Saturday, January 26, 2019

North Umpqua Trail (Tioga Segment) 1/2019

In the summer of 2017, the North Umpqua Complex Fire(s) swept over the Tioga Segment of the North Umpqua Trail, leaving behind acres and acres of blackened forest. Fast forward to January of 2019. when  the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club swept through the Tioga Segment of the North Umpqua Trail and likewise left behind acres and acres of blackened forest. Of course, the dead forest was not the club's fault, we'll assign blame to the nasty wildfire for that.

The creeks were full today
The Tioga Segment used to be the longest segment of the venerable North Umpqua Trail, being 16 miles or so long. In 2012, the BLM constructed the stout and picturesque Tioga Bridge across the North Umpqua River, neatly splitting the Tioga Segment into the Swiftwater Segment and the current incarnation of the Tioga Segment. Prior to the bridge's construction, I had never hiked the middle of the Tioga and I could still say the same after the bridge was put into place. All that would change though, with this hike.

The dividing line between shiver and bask
At the start, the weather really acted like it wanted to rain but before long the sun broke out and warmed hearts and souls, if not bodies. It's kind of a truism that no matter what side of the North Umpqua River the trail is on. the warm sun will be on the other side of the river. Backpackers hiking the full 78 miles of the North Umpqua Trail have been known to begin as tanned individuals and finish the hike with complexions like those of pallid grubs that live under rocks. I exaggerate of course, but suffice to say our hike was spent entirely in deep shade and chilly temps.

We did this often
Naturally, as the trail charged uphill immediately from the trailhead, we became quite warm from the exertion thereof. The trees were mostly dead with trunks blackened by the fire and we had to step and clamber over several that had fallen, which is a common occurrence post-conflagration. Turkey tails were spotted on many of the fallen trees and to clarify, I will point out that I am referring to a fungus and not alluding to the fact that Lane was hiking in front of me. In spite of all the arboreal death and destruction next to the trail, a healthy green undergrowth was already sprouting, well under way in the business of restoring things as they were before the summer of 2017.

Charred rock garden
Another byproduct of wildfires is landslides. Forest is nature's way of engineering land stabilization on sloping terrain. Kill the plants and trees and you kill the the ability of the forest to sop up rain and snow. Without the vegetation to absorb moisture, the moisture goes into the ground, softening it to the point where a landslide occurs. After 2002's Apple Fire, the Forest Service had their hands full keeping the North Umpqua Trail's Calf open because landslides were such a recurring theme after the fire. Let's hope that the same thing does not happen on the Tioga Segment, but back to the hike.

All this talk about landslides is because a big one had taken out a piece of the trail. We could see the path end at the scar and resume on the other side. The trick was to cross the slide itself and so we did, picking our way across the slide scar, soft soil shifting and moving underneath our boots. I'm glad to report, though, no hikers took a quick and wild trip down to the river but yikes.

Thunder Creek waterfalls down to the North Umpqua

Amazingly, the bridge at Thunder Creek survived the fire even though the surrounding woods did not. The creek, as is wont this time of year, was flowing rather robustly, tumbling down to the North Umpqua in a series of pools surrounded by green mossy boulders. The creek drainage upstream of the footbridge was clogged with charred fire debris and this was typical of all the drainages in this area, be the creek large or small.

The North Umpqua is just one step away
We stopped briefly at Elevation Rock, a rocky promontory overlooking the North Umpqua River in its water-carved canyon. Our taking in the view was somewhat on the wistful side for plain to see was the ample sunlight on the other side of the river while we shivered in the cold shade. Virtually one step away was the the green-blue river itself and we made sure to stay away from the edge.

Sooty basalt formations
The fire had done the most damage in the area between Elevation Rock and Fox Creek and the undergrowth had not yet come back in the charred woods. This was a graveyard with the blackened bodies of the trees not yet interred. The woodpeckers, fungi, and other assorted dead-tree eating life forms will no doubt be happy in the years to come. However, the fire did improve the views by clearing out that annoying vision-blocking forest and I never realized there were rocky cliffs above the trail. However, these cliffs were no longer mossy green but blackened with soot.

"It's just a flesh wound!"
Fox Creek marked the rough halfway point of the Tioga, accent on the rough. There used to be an awesome backpack campsite next to the creek but now a large tree lay across the campsite. The bridge had taken a hit too, to judge by the broken railings, but it was just a flesh wound and the bridge still soldiers on, faithfully performing its designated mandate of helping hikers cross from one side of the creek to the other. Also providing double-duty was the fallen tree itself, functioning both as campsite smasher and lunchtime seating.

A small waterfall next to the trail
As we resumed hiking away from Fox Creek, we left the burn zone and entered a forest as it should be. Green was the dominant color and all the trees had those leaf-things that had been in such short supply up unto this point.  Small creeks small-waterfalled onto and across the trail and life was good until the trail rudely headed uphill at a prodigious rate. So cruel.

The river was always nearby
The trail went up and over a wooded ridge in a series of short but sweet switchbacks that had hikers considering getting a new hobby, or maybe it was just me. After the ridge was crested, a whole new set of other leg muscles were set aflame on the descent, as we leg-braked down the slope.

Susan Creek at the end of the hike

Once down to river level, I'm glad to report the trail was flat for the next several miles to the Susan Creek  trailhead. The forest was lush and green and the river was always nearby and mostly visible. Legs began to forgive their hikers at this point and life was good. Despite the fire damaged scenery, hiking on the North Umpqua Trail is always a beautiful experience, steep trails notwithstanding.

An unnamed creek slides down a rock face
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. I had forgotten I was even on this hike until I saw the picture of my backside! Then I remembered the log climbing and the slide.