Saturday, October 8, 2016

Yellowjacket Loop

I've seen the Yellowjacket Trail at its best and its worst. The first time I hiked this moderate loop trail was way back when and the month was November. The winter snow had not yet arrived that year and the trail wound its way through woods and meadows all dried up and browned out in advance of the winter weather. Not particularly impressed with the hike, I remember wondering what the big deal was about the Yellowjacket Loop. One other time, I tried to hike up Hemlock Creek to the Yellowjacket Loop and found myself waist deep in snow and having to turn back before I even reached the loop trail. 

A galaxy of stars, leaf-style
So why hike this trail? Well, after that not-so-much November hike, a friend persuaded me to go there in the spring and oh my, it was as stunning as the November hike was underwhelming. All those brown meadows were green and flowery, bursting with life. Of course, some of that life was in the form of yellow-jackets (a nasty wasp), several of which found their way underneath my shirt, causing a frantic shirt-removing wasp dance in the middle of a boggy meadow, much to the bemusement of my companions. So, now that I know what spring and winter look like at Yellowjacket Glade, what about autumn? 

Fungus, fuzzy enough to pet

The Friends of the Umpqua were originally going to hike up to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain but a storm dumped a bunch of snow on it so Yellowjacket was enlisted as a lower-elevation Plan B. Things were damp and cool at the Hemlock Lake trailhead, which meant that there would be no wasps and no repeat of my shirt-removing wasp dance. And by damp, I refer to the the vegetation and not the clear blue sky with a relatively ineffectual sun in it. 

Wish goes hiking
So, away we went and immediately Kevin, Wish (Kevin's dog), and I lagged behind. Kevin and I were toting cameras in direct correlation to our bringing up the rear. It was obvious that the theme of this hike would be the fall colors of the vine maples. The trail ambled in shady forest and the maples were sporting autumn finery of yellow and green, just like any good Oregon Ducks fan should.

Leaf with a fly shadow
Basically we were contouring above and around Hemlock Lake and we caught occasional glimpses of the lake as we hiked. After a half mile of relatively level trail, the path crossed Hemlock Lake's inlet creek and turned uphill, shooting up through the forest at a fairly brisk grade. Can't say as the uphill was particularly strenuous, probably because of frequent stops to photograph each and every leaf in the forest, or so it seemed. 

View from an unnamed ridge
After passing by a fetid pond with an equally fetid name of Dead Cow Lake, one more push uphill through a shady forest took us to the top of a broad, mostly forested, nameless ridge. Atop the ridge, the trees thinned out a bit, serving up an expansive view down to the South Umpqua River drainage. Layers and layers of mountains rolled away as far as the eye can see and names were slapped on a few of them: Rabbit Ears, Mount Hershberger, Union Peak, Crater Lake rim, with Mount McLaughlin being the tallest of them all.

Huckleberry gets into the autumn act
Continuing further along the ridge, the path dipped back into the forest again where we got to "re-enjoy" walking uphill, as if a reminder was needed. The meadows were popping up along the trail with a little more regularity, offering views and vistas for the price of a brief off-trail walk. Of course the meadows weren't green any more but they weren't fully browned out either. Vanilla leaf, thimbleberry, and mountain ash were yellowing out in the drying vegetation, turning the meadows into a hybrid color tone somewhere between green and yellow-brown.

Burning bush
But really, the stars of the show were the vine maples. On the northwest facing slopes between Peak 5174 and Flat Rock, the vine maples glowed red and orange with increased exposure to the sun. At times, it looked like molten lava was flowing down the slopes but at second glance, it was just the vine maples doing the autumn thing. In between the fiery meadows and underneath the trees, the maples were colored light yellow because of the shade. With each colorful display, camera shutters clicked with increasing frequency, and hiking paces decreased accordingly.

Forest fire
After a series of steep switchbacks, the trail bottomed out in a large meadow with a boardwalk cutting across it. The meadow was dry, rendering the boardwalk superfluous this time of year, but in the spring the boardwalk is very much needed. And shortly thereafter, the trail closed the loop and this moderate hike came to an end. We'll have to place this October hike in the "good" Yellowjacket Loop bucket.

Autumn hath come
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. I just love when the vine maple erupts into it's fall finery. The recent wet and windy weather have kept me off the trials, but I'm hoping to return next weekend.