Archive for June, 2019

WORKING ON A WINTER TRAIL IN SUMMER

June 12, 2019

I wasn’t sure where I was.  I had left the trail, such as it was, fifteen minutes earlier, bushwhacking towards a Forest Service Road about a half mile away.  But I wasn’t making much progress, because the straight line route had large blowdowns, and I had to detour around them.  I thought the trail was to my right somewhere, but I wasn’t even sure of that. 

It was additionally buggy and warm.  I had a GPS, so I knew where I had to go, but even with that, I often found the arrow pointing direction to be pointing perpendicular to where I thought I was going.  The arrow can be very annoying, pointing where I don’t want it to. I have good direction sense on trails, but in the middle of the woods, many ways are possible, and most of them are wrong. My sense of direction was taking me about 45 degrees away from the line I needed to take.

I had gone out to work the Ikenick Sno-Park to put up blue diamonds on the trees for winter travel.  There are many such parks in the mountains, a lot of trails.  I hadn’t planned to adopt Ikenick, but in January, a snowshoe trip there that I was on was stymied by the trail’s suddenly ending with no diamonds to guide us.  We backtracked, and I and one other snowshoed to the other end of the loop and tried that way.  We got to within 100 yards of where we originally were.  Could have fooled me.  There were a lot of brown bushes and white snow.  I didn’t see a blue diamond.  

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Ikenick in winter, Isaak Nickerson Loop

Anyway, that trip was the second time an Ikenick trail had done that to me, and I swore that if nobody was going to fix the problem, I would.  I wrote the Forest Service, offering my services, the recipient being one with whom I had spent a rainy autumn day fishing tree limbs out of the hot pools at Terwilliger Hot Springs, working on rehabilitating the place after a forest fire had started there last summer.  Today was my day to take hammer, nails, blue diamonds, a hard hat, and a day pack, and I was beginning to think swearing to do this job should have come after a bit more thought.

I bushwhacked through brush, avoided a few holes, didn’t get stuck on a sharp branch, all the while thinking this was not good for being found, should I wrench a knee or keel over, although I wasn’t that far from the road.  It was far enough.  Eventually, I found the road and had to decide whether the trail was to my right or left.  Despite my thinking in the woods it was to my right, I went left, because when we snowshoed the loop, there was a significant distance to the beginning of the other end of the loop.  Sure enough, after a half mile—was I that far from the trail?—there it was.  

Going in the other direction, I got to 400 feet of where I was before, where the trail and diamonds ended, just like last winter.  I went a little further, thick forest on my left and brushy Ceanothus (lilac) plants on my right.  What a mess.  Eventually, I found the other end and then had to figure out the best way to mark a winter trail where a few feet of snow ideally covers the brush.  I worked my way along the wooded boundary, putting diamonds on both sides of those trees where the diamonds would not be hidden by branches or other obstructions.  I noted where I had left the trail to bushwhack, shaking my head at how far off I wandered, and eventually finished marking as much of the trail as I could.

There is one more trail in Ikenick that needs work.  I didn’t have my coffee mug with me that has the simple words, “Not Today,” but I thought about it.  I didn’t have any more diamonds, only a hammer and nails, along with my hard hat and fortunately long pants.  My skin has become a lot more frail with age, and every time I work in the woods, I come home with subcutaneous bruising, or frankly torn skin with blood on my shirt.  I never feel any of this happening, so it is must be adrenaline on the job.  My arm is last month’s diary of various cuts and scrapes caused by working in the woods. Three days earlier, I was helping clear trail in the Umpqua National Forest, rolling large yard-wide diameter logs, that had been cut, off the trail down an embankment.  But what really scraped my skin were the small trees that I was cutting away from the trail.  They are nasty. On the way home, I found new purple blotches.

I have become a wildflower enthusiast, even while working in the woods, noting Oregon anemones with their 5 white petals, the 4-petal bunchberries in bloom, with a plethora of red berries to follow later this summer.  The Ceanothus was fragrant, although I didn’t smell it voluntarily.  Pushing it away, it bathed me in pollen.  Walking back down the road, I saw wild strawberries and blackberry plants blooming, and Thompson’s Mist Maidens, tiny, discrete five petaled white flowers along the tire tracks. It was warm, but the heat of the summer was yet to come. Back at the car, I again noted the western buttercups and the False Solomon’s Seal in bloom here, whereas it has been gone for some time at elevations 2000 feet. 

I was up in this area last week scouting nearby Crescent Mountain for a hike next weekend.  Three weekends in a row I will be up here doing Club work or High Cascade Volunteer Work.  Last month, I was twenty miles further back towards Eugene clearing trails in the Andrews Experimental Forest.  It’s a nice way to spend time, working as a volunteer for a variety of groups.  I am in the woods, and while I don’t enjoy bushwhacking, I am in pleasant spots, seeing the various flora and trying to remember what everything is.

I also again learned how easy it is to get lost in the woods.  I left word with my wife where I would be, so with someone to ping my phone, and knowing within a mile or two where I would be, I could be found, hopefully in time, should anything happen.  I prefer the solitude.  It is quiet, although my hearing aids have allowed me to hear the birds a lot better than I once did.  Ikenick is closed for the summer, ski trails and hiking trails not being the same thing.  I will be back next winter, and I hope put the diamonds higher on the trees should there be enough snow to warrant it. I also hope to be able to walk over the buried Ceanothus bushes. My Forest Service contact tells me that can happen in a good year.

On this hot day, I am looking forward to winter and seeing where the trail really goes.

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Beargrass

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The work involved. “059” was a log where I began my bushwhack. I needed some marker to know where I had been.

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The red pin is on the bushwhack route. Notice that I wanted to go in a line between “059” and “S TH”.

SECOND SPRING

June 7, 2019

I rediscovered spring the other day.  Autumn is my favorite season, and I remember once seeing an ad for a place promising “Eternal spring,” wondering why on earth anybody would want that.  My experience in 37 years in Arizona was that spring sometimes followed fall, winter a no-show, or winter immediately transitioned into summer, like in 1989, when there was a week of high 90s in March.  I looked at spring as a brief reminder that a very hot summer was coming, with fires, probably not enough rain, and at least 5 nasty months before I could reasonably expect it would be cool again.

Even in Oregon, spring brings spells of hot weather, dryness, heralding a not as hot but far drier summer than Arizona.  Two years ago, we skipped right over spring and went from snow on the ground at 5000 feet to fires in the space of a month.  Last year, the summer dry season started in May and there was no rain for three solid months.  Early April this year was very wet, putting a dent into the several year drought plaguing us.  But the last two weeks of April and the first half of May were hot and dry.  A couple of systems moved in to cool things off, and a surprise low pressure system—surprise, because the models didn’t show anything six days prior—moved south, over water, and gave us a good soaking right before Memorial Day.  Those rains are like gold.  

As the last system started to leave, I was looking at hiking somewhere, which was a problem, because there was still too much snow in the high country to hike in, but not enough to snowshoe on, and the low elevation trails were full of blowdowns. Indeed, I had put in nearly 200 volunteer hours on trail clearing on 24 separate days out.  My trail viewing was on the hike in and close up and personal on my knees for yards at a time, throwing branches off the trail, after digging them out of the mud.  I got better upper body exercise by sawing small branches and trying to push large logs that we had cut off the trail.  

I was going to wait until the following weekend, but on Memorial Day I decided at 11am I was going to try to hike Hardesty Mountain, a 4300’ Cascade peak known for its arduous 3300 foot elevation gain, no views, and why would anybody want to do it.  

I like Hardesty.  Indeed, the reasons people give for not hiking it are the reasons I do. It’s tough, it climbs, and if it is foggy, I won’t have views anywhere I hike.  Doing it gives me a sense of accomplishment.  I have led hikes up there, once an out and back 18 miler up Hardesty across Sawtooth Ridge to Mt. June, and back, a total elevation gain of over a mile.  There is also the triangular loop that goes down from Eula Ridge and back along the not as level as one hopes South Willamette Trail, which I have been heavily involved in clearing this year.  I hoped Hardesty wouldn’t be too bad.  Eula Ridge was out of the question, because of the blowdowns. Doing trail work last week, one of the other guys told me he recently hiked down Eula Ridge and completely lost the trail at the bottom.  I’m not surprised.  He was lucky he got home that night.

Anyway, the day was cloudy with occasional drizzle, as I drove out to the trailhead, arriving at the time I usually finish a hike. It didn’t matter; sunset is late this time of year, and I wasn’t in a hurry.

I passed two women within the first quarter mile, and a half mile later, a runner came the other way downhill.  That boded well, although I knew we had cleared this part of the Hardesty trail just two weeks earlier.  I went through beautiful old growth forest, huge trees with reds and purples of an occasional rhododendron blooming nearby.  There were inside out flowers everywhere, and the false Solomon’s Seals were in full bloom.  Spring was just beginning here.  The last two flowers were going to seed in Eugene.

Inside out flowers. Their unusual geometry makes them ideal for bumblebees. Indeed, on this hike, I did see a bumblebee pollinate one.

I crossed the dirt road about a third the way up and then had a relatively flat stretch where I got wet from both the trail and the drizzle.  It didn’t matter.  I had a rain jacket if I wanted one, and I was well up the mountain.  There were only two down logs, and I kept going.  Past 3000’ elevation, I started seeing Fawn Lilies, which were in bloom about six weeks ago in Eugene.  Here, there were dozens.  I stopped for a drink at the Eula Ridge Trail junction, now only a half mile from the summit.  The last half mile is the last to lose snow in spring, and I was surprised to see it clear this year, with a multicolor pastel of purple Snow Queens and yellow Shelton Violets.  As I got higher, the yellow blooms of Oregon Grapes were evident.  They bloomed and went to seed two months ago in Eugene.  Almost before I knew it, I was on top where the old lookout was.  Now, the forest has grown up around it. Five years ago, when I first hiked up, there were some views of South Sister.  Today, it was too foggy to matter.

Fawn Lily and Shelton Violets

I came down the trail through a wavy mat on both sides of Oxalis or Wood sorrel.  There were a few Calypso Orchids, as the trail passed through the woods in moderately dense fog.  I had forgotten how lovely a “second” spring was at this elevation.  One had to wait, until the snow was nearly gone, and the first shoots of green were already pushing up.  It was wet without being very muddy, and it would only stay damp a little longer, before the heat of summer would dry everything out for another season.  

Oxalis, trail, and fog