Saturday, January 23, 2021

Baker Beach and Alder Dunes

Several years ago, I was looking for a new trail out on the Oregon coast, somewhere I'd never been. Such places are a rare find for me because it seems like I've hiked on every trail in southern Oregon that there is to be hiked on. While not necessarily true, my desperate search for a path which had never felt the glorious stomp of an O'Neill boot led me to a late night Google Earth perusal. Whoops, there it was! In the Alder Lake area, was a faint path bisecting a grouping of small dunes collectively known as Alder Dunes. Of course, the sketchy path disappeared from the prying and spying satellite eyes in outer space when it entered dark patches of forest. Maybe I was overly optimistic but it did not escape my attention that what presumably was the same path also exited the forest. 

Berry Creek reaches the end

Later, my friends were dragged onto my new trail and apparently Lane liked that hike (and what's not to like?) and so he penciled a repeat Alder Dunes adventure onto the Friends of the Umpqua's schedule. It was like a Richard Hike without any of the awesome responsibility of well, being responsible, so I went along for the sheer joy of hiking on sketchy trails. Because of the faint trails and network of braiding game paths, Lane insisted everybody hike together instead of our usual laissez-faire approach of everybody hiking at their own speed. Doing that in these conditions greatly increased the likelihood of finishing with the same amount of hikers we started out with, although the head count was complicated by one hiker joining us mid-hike and one other having to leave us due to a flat tire discovered at the trailhead.

Hiking is fun!

Beginning at Dune Lake, which has no dunes nearby, we grabbed the faint path into Alder Dunes, which has no alder growing nearby either. But if we only named places after nearby natural features, then we'd be starting from Lake Lake and hiking through Dunes Dunes, wouldn't we? The smallish expanse of Alder Dunes was bordered by a thick forest and our path immediately faded into the heavy vegetative undergrowth. Even though some hikers were just a few feet in front of me, they too were swallowed up from sight by the dense greenery. At times the way was discerned only by picking out the spot where the scratchy brush was marginally not as thick, like a trail had once been there several decades ago.

Mushrooms surprisingly thrive in the sandy dunes

After a few quick walk-by perusals of some seasonal ponds and lakes, the loose network of horse trails, game tracks, and social paths spit us out onto Baker Beach Dunes. Wide and expansive, just like me, these are real dunes and we enjoyed hiking along the edge thereof in the morning sunlight. It's actually a pretty cool hike to follow the edge of the dunes but we had a different task today, chiefly to hike over to Lilly Lake.  

Berry Creek, with the end in sight

Lilly Lake is a prominent landmark in the Baker Beach area but you can barely see the small lake, for it's well hid by a thick cover of cattails and reeds. Much cooler, vista-wise, is the Berry Creek Loop and after visiting Lilly Lake, we hiked around puddles of water standing on the trail overlooking the wild hinterlands of marshes, swamps, dunes and wide Berry Creek itself. I've stepped over shallow Berry Creek when hiking on nearby Cape Mountain and it's hard to reconcile that diminutive trickle with the near-river arrogantly sashaying through the marshes just before ending its journey on the beach.

Lane demonstrates the proper climbing technique

Back when I took the club on this hike wilder than most, we returned by bushwhacking through the marshes. A hidden sinkhole claimed Edwin and I as victims and the swim killed my camera. In keeping with the adventuresome aspect of this trek, Lane took us up the dunes flanking Berry Creek, but prudently avoided the marshes (and at least one sinkhole!) lurking behind the dunes. The creek had cut the dunes like a giant knife halving sandwiches (dunes...sand...sandwiches, get it?), and it was actually quite the challenge to climb up a sheer cliff made out of soft shifting sand. 

Sadly and truly, this really is the trail

From there it was a short walk atop the dunes crest on small ad hoc paths weaving between hummocks of beachgrass swaying in a light breeze. And after that mild adventure, it was a return, all of us together in one group, through the faint trails in the forest and dunes. It sort of reminded me of kindergarten where we had "If lost..." name tags enumerating our vitals such as school, parents, and our parent's phone numbers. Maybe next time I lead a hike, I'll insist on everybody wearing such tags, but then Mrs. O'Neill might have to claim me.

They say on dark stormy nights you can hear
her mournful cry "Where is the #$%@ trail!"

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

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Dellenback Dunes (Hall Lake Route)

At December's commencement, I was well poised to reach my yearly goal of 500 miles but unfortunately, sort of ran out of gas due to weather, sore knees, and life stuff. Still, I wound up with 469 miles hiked in 2020 and that's respectable. But here we are in a brand new year and this was the first hike of the year. Brand new year but still some travails, apparently. On this particular hike at Dellenback Dunes, I felt a sharp pain somewhere "down there" that left me feeling teste, pun intended. After a post-hike round of tests and stuff, turns out I am the proud father-to-be of a brand new baby hernia which would explain the burning pain in my groin. And just to clarify, this particular burning in the groin is the kind you get when you are sixty-four years old and not the cool burning in your groin you get at say, age twenty-four. Anyway, I dispiritedly erased my 2021 goal of 500 miles off of the message board hanging in the kitchen. Hernia surgery and the requisite period of post-surgery recuperation will do that to a mileage goal.

Across the dunes we go!

Dellenback Dunes is one of those places I seem to hit pretty regularly and since I've been hiking eons, I've visited the sandy expanse an eon's worth of times. To keep from getting bored, I try to find a different route to keep the dunes interesting and while I had done the version that connects the John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead with Hall Lake several times, most of the attendees on this Friends of the Umpqua hike had not, allowing me to experience the freshness of the hike by listening to their complaints about the endless mountains of sand we were hiking up and down.

This hike provided lots of quality "Whee!" time

There are basically like five mountain ranges of sand running between trailhead and lake and the first slope is one of the steeper ones. The day was overcast, but we were all soon quite warm from the exertion of hiking up steep slopes of soft sand. On the plus side, the steep drop-off on the other side of the crest was fun to watch as hikers ran down the slopes in ebullient glee like first-graders exiting the classroom for recess. Although, nobody could match the exuberance and joy of canine friend Gus, who ran back up the slope solely for the delirious pleasure of running back down again. Me, I just calmly walked down the sandy slopes because like the day, I too am gray and chill.

Spirits of forests past

Our second "little" hill was through a ghost forest, a highlight of the hike. It's hard to imagine a forest growing in what seems to an entire Arabian peninsula of sand in Oregon. Yet, there they are, the bones of several dozen dead trees half buried in an arborescent graveyard, with the top half of the trees serving as grave marker and headstone. This arboreal necropolis is a reverential place and we stopped to mourn the trees' loss of life and generally just ponder the meaning of it all. I'm not sure how a mini-forest of evergreen trees ever managed to grow tall in the middle of all that sand but you can't argue with the spirits of the dead manifested on the crown of this sandy crest.

Our lunchtime view of Hall Lake

After several more ups and downs on several more tall alps of sand, we arrived at the slope overlooking Hall Lake and stopped to admire the vista for a bit. Hall Lake sits on the dividing line between coastal forest and stark dune and accordingly, the east side of the lake was heavily forested while on the west side, the tall dune we were eating lunch on sloped directly down to the dark waters.     

Not looking at any dang yardangs!

The Hall Lake overlook was the culmination of the 4th climb up a steep slope of sand so several of our party opted to hike return by way of that dune crest while the rest of us tackled Dune Number 5, which was the meanest one out of the whole bunch. But Dune 5 is the coolest, scenery-wise, for the combination of rain and wind had carved the damp sands on the dune crest into all sorts of sculptures (known as yardangs) resembling random pyramids and temples. Those with cameras explored the yardangs while those without lowered their heads and toiled up the steep sandy inclines, oblivious to the splendors of the sandy ramparts and revetments sited just below.

Linda leads the mad charge across the dunes

After the dune descent, we were happy to be hiking along the edge of the behind-the-beach marshes until the main body of our group grabbed the trail to the beach. Linda, Don, and I opted to return directly to the trailhead at this point. Don and I have each recently lost a close family member, so naturally in the middle of this celebration of nature and life, the main subject of our conversation was death and dying. But it was therapeutic and helped mute the increasing pain in my lower side. Stupid hernia, anyway.

A veritable Mount Rainier of sand looms on the horizon

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