Staying Cool on the Trail Below Buffalo Peak

The garnet-colored flowers of the well-named long-tailed wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) were plentiful.

On Saturday, May 13, I joined Molly Juillerat, her friend Michelle, Molly’s dad Lee, and his girlfriend Liane for a hike. Given the forecast for low 90s and the late flowering after such a cold, wet April, I suggested we try the trail that goes along the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. It’s mostly through old-growth forest and is not far from the river, so I thought it would be relatively cool, not too strenuous, and hopefully there would be some pretty woodland flowers. I hadn’t been there since April of 2014, not long after they constructed that section of the North Fork trail (see New Trail to the Base of Buffalo Peak), and none of the others had ever hiked it, although Molly had surveyed in the area back when she was still the botanist for the district.

Michelle was thrilled to have spotted this unusual and very large fungus, sitting right on top of a log, looking rather like a burned-at the-top, sinking soufflé.

These heart-leaved twayblade (Neottia cordata) were growing on top of the stump of an old-growth tree. I don’t think I’d ever seen them growing like this.

Interestingly, the flowers were very similar to what I saw in early April of 2014, and here it was a month later in the season. Spring really was late this year! There were a number of obstacles along the apparently little-used trail, including creek crossings, downed logs, and piles of branches. In spite of those, we made it to the base of the rock just west of Buffalo Peak (or, more appropriately, Buffalo Rock since it is a stand-alone rock well down the side of the ridge). Just before we reached the base of the rocky slope, however, we had to crawl under a very large tree that had fallen down across the trail from the steep slope above, and crossing it below the trail was block by a tangle of branches. Everyone was very good-natured about it, rather enjoying the challenge. I was just relieved we could still find the trail.

I rarely see snakes in the forest, but just like on my first time on this trail, we saw garter snakes. A pair of them were sunning themselves on a mossy log by a wet spot.

On the way back, we decided to look for a shortcut and bushwhacked off the trail at a bend where the trail was close to the road we had parked on. We did find the road, but it certainly wasn’t driveable at that point. We walked back on the mossed-over road, passing an open area called Major Prairie that Molly said the Forest Service had done some work on and she had surveyed many years ago. From here, the road was still maintained and not far from the intersection with the road that continues up past the top of Buffalo Rock. If I can get back to explore the beautiful, rocky slope, I might just park at Major Prairie, walk on the remains of the rest of the road, and cut over to the trail (I made some waypoints on my phone for this) to save some time and energy for the climb. The trail turned out to be a great choice for the hot day, and we all really enjoyed the walk, the flowers, and the company.

The columnar jointing on this rocky slope is spectacular. The sheets of gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) and Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) are like icing on the cake.

I was surprised Molly and Michelle followed me up the steep bank to where we could get an unobstructed view of the rocks and flowers. Here they are carefully making their way back down to the trail. Someday, I still want to climb all the way up the slope, but I’ll have to do that when it’s not so hot and I don’t have people waiting for me down below.

A sandbar in the North Fork Middle Fork near the end of our walk. The just-leafed-out trees along the river were quite pretty.

The Forest Service doesn’t mention this segment of the North Fork trail on its website, so here are some directions:

Take Highway 58 to the Middle Fork Ranger Station. Turn southeast onto Road 19 (the Aufderheide). After the bridge crossing, turn left and continue for approximately 23 miles. About 1 mile past the Kiahanie Campground and a third of a mile after the road crosses the river, turn left onto Road 1939. Stay left when you reach the intersection of Road 758 on your right after about 0.6 mile. Continue for a half mile until you see the trailhead sign on the left. The trail is about 4 miles one way. It is about 3.3 miles to where the base of the rocks suddenly appears.

On the way home, we stopped along Road 19 at a pull-off where you can look down at a particularly wild place along the river and across at the tall cliffs on the other side. The river was quite dramatic, swollen as it was from the snow melting at higher elevations. This is one spot where I’ll need a drone to get a good look at all the plants growing on the inaccessible cliff!

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