Saturday, November 2, 2019

North Umpqua Trail (Jessie Wright Segment)

Well, things were certainly a bit chilly on this early November morn! Jackets, ski caps, and mittens were items de rigeur down at the bottom of the North Umpqua River canyon, unless you're partial to frostbite. Things weren't always this cold, though. In the summer of 2017, part of the Umpqua Complex Fire(s) raged on the Jessie Wright Segment of the North Umpqua Trail (NUT) and the fire scars were visible throughout the hike. While we could have certainly done without the destructive wildfire, to be honest I wouldn't have minded rubbing hands together over a still-smoldering ember or two.

Lots of jackets, gloves, and ski caps on this crew

Fifteen humans and one dog commenced this hike with a short walk along the North Umpqua Highway. Since the trailhead parking is at the Marsters Segment trailhead, we had to cross the river on the roadway to get to the Jessie Wright trailhead. Upon setting feet on a real trail, the scars from the fire were immediately apparent. The fire here had been somewhat beneficial for although it killed the saplings, the older trees survived, proudly sporting scorch marks upon their trunks as a battle scar. In essence, the fire just cleared out the undergrowth, an aspect of wildfire that is actually good for forest health, although the slain saplings might object to that characterization.

A cold river of cold water on a cold morn

We all hiked pretty quick, for the the season was in that cold little space between fall and winter, but the exercise warmed bodies, minds, and souls. The sun was out and the sky was clear but unfortunately for us, the sunlight did not reach the bottom of the cold river canyon. The grasses and leaves close to the ground were dusted with a light coating of frost and the air was cold and nippy. But while the weather was wintry in some aspects, autumn still had a thing or two to say about that.

We hiked through fireweed patches that were dying off

The fall season was well represented by red and yellow leaves still hanging on the maple and dogwood trees. The first frosts of year had signalled to the bracken ferns on the ground that they too had to turn yellow and they so obliged. Dense patches of fireweed, already gone to seed, were beginning the winter shutdown process by browning out and dying off. Below the trail coursed the North Umpqua River, the waters looking black and cold as an ice queen's heart and definitely not tempting hikers in for a quick dip.

Mushrooms huddle together to keep warm

Mushrooms and fungi thrive in a post-burn zone because the dead trees provide ample food for fungi family members; it's like a decade-long all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy. Normally, the fungi organism is just a threadlike root existing underground until it's time to further the species by the process of reproduction. The mushroom or fungus that we observe above ground or on a tree is the reproductive organ, so to speak. In our area, it seems the peak breeding season for fungi is in November and accordingly, we observed all manner of fungi figuratively going at it on logs, fallen trees, standing snags, and on the mossy ground.

Trees both live and dead, post-fire

The trail climbed up to a point high above the river and stayed there as morning headed into afternoon. By the time we reached our turnaround point at Boulder Creek, the sun was rising over the tall ridges flanking the river and our hearts were gladdened while our bodies were warmed by the glorious light. It was nearly an anti-winter political statement when we defiantly shed outer layers and basked in the noonday sunlight. Begone, o tyranny of wintry chill, don't frost on me!

A dogwood basks in the warm sunlight

Jay and I soon lagged behind, our progress happily slow as we photographically enjoyed the autumn day now that sunlight reached our side of the river. The forest was by now bathed in afternoon light with lengthening shadows slanting through the trees. Sunbeams were hijacked and appropriated by vine maples sticking branches and leaves into the light, like somebody warming their hands over a smoldering ember. 

The North Umpqua River on a chill autumn day

In the morning leg of this hike, the river had a cold and forbidding appearance, running black in the absence of sunlight. But in the afternoon sunlight, the river was now colored dark green with white-watered rapids running bright and white. The sun also lit up what leaves remained with the big-leaf maples trending to yellow, the dogwoods to red, and the vine maples every available color from the warm end of the spectrum. The trail and forest were eminently beautiful, particularly coming as it did, after a wintry morning.

C'mon sun, you can do it if you try!

Poor Jay. He hails from Gujurat, India where the winter temperature might get down as low as 70 degrees. And here we were, hiking in the mid-40's, one of us clad in shorts and a T-shirt, the other clad in a parka, ear muffs, muffler, scarf, mittens, and battery-powered warming socks. Just about when he was beginning to question his moving to Oregon and becoming friends with me, we reached the trailhead and the car heater restored his happy good nature. It would be another three months before I could persuade him to go hiking with me again.

Dogwood colorizes the forest

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

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