Another Adventure in Oregon ~

April 14, 2010

A Visit to the Middle Fork Trail

Middle Fork of the Willamette

It’s been a wet cool spring in Oregon but you don’t really realize just how cool and wet until you spend a little time in the mountains. On Saturday April 10, Bill Wyncoop, Clay DeForge and I took a hike on the Middle Fork of the Willamette Trial above Hills Creek Reservoir.

Clay and Bill

We decided to hike a section near Indigo Springs as that should be well below the snow line and yet a section that wasn’t right near a road. On the way up we saw two heard of elk. The first herd I saw 6-8 grazing in a little opening by the river. It wasn’t long before we saw 4 more right on the road! One of them was a bull in the velvet that was just starting to fork.

We checked Bill map and saw that there was a place called Cliff Springs to the west about a mile to mile and a half and we also wanted to go east and see Chuckle Springs. That meant a little back-tracking but that really didn’t matter as we were just there to enjoy the trail.

A Middle Fork Trail Sign

It was a shot 0.1 mile down to the Middle Fork Trail from the car down a side trail. The temperatures were just above freezing and make our coats feel pretty good. The lush green forest and deep blue-green river was a feast for our eyes.

The Middle Fork Trail

New Trail Markers

We didn’t go far until we came to the bridge crossing Indigo Creek. With all the rain we had recently it was flowing pretty full and make a good place to get a picture or two.

Indigo Creek Sign

Indigo Creek Bridge

About a mile and a half west of the side trail we came in on we got to the Cliff by what we thought was Cliff Springs. As the snow hadn’t been gone long the cliff wasn’t as mossy and green as it will be in another month or so. On the west end of the Cliff we did find a couple predominate springs gushing from the rocks and we took this for Cliff Springs.

The Cliff Near Cliff Springs

Cliff Springs

OK we saw that so then we headed east back up the Middle Fork trail and this time east of the side trail we came in on. The sign said Chuckle Springs was only a couple of miles. About a half mile we came to a place where a small creek merged with the river. A sign said Pioneer Gulch  Creek.  There were numerous small bridges and creeks  along this section of the trail as it runs right along the bank.

Pioneer Gulch Creek

Plank Bridges

One Log Bridge

It wasn’t long before we could see the burned off south slopes of the valley. This was last summer’s Tumblebug Complex Fires.

The edge of the Burn across the river

Tumblebug Burn

The Tumblebug Fire

On September 12, 2010, two lightning-ignited fires were reported to be burning in Tumblebug Creek, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. Three weeks later 14,570 acres had burned, including ~5,000 acres of old-growth spotted owl forests, and $100 million in timber had been destroyed. The real tragedy, however, is that the Tumblebug Fire is a harbinger of larger, more severe, and more damaging fires to come.

Burned! - As Far As You Can See

Bill had worked on this fire and said that the warm weather, very steep slopes with a lot of fuel ( brush and biomass) on the ground cause a very intense chimney that sent burning chunks of limbs raining down a mile or more ahead of the fire, spreading even further and faster. At time there was no way to fight it and the Forest Service focused on setting back-fire way ahead of the fire to try to contain it.

Burned Out Cedar Rootcrown

Strange Looking Snags

As we got into the burn area it was obvious that fire crew working in the area had used the trail and had done some significant clearing along the way. The bridges across small creeks were almost completely gone on only remnants of the largest logs left.

Burned Bridge

It wasn’t far before we came to a sign for Chuckle Springs. From there is was only a couple hundred yard to a lone picnic table. Chuckle Springs wasn’t chuckling much since the fire. I had to look carefully to spot the spring oozing from the hillside and running into a logjam of fire debris. This had once been a lush secret camp site and appeared to have been used a a camp for fire fighters working in the area.

Is That Chuckle Springs?

Chuckle Springs

Chuckle Springs Camp

After shooting a few pictures I noticed smoke coming from about 50 yard from above the picnic table. At first I thought someone must be camped there but upon a closers exploration it was smoke coming from a shell of a stump. Bill confirmed that this was still a remnant of the burn and that root can smolder for months afterwards. We noted the position so Bill could report it to the Forest Service.

I See Smoke!

After taking a lunch break at Chuckle Springs we decided to continue up the trail towards Paddy’s Valley. About a half miles above Chuckle Springs we came to a fork in the trail. The fork that headed down toward the river had a bold sign saying “Trail Closed Due to Fire”. It appeared that the closed section was the way we needed to go so we skirted the log and headed down the hill. There was only a remnant of the trail left and by the time we got to the bottom of the very steep slope it was completely obliterated with a log jam of charred trees. We make a quick decision that we’d try the other trail and wheezed back up the hill. At one point there was section of what was once a staircase to traverse the steep slope.

Trail Closed!

Burned out Staircase

The tail soon showed little signs of any maintenance and we fought our way thru burnt down trees and debris. As we were now above 3000 feet elevation we started getting into snow. First in small patches but before long it was a even blanket covering the forest. We finally got past most of the burn area but the snow continued to get deeper. Finally a mile or more above Chuckle Springs we gave it up as the snow was now ankle deep or more. We then began the 3 plus mile hike back to the car.

Snow Covered Bridge

Logjam in the River

Once back at the car again we decided to go take a look at Indigo Springs which was just a short walk from where we had parked. The campground is well out of the burn area and still a beautiful lush green. It was amazing to see the water gush from the hillside and form the creek in just a few yards. This is a very beautiful spot and well worth a visit if you are ever in the vicinity.

Indigo Springs Campground

Indigo Springs

It had been another great hike and a chance to see more of the beauty of the forests around us. As it had been ours since we had really eaten much our stomach could hear the call of the good food and brew at the Union Brewers Local 180 in Oakridge calling us. This is a popular spot in the downtown of Oakridge. Although the menu isn’t extensive the food they had was great and we sat outside and soaked up a little sunshine and mused over the events of the day.

Enjoy this adventure and I hope you’ll find time for an adventure of your own sometime soon.