Saturday, July 22, 2017

Olallie Mountain

Olallie Mountain had been on my list for quite some time and I finally made it. Unfortunately, though, several weeks after this hike, the Rebel Fire set up camp below Olallie Mountain so I'm not likely to return there in the near future. At the time of this writing, I'm not sure whether there will be any shady forest left on the Olallie Trail after the fire, either. It would really be a shame if the fire overran the Olallie Trail, because the lush vegetation and deep shade were some of the main attractions on this green hike. But at least I made it before fire season began in earnest in Oregon.

Beargrass was common in the meadows

Accompanied by trusty canine friend Luna, I set out upon the Olallie Trail and entered the Three Sisters Wilderness almost immediately upon leaving the trailhead. The Olallie Trail pokes into a corner of the wilderness on the western border, so the Three Sisters were fairly far away despite our hiking in the namesake wilderness. As a result, the Three Sisters would be pretty much a non-factor on the lower (and forested) section of this hike.

Salmonberry, not quite ready for eating

The tree cover was as thick and lush as a young man's mane, and the shade dark as a teenager's mood, but a whole lot more pleasant to be around. Spring was definitely going on, and I spent a lot of time low to the ground, sometimes lying on it (while a dog licked my ear) taking pictures of bunchberry, wild ginger, coneflower, penstemon, Columbia windflower, and goat's beard. And speaking of goat's beard, I probably should shave soon.

"To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon
verdure is the most perfect replacement" - Jane Austen
The trail angled steadily uphill through the forest before crossing a small creek in just under a mile. Intrepid bushwhackers can follow this stream to its source at Wolverine Lake. However, I was expecting a clearer route; the hillside was covered with thick vegetation and fallen trees and while Luna was not averse to a good bushwhack, I wasn't in the mood, so we kept hiking on the Olallie Trail.

Humid meadow on Olallie Mountain
And now a word about the weather. On the drive up, there was a chill in the morning air and geese were flying south in their traditional "V" formation. In sunny exposed areas along the roadway, vine maples were showing their first autumn blush. Winter is coming. But not so fast, Richard, by mid-afternoon, the oppressive heat had taken care of all that winter chill. While the forest was shady, it was fairly warm despite the shade. Meadows were worse, where the sun baked both dog and hiker noggins. The stultifying heat had us both panting to keep cool, while the humidity had us all sopping wet in short order. Note to self: don't wear a black shirt when it's hot and humid like that.

Looking down the French Pete Creek valley
From the junction with the Olallie Trail and the Olallie Mountain Trail, it was all meadow and it was all uphill, too. I bonked, and it was a slow trudge for the remaining mile or so to the Olallie Mountain summit. Gone were all the shade loving flowers but on the plus side, I got to take pictures of sun-loving beargrass, Washington lily, lupine, and Indian paintbrush.

The Three Sisters, from Olallie Mountain
One last steep push delivered us to the Olallie summit where an old lookout and prodigious views were our reward for all the hard work. And best of all, the rustic and dilapidated lookout provided shade on one side, so we plopped down and enjoyed the expansive panorama before us. The Three Sisters were directly to the east and easily dominated the view. North of the volcanic sisterhood was Mount Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, and snowy Mount Jefferson. In the haze to the south, Mount Thielsen was barely visible. On the west side of Olallie Mountain, the valleys and canyons of Rebel Creek and French Pete Creek dropped off into the South Fork McKenzie River, all winding up in the prominent McKenzie River valley. In the distance, were the faint blue ridges of the Coast Range. Pretty awesome view,  if I do say so myself.

South Sister, on the way down
After a lengthy lunch, view-soak, and photo-shoot combo, we reluctantly left the summit and headed back down the trail. On the way down, we ran into another hiker who had one of Luna's kind with him, much to the enjoyment of both our dogs. He had just done a PCT section hike and was looking to hike the trail around the mountain. Unfortunately he had to give that idea up, stating the Olallie Trail, just past the junction, was pretty much lost to the vegetation. Of course, the following week, the Willamette National Forest posted an announcement that they had finished brushing out the Olallie Trail. And of course, a week later, the Rebel Fire set up camp for the remainder of the summer. I guess my timing was both good and bad for this hike, but at least my very lengthy list became one hike smaller.

The seldom seen fringed pinesap
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

McKenzie River Trail

Ah, what a relaxing trail (unless you lose your dog!) this little section of the McKenzie River Trail is. Miles and miles of vine maples providing ample shade, tall Douglas fir trees reaching to the sky, a rushing river just off trail, and rustic bridges crossing merrily burbling creeks. If that doesn't ease your stress, nothing will. Of course, some of that stress release was negated by the worry caused by a missing dog, but more on that little episode later.

Twinkling green stars overhead
Luna (the aforementioned bad doggy) and I set out from Belknap Hot Springs Resort and were immediately rewarded with a lush and cool forest. The day was hot everywhere else in southern Oregon but the river moisture in the air; the shade from the trees; and a mild breeze, kept hikers and bikers cool. If word ever gets out about this, there'll be hundreds of thousands of people sitting under the trees, sighing contentedly in blessed relief from the heat wave currently cooking the Pacific Northwest. 

Indian pipe
The McKenzie River Trail (hereafter referred to as the MRT because it's too long to type out over and over again) is a National Recreation Trail, because it contributes to ", conservation, and recreation goals in the United States." To which I ponder "But don't they all?" but that's just me talking. At any rate, the MRT is close to Eugene, easily accessible from the McKenzie Highway, and proffers up  some pretty cool scenery and a classic river flowing just off trail. Mountain bikers love the trail and hikers have to get used to stepping aside for the bikes but in my experience, both hikers and bikers are polite and get along just fine. The main drawback to the MRT, in my humble opinion, is that the trail lacks that wilderness feel.

The McKenzie River Trail soothes on a warm day
For the first section from Belknap Hot Springs, the trail parallels the nearby McKenzie Highway. The sound of whooshing cars is clearly audible but if you plug your ears and/or ignore the sounds, the forest is simply beautiful. Small little side creeks rush into the McKenzie River and rustic one-railed log bridges span the creeks. I crossed the creeks on the bridges while Luna joyfully splashed across, as is her wont. And speaking of rushing into the the McKenzie River, Luna did plenty of that too.

Hey you! I'm taking a picture of you!
We stopped for a brief view-soak on a rocky bar next to the river. The McKenzie River gets its inception at the remarkable Great Spring at Clear Lake; the spring being noteworthy for the striking blue color and crystalline clarity of the water. As the Great Spring's love child, the McKenzie River sports both these traits. Rafters came through the rapids above the bar, intensely focused on navigating the roiling river and on keeping their crafts right side up. That's probably why they didn't wave at us or smile for the camera.

Bridge crossing at Scott Creek
After a couple of miles, the trail crossed both Scott and Boulder Creeks and then spit us out of the forest and onto the shoulder of the McKenzie Highway. Like I said, not really your basic wilderness hike. But not to worry, after about 20 yards, the route crossed over to the other side of the river on paved Forest Road 2560. Now that there was a noisy river between us and the equally noisy highway, we enjoyed that "real hike" ambience that can only be found on a forest path. We still had to step aside for a steady stream of mountain bikers, though.

The McKenzie River was always next to the trail
Mostly this hike was all about the forest as the river was only occasionally and partially visible through the dense stands of vine maple. There was no particular destination to hike to, although Deer Creek would have made a logical turnaround at 6 miles out. However, we turned around where the McKenzie divided around a rocky island at the 4 mile mark.

Bad doggy!
Luna had been such a good dog, too. She had stayed within eyesight and dutifully obeyed my commands to stay close. But she has no filters for right and wrong, and is as impulsive as a late-night tweeter. Just like that, she was no longer visible ahead of me and I really wasn't sure when or where she had disappeared from sight. I assumed, because she walks a lot faster than I do, she had gotten far out in front of me so I picked up my pace trying to catch up to her.  After a mile or so, it was obvious she was clearly lost from me.

Vine maples doing the vine maple thing
Worried at this point, I even turned back and walked the mile back but still no Luna. Sick at heart at the thought of her having to be all alone in the forest, my next plan was to walk to the car and wait to see if she'd show up or not. If that proved fruitless, I had no plan for what to do afterwards. 

Cold and clear, just like me!
The MRT is a busy place with all the hikers and bikers but of course, I walked for miles and miles without seeing a soul. Finally, after I crossed over to highway side of the river, a family came walking up the trail. Unfortunately, they hadn't seen a stupid black dog walking by herself. They were really quite sympathetic to my plight and as they commiserated, their son interrupted "Mister, is that your dog?" and here comes Luna trotting down the trail, relief palpable in her body posture.

Huckleberry, not quite ready for eating
Mind you, we had been separated for at least two miles. She had to navigate past two trailheads, cross one forest road, follow a paved road across the river, and safely walk next to the highway before she caught up with me. Quite a testament to her innate navigational ability. Or, if she followed me by sense of smell, quite a testament to my man-funk! Either way, our reunion was joyous and she remained leashed for the remainder of the hike. She'll probably remain leashed for all future hikes, too.

Sun dappling
No longer toting that cold orb of dread in the pit of my stomach, the remainder of the hike was much more relaxed as we returned to Belknap Hot Springs. I did notice though, that when Luna found me, she was soaking wet. She couldn't have been all that worried if she still could indulge in another dip in the river. The stress was all mine, apparently.

The McKenzie River
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fivemile Point

Man, things are really heating up in the Umpqua Valley. It's been hotter than a Chuck Prophet guitar solo at Sam Bond's Garage on a Saturday night. Hotter than my Green Death salsa slathered on homemade tamales. Hotter than me in tight jeans. OK, that last one might be subjective, and not necessarily an opinion held by many. The point is, in early July, summer was beginning to make its oppressive and stultifying presence felt. In hindsight, though, the really hot weather had not arrived, that would be an August experience. Also in hindsight, I probably should not use the word "hindsight" after that remark about my tight jeans.

Not so easy to do what Grandpa does
Anyway, since the valley was heating up, Issiah and I decided to head for the coast in search of cooler environs in which to hike in. And since Luna observed us loading up the Jeep with our hiking boots and backpacks, she whimpered and begged, her beseeching, doggie eyes entreating us to take her along. Powerless to resist her heart-rendering pleas, we opened up the rear deck and she joyfully hopped in.

Issiah wades across Twomile Creek
Well, sometimes you get what you ask for, and then some. At Seven Devils Wayside, near Bandon, a brisk and chilly wind sweeping up the coast had us shivering in no time. Our puny little sweatshirts were no match for the breeze cutting right through the useless fabric, so we walked fast to generate some internal heat.

Luna, of course, had no such problem and everybody should hike like Luna. Letting out canine yips of joy, she was running and cavorting on the wide stretch of beach, the wind blowing her ears back as she sprinted to and fro. Twomile Creek fanned out across the beach and since Luna could not decide between splashing in the shallow creek or the roaring surf, she did both. Plus, there was a steady supply of seagulls to chase and scatter into the sky. All life should be like her enjoyment of the beach.

Look Grandpa, I'm floating!
We humans, of course, were somewhat more restrained and decorous, leaning into the wind as we trudged steadily south along Merchant's Beach. A large tree was partially buried in the sand, the dead leaves on its branches testifying to the tree's very recent demise. Dog and boy both enjoyed scrambling in the twiggy limbs and branches.

View south, from Fivemile Point
Like a weightlifting bouncer at a posh nightclub, Fivemile Point blocked the way south to Whiskey Run Beach . At high tide, it is impossible to walk around the point and we were just on the receding side of high tide. No problem for a half-monkey half-boy feral grandson to scramble over the rocky point with the agility and balance of the young. Some problem, but still doable, for an incredibly handsome grandfather using the wisdom and prudence learned from all the bruises, scrapes, and injuries accrued in a lifetime of overestimating the agility and balance of the young. Ah, but for an eager and frisky dog: rock climbing was not in her skill set. Issiah and I guided her gently, placing her feet on the rocks and pushing and pulling her upward. Uncharacteristically, Luna was accepting and restrained during this process, even her little dog brain recognized the danger in doing otherwise.

Where Fivemile Point starts
We didn't go all the way over the point, settling instead for the crest. From a barnacle-encrusted rocky perch, we enjoyed the view south, which consisted of Whiskey Run Beach curving all the way to the Coquille River. To the north was Merchant's Beach with Sacchi Beach beyond. Waves crashed on rocky islands while resting seagulls "painted" them white. Cape Arago and Arago Peak loomed at the end of Sacchi Beach and it looked like the morning overcast was clearing. It still was windy and cold, though.

No Issiah, you can't do what I'm thinking you want to do
So we climbed back down off of Fivemile Point, the two of us helping our less agile canine friend descramble back down to the beach, where she re-engaged in the more familiar and mindless activity of running around just to be running around. On Merchant's Beach, a large needle shaped rock pointed up to the sky and I had to use all my grandfatherly skills to cajole, persuade, and ultimately threaten Issiah not to climb up to the top. 

View north, to Cape Arago
Our plan was to continue north all the way to the terminus of Sacchi Beach but Issiah looked at me and said "my heart's not in it today". Now, Issiah is a hiker's hiker, he's no shirker when it comes to mileage and challenging trails, so when he says he's not into it, that must be honored. To do otherwise, would make hiking a chore instead of a recreational activity. So no problem, we hopped in the car and headed back to Roseburg, where the weather was as warm as a Texas Burrito at the Coquille Valley Produce and Deli.

Rocks, speeding across the sands
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Brice Creek

I had pretty much just started my hike on the Brice Creek Trail when I heard a noise behind me, like the world's biggest elk rampaging through the thick brush. Startled, I whirled around just in time to see a tall tree topple and hit the ground. It was an awesome sight to behold but yikes, I was hiking in a forest full of tall trees and now I couldn't trust a single one to remain upright. You hike enough, you tend to see it all, or so it seems, and this was the second time I've seen a tree fall. Oh well, I'll just have to keep trusting they won't fall on me.

Into the forest
The rest of the hike was uneventful by comparison: it was a very warm day and it seemed like the cool creek vibe and moist ambience was just the ticket for warding off the heat. Didn't really work, it was still warm and humid in the forest but Brice Creek is beautiful anyway, even on a hot and sweaty hike. And while the forest was well shaded, perhaps it was warmer than it should have been because it was now missing one tree.
Hello, Brice Creek!
Ferns sprouted everywhere in the deep shade, and maples (big leaf and vine varieties, both) provided some small relief and succor from the burning ball of fire in the blue sky. It didn't take long for Brice Creek to make an appearance through brief openings in the forest. 

What cold water?
The trail undulated gently, and sometimes not so gently, up and down; alternating from deep forest to open trail either next to the creek or on rocky cliffs that pleased my inner mountain goat. Brice Creek is a popular place and it was easy to see why. Deep pools of blue-green water just invited a swim, although the couple dipping their feet in the water said the water was painfully cold. The temperature didn't deter dogs and young children, though, that particular demographic is seemingly impervious to to the deleterious effects of immersion in freezing cold water.

So inviting
After about 4.5 miles of soothing forest and creek scenery, I turned around and headed back, only to find the peaceful ambience to be somewhat fleeting and ephemeral. Cedar Creek Campground bisects the Brice River Trail and a footbridge from the campground makes Brice Creek (in)conveniently accessible for late sleepers not interested in enjoying Brice Creek via the rewarding medium of hiking. Accordingly, a nearby swimming hole was ringed with hordes of noisy sunbathers and not so many actual swimmers, that water must really have been ice cold.

On a hot day, shade is not overrated
The good news was that about a quarter-mile up the trail from the swimming hole, the population dropped from 323 to 1, and I was back in my element hiking all alone in the woods. By now the day had warmed up and the shade was much appreciated. So much so, that I spent an inordinate amount of time photographing maple leaves lit up by the sun.

Dog Creek, dogs it into Brice Creek
Periodically, I bushwhacked down to the scenic little creek and enjoyed deep blue pools; shallow shoals running underneath the arcing maples; and boisterous cascades as the creek stair-stepped its way down the canyon. Across the way, Dog Creek tumbled into Brice Creek in a photogenic waterfall. And always, a sun-dappled trail wending its way through a shady forest.

A white hyacinth hosts a yellow
velvet long-horned beetle
At the return to the dry grassy slope just a quarter mile from the trailhead, I was momentarily delayed by all the wildflowers, butterflies, and beetles attracting the camera. All in all, a nice hike on a hot day, and I'm glad to report that apart from that one tree, all the other trees in the forest remained standing for the duration of my hike.

Brice Creek, 'nuff said!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Clear Lake

"Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear..." I may be dating myself by quoting Richard Nixon but the irony is that Richard Nixon's downfall was that he did not make things perfectly clear when he should have. But, if there is one thing perfectly clear in this world, it is Clear Lake. The lake is fed by an underground river that is filtered by miles and miles of porous lava, leaving the lake's waters clearer, purer, and more pristine than any presidential cover-up could ever hope to be.

Warm, but not yet hot
This was late June and it was hot, but not as hot as it was going to get in a few days hence. The temperature topped out somewhere in the high 90's which is plenty warm when exercising under a blazing sun. However, on the west side of Clear Lake, the trail was wonderfully shaded by tall trees, warding off some of that high-90's heat.

Columbia windflower was a common sight
I'm also glad to report the mosquitoes were virtually non-existent. We had more snowfall than normal this last winter; I've been expecting an onslaught of insectile vampiritude with the advent of melting snow. Spring was in full song, what with the forest carpeted with Columbia windflower, lupine, huckleberry. and queen's cup all abloom.  Both Fish Lake Creek and Ikenick Creek were flowing fast and clear with spring runoff, and the forest was filled with the musical tinkling of the streams. So, with spring going at it the way it was, I'm not sure why no mosquitoes but hey, I'll take it. 

What, you were expecting a bikini photo?
Other hikers were out and about, too, I ran into one young lady hiking in a bikini. Because I looked into her eyes the entire time I chatted with her, I didn't really notice the bikini was a Pink Mink product manufactured in Bangladesh, with orange, white, and yellow polka dots on a brown background;, and also sporting a white frill edged in red and brown stripes with little yellow daisies having green centers in between the stripes. I also ran into a guy hiking barefoot, he said he just felt more comfortable hiking shoeless. Yikes. Later in the hike, I would run into him in the middle of the jagged lava fields, as we had each hiked around the lake in opposite directions. The slacker had his shoes on too, apparently hiking barefoot through sharp and jagged rocks is not all that comfortable.

Fish Lake Creek
The basic loop around Clear Lake is fairly short, being just over 5 miles long. So, for some extra mileage, at Fish Lake Creek I made a left turn onto the McKenzie River Trail with the intent of hiking a couple of miles to Fish Lake. This section of the McKenzie River Trail was a pleasant amble through lovely shaded forest with the rushing creek always heard and occasionally seen just off trail.

Just gotta love those vine maples
And now a word about the vine maples. The ubiquitous vine maples were all leafed out and a virtual galaxy of seven-pointed leaves were lit up by the sun while I enjoyed the deep shade underneath. The trail had that green illumination from the light of a million little green stars and my progress was slow as I obsessively photographed the glowing canopy.  

Just a gorgeous day for a hike

A short mile of hiking brought me to the Upper McKenzie River Trailhead and I walked down a gravel road to the McKenzie Highway. My planned (if you can call it that!) route to Fish Lake required a cross-country bushwhack from the highway. However, the harsh reality was that I was confronted with a rushing creek, thick brush, and water in a standing marsh; all between me and hidden Fish Lake. Just call me defeated; it was back to the trailhead for me.

Swimming hole on Fish Lake Creek
The McKenzie River Trail officially begins at the upper trailhead and the iconic trail is famed as a mountain bike ride. Accordingly, there was a group of bikers lazing in the shade, eating lunch and chatting animatedly. My ears perked up, because they were speaking my other native language. Turned out they were from Guanajuato, Mexico and were on a mountain biking vacation in the Pacific Northwest. 

First clear look at Clear Lake
At the north end of Clear Lake, the lake finally made an appearance and the tips of Belknap Crater, the Three Sisters, and Mount Washington all made brief cameo appearances over the far end of the lake. Clear Lake is the source of the McKenzie River, which comes up out of the ground, fully formed, at the Great Spring. Filtered by porous lava soils, the water is as pure and as clear as Richard Nixon was not. The water also comes up a uniform 36 degrees all year so the lake never freezes over during winter.

"Let me make one thing perfectly clear..."
The Great Spring would be cool enough as simply being the source of the McKenzie River, but oh, that blue color! The spring, besides being remarkably clear, is a deep sapphire hue, probably in relation to both the purity and the minerals from the lava soil. Clear Lake inherits the clarity of the spring and I daresay you could drop a dime in the middle of the lake and be able to tell whether it comes up heads or tails on the bottom of the lake.

Clear Lake, perfectly clear
Now on the east side of the lake, it was time to say goodbye to the cool shade and experience the heat that can only be experienced when hiking on a hot day in acres of black lava rock. These lava flows emanate from Mount Washington and the sunlight ricocheting on all the dark rock made it feel like it was 150 degrees. On the plus side, great views of the lake were to be had as there was no forest to get in the way.

King of Clear Lake
There was a tall snag with ghostly fingers reaching up to the blue sky; it seemed photogenic so I pointed the camera at it. But wait a minute, what is that thing on top that I was looking at through the viewfinder? It was a bald eagle, looking all regal like he was the self-proclaimed King of Clear Lake. It's always a thrill to see one of these magnificent creatures in the wild, and I had no one to share the experience with. But at that moment, a hiking couple came up the trail and I pantomimed "shhh..." and then pointed up to the tree. They saw the eagle and made silent hand-claps in my direction, that was my good deed for the day.

Where Clear Lake ends and the McKenzie River starts
Just as I was really beginning to hate the hot sun, the trail dropped back into the forest and rounded the south end of Clear Lake. A stout footbridge crossed over the lake's outlet, also known as the McKenzie River. It was amazing to watch the water flow of the river and realize that same flow (plus a creek or two) came from the Great Spring.

CCC Shelter at the trailhead
By now, it was late afternoon, and the sun slanted through the trees while the shadows lengthened. And best of all, the temperature was dropping, making the hiking eminently pleasant. Arrival at the rustic CCC shelter, now a picnic area, wrapped up this hike which wound up being mostly a pleasant heat-beater on warm sunny day.

The trail sliced through all the greenery
In closing, Richard Nixon once said "Let me make one thing perfectly clear..." Now, he could very well have been referring to Clear Lake but the full quote is "Let me make one thing perfectly clear, I wouldn't want to wake up next to a lady pipefitter". Way harsh, and in defense of all my lady pipefitter friends, Nixon wasn't a very nice man and the truth of that little factoid is as clear as the clear waters of Clear Lake.

I only took several thousand vine maple photographs
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.