Belknap Crater
I actually saw two live, albeit stunted, trees attempting to survive in a lava field. A clump of dead white trees which I dubbed the "Little Belknap National Forest" gave mute testimony to the precarious existence in a would-be lava bed arboretum.

Signpost in the middle of nowhere

After a couple of miles, a sign post seemingly in the middle of a black rock nowhere proclaimed the junction with the Little Belknap Crater Trail. A short walk down this equally rugged trail lead to its namesake crater. 

North and Middle Sisters entertained all day

Up close, Little Belknap Crater did not look so little, a short but steep scramble up a bright red cliff with the scramble involving some use of hands, delivered me to the crater's summit. The views were tremendous, as from the top one can see the rivers of lava carving their way through the lowlands below the surrounding mountains.  

Mount Washington and friends
Despite the sunny day, a chill wind blew and I quickly donned a jacket and sought a lunchtime shelter in the fancy summit windbreak, complete with a couple of benches.  Food tastes better with great views, and I enjoyed the already-mentioned Sisters but to the north I now could see Mount Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson.  

Belknap Crater lost the argument
After the Little Belknap Crater lunch-and-gawk, a short hike further on the PCT brought me to the forested jump-off point for the Belknap Crater climb. I had a little argument with myself because I had already been on Belknap Crater but I'd never been farther north on the PCT. In the end, I decided to continue on the PCT in search of a closer look at Mount Washington; I guess I both lost and won the argument.

Entering the burn zone
Forests must be a precious commodity here because about a half mile past Belknap Crater, the PCT entered a forest that had been recently burned in a wildfire and I walked in a graveyard of trees. Between Belknap Crater and Mount Washington, there is a large ravine of sorts and the trail began losing elevation at an alarming rate, my joy at walking downhill tempered by the knowledge I'd surely have to walk back up.

Mount Washington

Near the bottom of the slope, the snags opened up enough for an iconic picture of Mount Washington, its rocky needle rising above all the burned trees. On the return leg, I actually encountered more hikers while heading down to the car late in the day. My candidate for father of the year was a gentleman taking his three young sons on an overnight camping trip in all the ejecta.

For more pictures of this scenic hike, please stop by and visit the Flickr album.