Monday, October 9, 2017

Crater Lake car tours

Bookending my recent East Applegate Ridge hike were two trips to Crater Lake National Park. The scenic park was where I had planned to ostensibly expose a pair of first-time visitors to the splendors of the lake via the medium of hiking trail. However, in both visits, we somehow managed not to get any hiking done at all. But hey, we did make it to Crater Lake, a place where thousands of tourists from all over the world come to visit. And if most visitors could have a grand time in the park while never setting foot on a trail? Well, then so could we.

The A Team
Grandson Liam had never been to Crater Lake so we took the long way to Grants Pass from Roseburg, making a detour of several hundred miles when we swung by the iconic lake. Our visit would be confined to the east side of the lake though. as the Rim Road on the west side was closed due to the Spruce Lake Fire. It was shocking to see the burned and devastated forest at the northern entrance of the park but at least recent rains had tamped down the fire, although plenty of smoldering hot spots still remained active within the burn zone.

What's that sound I hear?
It's Mount Scott calling us
So we worked our way around the east side of the lake, stopping at various viewpoints along the way. It had snowed recently and several inches of snow covered the higher points on the rim. When we arrived at the Mount Scott Trailhead, Mount Scott was all frosty and white against a dark blue sky. "I so want to do this!" I said. Liam chimed in "Me, too!"

Inviting path below Mount Scott
There were a couple of problems here. One, we were both clad in shorts and while the weather was fairly balmy in the high 40's, It was bound to be a lot colder on the Mount Scott summit. And, if for some emergency type reason, we were unable to return to the trailhead promptly, then our relative lack of clothing would certainly become a liability.


Secondly, as we hiked on the trail and started the ascent upwards, trail conditions were not optimal. People had hiked here in the days prior and had smushed the snow down with their boots as they hiked. Overnight, the tromped snow had frozen, making the trail slippery and icy. Liam was in tennis shoes (another reason not to hike) and neither one of us had crampons, so I used the wisdom and prudence inherent with my advanced years and called it, much to both our disappointment.

Gorge wall on the Upper Rogue
After our drive-by around the lake, we stopped at Becki's Restaurant in Union Creek to eat humongous burgers stuffed full of jalapenos . With bloated and distended bellies from too much lunch, we worked off some calories and jalapeno-inspired steam with a late afternoon walk at the Rogue Gorge.

Autumn cometh!
The trail following the Upper Rogue River was quite colorful as this was the onset of autumn. Most of the color was due to vine maple growing in dense thickets along the river. The small trees were colored all sorts of combinations of green, yellow, orange, and red. A late afternoon sun imbued the forest with a soft glow that accentuated the autumn finery. Fully sated after a mile or so, we then returned Liam to his mother in Grants Pass.

Formidable redoubt
Two weeks later, Jay let it be known he'd like to go to Crater Lake, since he'd never been, either. No problem, we could go and I'd still be able to get a hike in before the winter snows shut things down. When we made a brief snack stop at nearby Diamond Lake, an arctic wind blew across a churning lake with wind-driven waves nearly swamping the marina boardwalks. Not a good sign, but hopefully, things would be better at Crater Lake. Or maybe not.

Dust storms from an invisible army
As we parked at the Meridian Viewpoint on the northwestern end of the lake, I was both dismayed and fascinated by haboobs (sandstorms!) blowing across the pumice deserts to the west. I walked down to take some photos of the large dust clouds while Jay scampered uphill for his first view of  Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, in all its frosty glory
After snapping off a couple of shots, I headed to the lake's rim but Jay was already running back down saying "We can't hike!" and he quickly sat in the car, arms folded resolutely in defiance. "Wha..?" I wondered, so I headed up  the rim. Yikes, the wind was blowing somewhere in the vicinity of 40 mph and with the temps being in the high 30's, it was nasty cold, Plus, the wind carried pumice grit which stung cheeks and got in eyes. I quickly ran back to the car to join Jay in arms-folded truculence.

Devil's Backbone

So, since hiking was not going to happen, our Plan B was a car tour around the lake. As we stopped at all the view points to photograph the iconic lake, I periodically assessed the possibility of a short hike to either The Watchman, the Crater Lake rim trail, or Garfield Peak. "Not happening today"  was the verdict in all cases. That bitter wind cut through all the layers of clothing I had on and Jay was not adequately attired for cold, either.

Tall cliffs at Sand Creek
The highlight of the day was remote Pinnacle Valley, where we took a short walk along Sand Creek. No, this is not your basic creek walk where one ambles next to a burbling creek. Nope, what happened here is when Mount Mazama exploded about 7,000 years ago, it not only created Crater Lake but buried the surrounding countryside in pumice and volcanic ash. The ash was quite hot in places and trapped heat and gases escaped from the soil in vents called fumaroles. My brother also has a vent that ejects hot toxic gases, but that's a different kind of fumarole. At any rate, the gases were hot enough to melt and fuse together the soil surrounding the fumarole conduit.

Pinnacle garden
The soft ash and pumis soil is easily eroded, even by a small nondescript stream such as Sand Creek. Over the millennia since the eruption, Sand Creek carved an incredibly deep and narrow canyon and stripped away the soils surrounding the hardened fumaroles, exposing a phantasmagorical garden of pointy pinnacles, some of which either resembled a 7-story mushroom or, let's just keep it clean here and stick with the mushroom metaphor.

Pinnacle amphitheater
A half-mile path long follows the rim of Sand Creek's canyon and we were impressed with both the dizzying view down into the canyon and the acres of pinnacles pointing accusatory fingers up to the sky. Much photography ensued as we walked to the park boundary and back. Down here on the east side, we were obviously in Crater Lake's wind shadow. The air was as still as a cat waiting in front of a mouse hole, so we were somewhat hopeful about doing the hike to Mount Scott's summit once we were done with the Pinnacles.

Jay was duly impressed with Crater Lake
Not! Once back on the rim, we resumed our acquaintanceship with the fierce wind and there would be no hike up Mount Scott. We made a few more requisite stops at the frequent viewpoints on the rim before heading back to Roseburg. Several days after our visit, the east rim, the north park entrance, and the Pinnacles were all closed for the duration of this winter season. Although, we didn't get any hiking in, we did at least get to see some sights. And now, I'm going to break out the winter gear and hopefully come back for a Crater Lake snowshoe hike.

The calm before the storm
For more photos of my trip with Liam, please visit this Flickr album.

For more pictures of my outing with Jay, visit that Flickr album.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

East Applegate Ridge Trail

"New trail!" That's all I need to hear before responding "I'm in!". I don't even need to ask where it goes. The new trail could lead into a pit of venomous deer and it wouldn't make any difference, I'm still in. Fortunately, when Medford hiking buddies Glenn and Carol extended an invite to hike on the brand new East Applegate Ridge Trail, it didn't lead to any deer pit, although it did drop down into a valley.

Epic views, all day long
The Applegate Ridge Trail (ART) is the brainchild and pet project of the Applegate Trails Association and when complete, the 50'ish mile ART will connect Cathedral Hills (located south of Grants Pass) to the general vicinity of the quaint town of Jacksonville. But wait, it gets even better!

Glenn hikes through the madrones, oak, and conifer
The Siskiyou Uplands Trails Association is also at work making the Jack-Ash Trail happen. They already have installed a 12 mile section of trail connecting both ends of the Sterling Ditch Trail. When complete, the Jack-Ash Trail will make it possible to hike from Jacksonville to Ashland on continuous trail. But still, it gets better yet! Both the ART and the Jack-Ash Trails share the same terminus in Jacksonville so it will be possible to hike from Cathedral Hills all the way to Ashland. I can hardly wait!

Taking care of traihead formalities
The East ART is a 5.6 mile section of what will eventually be the full-length ART, and it contours above Bishop Creek and Poormans Creek's drainages and naturally, there is a trailhead at either end of the trail. So our choices were to start low and go high, or start high and go low. It really didn't matter all that much, because we were hiking this trail as an out-and-back and we would experience both the best and worst this trail had to offer, with respect to elevation gain and loss.

Didn't take long for the views to show up
Before we started experiencing that elevation loss however, the route was remarkably level for nearly the first three miles. The first view came maybe a quarter-mile from the trailhead and the epic vistas continued for most of the hike. Clouds covered up the sky for the most part but sunbeams leaked through and spotlit the bald grassy ridge we were contouring across.

Look, but don't touch!
Poison oak covered the hillsides in thick clumps, their presence quite striking due to the autumn colors of the accursed itch-spawning plant contrasting with the golden grasses waving in a soft breeze. Other colorful items were the dark red trunks and limbs of manzanita, and ditto for madrone trees, except that their trunks are colored orange just like the President's. Plus, a few oaks were letting the odd leaf here and there turn yellow. The lavender end of the spectrum was represented by a few specimens of coyote mint still in bloom.

I can see the town of Ruch from here!

The autumn plumage of (mostly) poison oak was nice and all, but really this hike was all about the stunning panoramas laid out before us. The hike started out peering down the deep canyon of Bishop Creek running into the much larger Applegate Valley. Looking like some out-sized quilt, the Applegate Valley was covered by a patchwork of farm pastures, some reposing luxuriously in a sunbeam while the rest shivered under a cloud's dark shadow.

Peaks of the Siskiyou foothills
Surrounding the valleys were a series of prominent peaks in the Siskiyou foothills. The geography of this area is not my strong suit but I believe we were looking at Miller Mountain, Mount Isabelle, and Woodrat Mountain. And as a personal slight to me, the Oregon peak-namers made sure that I also was looking at Mount Baldy AND Baldy Mountain. Ouch, they sure know how to rub it in! Behind the foothills rose the Siskiyou Mountains, their presence more felt than seen as they were mostly hidden in the clouds. The view of the valleys constantly changed, shifted, and ever exquisitely evolved as the trail twisted and turned on the grassy ridge.

Madrones reach for the sky
At the end of the level portion of trail, a strategically placed bench provided a place to contemplate the peaks and valleys laid out before us, and we took the opportunity to do that very thing. Just after the bench, the trail dropped down through a forest comprised of a mishmash of conifer, madrone, and oak. We almost mourned the loss of epic views but we were soon out of the forest within a half-mile and back in our happy place: hiking while oohing and aahing at the scenery. Much photography ensued.

Katy enjoyed taking her humans for a walk
Eventually the footpath morphed into an old roadbed, the downhill grade increasing markedly as the road had originally been designed for automobiles and not for hikers. We were nearing Highway 238 and as we sunk down into the valley, the vistas and panoramas were hidden from sight. But hey, at least there was lots of red-leaved poison oak to look at, sarcasm intended. We sat down and ate lunch about a half-mile from the lower trailhead. Katy (Glenn and Carol's dog) was well-fed as she successfully mooched from all hikers in our party.

Rain falls on neighboring mountains
I didn't know it at the time, but I was in the process of getting a flu bug. I had started out with a light headache and sniffles, but I definitely felt ickier once we started toiling uphill. Good thing I was hiking with friends who waited patiently for me as I trudged uphill, feeling like my head was an overfilled water balloon about to pop. Some relief came about halfway up, when the heavens opened up with about a 30 minute rainstorm. The rain felt good though, as it cooled off hot (and feverish) hikers walking uphill.

Autumn is the only time I like seeing poison oak
After a series of uphill switchbacks, we reached the scenic bench and sat down, watching the storm clouds break up after the rain ceased falling. The good news was that the next three miles were relatively level and we got to enjoy the awesome views all over again. From neighboring Woodrat Mountain, paragliders were floating around the summit, looking like multicolored gossamer-winged pterodactyls in search of hikers to eat.

Glenn and Carol hike on the edge of the world
This was an awesome hike and a shout-out to Glenn and Carol for expanding my hiking horizons. If the remaining sections of ART and Jack-Ash are anything like this hike, it will be one epic backpack trip. For now, my hiking list just got a few hikes larger: the completed section of the Jack-Ash trail is on tap, as is the full route when both trail projects are completed. Whoo!

Fellow hiker on the trail
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Floras Lake

Hiking with grandson Liam went like this:

Mile 1: Grandpa, I'm tired, can we stop now?

Mile 2: Now I'm tired AND hungry, can we go back pleeeeeze?

Mile 3: I want my mommy!

Mile 4: No more words, just lots of tears

Where there is water, there is Luna
Well, if truth be told, none of those things happened but I did mention (or threaten) to Liam that I would write in my blog that he cried the whole time. So, there it is, I kept my promise and put it in the blog, but now here's the real story about our hike in the Floras Lake area.

My peeps
Liam had relocated from Spokane, Washington to Grants Pass, Oregon a couple of summers ago, and while we see him fairly regularly, the sad fact remained that up until this hike, we had only talked about hiking together. Well, when you have a grandson that politely nags you vicariously through his mother, plans get made. And so it came to be that on a cool mid-September morning, Liam and I headed out to the Oregon coast for a moderate hike. Other strenuous routes had been considered, but in the end Liam decided to take it easy on me.

Open-mouthed joy

The other hiker in our little trail party was my dog, Luna. Hiking festivities commenced with a tiring trudge in the soft soils comprising the sandy shore of Floras Lake, but Luna wasted no time running at breakneck speed through the lake's water. It is impossible for anybody else to ever have as much fun hiking as Luna does. Liam and I did not run at breakneck speed, as our inadequate human legs were already feeling the sweet-hot muscle burn that comes with hiking in soft sand.

Spooky trail
Once the lake was left behind, the Oregon Coast Trail entered a deep dark forest comprised of gnarly trees that so resemble the spooky trees surrounding witches's houses in fairy tale books. Unlike Hansel and Gretel, though, we did not get lost in the forest. As an aside, Hansel and Gretel could have avoided a lot of witch-generated stress if they would have simply consulted their GPS on a more frequent basis.

Much of the hike was through beautiful forest
Not that it was a hot day or anything like that, but the forest was luxuriously shaded and the absence of light was eminently enjoyable. After several miles of this, the trail dropped down to a languid creek which required a long jump across, Luna being seemingly happier to simply wade through the still water. There used to be a wooden boardwalk spanning the knee-deep water but winter floods have since swept it downstream and it is probably a thousand pieces of kindling by now.

One of several view-stops
After leaving the creek, the path climbed up to the forested coastal bluffs and would remain there for the next mile or so. Periodic bushwhacks led to the cliff's edges with awesome views of the untamed Oregon coast being our ample reward. At one such viewpoint, a rock arch on a beach below provided a notable point of geologic interest.

Why we hike
There used to be a faint path through the scratchy coastal scrub to a particular overlook that provides my favorite view in all of Oregon. However, over the years, robust vegetation has overgrown the trail and the last time I hiked here, I led a group literally inching on our backs underneath all the thick growth. But today, coming in from the north, a faint path angled away from the main trail and we followed it to see where it went.

It's a Richard Hike!
It led, as all faint paths do here, to the edge of the cliffs. The good news though, was that it was low vegetation and grass all the way to my favorite viewpoint, about a quarter-mile away. A wade through knee-high salal was performed by the two humans while the dog contingent joyfully leapfrogged over all the scratchy and pokey growth.

A flock of seagulls
From the orange-colored bluff, the cliffs stretched for several miles to the north, while the coast arced beyond until it could be seen no more. Below, the surf seethed and churned, throwing itself onto the dark sandy beach in an endless succession of waves. A large flock of seagulls flew out over the ocean and "I Ran" (gratuitous 80's synthpop band Flock of Seagulls reference).

Imposing Battleship Bow
Immediately below and to the south of our cliff-top perch, waves crashed upon the rocky wall of Battleship Bow while a small waterfall splash-landed at the feet of the craggy point. Life is good when surrounded by such stupendous scenery, especially when properly spiced up by a jalapeƱo sandwich, although I noticed Liam's sandwich contained an appalling lack of jalapeƱos.

The side trails were faint and overgrown
After a nice long lunch 'n laze, it was time to pack up and bushwhack back to the trail. Upon our return to the languid creek, we opted to drop down an overgrown path to the beach. This beach is kind of on the wild side, with tall cliffs forcing hikers to have to hike near the water's edge on a narrow strip of sand. The shore slopes away rather steeply from the cliffs, which means the waves crash noisily upon the shore but do not run inland much at all. But it can be dangerous, though, slipping down the sandy slope will drop you down into an unforgiving ocean churn, and if waves roll up all the way to the cliffs, there is no place to run and hide. 

Imposing cliff, seen from beach level
Naturally, our progress along the cliffs was painstaking and careful, we walked as close as we could to the the tall wall of orange rock. After a half-mile or so, the beach widened and all thoughts of mortal danger were left behind on the narrow beach. Piles of kelp, stranded by waning tides, littered the beach and resembled giant green spaghetti noodles on a sandy dinner plate. Continuing further along the beach, the cliffs became less and less imposing: either we were getting taller or they were getting shorter. I'm guessing it was the latter.  And just like that and without ceremony, the cliffs disappeared altogether underneath the sand, leaving a long sand-only beach stretching out into the distance under a blue sky.

Liam on the return, by way of Floras Lake
A short walk along Floras Lake finished off this hike while Luna ran mindlessly in the water all over again. I said nobody can enjoy a hike like Luna does, but I think Liam and I came close. We both agreed we will have to do this again, soon.

Zen moment
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dellenback Dunes (Hall Lake version)

My life is not complete until I purchase a shoulder-season sleeping bag with all of these features: 850-fill water-resistant goose down, 15-dernier ripstop nylon shell, variable baffle spacing locates, an insulated yoke to prevent heat loss at the shoulders, and an internal anti-snag zipper strip combine to prevent that awkward moment when your trap yourself inside your own sleeping bag. And that is just one little item on my very large list of stuff that I absolutely have to have.

Why we hike!
Unfortunately, reality butts heads with wants, like two rutting bighorn sheep crashing into each other on the high mountain ridge of I'm-Not-Working-Anymore. So, despite my best efforts to retire and stop working altogether, I find myself gainfully employed on a part-time basis because I have full-time needs. And despite my best efforts to live the remainder of my life as a reclusive hermit, I now find I must interact with co-workers too, darn it. And despite my best efforts to introduce my colleagues to the wonderful little avocation of hiking, my sofa-bound workmates politely decline my invitations. Until now, that is. Newly hired Jay has recently come to Roseburg by way of Massachusetts and India, and when he opined he wanted to go hiking with me, I happily seized the opportunity to take him on a hike before he actually read my blog.

An incoming fog bank was cause for concern
Normally, my go-to hike for newbies is the Rogue River Trail but the worst fire season ever was still smoking out southern Oregon, so it was off to the coast for cleaner and clearer air. Good news had arrived in the form of light rain during the week prior, and all of western Oregon rejoiced at the tamping down of the fires. However, there was no blue sky waiting for Jay and I at the John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead, just a bleak overcast of gray clouds. Still, that was better than the bleak overcast of dirty brown clouds of acrid smoke and ash that we had been contending with for the last six weeks.

Portal to Dellenback Dunes

The trail to the dunes is fairly civilized at the start, heading through coastal woods after crossing Eel Creek on a picturesque wooden bridge. This was mid-September, so the coastal huckleberries were in season and we partook as we walked through the damp woods. Eventually, the well-maintained path morphed into a sandy track and Jay was quite taken with the smooth red limbs of manzanita, as the unique shrub does not grow in Massachusetts or India, apparently.

Singing "The first hill is the steepest..."
Once the trail spit us out onto Dellenback Dunes proper, we quickly walked uphill in soft sand to the top of the "Great Dune". After admiring the view of the vast sandy expanse stretching out towards the ocean, we discussed our hiking options. The normal route is to hike on the "Great Dune" to the beach trail, follow the beach to Tenmile Creek, and then bushwhack back for an 8'ish mile loop. For a shorter distance, we could walk to the beach and back for a 6'ish mile and relatively easy hike. Then there was the wildly up and downer to Hall Lake. While short in mileage, this little hike is mighty in climbing up and down some rather large mountains of sand. Jay opted for the last route, so short and sweet our hike would be.

Jay finds out downhill in soft sand is better than uphill

As we dropped down the "Great Dune", I remarked to Jay this would be easy! But what goes down, must come up and we soon quit talking to each other as we struggled up a large sand alp, the soft sand making it hard to work our way up to the top.  Once at the dune summit, we again admired the views while waiting for our respiration rate to return to normal as our heaving lungs worked overtime to catch up. Only 4 more dunes to go!

Grubs live int the sand
While going up and down a successive series of giant sand dunes, I noticed small bug tracks weaving hither and yon on the sand. Once such track ended abruptly so I dropped to my knees and dug carefully around the end point. I was rewarded for my efforts when a grub rolled into my hands.  Mystery solved! I had always wondered creature had made those tracks.

Seed beetles were out for a hike, too
Another mystery was solved when I spotted a red-and-black seed beetle crawling on the sand. For years, I had observed a particular set of tracks that consisted of short little feet, like a centipede, with a tail-dragging mark in between. It always looked to me like a lizard track, except there are no lizards in these sand dunes. Well, turns out that tail-drag is the mark that a beetle butt makes when it's dragged through the sand. The next great mystery concerns why the beetle is out there in the first place, there's not much out there in the way of vegetation apart from beachgrass.

The dearly departed
One of the highlights of this route is the ghost forest atop the third dune we climbed over. At one point, there had been a thriving forest of trees growing here. My theory is that the sand encroached the trees and smothered the life out of them. At any rate, all that is left of the trees is a stand of ghostly white snags etched against the skyline. The sand is littered with tree parts and before long, the snags will crumble into little itty-bitty pieces and the ghost forest will be no more. The wind soughing through the trees imparted a forlorn air about the place. Jay and I walked reverently past the tree graveyard, paying utmost respect to the deceased.

Let's walk up that!
The fifth dune was the toughest one, seemingly more sandy wall than dune. We angled across the face of it because going up would never work. As it was, it was two steps up and one down and if you stopped to take a picture, admire the view, or simply rest, you were liable to lose all that hard-won elevation as the sand collapsed under your feet.

Hall Lake
Our reward for this dune, though, was a nice overlook of scenic Hall Lake, its dark waters half in the sandy dunes and the other half in densely wooded forest. As we had been walking we had noticed a large bank of clouds and fog  rolling in and just before we got to the lake, the fog arrived, carried in by a stout breeze. The temperature dropped and we put on some extra clothing as we shivered while eating lunch.

The fog paid a brief visit
We didn't tarry because of the chill breeze, so after lunch, we headed back to the crest of the large dune we had hiked in on. The wind was brisk but on the positive side, it blew that nasty fog bank all the way to Kansas, and it became a sunny day all of a sudden.

Free skin exfoliation at Dellenback Dunes
This particular dune was acutely defined on its crest and the wind was blowing sand over it, blurring the sharp lines of the dune. I had shorts on and my shins can painfully testify to the sandblasting properties of windblown sand. Once we dropped off the dune, we were sheltered from the wind and it became what legitimately could be called a warm day.

There were numerous little ponds in the dunes still
I was trying to get to the flats behind the deflation plain forest but it seemed no matter how much we angled towards the flats, deep canyons and brushy oases forced us away from the sandy flats. So, once we got out of that mess, we simply followed guide posts back to the "Great Dune". And from there, it was back to our car via the sandy track.

Boys will be boys
Before this hike, my boss had sent me a text message, warning me that I had better return Jay in the same relative condition I had found him in. So, I texted her back (after the hike) that Search-and-Rescue were optimistic they could find him before nightfall. But the truth of the matter is I didn't harm him, unless you count shoes full of sand as being harmful.

Tiger beetles were flitting all over the sands
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.