The last time I hiked Fifteenmile Creek, I was stopped at a falls by steep and slippery rocks. The pictures I made at the time made me feel like a wimp — it did not look that difficult! And I am noticing that the streams that last month were full and flowing are now dry or mere trickles, so I wanted to give it one more try.
After two weeks without rain, the creek level was a little down. And this time I was prepared to get wet: I would wade up the streambed if necessary. I made quick progress up to the “trail junction” where the pink ribbons lead up and out. My previous efforts at chopping down the jungle of brush definitely paid off, although it was growing back rapidly.
I made good progress up the wild portion of the canyon as well because the slick yellow bedrock was mostly dry: if I am careful I can walk on it. Wet, it is more slippery than ice, and I cannot even stand up on it. One waterfall that almost stopped me last time was easy to ascend. When I finally made it to the big waterfall I climbed to the top cascade, but that one was still impassible. It is not that it is so steep, it is just soooo slippery. Besides that, my dogs were not able to get up even the lower cascades, so it looked like even if I could get up, I would have to turn back on their account.
But up near the top I spied what looked like a little trail on the other wall of the canyon, up and around the falls. So I descended and climbed up the far side. I did not really find the trail I thought I saw, but nevertheless I pulled myself up the canyon wall by hanging on to ferns and tree roots, getting up to the top of a ridge, where I could descend back to the stream above the falls.
The stream above the falls is more open and less steep, making for easier travel. I sensed that the railroad trail might be close by, but continued up the streambed. Eventually I came to a fork: off to the left the canyon was filled with foxglove in bloom: pictures don’t capture the true beauty of the sight.
Up above this fork, the main branch narrows and becomes choked with vegetation, so the only way up is over the moss-covered rocks on the middle of the stream. I decided this was enough, and headed over to the trail. It was only a short distance, but in between were the most nasty thorn bushes I have ever hiked through.
I wanted to continue up the trail to see the junction and the actual stream crossing. I would have missed the junction if not for the dogs: one ran up each trail. In other words, the trail across the stream was pretty obscure. After crossing the stream, it ascends the far wall through open forest. I looked at my map and decided I would make this a loop by following the railroad trail on the other side of the creek.
When I intersected the railbed, I would have missed it if I were not looking at the GPS. Theis trail, the “15 Mile Railroad Grade” was completely overgrown in many places, with thick brush (including stinging nettles and thorny berry bushes) up to waist level. In between these spots there were stands of trees, where the trail was quite distinct. But mostly I was just wading through greenery, trying to stay on the faint remnants of an old rail grade.
By and by the grade intersected with the “foxglove” side canyon. There must have been a bridge here at one time, but now it was long gone, necessitating a long detour looking for a place to cross the steep ravine. After I had crossed, I was cautiously making my way along a narrow pathway, engulfed in vegetation, feeling my way along because I could not see my feet. I put my foot down, tentatively at first, then put my weight on it, when the ground gave way. I grabbed at the brush, but it all just pulled out and I went tumbling down head over heels, fifteen or twenty feet, into the stream below. The dogs came down on top of me to see what was the matter: luckily nothing but a few scrapes. Unfortunately there was no other way out, so I had to repeat the process, this time even more carefully.
The rest of the way back was increasingly more and more of an exercise in thrashing through overgrown nettles and thorn bushes. I hurried along after noting several large piles of bear scat. The bear has apparently been feasting on berries. At one point I followed a faint trail through berry pushes over my head. It didn’t take long to conclude this was not the right trail. Now I suspect the bear trampled down that path. It was a big relief to get back on the road.
Although I am now covered with scratches and sitting is painful (because of a spill I took on the slippery rocks), the journey was worth it all to see the wild part of Fifteenmile creek, and especially the foxglove in bloom.