Saturday, June 25, 2016

Lake Notasha

Brother David and grandson Aiden wanted to go backpacking with me but David had a few conditions attached to his participation in our venture. Well, there was really only one condition: "Take it easy on me" he said. Dang, all these conditions, rules, and regulations! But yeah, I did want him to go so we did take it easy on him by selecting a relatively level hike from Cold Springs Trailhead into the Sky Lakes Wilderness. 

Mosquito food
When we disembarked from the car at the Cold Springs Trailhead we were greeted by a magnificent summer day. And best of all, no mosquitoes, how did we ever get so lucky? Oh, we were so naive and innocent then! The trail immediately entered the shady forest whereupon the air came alive with the whine of mosquitoes, matched only by the the whine of 12 year old Aiden. He tried to repel the mosquitoes with his own unique brand of repellant that had something to do with eating salsa the night before. His manner of delivering the repellant was perhaps an attempt to ease the uphill with some home-made jet propulsion, too. Although he failed on both counts, he nonetheless was banished to the rear of our hiking column by the two disgusted adult members of our party. He was quite vocal about expressing his antipathy to the thick schools of insectile piranhas, so much so he earned the trail name "Mosquito Boy". I supposed we could have called him "Dances with Mosquitoes" too.

Aiden goes snow hiking
About a mile into the hike, snow made an appearance and the trail disappeared under intermittent drifts. It was surprising to see so much snow in what certainly has been a hot June. Fortunately, we were always able to find (eventually!)  the trail tread on the other side of the drifts so we didn't get lost, just confused at times. And if the mosquitoes and snow were not enough trail travails, the path was also covered with fallen trees, bringing back bad memories of last month's hike to Grasshopper Mountain. It just seems that trees covering the trail are going to be part of most every hike this year.

Lake Notasha 
So, while I am regrettably somewhat used to climbing over trees, David and Aiden were not and much grumbling ensued. But for the most part, we were able to walk around the downfall and didn't have to clamber over log piles too much. So while we were making progress through the piles of debris, the hiking was fairly tedious. By the time we reached the first lake, Lake Notasha, David and Aiden were quite adamant in expressing their desire to camp at the idyllic little lake. My vote was for Isherwood Lake, about 0.7 miles further up the trail but who listens to me anyway.

Isherwood Lake, at sunset
So we set up camp at a nice little site atop a forested knoll overlooking the blue-green lake sparkling in the afternoon sun, where we proceeded to slap at mosquitoes for the remainder of the day. After dinner, we did take a hike further up the Isherwood Trail, visiting and turning around at Ishwerwood Lake at twilight. The lakes of the Sky Lakes Wilderness are plenty in number and close in proximity so we visited Liza Lake and Lake Elizabeth on the way back to camp.

I love the smell of  Deet in the morning!
The next morning, David and I waited hours and hours for a sleeping teenager to awake; we finally took matters into our own hands and rousted Aiden from his slumber. Because of the rough state of the trail, the consensus was that we would head out early instead of struggling for another day to get to Lake Margurette. So back down the trail we go, each of us with our attendant mosquito cloud swirling behind. Maybe it was because they were mentally prepared for the snow and downfall but both Aiden and David thought the hiking was easier on the hike out.

Dances with Mosquitoes
So in the end, we were somewhat disappointed that we didn't accomplish all we wanted to in terms of distance and destination, but we all agreed it was better than staying at home and we all enjoyed the hike anyway. And as far as David is concerned, I'm letting him know this hike was a mulligan and I don't have to take it easy on him next time.

Your job is to eat mosquitoes, now get to work!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Hobart Bluff

Recently, I went on yet another hike in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Am I overdoing it? Will I become jaded about hiking in the Monument? Will the Monument eventually fill me with ennui? Is it possible to get too much of a good thing? I think not in this case, the scenery and greenery are just too beautiful.

Why we hike
The object of my hiking affection this time was Hobart Bluff, selected in part because of an earlier hike from Greensprings Summit to Little Hyatt Lake on the Pacific Crest Trail. I remember my comrades asking me what was south of Greensprings Summit and the short answer is Hobart Bluff. The long answer is the border with Mexico. Anyway, this area dries up and goes brown fairly early so I figured I'd better go to the monument one more time while everything is still beautifully green.

This hike sponsored by Pale Ale
The weather was great as the sun was out, the sky was gloriously blue and best of all, the temperature was mild and perfect for hiking. From the trailhead, the venerable Pacific Crest Trail climbed gently in a fenced corridor on private property. Once past a couple of gates, the trail would be on public land the rest of the way and thanks to the property owners for allowing the trail to pass through their land.

Dry meadow on the PCT
The trail ambled through an odd mix of lush Cascadian conifer forest and open Siskiyou-ish meadows and oak savannas. It can also be an odd mix of mosquitoes and ticks, based on the same vegetative mix but on this day I was lucky enough to not have to deal with either pest. This area is fairly arid when compared to the moister Cascades, here the meadows were already going brown in the rockier stretches of trail. One good thing about meadows is there are no trees to block the view and periodically I caught glimpses of Pilot Rock and Mount Ashland.

Blue-headed gilia
Spring was in session, and my hiking pace was relaxed as there were so many wildflowers to take pictures of. Purple balls of ookow were the main culprit but white hyacinth, thimbleberry, columbine, Indian paintbrush, and larkspur all made their floral presence known. I was happily taking photos and just go ahead and call me a flower child.

Phantom orchid
After several miles of drying meadows alternating with oak or conifer forest, the trail climbed up a slope that was comprised mostly of old-growth Douglas fir. The trail was well shaded with lush vegetation greening up the forest floor underneath the massive trees. Phantom orchid is a fairly rare plant but here it was sprouting everywhere. Pick a square dekameter of forest floor at random and hundreds of pale white shoots would still issue out of the ground like ghostly wraiths from the underworld. The orchids were a pleasant distraction from one of the few steep stretches of trail.

A hike with a view
Shortly after leaving the orchid-infested slope behind, the trail crossed over to the east side of the ridge crest and the forest transitioned to scrubby chaparral and thin stands of scrawny oaks. The views from the open slopes transformed this hike from "pretty darn cool" to "Dude!" (in the like, totally awesome sense of the word). Miles and miles of hills and volcanic cones carpeted by forest lay underneath a blue sky. Nearby Parker Mountain was the most prominent peak as the landscape rolled towards Klamath Falls, but fortunately the town was not visible. I know that may have been an underserved Klamath Falls cheap shot, but then again, I've been there!

A bee-fly sips from a larkspur
Periodically, oaks arched over the trail and the mottled shade was most welcome and soothing. Swallowtail butterflies flitted from flower to flower and my camera was quite busy with shady trail, abundant wildflowers, insect life, and expansive views.

This way to Hobart Bluff
So far, the route had not been all that strenuous as it rambled along the ridge crest in relatively gentle ups and downs. Hobart Bluff would require some more exertion however, as the trail to the summit charged madly up the bluff, about as subtle as an enraged bull on the other side of the fence from the cow. Stunted and gnarled juniper trees dotted the grassy slopes of the bluff.

Hobart Lake, from the world's tallest diving board

Hobart Mountain (near) and Pilot Rock (far)
After attaining the actual Hobart Bluff summit, I picked my way down to a rocky point which was the definitive edge of the bluff, one more step and I'd painfully splash into Hobart Lake, about 450 feet below. The 360 degree view from Hobart Bluff was predictably spectacular, especially on such a glorious day. Hobart Mountain is Hobart Bluff's immediate neighbor, its green slopes rising in front of equally green Soda Mountain. In the distance was the squat tower of Pilot Rock, looking somewhat alien in all the forested mountains. Farther away were Mount McLaughlin, Mount Ashland, and the tip of Mount Shasta. However, Bear Creek Valley stole the Hobart Bluff show. Wide and deep, flanked by tall mountains, the valley stretched from Ashland to Medford and I was staring right down the valley's throat like a geologic tonsillologist. Way cool and lunch just tastes better when eaten in the presence of such an awesome vista.

Meadow, set aside as habitat for
the endangered Mardon skipper
All good things come to an end though, so after a lazy lunch, it was time to get off the butte and head back down the trail. I had entertained a notion of summiting Hobart Mountain's green and grassy slopes so I continued on the Pacific Crest Trail to the foot of the nearby mountain. Upon closer inspection, the green grass was actually a dense head-high thicket of brush and small trees. Wanting to keep my skin reasonably unscratched, I instead continued on to the Soda Mountain Trailhead for some extra mileage. The trailhead was the logical turnaround point, but not before availing myself of the brand new outhouse. Actually, I think if I bushwhack around (next time) the north side of Hobart Mountain, I should be able to make it to the summit.

"Get that camera out of here!"
The afternoon cooled off a bit as the sun sank low or maybe it was just my appreciation for shady forests, but it was a pleasant hike back to the car. So, in answer to my question first posed in this blog entry, one more hike in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is not too much of a good thing. However, other trails in other places are also calling to me and I'll save the few remaining monument trails for a later date.

The PCT alternated between sun and shade
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Grassy stretch of trail

Friday, June 10, 2016

Boccard Point

Did I really say I hated hiking? Me? In my last blog entry? Really? No way! Such a thing is simply not possible, I love hiking, it's the best! Now admittedly, on my last hike on Grasshopper Mountain, I did let several thousand fallen trees sour my attitude just a smidge. But hikes like the one to Boccard Point are so sublime, so beautiful, so enjoyable that faith in my little hobby cannot help but be restored, even following such an epically so un-fun hike.

Chickweed blooms amok next to the PCT
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was created in 2000 and sort of languished in benign neglect for the next decade or so. However, in 2009 the Soda Mountain Wilderness (within the monument) was established and the monument has seen the love since, with obvious signs thereof readily apparent to regular visitors to the Soda Mountain area. All the jeep roads have either been closed or converted to hiking trails, new signs keep hikers apprised of location, and the Soda Mountain Trailhead now sports a gravel parking lot (it used to be you just parked on the side of the road) with a brand new outhouse. The Pacific Crest Trail has been rerouted around some meadows which are now designated and protected as habitat for the endangered Mardon skipper. And, as it turned out, the monument was just the perfect place to rinse out that nasty fallen tree taste left over from my last hike.

Onion spices up the hike

Heading west on the Pacific Crest Trail up a rocky slope underneath some power lines, it was immediately evident that spring was in full song. Although bare and rocky, the slope was carpeted with fuzzy pink balls of onion flowers. Bright red Indian paintbrush, pastel yellow cinquefoil, and deep blue larkspur added to the floral rainbow on either side of the trail. In some of that Monument love I had talked about, the PCT had been neatly stair-stepped with rocks in a few places.

Star-flowered Solomon's seal
After crossing the rocky slope, the trail then in short order passed through a lush conifer forest that had a veritable jungle growing underneath, followed by an open stony area with no trees. And that perfectly sums up the Cascade-Siskiyou Monument hiking experience in that one hikes in a patchwork quilt of vegetational biomes from dense conifer forest to rocky barrens, and from lush hellebore meadows to drier oak woods. At any rate, the forest was carpeted with Jacob's ladder, false Solomon's seal, and star-flowered Solomon's seal. After the intersection with the Soda Mountain Trail, it would be all new trail for me from here on in. And best of all, I only had to step over only about two trees the entire day, what a difference from my last hike!

Dubious water stop on the PCT
The weather was overcast, cool, and windy, but the cloud cover was fairly high. The trail entered a series of large meadows of ankle high hellebore and the resultant openings in the forest provided impressive views of Mount Ashland, Bear Creek Valley, and Grizzly Peak. A side trail led to a stagnant livestock pond that is the only water source within many a mile for PCT thru-hikers, obviously the pond gets a lot of use despite the relative poor water quality.

Shadow on a shady trail
I had been walking on the north side of the crest and at a forested saddle, the route crossed over to the south side where the clime was a little bit drier, judging by the rather sudden transition from conifer to oak forest. At the saddle, Boccard Point first came into view although the trail continued away from the point for several miles before doubling back on an old road bed. Over the next few miles, the clouds dissipated as the trail descended to a mildly confusing intersection of dirt roads southwest of  Little Pilot Peak. Fortunately, there were trail signs to keep me on track.

The trail to Boccard Point
The trail from the PCT to Boccard Point followed an old road bed abandoned long ago. Nowadays, the old road is a narrow path angling gently uphill through tall grass and around boulders that have rolled down from the former road cut. By now, the sky was a glorious blue color, the trail was flanked by dark green trees, and I had a clear view of Boccard Point still demoralizingly high above. Crap, two out of three isn't bad but really, the grade was fairly gentle as it angled across the slope of Boccard Point.

You can see California from here!
After a short walk atop a thickly forested bench on a trail that was hard to follow in the undergrowth, I ate lunch on a rocky mound that I assumed to be the point of Boccard Point. However, I could see another similar mound nearby with one big rocky thing further along the cliff I was perched on. A post-hike check of the map showed that the true Boccard Point summit had actually been hiding in the forest behind me.

View towards Pilot Rock
But quibbling aside over which point was the true point, what a view! The entire Shasta Valley in California was laid out below with Iron Gate Reservoir sparking blue in the brown terrain like a sapphire jewel in a puddle of gravy. Whew, that metaphor makes no sense but let's move on. Pilot Rock was silhouetted nearby with Mount Ashland just beyond. Despite the haze and clouds hiding Mount Shasta from sight, the view was still pretty stupendous. Plus, we Oregonians really enjoy looking down our noses at California. Such a view requires some lazy tarrying but a cold wind was cutting right through my clothing, so a hasty retreat was beat off the point.

Blazing star
On the way back as the afternoon sun slanted through the trees, the cold wind was a constant. Summer has not yet arrived, at least not anywhere near Soda Mountain. I never saw another hiker all day and it was a pleasantly lonely hike back to the car. There were plenty of new bear scratchings on the trail that had not been there on the incoming leg. Fortunately, there were no bear encounters to report...this time. The day remained visually sunny but physically cold while clouds formed and reformed over the monument. The meadows, flowers, and views were enjoyed all over again, recharging both soul and spirit. Hikes like this are why we hike and I love hiking! Really!

A crab spider lurks
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.