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.

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