Monday, November 12, 2007

Little North Santiam Trail

Winter approaches, temperatures drop, and hiking boots sink lower in the closet. Winter hiking, though, brings its own pleasures--among them, less congested routes and a different look to the surroundings. One of the joys unique to winter for us “westsiders” is the possibility of a complete transformation of the scene in just a few hours, as happened to us on this hike.

We set out on a cool, rainy day, early enough to avoid (most) anxiety about the shorter daylight hours. We check the weather report and prepare for low temperatures. We choose the Little North Santiam because it is reasonably close and poses a bit of a challenge to keep our joints from over-winter rusting.

Beginning at about 1300 feet elevation, the trail drops a bit lower away from the trailhead, then follows the edge of the Little North Santiam River. Gushing rapids hiss and waterfalls roar as we tread the trail. In between, deep pools add a greenish tinge to the water. All too soon, we climb steeply to the trail's high point at 1800 feet, with cliff-edge views to nearby Henline Mountain. On the ascent, it begins—the misty rain changes to a soft snow fall. As we climb past the snow level of 1500 feet, our trail transforms!

We delight in the rapid change to our surroundings as the snow softens the landscape and turns it into bright white. Why do we like the snow today? Because it is different from what we see every day. Funny how we like variety, but not change.

We continue on our hike, following the trail switchbacks down to river level, but the snow holds on. A favorite landmark, a basalt pillar standing guard in the middle of the water, now has a white cap. This was our turnaround point today, but our summer trek has taken us to the 4.5 mile mark, crossing an historic wooden bridge to the trail's end at gravel Road 2207 and the Shady Cove Campground.

To get to the trail head—summer or winter-- from I-5 near Salem, drive east on Hwy 22 to milepost 23, at the Swiss Village Restaurant. Turn left on North Fork Road, which is marked "Little North Santiam Recreation Area". Travel 14.5 miles to Forest Road 201 (Elkhorn Drive SE), turn right on this gravel road, cross the river to a small parking lot on the left, about .4 mile from North Fork Rd.

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