Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dellenback Dunes

Not sure if anybody noticed or not, but I hike just a tad bit more often than the average bear, and it's sometimes hard to keep track of them all. There are only so much memory cells available in which to store, remember, and cherish all the thousands of miles that have flowed beneath my boots, so most hikes tend to plop on top of the memory pile and eventually get buried underneath the next pailful of hikes. However, this particular hike to Dellenback Dunes will be a notable exception as it was a hike I absolutely enjoyed more than most. The reason for the mental standout was not the great weather or the fantastic scenery, although that was more than enough of reason to up the enjoyment factor. No, the two reasons were grandsons Issiah and Daweson.

Let the big adventure begin
Although it was like herding a flock of twelve-handed monkeys, Dollie and I managed to get the two boys into the car with just enough time to meet the Friends of the Umpua Hiking Club at the Dellenback Dunes Trailhead. At the first glance of the expansive dunes, the boys were suitably awestruck and immediately ran up the sandy hills, keeping pace with our hiking comrades. At each crest, they rolled and somersaulted down the tall hills of sand, much to everybody's amusement. Because the kids felt compelled to repeat the spin cycle over and over again, the club soon left us behind as we progressed across the dunes at boy speed.

Gotta touch every post
Because of the transitory nature of the sands, there are no formal trails or paths across the dunes. Instead, there are a series of marker posts for the navigationally challenged that one can follow across the dunes. Once the boys figured out we were following the posts, then looking for the next post became a grand game. They were a little unclear on the concept of walking in the general direction of the posts, they had to actually touch each wooden marker. Since most of the posts were on a tall hummock, each post offered an opportunity to roll or slide down in the sand.  Needless to say, progress was slow across the dunes despite all the energetic running.

Oasis in the dunes
The weather was absolutely glorious with a cloudless blue sky arcing overhead while a cool breeze counteracted the bright sun...much photography ensued. For the boys, the coolness factor went up a few more notches when I found some quicksand near a small pond in a sandy depression. They just had to get knee deep in the stuff.

A rare dry stretch in the forest
More feet wetting took place when we reached the end of the dunes and grabbed the trail through the deflation plain forest behind the beach foredunes. The forest sits in standing water and a well-constructed boardwalk takes hikers through the worst of it. However, getting to the boardwalk required wading through deep puddles of standing water and I became the Coolest Grandfather Ever with each extended wade.

Off and running
Because we had lollygagged our way across the dunes, I surrendered to the inevitable and let the boys play on the beach, figuring we would return the way we came.  It'd be a short hike but hey, I can always hike a longer one on another day. So the kids frolicked in the surf with all the joyful exuberance of the young.

No one lost an eye

Issiah is somewhat of a pack rat and his pack was soon full of rocks, shells, sand dollars, and various other souvenirs. Each boy acquired a wooden staff and much mock swordplay ensued. A grand time was had by all as we spent about an hour on the beach.

Beach scarecrow
Neither Daweson nor Issiah wanted to go back and both boys were fairly insistent we do the full loop down to Tenmile Creek. Not sure exactly what I was getting myself into, I relented and we headed southward along the beach. Issiah ran his staff through the arms of his sweatshirt and dangled his shoes (he was hiking barefoot) and other accoutrements off the protruding ends. He looked like a baby scarecrow.

Fishhook on Tenmile Creek
Two miles later, we arrived at Tenmile Creek, glistening silver in the afternoon sun. The creek was more like a river, running wide and fast. Boys will be boys, and they just had to scramble up the sandy cliff at the creek's edge instead of walking up the dunes like their sensible and boring grandfather.

I'm the coolest grandfather ever
There is no trail leading away from Tenmile Creek back to Dellenback Dunes, so my young charges will look back at this point in time as their first exposure to that quaint activity known as bushwhacking. But before we could find bushes to whack (and vise versa), we had to negotiate a path through an extensive swamp in the Tenmile Creek estuary. Splish, splash, the boys thought the whole marsh wade added to the magical experience that is hiking. Internally, I compared their delight to some of my hiking companions (some of whom I'm not married to) who loudly complain about wet feet, as if they were going to painfully melt like some Wicked Witch of the West.  Daweson, Issiah, and I became the founders and charter members of the Sons of  the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club, where every hike will be required to have a wade in it.

I claim these dunes for Queen and country!

Once past the marsh, we entered the scrubland between Tenmile Creek and the dunes. A pair of jeans was lying all alone in the sand and we speculated at length as to how those jeans came to be there; all sorts of theories were postulated from forgetfulness to de-pantsing bears. My friends Lane and Dale would probably say we found the pants I famously forgot to bring on our Lost Coast trip. Near the pants was a colorful bandanna which was promptly affixed to Issiah's staff and now we had both a flag and a standard bearer.

After a mile of working our way through the forest and beachgrass hummocks, we came to a nice overlook of Tenmile Creek. We also had a nice view of the vast sandy expanse of Dellenback Dunes, most of which rose well high of our position next to the creek. Can you say "uphill to the car", boys and girls? Beelining for a tree island, we huffed a pretty brisk climb up to the top of a dune crest. The boys now had about 7 miles on their little legs and they were lagging behind their incredibly handsome grandfather on the climb up.

This is how boys rest
"Can we take a break? We're tired" they wailed plaintively. So we dropped our packs and I sat down for a snack and rest stop. The boys rested by running down the dune we had just climbed up, and engaged in more boisterous swordplay. After a few minutes they climbed back up the dune and then rolled down it. Obviously, the two lads were conceptually unclear on the "rest" or "stop" in "rest stop".

End of the 8 mile hike
We had a couple of more uphill pushes to the "Great Dune", a large dune that is the main route into and out of Dellenback Dunes. As promised, we stopped to allow Daweson and Issiah one last opportunity to soak in the magnificent beauty of the dunes by tumbling down them. So in the end, we wound up hiking 8.1 miles with not one word of complaint, something that has never happened before on a Richard Hike.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Rogue River weekend

As noted in previous postings, the weather has been quite nice lately, bypassing for the most part that whole nasty winter thing. Come summer I will beat my chest and tear out what little hair I have in loud remonstration about the hot and dry weather. However, taking a mid-winter backpack trip in decidedly spring-like weather is just one of those guilty pleasures that must be indulged in, never mind the upcoming fire season. 

Cliffy trails are another guilty pleasure
The Rogue River Trail is a perennial favorite of mine and besides which, the Friends of the Umpqua had a hike scheduled there on Valentine's Day. So, I packed my backpack and met the club at the trailhead on a gloriously sunny, albeit cool, day. Since I was all saddled up and was basically freelancing, I bypassed all the orientation formalities at the trailhead and got a head start on things.

Slowly, the moss stalks its prey
It was good while it lasted as about two miles into the hike, I was lapped and found myself in my customary position behind everybody else. In my defense, I was toting a heavier pack than normal because of carrying some extra night clothing and a sleeping bag liner due to predicted freezing night temperatures. But the main reason was that my leg muscles were atrophied from the winter layoff and who would have thought a 30 pound pack could be so darn heavy?

Why I love the Rogue River Trail!
The Rogue River Trail spends much of its miles hugging cliffs high above the river. Below the trail, the Rogue alternates between placid pools of green water and frothing rapids with rafts of screaming teenage girls shooting through. The forest is that odd Siskiyou mix of tan oak, laurel, madrone, and conifer. And plenty of poison oak encroaches the path, rubbing tri-lobed leaves of itchy madness upon careless hikers. Trails like the Rogue River Trail are why I love hiking, despite the heavy pack thing clinging to my back like a pregnant monkey.

As mentioned, spring was in the air and the slopes were covered (in places) by yellow patches of Oregon sunshine (the flower, not the sunshine, although there was plenty of that too). Saxifrage clung to damp seeps on cliff faces and the grassier slopes offered oak toothwort and baby blue eyes. I took a few pictures in a practice run for the wildflower season that will be here soon.

Whiskey Creek
After visiting historic Whiskey Creek Cabin, the club backtracked to eat lunch at the grassy swale where Whiskey Creek meets the Rogue River. After lunch, I bid adieu to my friends and headed on up the trail. I had no real plan for the weekend but figured I'd do the 11.5 mile hike (now 12.5 miles due to the backtrack to the lunch spot) to Horseshoe Bend, then return back to Big Slide Camp the following day, with a short hike out on the third day. 

A totally awesome campsite
However, as the day wore on, I became less enthused about hiking lots of miles and began pondering the alternatives. Creeks Alder, Booze, Russian, and Bronco all had campsites but the campsites are fairly utilitarian and lack backwoods zazz. And just like that, a chance glance down a gully showed a grassy beach next to the river. Hello, future campsite of mine!

Night time comes to the Rogue River

Picking my way down a steep slope, I set up camp mere yards from the river emerging from churning Tyee Rapids. The rest of the afternoon was spent in sheer indolence, reading back issues of Backpacker Magazine with the noisy rapids as a backdrop. After dinner, a short hike to Russian Creek and back burned a few calories as the sun set. I had this riverside idyll all to myself which was fitting, seeing how it was Valentine's Day and I certainly was spending it with the one I love most.

There otter be otter tracks!
During the night, the noise from the river drowned out all other noises but I woke up on full alert anyway, my spidey senses pinging about intruders. I put on the headlamp and stuck my head out the tent and observed about four pair of shiny eyes bobbing and weaving next to the river. Like some slender wispy wraiths from the netherworld, the river otters silently disappeared into the darkness. You just haven't backpacked until you've shared your campsite with otters and how cool was that?

Tyee Rapids
The next morning an otter swam up to my beach and espied me sitting on a rock, eating breakfast.  With an ottery "Ulp!" it dove back into the river and swam further upstream for a more hiker-free landing. I surreptitiously followed but the agile critters (there were several) never let me get a picture of them. The beach ended at a pile of rocks next to rock-concert loud Tyee Rapids, and much awestruck gawking ensued,

The Rogue River Trail
The bad part about my most awesome campsite was that I had to lug my pack up a grassy slope dotted with scraggly and leafless oaks. Whew! After a short hike on a wonderfully shaded trail with small creeks running across the trail, I arrived at Big Slide camp in no time at all. I just couldn't see myself killing an entire day here, especially since all the magazines were read and all the crossword puzzles had been completed. So, I just put out a day early, totally happy with this easy hike in the unseasonably early spring sunshine.

China Gulch makes a splash
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Baker Beach Dunes

It's like my grandmother always used to say "When life gives you lots of wind, make wind puppets". Well, to be honest, she probably actually never said that and besides which, I have no idea what a wind puppet is. But that's my segue and I'm sticking to it.

The (not so) aptly named Dry Lake

Originally, the plan called for a rainy day hike out at the coast, the route being a 10 mile loop within the Cape Mountain horse trail system just north of Florence. Unfortunately, the plan would wind up getting blown far and away by the wind. However, wind was not an issue at the start of the hike from the Dry Lake trailhead, although the predicted rain was coming down and Dry Lake was not very dry. As a matter of fact not much was dry at all, including your sodden blogster  It had been raining heavily all week and most of Oregon was dutifully alert, having been rightfully placed on flood watch.

Trail omen

A short uphill walk on a mossy and ferny trail through tangled trees brought me within sight of the crest of Cape Mountain. The walk also brought me within earshot too, as through the trees the wind shrieked annoyingly shrill like an ex-wife. On the crest, tall trees kept time to the wind's music by dancing the lambada, the mashed potato, or the funky chicken. In a clear generational divide, younger trees simply twerked. Several large branches lay strewn across the trail in clear warning to a certain lone hiker with a sounds-like-a-dare mentality.

Time to play in the sandbox

Since it takes just one solitary branch to ruin a good hike, I uncharacteristically did the right thing and turned back. So what's a dressed up incredibly handsome hiker to do? Well, right across Highway 101 from the Cape Mountain turnoff was Baker Beach Road and while I might get sandblasted by the wind, at least falling trees would not be a problem. And on the plus side, prolonged exposure to wind-driven sand might be just the thing for my acne.

Um...not today
You just have to be in the mood to hike on the beach in a wind and rain storm and on this day I wasn't. So, I instead grabbed the trail that headed towards the dunes and within 100 yards it was time to make a decision at a Y-intersection. The left fork headed slightly uphill on a sandy track to Alder Lake and the right fork was under several feet of water. many tempting and difficult decisions at the start of a hike. Uncharacteristically again, I opted for the drier and tamer left fork.

Sand art

The dunes were somewhat sheltered behind the tall beach foredunes at Baker Beach, so the wind wasn't too bad and the rain also eased up a bit. I dropped off the path to Alder Lake and stepped out onto the sandy expanse of the dunes. The wind had been busy making art by fingerpainting on a large sandy canvas, leaving dunes decorated and patterned with all manner of swirls, curls, and whirls. It seemed downright sacrilegious to defile the artwork with my footprints so I generally stayed close to the forested edge of the dunes in the hiking equivalent of coloring inside the lines.

Wet spot
Because of the rain, the sand was wet and generally windproof. The lighter grains of sand were driven by the wind but mostly stayed below knee level except for when cresting a dune, at which point my poor face received the stinging brunt of the sand-laden breeze. Below my impromptu route, small lakes and large marshes discouraged cross-dune hiking to the beach. 

Please do not feed the alligators!
Life is tenuous here, and several stands of dead and half-buried trees testified to the terrible cost of war between sand and forest. But life is yin to death's yang and several patches of mushrooms surprisingly thrived in solid sand below the dead trees. The eastern edge of the dunes was bordered by a large unnamed lake surrounded by an abundance of fetid seeps containing black water, each lacking an alligator or two for a proper swamp effect. 

After the Jupiterian death ray
The sands here were different than my more usual sandy haunts (like Dellenback Dunes) in that the lighter and blacker grains of sand pooled around the many dimples on the dune surface, giving the dunes an odd singed look as if the terrain had been blasted by a Jupiterian death ray. If so, then the deer still survived.

The Three Sisters (of the dunes)
After a couple of miles, the southern terminus of the dunes was reached and there was no more walking south. The dunes here ended rather abruptly, overlooking a tangled mess of alder and conifer trees. A nice view of the forested depression of the Sutton Creek drainage was had from the sandy rim. Despite all the trees below me, I just knew there was nothing but standing water underneath the forest canopy, and I base that surmise on past hiking experiences in the Sutton Creek area.

Mushrooms in sand
After eating lunch while rain pitter-pattered on my hat brim, I explored several small fingers of sand dunes before finally running out of sand to walk on. Coming out of the forest onto the dunes was a well-used sandy path that was the trail connecting Sutton Creek to Baker Beach. Remember the right fork submerged under several feet of water?  I did, so I stayed in the dunes, saving the path for a substantially more dry-footed hike in summer.

Oasis in the desert
Bisecting the Baker Beach dunes was a large marsh and on the return leg I went left around the marsh instead of right. Well, right was right and left was wrong in this case as I found myself wading through thicker and thicker brush, my only reward being a wade through deep water if I so chose. So a backtrack was enacted and the correct route around the marsh was taken. 

As the weather turned bad
The weather became decidedly belligerent about 15 minutes away from the trailhead. It was near tornadic conditions as the wind picked up in intensity, the raindrops became fatter and wetter, lightning flashed overhead, and loud booms of thunder spurred a certain lone hiker to hike back to the car spastically fast like a wind puppet.

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