Saturday, December 26, 2015

North Bank Deer Habitat 12/2015

I have met my nemesis and it is cheesecake. I was good at Christmas dinner and ate just one small slice of the calorie-laden carb-infused delicious goo-on-a-pie-crust. However, the leftovers mysteriously wound up inside our refrigerator and just as mysteriously, a large portion was consumed by some anonymous sugar-eater. It surely wasn't me and that is my story and I'm sticking to it. However, just to be sure, the day after Christmas was an opportune time for yet another calorie burning hike in the North Bank.

Leafless oak on a winter morn
The weather had not been very hiker-friendly in December but there was a short break in the deluges the day after Christmas and grandson Aiden and I were appreciative of the dry weather, although it could have been just a tad bit warmer. Actually, it could have been a lot warmer as the temperature was well below freezing as we set out in the early morning. Aiden was sporting a lot of warm weather clothing, courtesy of Santa Claus. I had received a lightweight hammock and rainfly as my reward for being nice all year (stop with the snickering, already) but the hammock is of little use in cold weather. Aiden must have been nicer for a larger part of the year.

Don't want to talk about it
At any rate, it was a frosty walk to the wet lowland sporting the hilarious name of Soggy Bottoms. I told Aiden that Soggy Bottoms was my nickname in grade school but I didn't want to talk about it. For added emphasis, I hung my head down as if in shame. Without missing a beat, he dropped his head down and said "It happened to me, too". He's from my gene pool, he can't help it.

Ice, waiting for the boy
We took the Soggy Bottoms Road because it is the easiest way to get up to the high ridges of the preserve. Any other trail would be a grueling test of manhood but the Soggy Bottoms Road settles for for merely going uphill. The air was crisp and ice crunched under our feet as we walked. Frozen puddles offered a certain grandson the opportunity of noisily cracking the ice crust.

The pooologist
The habitat's sole reason for existence is to preserve a herd of endangered Columbia white-tailed deer and we saw several deer scampering through the woods of Soggy Bottoms. The cougars consider the habitat to be their fast-food restaurant and we stopped to examine some predator poo which contained hair, bone bits, and maybe a white tail or two. I'm just saying, but pooing bone bits...yikes!

Bad creek!
As we walked, we had to ford several creeks while blue jays shrieked at us as annoyingly shrill as a sister. Soggy Bottoms was just that, and the water laden hillsides had slid down over the trail in a couple of spots. The swollen creeks had taken out part of the road beds here and there and the maintenance crew will have a lot of work to do once things dry out a bit.

Trail, at snow line
"What is that thing?" asked Aiden.  It was white and small, about the  size of a silver dollar. When we picked it up, it was hard but extremely cold.  Yes, it was our first glimpse of snow on Soggy Bottoms. As we reached the head of the valley, we were walking in perma-shade and more and more snow appeared along the trail. We are not talking ski-country snow and snow shoes certainly were not needed, but it was fairly unusual to see the white stuff lying below the leafless oaks.

Why we hike
As the trail left Soggy Bottoms and began angling uphill to the northern ridge, the air temperature dropped considerably and we encountered more and more snow and ice on the way. The views improved as we gained elevation with layers and layers of snow covered peaks dotting the horizon to the south. By the time we reached the Powerline Road and Grumpy's Pond, we were hiking in a veritable winter wonderland. The hills were bald and covered in white (just like my head!) and we enjoyed the scenery as we ate a hurried lunch at Grumpy's Pond. We were not the only ones lunching however, a lone hawk patrolled the snowy fields in search of a tasty mammal morsel.

One small leap for boykind...
Aiden started out being fairly ambitious at the start of the hike and was game for a 10 miler. However, his youthful enthusiasm waned once we reached the top of the boundary ridge. All that puddle stomping had wet his feet and he was getting both tired and uncomfortable so we grabbed the Blacktail Basin Road, which sadly took us out of the snow and down into the soggy bottom of the basin. And thus began the descent and a few moments of wet hilarity at a creek mishap.

Creek, crossing the trail
Because of the long run of wet weather, creeks were full and there was a particularly deep creek running across the trail in Blacktail Basin. I just waded through but Aiden bushwhacked downstream in search of a narrower crossing. The perfect spot for a leap across was found and he took off his hat and lobbed it across the creek. He tried to take off his brand spanking new Christmas winter jacket but the daypack was in the way so he sort of removed both at the same time. Grabbing a shoulder strap, he slung the pack across the creek. Unfortunately, the jacket was still entangled in the pack and while the pack sailed across the creek, the jacket separated in mid-air and floated down into the icy stream. I didn't know jackets could float like that and I didn't know Aiden could run along the bank that fast either. The jacket was safely plucked from the water just as it was about to go over a 4 foot waterfall and disappear forever.  

Tree under the incoming clouds
From there it was a quick walk back to the car as clouds scudded over and took away the blue sky. Obviously, it's time for another round of winter storms, darn it.

We walked in a winter wonderland
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Hall Lake

The rain was just pouring sheets of water early in the morning. Just the kind of morning that causes all good hikers to stow their boots back on the basement shelf and call the hike off. I woke up and readily admitted to Dollie that I really didn't feel like going hiking in the wet and cold weather. But I just knew I'd appear at the library parking lot and three hardcore hikers (actually, I used the term "morons") would show up and I'd have to take them out on the dunes in the crappy weather. And sure enough, waiting for me at the meeting spot lot was Kevin (accompanied by dog Wish) and John, with Rachel later showing up at the trailhead. Yup, three hikers and I called it.

On Planet Arrakis
As it turned out, the weather was not all that bad on the coast. The day was overcast, the temperature cool but not cold, and the wind blustery but about 40 m.p.h below hurricane strength. That would change though, as a nasty storm system was supposed to hit late afternoon so the plan was to keep the hike relatively short and make the great escape back to Roseburg in semi-safe driving conditions.

Must..kill...hiking leader
We had all been on Dellenback Dunes many times before, making the unique challenge posed by Dellenback to keep the dunes interesting for erstwhile jaded hikers. One way to ward off hiking ennui is to vary the route. None of my hiking comrades had ever been to Hall Lake before so a challenging hike to the picturesque lake was just the ticket. Upon entry into the expansive dunes an immediate hard right turn was the move that took three-quarters of our group onto a new and different Dellenback Dunes experience. The hard right turn also sent our little band of merry hikers painfully trudging in soft sand up the tallest mountain of sand within several miles.

More ups and downs in our future
This hike would be less about the mileage and more about walking up tall mountains of sand. Once atop the tall first dune, the view of the sandy expanse of Dellenback Dunes was much appreciated by hikers sporting burning leg muscles after less than 0.5 miles of hiking. The ocean was visible under the dark clouds and off in the distance, Arago Peak rose above Cape Arago. Unfortunately, eminently visible to the north was a successive series of sand alps paralleling the tall sand pile we were currently standing on. Ever the cruel hike leader, I pointed out that we would be hiking up and over each tall dune in due time. I get pretty brave when I'm leading just three hikers. 

Grave marker
Down we go and up we went to the top of the second dune, dotted with hummocks of beach grass. The second dune is pretty cool because there is a ghost forest on top. At some point, a thriving knot of trees grew here but were eventually overwhelmed by the marching sands. All that is left of the forest is a tree cemetery comprised of lifeless snags.

Let the skin exfoliation begin!
The third and fourth dunes were not all that tough to climb up, thanks to the elevation gained climbing the second dune, they were each summarily polished off in short order. However, the fifth dune was a rather imposing wall of sand that was hard work to get to the top of. It was two steps up and one slide down in the soft sand as the wind began to increase in velocity. But hiking stubbornness won out in the end and four persevering hikers and one mindlessly happy dog staggered to the top of the fifth dune.

We're number 5!
We had been photographically commemorating our dune climbs by holding up fingers denoting the cardinal order of the dunes. That is, we held up two fingers for the second dune, three for the third dune, etc. However, on the fifth dune, Rachel was about four fingers short of five, maybe that is how they mark five in England, I don't know. But the good news was that the fifth dune overlooked Hall Lake.

Hall Lake
Hall Lake sits in a bowl where forest and dune meet, the view of the lake from the dune overlook is impressive. The dark waters invited a closer look-see and accordingly we sat down at the water's edge, grateful to get out of the wind. Lunch was eaten there as tree tops swayed in the boisterous breeze.

Because the wind was picking up in advance of the coming storm, an impromptu decision was made to cut the hike short and circle back to the trailhead. So back up to the large dune we went and we were immediately sandblasted by the wind driving fine particulate matter over the dune crest. And to think, people pay thousands of dollars for skin exfoliation and dermabrasion treatments! Walking on top of the dune crest, we were being flayed alive by wind and sand, but at least we no longer had acne. The sand was whipping without mercy at dog level but Wish didn't seem to mind. The route lead downwards, dropping down towards the flat part of the dunes bordering the forest growing behind the beach foredunes. 

Wish takes his human for a walk
From there, it was a series of mild ups and downs before a sandy draw led to the exit point off of the dunes. Later that night, I checked the weather report and 30 foot ocean swells, driven by strong winds, were marching up the Umpqua River at Winchester Bay. Absolutely made the right call in leaving early and we were able to enjoy a nice hike unlike some of our namby-pamby hiking buddies who stayed at home. Plus, we went home with clean and fresh faces, thanks to the wind-supplied skin spa treatments.

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015

North Bank Deer Habitat 11/2015

It's always the wife. I know, because I'd been ill with the flu crud for a couple of weeks and had my fill of daytime true crime TV shows. The husband thinks he has a happy marriage and is blissfully unaware that his "loving" wife has been lacing his Jello with Lemon Pledge furniture wax, he just thinks he has the flu crud while his wife knits in the rocker, looking at him and smiling that unsettling smile. The poor guy has absolutely no idea what his scheming wife is up to.  And there I am, thinking I have just the flu crud, and Dollie is just sitting there in the rocking chair, knitting and intensely watching me with an odd little smile on her face. She offers me Jello and I run out of the house screaming. Better to get out on the trail, where it is safe.

Issiah sets sail
Because of that aforementioned flu crud making its way around Roseburg, it'd been several weeks since I'd exercised in any way shape or form so a short hike in the North Bank Deer Habitat with the hiking club fit the bill for my reintroduction to the rigors of the trail. Issiah, my 10 year old grandson, came along to tend to his wobbly grandfather. However, in the North Bank, it is less about the mileage and more about the steep trails so this would not be a hike for namby-pambies, despite the short 5 mile distance.

Trees reach for the sky
It has been raining virtually non-stop in the Pacific Northwest for months and months that feel like years and years. However, on this day between winter storms, the day dawned clear, crisp, and gorgeous as a bowl of unlaced Jello. At the start, the trail ambled gently up and down through a flat known as Soggy Bottoms. But hiking in the habitat will involve some serious uphill at some point and  a left turn onto the North Gate Road marked the start of our North Bank leg cramps.

Let the huffing and puffing begin!
As the trail increased in grade, so did the huffing and puffing from hikers young and old. Didn't take long to start working up a sweat and get overheated, we stopped several times to remove layers of clothing. I think Issiah figured out that removing clothing was a way to cheat and grab an unauthorized rest stop. It wasn't long before we were bringing up the rear of our group, but what else is new?

I hate hiking
Just past the intersection with the Wrong Way Trail, the grade ramped up and the uphill became as serious as untreated flu crud. It was about then that I decided I hate hiking. But at least the sun was out, the views of the valleys below were stunning; or so I've been told, it wasn't me looking at the view when bent over, hands on knees, panting for breath during numerous post-flu rest stops.

Hey, let's make fun of Richard!
Walk uphill enough, and eventually a point is reached where all the bad uphill ends and such was the case when the North Gate Road intersected the Middle Ridge Road. A picnic table was strategically placed there and Issiah and I sat down for lunch as I endured verbal slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from my snarky hiking friends.  Something to do with arriving last but hey, I had a camera AND a 10 year old.

On Middle Ridge
My grandchildren are all fussy eaters, don't like this and don't like that, but they all think sardines are pretty cool. I have strange grandchildren and they have a strange grandfather. So Issiah and I enjoyed a restorative lunch of crackers and sardines on Middle Ridge. I had encouraged Issiah on the big climb by telling him it would be all downhill once we hit Middle Ridge. And as he so often pointed out on the descent, literally that was not quite true.

Running downhill
Yes, we were going downhill but this is the North Bank and even as we lost elevation, there were some steep hills to climb as we descended. Issiah had pretty much given it his all on the climb to Middle Ridge and he trudged slowly with frequent stops every time the trail went uphill, Naturally, we lagged far behind our comrades again.

Exploring, as only children can
At the West Barn Road, the trail dropped (with no uphill portions, this time) down from Middle Ridge to the trailhead and there was much rejoicing from a certain 10 year old grandson. He kept telling me how tired he was, yet he had enough energy to walk on muddy berms and slither into hollowed trees. On the way down, he told me he loved going hiking because in the outdoors there are no sisters yelling all the time. Well, OK, that's not particularly why I go hiking, but any reason to get out onto the trail is good.  Like not eating laced Jello.

Fantastic view to the North Umpqua River
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sucker Creek Gap

Every year the seasons change. Summer folds into fall, fall slips into winter, and winter usually takes 13 months to morph into spring. Such is nature's cycle, and every late summer, I hike knowing that each upcoming hike may be the last foray into the mountains until the snow melts the following year. And this year's nominee for the Forget-About-It-Winter-Is-Here Award is a mid-October hike to Sucker Creek Gap.

A peak at Pyramid Peak
On this dubious award winning day, the weather had called for partly cloudy/partly sunny weather which sounds like one of those philosophical glass full or glass empty ponderings. But the weather question is somewhat more significant as the answer usually relates to what clothes to wear, how far to hike, the destination or trail of choice, or even whether to go hiking at all. 

Some of that morning rain, pre-pants
So, it was partially sunny at the Steve's Fork Trailhead, although the clouds did their fair share of blotting out the sun. Extra layers of clothing were quickly donned due to a distinct chill in the air. It had rained earlier and the vegetation was damp which meant my pants were likewise dampened by means of bush to pants transfer of water. 

Brewer's srpuce is the Droopy Dawg of trees
Ray and I had backpacked here years ago, but the trail now was somewhat overgrown and sketchy. Obviously, the trail does not get all that much use. Brewer's weeping spruce, a distinct Siskiyou specie, sadly drooped their branches just off trail. Intermittent openings in the forest provided views to Lake Peak rising above the trail. Despite the cool and wet, it was good to be out for a hike.

View to Lake Peak

About halfway up the brisk climb to Sucker Creek Gap, I met Ken and Denise, a pair of fellow hikers who like me, were engaged in our wonderful little hobby on a chilly morning. Ken sort of does what I do except he posts videos of his hikes instead of writing about them. If you ever thought about going somewhere in the Siskiyous, chances are there is a Trailken1 video of it, After trailside introductions and pleasantries were exchanged, I continued on. Pretty much at the trailhead, I had crossed into California but Homeland Security had the day off and passports were not needed. Somewhere near a cirque lake, I re-entered Oregon and it sure felt good to be back home.

The cirque lake
On our backpack trip from years ago, Ray and I had camped at the unnamed cirque lake sited below one of Pyramid Peak's ridges and I left the trail to visit my old lake friend. I was a little disappointed because the lake was colored a dark brown and the surrounding meadow was dry and dessicate with the advent of the coming winter. I had to remind myself that we had camped in spring and the water was then fresh off the spring thaw, nearly as pure as the driven snow itself. 

Trail at Sucker Creek Gap
At Sucker Creek Gap, I took the Boundary (spelled "Boundry" on the USFS trail sign) Trail towards Swan Mountain with the idea of summiting the prominent peak. Before that feat could be accomplished, an uphill stretch through viewless forest had to be negotiated. The trail was sketchy here with plenty of fallen branches and trees to keep things challenging. Once out of the forest, thick (and wet!) brush encroached the trail and I waded through, grateful we were past tick season. 

I so wanted to climb Swan Mountain

Swan Mountain was eminently visible and it would be less than a mile to the summit. However, on the crest of this portion of the Siskiyous, it was obvious that clouds were forming on the mountain range itself. Cloud shadows and sunlight danced upon the valleys below, but where I was at was ominously gray with the temperature getting colder by the minute. A brisk breeze upwelling from the Sucker Creek canyon freezingly reminded me my pants were still soaking wet from the brush wade. Apart from a few desultory rain drops, it didn't really rain but it sure felt like the weather see-saw was tilted towards winter.

Swan Mountain and Craggy Mountain

Rapidly losing my enthusiasm for climbing Swan Mountain, I turned back and enjoyed views of Pyramid Peak, the Sucker Creek drainage, and the distant Red Buttes as clouds formed and reformed over the mountains. At the intersection with the Sucker Creek Trail, I ran into Ken and Denise again as they were returning from the Sucker Creek Shelter. The last three miles to the trailhead were then spent talking trails with Ken and it seemed like we finished off the hike in no time at all. It was nice to sneak in a hike before winter's thirteen months of rain conspires to keep us out of the mountains.

Clouds form above the mountains
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Cape Mountain

On January 24, 1989 an angry man with a semi-automatic rifle came into the packing shed where I worked and commenced shooting. When it was over, one friend was dead, two were wounded, and the rest of us will carry scars for the rest of our lives. After it happened, I walked outside to clear my head. It was a glorious day, the sun was shining in a scintillating blue sky and my one overriding thought was "How did this happen on such a beautiful day?" It just didn't make sense.

It was incomprehensible then and it is incomprehensible now. October 1, 2015 was also a beautiful day when a gunman walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College and took 9 lives and placed Roseburg in the dubiously elite roster of communities that have been scarred by little people with big guns. Never thought it would happen here in the town where I live but then I never thought it would happen at Monterey Mushrooms either. Especially on such a beautiful morning.

Two days after the UCC tragedy, I went out for some trail therapy. I just wanted to get away from the news and just sit in the quiet woods and shed a few tears along the way. Cape Mountain wound up being the destination du jour because about a year earlier, a hike to Cape Mountain had to be scratched due to high winds. Since, I'd never made it, that was just as good a reason as any to pick Cape Mountain as the place to visit.

On the Princess Tasha Trail
Unlike my first abortive attempt at Cape Mountain, October 3rd was a beautiful fall morn and thankfully, there were no strong winds. From the Dry Lake Trailhead, the Princess Tasha Trail angled uphill through a gorgeously lush forest. The trees were all covered with moss while salal and wet ferns encroached the trail. I had always assumed that Princess Tasha was a native American princess but a sign explained that Princess Tasha was actually a horse ridden by Christine Olsen. I won't make fun of Christine as the sign indicated that she had passed away in 1987 at the age of 21, so let's just say that one more assumption bites the dust and I hope Christine is still riding Princess Tasha in some celestial fern-infested forest.


At the top of a ridge, a right turn was taken on the Scurvy Ridge Trail and had I not been feeling so maudlin, I probably would have "arrghed" like a scurvy buccaneer.  This hike was not about the views at all, it was rapidly becoming apparent that I would be spending plenty of quality forest time on this venture. No complaints though, the soft soughing of the coastal breeze in the trees and the twittering of small birds were soothing to this troubled soul.

Hitsi in the woods

Back in the day, the area was populated by the Siuslaw native Americans who hunted elk and deer in these very same woods. They would build hunting cabins called hitsi, where they would spend the night in the woods waiting for the deer to raid them and steal their hiking poles. Or maybe the pole purloining is strictly a Richard O'Neill experience. At any rate, a hitsi replica had been built as an Eagle Scout project and made for an interesting learning experience on the trail.

Peaceful trail
At about the 1.5 mile mark, I left the Scurvy Ridge Trail for the Berry Creek Trail. The route down to the creek was actually an old roadbed gone delightfully grassy. Leafy alder trees gracefully arched over the trail, keeping this hiker shaded and cool, although the temperature was mild and the cooling was not all that necessary. There was a bench at what may have once been a viewpoint; if it was a viewpoint, the trees had long since blocked any view to be had.

Making friends wherever I go
From there, the trail dropped 1,000 feet in about two toe-jamming miles to the bottom of Berry Creek's canyon. Any joy I may have felt about walking downhill was counteracted by the knowledge that I'd surely have to hike back out of the canyon if I wanted to return to my car parked at Dry Lake.

Berry Creek

Berry Creek was just a small creek, barely running across the trail and just as anticipated, the trail began a mad charge up and out of the canyon. There are lots of trails in the area, affording the opportunity for various loops and distances. At a trail junction, I chose the right hand fork simply because it would make for a longer hike. The grade was not as rigorous as it had been heretofore, instead the path angled upwards at a relatively gentle grade to a grassy meadow atop an open ridge.

Partial view to Florence

Apparently, the Forest Service maintains the meadows on top of the ridge as an elk habitat but I saw no elk and no sign thereof. A bench with a view to Florence was a perfect opportunity for lunch and contemplation and I partook of both activities. Despite the sun, the air was misty and even though Florence was nearby, it was still hard to see for any distance. I could make out the sand dunes on the coast and the Siuslaw River being ushered by its jetties to the sea.

Sutton Lake, way below the trail
We hikers have learned to hate ridge trails. Ridgecrest trails go up and down, are always steep, and never level. This ridge trail was no exception other than there was not much downhill at all. After providing a view of Sutton Lake, the path ducked into the forest for the last climb before dropping down to the car.

Just a gorgeous day
So, in the end I don't have any words of wisdom to explain what simply cannot be explained. There was no catharsis, no epiphany, and I still felt bad. Yet somehow, getting out into peaceful woods where things make more sense did help a little bit. Time will eventually dull the sharp edges, so to speak, and the only thing I can think of to do is to continue hiking for hiking's sake and then write silly blogs about the experience. Life does go on, and this hike was one small step (for me, anyway) towards a semblance of normalcy. 

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