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Opal Creek Part One

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Opal Creek Part One

Postby oldranger » Mon May 04, 2009 10:27 pm

While Ozark Flip struck terror in the Cascade Fish Population I left rod at home I set off with my true love for the Old Growth Forest of The Upper Little North Fork of the Santiam River and the Opal Creek Scenic Area and Wilderness (actually we would just step foot into the Wilderness as postholing thru snow was not our cup of tea (or glass of wine either). Shortly after leaving Gates, Oregon we came upon a scene that, fortunately was not a precursor of more to come.
Former old Growth.JPG
Former Old Growth

More than likely the forest in the background is a second growth forest and it is likely that the foreground area has been harvested a second time. While good for our economy (in some ways) not so good for fish and critters that inhabit the forest. After a few more stops we reached the trailhead and our 3 mile, 200 ft vertical hike into the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. Along the way we viewed 7 foot in diameter Douglas firs, had glimpses of the Little North Fork Santiam River, glanced into mine portals, and walked through an old sawmill site--all on an old mining road that in a place or two is beginning to slump into the river canyon.
Boiler at old Sawmill.JPG
Boiler at Old Sawmill

The most surprising part of the walk in was the presence of snow--but we were walking at slightly above 2,000 feet elevation. Now even in mid winter it rains as much as it snows at this elevation but the snow must somehow win out. After slightly over 2 hours of walking and exploring we arrived at the old mining camp at Jawbone Flats. The camp, a mixture of new and old and restored and tumbledown structures, was virtually abandoned to our seasoned eyes. All the buildings had signs that identified the structures as residences or open to program participants only and to respect the privacy of the residents. Finally I spotted "The Office" only to realize that was a sign dating back to the old mining days, then I noticed a "1" under the sign and then recognized the building from the website. It was to be our home for the next two nights. So not wandering any further we enter the small rustic cabin (it was not locked) unburdened ourselves of our packs and before I could circle 3 times and sit down Kathy had opened a fine Non pba bottle full of a really nice Pinot Noir. She had cheese and crackers and I made myself a quesadilla.
Late Lunch on the deck.JPG
Life is Good! Note deep emerald pool in the creek


Refreshed we walked through the village and noted the many relics of the mining days including not a few derelict vehicles. Among which was the following:
Why we walked in.JPG
Probably not the most Comfortable Ride even in its heyday

Our big event of the afternoon was the quarter mile jaunt to view Opal Pool. Walked past the building that houses the Pelton wheel that drives the generator that provides electricity for this little village (about 9.6 megawatts), then past derelict woodstoves, an old Firetruck, a row of about 5 old trucks lined in formation, an outhouse with a composting toilet, and finally the remains of an old stamp mill (I think). We walked across a relatively flat are called "the meadow." I suspect that it is residue produced from the stampmill that had been spread out and leveled. At last (all of 10 minutes from our abode) we reached, for the very first time, Opal Creek (our cabin was actually adjacent to Battle Ax Creek. After the confluence of Battle Ax and Opal Creek the waterway becomes the Little North Fork of the Santiam River.
Looking down toward Opal Pool.JPG
Downstream from bridge above Opal Pool (check out the chockstone!)

After crossing the bridge over Opal Creek we walked downstream a little to obtain a better view of the pool.
Opal Pool.JPG
Opal Pool

Now here, from my point of view at least, came the big letdown of the trip. Opal Creek was not named for the semiprecious stone! No a Forest Service District Ranger in the 1920s claimed that the only sight that he had ever seen that was as beautiful as the creek was his wife. So he named the creek after his wife, Opal! What a suck up!

So we returned to our humble abode, drank our 151 daiquiries, ate our Kung-Pao tacos, drank some more wine, sat in front of the fire, ate strawberries and whipped cream, read, and contemplated the coming day's adventure. Oh--and listened to the rain on the roof compete with the rushing creek for the privilege of lulling us to sleep.

Standby for Journey up Opal Creek. Will Mike and Kathy disobey the forest service sign? Will they make it up to Cedar Flat. Only the Shadow knows...

good hiking

Mike
Mike

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!



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Re: Opal Creek Part One

Postby maverick » Tue May 05, 2009 9:15 am

Thanks for the first installment OR.
Life must be hard, but some one has to do it, so I guess you volunteered?
Strawberries & whipped cream, now that is really roughing it, I guess all those
years working for the NPS prepared you to endure these kind of hardships.
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Re: Opal Creek Part One

Postby Timberline » Tue May 05, 2009 4:41 pm

Hey, OR,
I REALLY like your style of backpacking! Thanks, via the pix and report, for letting us join in the fun. :nod:
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!
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Re: Opal Creek Part One

Postby BSquared » Tue May 05, 2009 6:13 pm

I like your style!
—B²
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Re: Opal Creek Part One

Postby oldranger » Tue May 05, 2009 10:10 pm

Opal Creek Part Two

After raining most of the night we were greeted with sun peaking through the clouds. Kathy decided our destination would be Cedar Flat, a couple of trail miles above Jawbone Flats (location of our cabin) on Opal Creek. Our first reality check in the morning was the emerald pool below our cabin was now white with foam. The creek had risen overnight and the waterfall now overpowered "our pool." Similarly when we arrived at the Bridge across Opal Creek the creek was now splashing solidly against the chockstone. But the main lesson of the day and for the remainder of the trip is that a "westside" old growth is alive! Unless the ground is pounded by feet or wheels or water or otherwise severely disturbed it is covered with life--mostly vegetation. To step off the trail is sort of like stepping on a mattress but more like a little kid stepping on his fathers stomache. The ground feels and is alive. It gives and you can almost sense it groaning--so I did my best to stick to the trail.
Moss covered Rock.JPG
Kathy examining a large rock with a six inch covering of life (moss, ferns, lichen? all of the above?)

We were never far from the creek.
Opal Creek 2.JPG
Opal Creek and Tributary

Soon we came to a single log bridge with a nasty little sign forbidding us to cross because the bridge was deemed unsafe. Well I examined that bridge with my expert and seasoned eye and determined that the only problem was that the upstream side railing had been broken (by my experience it was likely due to an uneven snow load or perhaps a really fat person trying to squeeze between the railings). At any rate like any self respecting backpacker in this situation we thumbed our noses at whatever authority was behind the sign and defied what seemed to be certain death and crossed the damn bridge.
Closed Bridge 2.JPG
Da Bridge
Up the trail from the bridge Kathy took a real nice photo with her little digital point and shoot.
Opal Creek.JPG
One of many Opal Creek falls
Snow began to cover more and more of the trail.
Kathy getting up .JPG
Kathy negotiating a steep snow bank

After two hours we reached our destination, Cedar Flats. We averaged 1 mph! But took dozens of photos. Were constantly looking up, down, and all around. To rush this trip would be to miss the point! We read that there were 3 one thousand year old cedars here. This must have been one.
old cedar.JPG
Old Cedar


Well I am at my limit of photos for this posting. We had a snack, inspected some incredible root wads and nurse logs and began our journey back. Soon it began to sprinkle, then light rain. Ponchos were donned and since it was mostly down hill I only stepped on the front of mine once or twice. Returning to our abode we found the wood supply refreshed and live coals still in the wood stove. After stoking the fire we had lunch and took hot showers, oh life is good. Then I went out to the nearby snowbank and gathered snow for, you guessed it, frozen daiquiries. (Life is even better) On this night the folks that ran the place cooked our dinner--excellent stuffed pepper and various side dishes and would you believe homemade strawberry shortcake and...whipped cream. Life just doesn't get any better.

Next installment "the journey home or it's mostly downhill from here!

Good hiking

Mike
Mike

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!
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Re: Opal Creek Part One

Postby Snow Nymph » Wed May 06, 2009 10:24 pm

Ummm . . . Pinot! Love the color of Opal Pool. Beautiful area, and so green! Thanks!
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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Opal Creek the last day

Postby oldranger » Wed May 06, 2009 10:58 pm

Gotta get an early start tomorrow so I'll just post 6 photos with captions. Our return to the car involved walking back to the car on the opposite side of the river than on our trip in for the first mile+ of the return. The trip was a mixture of old growth and 2nd growth forest (2nd growth trees averaged about 2 feet in diameter, and the ground was covered with life just like the old growth). The last photo is truely humbling to see myself in the midst of an old growth forest. I've had the same feeling walking thru Redwood Mt. Grove just south of Grant Grove where the trees were even bigger.
Nurse Log.JPG
Nurse Log
Side creek crossing.JPG
Creek Crossing
Trillium.JPG
Trillium
Fleece coated trees.JPG
"Fleece" coated Trees
Little North Fork Santiam River.JPG
Pool in Little North Fork Santiam River (due to falls just above this is the upper reach of a Winter Steelhead Run)
Almost to the car.JPG
How small are we as individuals in the scheme of things?


Happy Hiking

mike
Mike

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