Friday, April 24, 2015

Badger Creek Wilderness Loop: Little Badger Creek and School Canyon Trails

Sunset in the rock garden in the Badger Creek Wilderness

Badger Creek Wilderness is located within a very interesting and strikingly beautiful ecosystem. Near the eastern boundary drought stunted Oregon white oak populate the grasslands, while the western portion is home to western juniper, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and grand fir. Stunning views east to the 'Oregon Plains' along with beautiful and varied forest make this a great destination for early season backpacking.

A fairly large ponderosa pine along Little Badger Creek

Little Badger Creek along the Little Badger Creek Trail

After pouring over maps for a few days and endless web searches Caitlin and I decided to start our hike at the Little Badger Creek Trailhead. Since it was only going to be about 9 miles round trip we were unsure if we wanted to camp at the Rock Garden or along Little Badger Creek near the dilapidated cabin. The road to Little Badger Creek Trailhead is well maintained and could easily be accessed with a 2wd car. From the trailhead the trail starts to climb slightly while closely following Little Badger Creek. After about one mile you will enter into a lightly burned area that is rapidly recovering. There are also many Oregon white oak near the top of the ridge.

Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine seedlings quickly establishing themselves in a burn area

Nearly a pure stand of Oregon white oak along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Oregon white oak and ponderosa pine along the Little Badger Creek Trail

After walking along a ridge for about one mile you start to descend towards Little Badger Creek where there is an old mining cabin and a mine shaft. We thought about camping near the old cabin, but because of the stream and dense forest it was fairly chilly. There is also an incredibly steep .7 mile climb that didn't want to start the next day with. If you want to check out the mine walk about .1 mile along the well established trail west from the cabin.

Oregon white oak along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Early season wildflowers

Old Kinzel mine cabin along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Kinzel Mine entrance along the Little Badger Creek Trail
After making our way up the nearly 1000 foot climb in about 7/10 of a mile, we set out for the spring that is just passed the Rock Garden. We came across a few guys who were camped near the spring so we ended up camping at the old Helispot Viewpoint. From here we had about a 2/10 of a mile walk down to the spring and incredible views of the Rock Garden and east towards the plains. 

Western juniper along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Looking up the steep section near the old mining cabin

Campsite in the Rock Garden

View from the Helispot Viewpoint
Both sunrise and sunset were incredible from the Helispot. After a quick breakfast we set out east on the School Canyon Trail. I couldn't find any rational for why the trail was named this unfortunately. Areas that rapidly transition from one forest type to another quickly are always incredible to me. Portions of the School Canyon Trail have been burned, but the now open forest provides beautiful views to the north and east.

Sunrise from the Helispot Viewpoint in the Badger Creek Wilderness

Looking northeast along the School Canyon Trail

Clear view towards the northeast along the School Canyon Trail
As you make your way around Ball Point and begin to descend views of Mount Jefferson (Seekseekqua) and the Three Sisters appear to the north. The transition from conifer dominated forest to shrubby Oregon white oak is quick as you make your way across the flat near the School Canyon Trailhead.
Mount Jefferson (Seekseekqua) and the barely visible Three Sisters

Shrubby Oregon white oak along the School Canyon Trail
After reaching the School Canyon Trailhead we walked for about 3/10 of a mile and then turned south towards the Little Badger Creek Trailhead. The road walk along Forest Road 27 wasn't too bad, the gravel is relatively small, so it didn't tear up our feet. 'Bushwhacking' down to the trailhead turned out to be really easy with the exception of a short steep section. We ended up shooting slightly west of the trailhead and came out back on the Little Badger Creek Trail about 1/10 of a mile from the trailhead.

Caitlin 'bushwhacking' back towards the Little Badger Creek Trailhead

Directions from The Dalles: Follow Highway 197 south for 26.9 miles, turn right on to Shadybrook Road, follow for 1.1 miles, turn left onto Fairgrounds Road, follow for .6 miles, turn right onto Badger Creek Road/Happy Ridge Road, follow for 8.1 miles. The trailhead parking is on the left and the trail starts on the right side of the road.

Hike Distance: 9 miles round trip

Hike Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: 2,000 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 2,100 Feet

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 2 out of 5

Fees: None

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pickett Canyon: South Fork Crooked River Wilderness Study Area

Found near the geographic center of Oregon, the South Fork Crooked River Wilderness Study Area (WSA) offers high desert beauty and solitude. Currently there are no official trails through the South Fork Crooked River WSA, but cross country travel is relatively easy. I had decided to start my hike at Furnace Waterhole, which was an adventure to reach. A high clearance vehicle is necessary because of the large rocks that you must drive over- you will not be able to make it here in a passenger car. There was also several large and fairly deep puddles that would have stopped a low clearance vehicle. If you don't have a high clearance vehicle available to you, you could park ~3 miles before Furnace Waterhole and walk in.
Furnace Waterhole 
Heading down Pickett Canyon
Unfortunately because of the long drive I started hiking down Pickett Canyon about an hour before dark. This canyon was pretty easy to make my way down, but there was some pretty sketchy patches of ice. When I reached the confluence of Pickett Creek and the South Fork Crooked River I spotted a nice campsite among a few western junipers.

Campsite near the confluence Pickett Creek and South Fork Crooked River

Sunrise looking south from the confluence of Pickett Creek and South Fork Crooked River
After studying my topographic map I decided to hike upriver for a little over a mile and then make my way up a canyon to South Dagus Reservoir. The ground was frozen and ice covered nearly everything, which made for an incredible sunrise. Walking along the river was fairly easy because of the trail made by both domesticated and wild animals.

Sunrise on the South Fork Crooked River

Heading up a canyon towards South Dagus Reservoir
As I neared the top of the canyon near South Dagus Reservoir, I came across a fence that has a gate near the southwestern corner. From the reservoir I simply walked across the flat back towards Furnace Waterhole. Along the flat there were several herds of mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and wild horses.

Looking back down towards the South Fork Crooked River

South Dagus Reservoir

Wild horses in the South Fork Crooked River Wilderness Study Area
If you're looking for high desert solitude the South Fork Crooked River WSA will definitely deliver. This area should definitely be designated a Wilderness Area. 

Well defined 'game' trail

Expansive views looking towards the Gerry Mountain Wilderness Study Area
Directions from Bend: Follow Highway 20 east for 51.3 miles to Van Lake Road, turn left, follow for 19.3 miles, turn right onto Bear Creek-Fife road, follow for 1.6 miles, follow for 8.5 miles turn left onto unsigned Upper Table Road, follow for 3 miles, Furance Waterhole is on the left. If you reach the ranch on GI Road turn around and back track about two miles until you see a small road with an access allowed sign.

Hike Distance: 6 miles round trip

Hike Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: 500 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 4,500 Feet

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 3 out of 5

Fees: None

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Short Trek into Opal Creek Wilderness: Henline Falls

Henline Falls
Gold was first found in the Opal Creek Watershed in 1859. The legacy of the ensuing gold rush left many hillsides up and down the narrow valleys dotted with mine shafts.There is little left of the Silver King mining complex. With the exception of a 1,700 foot long shaft right next to the falls. Over the years silver, lead, zinc, and gold were pulled out of the mines near Henline Falls. Thankfully nearly all of the signs of mining have long been washed away.

 Trailhead for Henline Falls

Entering the Opal Creek Wilderness

Start of the Henline Falls trail
The trailhead for Henline Falls is near the boundary of the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area, which was established in 1998. Despite 20 years of legal battles and direct action, some areas in what would later become the Opal Creek Wilderness had already been cut. Much of the trail to Henline Falls follows an old logging road and passes through relatively young patches of Douglas-fir. Though there some very old western hemlock and Douglas-fir that can be found along the way. As you make your way up the road that is being quickly reclaimed, keep left at all junctions until you reach the falls a short .8 miles in. 

Nearing Henline Falls

Remnants of mining near Henline Falls
Just before you reach the beautiful blue-green pool that Henline Falls cascades into you will have to climb over what appears to be the remnants of a power generation station. Keep an eye out for sharp pieces of re-bar and other various chunks of metal. If it hasn't been too rainy you can make your way about 30 feet or so into a mine shaft before it's blocked by a gate. There was an immense number of spiders lining the walls of the mine, so watch your hands. Though a relatively long drive from Eugene, Henline Falls allows for a low elevation introduction to the beauty that Opal Creek Wilderness has to offer. With the exception of very low elevation snow the trail remains accessible year round.

Directions from Eugene: Follow I-5 north for 61 miles, turn right onto Highway 22, follow for 23 miles, turn left onto North Fork Road, follow for 17.25 miles to a well marked pull-out on the left.

Hike Distance: 1.6 miles round trip

Hike Type: Out and Back 

Elevation Gain: 400 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 1,600 Feet

Usage: Light in Winter

Difficulty: 1 out of 5

Fees: None


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Three Days on the North Umpqua: Miller Lake to Umpqua Hot Springs

Cold morning on Miller Lake
 Late fall probably isn't the best time of the year to hike the upper section of the North Umpqua Trail, but it was when my friend and I had the time. Our plan was to start at the Digit Point Campground on Miller Lake. Unfortunately we only made it within 4 miles of the campground and with snow falling we wanted our ride to get back onto Highway 97. So we started off the evening with a 4 mile walk up Forest Road 9772. Thankfully the snow wasn't all that deep on the road, so we made decent time. Our goal for the next day was to hike the nearly 14 miles to the Kelsay Valley Horse Campground.

Looking toward Miller Lake

Ed taking his turn breaking through the sometimes thigh deep snow
Backpacking during late fall is always a challenge because snow makes travel slow and there is only about 9 hours of day light. So we tried to set out shortly after first light which was definitely a good idea. Approximately 4 of the 14 miles was knee deep snow, which made for incredibly slow progress. Thankfully not long after Maidu Lake we started to descend which resulted in less snow.

Looking south on the Pacific Crest Trail close to Windigo Pass

Maidu Lake

The official start of the North Umpqua Trail
Once we reached Maidu Lake we thought about walking across it to avoid walking through more deep snow, but after discussing it for a minute we decided against it. The area around Maidu Lake is beautiful and a late summer visit after the mosquitoes have died off would make for an excellent short backpacking trip from Miller Lake. The forest throughout much of this portion of the hike is dominated by lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock, and subalpine fir. As you start walking along the Umpqua River the forest is nearly pure lodgepole pine. As the miles of snow wore on we decided to not take a break until we got out of the snow, which never really ended. Once we reached the Mount Thielsen Wilderness boundary at Tolo Creek we stopped to have a late lunch. 

Snow covered bridge over an unnamed creek

Tolo Creek Crossing along the Umpqua Trail

 There was a bitterly cold wind blowing off the snow covered areas to our east so we hunkered down behind a few fallen Englemann spruce and had some lunch. The trail outside of the wilderness boundary was somewhat rutted and appeared to see frequent mountain bike use during the warmer months. Though the snow had mostly faded the ground was frozen and had a strange crunch to it. Upon reaching  Kelsay Valley Horse Campground we were stoked to find a massive amount of chopped wood.

Light dusting of snow at Kelsay Valley Horse Camp

Snow along the banks of the North Umpqua River

We awoke to a light dusting of snow; thankfully it was mostly frozen when we set out. Our plan for this day was to eat an early lunch at the Lemolo Lodge and then make it to Umpqua Hot Springs. Unfortunately the family that owns the lodge didn't feel like selling us any food despite our best attempt at looking cold and hungry. So after a quick lunch back on trail we set out down the Dread and Terror section of the North Umpqua Trail.

Edward near a small cascade along the North Umpqua Trail

Large fallen trees crossing the North Umpqua River

The Dread and Terror section was named by early Forest Service firefighters whom dreaded working in the steep and rocky terrain. Near the upper trailhead the forest is dominated by lodgepole and ponderosa pine, but it quickly transitions to Douglas-fir, western redcedar, and western hemlock. One of my favorite aspects of this hike was seeing the variation in tree species from close to treeline down to 2,000 feet. The tread in this section is fairly rocky and water is often flowing across the trail, so your feet will take a beating. Several waterfalls are found along the trail including, Lemolo, Surprise, and Columnar.

Water flowing from the hillside across the North Umpqua Trail

Lemolo Falls along the North Umpqua Trail
 We ended up being about 4 miles short of Umpqua Hot Springs as darkness fell, but decided to push on. There being no suitable camping and the prospect of a long soak after a rough day compelled us to keep moving. Darkness and rain prevented further picture taking unfortunately. After filling our water at Columnar Falls we pushed up the trail into the parking lot where we spotted a family of racoons near the trash cans. The trail up to Umpqua Hot Springs is short but steep. Nearing the hot spring we came across a group leaving who offered us some much needed whiskey. Instead of camping near the trailhead and having to climb the hill multiple times we found a relatively flat area, just big enough for two tents about 20 yards from the hot springs.

Campsite near the trailhead for Umpqua Hot Springs

Looking upriver from the bridge crossing to Umpqua Hot Springs
 This is an incredible hike and I look forward to hiking the lower half in the near future. If you're going to head out on the upper sections of the North Umpqua Trail before spring be ready for extensive blowdown and plentiful snow.  

Directions from Oakridge: Follow Highway 58 east for 58 miles turn right onto Highway 97, follow for 7.2miles, turn right onto FR 9772, follow for 11.3 miles, the trailhead is at the end of the road.

Hike Distance: 33 miles one way

Hike Type: Out and Back 

Elevation Gain: 4000 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 5,200 Feet

Usage: Heavy in Summer

Difficulty: 4 out of 5

Fees: None