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.