Saturday, December 31, 2016

North Bank Habitat (West Loop)

On the last day of 2016. it was time to put this turbulent and strange year to rest and what better way to do that than to go out for a hike in the North Bank Habitat? Of course, 2016 could have been the best year ever and I would have still posed the same rhetorical question. So perhaps, the end of the year is just another irrelevant correlation to hiking, much like how I hike every February 5th to celebrate Shower with a Friend Day. And yes, there really is such a day, just in case you were wondering or maybe if you needed an excuse to shower with a friend at least once a year.  At any rate, the Friends of the Umpqua were hiking in the North Bank and I decided to go along.

Trail on top of the world
Actually, I'd been having a backpacking itch lately but the weather had been extremely wet and not particularly conducive to happy backpacking. I'd almost worked myself up to the point where I'd do it, rain or no rain, and meet everybody on the North Boundary Ridge, but the weather report said snow was coming and the temps were dropping to the mid 20's. Day hiking was looking pretty good after all! I was recounting this to my hiking buddies and Jennifer said "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes!" To which I replied "Hey, no fair using my quotes against me!"

Nice little glade on the climb up
The dozen or so hikers doing this hike were all donned in various layers of clothing, hats, and gloves designed to keep cold at bay as it was fairly nipply at the start. The trails of the habitat are generally wet and muddy, especially in the lowlands, and today was no exception as we enjoyed a pleasantly level walk along the misnamed Chasm Creek. At the intersection with the Bear Tree Trail, our group split up into two based on the preferred degree of difficulty of the hike. Guess which group I went with!

If you like oaks, then the North Bank is your place!
All that cold chilly morning was soon forgotten as the Bear Tree Trail charged straight up to the top of the North Boundary Ridge. That makes the Bear Tree Trail no different than about 90% of all the other trails in the North Bank, but that's just me whining. At any rate, everybody soon peeled off clothing layers as we chugged up the steep hills of the Habitat.

The upper branches of the Bear Tree
About halfway through the climb, a huge madrone tree known as Bear Tree provided a nice opportunity to admire the size of the orange trunked giant. Also, it was a nice stop to pretend to appreciate the size of the tree while simultaneously catching your breath and letting the pain subside in burning leg muscles.

"Are you guys OK?"
Jeremy tried to get his dog Stella to climb up Bear Tree for a photo but she was having none of it. While we walked 7.8 miles, Stella probably walked 20 miles because she was not steepness-challenged and she'd run up a hill and then run back down to see what was taking us so long. "Humans are so slow" she mused, pondering all the while how humans became the dominant life form on this planet.

Why we hike
As we got up onto the North Boundary Ridge, the leafless oaks thinned out and the views astounded. The North Bank is fairly low-elevation, beginning at 600 feet by the North Umpqua River and topping out at 1900 feet atop Round Timber. But it really feels like you are on top of the world, rivalling Mount Everest in altitude because the grassy slopes drop away from your feet and provide wide and expansive panoramas of river bends, creek valleys, and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. With such a gorgeous view, much photography ensued and Jeremy and I lagged behind as a result.

Bad uphill trail!
Despite reaching the northern ridge of the Habitat, there was plenty of steep trail still to be doled out as the route went up and down and never level on the ridge. All the bad uphill ended (for the most part!) at the 4 mile mark where Middle Ridge intersected with the North Boundary Ridge. Middle Ridge basically bisects the Habitat and would be our route back down to river level.

View to Whistler's Bend
One of the things I enjoy about hiking down Middle Ridge, besides going downhill, is that you hike for several miles staring down at the North Umpqua River glinting in the afternoon sunlight. The river is flanked by pastured farmlands and Whistlers Bend's horseshoe shape is eminently notable. The day was semi-sunny and the leafless oaks were all draped with old man's beard contrasting nicely with a light blue sky. But mostly, it was the downhill aspect to Middle Ridge that gladdened my heart.

Scott Mountain makes a mid-day appearance
After the hike was over, we regrouped at Lois's house where were fed fine pozole and chicken soup. The hike had been a great way to close out 2016 and I could hardly wait until the next hike which would be on January 6th. What better way to celebrate National Bean Day? By the way, National Bean Day is also National Cuddle Up Day but I'm choosing to celebrate National Bean Day because the traditional way of celebrating National Cuddle Up Day generally is not conducive to good hiking.

Trail on the "gentle" and rolling hills of the Habitat
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

North Umpqua Trail - Mott Segment

It sure seems like I've been hiking on the North Umpqua a lot, lately. It's time to go somewhere else, isn't it? Lane thought so too, and he was leading a Friends of the Umpqua hike up the North Fork Willamette River so sign me up! However, winter decided we needed yet another hike on the North Umpqua Trail. You see, the weekend prior to the scheduled North Fork hike, Lane was unable to reach the trailhead due to snow covering the forest road. Ok, so a Plan B was quickly cobbled together and the McKenzie River Trail was penciled in as a substitute. But nooo...the relentless winter storms dumped snow on that too. Eventually, surrender-monkey Lane waved a snowy white flag of acquiescence and picked the low-elevation (and more importantly, snow-free!) Mott Segment of the North Umpqua Trail.

Fisher Creek crosses the North Umpqua Trail
A small but enthusiastic group of 8 hikers showed up to brave the winter elements on the North Umpqua River. It was cold at the meeting place in Roseburg but it was colder yet at the trailhead: 24 degrees, to be exact. Down jackets, mittens, gloves, and knit caps were the gear du jour at the start and all hiking participants were most eager to commence the hike and stave off frostbite.

Leaf art on a stump

Despite the cold, there was not a lot of ice on the trail, somewhat surprising when you consider the North Umpqua River is perennially shady and cold on the south side of the river. Also surprising, there were campers still asleep at the primitive campground near the trailhead. It was surprising they were camping, not that they were still asleep, just to clarify. Anyway, seeing the campers reminded me that Dollie and I winter camped once. Just once.

The mighty North Umpqua
Much of the North Umpqua Trail tends to be on cliffs 100 feet above the river but the Mott Segment stays at river level for most of its miles. Periodically, Lane and I would bushwhack down to the river's shore to take pictures of the opaque waters rushing by the trail, The river was running wider than normal and like me, was quite impressive to stand close to!

White on top, just like me!

On our periodic forays to the river's edge, we noticed the mountains on the north side were bathed in sunlight. On top of the mountains, the trees were all frosted with snow causing Lane to posit the riddle "What do those mountains and Richard have in common?" buddy. Anyway, we were peevishly jealous of any northsiders hiking over there in the sun. Not warm sun to be sure, but we still would have welcomed the psychological warmth a winter sun provides.

Proof it was cold
There is a section of trail that hugs the base of a cliff right next to a tranquil stretch of river. This particular piece of the Mott Segment is paved over with concrete designed to preserve the trail for the mountain bikers, as I imagine the river can cover it up after a good storm. I also say it was for mountain bikers because nobody cares about hikers struggling through on muddy trails (he said, with a just a trace of bitterness).  Here it was icy on the trail, and we carefully walked on the treacherous and slippery concrete. Below a cliff festooned with small icicles, were leafless bushes totally encased in ice. Much photography ensued and once again, Lane and I were bringing up the rear while our cameraless friends continued on.

Mushrooms were everywhere, in spite of the cold
An interesting moment on this hike was when a mysterious supernatural drumming sound reverberated throughout the forest: Boom...boom...boom. The beat was quite rhythmic and my first thought was that we were about to have a profound encounter with spirits of native drummers past. Alas, the drumming had a more mundane, but still interesting origin. A tree had fallen and the base had wedged itself between two trees while the upper portion of the tree dangled in the water. The treetop was bouncing in the river's current and water gurgled where the tree met river. When conditions were just right, about every fifth gurgle, the gurgling made a loud "glunk" sound which then carried through the tree trunk like a giant tuning fork. Nature's amplified subwoofer at work, and how cool was that?

Fisher Creek, at Zane Grey's Camp
A number of named creeks crossed the trail and it goes without saying, a larger number of unnamed creeks crossed the trail. John unsuccessfully tried to convince us that John Creek was named after him but we weren't buying it. The most notable creek was Fisher Creek because it was at Fisher Creek that the famed author Zane Grey camped and fished out of the North Umpqua. A small campsite and commemorative sign mark the spot. As a test, we asked the younger thirty-something members of our party if they had ever heard of Zane Grey and the response was "Doesn't he play for the Seahawks?" and "I think he starred in Titanic" Lane set them straight with "No, he was the Village People dude wearing the cowboy hat". Sigh.

Large cascade on the North Umpqua
When the historic Mott Bridge came into view, that was our cue that this frozen hike was about to end. This hike had been set up as a shuttle which meant that one car had to return to the starting trailhead and then all cars would come back to pick up all hikers. In theory, this meant that there should be a small contingent of hikers waiting at the trailhead for the cars to return. So, it was a little disconcerting when Lane and I finally arrived and there was nobody there. A momentary panic set in as we wondered if everybody else had continued onto the Panther Segment, not realizing they were to stop hiking here. Or maybe they had enough of our incessant stream of bad jokes and atrocious puns. "See, Lane? I told you nobody likes that joke about the one-legged kangaroo!" Fortunately, they were all exploring the nearby Mott Bridge and that should teach us to take less pictures, hike faster, and shut up more. But then again, probably not.

Always the river
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Monday, December 12, 2016

North Umpqua Trail - Tioga Segment

It's been kind of hard to hike lately. I mean, it does rain in Oregon but sheesh, enough already! The rain has been pouring non-stop, like from a garden hose, and poor waterlogged Douglas County has more standing water than a walk-in freezer in a power failure during a heatwave. At the higher elevations, the non-stop precipitation has translated to higher than normal snow levels, forcing me to hike along the lower elevation rivers and creeks, or on the Oregon coast. I heard on the news the other day, snow levels in the Cascades are around 130 to 140% of normal. That's a good thing, so I suppose any complaining about snow and rain is not warranted but sheesh, enough already!

It's warm and sunny everywhere I am not
Any break in the constant rain is cause for a celebratory hike and two days after my raingear test on the North Umpqua Trail's Swiftwater Segment, I returned to the same trailhead for a hike on what happily turned out to be a rainless day. The weather forecast had called for "mostly sunny" but that forecast never applies to the south side of the North Umpqua River. It's always shady and cold there, presumingly more so during the winter. Still it was nice to wistfully observe blue sky and sunlight on the  seemingly remote and unattainable mountains on the other side of the river. 

Bob Butte, if you squint
When I last reported from Tioga Bridge just two days prior, the color of the river was a milky brown color. Two days later, the normal winter turquoise color was returning to the still-turbulent North Umpqua River, although just like me, the river was still plenty wide, deep, and fast. No water was falling from the sky, although low clouds and river mist still occluded the view downstream to Bob Butte.

An unnamed creek crosses the trail
Once across Tioga Bridge, instead of turning right onto the Swiftwater Segment, I turned left onto the Tioga Segment. Where the Swiftwater heads uphill and away from the North Umpqua River, the Tioga keeps the rushing river fairly close at hand. Despite the nearness, thick forest kept the river hidden from view but the roar from the winter flow was always audible.

Sorry, boots
So, there was no water in the sky but it sure was all over the ground. Small creeks and runoffs ran across the trail and in many places, right on top of the trail itself. Given the amount of mosquitos and standing water in the Cascades in summer, I've often remarked that "Cascade Mountain Range" is merely a synonym for "large swamp with firs". However, in winter there are no mosquitoes on the Tioga Segment but oh man, was there ever a lot of water sitting on the trail, just waiting to pour into my boots.

Fern capital of the world
The first mile of the western end of the Tioga Segment was under 2 to 3 inches of water and the roar of the river, the splashing of my footfall, and some muted wet-feet related salty language were the only sounds in the forest. But at least the trail was flat and photogenic, what with wet ferns growing in thick profusion next to the trail. The fern growth was so thick that ferns were growing on top of ferns growing on top of ferns. Thick moss and fungi of all type were consuming the numerous fallen trees and the occasional hiker who stopped too long for lunch. 

Trail on a ridge
After a watery mile of hiking, the trail left the standing water behind as the North Umpqua Trail began switchbacking uphill. Ups and downs are very much part of the entire 78 mile North Umpqua Trail experience and it's no different on the Tioga Segment. For some reason, I was feeling pretty walky so the hill was conquered in short order before it began dropping back down at an alarming switchbacking rate. "Man, I really would hate to hike up this beast" I thought to myself, willfully ignoring the fact that I would be doing that very thing on the return leg.

Footbridge, several switchbacks below 
The trail was contouring a steep ridge and what little I could see of the river and highway below was shrouded in river fog. The mountains above the river on the south side were still enjoying the sun and blue sky and I was peevishly jealous. After what seemed like several hundred switchbacks on the knee-jolting descent, a footbridge over a rather large creek hove into view.

Raindrop, still hanging around
Amazingly, considering the amount of water flowing under the bridge, this creek is nameless. My theory for its anonymity is the creek probably dries up in summer. Anyway, after dropping down to a rushing creek, what does our lucky hiking participant receive in return? Tell him what he won, Don Pardo (I'm probably dating myself there but hey, I'm a 60 year old now). That's right, our lucky contestant has won another climb away from the creek up and over another forested ridge. Fortunately, it was not nearly as hard work as what I had just climbed up and over.

British soldiers
Moss-covered cliffs flanked the right side of the trail while the left side dropped rapidly down to the misted-over river. All the cliffy goodness had my inner mountain goat bleating happily although I carefully watched my steps, as I lack a mountain goat's agility and balance. Yup, clumsy and unbalanced, that's me! 

Very swollen Fox Creek
Fox Creek was heard long before it was seen as it was carrying way more water than normal. Dale and I had hiked to Fox Creek from the eastern trailhead a couple of years ago and we had eaten lunch there. However, that'd be a difficult trick on this day for the grassy picnic spot was under rampaging creek water. Besides which, a tall tree had fallen right on the picnic spot to futher hammer the point home that there will be no more picnicking at that spot. Strewn about were smaller trees, limbs, and other tree-related debris and carnage, all miraculously missing the fragile footbridge across the frothy white water of Fox Creek.

One small piece of Buttkicker Hill
It was cold, so I didn't tarry long at Fox Creek. After a quick lunch on the bridge it was back the way I came and I decided that the nameless ridge really needs to be called Buttkicker Hill. The climb disappointingly gained only 285 feet in 0.4 miles, it sure seemed both steeper and longer than that. But, doing the math, it was a 13% grade so my tired legs and heaving lungs were somewhat redeemed by that stat.

Mushrooms were everywhere
Once off Buttkicker Hill, it was back to the mile-long North Umpqua Trail splashfest before crossing the North Umpqua River on Tioga Bridge. It actually had been a sunny day in Roseburg while I had been splashing along in deep canyon shade. On the drive home, the bright sunlight was harsh, leaving my eyes blinking myopically in the glare like an albino cave salamander. But not to worry, the next day things were back to wet and rainy normal, making me quite grateful to have snuck this one in. 

Moss was everywhere, too
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

North Umpqua Trail - Swiftwater Segment

It rained for 40 days and and 40 nights and from the building of Noah's ark hereafter, a 40 day rain is said to be of "biblical proportions". However, here in the damp Pacific Northwest, it's just another storm and we just shake our heads and wryly note "Only 40 days?"  No ark building is necessary in the continual rain, but if you want to stay somewhat dry on yet another rainy day hike, then good rain gear is essential.

Rain on a cedar
I have tried various so-called waterproof jackets but have yet to find a breathable soft shell that effectively keeps the water out. I do have a hard shell that repels the rain but the problem with that is all my hiking perspiration is trapped by the impermeable fabric so it sort of rains underneath the it smells like an unventilated gym. Maybe two unventilated gyms, even. Maybe even three unventilated gyms full of sumo wrestlers doing aerobics on treadmills. With the heat turned up and the rafters full of farting pigeons, too.

Misty view to Bob Butte
I recently read an article about hiking long-distance trails on the cheap and Frogg Toggs were cited as the favorite rain gear for frugal hikers. A short Internet session later, a set of Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite2s were purchased and on their way. The Frogg Toggs are amazingly inexpensive, a mere pittance at $25, especially when compared to other rain gear. When the package arrived several days later,  a rainy day was all that was needed for some gear-testing, like that would be a problem!

Somebody liked the water on the trail

Rainy day and rain gear in hand, Luna and I headed out to the Susan Creek Recreation Area. The rain was light enough I didn't feel the need to go all Gorton's Fisherman and put on the rain pants, too. However, Luna was on her own, although if I would have bought her a pet raincoat, you might refer to her as a Frogg Togg Dogg. And since she likes to play keepaway in the back yard with a huge tree branch, you might even call her a Frogg Togg Logg Hogg Dogg. Sorry, I'll quit now.

A tiny mushroom sprouts on a tree trunk
The Emerald Trail connects the Susan Creek picnic area to camera-friendly Tioga Bridge. However, the trail is not emerald at all, it's mostly black as in pavement and coarse gravel. No complaining though, for the civilized nature of the trail tread allows our alter-abled hiking friends to also enjoy Tioga Bridge.

Graceful arch on Tioga Bridge
Tioga Bridge was built in 2013 and you can still smell the fresh creosote on the stout span. The North Umpqua was running wide and fast, rushing noisily underneath the photogenic bridge. Normally the river water is a beautiful turquoise color but on this day the water was a milky chocolate brown tint as the river was running near flood stage. The day was cold, wet, gray, with low cloud cover rendering nearby Bob Butte barely visible in the mist overhead.

A cascade on a temporary creek
Once across Tioga Bridge, a thundering waterfall on a nameless creek made for an impressive start to the Swiftwater Segment of the North Umpqua Trail. About 100 yards later, a second waterfall on a nameless creek likewise impressed. All the rain was causing the streams to put on a show with winter runoff splashing where there normally would have been no running water at all, like on the North Umpqua Trail.  My feet stayed dry due to my happily waterproofed boots, while barefooted Luna was deliriously overjoyed to wet her feet in all the water streaming across the trail.

Boots got wet on this hike

The North Umpqua Trail is on an old logging road for much of the Swiftwater Segment, so we avoided the whole vegetation wetting pant legs thing. The grade was easy on the legs as the uphill slope was as kind and gentle as a grandmother. Life was good as we hiked while photo-stopping frequently due to all the seasonally hydrologic wonders occurring next to or on the trail. After about 3 miles, the road passed under some power lines and that was our cue to leave the road and start hiking on a real trail.

Mossy branches reach to the sky
The footpath dropped straight down the hill for a short bit, as it followed a clearing underneath the power lines. Not the most scenic part of the hike, to be sure. From there it was another steep drop down through a forest with a thundering creek that was mostly heard and not seen in the canyon below the trail.

Bridge over Bob Creek

I don't know who Bob was but he has a butte and a creek named after him. His creek was pretty full of Bob so to speak, as the rambunctious torrent was absolutely raging in an intimidating display of raw water power. Fortunately, no wade across Bob Creek was required as a nicely constructed footbridge made for both a safe crossing and yet another photo stop. Bob Creek literally was growing larger before my eyes as dozens of runoffs and tricklers poured off the canyon slope, each contributing to the mighty Bob's cause.

Bob Creek was much larger than normal
A brief uphill walk on a trail doing double duty as a creek bed brought us to the base of Bob Butte. There is a really nice view of the North Umpqua canyon from the butte but on this day, the butte was well hidden in the foggy cloud cover just above us. No point in walking up a steep trail just to see gray mist, so we sat down and I ate lunch while Luna mooched.

Orange cup fungus

On the return, the rain really poured just when we had to go up the steep open section underneath the power lines. I'm glad to report the Toggs kept me comfortably dry, just as promised. The breathability of the fabric means air flows both ways so on a cold day, one does need to wear warm clothing underneath. Once we returned back to the forest, the rain gave up, bowing down in acquiescent homage to the amazing water-repelling powers of the Frogg Toggs. With only one hike notched on our rainy day belt, durability remains an open question but so far, the Toggs definitely get more than a passing grade.

Slightly misted trail shot
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Oh, I had such grandiose plans for this hike. By combining loop trails and roads, it was possible to cobble together a 12'ish mile hike through the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge near the small town of Monroe. But alas, "Closed for Winter Breeding" signs confined hikers to a small corner of the refuge and my 12'ish miler became a 6 miler instead. Oh well, I guess I'll have to come back at some future date and hopefully there'll be no spring or summer breeding closures to contend with.

Booga booga!
Dollie and I had hiked here many many years ago and my recollection was of large flocks of geese surrounding numerous ponds and swamps. Memory being what it is, that wasn't entirely accurate for the two loop trails I took this time out spent most of their miles inside lush oak and maple forest. There were a few swamps however, with miles and miles of boardwalk to keep feet out of them. I didn't see any geese, they were probably having a goose orgy in the closed section of the refuge. I know I would too, if I were a goose. And stop with the "But Richard, you are a goose!" comments already!

Staghorn fungus sprouting through the moss
The drive to the Woodpecker Loop Trailhead was interesting. The weather was not great what with cold temps, gray sky, and falling rain and all that rain collected in a marshy lowland which happened to be the same marshy lowland that Finley Road ran through. It doesn't take much water for my KIA to start swimming and Finley Road was quite the daunting challenge, being underwater with the brown water coming up to the bottom of the doors. I'm glad to say the car made the wade as I really sweated the outcome.

Some kind of view!
The Woodpecker Loop headed gradually uphill through a forest of scraggly and leafless oaks. A dilapidated wooden stand underneath a massive oak provided what would normally be a great view across the Willamette Valley. Clouds, mist, and winter breeding took care of the view on this day however, I'll probably have a greater appreciation for the panorama when I come back.

You had me at "Hill"
A short walk through a grassy pasture past some ponds of gray-brown water and a creek or two of the same colored water brought me to the Intertie Trail, a short path that connects the Woodpecker Loop with the Mill Hill Loop. Not knowing too much about the refuge, the "Hill" in Mill Hill appealed to me so off on the Intertie I went.

Boardwalks abounded

The forests are surprisingly lush which shouldn't be all that surprising given the amount of standing and running water underneath the trees. And equally unsurprisingly, all the standing water supported a healthy population of blackberry vines, ferns, moss, and assorted fungi. Didn't see any wildlife though, they were probably all having fun in the closed-off other three-fourths of the refuge.

On the Intertie Trail
The trail was nicely picturesque as it wended its way through dense oak and maple stands. The path was carpeted with a thick layer of soggy dead leaves in an indication that the autumn display has to be quite colorful here. One more reason and season to come back for another visit!

Maze of branches
Disappointingly, the Mill Hill Loop did not go to the top of the hill, instead choosing to perambulate around the base. But the hits kept on coming as each new curve in the trail revealed more forest, dead leaves, and running little creeks. One such creek took over the trail and boots finally got both wet and muddy, always a sign of a good hike.

A swampy piece of Gray Creek
Below the trail was a basin full of leafless trees under a gloomy sky. The map said Gray Creek was down there but the creek was well hidden by the thick vegetation. When I finally got to see Gray Creek, it was easy to see how the creek got its name because the water was as gray as a zombie's complexion.

Refuge headquarters

For extra mileage, I grabbed a small loop that led to the refuge headquarters, a collection of ranch buildings with a sodden flag hanging limply on a flagpole. By this time the air was quite wet. It wasn't really rain but the atmosphere definitely had a heavy liquidity to it that had me wishing I'd brought the man-gills. Below the headquarters was what was termed the "display pond" although the only thing displayed was brown water.

Slipping and sliding on a muddy trail
A return to the Woodpecker Loop finished off this hike. After peeling off wet layers of clothing it was time to make the scary drive out. I again held my breath crossing the swamp over Finley Road but we made it. After the rains subside, it'll be a less risky drive which will be one more reason to come visit the refuge again.

Mill Hill Trail
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.