Sunday, June 11, 2017

Tamolitch Blue Pool

For all the hiking I've done on the McKenzie River Trail, I had never set foot on the section that sported the famed blue pool at Tamolitch Falls. My friend Heidi had gone last winter and all I've heard since is "Have you gone to the Blue Pool yet? Why not? What's wrong with you?" I'm not sure the last question was specifically related to the Blue Pool, either. But since I committed the cardinal sin of not showing up for a Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club planning meeting, I was involuntarily slated to lead a hike to the famed Blue Pool. Since I had never been, I enlisted my trusty sidekick Lane to join me on a scouting expedition on the McKenzie River Trail.

Vine maples rule!
The weather had been warming up as spring slipped into summer, but on this day the sky was overcast and the temperature was cool, just perfect for hiking. At Carmen Reservoir we were lacing up our boots when a hiking couple popped out of the woods from the north. They asked me how to continue south on the McKenzie Trail and I pointed out the trailhead and told them to turn right at the intersection. They looked at me with confused expressions "Shouldn't we be turning left?" I held up my hands "This the one I write with so that's right, the one left over is left" Somewhat abashed, I corrected my erroneous directions "Yup, I meant the other right!" And I'm to lead the club hike, good luck in following me!

One of many bridge crossings over the dry river
The trail followed the McKenzie River but alas, the river was dry. There are two factors at work in the disappearance of the river: one natural, and one manmade. Eons ago, Belknap Crater buried the McKenzie River under lava flows and volcanic ash. Since the soil here is lava-based and porous, much of the river tended to run underground anyway. But in 1963, Carmen Reservoir was constructed as part of a hydroelectric project on the McKenzie River. The volume of diverted water was sufficient to ensure nearly permanent dryness for the river between Carmen Reservoir and Blue Pool. This year however, the winter rains were so heavy that the river flowed and tumbled over Tamolitch Falls into the Blue Pool for the first time in decades.

Queen's cup
However, on this day, although there were swampy pools in the river channel, the river was dry. But that's OK, because this section of the McKenzie River Trail was all about the forest anyway. Vine maples grew in thick profusion and the trail tunneled through a veritable galaxy of leafy stars. Massive old-growth Douglas firs and cedars disappeared up into the leafy canopy. On either side of the path, the forest floor was carpeted with queen's cup, bunchberry, starflower, and Columbia windflower.

Lane demonstrates the proper bridge-crossing technique
The trail switched sides of the river often, and I have a lot of pictures of rustic log bridges to prove it. The McKenzie River Trail is a popular mountain biking trail and we got to heckle the bikers as they walked their bikes across the bridges, "Real bikers would ride across!" Some bikers don't have a sense of humor, we found out.

The Blue Pool
So far, it had been a pleasant hike through quiet woods but that all changed at the Blue Pool. Here, the McKenzie River emerges from its underground journey from Carmen Reservoir, filling a deep bowl ringed by tall cliffs. The water is a stunning blue color and the only appropriate thing to do is to walk to the edge of the cliff and utter an awestruck "wow!". Unfortunately, the trail from the south is short and hordes of what Lane and I semi-derisively refer to as "casuals" ringed the cliffs. I say unfortunately, because some of the hikers weren't really hikers, being clad in flip-flops, Birkenstocks, and the occasional bikini bottom.  Many had trundled up wagons full of food and drink, while little children played next to the cliff's edge. And they were there by the dozens.

Future Search and Rescue client
It is testament to the splendor of the Blue Pool that it retains its awesomeness and beauty despite being so loved to death. Lane and I spent a leisurely stop admiring the pool's blue color and seeming tranquility. Of course, that tranquility was interrupted when a young man jumped off the cliff and into the pool. He swam to the other side and had to execute a barefoot climb up a steep rocky slope-cum-cliff to return to the trail. Yikes, no small wonder people get killed and injured here (no exaggeration) every year.

We got to spend some quality river time
Anyway, after a lengthy photo shoot and lunch overlooking the pool, we resumed hiking down the McKenzie River Trail. The trail went rocky here as it followed the river on a forested lava flow and we frequently stepped aside for a steady stream of hikers heading up to the Blue Pool. From several cliffy viewpoints, we enjoyed nice views of the McKenzie River cascading at the bottom of the canyon.

Still some rhododendrons abloom in the forest
Eventually, the trail descended to river level for a close-up view of the river. Across the river, blackened snags from last year's fire dotted a fire-singed slope. When this fire was burning, the trail was closed but people were still hiking to the Blue Pool anyway, so law enforcement resorted to ticketing anybody that parked at the trailhead. You could almost call the citations "Darwin Awards". But on this overcast day, there was little or no danger of forest fire.

Tumbling McKenzie River
So, now Lane and I are both familiar with the trail, so we shall make the proper left turns when I lead the hike in a few weeks. "What could possibly go wrong?" and I should never give voice to that question.

A slightly calmer McKenzie River
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. It's been years since I've hiked here. Judging by the number of recent trip reports on the Portland hikers Facebook page, this is a popular place to visit.