Sunday, November 30, 2014

Whaleshead Beach to Cape Ferrelo

My little tour of the southern Oregon coast continued with a recent hike from Whaleshead Beach to Cape Ferrelo. Unlike the prior hike on Cape Blanco, the weather was only considering dropping water on me instead actually doing the wet deed. Just the same, I brought my raincoat along.

"Trail" is loosely defined, here
There are two basic routes to to Cape Ferrelo from Whaleshead Beach. Option One is to hike away from the beach up on the Oregon Coast Trail. The main drawback is that the trail is incredibly steep. Option Two is to hike down the beach and then take the connector trail up to the Oregon Coast Trail. The main drawback is that the trail is incredibly steep. Option Three is to stay home and not do this hike at all. The main drawback to that is staying home and not doing this hike at all.

Deer track also known as
the Oregon Coast Trail
Since steep was going to be part of my miserable experience anyway, I started high and went low, taking the Oregon Coast Trail down to the beach. This was a trail more suited to goats or deer than hikers and I could only pity anyone brave or naive enough to carry a backpack up the steep and muddy path. I can't believe they even call it a trail, for the path down (or up) is not worthy of the word.

Whaleshead Beach
The good news though, it was nothing but blue skies in the early morning as I slid down the hill to the beach. Immediately, there was a nice view of a couple of islands, one of which is Whaleshead Island, so named for a blowhole which just like me, puts on a spouting display when the tides are right.

The most spectacular waterfall
you've never heard of
There were several creeks to wade across on the beach and one of them was the proud owner of a world class waterfall. If any readers are wondering why they have never heard of this watery wonder, it's because the spectacular cascade is inaccessible by trail. I suppose the waterfall could be accessed via a bushwhack up an overgrown cliff, but I was still sober in the early morning.

House Rock, all by its loneseome
After a mile or so, the beach petered out at a pile of rocks and now it was time to begin The Big Climb. Because the trail is so ill-defined at beach level, some mild mountaineering was required to reach the actual trail tread about 20 feet above the sand. The bluff here was grassy and windblown and quickly provided views of House Rock to the south. Looking like ants crawling across the kitchen floor, a couple out for a walk made slow progress on the beach below. The dude spotted me up the hill and pointed me out. The woman then shook her head and they both turned around and walked back the way they had come. No words were necessary for me to understand their conversation.

Deer cave
After gaining 500 feet in a half mile, the junction with the Oregon Coast Trail was reached and call me thankful I didn't have to climb 501 feet. The trail then spent a lot of forest time as it headed south to Cape Ferrelo. The coastal woods were beautiful and heavily mossed while ferns sprouted everywhere beneath the trees. Unfortunately, the trail insisted on going down then up then down then up then...repeat for the next couple of miles.

Either a big mushroom or a small head
Seeing how the woods were fairly damp and moist due to the recent rains, it was not at all surprising to see a fair amount of slugs sliming up the the trail. Nor was it surprising to see mushrooms of all sizes, shapes, and colors bursting forth from the muddy depths of wherever they hang out when not bursting forth. What was surprising was to find woolly bears in fuzzy abundance in the grassy areas of the trail. It seems to me that late November would not normally be time of year where one would expect to find fuzzy caterpillars in such great numbers. Maybe they know something we don't about the upcoming weather.

The view
A little after the three-mile mark, rocky Cape Ferrelo hove into view. Grass replaced the forest and the wind cuffed me about as I approached the Cape. Solely for the sake of closure, I took a left fork down to Lone Rock Beach, my intended turnaround point. However, when the steep, slippery, and muddy path disappeared into Lone Ranch Creek, I called "dry feet" and proceeded to walk back uphill to Cape Ferrelo.

Island vista, near Lone Ranch Beach
The spectacular view from the cape just called for a more contemplative stop and I obliged, eating lunch in the damp grass. There were a few other hikers out and about and a friendly dog came by to visit and politely inquire as to the availability of any doggie treats; no snacks were handed out, but he did get a friendly head pat in the process. Gone were the blue skies from the morning, replaced by dark gray cloud cover that presaged an incoming rainstorm. Rays of sunlight leaked through holes in the cloudy tapestry, the resultant spots of light dancing across the ocean and islands. I would have stayed longer but I could just sense the coming rain.

House Rock enjoys the light show
So back I go, down and up and up and down and down and up through the damp forest. However, instead of taking the goat path down to the beach again, I stayed high, following the Oregon Coast Trail. The OCT is not the most well marked trail in the world and a number of confusing intersections befuddled me a bit, not that it's particularly difficult to confuse me. At any rate, several of my trail choices wound up with me walking along Highway 101 a bit before reaching the trailhead.

Late afternoon panorama
As I was divesting myself of my backpack and wet boots, a car pulled into the parking lot and a young man and his dog got out. He asked me about the trail to the beach and I made sure to stress how godawful steep the trail down was. He smiled and said "I'm good with that". Me too.

Alder going all leafless for the winter
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cape Blanco

So, I've dropped 30 pounds recently and I am now one skinny and still one incredibly handsome dude. There are so many positive effects that come with being lighter but one big negative is that I feel the cold so much more than I used to. As I hiked in the rain and 45 degree temps at Cape Blanco, a brisk breeze whistled through the slats of my rib cage and all I could think of was "Hey, I want my insulating blubber back!"

Rain O Beautiful Rain

According to the weather forecast, the Oregon coast was under flood watch. Well, that just sounded like a dare so off I went to Cape Blanco State Park to see for myself. There, the Sixes River was predictably running wide, fast, and brown; the rising waters temporarily upgraded the Sixes to an eight-point-three. Water was swirling in the air, blown in by a brisk breeze sweeping off of the sea. The temperature was in the high 40's, although it felt colder due to the wind and rain chill.  In other words, a perfect day for hiking!

Boots got wet

The first part of the hike crossed the Sixes River's waterlogged flood plain. Large puddles, or maybe they were small ponds, covered the trail as overlapping ripples from the rain danced upon the surfaces. A hiking couple were finishing their hike and the male half said "...this sure beats watching TV!" Since I was just starting out, the idea of spending all day bundled up in a warm Snuggie watching Forensic Files from the recliner was not without some allure.

I just know the deer are in there, waiting
After splashing through the mud and small lakes on the trail, I opted to take the high road through the forest atop the coastal bluffs, eschewing the wet conditions on the beach. That turned out to be a good move for once inside the dense forest, the protection afforded by the trees kept the chilly wind at bay.

Once in the forest, it became all about the mushrooms, the heck with all that blustery awesome scenic coastline. Small white staghorn fungi were sprouting everywhere in peaceful coexistence with a veritable reef of coral fungus. There were also plenty of specimens of fungal cups, balls, parasols, and other assorted fungus thingies. My clothing became a muddy mess as I took plenty of photographs, lying prone on the trail like a skinny, yet incredibly handsome Sasquatch.

Stormy view from atop the cape
It was windy and cold at Cape Blanco, but at least the rain abated somewhat. There was a noticeable lack of tourists at the cape, due in large part to the less than optimal conditions. Their loss, though, and I took the goat path down to the beach just south of the cape. I don't think goats slip in the mud but I sure did and now my back side was just as muddy as my front side.

Hikers got wet
On the beach, the scene was quite moody and dramatic with dark clouds hovering over the ocean with occasional sun beams breaking through the cloud cover. Distant Humbug Mountain was faintly visible in the misty air to the south. Also visible was an incoming rainstorm that eventually caught up to me; it didn't last too long, thankfully. After a mile or so of beach walking, the Cape Blanco Campground road came into view and it was time to walk up to the top of the coastal bluffs again.

Hikers got dry
The route for this hike was a wiggly figure 8, seemingly colored onto the map with a fat crayon wielded by a 4 year old on a sugar high. The point of intersection between the two loops was Cape Blanco itself and on the return leg, I dropped down to the beach north of the cold and windy cape. However, the clouds were sort of clearing up and occasional sunlight warmed the spirits of this hiker, if not his body.

Gulls watch from across the Sixes
I followed the beach all the way to the mouth of the Sixes River where a pack of feral sea gulls eyed me balefully from the opposite shore. The river, as mentioned before, was at flood stage and the collision between river and ocean was pretty fierce. Enterprising beachgoers had built some wind shelters from the piles of driftwood littering the beach. I'm not sure how effective they were at keeping the wind out.

Fungal lollipop
A short backtrack down the beach provided an beach egress via the Castle Rock Beach Trail and then it was back to the grassy swamp lands next to the Sixes River. Just when the trailhead became visible, large bodies of water covered the trail. I shook my fist at the heavens and yelled "Why are you doing this to me?" and then splashed through. All in all, another great hike because dryness, warmth, sunlight, and insulating blubber are all so overrated anyway.

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Union Peak

On the way home from our Boundary Springs hike, I couldn't help but notice the surrounding forests draped over the Cascades like an arboreal green blanket. The forests were nice and pretty but more importantly, there wasn't any snow in them thar hills. And while there was a winter chill in the air, the lack of snow meant we could possibly get one more mountain hike in before the snows shut down that wonderfully fun activity. On the drive back to Roseburg, Edwin mentioned he had never been on Union Peak. Since the Veteran's Day holiday was coming up, it was a perfect storm (but with no snow...yet) of conditions so a plan was quickly put together for a Union Peak summit on the holiday.

Hiking in the world's largest walk-in freezer
Eight hikers (nine sort of, but more on that later) decamped from our respective automobiles and set forth on the Pacific Crest Trail just south of Crater Lake. Dang, it was cold! It was close to freezing temp and since nobody had a thermometer, we cannot provide any empirical data; the consensus among all participants was that it had have been close to 30 degrees. The sound of ice crunching underneath our boots was a constant as we hiked through a shady forest for the first couple of miles.

Very large bowling pins
There is not a lot to report about the first two miles on the Pacific Crest Trail as it climbed gently through a singularly uninteresting forest. Add cold temperature to the mix, and my hands were kept nicely mittened up which meant not much photographs were taken.

The pimpled landscape
Leaving the PCT at the two mile mark, the Union Peak Trail climbed a bit more briskly, alternating forest with patches of barren pumice. What little vegetation there was on the barrens had long since turned brown. We were hiking on a rounded ridge that provided nice views of the pimpled landscape dotted with small volcanic cones, courtesy of the Mount Mazama (Crater Lake) lava plumbing system.

Tremble, all ye before Union Peak!
We had been gradually climbing up the aforementioned rounded ridge leading to an unseen Union Peak but finally, we stepped out of the forest and immediately got neck cramps peering up at the massive skyscraper that is Union Peak. In our little group, I was the only hiker that had previously climbed the formidable peak; it was amusing to see all their little legs tremble in trepidation. The sheer steepness of the mountain was daunting and it boggles the mind to know there is actually a trail to the top.

"Trail" shot
But a trail to the top there is, and after hiking on the rocky path across Union Peak's avalanche basin, the real fun began. The route was precariously chiseled into the craggy face of Union Peak, and steep was the watchword as we climbed up the rickety path. The trail was really more of a goat path at this point, switchbacking to and fro. I counted 37 switchbacks on the ascent as we went back and forth like the blip of light between two Pong paddles. I think I just dated myself, my kids probably don't even know what Pong is.

On top of the world
Right about the point where switchback number 38 would have been, was the Union Peak summit. Celebratory accolades were shared among the hikers at the top and a familiar voice bellowed out "About time you got here!" Ray? Is that really you? He had decided to get an early start on the summit and was there waiting in ambush for us, so make that 9 hikers on our trek today.

View towards the Siskiyous

The views were superb from the summit with the Crater Lake rim being most near and dear. Mounts Bailey and Thielsen were nearby with Diamond Peak being visible further north. There was a large white mountain on the horizon and we speculated that was probably South Sister. The Siskiyou Mountain range lay jumbled in blue profusion on the southwestern skyline and a corner of Lost Creek Lake was found. To the south was the large cone of Mount Shasta in California. Truly a vista for the ages and we enjoyed playing the name-that-peak game for a while.

Late afternoon in a pumice barren

But it was getting to be late afternoon and the temperature was dropping noticeably: it was time to skedaddle! Picking our way carefully down the 37 switchbacks, we descended the peak and returned to the Pacific Crest Trail. If anything, there was more ice on the trail than before and I didn't take very many pictures as I was intent on getting back to the trailhead before freezing extremities, as was everybody else. A good time was had by all and that probably will be our last hike (without snowshoes) in the Cascades until next summer.

Crater Lake panorama
For more pictures of the hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Boundary Springs

Boundary Springs is one of those hikes I don't do all that often because it's a little on the shortish side (about 5.5 miles) for my mileage-addicted tastes. Besides which, a hike really should take more time than the drive to get there. Having duly groused about the size of the hike, it still is pretty cool to see the fully formed Rogue River gush forth from the porous volcanic soils surrounding Crater Lake.

Lodgepole, lodgepole, and more lodgepole
I did hatch a plan to convert this moderate Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club venture into a Richard Hike epic. However, the basic 10 mile shuttle hike on the Pacific Crest Trail with maybe a climb to the top of Red Cone was coldly scotched by the impending arrival of mean old Auntie Winter. Apparently, the authorities chose our hiking weekend as the weekend to close the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park. Seemed unfair, craven, and rather spineless considering the day was sunny and there was no snow to be seen anywhere at all.

A taste of things to come
All grumbling about road closures aside, winter was definitely on its way as we set out on the Upper Rogue River Trail. Despite the ample and yet ineffective sunshine, the air was nippy, slapping exposed cheeks like a spurned lover, not that I know what that is like. The trail was icy and hoarfrost crunched under our boots as we hiked through the lodgepole forest.

It was their fault I missed the turn
Lodgepole grows in poor soils where no other tree dares to grow and a lodgepole forest is not very attractive despite the admirable tenacity of the trees. There wasn't much to take pictures of so when I saw some of my party walking on a trail below me, I stepped just off trail and surreptitiously snapped pictures of my friends. I was now behind the main group and I walked quickly to catch up.

How hard is it to follow a trail?

After hiking way too long all by myself, it became apparent that I had missed the trail junction to Boundary Springs and was heading down into the Rogue River canyon. Crap. So back I go and there was the trail junction, clearly marked with pink ribbons around a tree trunk, I'm not sure how I missed it. Lane pointed out that this was like the third hike in four that I had made a wrong turn. They say that the ability to follow a trail is the first thing to go when old age sets in, to which I retort "Lane, you sure have an uncanny eye for pink ribbons!"

The Rogue River
Once the trail crossed a Rogue tributary creek on a wooden footbridge, the path stayed high above the Rogue itself. The river here courses through pumice deposits left after Mount Mazama (now known as Crater Lake) blew its top about 7,000 years ago. The soft soils are easily eroded by small creeks and major rivers alike and the river canyon was pretty steep and deep, just like me. Pools of misty vapor coagulated in small patches here and there as the sun tried to warm the icy ground.

Pixie cups
A boundary marker marked our entrance into the northwest corner of Crater Lake Park. Just inside the park, Boundary Springs presumably got its name by dint of its proximity to the park boundary. We all had our passports at the ready but today the customs booth was closed just like the northern entrance and no, I'm not bitter about that at all.

No more green meadows
Just after passing some meadows browned with dead vegetation, a number of small springs seeped from the ground and the moss was happy. This was a prelude to the main event, and a short walk thereafter brought me to my hiking companions (who did not make a wrong turn) and Boundary Springs proper.

Boundary Springs
The springs are quite impressive as the Rogue River gushes forth from the ground. A mossy log spans the spring and several of us made our way out on the crumbling wood to where we could look at the river begin its journey, literally at our feet. Just in back of us was a tangle of trees and brush so the line of demarcation between Rogue and no-Rogue was pretty clear.

Shadow Man tags along
After a mildly chilly lunch in the thin sunlight, we made our way back to the trailhead and no more wrong turns were made. It felt strange to be done hiking so soon and the long drive back to Roseburg took nearly as long as the hike. I'll have to come back next year when the north entrance is open and do that longer route I have planned. Stay tuned.

Bole on a downed tree
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gwynn Creek Loop

Rain Rain Rain
Come once again
Give us the chance
To sing and dance

From "Rain O Beautiful Rain"
by Partha Mahanta

Hiking in the rain-o-beautiful-rain
Let be known that on a recent hike at Cape Perpetua for Dollie and I, there was no singing or dancing involved. There was lots of rain-o-beautiful-rain though and I walked in a vortex of coldness that had little to do with the actual temperature involved. For some reason the vortex seemed to be centered on the red-jacketed hiker I was following (from a safe distance behind).

All hikes should start like this
I had promised a moderate hike of about 6 miles and I did stay true to my word but there were other travails involved besides the mileage. At first it seemed like there would be no tests of manhood, womanhood, or marital harmony as the hike got off to an auspicious start at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center with golden sunlight slanting through a steaming forest. After five minutes on the trail, the sun disappeared and 37 seconds after that, the rain started. Slugs were out and about on the trail in slimy ebullience, singing and dancing in the rain-o-beautiful-rain. 

The forest is full of green things
However, it was a light rain as the trail left the Cape Creek drainage, climbing up and over forested Cook's Ridge before dropping down into the Gwynn Creek canyon. Up was the key word here as the trail switchbacked to and fro, climbing a robust 1,000 feet in two miles through a dense forest of young trees.

Snarling wife
I was feeling pretty walky and actually was enjoying the exertion, a feeling that was not felt by all in our hiking party. I mentioned I was feeling pretty good and Dollie said "That's nice", only it was the "that's nice" that meant it really wasn't nice at all. My suspicion was confirmed when a trail runner came jogging down the trail with her dog. She was comparatively scantily clad, being oufitted in mere running shorts and a T-shirt. A broad smile indicated she was totally into the joy of running in the rain. We exchanged pleasantries in passing and once the young lady ran out of earshot, Dollie said "I hate her", upper lip curling in a feral snarl.

So happy for the chance to sing and dance
As we continued gaining elevation, we entered the low cloud cover cloaking Cape Perpetua and fingers of mist soon clasped trees, ferns, and hikers in a cold and wet hug. Then the real rain started. The forest was soon filled with the three-dimensional aural hiss of millions of rain drops simultaneously striking both leaves and raincoats. Fern fronds were bouncing up and down with the music and rhythms of the raindrops, happy for the chance to sing and dance in the rain-o-beautiful-rain.   

They make such a cute couple
All the bad uphill stopped at the junction with the Gwynn Creek Trail, and we commenced descending on the damp and muddy path. The very moment we started losing elevation the rain abated, seemingly in reward for our conquering the steep ridge. Green was the theme here with ferns, salal, and moss all being major contributors.

Get your red hot fungus here!
The November rains had set the mushrooms to sprouting and I spent a lot of muddy trail time lying on the ground taking pictures while Dollie scouted ahead for the next photo shoot subject. There were some coral fungus/staghorn fungus thingies ("thingy" being my technical word for "I don't know what this is") that got my attention. Usually, coral fungus is an ordinary looking tan color but there were specimens colored salmon, bright yellow, and nuclear meltdown red.

Forest still life
As we got closer to the bottom of the canyon, sunlight broke out and the forest soon became steamy with evaporating moisture. It could almost have been the tropics, except for the 48 degree temperature and all those spruce and fir trees. Gwynn Creek was nearby and although the creek's watery song could always be heard from the dense forest below the trail, we rarely caught a glimpse of the small creek. We encountered lots of casual hikers in a sign we were nearing the Oregon Coast Trail and a nearby car-friendly trailhead.

If I don't go in, the deer can't eat me
At the intersection with the OCT, we made a right turn and finished off the last mile of the hike. The trail went up and down around the toe of Cook's Ridge which had been our considerably more formidable nemesis further inland. By now the storm had broken up and we enjoyed nice views of the always spectacular rocky coast at Cape Perpetua.

A stop at the always tasty Los Amigos Burrito in Florence capped off a nice day and we decided we did enjoy our chance to sing and dance in the not-quite-so-beautiful rain.

Waxing lyrical as I savored tongue tacos while pondering the day's events, I even composed a poem in honor of our experience:

"Rain, rain, rain 
Come once again
Give us the chance
To wet our pants"

by Richard O'Neill

A sudden updraft blew his skirt up
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.