Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Silver Creek Falls SP, Oregon (08-21-06 to 08-22-06)

As far as I can recall, I could have sworn I posted a topic about this trip, but it appears to have been lost with time like many others, so I shall attempt to recreate the trip from memory as best as I can.

At the time I was working at Safeway Food & Drug down at 1621 Center Street Salem, OR at the time, a place I tend to fondly call Hobo Alley.

During my time of employment there, it was fairly rare that one got two days off together. Given that about a month or so prior, I had taken a large block of vacation time for a cross-country family trip that never wound up happening (This was back during the time period that I took my first trip with the Camper for my Father's 60th birthday), I wasn't bound to take any blocks of time off for a while .

However, I wound up with a stroke of luck that week that had landed me with two days off together (a rarity at that store, along with customer hygiene, regular hours and dignity), and decided to use that time to my advantage and go to Silver Creek Falls State Park.

I had never camped at Silver Creek Falls before, only having visited the water falls in the past as part of day trips to hike through one or two of the falls. I knew the State Park had a campground, and I also knew that it was as crowded as all hell alot of the summer because of its close proximity to the city of Salem, Oregon.

But, I was determined to go Camping there. Given the short amount of time available to get a trip together, I called everyone in my phone list that I could think of that would normally have a random spot of free time to do a camping trip on short notice.

With luck, I reached my buddy Pete, whom was free and willing for a camping trip to Silver Creek Falls. So, hastily that evening we gathered out gear together and headed out.

When we reached the campground in the wee hours of the morning, my apprehensions about trying to camping at Silver Creek on short notice came to fruition. As well looped through the campground, the sites were either marked RESERVED or were occupied. As we made our way through the loop a second time, I happened upon one unoccupied site, into which I hastily parked.

It didn't take much for us to get settled in for the night, both of us was tired from the rush of preparation and the frustration of finding a place to camp.

At one point, we had considered driving on to Detroit Lake to camp instead of Silver Creek Falls, but in hindsight, it was just as well we didn't attempt Detroit.

My brother had attempted to go tent camping one time in the Detroit Lake area without a reservation at any of the campgrounds. They never found a site at any of the campgrounds and actually wound up camping somewhere up at the end of one of the roads. He wound up getting violently sick from a combination of a lack of proper bathroom facilities of any kind, poor hygiene on the part of his camping mates and improper handling of undercooked food items.

My mother's amusement at his predicament was tempered by her annoyance at the damage caused to the frying pan she loaned him for the excursion.

I woke first the next morning to a light dew on everything and a late summer mountain crispness in the air.

As I strolled around the campsite sandwiched between many many other campers, I discovered to my dismay that there was now a RESERVED tag on post for our site. My camping buddy, Pete hadn't awoke by this time, so I unlocked my bicycle from the truck and rode down to the main check in booth to both pay for the previous night and to inquire about another campsite for us.

I must have seemed somewhat out of place that morning as I rounded the entrance building and joined into the line of cars and RVs waiting entrance into the park, a lone bicycle in a line of behemoths.

Ten minutes can seem like an eternity when seated upon a bicycle seat that your rear end hasn't been familiar with for a number of years.

Finally, it was my turn at the window, garnering a few odd stares from the high schoolers manning the window that day.

As I informed the attendant at the window of what site we had occupied the night before and inquired about an alternative site for the evening, a small platoon of carpenter ants worked their way up and down the wooden framing posts in single file, probably making quite the nest out of the cedar framed building.

Fortunately, the attendant found us another site for the night, one more shaded and deeper in the older trees than our previous site (although I would later find out that the trade off was that we had less privacy from the other campers there than we had in our first site) had been and I was able to pay and be on my way before the second ant parade was able to start.

I returned back to camp roughly a half-hour later to find that Peter was still quite sound asleep. I decided to move camp as quietly as possible and let him sleep, which worked okay until about the time I tried moving the truck.

If you're looking for a smooth road, the loop road that makes up the campground in Silver Creek Falls State Park is not for you. Tree roots and Civilian Conservation Core era construction will conspire against your best attempts at a smooth landing.

Eventually, we got moved, with Peter quite less than sound asleep by the end of it.

Once we got settled into our new site, we had a nice fried breakfast and packed up our gear for our days hike. We decided that we were going to attempt to hike the entire Ten Falls Trail. In my infinite planning, I failed to remember to bring my backpack, so we wound up having to use peter's small carry bag that he had packed his clothes in. It wasn't meant to be carried on one's shoulder long distance, I later found.

Since we only had the one vehicle with us, we wound up hiking our way from camp to the head of the trail at the South Falls. At this time, we figured that we'd hike our way there and all the way back, and we'd be back before sundown. This from two guys who are overweight and not regular hikers of any sort or of any distance. But, we were steadfast and thus went about singing a jaunty tune about a Scotsman Clad in Kilt as we made our way down the looping trail from the top of the South falls down to the valley trail below.

Little did we know just how valuable our singing would be....

Before one reaches the rather steep and switch-back laden trail leading from the South Falls down to the valley below, they will find themselves traversing amongst Douglas Firs whose mosses give the trees an air of age and wisdom, amongst which are nestled the arc-backed Leap Pole Maples which dot the cliff sides of thus lush, vibrant green valley.

These first trails amongst the Firs are very well kept and tidy, given their high yearly tourist population. Interspersed amongst these networks of trails are cabins, some perhaps originally part the CCC camps that built a great many of Oregon's State Parks, or more likely just built for tourists to point and feel that they're way back in the "boonies" if you will.

Most of the "cabins" are either conference rooms that can be leased for meetings and have been built within the last five to ten years, or one particularly large one is a coffee shop and sandwich shop which boasts many over-priced gift shop items for those that braved the woods to see the mighty falls.

As one moves away from the spit and shine of the major tourist areas and begins to descend into the older portion of the trial network, the neat and level concrete pavers give way to older, cracked and lumpy asphalt that was put in sometime probably in the last 30 years. Signs of the original chain link safety fence are still visible amongst the trees where flecks of failing green paint highlight the bent or displaced old galvanized steel pipes either lining the edge of the trail, or jutting out of the hillside at odd angles.

As the trail descends, reminiscent in its steepness of the old tubular water slides that dotted the Salem area during their heyday of the 1980s, a painting of lush greens and blues emerges. A bowl of ancient magma recessed underneath the cabins and neatly manicured paths of earlier furls out before you as your ankles scream from the decent.

Shy of half way down this torture trail, a split in the trail appears.

Go right, and the trail evens off drastically and you gently descend the remainder of the distance to the valley floor and a small foot bridge over the south fork of Silver Creek.

Go left, and the trail carries you into the deep recesses of rock that loops openly behind the fall.

Once you've reach the bottom of the falls, going either route, you find yourself at the end of the "tourist" portion of the park. From here on in, the trail is sometimes gravel, but mostly dirt and occasionally even mud. Its width and smoothness will vary with every given mile, but will start out easy and misleading to those with no past experience hiking the area.

Simply judging by the quality and scale of the ongoing valley trail, one would expect it to remain somewhat even of surface and gentle of grade as it traverses through the wonder that is this valley of water falls.

The reality of the trail is one of a creature who has to be partially or completely rebuilt every spring after the winter rains and spring thaws have flooded out most remnants of last years efforts. One might think that the trail was the creation of a Snake god somewhere in the heavens whose sense of humor has devolved from elaborate snares and wicked plots against man to simply trying to be as big an ass as possible and seeing what we do.

The trail twists back and forth through the valley with random upswells and descents in its elevation where water and erosion have either destroyed or expanded the shore soils.

Elevation is a key element that any hiker should take into regard when traversing this ten-mile creature, as the trail descends from roughly 1500 feet above sea level down to 20 feet and then back up again. However, if you haphazardly decide to hike the trail with no foreknowledge of elevation changes, trail conditions, or just how remote it can get, like we did, you won't discover that the entire hike is not down hill until your 5-6 miles in and far from any signs of humanity.

The trail from the Upper South Falls to the Lower South Falls is fairly easy for even the most inexperienced hiker, with the dirt and gravel path still in good repair and a switch-back staircase carrying you gently down from another hundred or so feet from the previous elevation of the creek.

Its this ease of travel that leads you to the false belief that this will all be easy and that you'll be able to hike all the way to one end and back without breaking a sweat.

This false sense of ease may even lead you to take pictures of yourselves poised in front of the next water fall showing to your readers how easy it was for you to make the journey.

PeteMyself (Big Matt)

Easy looking, isn't it?

Beautiful too....

As we continued on our way on the ever descending trail, we came across a new obstacle in our hike. Fortunately, a Park Ranger had been buy and put up a big warning side in on the trail otherwise, who knows what death and pain might have befell us if we had tarried under this nasty little demon....

That right there is one genuine Wasps nest

After a few minutes deliberation, it was decided that Pete, being the slower of us would make the mad 100 yard dash past the very active wasps nest as quietly as possible with me bringing up the rear a few moments later once I was certain I didn't need to scream for him to dive into any body of water possible to avoid a fate possibly worth than death.

Fortunately, we both passed this great evil with no ill will or injury and we scurried on down the trail to avoid any possibility of reprisals from the wasps who had not had the opportunity to unwittingly attack us with a great vengeance. Fat met walking make a lovely target, almost as appealing as fat men running.

Once the adrenaline had worn out of our blood streams, our pace once more slowed to that amble that only duck footed plump men can achieve and we resumed our ongoing discussion of the beauty of the Silver Creek valley and its wide diversity of plants, ranging from massive ferns to mosses, to birches containing large nests of death inducing wasps.

Something else we started to take note of in our journey of this valley of jade, was the number of little erosion caves that had been carved out of the rock and soil up and around the roots of the trees.

Every half mile or so, we'd encounter one or two of these little caves and we'd pause, our curiosity to its depth and its undisgorged secrets piqued.

Most times, our curiosity was easily sated through casual exploration with ones head or the use of a camera's flash to reveal the mysteries to plain view.

By this time, we'd likely traveled three or four miles, we'll never know for sure since neither of us had a map of the trail, or a knowledge of the order of the falls. A few of the larger falls bore moss and mildew covered wooden signs denoting what falls one was viewing, but many we never did identify.

We were still quite confident in our hiking abilities by this point, having felt that we had conquered a great obstacle, somehow, so we paused again to take our triumphant pictures for the readers back home.

As we've rounded another downhill bend, what we believed as an affirmation of our achievements came into view, a giant steel foot bridge crossing over Silver Creek (we'd lost track of if we were still following the south fork anymore).

As we reached the bridge, we paused again to photograph ourselves in our great achievement, completely unaware of what the trail had in store for us ahead.

By this time, we had lost track of any other hikers, our last passing of another group having been a full hour in the past and having lost our tails at the turn off for the trail returning to the Group Campgrounds that were far above us.

Given that we hadn't seen anyone for quite a while and really having not stopped for any notable break, we decided now was the best time to take a breather. Set just below the bridge was a water smoothed bowl of slow moving creek water. Filled with a confidence brought on the assumed lack of other hikers, I chose to disrobe and wade out into the near conical bowl of refreshingly cold water to soak and relax.

Let me stop as this moment for a brief science lesson.

I'd be willing to wager that the vast majority of folks are familiar with Murphy's Law and its finer points. For those that are not full enlightened to this basic principle of all reality, let me reiterate it so that you are no longer in the dark.

Murphy's Law

It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion, such as the production of a magical effect for the first time in public, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Whether we must attribute this to the malignity of matter or to the total depravity of inanimate things, whether the exciting cause is hurry, worry, or what not, the fact remains.

Roughly five minutes after I entered the water, a group of middle-aged female hikers came round the bridge and descended on the bridge. I scooted myself close to the edge of pool so that the only portion of myself visible to the hikers passing by was my rather pink hind-side.

Once they passed, I hauled myself out of the water and dug out my towel from our bag and dried off and redressed. I was quite refreshed and ready to finish tackling the trail. Its amazing how re-energized one can be after a dip in 50 degree water and a subsequent visitation during your skinny dip can be.

Do you remember when I mentioned earlier about how this trail will mislead you with a sense of ease and comfort?

It was about this time we began to have our rosy filters removed from our eyes as we realized that for every foot we had descended with ease, we now had to pay back those steps with an ongoing climb on and increasingly worn trail.

After a few miles of this we came to the understanding that we would have to work for our dinner that evening and the increasingly beautiful falls as we went.

For a while, after this water fall, we began to wonder whether or not we were going to reach the end of this trail. Both of us had begun to tire, Pete being worn the worst from being more sedentary in his regular daily activities than I was at the time, but I wasn't too far behind him when it came to exhaustion.

Another larger problem was also beginning to dawn on us. We had taken the vast majority of the day to make this hike. We hadn't brought any flashlights with us and we had only an hour or so of daylight left to the day. We really weren't certain how we were going to get back to camp at this point, our only hope was that we'd run into someone in the parking lot that would have room enough to give us a ride back to the campground by the South Falls.

As we slogged on, and the daylight continued to wane, we started to take less and less pictures of our surroundings as their luster in our eyes had tarnished.

No longer were we the triumphant hikers we had started out as at the beginning of the journey, instead we had become more of what we always were, two very out of shape fat guys that took on a rather long hike without a plan on how to get back to camp.

As it seemed that this trail would never end and we were beginning to feel that we had strayed from the waterfalls trail and off onto a path of good intentions headed straight for our own personal camping hells, the signal of the end of our journey burst forth before us.

Oh the Joy, North Falls at last!....

Oh the Beauty, oh the Majesty......

Now, where in f**ks sake is the parking lot?!

Well, we made it.... we huffed and puffed our way up the last section of the trail to the parking lot beyond. To our joy there was three things of vital importance: Water, toilets, and people to ask for a ride back.

While I topped off my long since dry water bottles, Pete set about the task of asking folks in the parking lot if we could bum a ride from them back to the campground at the South Falls.

The first couple Peter inquired of were a young couple in their 20-somethings that had made the drive to Oregon all the way from New York, living part of the way out of their very cramped Ford Taurus. Suffice to say, they didn't have any room for passengers.

The second group that Pete spoke to wound up being a pair of mothers who had been part of a larger group that was doing a campout with a large group of kids up at the rent-able cabins back at the campground (something I didn't even know the park had).

This couple recognized us immediately as the two gentlemen from earlier in the day they had run across that were joyously singing and skipping along as they descended down to the valley below the first waterfall.

Their charge for our ride back was for the two of us to sing the Scotsman song on the way back to camp. So, once seated in the back of their car and swiftly underway, we once again broke into the song.

Well a Scotsman clad in kilt left a bar on evening fair
And one could tell by how we walked that he drunk more than his share
He fumbled round until he could no longer keep his feet
Then he stumbled off into the grass to sleep beside the street
Ring ding diddle diddle I de oh ring di diddly I oh
He stumbled off into the grass to sleep beside the street

About that time two young and lovely girls just happend by
And one says to the other with a twinkle in her eye
See yon sleeping Scotsman so strong and handsome built
I wonder if it's true what they don't wear beneath the kilt
Ring ding diddle diddle I de oh ring di diddly I oh
I wonder if it's true what they don't wear beneath the kilt

They crept up on that sleeping Scotsman quiet as could be
Lifted up his kilt about an inch so they could see
And there behold, for them to see, beneath his Scottish skirt
Was nothing more than God had graced him with upon his birth
Ring ding diddle diddle I de oh ring di diddly I oh
Was nothing more than God had graced him with upon his birth

They marveled for a moment, then one said we must be gone
Let's leave a present for our friend, before we move along
As a gift they left a blue silk ribbon, tied into a bow
Around the bonnie star, the Scots kilt did lift and show
Ring ding diddle diddle I de oh ring di diddly I oh
Around the bonnie star, the Scots kilt did lift and show

Now the Scotsman woke to nature's call and stumbled towards a tree
Behind a bush, he lift his kilt and gawks at what he sees
And in a startled voice he says to what's before his eyes.
O lad I don't know where you been but I see you won first prize
Ring ding diddle diddle I de oh ring di diddly I oh
O lad I don't know where you been but I see you won first prize

The two wonderful ladies dropped us off back at the camper and we bid them a fond and truly wonderful evening as we stumbled back into camp. We had left as over confident, boisterous tourists and returned as quite humbled men whose sole goals for the evening were relaxation, dinner and a very hot shower.

As Peter lit up our campfire made of old Juniper bush wood and set out our chairs, I filled a couple bowls of salted peanuts in the shell and prepped the oven to roast some corn on the cob wrapped in tin foil and slathered in butter.

We relaxed, we enjoyed libations, we showered, we passed out.

We woke sometime the following morning..... Or was it afternoon, I'm a little hazy on this detail, since I can't remember how long we slept, only that we wound up missing the check-out deadline probably by a couple hours by the time we had finished breakfast and broke down camp.

Once we were functional enough to depart, we did, giving our greetings to the young family moving into the site to spend a couple nights tent camping with kids.

Lesson learned this trip?

Prepare better, and always remember, it doesn't matter how empty the trail has been for the last several hours, the moment you try to go skinny dipping, someone will appear out of thin air just to walk past while you're doing it.