Friday, August 16, 2019

North Umpqua Trail - Calf Segment

When the alluring siren song of higher elevations call in summer, you’re not likely to find me on the North Umpqua Trail (hereafter referred to as the NUT). There's nothing wrong with NUT's 78 miles of consistent beauty but familiarity breeds contempt so they say, and perhaps that’s why I end up on other trails during the summer. However, when the weather turns wet and cold, it's time to set scruples and high-minded snobbery aside, and let the poor orphaned NUT once again become a favored cool weather go-to trail. Despite my snooty attitude about hiking the NUT in summer, I uncharacteristically found myself on the Calf Segment of the NUT on a late summer day just because and for no other discernible reason.

Autumn cometh!

Autumn was politely rapping on summer’s door with eviction notice in hand, but not so fast with the due process of law there, we're in still in the grace period! There were still plenty of plants around that were not anywhere near finished with summer. For example, water hemlock was still flowering as if it was spring, although the plant also did sport seed heads all knotted up like macramé done by a man with two left hands. Fireweed had already gone to seed though, their fluffy cottony seeds floating on just the slightest breeze provocation. The surrounding vegetation was mostly green but there were some red and yellow colored hints that the coming fall season was just around the corner, mostly in the form of big-leaf maple, vine maple, and poison oak leaves.

Fireweed seeds, ready to sail away on the slightest air current

The weather was pure summer, though. The sun was bright, the sky cloudless, and the temperature bordering on out-and-out hot. All that heat shining down upon a flowing river at the bottom of a canyon, not to mention all that forest and rampant greenery on either side of the river, turned the trail into veritable sauna. It didn’t take long for me to become a wet and drippy mess of sweaty goo as I hiked along the trail.

The deep and shallow end of the North Umpqua River

Silt occludes the river in winter and spring, imbuing the river with a stunning turquoise color. At summer’s arrival however, the river flows clear and the color tends toward a deep and vibrant aquamarine. Because of the clarity, I could clearly (pun intended!) see a deep chute carrying the bulk of the river’s current while a foot-deep covering of water ran over a rocky shallow. Uneasy lies the head that wears a kayaker's helmet but on the plus side, you can certainly see what sunk your kayak.

There were still plenty of scars from the 2002 Apple Fire.

In 2002, the Apple Fire destroyed a lot of the forest that used to occupy the Calf Segment. Nearly twenty years later, the forest is well on its way to recovery but there is a noticeable dearth of shade in the middle of the four-mile Calf Segment. On a positive note, the lack of trees facilitated some nice views of the river flowing on the bottom of its canyon and of the surrounding mountains, some covered with forests and some covered with snags, depending on whether fire had visited that slope or not.

Welcome to Boulderville

In some distant epoch that occurred long before my little visit here, large boulders had rolled down to the bottom of the canyon from some unseen cliff hidden in the forests above. And I do mean large, some of these boulders were as big as a scion’s manor. It must have been a huge noise when the boulders tumbled down from above and I hope to never have to witness such an event unless it’s from a safe distance away. At any rate, many of these boulders are now permanently bathing in the blue-green waters of the North Umpqua River, snagging logs floating down the river during the spring flow. And here's a bit of random babble: In a hip, slangy way it’s kind of cool to refer to the North Umpqua Trail as the NUT but nobody refers to the North Umpqua River as the NUR, which would just sound kind of dumb. Moving on, now.

Vine maple trees provided green shade

The Calf runs end-to-end from Panther Creek to Calf Creek and sideswipes Horseshoe Bend in the process. The trailhead at Calf Creek is the logical turnaround point and a trail sign says the Panther Creek Trailhead is 4.75 miles away. Yet, the sign at Panther Creek says Calf Creek is 4.5 miles away. I have noted this before but there you have empirical proof that the trail is always longer when heading back to where you started from.

A rough-and-tumble section of river

Whatever the mileage, it was back from whence I came and my pace was much more relaxed (or slower, some would say) not just because it was pretty darn hot but also because the sun was now shining directly on the North Umpqua, illuminating and enhancing the clarity and color of the pristine water. The trail goes up and down along the river and there was no shortage of viewpoints from which to stop and snap some photographs and/or wipe the sweat off my brow.

Need another forest fire (not!) to create a view of Horseshoe Bend

The heat was the only downer on the day but on the main, this hike was simply gorgeous, serving up a crystal clear river flowing in a canyon, and ample vegetation and forest growing along the trail in the places that were untouched by fire. I really should make it a point to pencil in a summer NUT hike more often, just not on such a warm day.

Water hemlock seed head, all tied up in knots

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

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