Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Small Taste of Wilderness: Hiking a Bit of the Kelsey National Recreation Trail


Date: April 4, 2018
Place: Kelsey National Recreation Trail, Scott Bar, California
Coordinates: 41.644710, -123.119923
Length: 5 miles
Level: strenuous

Our last night at the Klamath area, after our hikes at Happy Camp's town trail and Seiad Valley's Grinder Creek, was quiet and restful. We woke up to an overcast skies, and I recalled seeing rain in the forecast for the later part of our spring break trip. We broke camp slowly and were on our way to the trail-du-jour which was the kelsey National Recreation Trail.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
The trailhead was deserted and the general atmosphere there glum. As we got our gear together and looked around a bit a pick-up truck came driven by a couple of cheerful National Forest rangers. We had a short chat with them and they told us about the trail. They also told us that the waterfall that we were hoping to get to about 4 miles up the trail was washed by floods a few years back. Soon after they left and once again we were all alone in the forest. 
At the trailhead
The trail doesn't go right away along the creek but begins with a mildly steep rise along the hillside. The area at the trailhead was dotted with lovely violets.
Moose Horn Violet, Viola lobata
We started ascending, walking briskly along the trail. It was a gray day, and the air was chilly. Soon we were spread thinly along the trail with the elder chika in the lead, followed by Pappa Quail and the younger chika, and me - bringing up the rear.
I was looking down for wildflowers but Pappa Quail was listening for birds. He saw some, too.
Townsend's Solitaire 
The Kelsey Trail used to be a miners trail connecting Scott Bar and Fort Jones, crossing the Marble Mountains Wilderness. In parts four hike it was clear that this trail used to be a wider, and better maintained stock road.
Kelsey Trail 
The trail turned and stretched close along the creek, but high above it. Looking down I could see the creek, swollen with snow-melt water, gashing through a narrow gorge.

While the herbaceous wildflowers were still at heir first bloom wave, some shrubs were already done and seeding.

We continued ascending. The trail distanced from the creek somewhat, taking us into the woods. Nearly all the trees were bearing the scars of fire. Many were dead. It was a sad sight.

Every now and then we crossed little brooks that were trickling down to join the Kelsey. We stopped for  a breather near one of them. The chikas started wondering aloud how far will we go so I redirected them to a much better activity - I sent them looking for gold specks in the brook.

After a short snack break we continued on. The trail kept going higher and higher. The grade wasn't steep but the incline was almost continuous. I paused briefly here and there to look at flowers but didn't stoop down for them. The glum grayness must have affected me, too.
Monkeyflowers. Mimulus sp. 
I must admit that it was on this trail that I finally felt in the wild, more so than on any of the trails we've hike on the previous days. Perhaps it was that we were far deeper into the wilderness than before, further away from rte 96 and from human settlements. Perhaps it was the feeling of solitude, or the sound of water rushing below. Either way, we were out there, alone. And the clouds were gathering.
Scars of the forest fire along the Kelsey Creek
The chikas began to linger. Pappa Quail and I debated over when should we turn back. Eventually we agreed to continue forward for about 45 minutes longer before turning around.After that I quickened my pace and moved to the lead.
Mushrooms in the forest
My lead didn't last very long - the elder chika found a green moth on the ground and called me back to take photos. It sure was beautiful!
Clark's Day Sphinx Moth
Most of the way the trail was right at the edge of a cliff or on the side of a steep slope. While for the most it was wide enough to walk comfortably at points it got very narrow. At these segments we had to walk slowly and carefully, occasionally giving a hand to one another to help pass a difficult spot.
On one such narrow spot we came face to face with a small pack of mules returning from an outing of their own. We flattened ourselves the best we could against the hill to allow the mules to pass. We also had a small chat with the riders who confirmed that the waterfall ahead was indeed no longer there.

I kept looking up as the sky grew darker and darker. I expected the the clouds to open up at any moment, but all I could feel were occasional droplets every now and then.

Time was slipping by. We started looking for a place to stop for a break before starting back, and after some time we found a spot where we could get down to the water without risk, and we sat down to rest and eat. That spot was nice and secluded and had been used in the past as a campsite.
The rapids of Kelsey Creek
Pappa Quail heard a birds call and went looking. He came back wearing a grin - he had caught the most elusive Pacific wren on camera! 

Pacific Wren

It was exactly 2 pm when we climbed back to the main trail and started our way back downhill. Our pace was much quicker now, although I still paused every now and then for sights I had missed on the way up. 
Gooseberry, Ribes sp. 
I noticed, for example, the landslides that followed the forest fires. Sad scars upon the earth.

And also wildflowers that looked very familiar, yet somehow different. 
Oaks Toothwort, Cardamine nuttallii
As well as evidence that winter wasn't giving up its hold just yet. 

Mushroom 
On our way up we've seen scarlet fritillaries and I took many photos of these lovely red flowers. At home, however, I found that the best photo of this flower was taken by Pappa Quail on our way back. 

Scarlet Fritillary, Fritillaria recurva 
My best photos were of flowers that Pappa Quail wouldn't even notice, unless I'd point them out to him. But hen again, all the little brown birds look the same to me ... 

Slender Phlox, Microsteris gracilis 
We made it back along the cliff edge and to the trailhead just in the to hide away from the drizzle that had begun. I was impressed by the beauty of the Kelsey Creek trail one day I may try to hike its entire 19 miles. For now it was just a small taste of the area. We were soon on our way back to rte 96 and east to Yreka. 

Before we left Scott Bar, however, I saw some pink flowers along the road and stopped the car to take some quick shots. The pink flowers were rock cress - I could tell that instantly. Trying to identify the species later though, proved to be impossible. I was told by the experts that there were several rare species of rock cress in the area that looked very similar to one another, differing by the pattern of their trichomes - the tiny leaf hairs. I figures that next time I'm in that area in April I'd take a magnifying lens with me ... 
Rock Cress, Arabis sp. 

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Not What We Hoped for But Glad We Went: Hiking at Grinder Creek

Date: April 3, 2018
Place: Grinder Creek, Seiad Valley, California
Coordinates: 41.806857. -123.218384
Length: 1 mile
Level: moderate

We had a nice hike on Town's Trail at Happy Camp but it was a short hike and the day was still young, even after a lengthy lunch break. So in spite of the discouragements from the national forest rangers we decided to drive to Seiad Valley and try hiking on the Grinder Creek trail. This trail is also a segment of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. a.k.a. the PCT and I hoped that as a popular national scenic trail it was maintained reasonably ok.
On our way to the trailhead we came across two elk that were munching away near a house hold fence. They weren't bothered by us and so Pappa Quail and our elder chika got some nice photos of the big and closer one.
Elk
The trailhead is at a PCT campground that seemed like no one had used in some time. walked around for a few minutes, then fund the trail and the bridge on which it crossed Grinder Creek.

A currant bush was blooming under the bridge, full, intensely pink bloom.
Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum
We lingered on the bridge for  a little bit, then walked across and started our hike.
Our hike at Grinder Creek as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
There was much bloom along the trail. Not as bright or diverse as we've seen along Woolly Creek trail but enough to make me happy.
Stream Violet, Viola labella
The elder chika took her camera on the hike this time and soon got busy chasing butterflies.

After only a couple of hundred yards I stopped short - there were Trillium flowers! Everywhere! Anywhere else they had already finished but here, in the Siskiyou, they were at their peak bloom.
Western Wakerobin, Trillium ovatum 
They were mostly white but here and there we saw a purple individual.

I was wrong about the trail. A recent fire had damaged the forest much there, and many dead trees blocked the path. Our progress was slow and the obstacles annoying.

We didn't get very far before giving up and turning back. I felt disappointed but I too couldn't see the point of going on any further at these conditions, especially since we weren't looking for any particular landmark on that trail.
Little white flowers on the forest floor. 

Another sign that here the spring was at its beginning - the Oregon grape of which we've only seen unopened buds. I found a single early blossom close to the ground just about where we had turned back.  

Oregon Grape, Berberis aquifolium
The hound's tongue too - everywhere else it was already fruiting while on this trail it was just beginning. 
Grand Hound's Tongue, Cynoglossum grande
We made it back to the bridge in no time at all. Unwilling to part hastily, we lingered by the bridge and the deserted campground. 
Grinder Creek

Although the trail was unkempt and the bloom was just starting the area had its promise and despite the fire damage the atmosphere was healthy and vibrant. 

Mourning Shroud

We didn't see many birds in the area. We did here plenty, though. A brave robin patrolled the campground, allowing Pappa Quail and the elder chika to photograph him at a close distance. 

American Robin

As we were getting ready to leave I notice some strange looking flowers nearby. Of course I had to take the time and inspect them closely, while my family waited patiently in the car. 
Coltsfoot, Petasites frigidus 
I was glad that the first ranger I talked on the phone with before our trip had convinced me not to go backpacking there. Still, we did hike a bit there, and did see some interesting things. And we've seen that some time in the future after the trail had been worked on we could go back there and hike further in, perhaps backpack there.

That evening we didn't have to look hard for a campground. A short distance west of Seiad Valley there is the town of Hamburg, CA, where we found that the Sarah Totten Campground was open and available for use. There were no potable water there but that wasn't a problem because we had plenty of drinking water with us and for everything else there was the river. That night we all slept comfortably.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Happy Camp: A Town with A Trail

Date: April 3, 2018
Place: Happy Camp, California
Coordinates: 41.780833, -123.386981
Length: 2 miles (in and out)
Level: Strenuous

The forecast of a chilly night that we got from the backpacker we've met on the Woolly Creek trail came to be. We found a nice campsite on the Klamath river bank just south of Happy Camp. We arrived there with plenty of daylight left to set up camp, cook dinner, and get a campfire going for a little but before the wind and the evening chill drove us into the tent.
In the morning everything was sunny and bright again. Between breakfast and breaking camp I managed to look around a bit and snap some photos of the area.
Pallid Serviceberry, Amelanchier pallida
Our first stop was at the Klamath National Forest ranger station at Happy Camp, which is the central town along route 96. As we pulled into the small parking lot we saw the usual red-lined limited parking signs. But no ... on a second look they turned out to be very unusual  parking signs.


We went into the rangers station to get information about the local trails. I was specifically interested in the Grinder Creek trail, which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The ranger at the dest was very sweet. She was a native of Happy Camp and very happy to have lived there her entire life. Just like the ranger I've talked with on the phone before the trip, she too discouraged us from going on the PCT in that area and kept redirecting us to a small local trail named simply, "Town Trail". It is a short trail - only a mile one way, and it isn't a loop. It goes uphill to a pretty view point above the town.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS 
It wasn't quite the kind of hike I had planned for the day but the ranger was very persuasive and so we fount the trailhead and started uphill. 

Town Trail
Almost immediately I saw a wildflower of a species I was not familiar with. It was growing in a way that made it difficult t photograph and by the time I was done with my efforts I had one decent image and my family was already way up the hill.
California Gromwell, Lithospermum californicum

They stopped and waited for me near a cute patch of shooting star flowers, making sure I wouldn't miss it.
Mosquito Bill, Primula hendersonii
We were ascending continuously through the forest. A one point however, the trees opened up and we could see the river way down below. Almost without noticing we have gained considerable altitude.
View down on the Klamath River
Looking down more closely reveals the tiny green moss and lichen covering the rocks. These ancient plants had their spring as well with little fruiting bodies extended above the green mat.

 The trail curved to the north and looking east in between the trees I saw a snowy peak, possibly the same peak we've seen the day before from the  hike on Woolly Creek Trail.

The Klamath area experienced many wildfires in recent years, including the forest above Happy Camp through which we were hiking. As we ascended higher the fire scars became wider and stronger. The tree trunks were all black and many were dead. I did find one pine tree that survived, alone of all the trees in its vicinity. The bark that did not burn completely - that's where the living tree survived.

 Pine forests have evolved to endure forest fires. Clearing forest patches of the old trees make room for the new ones. 
Sugar Pine cone
The trees there are amazingly resilient. The scars of the fire were everywhere around us, but so was the force of recovery.
Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
The madrone was probably the most noticeable tree species we've seen on this trip. Its relative, the manzanita bush, was dominant in the post-fire area that was once tree-shaded.
Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp.
 Woodpecker knocks sounded from the burned trees. Pappa Quail and the elder chika found its source: a downy woodpecker.
Downy Woodpecker
At the top of the mountain the trail turned sharply and we reached its end at a nice vista point with a picnic table and a spectacular view down to the river and the city. There we also met another family with two little boys, and an older couple that came up with no children but with a case of beer. We had a nice chat with them and they told us that they moved to Happy Camp to get away from the crowds of more populated area. They loved the solitude and the relative silence. I could totally relate to that.
Happy Camp
We sat there for nearly half an hour, but eventually the chikas got bored and we remembered that there was another hike that we wanted to do that day - we had not given up on hiking Grinder Creek. And so we said goodbye to the others and started back down.
Going back through the burnt forest my birdwatchers found a hermit thrush sitting atop a charred log.  The birds make do and some even do better in this environment. 
Hermit Thrush
 Down, down, down we went. Much faster now, for gravity was on our side and also I didn't feel the need to stop and photograph the same things I have seen going up. 

 I did make an exception of the blooming gooseberry bush that I had skipped on my way up. The season was nearly over for it but it was still red and beautiful.
Gooseberry, Ribes sp.
But the best red in that forest and the most outstanding color of that hike belonged without a doubt to the Pacific Madrone and its lovely, smooth bark.
Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii

We reached our car below in record speed, then drove back into town to get some lunch and move on to our second destination of that day - Grinder Creek at Seiad Valley.


Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!