Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Blacklock Point

Of the six hikers in our little group, only I knew the secret route to a hidden epic viewpoint overlooking the Oregon coast north of Blacklock Point. Naturally, it was incumbent upon me to lead us all on a scrubby and cliff-hugging journey to Mother Nature's observation deck. As we worked our way through cruel growths of scratchy brush, somebody asked "Are you sure you know where you are going?" and my cruel heart was immediately gladdened. Nice to know I still have the touch, even on a hike that I was not formally in charge of.

The Oregon coast calls, and I must go

I've been to Blacklock Point like a million times or so and have had plenty of miles in which to experience Blacklock's many moods, ranging from icy windstorms to stifling heatwaves. Today's offering was sunny and mild, with just a hint of windy bluster (just like me!). Given the cool and wet conditions so prevalent on the coast on most any given day, we gratefully accepted the bright and breezy bounty from the weather gods.

The difference between evergreen and perennial, illustrated

Things got off to a little bit of an awkward start when I tried to find the path running behind the runways of nearby Cape Blanco.  A faint track overgrown by thorny gorse discouraged most of us from taking the loop route to Floras Lake and after a brief discussion (mutiny, really) it was decided by majority vote that 1) the hike would be an out-and-back and 2) nobody should follow me down any further overgrown paths that might otherwise arise during the hiking of this hike.

There were whole entire worlds inside the puddles

The trail from the airport to the Oregon Coast is an old road and as is an old road's wont, potholes had formed on the dirt road. And as are potholes' wont, over time they had grown larger and then had filled up with water during recent rainy weather, testing hikers' mettle and determination both. And as are hikers' wont, an unofficial system of footpaths were illegally braided through the brush for the express purpose of walking dry-footed around the bodies of water. While I'm not particularly averse to hiking with wet feet, some of those puddles were large enough to host a yachting regatta, so we used the detours like everybody else.

Light beams slice through the forest

The Oregon Coast Trail basically contours along and atop the coastal cliffs keeping the ocean from overrunning the rest of Oregon. Apart from occasional bushwhacked-to overlooks, most of the hiking was through dense coastal forest, the trees twisted into phantasmagorical shapes by the near-constant sea breeze. It was both dark and light in those woods, with sunbeams slicing through the deep shade like giant light-swords wielded by angry samurais. The air was slightly misted which provided some heft to the sunbeams and I soon lagged behind, completely engrossed with the light show.

The footing was treacherous on this bridge

After a walk of several miles, made slightly longer by side trips to several coastal overlooks, the trail dropped down to a small creek. There usually is a small wooden footbridge spanning the creek but given the proclivity of winter rains, the span is often transported downstream in one piece or sometimes in many pieces. On this day, the rustic bridge was found intact but downstream. A test step revealed that the small span was somewhat slippery so I opted to just get across the creek with one long-legged stride.

Hiking on a beautiful day

We ate lunch on the beach, sitting on driftwood logs while debating whether to continue walking on the beach all the way to Floras Lake. The tide was receding but the sea was still an angry seething cauldron of turbulent water and there was not a lot of beach between watery maw and unyielding cliffs. Several years ago, a hiker and his young child had tragically lost their lives there so our consideration was indeed somber and serious. It was eventually decided to turn around and catch Blacklock Point on the return leg.

Life on the edge

So, it was back the way we had come, through the same old dark forest accentuated by the same old bright sunbeams. Halfway back to Blacklock Point, I led my gullible and trusting comrades on the previously mentioned bushwhack venture to the epic viewpoint. From atop an ochre colored bluff, cliffy ramparts marched in stately procession for many miles north before fading into the misty distance. Waves continually broke at the edge of the vast blue ocean and nearby rocky Battleship Bow imposed its bulk and will upon the beach below. As a bonus, a small waterfall trickled over the cliff's edge and splashed onto the beach below. The awesome scenery was well worth the many aspersions cast in my direction to go along with the scratches.

See Blacklock Point?
Me, neither!

At Blacklock Point, we only had a few minutes to enjoy the view of the craggy point and its chain of rocky islands. While we were there, a fog bank rolled in from the ocean and within minutes, Blacklock Point was just a ghostly outline in the mist. I'll have to add thick fog to the catalog of weather conditions I've experienced at Blacklock Point. From the point, it was a perfunctory hike back to the trailhead, bypassing the familiar potholes and puddles. Hearts were gladdened by today's endeavor and also by a stop in Bandon for some restorative ice cream.

The day completes the transition from blue to gray

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Cooper Creek Reservoir

The day before this little outing at Cooper Creek Reservoir, I had hiked on the Bolt Mountain Trail under mostly sunny skies and relatively warm sunlight. The one exception to the summery vibe occurred when I rounded the north side of the mountain, where the temperature dropped precipitously in a hint of things to come this winter. Fortunately, that frigid little interlude was relatively short-lived as I emerged back into the bright sun after a mile of hiking in the cold. Contrast that with this day's hike along Cooper Creek Reservoir where the gray day was as unflinchingly cold as a predator's calculating gaze. Seemed like, at least on this day, the entire world was on a cosmic north-facing slope.

A very calm and quiet lake and morning

This was a hike among friends and the five of us began hiking in easy companionship across the lake's dam, the cold air slapping our rosy cheeks (of our faces, to be clear) like an outraged diva. Winter cometh and noses runneth, and I hadn't brought gloves or a knit cap so right away my fingers went numb and my head went dumb, thanks to the frosty temperature. Because fingers are not overrated, my hands took alternate turns at some quality pocket time, and cold digits were grateful until their time in the warm pocket was up. The runny nose problem was taken care of with perfunctory swipes from the back of my non-pocket hand and I wonder why nobody will shake hands or fist-bump with me.

The lake needs to kick its smoking habit

All members of our party were Cooper Creek regulars since the lake is so close to Roseburg and we get out there fairly often. Accordingly, it was readily apparent to all concerned that despite the recent runs of rain, the lake level was pretty low. Exposed shores or not, the lake was as preternaturally calm and serene as a monk in deep meditation. The scenery was in grayscale though, seeing as how the sky was overcast, and the dark waters of the lake could only reflect back the same overall grayness. Vapor emanated from the black water of the lake as we hiked by, ourselves uncharacteristically matching the tranquility out of respect for the peaceful scene. We also matched the whole vapor-emanating thing too, as our breaths hung in the still air like so many miniscule cumulonimbus clouds.

Salal contributes some local color

The forest surrounding the lake was damp and sodden thanks to the aforementioned recent rains. There were still some vestigial remnants of autumn in the form of colorful blackberry, salal, and wild rose leaves; along with occasional yellow maple leaves still clinging to life and mother tree alike. Where there were maple trees, the path was carpeted with dead leaves underneath and our boots churned the leafy detritus into the muddy trail. The overall dampness on the trail tread created a few unexpected mud-ski and skating "opportunities" for hikers every now and then.

Trail through a damp forest
next to an even damper lake
The morning had warmed up a degree or two as we hiked along the quiet lake but the exertion of hiking was the primary reason for warming erstwhile cold bodies. The trail around Cooper Creek Reservoir is not particularly rugged but does serve up a regular dose of up and down hiking. So, winter cometh but hiking warmeth uth. Tho thorry.

A meadow forms where there once was a lake

Cooper Creek Reservoir is long and narrow, almost fjord-like, and the trail rounded the Cooper Creek inlet end after a couple of miles. As mentioned, the lake was low and the retreating shoreline had been supplanted in turn by a rather vigorous meadow of tall grass, mostly dry and desiccate this time of year. Now heading back in the general direction of where we had started from, we stopped for a lunch and laze at a convenient picnic table near the boat ramp.

The forested part of our hike

At this point we discussed options for the remainder of the hiking route. We could turn around and go back the way we came or we could continue on and circumnavigate the body of water. The circumnavigation could be completed by either a road walk or by bushwhacking along the shore. John, Patty, and I (namby-pambies!) opted for the road walk, which I'd never done before, while honorary he-men Jennifer and Gayle (and canine friend Sammy) opted to bushwhack around. All routes were soon perfunctorily hiked and we all met up at the trailhead in short order.

Blackberry does not have black leaves

The cold conditions on this hike were not necessarily dire but they did serve as warning for what is to come. Accordingly, my day pack has since been restocked with winter essentials such as crampons, mittens, ski cap, balaclava, and a flask of scotch which will almost guarantee that none of those items will ever be needed (excluding the scotch, that's always useful) during a winter hike. That's just how it works. 

Almost too quiet!

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Bolt Mountain

The hiking club was going on a hike to the summit of Bolt Mountain but instead of bolting out of bed (see what I did there?) to join them, I slapped the alarm into submission and returned to a blissful embrace in the arms of Morpheus (meaning I went back to sleep). Afterward, the rest of the day was spent wading in a sad little koi pond of regret, for I had missed an opportunity to get onto a trail on which I'd never been. But while I couldn't undo not hiking with my friends, I could do something about not ever hiking to the Bolt Mountain summit.

A piece of Bolt Mountain looms at the trailhead
A couple of days later on a chilly but sunlit morn at the Fish Hatchery Park trailhead it was only me and the mountain, just a nut and Bolt on a fine day for hiking. Whereas my friends had spent their day hiking in fog, I walked under a clear blue sky and enjoyed great views of the surrounding countryside all hike long. Serendipity! See, I must have known what I was doing when I decided to sleep in!

A forest reflects in a slow moving creek
The trail initially descended on an old road bed through some pleasant woods with trees mostly stark and bare. Oak leaves still sported some of their autumn finery as I scuffed along on a path covered in maple leaves long since dropped from the trees. At a rock-hop crossing of a barely trickling creek, the trail then angled uphill and there'd be no more downhill hiking until the return from the summit.

Still some autumn going on, thanks to the oaks
The trail was well-manicured and groomed for the most part, although the rocky tread did impart an element of roughness to the path. It would be about 1,200 feet of elevation gain and while the trail was uphill the whole way, the grade was mild and not particularly daunting. Occasional open spots in the forest provided ever expansive views of pastoral farmlands surrounding the nearby Applegate River.

The trail angles up through a thin stand of Jeffery Pine
Per the BLM's Bolt Mountain brochure, the soils here are comprised of serpentine, a nutrient-poor mineral that is endemic to the Siskiyous. Accordingly, the woods were comprised of hardier species such as madrone, oak, cedar, and Jefferey pine. On the sunny side of the mountain in particular, the stands of Jeffrey pine were sparse and the slopes covered with only dry grass underneath.

Madrone berries collect some morning dew
Smooth, orange-trunked madrone trees were found all over, happy to thrive in the drier conditions found on the mountain. While madrones are evergreen and as a result, non-participants in the autumn festival of color, this time of year they are heavily laden with grape-like bunches of red fruits as if they were already celebrating the upcoming Christmas season.

Please O sun gods, send sunlight to warm my cockles!
For the first half of the uphill hike, the trail had inscribed a back-and-forth route up the south-facing slope of Bolt Mountain. Eventually the trail rounded the north-facing side and commenced a spiral route to the summit. The north side was shady and the temperature dropped noticeably, sending me into a frantic rummage through my pack in search of a jacket. A nearby madrone giant sent up two large trunks that resembled arms raised to the heavens, as if desperately beseeching the sun gods to send some warm sunlight its way. I too may have done some similar beseeching of my own at that point.

Who says there's no view from the summit?
The trail returned to the wonderful world of sunlight with one last push to the summit. The mountaintop itself was not much to look at, just a bare spot ringed by thorny ceanothus bushes and stunted cedar trees. However, the hike up Bolt Mountain is all about the view anyway and the unassuming summit delivered on that end. Bolt Mountain is surrounded by much taller mountains rising above the river valleys and farmlands, and all are eminently visible from the peak. Grants Pass lay in its valley floor below with the mountains and canyons of the Rogue River extending beyond the city. Clouds clung to nearby high ridges while the sky was mostly blue around Bolt Mountain itself. It was a huge payoff for relatively little work.

Ants have hairy butts
All good things come to an end and sometimes those ends are followed by some more good things. The easy descent down to the trailhead afforded me the opportunity to play around with my macro lens which is something one can do when not having to keep up with friends. Accordingly, much up-close lichen, fungi, and ant photos were taken and thanks to the awesome power of the macro lens, I now know ants have hairy butts. By now, the morning had morphed into early afternoon and winter shadows lengthened underneath the trees which in turn led to the macro lens coming off and going back on with some frequency.

Christmas tree, Bolt Mountain style
Alas, all the hiking fun came to a close upon arrival at the trailhead, and I was quite pleased with my first Bolt Mountain experience. In perusing a trail map post-hike I noticed there is (allegedly) another trail accessing Bolt Mountain beginning from Stringer Gap. Funny, I didn't really notice another trail intersecting today's route to Bolt Mountain but hey, I think I just found another reason to come back. Unlike my friends, I'll just make sure not to do it on a foggy day. 

Sunlight illuminates a madrone leaf
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

North Umpqua Trail (Hot Springs Segment)


Last year, the Friends of the Umpqua's outing on the North Umpqua Trail's Hot Springs Segment had been all about the autumn colors. It was Halloween weekend and the weather had been gloriously sunny, the sky inspiringly blue, and the forest brilliant with fall colors. I happily hiked as one with the elements, because I too am bright and flamboyantly colorful. However, this year's hike was the exact opposite. Three weeks of rain had knocked most of the leaves out of the trees, the temperature was on bordering on cold, and the overcast sky rudely dumped water on our heads. What a difference a year makes!

Colorless grubs and crawly things

Beginning from the trailhead at Toketee Lake, ten hikers warmed up with a pleasant up and down ramble through a dimly lit forest above the mostly unseen river. This section was all green with ferns, moss, Oregon grape, and a whole forest comprised primarily of Douglas fir. The dark forest seemed to be darker than usual though, thanks to a gloomy gray sky overhead and a general scarcity of sunlight. Underneath the trees, we scuttled in the low light like so many colorless grubs and crawly things slithering away from underneath a freshly overturned garden stone.

The Golden Path

After a bit, the trail dropped down to the North Umpqua River and commenced one of my favorite sections of trail. Here the path follows the river and in autumn, is blanketed with a thick layer of fallen leaves. Just follow the Golden Path, Richard, and you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams, the richness in this case pertaining to the glorious autumn vibe. When not ambling beneath maples and their fading leaves (mostly on the ground), the trail wound its way through a cathedral of tall firs flanking either side of the trail and I gaped in reverential awe like some humble pilgrim finally reaching his sanctified destination.

Trees (and maybe a hiker or two)
get buried by the leaves

As mentioned, the forest floor (and trail) were shag-carpeted with a thick layer of leaves. Already, the processes of decomposition and soil regeneration were well underway. Individual fronds of Oregon grape and ferns had snagged some of the fallen maple leaves which were now decomposing on the evergreen plants and shrubs. The contours of fallen trees of seasons past were barely visible underneath mountains of accumulated leaf litter. Mushrooms and fungi of various ilk and specie were taking advantage of the decaying biomass and just generally thrived all over.

The North Umpqua Trail gently
climbs up to Deer Creek

At just under the two-mile mark, the North Umpqua Trail egressed onto a forest road and the path then resumed on the other side of the river. The only uphill hiking commenced here, but fortunately it wasn't daunting at all, just a steady climb through a lush and tangled forest. Here, the North Umpqua Trail diverged from the North Umpqua River but Deer Creek happily took the river's trailside place and burbled merrily somewhere down there in the forest below. As I hiked through the bucolic scenery, the peace and quiet of the forest was suddenly interrupted by John hiking in my direction with an obvious limp. Uh-oh.

Final score: This little creek 1, Knees 0

Up ahead there is an unnamed creek that was just a trickle last year. This year, it was running vigorously and enterprising hikers had fashioned a primitive creek crossing made up of branches and rocks. One of these rocks broke in two when John stepped on it, causing him to have an unwanted sit-down in the creek. Also unwanted, was a knee bending the wrong way and John had to take his sprained joint back to the trailhead, one gimpy step at a time.

Deer Creek flows under the hiker's bridge

After making sure John was in reasonable enough shape to hike back without assistance, I continued on to Deer Creek, my turnaround point. Everybody else had continued on to Columnar Falls but because I had lagged behind, this hike had turned out to be more photo shoot than hike so Deer Creek was as far as I would get. At the stout metal and wood bridge spanning the stream, I took a moment or two just to simply appreciate the beauty of the creek approaching from upstream, well on its way to joining forces with the North Umpqua River. 

Natural leaf arrangement on a log

Shortly after turning around and heading back, the ominous gray clouds delivered on their threat to rain on us. The day darkened considerably and the pitter-patter of raindrops and the surround-sound hiss of millions of raindrops striking millions of fallen leaves were a soothing counterpoint to the rhythmic noise of my boots swishing through the leaf litter cloaking the path. Since I was now ahead of everybody else, I took my appreciative and thankful time as I walked, while valiantly trying my best to keep the camera dry.

New arrival

It was a short wait at the trailhead before everybody else began straggling in, all wet and bedraggled like my dogs get when I've forgotten to let them back in the house on a rainy day. The day was now dark and gloomy with that hint of cold that says winter is on its way, and all hikers, including me, were rain-soaked and sodden. Despite the discomfiture caused by the inclement weather, nonetheless I had happily hiked as one with the elements, for I too am gloomy, gray, and chill.

A family of mushrooms make
a happy home on a rotting log

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

Friday, October 15, 2021

McKenzie River Trail (from Belknap Springs)

No matter how meticulous or painstaking the planning, sometimes things just do not go as intended. Improvisation is often the saving grace of a given hike and the unpredictability makes hiking fun, as long as it's good unpredictability. An unexpected trail closure that forces you onto a trail you'd never been on can be an enjoyable adventure, as long as you don't do something stupid like twist your ankle on the new trail. Gratefully, no body parts were injured on this hike, but because my intended route on the McKenzie River Trail was closed due to wildfire damage, I was forced mid-hike to come up with a new plan on the spur of the moment.

The cold and forbidding waters of the McKenzie

Uncharacteristically (for me), the hiking festivities started early morning, the sun had not yet risen high enough to shine down into the river canyon. Winter is coming and dang, it was cold. I could barely feel my fingers and the cold air made me rue my newly shaved head. If my ears could talk they'd be clamoring for me to immediately don a ski cap before they freeze and fall off my hairless head.

Autumn decorates a bridge railing

Initially, fallen trees covered the trail so I improvised (theme of this blog!) by walking down to Belknap Hot Springs Resort and then through the nearby campground full of still snoring campers. A short cross-country walk from an empty campsite then put me on the McKenzie River Trail proper, where the campground "scenery" was exchanged for a forest lush and light green, the understory being comprised of dense vine maple growth just starting to turn yellow.

The river takes a moment to
reflect on the meaning of life

The McKenzie River was nearby, which only makes sense, given that I was hiking on the McKenzie River Trail. The river surged dark and foreboding in the deep shade, the waters exuding an icy aura that did not even come close to inviting a refreshing swim. In the quiet parts, the surface of the river was like polished onyx and the autumn colors and what little sunlight there was reflected on the river and artfully colored it up. 

Bridge crossing at Boulder Creek

In quick succession, a pair of rustic footbridges crossed over an unnamed creek and Boulder Creek. The unnamed creek's bridge was one-railed, causing me to place an inordinate amount of trust and faith in my left hand and arm. Boulder Creek's bridge has the proper amount of rails (two!) but the creek had very little water pooling between the many boulders in the creek bed. I could see where Boulder Creek joined with the McKenzie but the unnamed creek just disappeared into the rampant greenery encroaching the creek bed. And thus ends this random tale of two creeks which much like this hike, rambled aimlessly.

A moment of Zen

I knew the Knoll Fire had trashed the McKenzie River Trail at Deer Creek, causing the Forest Service to close that section of trail. What I did not realize was that the line of demarcation for the closure was not at Deer Creek itself, but at Deer Creek Road instead. That closure site meant that my intended 8 mile hike was now going to be a 4 mile hike. The barrier itself was just a wooden sawhorse with no explanation attached and I could hear my hiking buddies saying "If you can walk around it, it's not closed!' (We had discussed trail closures on our last hike). But I believe in playing nice with the USFS, so it was back the way I had come, pondering how best to come up with some additional mileage.

Sunlight filters through the leafy woods

Duh, the McKenzie River Trail runs in either direction from Belknap Springs Trailhead. So once I reached the trailhead, it was a simple matter of crossing the road and continuing west on the trail. Now, my preconceived notion was that this trail section basically hugged busy McKenzie Highway and was generally uninteresting. Boy, was I wrong, wrong enough that I am even putting it in writing right here in my blog.

The trail wound its way through an
entrancing and captivating forest

The forest on this part was beautiful and eminently sublime. Ample greenery abounded, although the greenery was not entirely green-leafed, thanks to vine maples turning yellow or red, depending on the sunlight. Lush growth flanked the trail, the usual suspects being Oregon grape, salal, and all the ferns you could ever hope to see on a day hike. Not to mention, tall maple and conifer trees kept the hike shady and whatever sunlight made it down to the forest floor was of the dappled variety. 

Arrival at Lost Creek

The trail rapidly descended down a forested ridge crest that peeled away from the now unseen river. My reward for all that downhill hiking, besides having to hike back up, was a scenic bridge crossing at Lost Creek. The creek didn't look all that lost, as it joined the McKenzie within eyeshot of the bridge. The stream coursed in the bottom of a pronounced canyon and was nearly wide enough to be considered a river. The bridge seemed a good place as any to turn around at, and back up the trail I went, happy with the discovery of another totally awesome hike, thanks to an unexpected closure and some improvisation.

This portion of the McKenzie River
Trail invites further exploration

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