I live in paradise. Not only do we live on the banks of the north Umpqua, but the stretch of the river from the small town of Glide upstream to where the canyon narrows and the true beauty of the Umpqua begins to shine, is only fifteen minutes from my front door. At this point, world class fishing, river-running, hiking, rock climbing and just pure scenic beauty are available, seemingly at every turn.
Ironically, I haven’t taken advantage of this close proximity too much yet. We moved here in August, and it took the whole month and a few days beyond to get moved, considering that we had a three month old baby girl as well. Plus, once we were moved in, I spent most of my time swimming in the river behind my house, there was no need to really go anywhere. Then school started, and I was just too busy to explore, and then the pain really kicked in, and I had very little drive to get out.
However, after two straight weeks of nearly non-stop pain, I felt a huge need to get out and at least go for a simple hike. No ten-mile ridge traverses at the North Bank Ranch, no mountain climbs, just a simple hike with little or no elevation gain, go visit some waterfall I haven’t seen yet.
Then Kevin texted me, expressing the same desire to get out – anywhere – and a few days later, we arranged to go hiking on Friday, December 9th, with the not-etched-in-stone goal of going to Lemolo Falls, one of the biggest waterfalls in the area, and one that neither Kevin nor I had been to before.
So, on Friday, after Brook got home from her last final at UCC, Kevin drove up from town and picked me up, and we headed up highway 138 east, into the forested cloak of hills where the mighty Umpqua carved a deep groove through ash and stone. Having only a loose goal of making it to Lemolo falls, we stopped pretty quickly, just upstream of Swiftwater Park (locationhttp://g.co/maps/te8p9), then scrambled down a faint trail to visit Deadline Falls, a ten-foot, class five/six falls.
We stayed at the falls for ten or fifteen minutes, filming and taking pictures, and it felt wonderful to be out of the house, in the sun, next to such an awesome display of power. It was also very nice to hang out with Kevin, since it had been months since we had spent time together.
After Deadline Falls, we continued upriver, bullshitting and talking about our lives (kind of the same thing, really). Sometimes we need a person to hear us out who is outside of our day-to-day lives, and I think both Kevin and I needed some guy time to talk.
We eventually drove to the Apple Creek trailhead, to use the facilities, and I walked out on the frosty bridge to find fabulous ice crystals growing off the metal. We both took pictures of these delicate beauties and then headed out again.
Soon after leaving, we found a suitable spot on the side of the road where we once again scrambled down a boulder-piled bank to take pictures of a beautiful icy canyon.
Then we were on our way again, but like before, it wasn’t for long. As we started to come into view of the big rocks around the Boulder Flat area, I remembered that there was a really fantastic view of Eagle Rock from Copeland Creek road, and the timing with the lighting looked like it would be perfect. Kevin pulled off, we found a spot to park and then we began taking pictures of this huge monolith, which rises close to a thousand feet high on its south face.
We stayed for a short time, admiring the rock and discussing the climbs up its face, but then we were on our way again, and realizing that we had limitations on the light remaining, we decided to press on to Lemolo Falls without any more stops, but as it turned out, we would make one more stop before reaching our goal for the day.
I had figured that we had been having an inversion layer over our area, for weeks it has been either clear and cold or foggy and cold, but no real clouds or precipitation during that time. When we arrived at Lemolo Lake, and crossed over the dam, we realized just how much of an inversion layer there was. While down in the valley it had been hovering around freezing for much of the past week, up here, at a little over four thousand feet, was basking in fifty+ degree sunshine. We walked out onto the lakeshore and enjoyed the warmth for a while, and I was tempted just to hang out there, lie down on this flat boulder I saw, and go to sleep in the sun(Video here:http://youtu.be/QJ3xaL0re78). But, I also tend to be fairly goal-oriented, so I knew I would be disappointed if I didn’t see Lemolo Falls, especially when I was about half a mile from the trailhead, so we tore ourselves away from the lake and the sun, and headed down the road to the trail.
We parked, gathered our things (the hike is three miles roundtrip.) and started down the snowy trail. The majority of the hike would end up being on crusty snow, with what bare ground there was permeated from below by fragile pillars of ice, creating a tundra effect. In any case, the footing was consistently inconsistent, which really made it difficult for me in the midst of such a massive flare-up of pain. In fact, I would say that this felt like one of the hardest three mile hikes I have ever done, but it is only because I have been in such pain recently that I had hardly eaten for the previous three days.
The trail to Lemolo Falls would be worth doing even if the falls wasn’t waiting at the end. Numerous smaller falls and cataracts present themselves with regularity, and with everything in the canyon glazed over with ice, it gave the hike a magical feel, like we had entered the realm of the Ice Faeries.
Icicles and flows of pure water-ice glazed the numerous outcroppings of rock that paralleled the trail like some ancient, ruined roman wall. We stopped at several places to take pictures and film, and if we hadn’t been running out of daylight, we would have stopped at many more places, but we felt a little urgency to get to the main falls and get back out. The trail is all downhill on the way in, so we also knew we would be going much slower on the way back up.
We realized as we hiked this trail that there were numerous rock formations along the way that had some pretty decent looking stone, and some hard, but feasible routes up their faces and chimneys. Of course, neither of us was in any condition to climb, so we just looked for holds and debated about how hard the climbs would be. Perhaps in spring or summer we will return and give it a try.
Soon enough we saw the river bend, and behind that bend I could see that there was a huge drop-off, and as we came closer, the roar of Lemolo Falls grew louder. Several trails dropped off towards the lip of the falls, but the main trail (part of the much longer, 79 mile-long North Umpqua Trail) continues on the side of a steep hill, with the waterfall cascading one hundred feet to your left.
Initially we missed the one open view, and descended to a spot we thought would give us the best views, which were disappointing due to a large tree blocking most of the waterfall. We spent a few minutes here before heading back to the main trail, and soon after that we found the ‘right’ spot, an outcropping of crumbly rock without any trees obstructing the waterfall, and we felt satisfied to have come here.
We took a few pictures, then with an eye towards the rapidly setting sun, we departed, resolved to come back in the spring and summer months and take a longer time enjoying this wondrous canyon.
Up until this point, I had been doing pretty good, pain-wise, I had felt some fairly intense pain in the ball of my left foot, and some in my hips, but nothing too bad. On the way back out, which, as I mentioned before, would now be almost all uphill, I began to really struggle.The pain in my foot got worse. I started limping. My hips started grinding, and I was completely out of energy by now, I hadn’t eaten much in the previous four days, but I couldn’t let myself stop, I had to just keep pushing it until I got back to the truck.
Video: The painful part
We arrived back at Kevin’s rig with plenty of light left in the sky. On the drive back towards civilization, we agreed to meet at least once a week and do something similar, and I hope we can make that work. It may be painful and exhausting for me to do this right now, but it is good for me, and I need it.