Friday, September 1, 2017

Sacchi Beach

I've never felt the need to smoke. In my view, there's just no appeal in burning a stinky weed in your mouth. The whole allure of smoking simply baffles me, I just don't get it. I try not to get too judgmental about those who do smoke because I have friends and family members who smoke and apart from that one fault, are generally pretty nice people. But I do think second-hand smoke is pretty rude because somebody else's smoking habit is being imposed on me against my will. So, imagine my discomfiture when in the month of August and early September, I had to unwillingly inhale unfiltered smoke all day and every day. I'll probably wind up with some lung disorder later on in life, directly attributable to the fire smoke that filled up the valleys of western Oregon in summer of 2017.

Mid-morning in Winston
Near Roseburg, we had the North Umpqua Forest Complex fires vaporizing thousands of acres of trees along the North Umpqua River. The complex included the Happy Dog Fire happily burning up the forest in the Boulder Creek Wilderness area. Bad doggie! Poor little Boulder Creek is like Lightning Central when the summer storms commence and can't even get a baby forest started due to the frequent fires in the area. Yet, despite the lack of live trees, the fires somehow still find plenty of fuel to burn.

However, the North Umpqua Forest Complex was not alone and had plenty of flaming company: The Falcon Complex and High Cascade Complex fires managed to shut down the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness and the north and west sides of Crater Lake National Park. Further south was the Miller Complex, gloriously denuding the slopes of Red Buttes Wilderness and Grayback Mountain. Nearer to home, the Horse Prairie Fire chewed up the oft-burned Lower Cow Creek area near Riddle. But the star of the smoke show was the Chetco Bar Fire which at the time of this writing (September 19th) was rapidly approaching 200,000 acres of ashy terrain as its legacy. 

Our view, for six straight weeks
During late August and early September, the weather had been hot and dry, with little or no wind movement. So, the fires churned and burned and the resulting smoke filled up all the low-lying valleys. The smoke had no other place to go, yet the fires continued to pump more smoke into the already smoke-filled low areas to the point where the sun was not visible at all in the dirty brown sky. The vibe and atmosphere was apocalyptic and I'm going to start smoking whether I like it or not.

Twomile Creek, on a fine day a the coast
However, the weekend forecast did call for some relief at the coast with winds predicted to sweep the Chetco Bar Fire smoke and ash in a northeastern direction. The city of Bend was the lucky recipient of our smoke, but I was OK with that, even though Bend wasn't, as I headed out to the coast to see if blue sky was what I remembered it to be. On the drive over the Coast Range, the air near Coquille was nearly solid with fresh particulate matter that left parked cars coated with ash.

Agate Beach beckons
At Seven Devils State Recreation Site on the Oregon coast, there was some blue sky, although there was still plenty of smoke graying up the sky to the south with a noticeable layer of smoke hanging high over the ocean. Given the recent six-week long nastiness of the air quality (or lack, thereof), I'll take it. As I set out on Merchants Beach, a chill wind blew into my face, it was so good to feel air movement, too.

Sand art
This hike would be a tale of three beaches: Merchants, Agate, and Sacchi. Merchants and Agate Beach are basically the same strip of sand with Agate Beach kind of hanging around Threemile Creek and Merchants Beach hanging around Twomile Creek. An unnamed rocky point keeps Sacchi Beach pent up in its own little beachy corner of the Oregon coast.

Miniature wind hoodoos
Heading north to Agate Beach, it was several miles of a lonely strand of sand arcing towards a distant Cape Arago, with only gulls and sand crabs to keep me company. The wind had created miniature formations out of the numerous pebbles on the beach, from an ant's-eye view, they probably resembled hoodoos and balancing rocks. Occasional rocky cliffs sported interesting rock formations and one rock in particular resembled the fossilized skull of the Aztec god Mictlantecuhtli.

Eroded rock at Sacchi Beach
The tide was receding at the unnamed point, so there were no interesting wet-footed tales to tell: just a simple dry-footed stroll around barnacle encrusted rocks to secluded Sacchi Beach. After a mile of walking along the sand, the beach abruptly ended at a formidable cliff that delineated where Sacchi Beach ended and Cape Arago sort of started. The tide was way out, exposing some phantasmagorical rock formations. More dear to my heart, a sandy maze of a route through the rocks provided a way to explore further north along the shore, leading me to a secret cove.

The secret cove was a wild place
This is not the place to be in high tide and even though it was low tide, a wave rolled in and left me stranded atop a rock, waiting for the water to recede so I could safely leave the secret cove. While waiting, I availed myself of the opportunity to take pictures of the rocks, islands, and a notable amphitheater carved into a massive cliff by the waves. This little piece of Sacchi Beach was my favorite part of the hike.

Creepy ball of sand crab babies
On the way back, the tide had receded farther than a middle-aged man's hairline, exposing acres of beach glistening under the afternoon sun. The scenery was pretty and all, but this portion of the hike soon became all about the sand crabs. As waves ebbed, dozens of sand crabs emerged from the sand and scurried after the retreating water line before hurriedly burrowing back into the sand. Large balls of baby sand crabs rolled in the shallow water, creepily scattering hither and yon at my arrival.

Rock warts

At about the 5.6 mile mark, I had made it back to Twomile Creek and the picnic area at the Seven Devils Recreation Site, but I wasn't done yet. For more mileage, I walked to Fivemile Point and back. The sun was getting low and the restless sea glinted silver in the afternoon sunlight. Fivemile Point was totally exposed by the low tide and I was able to take photographs of concretions and eroded honeycomb formations on the rock.

My route 
From Fivemile Point, it was a lean-into-the-wind hike back to Seven Devils picnic area, as a flock of rather nonchalant and blase seagulls blithely watched me walk by. There was a critter track that ended abruptly in the wet sand, so I started digging to see what made the track. When some wiggling wormy creature from the depths started flipping around in my hand unexpectedly, I may have screamed a little.

Behold the fossilized skull of Mictlantecuhtli!
It was nice to spend at least one day this summer under semi-blue sky and I was a happy hiker on the drive home. Well, I was happy, until I reached Coquille and the smoky air. The Horse Prairie Fire was still burning and more smoke was being pumped into the Coquille River valley. Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit smoking!

Sacchi Beach rocks!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse, eclipsed

This was going to be the Eclipse Epic Backpack Trip of All Time, but then reality intruded, and intruded, and intruded, and intruded, and watch Richard plan Trip A, then Trip B, then Trip C...I think we finally implemented Plan Z when it was all said and done.

The 2017 solar eclipse was going to be in totality about 120 miles north of Roseburg, making landfall on the Oregon coast, near Cape Lookout. Plan A was to grab grandkids and hike to the top of Neahkanie Mountain. Amazingly, there were still rooms available in the area hotels and motels, for a paltry $1,500 a night! That's when Plan B got hatched.

Plan B was pretty cool, in concept. Me and the grandkids would pack in to Table Lake in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, spend a weekend at the lake and see an eclipse, how cool was that? But then the news media began to air and print stories about 2 million visitors from out of state on our narrow two-lane highways, with many erstwhile city folk traipsing off into the woods to start forest fires because they just have to light a campfire in fire season. Hmm, beginning to rethink this. However, the decision was made when the Whitewater Fire opened fire season on the north side of Mount Jefferson. Time for Plan C!

Plan C was to hike to Opie Dildock Pass just north of North Sister. We'd be leaving the 100% total eclipse zone but hey, 98% was not bad, either. But then the Rebel and Separation Fires started flaming up the west side of the Sisters and half of the Three Sisters Wilderness was closed. Plan D, anyone?

Plan D was a backpack in to Park Meadows and Golden Lakes on the east side of the Three Sisters. But that plan also went up in smoke when the Milli Fire started up on Black Crater and nearby Millican Crater. If Black Crater wasn't black before, it is now. More problematic than the smoke and fire, was that road access to the trailhead had been cut off, thanks to good ol' Milli.

Totally giving up on backpacking by now, Plan E was for me, Daweson, and Issiah to drive up to Salem and watch the eclipse with Vic (my sister) and (her) husband John. But coming back from Lassen National Park, the transmission on my Jeep started to give me problems and eventually the transmission had to be replaced. Naturally, the Jeep had to stay in the Jeep hospital for a couple of weeks, precluding any driving up to Salem. Time for Plan F, also known as Plan Fail.

Since we weren't going anywhere, I begged and pleaded with Dollie to loan her car to me and she relented, but not before calling me "car killer" and other such epithets. So me and the boys got up at some ungodly hour to drop off Dollie at work before heading up to the North Bank Deer Habitat. An early morning start would put us atop the Boundary Ridge in time for the sun show. But by now, the North Umpqua Complex Fires were in full fiery glory and the smoke was so thick, we could not even see the sun.

Plan G, or Plan #$&%, as I like to call it, was to watch the eclipse from the driveway at home and wow, we actually pulled that one off! So despite all the plans made, reality intervened several times over. But the way I figure it, Douglas County is due to experience another total eclipse 6 years from now, and the fates owe me big time for that one!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chaos Crags

Chaos and crags are two of my favorite things, any hike with those two things in the name should be pretty awesome, based solely on the name alone! This was the day to return back to smoky Roseburg so I was looking for a short good-bye hike to close out my all-too brief visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The classic hikes in the park are Bumpass Hell and the hike to the Lassen Peak summit, but alas, both trails were closed because of snow. Considering the entire western United States was on fire during a blazing hot summer, it was odd to have snow intrude into a hiking itinerary but that's the kind of year 2017 has been. 

Summit Lake in the morning, near my campsite
So chaos and crags it was, and I set off on a soft dusty trail on what was turning out to be a fairly warm day. Because of the the relative aridity on the east side of the Cascades, combined with poor soils and frequent forest fires, there wasn't a lot of vegetative growth underneath a struggling forest. On the left side of the trail, a steep slope dropped down to heard-but-not-seen Manzanita Creek. 

Boulders, for no reason
Lassen Peak's last eruptive cycle lasted from 1914 to 1917 and there were large isolated boulders strewn about, lying underneath the trees that had sprouted forth since the eruption. The boulders gave me a notion that I might be hiking near the alluringly-named Devastated Area but no, that volcanic playland was about 4 or 5 miles southeast of  me. 

A doe and fawn and I look at each other
The trail climbed uphill, the grade seeming to be more brisk than it really was, due to the elevation being substantially higher than my customary low altitude in Winston, Oregon. Despite what my wobbly legs were trying to tell me, the grade was, while unrelenting, fairly gentle as it climbed up to the Chaos Crags. Fire had visited this area within the last few years, judging by the singed trunks of the trees. A doe and her fawn kept an eye on me and I held on tight to my hiking poles, just in case. As the route climbed higher and higher, the forest faded and the trail gradually morphed into a rocky path with low-growing kinnickinnic stuffed into the cracks between the rocks. 

Magee Peak, in the distance
I was a little out of my element here, so it was difficult to slap names on all the forested cones dotting the landscape to the east of a ridge-crest viewpoint. I believe I was looking at Sugarloaf Peak and Magee Peak in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness. Haven't been to that particular wilderness yet, but I have to think in early summer, an alternate name for the Thousand Lakes Wilderness might be the Billion Mosquitos Wilderness. At any rate, the scenic panorama extended a cordial invitation to come feed the mosquitoes on a future visit.

Time for the afternoon thunderstorm to form
Lunch was eaten at the viewpoint and as expected, wispy mare's tail clouds formed, followed by small puffy white clouds that increased in size as time wore on. No doubt, there'd be an inevitable afternoon thunderstorm, just like every other day on this trip. So, it was time to finish off this hike in a relative hurry, because high on an exposed mountain pass is not the place from which to possibly experience a lightning storm. 

Chaos Crags
A short push to a rocky pass served up a neck-craning view to a wall of volcanic rock above the trail. While Chaos Crags are suitably craggy with jagged rock carving up blue sky and white clouds alike, the crags are really crater children of Lassen Peak. A bowl below a rock wall contains mossy little Crag Lake and the bowl is actually the crags' crater.

Slightly singed forest
After a short look-see, I bid adieu to both the crags and Lassen Volcanic National Park. It was an all too short visit but my appetite for further adventures in this volcanic wonderland is sorely whetted. I'll be back for a more ambitious trip, plus the Thousand Lakes Wilderness just got added to my very long list. And speaking of trips, I had a long trip to Roseburg ahead of me. I also had a transmission failure waiting for me on the way back but that's OK, the warranty had just expired (sarcasm!). That particular type of chaos is not one of my favorite things. 

A robber fly cases me
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Lassen Volcanic National Park - Twin Lakes

When hot air meets cold air, the volatile mix usually creates bad things like tornadoes, hurricanes, and presidential elections (different kind of hot air!). One of those bad weather things is lightning, and as July relinquished control of the calendar to August, a run of hot weather collided with cooler mountain air, birthing an epic spider hatch of lightning storms. Preceding the electrical storms, an extended heat wave had left the forests dry as an asthmatic skeleton's breath, just waiting for slightest spark to set the whole thing ablaze. A single lightning strike carries 100 million to a billion volts of current and when hundreds of ionized clouds equalize their potential (physics term!), the end result is a foregone conclusion: forest fires everywhere.

So many destinations!
In the North Umpqua River canyon and the in Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness, there were somewhere between 30 and 50 individual forest fires sparked to existence during the first storm. And to make things worse, there was a week or so of nightly lightning light shows, kicking the total of fires close to 100 but at that point, who's counting? Naturally, there was not going to be much hiking going on in the Umpqua National Forest with every trail either on fire or about to be on fire.

Some of that afternoon rain
There wasn't going to be much hiking to the north of us either, the Mount Jefferson and Three Sisters Wildernesses were similarly alight. And forget about the Siskiyous, too: the Red Buttes, Applegate Lake, Kalmiopis Wilderness, and Grayback Mountain areas were all going up in smoke as well. So, where can an incredibly handsome hiker go hiking when all the usual suspects are in fiery off-limits? On this weekend, the answer lay out of state, in California.

Boardwalk in Dersch Meadows
When I called Lassen Volcanic National Park to inquire about fire conditions, the ranger said there was a large fire burning to the north but the air in the park was "only" hazy. Looking out the window where the air was acrid and dirty brown, merely hazy sounded pretty good. "Hazy" is the new "blue sky" in this summer of smoky discontent, apparently. The air was bad in Roseburg, but then again, there was Grants Pass with air about 10 time worse than Roseburg's. And Medford? Yikes! Medford's air was virtually solid and visibility was limited to less than a mile as I drove south to California. 

Here the gray is from rain clouds,
in southern Oregon it is from smoke

Lassen Volcanic National Park is about a 6 hour drive from Roseburg, so it was late afternoon when I finally started hiking after obtaining my backpacking permit at the Hat Lake ranger station. The ranger issuing the permit warned me about recent bear activity at Upper Twin Lake and about lightning in the afternoon. As I started, storm clouds had already rolled in and thunder rumbling was a constant aural backdrop to the sounds of my labor as I walked.

Lassen Peak and Summit Lake

The hike begain at green Dersch Meadows and the mosquitoes came by to say hello. Most mosquitoes were dispatched with some perfunctory mosquito slapping, the unneeded tube of Deet remained ensconced in my pack for the time being. In just under a mile, the trail sideswiped Summit Lake, a popular spot with a large campground next to it. From the treeless shore, there was a nicely dramatic view of snowy Lassen Peak brooding under the dark clouds.

Uphill in the rain...whee!
After making a left turn at a trail junction by the lake, the route briskly headed uphill through stunted trees and low-growing kinnickkinnic ground cover blooming away. I was feeling walky and actually enjoyed the uphill hiking. The path eventually topped out on a level bench and as usual, the level hiking was enjoyed more than the uphill stuff. The day had gone quite dark with an impending storm hovering overhead. And then the rain started and before long, I was backpacking with my raingear on. Maybe my Oregon is showing, but I really enjoyed the rain after the protracted heatwave back in Oregon.

Pollen coated the rain puddles
After dropping down the backside of that level bench, the trail passed by scenic Echo Lake and several other smaller nameless lakes and ponds. The ground was carpeted with the fine yellow dust of pine pollen and the puddles on the trail were coated with a film of pollen. While thunder rumbled incessantly, I saw no lightning strikes, and I was grateful for that.

Upper Twin Lake, from my campsite
I strung my hammock up on the narrow forested isthmus separating Upper and Lower Twin Lakes. The ranger said they had received reports of bears looking for food from campers but the only intruders I spotted were chipmunks darting frenetically on logs and tree trunks, and a family of deer with a fawn in tow. Just in case, I tied my hiking poles to a tree, but these deer seemed uninterested, unlike their thieving cousins in the Red Buttes Wilderness.

The storm broke up as the day ended
After an hour or two of steady rain, the storm finally ebbed and the cloud cover broke up. The sun was sinking behind the mountains, lighting up the dissipating clouds as soft breeze ruffled Upper Twin Lake's surface. I sat next to the lake, eating my dinner and taking pictures, life was good as the day ended.

Ducks swim away from me at Lower Twin Lake
Day 2 started out with a mild headache and I definitely did not feel walky like the day before. But hiking slowly along Lower Twin Lake in the morning is the way hikes like this should go. The lake was like polished glass and the blue sky and small puffy clouds reflected photogenically upon the lake. At the far end of the lake, round Fairfield Peak presided over the lake scenery.

I was on a short section of the Pacific Crest Trail
At the southeastern corner of the lake, I grabbed a piece of of the Pacific Crest Trail that ambled through a thin forest with green grass growing underneath. I'd only be on the venerable PCT for about a half mile as my route peeled off the PCT and headed toward Rainbow Lake. After the trail junction, it didn't take very long for the path to leave the forest and enter an old burn zone.

What Oregon will look like after this summer 
There were no live trees here, just acres and acres of a somber tree graveyard consisting of snags arrayed against a blue sky. There was no shade and the sun mercilessly hotted up the day. It was around here that my mild headache went up to whatever the next level up from mild is. The tedium of walking through the dry burn zone was broken up by Rainbow Lake.

Scenic little Rainbow Lake
After bushwhacking to the lake's shore and snapping some photographs, I continued on a switchbacking trail up a fire-denuded ridge that had a nice view of the tip of Lassen Peak. Now my headache had become an issue, it was almost migraine-ish, so I beat a retreat back to Rainbow Lake and plopped down in a shady spot to sleep it off.

Here comes the afternoon storm
Several hours later, I woke up somewhat replenished, my headache was back to being just mild. Shouldering my backpack burden, I headed back to Lower Twin Lake but the campsite there was full of recent bear scat, this must have been where the bear activity I had been warned about had taken place. I continued on toward Upper Twin Lake but like clockwork, the afternoon rain clouds had darkened up the day.

Lower Twin Lake in the afternoon
Progress was slow around Lower Twin Lake because the scene was delightfully moody and brooding. Gloomy clouds imparted their darksome air to Fairfield Peak reflecting upon the eerily still lake. Much photography and not so much hiking ensued.

Large thunderheads in the distance
The rain and hail started when I arrived at Upper Twin Lake and I didn't feel like setting up camp in a downpour so I just kept on walking. Despite rain falling from the dark clouds, there were patches of blue sky all around,  the windows in the clouds offering views of massive thunderhead clouds surrounding the lake basin. With all the thunderheads proliferating on the east side of Lassen Peak, it'll truly be a miracle if this area does not get set on fire before the summer ends.

Echo Lake, when it was hailing
After passing Echo Lake, another long climb took me up to the level bench with its nice view of Lassen Peak. The rain finally let up as this 10'ish mile hike (not bad for a guy with a headache) was put to rest by offering myself up to the mosquitoes emanating from Dersch Meadows. While I couldn't get my boots off fast enough, because of the mosquitoes, the lack of wildfires and smoke made this a thoroughly enjoyable sojourn.

Heatwave? What heatwave?
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.