Friday, June 14, 2019

Lemolo Falls

Despite the profound enjoyment received from hiking, one should always be aware there is always an ever present element of danger in any given hike. There are so many ways to get into trouble, from falling trees to landslides to being robbed by rude deer. In my view however, the most dangerous part of hiking is the drive to get there. A recent case in point was on the drive to the trailhead near Lemolo Lake. I was tootling along in that happy empty-mind mode of driving when I felt something crawling on my middle finger. WASP!! I tried shaking it off but the lethally armed insect desperately clung to my middle digit. Finally I just sort of rolled it around between my fingers, frantically scraping it off onto the floor before it could sting me. The malevolent bug was indestructible however, and I could see it already crawling up the car seat to reclaim its rightful throne on my finger. At that point I decided to do the smart thing and pull over and deal with the wasp in a more prudent fashion. It was right then and there I noticed the car drifted across the center line but fortunately no onrushing cars were in the vicinity to further complicate an already complicated situation. Come to think of it, the forest might be safer than the real world!

Ho hum, just another spectacular cascade
That's not to say that the great outdoors does not have it's risk, though. But a lot of trail safety involves risk management decisions, with the outcome dependent on those decisions. For instance, one time I was hiking in the desert when a dreaded rattling sound emanated from the dried grasses in my feet. Rather than scream and flail, I stopped and calmly assessed the situation, located the snake, and made the right move to get out of its venomous reach. But then there's times where in hindsight, I have to ask myself what I was thinking of when deciding what to do, and that was the story on this hike. Spoiler alert: not that big of a deal (this time) and all turned out well but I wanted to make the point that smart people can do dumb things sometimes, like on this hike. 

Small springs seeped onto the trail

Dumb people do smart things on occasion too, and the smartest thing done on this day was simply to get out onto the trail on a warm spring day. Wanting some quality river time with an extra large helping of massive waterfall to go along with, I selected the North Umpqua Trail from Lemolo Lake to Lemolo Falls as the lucky trail of of choice. As the footpath descended through lush woods, it quickly became apparent this would be a good photography day.

A twisted stalk flower hangs like a spider from Mars
The trail was dropping down into the North Umpqua River canyon and the slopes on the right were adorned and bedecked with copious amounts of wildflowers and the slopes on the right had a rushing mountain river flowing below the trail. What to to take photos of? Why, everything, of course! And that again is the story of why I hike so slow.

Columbia windflower plays affable host to a longhorn beetle
It was mostly a white flower slow, with star-flowered Solomon's seal, Columbia windflower, vanilla leaf, inside-out flower, and yellowleaf iris all contributing from that end of the color spectrum. For a little variety in color, columbine (orange), candy flower (pink, sometimes), wild rose (pink, again), and rhododendron (eminently pink) contributed to the floral rainbow. I hardly ever see twisted stalk flowers but did run into a couple of flowering specimens on this hike, their spidery looking flowers dangling below their leaves like so many alien pod babies.

This bug was extremely camera shy
Bugs were crawling all over the vegetation and I added longhorn beetles, lacewings, and one strange bug (who was most camera shy) to my photographic inventory of insects great and small. That shy bug clearly could see me and rotated behind the plant it was on, doing his best to hide from camera view. I finally reached around with one hand and got a quick picture when it split the difference between hand and camera. Still don't know what kind of bug it was, though.

The North Umpqua River, all hike long
The North Umpqua Trail is 78 miles long and I have hiked on most (but not all, amazingly enough) of those miles. The river is not always visible for all of those miles but can be seen often in bits and pieces in many trail segments. However, this river section is one of my favorite river views on all the miles of the NUT that my feet have trod. Here, the river leaps from pool to pool, often doing the leaping via the photogenic medium of scenic cascade or noisy white-watered chute. On a warm day (like this one), the cool air emanating from the river and frequent cascades are always appreciated by overheated hikers.

Thundering Lemolo Falls
After a mile and a half or so, a loud roar announced the presence of Lemolo Falls. The river was still carrying the spring volume so accordingly, the falls were at their cascading best. There is a trail on the other side of the river that provides a great and unimpeded view of the falls but the trail is short so I've never seen it from the other side. From the North Umpqua Trail you get a partial view of the upper half of the falls, although you can get a better view by bushwhacking down a steep slope, holding onto trees for support as you do so. Any complaining about the view being less than all of the falls is just whining in my opinion, for the trade-off is you get a longer hike on the beautiful North Umpqua Trail.

The rhodies were putting on a show
The path below the falls was quickly overtaken by tall rhododendron bushes putting on a spectacular show. The trail was festooned with pink rhodie blossoms and an already slow hike remained slow but the photography was fun. Eventually, the trail dropped down to river level downstream of Lemolo Falls and now we get to talk about the bridge crossing the North Umpqua River.

It was a lot worse than it looked
In years past, a stout wooden bridge crossed the river. Over time and floods, logs began to pile up against the bridge supports. First it was one log, then two, then several and then many severals. You could see the bridge flex and cant to the downstream side with all the weight and pressure of the backed up logs and clearly, it would be just a matter of time before the bridge let go.

Time to walk across a very shaky bridge
The Forest Service sent in a crew to remove the logs and build a stronger bridge. It took some time but the new bridge was made out of metal and was indestructible. Well, at least until a tall tree fell on it. So there I am, looking at this mortally wounded bridge with a "Closed" sign on it and really it didn't look that bad, so I decided to go across. In my defense, if you look at the photos, it really doesn't look that bad, but appearances can be ever so deceiving. The closer to the point of impact, the more the bridge leaned toward the river, and it moved and trembled unsteadily under each of my footsteps. Clearly, this was not the smartest decision I've ever made but at least I did get to the other side of the river unscathed. But, boys and girls, please do as I say and not as I do and avoid scrambling across broken bridges that have "Closed" signs on them.

One of many cascades on the river
I only went about a mile further before backtracking and renegotiating the Challenge of the Bridge. By this time the day had warmed up enough to be considered hot, and it was all uphill to the car. It was still a slow hike, but now my snail's pace had little to do with Mother Nature but more to do with Auntie Gravity as I trudged uphill. Before I began the drive home though, I made a thorough inspection of my car for more wasps, just in case. You see, I do practice safety, except for maybe when it comes to bent and broken bridges.

Random whitewater shot of the North Umpqua
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.