Saturday, August 21, 2021

Siltcoos Lake

It's a mad, mad, mad world out there, full of yelling, shouting, fist shaking, spittle-spitting, and all-caps rage tweets, and that's just my family! The rest of the screaming part of the world is about as warm and fuzzy as a cave full of buzzing rattlesnakes too. Hiking has always been an escape from that particular riled-up fire ant nest of venom and vitriol but this year, it's been pretty hard to hike. The mountains have been basically off limits because of numerous forest fires and besides which, health problems have slowed me up a bit. Even the reliable coast has been hiker-unfriendly, with valleys and coast cuddling under a blanket of air foul, smoky, and acrid. But on the Siltcoos Lake Trail on a blessedly clear day, it was a joyful healing time spent in "peace like a forest".

Peace like a forest

This particular hike was a Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club operation and about 10 like-minded friends set foot on the Siltcoos Lake Trail on a pleasant Saturday mid-morning. Almost immediately, you could hear a collective sigh of relief and grateful appreciation from all participants. The path headed uphill through a dense forest mostly comprised of tall conifers. At ground level, it was luxuriously cool and shady, and leaves in the rampant vegetation bobbed gently up and down with the slightest provocation of the slightest stirring of air. Small birds were mostly heard as they twittered and flittered through the nearly impenetrable greenery and we all hummed "Kumbaya" in accompaniment.

Fairybell fruits were a common sight

This time of year lies in that amorphous seasonal netherworld lurking between late summer and early autumn (summumn?). Didn't see any colored leaves but fairybell plants were sporting bright orange fruits that caught the attention of hikers and cameras alike. I don't think the fruits are toxic but they are probably tasteless and/or unpalatable as my ex-wife's cooking so I just left them where they dangled, especially since I wasn't sure if they were indeed toxic. Tastier and definitely not toxic, were vibrant red thimbleberries and yes I did indulge.

Conks endeavor to recycle a dead tree

Our little world under the forest canopy was dark green (it was deeply shaded, after all) and it stood to reason that the perpetually decaying biomass on the forest floor would support a healthy population of mushrooms and other fungi. Seemingly, every color, size, shape, and type were represented, ranging from diminutive parasols sprouting in a bed of moss to tough tinder fungus reposing in pine needle duff to woody conks staking their claim on dead tree trunks. Internally I labeled all the fungal denizens as "poisonous" and thereby resisted the temptation to partake thereof. I'm no mushroom expert so it's just safer that way.

Just a beautiful trail all day long

With so many things to photograph, it wasn't long before I assumed my customary place at the rear of the hiking queue. And before long, I found myself hiking all alone in the woods. A moment of consternation came when the trail intersected the loop portion of the hike. Do I go north or south? Which way did everybody else go? Not having the answers to those questions, I recalled from my last hike here that hiking out on the south trail was really steep and taxing so I opted to go down the south trail this time out. Good move!

C'mon sun, dispel those dark clouds!

Enjoying the downhill hiking, I soon caught up to Ceresse and the two of us hiked in easy companionship at our usual turtle'ish speed. When we arrived at the southern backpacking campsites next to the lake, our comrades had already eaten their lunch and were wrapping up dessert. As our friends impatiently waited, held hostage by Ceresse and I leisurely eating our lunch, we all enjoyed a nice view of Siltcoos Lake from the campsite. Although, the sky was covered up by a layer of ominously dark clouds. It wasn't going to rain, was it?

Gnome plant, macro version

Near the campsite were a couple of saprophytic plants, not to be confused with mushrooms or fungi. A small patch of pink fleshy-colored gnome plants and pale white vampiric-looking Indian pipe vied for ownership of the same fertile patch of earth. Since we spotted both sets of specimens growing next to the trail, we'll call it a draw. Saprophytic plants lack chlorophyll to make nutrients from sunlight, so they partner with certain fungi to parasitize on certain plants, like salal. Professor O'Neill expounded on these amazing plant specimens while his captive pupils fidgeted restlessly, hoping the bell would ring soon.  

It sure looked like it might rain

After lunch, we made the short walk over to the northern set of backpacking campsites. I really must come and spend a weekend here, the hike would be short but those relatively luxurious campsites are an attraction in and of themselves. The north campsites provide better access (and views) to Siltcoos Lake and we stopped for a moment to gawk once again at the lakeside scenery. The clouds had gotten darker and despite an optimistic weather forecast, the foreboding dark cloud cover made us wonder once again if rain was indeed in the offing. 

Logging scar from yesteryear

The hike out on the northern loop trail was not bad at all, the grade was gentle and easy on the quads, unlike its southern loop sibling. The sun came out and dispersed most of the clouds and some sunlight filtered down to trail level. The mottled light in the forest was entrancing and we could only imagine what it had been like before the original old growth forest had been logged back in the day. Massive stumps from the former forest still bore the scars of the cuts where buckboards had been inserted to support a burly lumberjack on either end.  

Everybody should hike like a slug!

It's a shame this hike is so short because its tranquil forest vibe left us replenished and sated, but yet wanting more of the same. I'd gladly trade in uncivilization for the forest and spend the remainder of my days there, but then I'd have to give up watching concerts and soccer games. Besides which, the deer would eventually get me.

Hedge nettle, up close and personal

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