Sunday, September 28, 2014

Rigdon Lakes Loop

In 1996, the Charlton Butte Fire swept down its namesake butte and went on a southerly rampage and several days later, over 10,000 acres of trees had been dispassionately vaporized like so many humans caught in a Martian death ray. However the happy evaporating of the forest came to an abrupt end when the fire ran into the impassable and watery barrier of fire-killing Waldo Lake. It was game over with final score being: Waldo Lake 1, Charlton Butte Fire 0.

Feel the burn!
Eighteen years later, the scar from the burn is still a large part of the Waldo Lake experience on Waldo's north end. The conflagration must have burned hotter than Hell in a heatwave, for there exist no live trees (other than young saplings and seedlings) for miles and miles. However, since the view is no longer cluttered by the forest, the Waldo Lake trail nowadays offers sweeping views of the lake and surrounding peaks. The flat lands north of Waldo Lake contain millions and millions of lesser lakes, it must be a rule that there be at least one lake for every million billion mosquitoes. And speaking of lesser lakes, the Rigdon Lakes loop sampler happens to be one of my favorite hikes despite the burn, or maybe even because of it.

Waldo Lake, in the early morning
After the Friends of the Umpqua hike the day before, Kevin and I both spent a damp and chilly night camped at the lake's north campground. The following morning, we parted ways and wished each other a good day's hike. He was off to explore Broken Top and I was doing a car-free hike as I was just going to walk from the campground to the Rigdon Lakes. It had indeed been a cold night and I started hiking with about 17 different layers of clothing to keep warm.

Waldo Lake panorama
The 22-mile Waldo Lake Trail circumnavigates the lake but generally stays in the thick forests surrounding the lake. Views of the lake are far and few between once out of the burn zone on the north end. However, there is a shoreline trail running from the North Waldo Campground to the Waldo Lake Trail just short of the Rigdon Lakes Trail junction. I grabbed the shoreline trail and enjoyed constant views of Waldo Lake while those using the Waldo Lake Trail just experienced dense forest. The Twins, Maiden Peak, Mount Ray, Fuji Mountain, and distant Diamond Peak were all eminently visible from the shoreline trail.

Surrounded by death

After the first half-mile or so, the trail left the green forest and entered an otherworldly moonscape, with the right side of the trail consisting of rocky outcrops and dead trees strewn about like giant toothpicks. On the left side was Waldo himself, the calm waters of the lake reflecting the early morning sky. Canoers and kaykers paddled by, the sound of their paddles carrying far in the still air. Death and destruction on one side, a happy lake on the other: it's a thin line between life and death and apparently the Waldo Lake Trail is the line of demarcation.

Mosquito hatchery
The Waldo Lake Trail does double duty as a mountain bike epic and I regularly had to step aside for the bikers. The bikers were cycling cautiously due to all the dead trees laying across the trail so there was no frantic diving for safety on my part. As I was taking pictures of a small pond next to the trail, a young lady cheerily came walking up the path and we exchanged pleasantries. She was hiking the entire 22 miles around the lake as a day hike! Up until then, I had been pretty proud of my 10 mile route.

A bridge crosses the mighty Willamette
At the 3.5 mile mark, the trail left the burn zone and entered a live forest that had to have been pretty nervous back in 1996 when the Charlton Butte Fire was doing its thing. The forest was pretty and all, but beautiful Waldo Lake was not at all visible, being totally obscured by the forest. At the very northwest corner of the lake, a wooden foot bridge crossed over a small stream. 

As I was walking, I saw a fair Maiden (Peak)
From small streams, mighty rivers flow and the small creek with a large name was actually the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River which starts where Waldo Lake ends. At the lake's outlet is a backpack camp known as Dam Camp and I just had to go see the Dam Camp. In all my hiking, I've visited many a Dam Camp but this was the first Dam Camp that actually was officially named Dam Camp. Alright, that pun's been worked to death, let's move on.

The dead zone
After a lunch and laze at Dam Camp, I backtracked to the Waldo Lake Trail and then headed north on the Wahanna Trail. As previously stated, the relatively flat terrain north of Waldo Lake is dotted with small lakes, scattered there by some ancient finger flick of the gods. Here the destruction was utter and complete because even after 18 years, there are very few live trees and I was the tallest living thing within several parsecs.

North Fork Willamette River valley

To the left of the trail was the deep valley carved by of the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River. There were a couple of small meadows in the valley and my map shows those meadows as actually being lakes. Obviously, by summer's end the lakes are as dry as an ex-wife's kiss. A small creek snaking through the meadow was the Willamette's small fork with the really long name. I had to have been looking directly at the Edeeleo Lakes but they remained hidden by the surrounding forests. It was an impressive vista.

Going in circles 'round Rigdon Butte
To the right of the trail was the craggy and tree littered rocky knob of Rigdon Butte. The loop trail I was on basically perambulated around the butte, touring past all the little lakes huddled at the butte's base like goslings under a mother goose's wings. The first of these lakes was Ernie Lake, sited and sighted about a half mile off trail, I won't even mention all the numerous other unnamed ponds and lakelets. Oops, I just mentioned them. The amount of standing water was astonishing and would certainly explain the prodigious amounts of mosquitoes devouring hikers in early summer. I speak about the mosquitoes from personal experience, as several of us had backpacked here several years ago. That was Dollie's very last backpack trip too, that might have something to do with the thick clouds of ravenous insect vampires encountered on that infamous trek.

Beautiful Lake Kiwa
Lake Kiwa is simply one of my favorite lakes in all of Oregon. The lake is long and slender and numerous peninsulas just invite hikers to pitch a tent on them. I really must come back with a pack and do a more extended lake tour in this area but that'll have to wait for next year as winter is quite near. Steep and rocky slopes surround the lake and the trail follows the shore for about a very scenic half-mile or before peeling uphill towards Lower Rigdon Lake.

Huckleberries, as red as an angry face 
Lower Rigdon Lake sits in a rocky bowl right below Rigdon Butte and the absence of trees only add to the drama in the scenery. There was a stillness about the lake, the absence of animal life indicating the fauna have headed elsewhere for the impending winter just like retirees overwintering in Arizona. The air was full of feathery fireweed seeds floating on the slightest breeze and I made sure to hike with my mouth closed.

Clouds reflect on Upper Rigdon Lake
Upper Rigdon Lake is virtually Lower Rigdon Lake's identical twin, its only distinguishment being a forested island bobbing in the lake. Again. the air was preternaturally still and the lake's surface was mirrorlike, reflecting quite nicely the surrounding snags and the incoming clouds.

Trail, as the rain clouds arrive
Ah yes, the clouds. A storm clearly was blowing in and the day darkened as the gray clouds scudded over. I fully expected to get wet before I reached the car but thankfully, the rain held off. At the trailhead, both I and a mountain biker entered the parking lot at the same time, but from opposite directions. We had previously exchanged pleasantries in the morning as we started our trail day pretty much at the same time, he had cycled his 22 miles pretty much in the same amount of time I had hiked my 10 miles. I'm not as slow as I feel, apparently.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Waldo Lake (south end)

Waldo Lake sprawls over Oregon's Cascade Range like a watery blue diva draped across a forested chaise lounge, but without the shrill and intemperate demands for fruit and a masseuse. The lake is obviously quite large, as naturally befits Oregon's second largest natural lake. The waters are as clear as algebra's quadratic formula and motors are not allowed on the lake in order to preserve the lake's famed clarity. Circumnavigating the lake, the 22 mile Waldo Lake Trail offers hikers a chance to see a natural wonder pretty much as it was and hopefully, as it always will be.

Man, the mosquitoes are huge!

We had backpacked around the lake several years ago and we four participants will always remember that ill-fated trek for the incredible amount of mosquitoes pestering us for all 22 miles. However, in early October the vicious bloodsuckers had long since departed, and it was a much more pleasant hike than that infamous backpack trip.  I was leading a Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club venture and most of the attendees had never hiked before in the Waldo Lake area, it was an opportunity to spread the word of Waldo, so to speak.

Big fish in a small pond
As we started, there was a crispness in the air: not cold enough to be uncomfortable, but cool enough to remind us winter is coming and coming soon. It had rained the day before and the forest around the lake was damp as a result. As we started out at Shadow Bay, Waldo Lake immediately made an appearance and the club was generally underwhelmed as Waldo looked pretty much like your garden-variety small pond.

Irish Mountain, across Waldo Lake
The "small pond" was just a secluded cove on the lake though, and once we rounded the cove, the lake opened up and I heard a chorus of appreciative oh-wows or some variation thereof. The lake stretched out in its second-largest lake glory, ringed by mountains all around. There was a cloud cover hovering overhead so we could not quite see the Three Sisters, though.

We found Waldo!
The trail basically followed the southern shore of Waldo Lake and offered fantastic views at several openings in the forest. At one point the trail peeled away from the lake a bit and we stopped for a regroup at the South Waldo Shelter, where we had camped on that famed mosquito backpack trip. It was here that John and I got our signals crossed.

I followed this leader
I was leading from the rear while John was hiking at the front with the faster hikers. I carried my camera and the faster hikers did not carry any cameras at all in what amounts to your basic cause and effect. John had survived that infamous backpack trip so I told him to stop at a scenic beach on the southwest corner of the lake. The problem was I said "beach", he heard "beach" but we each pictured a different beach. He had recalled a swimming area further up the trail while I had in mind a nearer beach. So, he took everybody past the Black Meadow Trail junction and my intended loop hike will have to wait for another day.

A wild rose displays its autumn plumage
No complaints, though, because there's nothing wrong with hiking on the Waldo Lake Trail. The trail went up and down through forest carpeted with wild rose and huckleberry bushes, all beginning to show their autumn colors. And after 3.5 miles or so, we laggards came across John's group lunching next to his swimming spot. The only swimmer in the lake, though, was Kevin's four-legged hiking buddy Talon.

Lunchtime view of The Twins
Storm clouds had come in and the scene was moody and dramatic across the lake. The Twins, a great hike in its own right, loomed over the other side of the lake with Maiden Peak also making an appearance further south. It was a beautiful scene despite the angry buzzing of wasps from a nest we had inadvertently sat next to. Some of us enjoyed lunch more than others, the deciding factor being whether one got stung or not.

Mushrooms pose for a family portrait
From there, it was a perfunctory walk back to the trailhead while stepping out of the way for passing mountain bikers. Kevin and I lagged way behind, we both carried cameras and for us, the hike had degenerated into a mycological photo shoot as mushrooms of all kinds were sprouting everywhere in the forest. It was a nice and slow return back to the lake, especially since the threatening storm clouds never rained on us.

Sunset at Waldo Lake
After the hike, Kevin and I both camped at the lake (in separate tents, just to clarify), the temperature dropped and dang, it got cold. Winter is most definitely around the corner. However, the clouds parted here and there as the sun set and we enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the lake. Once the sun ducked behind the mountains, it became all about seeking warmth in a sleeping bag (separate bags, just like tents!) because dang, it was cold.

Mushrooms, packed tighter than sardines
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Seaside, Oregon

This posting is more travelogue than hiking blog but I promise the next posting will be all about the trail. In the meantime, Dollie and I are still in Seaside with in-laws, children, and our children's children. After our morning bike ride to Fort Stevens, we quickly got cleaned up and headed out to the helipad with Jessie (daughter) and Trevor (belongs to Jessie).

Not doing as I was told
At the helipad, we had to watch a safety video that basically told us how to buckle up and how to use the microphone and headset for communication in the noisy helicopter. A eager young man named Patrick then explained in a very loud voice the boarding protocol which basically amounted to " what I tell you!"

Seaside,...yip, yip!
While waiting for our ride, we observed the small copter taking off and I think all four of us got the yips as we watched it fly away. Soon it was our turn and we shoehorned ourselves into the back seat. The ground dropped away rapidly as we took off and in no time at all several tons of metal was where it had no business being: in the air, thousands of feet above Seaside. More yips were felt.

View to Tillamook Head
There was a wildfire near Mount Hood and smoke from that fire prevented us from seeing Mount Ranier but we could see a lot of other cool stuff like Seaside, Tillamook Head, the Columbia River, Saddle Mountain, and the Necanicum River as it exited at Seaside. The view was so cool, we all soon forgot about having the yips.

After dinner, we all headed to the beach to enjoy a summer evening. Roy brought boogie boards and he, Andy, Spencer, and Trevor skidded on the wet sand, some more gracefully than others.  Not wanting to embarrass myself, I was content to merely take pictures of the boarders. Young Spencer was a natural and displayed perfect form nearly every time. Andy has his mother's coordination and enough said about that.

Sunset at Seaside
The sun gradually sank in the sky and provided us another great coastal sunset. The beach was dotted with bonfires like the Trojan beaches during the Greek siege, there was a noticeable chill to the air once the sun departed. Dollie and I had taken a short bike ride around Seaside prior to the beach festivities and as we headed back to the vacation rental, I was still feeling energetic so I took a right turn on the promenade and hiked into Seaside.

Sunset fans
It was more night than day but there still was a faint glow on the horizon as the lanterns illuminated the promenade. Sunset lovers abounded, watching the spectacular end of the day from the Seaside Roundabout. Below, several teens were creatively dancing with torches while children played on swing sets. Totally festive and in keeping with our brief stay in Seaside.  

Seaside makes Jessie jump for joy!
For more pictures of Seaside, please visit the Flickr album.

Seaside promenade

Fire dancers

Monsters roamed the shops at night

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Tale of Two Forts

In 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition was about to face winter along the Columbia River and the available options for weathering a Pacific Northwest winter were to move upriver, camp on the Washington side of the river, or camp on the Oregon side. Per Wikipedia, Washington's diet was deemed too boring and the weather too rainy (the same still holds true today!). On the recommendation of the local natives, Lewis and Clark opted to build an encampment along Oregon's Lewis and Clark River in what truly was an amazing coincidence.

Encampment detail
Well, the camp was built in an Oregon winter storm which, as we Oregonians know all too well, last about 9 months or so. So the Lewis and Clark expedition soon found the Oregon diet too boring and the weather too rainy (and the same still holds true today!). Apparently they had enough of our weather and they left the area well ahead of schedule (I call it "running away") and their encampment, known as Fort Clatsop, eventually decayed as all things do in Oregon's wet climate. A replica was later built using Lewis and Clark's sketches and that replica burnt down in a 2005 fire, so another replica was subsequently built (but with smoke detectors, this time). I doubt the smoke detectors were in Lewis and Clark's sketches.

Bringing dignity and respect to Sacajawea
Dollie, Mom Gier, and I made a quick trip to visit the fort on our stay in Seaside. The fort is the centerpiece of Lewis and Clark National Historic Park and we toured the small encampment. The austere encampment is not very big and you could almost smell the unwashed bodies in the confined spaces in the wooden structures. Oh, that also might have been me, but I digress. After touring the rustic encampment, Dollie and I took a short walk on some boardwalks to the Lewis and Clark River where the view of Saddle Mountain's tip got my attention because the mountains always call me.

Happy cyclists
The next day, Dollie and I got up early and hopped on the bicycles. We pedaled up the coast highway to Fort Stevens State Park, a rather large park that is part of the Lewis and Clark National and State Park complex. Fort Stevens was built during the Civil War to guard the mouth of the Columbia against the British during the Pig War. I kid you not, we nearly went to war with England over a British pig shot by an American settler, sometimes comedy just writes itself.

What's left of the Peter Iredale
Fortunately, we never quite got around to shooting each other and both sides continued to eat bacon and pork chops with impunity. It was a much more peaceful setting when Dollie and I arrived at the park on a chilly morn. Our first stop was at the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a 1906 shipwreck that is still visible today. Since we were there so early, there weren't many people around which is not a normal occurrence, judging by all the footprints in the sand. It sure makes for nicer photographs without the thundering sandaled hordes intruding into the camera viewfinder.

A ship on the Columbia River
Using a combination of bike trails and roadways, we cycled through low marshlands to the Columbia River.  The river is the Mighty Columbia here, flowing wide, deep, and fast. We watched large cargo ships make their way upriver, presumably on their way to Portland. Fishermen by the pailful were plying their avocation along the sandy river banks.

Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia
The last stop was the south jetty at the actual mouth of the Columbia. Across the river was Cape Disappointment on the Washington state side. I wondered if the cape was named by Lewis and Clark for the boring diet, rainy weather, or maybe the Seattle Mariners. There is a wooden tower that provided a great view of the Oregon coast arcing towards Seaside in the morning sun and we partook thereof. We then completed our 40 mile ride in short order and arrived at the vacation rental as everybody else was just getting up, allowing us to smugly proclaim "40 miles before breakfast, yeah baby!" Our family thinks Dollie and I are nuts.

The wreck of the Peter Iredale
For more pictures of Fort Clatsop and Fort Stevens, just click on the links below.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tillamook Head

I didn't think I liked this hike all that much, it just didn't seem all that scenic. But several weeks later I looked at my pictures and decided that this hike was pretty cool after all. Probably my perception of his hike was colored by the formidable climb up Tillamook Head in warm weather with a backpack on. Perception and memory can be fickle like that.

Awesome view to Arch Cape
Dollie, Dollie-Mom, and yours truly were headed to the tourist town of Seaside for a family get-together, but spending days with family wasn't the reason (this time!) for heading to the hills with a backpack on. No, the underlying reason was simply twofold: I had never hiked on Tillamook Head and we were in the area.

Tillamook Head, bane of my weekend
The hike began in popular Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach. Before the actual work began, a visit to the viewpoint at Indian Point was in order. The point has a parking lot on it so there were plenty of visitors enjoying the fantastic view south towards Cannon Beach and Arch Cape as the sea shimmered in the midday sun. Lots of pictures were taken by your merry blogster but the camera had to be hurriedly stowed away as there was plenty of hiking toil and labor yet to be done.

Watch the welcome mat!
The hike got off to a local flavor at a footbridge within ten yards of the trailhead. A woman was on the footbridge sporting a new cast on her forearm and she cheerily said she was Katrina from Roseburg and her arm was broken when the welcome mat at the Chevron station tripped her up. Not very welcoming, if you ask me.

Shade is not overrated
The trail from Indian Point to Indian Beach was mostly shaded but there were intermittent windows in the trees to provide fantastic views of the islands below, one of which was noticeably arched. I was accompanied off and on by Curt, a hiker from Portland. He said he was inspired enough by me to return with a backpack at some future date. I preach the gospel and it's always nice to enlist another acolyte into the Church of the Blessed Hiking Trail. However, if he'd seen me stagger up Tillamook Head, he probably would have been less inspired.

View to Indian Beach

The trail provided nice overlooks of Indian Beach on the walk north. Tucked into a relatively small nook in the Oregon shore kitchen, the beach is accessible by car and as a result, is well populated. Surfers dotted the blue-green waters like fish food flakes floating in a giant shark tank. Beach walkers looked like ants as they explored the beach far below my trail. Eventually the route dropped down to beach level, crossing Canyon Creek and Indian Creek just below the parking lot.

Forest above the trail
The trail sign said Hiker Camp was "only" 1 1/4 miles away but what the cheerfully painted sign did not tell me was that the camp was about 1,000 feet above. It was on this short piece of trail that I vowed never to go hiking again. It was a bloody and brutal struggle upwards and I rested at viewpoints and switchbacks alike, and sometimes I rested at points in between.

Be it ever so humble...
It was a joyous moment when at a trail junction, another sign told me Hiker Camp was only 1/8 of a mile further. Yay, all the bad uphill had stopped! The camp is a collection of three cabins with bunks, and  I quickly staked my claim to a bunk, not that there was any competition. Already at the camp were Hotfeet and Skunk, from New York. They had just finished hiking a big chunk of the PCT (they were like, "Climb, what climb?") and were visiting the Oregon coast before their return to New York. Hotfeet got her trail name because she liked to warm her feet by the fire; Skunk got his trail name from his feet, too, but for a different reason.

Sunset comes to the forest

There is a short trail from the camp leading to a viewpoint overlooking Tillamook Rock, or "Old Tilly" as the locals refer to the small island with an equally small lighthouse on it. The lighthouse was routinely assaulted by the sea and pity the unlucky sod who drew keeper duty on "Old Tilly". At some point it was abandoned and now it's privately owned and does duty as a columbarium, or storage place of cinerary urns for the cremated. As I watched from the overlook, not much was happening at Tillamook Rock, it was pretty much a dead place.

Old Tilly, tucking in for the night
The sunset show was spectacular from the overlook and my camera was kept busy as day slipped into night, leaving Old Tilly floating in the sea under an orange sky. As we returned back to Hiker Camp, we were joined by another couple who had hightailed it to Seaside after their workday was done in Portland. They figured on doing the short trip in from the Seaside trailhead but "didn't think about climbing 900 feet in one mile" per the male half. Boy, could I relate!

Staircases didn't help
I had a notion that we were camping on top of the head but I was quickly disavowed of that notion on the hike out the following morning. There was nearly 300 feet of climbing left, mostly all at once. And lest I become complacent about topping out, the trail then proceeded to go up and down for a couple of miles as it traced the uneven edge of Tillamook Head.

Bird stair stepper
But at least the new day was cool and the trail was well shaded. Mushrooms sprouted on trees and morning sunlight slanted through the trees as I grumbled and mumbled on the trail. Eventually the trail did top out for the final time, beginning a precipitous drop down to the town of Seaside.

The Oregon Coast Trail
The descent was equally demanding as the climb up, dropping 900 feet in little over a mile. Lush vegetation seriously encroached the trail and there were several large patches of fallen trees across the trail. I got plenty of practice doing the trail limbo to get through. There were several encounters with gasping and sweaty hikers coming up who asked me ever so hopefully "Are we at the top, yet?" Heh-heh, it's so much fun being the bearer of bad news.

On the Seaside promenade

Eventually, all the bad downhill stopped as I walked through a wooden archway and onto a city street. The remainder of this hike was on the empty streets of Seaside. No doubt the residents thought I was a homeless person, albeit one with a really nice camera. Several miles later on the Seaside promenade I met up with Dollie, a shower, and hot food. There'd be no rest for the tired, though, as I was quickly attacked by grandchildren happy to wrestle with their grandfather who was totally pooped from a hike he belatedly decided he liked.

A blackberry leaf catches some sun
For more pictures of this trip, please visit the Flickr album.

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