Saturday, October 27, 2018

Castle Creek Trail

So, when I get behind in posting my hikes, I set up a skeleton post and type in a few words to help jog my memory for when I do get around to writing about the hike. Accordingly, on my last hike on the Oregon coast I typed in the notes:

Angry ocean, high surf warning
Got caught by a sneaker wave
Incoming storm

Fungi, reclaiming some of that
decaying biomass in the forest

Sounds like a moody poem or almost a haiku, except the number of syllables don't quite meet the definition of haiku. But after I wrote those memory-jogging notes to myself, I inadvertently pressed the "Publish" button and that dire and gloomy missive posted directly to my blog. I had no idea until several weeks later, Glenn and/or Carol asked me if I was OK and if I managed to outrun the wave and make it back safely home.

A day damp and dreary
My first inclination was to wax sarcastic and say "No, I was swept to sea as I was typing what you read. I couldn't finish because the ocean water ruined the laptop I always take with me when I hike, and besides which, I'm dead!" But because I generally try to mimic socially acceptable behavior, I instead thanked Glenn and/or Carol for their concern, and promptly deleted the very strange blog post.

Water drops, just waiting to soak my legs
Now, there are several ways to look at this situation. First, only one person follows my blog and cares about me. Or, many people follow my blog but only one person cares about me. Or, that person follows my blog and since he and/or she waited a couple of weeks to perform a welfare check, he and/or she doesn't care about me at all but does have a delayed morbid curiosity. Things to ponder, to be sure, but the one truth in all this is that there is not much point in having a blog if you are not going to blog in it so here we go about my hike on the Castle Creek Trail, located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. Right now, as I type this, it is early February and this hike was done in late October. I do have some catching up to do now, don't I?

Trail through a slightly singed forest
I had hiked the Castle Creek Trail several years ago and the trail was faint and sketchy back then. After several years of neglect and after a large forest fire swept through the area in the smoky summer of 2017, I harbored no expectations of following a wide and well-maintained trail. Not surprisingly, my low expectations coincided exactly with the sketchy and overgrown reality on the ground.

The forest was quiet...too quiet
One surprise though, was that while the fire (part of the North Umpqua Complex Fires) singed the trees and cleared out the underbrush, the forest was pretty much left as it had been before the fire. In fact it was pretty hard to see in places whether a fire had actually been here or not. But it had, and already vegetation had robustly grown back over the trail, adding to one of the recurring themes of this hike.

Plenty of opportunities to hone the
fine art of water-drop photography
It had rained on the drive up but it never would rain on me during the hike. However, the vegetation was soaked, and since the vegetation encroached the trail, water was then transferred from bush to hiker via the mechanism of wet hiking pants. On the positive side though, I got to practice and further hone my skills at photographing water drops on leaves.

Tried to see sunlight but I mist it

Besides my wet legs, one other overriding impression was how quiet it was in the forest. Normally, there is an aural backdrop of animals pitter-pattering and chitter-chattering, but not on this cold and damp day. The forest was quieter than a classroom during a vector calculus final, but with much less mental anguish. The reason probably had to do with the local fauna either starting to hibernate or perhaps migrating to lower elevations in advance of the impending winter.

I wet my pants!
And winter it was, for any hopes I had of continuing my run of spectacular autumn hikes were quickly dashed by a splash of cold water from a near leafless but twiggy bush brushing up against my pant legs. Apart from a few dogwood trees with a handful of orange leaves fluttering with the slightest air current, autumn had already come and gone. I really couldn't dwell on the changing of the seasons though, as much of my attention was intently focused on discerning where the footpath was ahead of me.

See the trail?
Me, neither!
In some places, the trail tread was eminently visible and in others it was as faint as the runes carved on a prehistoric monolith. At least it was all downhill as the trail gradually dropped down into the Castle Creek canyon, the creek becoming more and more audible along the way. But it was getting cold. And wet. My pants were so soaked that when I brushed against encroaching shrubbery,  I could feel rivulets of water running down my legs. I hadn't felt that sensation since that time in kindergarten and the liquid was a lot warmer back then, and enough said about that. At any rate, I was beginning to feel the chill so I turned around at the 3-mile mark, about a mile short of actually reaching Castle Creek.

Peace like a forest
Of course, no sooner than I started walking back to the car, the sun did break out for a bit, simultaneously taking care of both excess moisture and cold temperature. Still the same old uphill trail to the car, though. Despite all the my sniveling about wet vegetation and cold temperatures, I really did enjoy this hike. The forest was beautiful and peaceful, two of my favorite reasons for hiking.

The morning rain made sure
this hike would be a wet one
As far as whether I escaped the sneaker wave or not, my readership (apparently consisting of just Glenn and /or Carol) will have to read my blog at some future unspecified date to find out. For more pictures of the Castle Creek Trail, though, please visit the Flickr album.

Despite the rain, I was really lichen this hike

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Upper Rogue River Trail

The latest installment of my Southern Oregon Autumn Tour continued with a rather colorful hike along the upper Rogue River, one of my favorite places for hiking in what might be my favorite season for doing so. This time though, I was leading a Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club outing so no quiet introspective hike for me today, I had responsibilities and people to look after.

The Rogue River seethes in a narrow gorge
Nine hikers began the hiking day at the Rogue Gorge overlook and it was immediately obvious that today was just going to be glorious. The sky was deep blue, cloudless, and best of all, the air was smoke-free (wildfires had smoked out a lot of hikes this year). Despite the ample sun, the temperatures were mild enough to prevent overheating yet warm enough to encourage hiking in shorts. The gorge was a good way to start the hike off, with the Rogue River seething at being so constrained in the narrow defile. 

The story of this hike
After oohing and aahing at the gorge, we grabbed the Upper Rogue River Trail and followed the river for the next 4 miles or so. The river alternated between boisterous rapids and peaceful pools but was always photogenic. I was leading and counting heads, so not much photography ensued, unlike my customary hiking norm. Unlike the previous day's hike on the North Umpqua Trail, where vine maples were the star of the show, it was the dogwood trees serving the color buffet this time. The bright pinks and reds were striking, especially when contrasted against the cobalt blue sky. I must confess that some photography did ensue every now and then.

The Rogue River was always nearby
About two miles into the hike, we crossed the Rogue on a footbridge spanning the river where it roiled in the narrow confines of a collapsed lava tube, as unhappy at the confinement as King Kong in a shipping crate. Some more photography ensued of the river zigzagging in the narrow crack. From there, we'd hit the only uphill part of this hike.

Forest, as we huffed and puffed our way uphill
The Upper Rogue River Trail left the river briefly, heading up and over a forested ridge. Here, it was all about the vine maples, not that we noticed all that much as we huffed and puffed up the brisk climb. We did run into a family huffing and puffing in the opposite direction and they asked me if I knew where Natural Bridge was. "Yeah," I replied, "it's where you started from, it has a fence around it and a sign that says 'Natural Bridge' ". Call me sarcastic but to their credit, they continued on, planning to do the loop back to the tourist attraction, and good for them is what I say.

Cascade on the Rogue, near Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge is where the Rogue River disappears into a lava tube only to emerge about 75 yards downstream. It was busy with tourists enjoying the geological oddity on a fine autumn day, but nonetheless it is amazing to see a river vanish from sight before your very eyes. Also, Natural Bridge has restrooms and picnic tables and we availed ourselves of the amenities, stopping for lunch and a rest before continuing our journey.

Just a beautiful day for a beautiful hike
I just couldn't stand it anymore, I just had to give in to my photography muse, so I announced to the club that I would be leading from the rear. The route back was uncomplicated, all hikers had to do was keep the river on the left side, so I wasn't particularly worried about losing any on the return leg.

Impressionist watercolors
So, the next four miles (for me, at least) were spent on the sunny side of the river, admiring and photographing all the dogwood and vine maple trees one could ever want to focus a camera lens on. The river ran mostly placid, the autumnal reflections blurring like some impressionist painting. You just can't beat art by Mother Nature. 

It was nigh Halloween
A disconcerting or humorous moment took place when I was walking on a sandy patch of trail. A movement on the ground caught my eye, it was a spider and the thing was as big as Portland. It too, was out for a hike, and was walking at speed. I got ahead of it, lay down on the trail, and began taking photographs of the creepy-crawly beast. Click, click, click...I was getting some nice shots when I realized it was about to walk onto my face. Gah! I back-crawled spastically and staggered to my feet, totally creeped out but laughing aloud at my sudden discomfiture.

Autumn on the Upper Rogue River Trail
Well, I wound up with plenty of photographs but hiked slow enough that I halfway expected to find skeletons and cobwebs waiting for me at the parking lot. But no, all my peeps were happily taking in the Rogue Gorge again, so I heard not one complaint. Life had indeed been good on this hike.

As red as an irate tomato
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, October 19, 2018

North Umpqua Trail - Hot Springs Segment

The North Umpqua Trail wanders along next to its namesake river for 78 miles and in some future year I WILL backpack the entire route. The last three years, fire has kept me from doing this very thing but maybe 2019 will be the year. Because of the proximity of the North Umpqua Trail (hereafter referred to as the NUT) to Roseburg, I have hiked on most of the NUT but there are yet three pieces of trail that have yet to be graced by an O'Neill boot. Before the hike covered in this brilliantly written blog post, it had been four bits of unhiked trail, but I did manage to cross the Hot Springs Segment off the short list on a beautiful autumn day.

Moss covers all that does not move
The Hot Springs Segment is a relatively short 4'ish mile long section of trail that connects the power grids (there are a number of hyrdroelectric projects and diversions in the area) at Toketee Lake to the naked bathers at Umpqua Hot Springs. Depending how you look at it, both ends have their pluses and minuses, and I should be more circumspect about using the word "ends" in close sentence proximity to "naked bathers". My preconceived notion of the Hot Springs Segment had been that it was a fairly utilitarian segment of trail and thereby not particularly worthy of hiking on. After this gorgeous hike, I'll have to admit that I was wrong (for the very first time, ever).

Rock formation in the forest
Luna (my dog) was mindlessly happy to go hiking, whether the trail be utilitarian or not. I was a little more doubtful but had to admit that the hike got off to a nice start. Toketee Lake was like glass and reflected the surrounding mountains nicely. A footbridge crossed over the North Umpqua River where it poured into the lake, and the trail on the other side of the span headed uphill into a dense forest. 

Mushroom eats what moss does not
In hindsight, the forest was comparatively drab when compared to the forthcoming autumnal delights yet ahead of me, but I enjoyed the greenery surrounding the trail anyway. Mushrooms were sprouting everywhere and moss covered all that did not move. The cedar and fir trees were encrusted with lichen clinging to their trunks. 

Leaf-covered North Umpqua Trail
Vine maples were in full autumn swing, but in the deep shade the colors were a rather subdued pale yellow. That began to change when the trail dropped down to river level. The increased sunlight (not that I felt any of the sun's warmth on the shady side of the river, but that's just me whining) had the vine maples and dogwoods sporting a more vibrant autumnal palette of bright red, orange, pink, and yellow hues. 

Dew formed on leaves and hikers alike
The river moisture sustains an ample supply of moss which grew everywhere, and even though it was mid-morning, the day was at dew-point. Water drops condensed out of thin air and formed on nearby vegetation, dogs, and hikers. You could really feel the moisture in the atmosphere, and I could certainly feel the moisture on my pants legs as I waded through the damp vegetation. When the trail got close to the river, Luna was unleashed for quick sip and dips and she was also became quite wet. It almost felt like we were hiking in the interior of a water balloon.

Trail tunnel
However, the trail eventually peeled away from the river and we quickly dried out as we hiked on a trail covered with fallen leaves. The colors were entrancing and much photography ensued, making our hiking pace quite slow, much to the chagrin of a certain dog who hikes a lot faster than her incredibly handsome owner.  

The North Umpqua was always near
At about the two-mile mark, the trail egressed onto gravel Forest Road 3401 and crossed over to the sunny side of the river on a road bridge. Aah, now this was living! The sun warmed us both up and layers were shed and I converted my pants to shorts by zipping off the lower leggings. The trailhead here had a fair number of cars parked there by hikers looking for a slightly longer walk to the hot springs. 

Bright colors on the sunny side of the river

Autumn was simply awesome on this section of trail. The colors were astounding, made even more so when illuminated in the sunlight. I daresay that at times, the very air was glowing orange underneath the vine maples. And lest the vine maples hog all the fall glory, taller big-leaf maple trees were glowing bright yellow against a cobalt blue sky while dogwood contributed bright colors somewhere between pink and orange to the autumn ambiance. Much photography ensued.

Put your tongue in, I'm trying to take a picture of you
A brand new bridge spanned Deer Creek and that was our turnaround point. Over the last few years, the bridge had been taken out by falling trees and floods. Accordingly, this version of the bridge was brand new and you could still smell the creosote on the planks. Around the bridge, trees had been cut down and the logs were stacked up next to the creek, hopefully this iteration of the bridge will last longer than its predecessors.

Why we hike
On the return, the afternoon sunlight slanted through the forest and shadows were cast longer and longer as the day waned. At the end of the hike, I was kicking myself, wondering why I had never hiked this segment of the NUT before, it had been pretty spectacular. Now, if I can only get to backpack it in summer of 2019. Wish me luck!

Fungal collection
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Sahalie and Koosah Falls

With eyes bleary and ears still ringing after the previous night's concert by The Deer, Jay and I slid out of the car and began lacing up our boots at Carmen Reservoir. Early morning drives to trailheads preceded by late nights of loud music, followed in turn by the labor and toil of hiking: this being semi-retired sure is hard work!

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
- Albert Camus -
On the McKenzie River Highway are a couple of parking lots that allow the car crowd to take a short walk to overlooks of spectacular Sahalie and Koosah Falls. The parking lots are way too small to handle the thundering hordes of visitors and cars parked along the highway are an all too common sight, especially on a nice day. However, if one (or two, in this case) were to hike the McKenzie River Trail on the opposite side of the river, one (or two) can take in the views of the thundering cascades and still retain the illusion of having the place to one's self (or two's selves?). As an added bonus, several miles of beautiful McKenzie River can be enjoyed on a genuine dirt path (the trails on opposite side of the river are paved). As an added added bonus, fall is an incredible time to hike on the McKenzie River Trail, due to the colorful show put on by the vine maples growing rampantly by the river. 

"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
as I have seen in one autumnal face."
- John Donne -
Overhead was a clear blue sky as we set foot on the trail, yet the temperature was mild and just perfect for hiking. Sunlight filtered through the forest, illuminating the maple leaves which were colored somewhere between yellow and green. Songbirds chirped musically in the branches and my soul was filled with general all-around happiness. And all this from the first step onto the path! It's nice to appreciate one's (or two's) surroundings but one (or two) needs to get moving if any distance is to be covered.

“And the sun took a step back, the leaves lulled
themselves to sleep and autumn was awakened.”
- Raquel Franco -

Once in the forest, Jay and I were soon busy taking photographs of every colorful leaf, or so it seemed. Obviously, our pace was going to be quite slow as each photograph had be shown to the other hiker and much bragging about cameras commenced. Jay's camera could take awesome panoramic photos but I could take those exquisitely slow shots of the river. While the subject was vigorously debated, this is my blog so I say I had the better camera and took the better photographs. 

Koosah Falls thunder next to the trail
In less than a half-mile or so, a loud roar permeated through the forest, our first clue that we were about to reach Koosah Falls, still thunderingly impressive despite the relatively low water volume in the river after a dry summer. We scrambled off-trail down to a viewpoint atop a cliff with a dizzying view straight down to the splash pool. Mist from the falls filled up the canyon below, and the walls were covered with green moss thriving in the perpetual damp.

The clarity of the McKenzie River was amazing
The source of the McKenzie River is the Great Spring above Clear Lake. At the spring, the McKenzie bubbles up out of the ground, filtered and purified by miles of lava soil as the river emerges after its underground journey. We were just several miles downstream of the McKenzie's fount, and we had ample opportunity to observe the stunning clarity of the water. There were a number of pools, each tinted a dark sapphire blue with green moss growing at the edges. Did I mention already that our pace was slow due to the near constant photography going on?

Somewhere over the rainbow
A short hike from Koosah Falls brought us to Sahalie Falls, equally impressive. In fact, Sahalie Falls might get the nod for Most Beautiful Waterfall of the Day, if only for the fact that a rainbow was glowing brightly in the mist in the splash basin. Again, we bushwhacked down to a precarious overlook and admired the falls while taking photographs thereof.

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird I would fly about the Earth
seeking the successive autumns."
- George Eliot -
Now that there were no more falls to hike to, we focused our attention on the more subtle aspects of the McKenzie River Trail. Actually, the subtle aspects were not all that subtle as every colorful leaf called out to both of us "Hey, take my picture!" We obliged and as previously stated, our progress was slower than that of a slug with a limp.

Nature's bubble bath
Lest we get bored with the autumn finery on the vine maples (and we weren't), the McKenzie River also commanded our attention. The trail ran above a number of pools and rapids where the river leaped and bounded over large boulders and drop-offs. One pool was fed by a photogenic cascade and was well aerated with bubbles from the splashing cascade. We didn't opt for a quick bubble bath though, it was sufficient enough just to sit for a couple of minutes and contemplate the beauty in the river.

"The trees are about to show us how
lovely it is to let the dead things go."
- Unknown -
After a couple of miles, the trail crossed over the river on a stout wooden bridge and then the McKenzie was temporarily left behind as the route crossed the McKenzie Highway and headed overland to Clear Lake. The woods were pleasant as the shadows lengthened in the afternoon sun. When we reached scenic Clear Lake, we also began ro run into a lot of fellow hikers, as the crystalline lake is a fairly popular weekend destination.

Watercolor painting
At Clear Lake Resort, it was decision time. We wanted to continue hiking around the lake for an 11'ish mile hike but it was getting late in the day. We did the math and figured out that we'd be returning in the dark so our choice was pretty much made for us: we'd head back the way we came, for a respectable eight-miler of a hike.

- Richard O'Neill -
For variety, we returned on the well used trails on the highway side of the river. Ah, the feel of asphalt under our boots! Yes, the trail was paved in places and the river viewpoints were fenced and railed to discourage off-trail exploration of the falls. Jay and I bushwhacked anyway to the top of Sahalie Falls for a look-see. Yeeh, the view was dizzying as the falls thundered very close and one errant misstep would deliver hikers to the splash basin in a hurry. While we were there, a couple came by for a look and the dude got on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend. She said "yes" in case anybody was wondering, you  just can't say "no" at the top of Sahalie Falls.

The McKenzie River, as the daylight faded
When we had hiked earlier on the McKenzie River Trail, the day had been nice and sunny. But now, the sun had slid behind the canyon walls and it was getting to be both dark and cold. But that's what ISO settings on the camera are for and we still continued to bushwhack down to the river for shots of the turbulent white water where the river careened down the canyon. Oh, and there were those two waterfall thingies too; we availed ourselves of the strategically sited (and railed too, darn it) viewpoints to admire and photograph the roaring cascades of Sahalie and Koosah Falls.

Cascade on the McKenzie 
We returned to the trailhead at Carmen Reservoir at pretty much sunset, fully sated from a scenic hike on a perfect day. For more photographs of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.