Thursday, June 25, 2020

Hershberger Mountain

The last time Edwin invited me to hike with him to Hershberger Mountain, we inadvertently made a wrong turn and ended up at the incorrect trailhead. Rather than backtrack on a windy road, we decided to hike to the mountain anyway. Fourteen miles later, Mark and I decided Edwin's trail name was Sir Edwin the Cruel. In Edwin's defense though, that death march rendition of a hike was eminently beautiful throughout. So, when Edwin invited me recently to go revisit the scene of the crime, it was not without some trepidation that I accepted the invite. Cleve also joined us, probably only because he was unaware of Edwin's history as a hike leader.

Two old-growths, one of whom is Cleve

Well, I'm glad to report we managed to arrive, as we should have, at the Cripple Camp Trailhead but yikes, what a drive to get there. Trees had fallen all over the road and while the Forest Service had cleared the road, the basic driving mode was to continually cringe for ten miles as branches raked and scratched the side of my vehicle. It almost made me want to go to the wrong trailhead and do the longer hike again.

Windflowers ruled the shady part of the forest
Fire had visited this area a couple of summers ago but who cares when the forest is as beautiful as this one was, burned or not. From the trailhead, the trail ducked into a forest that had been singed in a few places but was mostly green with live trees and a consistently lush and vibrant carpet of vegetation and wildflowers evenly distributed on the forest floor. Columbia windflower was the dominant flowering specie, although yellowleaf iris, queen's cup,  and columbine made a valiant effort to wrest flower supremacy from the windflowers.

The building inspectors examine Cripple Camp Shelter
After just about a mile of hiking gradually uphill through the shady forest, we made a right turn at an intersection with the Acker Divide Trail. After the drive to the trailhead on that rough road with ample evidence of a mass falling of trees, I'm glad to report that surprisingly enough, the trail was relatively clear of trees and the hiking fairly easy at this point. Shortly after grabbing the Acker Divide Trail, the three-sided wooden Cripple Camp Shelter came into view and we stopped to examine the rustic shelter like the ad hoc building inspection crew we were. As a general observation, these backwoods shelters also shelter a healthy population of rodents that can creep out a would-be sleeping camper, so maybe we should have put on our pest control hats instead of our building inspector badges.

Forest, in recovery from a wildfire
The shelter is sited at the top of a large meadow and meadows would become an ever increasing theme on this hike. Surrounding the shelter was a small stand of massive old-growth cedar trees and speaking of old growths, all of us senior hikers were duly impressed! Surrounding the stand of cedar giants was a forest that bore the scars of the fire from a couple of seasons ago. Burned forest would also become an ever increasing theme on this hike, to also go along with the meadow motif.

Toad Lake, soon to be renamed Toad Meadow?
Toad Lake is basically a small wet spot in a very large meadow. Judging from fresh scars seen on a hike here about ten years ago, it looked like there used to be a beaver dam at the head of the meadow. A freshly ravaged gully indicated that maybe the beaver dam let go, draining Toad Lake and converting it into a meadow, no doubt disappointing all the toads that claimed the lake as their own. But no complaints here, because who doesn't love a large green meadow underneath an expansive blue sky?

Pup Prairie in all its green glory
The basic tenor of the hike at this point was a steady uphill grade through forest, then through meadow, then forest again, and repeat until the end of Pup Prairie. While all the meadows were nice to look at and all, Pup Prairie is like the Emperor King of meadows when compared to the cute little grassy pastures we had previously hiked past.

The trail went faint in Pup Prairie
Sprawled on a sloping hillside below Hershberger Mountain, like a large green comforter thrown over a dowager queen's shoulders, Pup Prairie was definitely the non-Hershberger highlight of the hike. Acres and acres of knee-high greenery with lupines, louseworts, columbine, and baneberry attracting the bees, butterflies, spiders, wasps, hoverflies, and one certain hiker with a camera to their colorful wildflower displays.

Baneberry ruled the open meadows
At the lower end of the prairie, a nascent Lonewoman Creek coursed by while all sorts of little runoffs drained Pup Prairie into the creek. After splashing across the creek and entering a severely burned forest, we began the work in earnest of gaining the elevation requited to attain the summit of Hershberger Mountain.

Some of that climb to the summit
The trail roughly gained about 650 feet in about a mile from Lonewoman Creek to Hershberger's summit. That's roughly about a 13% grade for those interested in doing the math. All I know is I trudged with my head down, periodically wiping sweat and tears from my eyes on the slog up. About halfway up, the Acker Divide Trail ended and we finished off Hershberger by hiking up the dirt and gravel road to the summit. At the top of Hershberger sits a small wooden cupola of a lookout, affixed to the summit like the tiny hat on an organ grinder's monkey. Since all the bad uphill had stopped, the lookout was the logical place for lunch and respite.

Neighboring peaks on the Rogue-Umpqua Divide
So why do we do this? The question is rhetorical but the answer is elegantly simple: We hike for the views, and Hershberger Mountain did not disappoint in that regard. To the west we could see virtually all of southwest Oregon, which was basically a series of rolling forested mountain ranges, culminating in a large fog bank hovering over the coast. To the east were the Cascade Mountains and we played the name-that-peak game, picking out nearby Mount Thielsen, Mount Bailey, and the collective peaks on Crater Lake's rim. Hershberger Mountain sits on the Rogue-Umpqua Divide and we enjoyed neighborly looks at Weaver Mountain, Anderson Mountain, and Jackass Mountain (which was not named after me no matter what Cleve and Edwin say). The twin rock towers of Rabbit Ears loomed directly below Hershberger and beyond were the snowy behemoths of Mount McLaughlin and Mount Shasta. Even without reciting the litany of peak names, it was enough just to sit and soak in the panoramic vista of mountains, valleys, and meadows reposing under a clear blue sky.

Back to the forest, where the mosquitoes await
It was eventually time to head back and we took in Pup Prairie, Toad Lake, and miles of meadow and forest all over again as the afternoon sun slanted through the trees. Mosquitoes were a little bit of a thing too, but while annoying, the airborne insectile vampire armada never rose to the level of requiring an application of Deet spray. It had been a good hike, especially since it was about six miles shorter than the last time we hiked to Hershberger Mountain!

Larkspur added some purple to all the green in the meadows
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. Again, loved your blog. Great way to get out of Covid funk. Thanks, Katchan