Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pig Iron

This hike on the Pig Iron Trail was kind of exciting! Lane had discovered it and it was on a trail that I had never been on before. Well, technically speaking he didn't really discover it as the Pig Iron Trail has been in existence for years, but it was a discovery for me and all our friends in our Douglas County hiking circles. At any rate, Pig Iron Trail had that new trail smell about it that had me squealing like a piggy, and not in a "Deliverance" sort of way, either.

Pig Iron is further up there somewhere
Pig Iron Mountain is a highpoint on the terminus of Watson Ridge, which overlooks the confluence of the North Umpqua and Clearwater Rivers. The trail to Pig Iron Lookout is not used very much and as a consequence, the tread flat out disappears at times, particularly in the grassy areas. Fortunately, there are rock cairns erected by the spirits of hikers past to guide us along the faint parts. And just in case, Lane had pre-hiked this trail in preparation for his hike-leader debut (yes, it was his first time!) and had left pink ribbons tied to trees to mark the way. By the way, this is not the first time I've had to use "Lane" and "pink ribbons" in a blogpost sentence. Just sayin'.

Lupine, eager to distribute morning dew onto pant legs
Anyway, after crossing Clearwater Canal on a footbridge, the trail charged up a hill through damp vegetation that wet pant legs in short order. And speaking of pants, there were plenty of those as we were soon breathing heavily due to the exertion expended on the climb up to Pig Iron. But no complaints, the forest we were hiking through was just beautiful with the morning sun filtering through the forest. Evaporating dew caught the light nicely as did water droplets sparkling on pine needles.

Lane scrambles out onto a rocky point

As the path gained elevation, small meadows showed up here and there. As stated, we had to use our routefinding skills when the trail tread disappeared in the brown grass. Between cairns and Lane's pretty pink ribbons, we were always able to stay on track. Not that I count or anything like that, but there were exactly 21 switchbacks on the way up. Occasionally, we'd scramble out to a rocky viewpoint on a switchback to take in some stunning scenery.

Pig Iron Lookout and one incredible view
The grade eased up just before the trail met up with the gravel road leading to Pig Iron Lookout. And best of all, the road angled gently downhill to the lookout, making quads and hamstrings happy. Beneath the wooden lookout tower, we plopped down on a rocky perch and ate lunch while soaking in the view.

John and Edwin enjoy life on Pig Iron
The sun was out, the sky was blue and cloudless, and mountains and valleys gently rolled along, carpeted with a blue green fuzz of forest. Right below our ridge crest aerie, reposed the man-made lake with the rather non-poetic name of Clearwater Forebay #2. The forebay was sited on the confluence of the Clearwater and North Umpqua Rivers and although we could not really see either river, their canyons were eminently notable.

Diamond Peak lets us know winter is coming
In the distance, the rock pillars of Rattlesnake, Old Man, and Eagle Rocks pointed skywards like accusing fingers of stone. The Boulder Creek Wilderness looked somewhat tattered and worn, thanks to a large burn scar received courtesy of several recent and frequent forest fires. Diamond Peak was sporting a fresh dusting of snow and ditto for the tip of Mount Bailey. Lunch just tastes better when wrapped around a view.

The entire color wheel of autumn
All good things come to an end and we reluctantly gathered up our gear and walked up the road and then down the trail. Downhill is easier than uphill but a different set of leg muscles were nonetheless aching by the time we arrived at the trailhead. Sometimes it feels like I have hiked every trail in the Umpqua National Forest so it was quite a pleasant sensation to hike on a totally new trail for me. Especially without hearing banjo music, if you get my drift (another "Deliverance" reference!).

Bridge over Clearwater Canal
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

North Bank Habitat - East Boundary Ridge

Well, Mount Ranier Park was fun and all but it was time to say goodbye to the park and all its steep trails. Now that I'm back in Roseburg, it was time to say hello to the North Bank Habitat Management Area and all its steep trails.

Old man's beard graces a madrone tree
The Habitat is an old friend and I hike there quite a bit simply because it is so close to home. It's also a perfect place to hike on a morning when the alarm gets slept through, something that seems to happen with a bit more regularity now that I am retired. However, the North Bank, despite its relatively small acreage and low elevation, provides trails steep enough to do Mount Rainier National Park proud.

I hate hiking!
It is also a possibility that I hike the Habitat because I hate myself. Or at least, that thought occurred to me as I started out on the East Boundary Ridge Road. The freshly graded jeep road was the trail and without preamble, the route charged straight up a grassy hillside with virtually no shade. The tone was set in the first mile, when the trail gained 800 feet of elevation. From there, it was only about 500 feet more of climbing over 3 miles but who cares after legs are totally used up in that nasty first mile?

The snake wonders why I'm making that strange sound
When lacing up my boots at the trailhead, I had chatted with Mark, the Habitat's caretaker, and he warned me to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes as they had been unusually plentiful this year. Because the trail was ungodly steep, I felt compelled for some reason to stop and take a breather and also to take a few pictures of the valley below the trail. As I turned to resume hiking, I suddenly noticed a snake sunning itself a few inches from my foot. If a hiker screams a high-pitched girly yodel and nobody is there to hear him, he does not make a sound. Its nap disturbed by a high-octave hiker's wail that sounded like it might have come from another galaxy, the harmless gopher snake slithered off into the dry grass.

Ah, this is why we hike!

I rarely hike the the Habitat in the summer, I generally visit in winter or early spring. On this day, the hills were neither white with snow, nor green with sprouting thistles. Instead, the hills were golden brown with dried grass swaying in the breeze gently blowing over the ridge crest. A late summer hike was somewhat on the exotic side for me, seeing as how I was hiking there out of my normal Habitat season. The sun was out, the slightly hazy sky was cloudless, and fortunately the temperature was not particularly hot, especially with a cool breeze washing up from the valleys.

My route on the East Boundary Ridge
After a steady uphill with occasional really steep pitches, the North Boundary Ridge Road was reached. That was fine and all, but there still was about a mile of some of that nasty uphill stuff yet to go. While trudging up the steep North and East Boundary Ridge(s), I did wonder what it was about hiking that makes me think I enjoy it. My leg muscles were burning, my heart was hammering its way out of my rib cage, my eyes were stinging from a combination of sweat and sunscreen rolling into them, and I was breathing heavier than an asthmatic water buffalo. Why, oh, why do I hike?

Scott Mountain 
Well, from the North Boundary Ridge, it was quite the view, thanks to all that elevation gain I'd been whining and sniveling about. I was looking down the East Fork Jackson Creek valley, with the small creek running into the North Umpqua River, a small piece of which was just visible. In the river's valley, farms flanked either side and rolling hills marched on and on into the distance. On the other side of the ridge, the forests sloped down towards the town of Sutherlin with Plat I Reservoir showing a small corner of itself. Buzzards floated and circled above me and I wondered with more than a little concern what they knew that I didn't. At any rate, the wide and expansive panorama hammered home exactly why I hike. Even though I've seen this vista many times, it never gets old and after an appreciative view soak, I actually felt rejuvenated in both body and spririt.

Hah! I'm pretty brave saying I felt rejuvenated when the trail was all downhill from the Blacktail Basin Road junction, but downhill can rejuvenate as much as a great view and I had the best of both worlds on the descent. The Soggy Bottoms Road headed gently down into the West Fork Jackson Creek valley on a jeep track dotted with bear poop. I'd run into a "rattlesnake" already so maybe I'd run into a bear. Naturally, I just about pooped my pants when a wall of black fur crossed the trail about 50 yards in front of me. BEAR! Well, on closer inspection it was not really a bear but a black cow who took off in terror upon hearing unnatural noises emanating from one startled hiker.

The North Bank throws some shade
As the trail dropped into the valley, big-leaf maples arched over the trail, providing welcome shade as I ambled through a park-like glade of stately oak and maple trees. Mount Rainier has nothing over the North Bank's steep trails (unless you consider the totally awesome scenery and the big glacier-clad volcano thingy). And despite all the mumbling, grumbling, whining, sobbing, and the occasional squealing screams of terror, it's good to hike!

It's good to hike!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.