Sunday, June 14, 2020

Pine Bench

Back in the day, when I used to be gainfully employed and not slothfully retired, Jay was a co-worker and (still is) a friend and on occasion, he joined me on a hike or two. Regretfully, his time here in the United States is coming to a close and he will be returning to Gujurat (in India) in a few months time. That leaves us just a narrow window of opportunity to get some more hikes in and we availed ourselves of that very thing on a sunny weekend day,  heading up to Pine Bench for Jay's first official wilderness hike, seeing as how Pine Bench is sited squarely in the middle of the Boulder Creek Wilderness.

Can't say we weren't warned
Last time I was in this area, the Bradley Trail had been heavily infested with vile and loathsome ticks. Naturally, a different and more civilized route was called for and that would be on the Soda Springs Trail. However, the road to Soda Springs was gated shut so by default, we were going to hike on our old overpopulated-with-ticks friend, the Bradley Trail. 

You could just feel the ticks hiding in the brush

Apparently, they don't have ticks in Gujurat, for Jay was asking what they looked like. I took a look at the Bradley Trail stretching in front of us and if anything, it was about 200% more overgrown with brush than a month prior, when I had last set foot on the Bradley. "Don't worry" I replied "I'll show you one when we stop for one of our frequent tick checks". It was a foregone conclusion that we would be plucking off hundreds, if not thousands, of the accursed eight-legged blood-sucking fiends.

Candystick adds a bit of sweetness to the hike
If having to worry about a veritable universe of biting ticks wasn't attraction enough, the trail was not only encroached with tick-friendly buckbrush, but with poison oak as well. Shoot, all we needed to complete the trifecta of itchy misery would be dense swarms of mosquitoes, but fortunately we were still a bit early for mosquito season. I've trained Jay well, and he was able to readily discern and avoid the itchy fronds of oily poison oak leaves as we hiked.

Moss claims all that does not move,
ticks claim everything else
Besides being brushy, the Bradley Trail was rough in tread as we sidehilled across like-named Bradley Ridge, testing the mettle of both sets of ankles. Basically we were heading downhill to an intersection with the Soda Springs Trail. And when we espied the orange waters of the springs gushing in the woods below the rough tread, the two trails met, right on cue.

Rock formations in the forest
So, we had been dealing with ticks, poison oak, and rough trail, what other element of a Richard Hike was missing? Hmm..."Oh I know!" he said, snapping his fingers for emphasis.  Yup, we hadn't hiked uphill yet, it was time to remedy that. The trail is pretty steep as it climbs away from Soda Springs and before long, legs and their respective owners were soon complaining about the grade. Some would say legs and their respective owners were whining, even. 

This area sees frequent fires
This area has been ravaged by at least three large forest fires in the last twenty years or so and fat chance of any forest growing in the basin below Pine Bench. So, no shady succor for us as we trudged steadily uphill in the warm sun that we had been ignoring during our forest time. Despite all the dead trees standing ghostlike on the rocky slope, there was plenty of life as the land attempts a recovery from fire. Sun-loving vegetation flourished on the open slopes on either side of the trail with enough enthusiasm to severely encroach the trail. And regrettably, the vegetation was dominated by the tick-friendly buckbrush and requisite tick checks were performed every fifteen minutes or so.

The parklike setting of Pine Bench
Pine Bench is a beautiful place and it's pleasantly flat, a genuine plus after the rigorous uphill pull to get there. The frequent fires have cleared out the underbrush and the mixed stand of ponderoas pines and Douglas fir generally survived the wildfires. So basically, you have a shady forest standing in a parklike setting of green vegetation and tall trees.

Sadly and truly, this is the Pine Bench Trail

I must say, I was really disappointed in the condition of the trail. In keeping with the theme of the day, the trail was heavily overgrown with tall grass and more tick checks ensued. It's too bad, because when the trail was kept up, Pine Bench was such a great hike in the Boulder Creek Wilderness. Despite our grousing about all the itchy travails of the hike, Pine Bench did still retain its beauty but it would have been nice to hike on a trail that was much easier to follow than this one.

Ticks can cause dementia

We ate lunch on the rim of Boulder Creek's formidable fire-ravaged gorge and appreciated the scenery as we ate. Across the gorge rose Spring Mountain, Harding Butte, and Illahee Rock, with a lookout tower perched atop like a fez on an Ottoman soldier's head. But we couldn't stay there forever and besides which, ticks were patiently waiting for us on the four miles or so of trail between us and the car. Don't want to disappoint our fans, do we?

Pine Bench overlooks the North Umpqua River canyon
We had been both lucky and vigilant so far, managing to pluck off ticks before they did any damage. But on the long climb on the Bradley Trail, maybe about a half-mile from the finish, I heard a keening wail behind me. Seems Jay had found a tick on him. Worse, said tick was embedded head first in his abdomen and I think Jay thought the wound was fatal, to judge by his panicked hyperventilations. No big problem though, the tick was promptly removed, and all was well again except for maybe the deep-rooted lifelong mental scarring from the experience. 

Survived his one and only tick bite
My philosophical take of this little incident is that during its short stay underneath Jay's skin, the tick no doubt drank some of Jay's blood. After the odious creature was extracted, it was unceremoniously hurled down a steep slope off trail. Eventually this particular tick will die and like all things do in the end, will gradually decompose into the ground. Part of the molecular structure of the tick will include the small bellyful of blood, so it's like Jay can never leave Oregon. In a way, the tick bite was a good thing but I doubt Jay agrees with me on this last point.

Beautiful section of trail untouched by fire
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. Yes we must agree with you, seems like most trails are in bad shape since no one took care of them with this covid stuff. Just makes it a little more challenging!