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.

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