Saturday, April 25, 2015

Pine Bench (with Boy Scouts)

Once it was discovered Daweson's grandfather is the "hiking dude" that writes for the News-Review, it was only a matter of time before I'd be asked to help his Boy Scout Troop 82 with a hike or two. Pine Bench was suggested as a destination because it is a short hike and the trailhead is fairly close to Roseburg. Of course, the last time I was there a couple of weeks ago, I wandered off trail and lost the trail altogether, so I'm not sure that I may not have been best choice to lead newbies into the wilderness. But they did not know that....

All hail Lord Daweson!
Because the scouts were a relatively inexperienced bunch, I gave them a speech about what to do when lost, showed them what poison oak looked like, crossed my fingers, and uttered a silent prayer to the hiking gods asking that I be allowed to return with the same amount of scouts we started out with. And with that invocation, we ducked under the large water pipes below Soda Springs Dam and headed up the trail. I was glad to see the fallen tree that had sent me astray several weeks ago had been cleared off the trail.

Uphill through a forest

Because my young charges were inexperienced, they were quickly huffing and puffing as the trail headed uphill to Soda Springs. Along with the huffing and puffing came the "How much further?" type of questions and along with the questions came my stock answer "we're halfway!" no matter whether we were halfway or not. Daweson and Issiah know the drill as they have hiked with me a time or two and they were just happy to be out on the trail. They also knew (from past experience) not to ask me how much further to go.

Stormy view down to the North Umpqua
All the bad uphill stopped after crossing a burn zone with the trail leveling off in the pastoral woods atop Pine Bench. The day was overcast and the skies were threatening, making for a moody and portentous view into the North Umpqua River canyon.

Pinnacle overlooking Boulder Creek
We ate lunch at the spring which had a nice overlook of the Boulder Creek chasm. Across the canyon, Illahee Rock was dusted with snow. As we ate and as the boys explored a nearby rocky pinnacle, the temperature dropped, a brisk breeze rolled in, and then it started to hail. Lunch was officially over and we headed back in the suddenly less than optimum conditions.

There's snow in them hills
I was bringing up the rear and noticed part of the group had missed the left turn at a trail junction.  I yelled at them and then we counted heads once everybody came back. We were one scout short: my Issiah. In his quest to be first back to the trailhead, he didn't get the message to turn back and now he was somewhere on his way down to the North Umpqua Trail.

Little Boy Lost
Remember my little lecture about getting lost?  Well, Issiah paid attention and once he figured out he was by himself, he did what his grandfather said to do: he stayed put! He did hedge his bets a little bit by taking his bright red poncho out of the pack and draping it over a small tree off trail for added visibility.  And sure enough, Scoutmaster Dave spotted the poncho well below us. I was quite pleased with Issiah's coolness under duress, that can make all the difference sometimes.

Witch's butter
So now that we had the proper number of scouts, we returned to the trailhead under blustery conditions but at least the rain held off for the most part. After it was all said and done, the boys were openly appreciative of the experience. I think we're halfway there!

We're halfway there!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

North Umpqua Trail - Swiftwater Section

The Swiftwater Section of the North Umpqua Trail begins at the like-named Swiftwater County Park where on a rainy April morn, the North Umpqua River's swift waters were rivaled by the copious amount of swift water falling from the sky. I'm not too sure why I felt compelled to hike in the rain but hey, nobody will ever accuse me of being too swift in my decision making.

Thank you!
At Swiftwater Park, a commemorative plaque gives a tip of the hat to those responsible for the completion of the 78 mile North Umpqua Trail. The trail was finished in 1996, I never realized it was that recent a trail. At any rate, a silent nod of appreciation was given to those fine visionaries whose gift I have partaken of over the years.

Feed it some peanuts
In the park, the trail is well-manicured and quite civilized, what with gravel tread and nary a sprig of poison oak to be seen. Trillium, snow queen, and calypso orchid were prevalent along the trail and the flowers and fern fronds danced with each strike from a raindrop. I didn't dance (at least any that I'll admit to) but hiked along at a steady pace as I grabbed a side trail that took me to the river's edge below Deadline Falls.

Deadline Falls
Deadline Falls is only a 10 foot drop, but what makes the falls impressive is the sheer power on display as the rain-swollen North Umpqua careens over the drop. The river's roar was loud but did not faze the ouzels (a small bird which, just like me, 'swims" underwater in search of water bugs to eat) twittering and bathing in the shallows below the cascade.

Feed it some peanuts
Once back on the North Umpqua Trail, the going was slow but steady on the resumption of my eternal quest for the perfect calypso orchid photo. As I either knelt or laid down on the muddy ground, the North Umpqua River coursed below the trail, the turqouise color of the river nicely contrasting with the dark clouds above.

Fern Falls
At little over a mile, the trail crossed a small stream on one of many footbridges. Above the bridge was a small cascade known as Fern Falls. While there were indeed ferns flanking the stream, the falls seemed kind of cluttered due to all the tree debris falling into the creek's gully over the years. Some of the forest driftwood had been there a while and were well mossed over, but there were a number of new members of the Fern Falls Log Club.

Wild ginger bloom
Once the North Umpqua Trail left the confines of Swiftwater County Park, the trail behaved more like a real trail should as it ambled up and down on uneven tread that alternated between rocky and muddy. Encroaching the path were the deliciously pungent wild ginger plants, each festooned with brown and hairy blossoms. The flowers are so very odd-looking that my camera quickly abandoned the search for the perfect calypso orchid.

Oregon bleeding heart
I turned around as the heavens opened up right before the big climb up Bob's Butte. Across the river, the mountains disappeared into the gray clouds, there just wasn't much point in walking uphill in the rain just to see gray mist. Bob and his Butte can wait for another day, preferably a sunny one. 

Feet got wet, anyway
As I walked the 3.7 miles back to the trailhead, the rain abated and the sun made a valiant try to shine through the tree branches. Evaporating water filled the forest with steam and it was mostly a dry walk back. Despite the rain, life was good on the trail today, and maybe hiking was a swift decision after all. 

The special color of the North Umpqua River
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

North Umpqua Trail - Tioga Section

The only time I had ever hiked the Tioga Section from the east end was on a frozen January morning where Dollie slipped and fell into a small creek, taking an impromptu swim in the icy water. While I was deeply indebted to her for providing me hilarious fodder for an upcoming newspaper story, she failed to see the humor in the whole situation. So you can imagine my disappointment when Dale nimbly stepped across the same creek without a single misstep while I pointed my camera in eager anticipation. O photography unrequited!

Trillium rules!
The weather had been fairly wet in March and it looked like April would be more of the same. But we had a fairly dry forecast for most of the day so Dale and I seized the opportunity to hike on the venerable North Umpqua Trail. At the start, it was readily obvious that this would be a proverbial spring hike as the usual spring flowers were coloring the ample fernitude lining the trail. Not sure if fernitude is a real word but it is an apt descriptor along with the equally apt mossage.

The snarky commenter
Anyway, the trilliums, calypso orchids, and snow queen were happily blooming away. Dale made some snarky comment about my being compelled to take a picture of every flower. In order to avoid more injurious remarks, I tried to limit my photography to every other flower.

Thunder Creek
When not enjoying the fauna of the North Umpqua River, we crossed (without incident, darn it) several creeks that were all busy tumbling down the slopes in their mad quest to join up with the much larger river. Waterfalls abounded and I tried to limit my photography to every other waterfall.

Life on the edge
A couple of miles in, the trail climbed to the top of some cliffs that provided a dizzying view to the turquoise river down below. On the opposite side of the river ran the North Umpqua Highway and tiny cars inched along like ticks crawling up a hiker's leg. One rocky point actually had a backpacker's campsite replete with fire ring and wooden bench. Someday I will camp here but this site is not the place for sleepwalkers what with sheer cliffs dropping off next to the tent.

Fox Creek
From the rocky point, the trail undulated in a series of ups and downs before arriving at Fox Creek. The winter storms had knocked down a number of trees and we got to practice our tree scrambling techinques. Fortunately, there were no incidents or pratfalls, darn it. As we ate lunch at Fox Creek next to a footbridge, clouds from an incoming storm system started blocking the sun.

Tree climbing
So back we go, enjoying the cool weather, sort of. While it's always good to hike in cool weather, we couldn't help but be jealous of the north side of the river which was bathed in sunlight.  The last time I hiked on the north side, the sun was shining on the south side. It must be some kind of Umpqua truism that the other side of the river will always be sunny. But no complaining allowed, except for Dale complaining about me taking too many pictures and me complaining about him not falling into a creek.

Dale does a little bit of off-trail exploring