Sunday, November 18, 2012

North Bank Deer Habitat

Add extra pounds of mud for a harder workout

I usually don't get to see the North Bank Deer Habitat at its finest. In spring, when carpets of wildflowers cover the grassy hills of the habitat, I'm usually off making exploratory forays into the mountains. Nope, usually the habitat gets a Richard Hike in winter when skies are gray and leaking water, when trees are leafless and skeletal, and when the trails are muddy with at least 10 pounds of wet clay glomming onto hiking boots.

Can't see the forest for the moss

On several notable past backpacking treks, I have spent more than one 2 AM looking for my hiking poles, pilfered by salt crazed deer. As a result, I've come to detest the antlered burglars so it is ironic that one of the best places to hike in the Roseburg area is a preserved dedicated to the continued well-being of the cervine larcenists. Fortunately, I rarely run into any of the Columbia white-tailed deer (the preservation of which are the reason for the habitat's existence) on my many hikes in the area, the cloven-hoofed purloiners of hiking poles must sense and fear my loathing.

Canine joy

The weather forecast was pretty dire, calling for high winds, rains, and floods. So what is a dedicated hiker to do? Why, go hiking, of course! Maggie The Hiking Dog was agreeable so we made the short drive to the habitat and commenced hiking. The habitat was formerly a cattle ranch and the old ranch roads now serve as hiking trails. Personally, I like the wide trails as it's easier to avoid the plenty of poison oak ready and willing to encroach on narrow footpaths.

Nature's stair stepper
No matter what trail combination is used in the habitat, hikers will at some point find themselves hiking steeply uphill. The West Barn Trail soon did that very thing after passing its namesake barn (I find the idea of a barn built to help feed deer abhorrent, but that's just me) and climbing up a road carpeted with sprouting baby thistles to Middle Ridge.

A hawk rides the wind
Middle Ridge basically bisects the preserve and is typical of ridge trails: up, down, but never level. Climbing up away from the North Umpqua River, the views opened up to the river perambulating around horseshoe-shaped Whistlers Bend. Farther off in the distance, I could see snow covered Black Butte, totally white in spite of its name.

I hate hiking
In writing several newspaper articles about the preserve over the years, I have used the adjective "windswept" to describe the grassy rolling hills and ridges. On this day, the adjective was absolutely accurate as the forecasted high winds were heartily pummeling Middle Ridge. I was grateful for the lack of trees. Maggie was grateful too, but then again she's just simple-mindedly grateful about everything.

Numquam visus anteo!
While gasping for breath, I stopped to admire the distant ridges well above me. Then I'd notice a road going up and over the ridge or hill and realize that was my trail. My new hiking motto became: "Numquam visus anteo!" (Never look ahead!). After a couple of miles, the uphill hiking was relieved at the junction with the North Gate Trail.

I've hiked the North Gate Trail before, coming up from Soggy Bottoms, whose name has nothing to with that embarrassing incident in high school that I don't want to talk about. But I digress, on this day I was grateful to be hiking down the North Gate instead of up. I was also grateful about dropping off Middle Ridge and into the valley; the descent took us out of the wind messing up my hair...well, if I had any hair to mess up, that is.

  I wag my tail in glee over the Wrong Way
Before arriving at Soggy Bottoms, Maggie and I went the right way on the Wrong Way Trail. The Wrong Way obviously does not see a lot of use, degenerating quickly into an overgrown and faint deer path. Imagine that, a deer path in a deer preserve. The Wrong Way Trail probably got its name from hikers who hiked up the trail as the trail was steep and muddy as it plunged straight down to Soggy Bottoms with nary a switchback. It was bad coming down, I can only imagine the abject misery hiking up it.

View down Jackson Creek
The Soggy Bottoms Way was a welcome sight and we headed up while my best Soggy Bottoms jokes were lost on Maggie. We were in a valley bottom and the plan was to hike up (why do I hate myself so?) to the North Ridge. The road's grade was not as bad as the previous section as it angled upwards through leaf littered woods before breaking out into the open. Views down the Jackson Creek drainage all the way to the North Umpqua River abounded and much photography ensued.

Witching tree, near Grumpy's Pond
Maggie and I crossed the steep Powerline Road and lunched at Grumpy's Pond, probably named after somebody whose husband took her hiking up to the pond via the incredibly steep Powerline Road. A short walk from the pond brought us to a 4-way junction and we had a decision to make. The longer loop choice would be a return on the East Ridge, the shorter loop would be to drop down into Blacktail Basin, whose name has nothing to do with another  embarrassing incident which I also don't want to talk about.

Some oaks have the gall
Up to this point, no drops of rain had landed on me and I was OK with that. Rain was on its way though, buckets and buckets of rain. It was just a matter of time, a very short time. So, Blacktail Basin it was and we dropped down into the valley and followed the basin road for a couple of miles back to our car. An enjoyable 10 mile hike and one of these days I'll have return for a habitat hike in the spring.

For the rest of the pictures, please visit the Flickr album.


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