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home : columns : columns June 25, 2016

6/3/2014 1:14:00 PM
Local trails are open early this season
Early-season hiking opportunities abound in the area, such as along this stretch of Whychus Creek south of Sisters. photo by Craig Eisenbeis
+ click to enlarge
Early-season hiking opportunities abound in the area, such as along this stretch of Whychus Creek south of Sisters. photo by Craig Eisenbeis

By Craig Eisenbeis

"Seasonal thawing of lower-elevation snow is ahead of average years by approximately 3-4 weeks," according to a trail status report released by Chris Sabo, trail crew supervisor for the Deschutes National Forest.

The unusually low snowpack, resulting from this past winter's paucity of snowfall, means that summer hiking opportunities are opening up much sooner than usual this year. Although trail users will still encounter snow at the highest elevations, low-to mid-elevation trails are already free of snow.

For example, the Black Butte Trail at the summit has been snow-free for the past few weeks and has been cleared of blowdown. In the high country, southern-facing slopes are already largely bare of snow, in some cases even above 6,000 feet. Elsewhere, almost all the snow is gone below 5,000 feet; and, in many areas, wildflowers are already blooming.

South of town, the Upper Whychus Creek Trail, which is nearly an all-season trail, is especially nice at this time of the year. The stream is swollen with snowmelt and running at spring levels. Sand lilies are still in bloom in the dryer areas, and the brilliant yellow arrowleaf balsamroot plants along the creek canyon slopes are in full bloom. Many other wildflowers are also beginning to show up along the trail.

Metolius River trails are another good trail destination for the early season. However, hikers should be aware of ongoing trail and riverside restoration work, which will continue for much of the summer. Forest Service officials are also reminding hikers to avoid the off-trail habitat restoration sites along the river.

Peterson Ridge Trails are all open, although some trail-maintenance work is continuing. The Lake Creek Trail between the Suttle Lake Resort and Camp Sherman is open for hiking and cycling. Equestrians should be aware of special use rules in some portions of this area.

The easy three-and-a-half mile Suttle Lake Loop Trail is another good early season choice, but hikers should watch for trail maintenance in this area, as well. The Forest Service has made a point of asking the public not to disturb or move rocks in the area, for both trail construction and safety reasons.

The Jack Creek Trail is open, but may not have been cleared of blowdown. Downed trees will continue to be a problem on local tails, especially those areas with aging, fire-damaged trees. As the snow line retreats into the higher elevations, crews are busy working on spring blowdown removal. Good progress in trail clearing has already been made in many areas.

Many popular trails may still be soggy or muddy, and trail users should avoid areas that could suffer long-term damage from premature use. The Pole Creek Trailhead, which was inaccessible for much of last season due to fire-damage restrictions, is now accessible and open. The upper reaches of the trail, however, will still have some snow-cover.

Hikers should always be properly equipped and carry emergency supplies. Such precautions are even more important in wilderness areas, where snow conditions may hide established trails and cause disorientation. Always carry the 10 essentials, including map, compass, sunscreen, sunglasses, extra clothing, flashlight, first-aid supplies, fire starter, knife, repair items, extra food, extra water, emergency shelter, and, yes, that adds up to more than 10 items; but it's better to be prepared.

Additionally, hikers should always plan ahead and make sure that someone knows where they are and when they should be expected to return. Dispose of all waste properly, minimize impact on the environment, respect wildlife and be considerate of others on the trails. Have fun on the trails; but hike responsibly, too.

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