Saturday, April 16, 2022

Elk Creek Trail

In hiking, weather is a much considered, oft-discussed topic. Generally, we hikers carefully parse the weather forecast before deciding when or if we get out on the trail. Failure to do so can mean enduring a wet or wintry hike without proper gear. Now, some wags will point out that we often hike in wet or wintry weather anyway, but at least it's an informed decision when we do. Usually, the forecasts are reasonably accurate but then again, there are hikes like this one at Elk Creek, where no deliberate or measured prediction could ever accurately foretell the chaotic nature of the day's weather.

Escapees from the facility

When we parked at the upper Elk Creek trailhead, the weather was a combo of sleet, snow, and rain that had us all hurriedly putting on rain gear right at the start. This was a Friends of the Umpqua venture that yours truly was leading and the weather's poor outlook meant I had only four friends on this day. This was about four more friends than I normally get and our meager party set out on the paved trail next to a very full Elk Creek, 
scrunching our necks down into our shoulders in a vain effort to keep dry.

On the trail to Sevenmile Swimming Hole, in the rain

After a mile or so, we traded in the old historical paved roadway for a dirt path that traversed through a pasture to a local landmark known as Sevenmile Swimming Hole. There was no need for us to go swimming today for there was more than enough water (in all its forms) in the air to satisfy any urge to become completely wet. Besides which, it was pretty cold, the falling inclement being just this side of actual snowfall. 

Elk Creek did not entice us to go swimming

Elk Creek was rain-swollen and in a semi-flooding state, the noisy creek running rampant through stands of maple and alder trees that would normally be on dry banks overlooking the stream. The creek curved past some mossy cliffs and entered the deep and silty waters of Sevenmile Swimming Hole that none of us took the opportunity to jump into. We found out Shannon likes rocks as she combed the banks and stuffed her coat pockets with souvenirs just like my daughters used to do when they were very young. Rocks in the pockets would be another pretty good reason not to jump into the swimming hole.

It was colder up there

As we departed from our little side trip to Sevenmile Swimming Hole, the heavy cloud cover began to lift, offering tantalizing peeks at the mountains flanking either side of Elk Creek's pronounced valley. Clearly and quite obviously, all had been well dusted by snow during the storm's wintry visit. But hey, if the clouds are lifting, then sunny weather can't be far behind, can it?

The trail is an old decommissioned roadway

The answer to that question was answered by a vigorous hailstorm. Apparently, it can hail quite heartily from lifting cloud cover. I can also say, from personal experience, that hail on a hat brim makes quite a racket, rendering any would-be conversation futile, not that any one of my companions wanted to talk to me anyway, seeing how this was all my fault. This ten-minute squall was the first of three notable hailstorms on the day.

Shadow Man came to visit us like every five
minutes or so, and he did not stay very long, either

We stoically endured our pelting by millions of high-velocity ice pellets and after a bit, the clouds really did begin to break apart, with blue sky leaking through the seams. Eventually, the sun shone and the day became hot enough to get us removing coats and sweatshirts. But then after that ten-minute heat wave, another hailstorm had us putting them back on to stave off the cold. Sheesh, would you make up your weather mind? You could almost hear sardonic chuckles from capricious weather gods as we geared up or down, depending on the climate of the moment and the whims of the deities.

Jan and Shannon hike past a peace
offering to the weather gods

We turned back at the five-mile mark, making for a nice little ten-mile round-trip hike. On the return leg, the clouds generally stayed high and we enjoyed brief sunny interludes between rain and heavy cloud cover, the weather changing like every two minutes. A highlight of the trip was a short visit to some homestead ruins, adorned with occult spray-painted runes that just might explain the manic weather.

This last hail storm was the nastiest one

About a half-mile from the finish, the day darkened once again, the wind picked up, and horizontal rain became horizontal hail. Apparently Elk Creek wanted to give us a pneumonia diagnosis to remember it by. As we leaned into the sheets of hail coming at us, the trailhead seemed so far away. But then, to no surprise, the wind died down, the hail changed to rain, and then the rain died out. By the time, we reached the trailhead about fifteen minutes later, the sun was out again. Go figure!

Nearby mountains disappear behind the hail

The story of this hike was all about the wild and ever changing weather we had walked in. If you noticed, I haven't really talked about the scenery, which is a shame for Elk Creek and its valley are quite scenic. But then again, it's going to be all about the weather when the day is either sunny, cloudy, snowy, rainy, cold, warm, hailing, windy, or all of the above and sometimes all at once!

Don't like the weather?
Just wait a minute!

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

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