For about 15 or so years in late August I’d go out west to hike and fish with the fellows pictured above. The above picture is from the Golden Trout Wilderness in California but I want to tell you a bit our trip to Eugene, Oregon home of the Umpqua River and not far from Crater Lake.
I’m telling you these trips were something else. They have formed a very vital part of my life and who I am. Silly you say. In the picture above we are camped by the Kern River (Google the Merle Haggard song) and rode pack horses for 8 hrs to get there and did it on the side of a steep mountain all the way into the gorge to camp, hike and fish.Seven days of hiking and fishing miles of it alone. City slickers of sorts. The guy above on the first row and holding what looks like a Red Solo Cup is the guy that planned the trips. We went everywhere and if you could pick the most beautiful places in the world and at the same time was known for fly-fishing…well that is where he’d have us go. But today my story is not about the Kern, but the Umpqua in Eugene. I’ll come back to the Kern another day.
This time our planner did not quite get the full picture of how our trip would be until we got there. Yes the Umpqua was a renowned Steelhead river, and yes Zane Grey fished there and it is close to the most beautiful sightseeing area in America,Crater Lake and also home to the Umpqua Fishing Lure Company and on the surface yet another perfect place to hike and fish. Hell it was on the other side of the continent from Gainesville, Ga. My son Clay immediately requested a Oregon Duck Hat. I ‘d never heard of that school and who would name a mascot a duck anyway.
Well we do the usual and fly into Eugene and then rent a van and then off to our trailhead along the Umpqua River. Our plan was like so many trips we’d done before, fish and hike and camp along the river for a week in the solitude we all had paid for both in money and the time and effort it took to be away from our families and jobs.
I remember passing a small drive-in type restaurant in Eugene (in which I bought a T-shirt for my sons that had a funny name making the shirt a favorite of theirs for years), the “Umpqua National Forrest” and the obligatory group picture there, The Steamboat Inn and then all the signs pointing the way to Crater Lake which was on the same road as the supposed “trailhead.”
Well…as we go along we see the river to our right and what one notices quite blatantly are wide areas for cars to park called ” turnouts.” People are parking along the river and then going down the bank to fish. Beautiful water, beautiful large rocks and beautiful holes, but all so “public.” As we drive along taking all this in someone asks, ” Where’s the trail going to be?” In other words how in the hell can we hike on this river in a section not easily accessed by everybody in cars. You see that was our deal, our manifesto, our modus operandi we go where they ain’t. We fish what ain’t fished, we fish where it is hard to get to and then we camp tens of miles from anyone and we get further away as the week progresses.
We see a forest service road that matches what we have on our itinerary and we all sigh a sigh of relief. Okay, this is looking familiar a dirt road and it is heading away from the highway and into green. After about 30 seconds we come to a bridge over the river and then the sign connoting the trail and parking area for hikers. We park. We get out and look around. To this day and as I write what comes mind is the sounds of cars. Swooshing cars going hither and dither back and forth over the sounds of the water of the Umpqua.
“Is this it?” we ask of our planner.
“I think so,” he says. “The trail looks a lot further from the river on the maps.”
We all look at the maps wishing we’d looked at the maps in Gainesville months before. Small dotted red lines along the Umpqua river and … a road on the other side of the river. The road we were just on and a major thoroughfare to one of the most visited attractions in Oregon, Crater Lake.
To be continued…..