Last weekend, I joined Andrew and Tim and Josh and Paul for our annual trek into the Opal Creek wilderness area, which is located between Stayton and Detroit. This is the first time I’ve been able to make the journey in several years. On my last trip, I made this photo, which was published in Audubon magazine:

Opal Creek Pool
Opal Creek swimming hole

As usual, we left early Friday afternoon. The five of us piled into two vehicles (including my Mini Cooper!) to make the two-hour drive. Here’s a map of our destination (I don’t know the source of this map or I’d provide credit — it’s not mine):

We parked at the locked gate located at the left edge of the map. The first part of our hike followed a pot-holed gravel road along the Little North Santiam River. A bridge over Gold Creek provided a scenic view, and was followed by a brief passage along a cliff-side that reminds me of something out of World of Warcraft.

After 2.2 miles, we turned south to catch the trail along the creek. (On our outward hike, we took the north route along the gravel road through Jawbone Flats.)

Hiking Along Opal Creek
Andrew, Tim, and Josh hiking along the creek

We hiked east 1.4 miles to Opal Pool, then another 0.6 miles to the washed-out bridge. Only the bridge isn’t completely washed out. It’s a log that has fallen across the river, and which had been “drafted” for use as an official bridge. But the log has settled over the past couple of years, so the Forest Service has closed it to the public. That didn’t stop this group of scofflaws. We scampered across, and then hiked the final three-quarters of a mile to Cedar Flats. There we pitched our camp.

Over a meal of “Greek burritos” (read: Andrew’s hodge-podge dinner) and scotch whisky, we talked about resource depletion and economic collapse. Tim is a self-professed “doom and gloomer” who is concerned about the implications of a growing population in a world with finite resources. It was a fine discussion, one that lasted the entire weekend, but we did not solve the world’s ills.

Around the Campfire
Andrew and Paul, sitting around the campfire

Most years, the group spends Saturday hiking upstream to our favorite swimming hole. (The swimming hole depicted in the first photo on this page.) This year, however, nobody was interested. The weather was cool. Swimming in cold water didn’t sound fun.

Instead, Andrew and Tim made the 16-mile round-trip hike up Whetstone Mountain and back. The rest of us stayed in camp. Paul read and so did I. I spent a several hours pacing the 40 steps between two fallen logs, reading The Shipping News for book group. (I’ve become a master of reading while walking. It’s awesome.)

While we read (and napped), Josh explored. About 100 yards from camp, across some fallen trees, he found a sort of voluntary huckleberry farm — and an interesting fungus. He summoned me and Paul to see:

J.D. and Paul
J.D. and Paul on a log. Photo by Joshua Bennett.

On Sunday morning, I woke early. The air was cold. (Later the group agreed that the temperature was probably around 5 or 6 degrees centigrade.) Despite the chill, I crossed the creek and found a deep-ish spot where I could bathe. The water was not much cooler than the air, so it wasn’t a big deal. And it felt great. You can be sure that I was very alert after taking a cold bath on a cold morning.

There are few things I love more than spending time in the woods. I’m not sure why I don’t do it more often. It brings out something vital in me. I love exploring off the trail and playing in the creek and gathering wood for a fire and sleeping under the stars. And I love being surrounded by scenery. There’s so much beauty that one’s senses almost become dulled to it.

Opal Creek
Opal Creek just below Jawbone Flats

On Sunday morning, we packed up, hiked out, and climbed into our cars. After stopping for burgers and shakes, we drove home to our workaday lives. I’m already thinking of next year’s trip.

4 Replies to “Opal Creek Hike 2009”

  1. Kris B says:

    Gorgeous place. I haven’t been there in many years.

  2. Josh says:

    What, no fungus photo? 😉

  3. Susan says:

    I believe that map is from a William Sullivan book.

    This is such a gorgeous place. The last time I was there was when my daughter was 4 1/2 and she hiked most of the way by herself. Amazing.

  4. nickyt says:

    I agree with you. I am already thinking of next year’s camping trips. Last week was our last of the summer as school started this week. We spent three days in the woods outside Cloudcroft, NM The kids even learned to make fire using the bow method. Not easy, but very, very cool. There is something so wonderful about getting out town and into Nature.

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