January 23, 2013

Spared from a frigid hike out of Herman Creek area; beware of ice covered creek crossings

Icy creek along Herman Creek
The cat-like “quicks” are gone (if they ever existed). Not yet a sloth, I move more like the aging old dog that I am. That is why I nearly took a bath in an icy stream in the Columbia Gorge recently. Fallen logs over rushing Casey Creek, ornamented with dangling icicles, hinted at a potentially slick crossing. Testing one of the creek’s ice-covered boulders by stepping on it with little pressure also told me that trying to cross the creek on boulders would most likely land me flat on my back in the middle of the rushing, frigid creek – quite uncat-like.

I had hiked Herman Creek that morning in clear, frosty weather. If you’re looking for a hike along a noisy creek or even views of this canyon’s rushing stream at a distance – look elsewhere, this is not the hike for you. Glimpses of the creek through a quarter mile of trees can be counted on a single hand. The trail rises well above the creek and stays there. You can hear it. You’ll know it’s there, but you can’t see it.
A small tree receives a few sunrays through Herman Creek's forest

The highlights of this trail include two waterfalls and a few views across the canyon to the western ridge. Much of the first half of the hike is along an old dirt road. My turnaround was at a couple of campsites among old growth granddaddies nearly 4 miles in, just beyond where the trail crosses Casey Creek.
One of the two water falls along the trail
After stopping among these old growth trees for a brief respite, I slipped my backpack on and started back down the trail. Soon, I was back at the treacherous Casey Creek stream crossing. Having figured out how to cross the creek on my hike in, I figured its waters would be easier to cross on my hike out.

Rugged canyon walls above Herman Creek

I didn’t need to test the boulders this time for ice, knowing that using them to navigate my way across the creek meant either a broken or bruised coccyx or noggin. So, I stepped on smaller rocks just below the creek’s surface, trying not to soak my feet, despite wearing waterproof boots. That is when I lost my balance and, to gain it back, unknowingly stepped on one of the boulders covered with a half-inch of ice. Fortunately, my momentum was forward, and while falling, I was able to get my hands out in front of me, stopping my complete submersion in the creek. Unfortunately, one of my feet sank into a deep portion of the creek, partially filling my boot with icy water before I could scramble to the other shore. But that was about it. Had I took a bath in the water I don’t know how this little trek would have ended.

Ice covered log and odd shaped icicles hanging above creek

As it was, my pants were soaked, but only from my shin down. My boot had water in it and my sock was soaked. The first thing I thought of was how cold it was in the canyon. The sun had come up, but the forest’s canopy kept the forest floor icy.
Second waterfall along Herman Creek Trail

“Great,” I thought to myself, “a four mile hike out with a frozen foot.” Actually, I had other clothing I could have used to fashion a sock if needed, but didn’t really want to ruin a good sweatshirt by cutting it up.
An oak grove among the firs lines the trail

After about a mile, my foot had warmed up quite nicely. Despite the icy trail and watching most of my steps on the return, mostly downhill trip, I made it back to the trailhead and my truck without breaking a hip or suffering from hypothermia.

It’s good to be in the woods.

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