Saturday, October 19, 2019

North Umpqua Trail (Hot Springs Segment)

The year before, I had hiked on the Hot Springs Segment of the famed North Umpqua Trail (NUT) and the fall colors were astounding. So vibrant, so colorful, so eminently autumnal, I just had to come back and show my friends what a great fall hike the Hot Springs Segment of the NUT was. Chalk it up to the Richard Hike effect, but naturally on the day of this edition of the Hot Springs Segment hike, it just would have to be a gloomy, gray, and all-around dreary day dumping cold rain on my autumn hike dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It also stood to reason that when the weather gets bad, three people will nonetheless show up for the hike, preventing me from canceling the hike and spending the day indoors, all cozy warm and comfy dry. Props to Lindsay, Tim, and Patti though, for forcing me to "enjoy" a wet and rainy hike in a sodden but colorful forest. 

They don't look very happy to be rain hiking

Beginning at Toketee Campground, we crossed the North Umpqua River on a gracefully arching footbridge and traipsed up and down through a dark but lush forest. The rain was coming down fairly heavy and Oregon grape leaves, fern fronds, and hiker heads all glistened from the accumulated wetness. Autumn was in full song, albeit on the soggy side, and the trail was covered with leaf litter. I always enjoy the swishing sound of boots scuffing through leaves, but that's a sound which does not get made when the leaves are waterlogged.

A beautiful trail on a not so beautiful day

It's hard to pick a best section of the North Umpqua Trail's seventy-eight miles, but the segment after the trail drops down to river level would be a prime candidate. The path is covered by a leafy bower of yellow leaves with colorful forest on one side and swiftly flowing river on the other. When not meandering through dense stands of vine maples, the track weaves through a cathedral-like aisle of tall firs. And always, fallen leaves covered the trail, having been knocked down to the ground en masse by the unrelenting rain. Despite the moisture falling from the sky, much photography ensued, along with muttered apologies to my camera.

The North Umpqua flows through the autumnal woods

Just under the two-mile mark, the North Umpqua Trail popped out onto gravel Forest Road 3401 heading towards Umpqua Hot Springs. Driving there is cheating in my humble opinion, the hot springs should only be enjoyed after a good long hike to get there. Although to be honest, driving to the steamy springs would make more sense on a cold and rainy day, but that's not how we roll. At any rate, we crossed over to the opposite side of the river via road and bridge and resumed hiking.

Decaying leaves make a bridge crossing treacherous

After crossing the rushing river, the trail acquired more of an uphill quality as it began to gain some elevation. However, the rate of acquisition was not all that steep, and it was fairly easy walking except for the rain falling from the sky, imparting the forest with a surround-sound hiss of raindrops striking dead leaves. At about the three mile mark, the stout metal bridge at Deer Creek hove into view and given the wet conditions, it seemed like a good place as any to turn around at.

The forest was full of mushrooms, big and small

After a quick look-see at Deer Creek flowing under the bridge, we headed back and thankfully, the rain began to ease up. The Tim and Richard half of our crew had cameras and per the natural order of things, we soon were bringing up the rear. And can you blame us? Mushrooms and fungi were sprouting everywhere in the damp forest, in all manner of shape, size, and color. And where there were no fungal delights to entertain us, there was an ample amount of fall color thanks to the maple and dogwood trees.

The Golden Road

Since this was an out-and-back hike, we enjoyed the same old beautiful forest and river scenery all over again, the main difference being that we were comfortably dry and generally unrained upon on the return. While dry, we were not necessarily warm as the sky still remained dark and portentous, and the air chill. Hiking in comfortable camaraderie, we enjoyed the simple activity of walking on a leaf-littered path in an arboreal cathedral nave comprised of tall trees. 

"Raindrops keep falling on my head..."

As we neared the end of this hike, we were feeling pretty superior to all our hiking comrades who had opted to stay home. The forest had been sublime, the river peaceful, and the autumn colors spectacular in their own rain-soaked way. But before we reached the end, the heavens opened up and began dumping water on the woods below along with the few people hiking in them. Our friends might have made the drier choice, but we definitely had more fun!  

Deer Creek was our turnaround point

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

North Umpqua Trail - Swiftwater Segment

I'd like to tell you I injured my ankle by valiantly fending off a camp-raiding deer by placing a well-aimed kick right in, that's it, smack between the antlers with my right foot!  Alas, the true story of how I injured my ankle is a lot more mundane and unheroic. On my last hike in the Santiam Pass area, it began throbbing for no reason at all other than it's been walking on rough trails for the better part of 63 years and it's tired of all the toil and abuse foisted upon it by its owner. Forced to accede to my ankle's demands by a serious threat to go on strike for the rest of our mutual lives, I reluctantly caved and granted a fortnight's rest to all parties concerned. But after two weeks of sheer slothfulness and indolence, it was time for both feet to get back to work.

No explanation necessary

It was a beautiful autumn day on the North Umpqua Trail (NUT) and old favorite Swiftwater Segment was the chosen piece of the North Umpqua Trail to hike on. At the west end of the Swiftwater Segment, the BLM has kept up trail maintenance so not only was the well-tended route mostly flat, it was also parklike and both aspects thereof were very easy on a tender ankle. As the trail meandered above the North Umpqua River while tracing a route through dense forest, the parklike aspect was also easy on the eyes and friendly to the camera.

Some of that mushroom ilk and specie

From the western terminus of the NUT, the first part of the Swiftwater Segment wanders through lush forest comprised mostly of Douglas fir. Accordingly, the fall color here was green mixed in with a little bit more green. No russet or golden hues here! Further adding to the pervasive green vibe, moisture in the air emanating from the nearby North Umpqua River provides wet succor to ferns, assorted vegetation, and moss that covers all which does not move. The rough tree bark of the firs also provides a home for mushrooms and fungi of various ilk and specie, with the same being said for various ilk and specie of lichen. This was a maiden hike for some recently purchased extension tubes for my camera, and much time and attention was spent taking macro photos of all the various ilk and specie aforementioned.  

Time for some of that burned forest ambience

The civilized aspect of this trail came to an end when the path entered a burn zone, a souvenir left courtesy of a wildfire from about five summers ago. The track was a little bit rougher and rockier, and definitely less level as the trail climbed up, down, above, and alongside the North Umpqua River. The lush and green forest disappeared, supplanted by acres and acres of a tree graveyard. However, as is its wont, life abounded amid the snags.

Fireweed cotton

Fireweed was thriving on the sunny hillsides and the air was filled with their cottony seeds floating away on the slightest breezy provocation. A new forest is taking root here, and the canyon slopes were color-dotted by young vine maples and big-leaf maples turning yellow with autumn's onset. Fungi were happily engaged in the never-ending project of recycling dead trees to the musical accompaniment of twittering birds chirping at me from the brush as I hiked by. And because there were little or no live trees to block the view, the trail provided plenty of look-sees at the North Umpqua River coursing below.

Autumn is on the way

An unnamed creek had cut a pretty good-sized ravine, now littered with fallen trees toppled by the fire, but a stout footbridge made getting from one side to the other easy and safe. Although for the more daring, a fallen tree also spanned the ravine in tandem with the footbridge. I used the footbridge but back in the day, I would have been sorely tempted by the log crossing. At any rate, just after the bridged crossing and at a little over two miles in, the path returned to the lush and green forest.

Coral fungus, extra close up

Back in the forest, I popped the extension tubes onto the camera and began taking photos of all things small. Accordingly, I came home with lots of pictures of mushrooms, moss, and lichen. The red-hatted fruiting bodies of British soldiers, a distinctive and unique lichen, were an oft-favored photo topic from this outing. Slightly on the macabre side, a detached insect wing lying at a crime scene also made for a macroscopic photographic subject, the crime scene being a bed of moss on a stump. Needless to say, I was not in any particular hurry today.

A beetle naps on a yellowing fern frond

Despite the laconic indulgence of a sixty three year old tot playing with a new camera toy, I could not hike forever and turned back just before the North Umpqua Trail began a rather strenuous climb up and over Bob Butte. That's the good part about having a tender ankle, it's a ready-made excuse for avoiding a difficult hike. So it was an easy four miles back to the trailhead, enjoying all the forest, river, and other scenery all over again as the day wore into afternoon. What little sunlight filtered through the trees nicely dappled the trail and illuminated spotlighted maple leaves in spectacular fashion. And I'm happy to report the ankle in question survived the day's labor so I don't yet need to find a new hobby.

A small tribe of puffballs

For more photos of this hike, Please visit the Flickr album.