Hiking in burns

General discussions on hiking in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest
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drm
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Hiking in burns

Post by drm » March 14th, 2021, 11:08 am

So I was reading about the Mill Creek hike and saw it had a lot of burned areas to hike, so that motivated this.

I know that wildfire is a natural and unavoidable part of the natural cycle of our wildlands. It also in some cases improves wildflowers and views. And berries. But none of this means I have to like hiking in it. When ever I'm hiking below tree line, my preference is for areas not burned, period.

That said, there are lots of burned areas in my local hiking region, especially on Mt Adams, and Trapper Creek gets added to that now. So while it may not be my preference, I still hike it on occasion - because it melts out first, or just because there are other things there that attract me. It also is less crowded in most cases.

But I basically do not hike burned areas elsewhere. I won't drive four hours to some other place for a hike with a major burn. I get my fill of it locally and won't tolerate much of it elsewhere. The Pasayten Wilderness in northern Washington has essentially been removed from my list because it's almost impossible to do a multi-day backpack there that does not include many miles of burn.

The likelihood is that for the rest of my hiking life, the burn acreage is only going to increase. That's life, nature doesn't conform to my preferences. But with our temperate rainforests, there will certainly be some areas left with soft trails, towering trees, where the color green predominates.

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adamschneider
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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by adamschneider » March 14th, 2021, 11:16 am

I don't mind when the "approach" section of a hike is burned. For example, Jefferson Park or the trails on the north side of Mount Hood: those 3-5 mile approaches are pretty boring whether green or gray, and I usually just zone out and listen to an audiobook for those bits anyway. (There are exceptions, of course: the Vista Ridge Trail is now an avalanche lily wonderland in June/July thanks to the Dollar Lake Fire.) But if the Main Attraction is burned, then yeah, I'm usually not gonna bother.

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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by Aimless » March 14th, 2021, 11:55 am

If the trail through a burned area is passable without a constant struggle with fallen snags and encroaching snow brush, I will hike it, preferably as a shoulder-season hike, when the lack of shade is not an issue. In the right kind of cool, dry weather, a hike through a recovering burn can be very nice, with wide open views of the sky and terrain.

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Chip Down
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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by Chip Down » March 14th, 2021, 12:10 pm

Reminder: The main reason to hike a trail is to get to where there are no trails, in the same way that we drive roads to get to the places where there are no roads.

Anyway, I love burn zones. Better visibility, less brush, stark contrast with snow, less snow-weighted branches waiting to dump their load on me. On a grey foggy day, I like the eerie look.

I just exploit what I find though; I've never set a fire.

Regarding books on tape: I don't do that, but if I ever win the lottery, I'm hiring a porter who will carry my gear and read books along the way :D

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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by retired jerry » March 14th, 2021, 12:31 pm

I was just along the Deschutes. Major burned area. I would never have known it.

Except, I remember a field of sage brush that's now grass. There are a couple structures that were burned with some remnants. The water tower.

The Three Sisters has a bunch of burned areas. And then other areas that weren't.

Mt Hood.

It seems like there are more fires than there used to be.

I'm neutral towards them. Except when they burn people's houses and buildings.

I got gas from that gas station in Detroit a couple days before it burned.

I went back through there recently. Weird how there'll be burned down buildings right next to ones that are unscathed.

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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by retired jerry » March 14th, 2021, 12:32 pm

I've never set a fire either :)

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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by drm » March 14th, 2021, 1:55 pm

Deschutes is different, you can't even tell there was a fire one year later.

Yes, lots of stories here from people about why and when they tolerate burns (except one of you). Even in the snow, when there is still snow on the leaves/needles, it's very pretty, even if sometimes it does unload on you.

I would add that with the changing climate, some burn areas will not regrow. Mature trees can survive a long time in an environment that is not ideal, where new trees will not regrow. On many parts of the south side of Adams, I doubt the forest will regenerate. In some of those areas, it's been over five years and there are few saplings. By contrast the forest is definitely regenerating in the blast zone around MSH, which is much wetter than Adams.

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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by retired jerry » March 14th, 2021, 2:01 pm

The area around Silver Star was heavily burned and hasn't grown back

There may be large areas that are currently forested that become more meadowy

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Charley
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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by Charley » March 14th, 2021, 4:12 pm

Over the years, I've had a number of trips go kinda sideways, due to burns. At least they weren't very enjoyable, or as enjoyable as expected.

The Three Fingered Jack loop was really not much fun- the views of the mountains are nice, but the constant scratchy ceanothus is a drag. My buddy's dog was miserably hot since no shade and no breeze (thanks for nothing, head-high ceanothus!), and burned his paws on the hot mineral soil.

We once bailed out of a trip on the Entiat River, when, 4 miles in, we realized that the surprise burn at the trailhead was never going to end. We were able to salvage the driving and time off by re-routing to the relatively un-burned North Fork Entiat nearby.

Our Bull of the Woods loop was far less fun, when much of the majestic, towering, temperate old growth forest turned into sunblasted, overgrown, shrubby, scratchy undergrowth.
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Bull of the Woods Loop
We decided on a few principles at some point:
1. Hike it before it burns. I'm glad I got to see the Santiam River up to Jawbone Flats, but I never did see Opal Creek, and that seems like a real loss. There are a number of must-see trips that I think will be very, very different after a fire. For instance, the Three Sisters and Broken Top Loops have miles of beautiful, at-risk forest. The PCT from Hart Pass north is a beautiful forest in a region that won't likely stay this way. The Wallowas seem like an obvious candidate for a sudden catastrophic fire (but I don't know their fire ecology as well, so maybe I'm wrong), and the Eagle-Imnaha Loop has miles and miles of great forest. Ninemile Ridge in the Blue Mountains is a beautiful ridge hike in a tinderbox! Hit it soon! Crater Lake has millions of big trees, and is pretty dry in the summers. That place could blow up big.
ThreeSistersLoop.jpg
Three Sisters Loop
2. Check out recent satellite imagery. It's sad, but a lot of guidebook entries have been made obsolete by fires. Even websites don't always mention *when* some forested area burned, or adequately characterize the quality of what remains. Sometimes a burn isn't that bad, but other times it's not really fun.

3. Skiing and mountaineering are refuges from the sense of loss and disappointment. Skiing Cooper Spur is no worse, for the snags (it's actually better). Climbing Middle Sister is fun because of the views on the mountain, even if the slog up from Pole Creek is more sunny, hot, and dusty. In a sense, this is an accommodation to Nature.
IMG_1877.jpg
Cooper Spur

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drm
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Re: Hiking in burns

Post by drm » March 15th, 2021, 7:41 am

Yes, many places are at high risk, and that includes the Wallowas. They get a lot more thunderstorms that the Cascades but I think aren't prone to high winds as much in the summer. And fortunately, those storms tend to be wet.

Badger Creek is a tinder box every summer, and some people make campfires no matter how hot it is. I fully expect it will go some day not too far away and then will probably be impossible to keep open.

And yet, north of the early September catastrophes last year, one of our worst fires was around Trapper Creek, which nobody would have considered very high risk. Indian Heaven has only had one small fire since I've lived here, and the short sections of trails through that burn are too short to be a hindrance to me.

I also emphasize your comment about guides. Post fire terrain has a lot of problems with down trees, and there is no way for guides to keep up with that. It's another reason I don't really want to chance it.

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