Sunday, November 10, 2013

North Bank Deer Habitat

I was naughty and needed to be punished. How else to explain hiking in the North Bank Deer Habitat? It's not like I did anything really bad, I just slept in on a Sunday morning. But a 10 AM start out of the house means having to hike close to home and since the Habitat is in our back yard, figuratively speaking, there really wasn't any other realistic destination. So, with some muttering of "I hate hiking!", I shouldered my day pack and trudged up yet another steep trail section heading straight up the so-called gentle rolling hills of the Habitat.

The scraggly oak capital of the world 
The North Bank Deer Habitat is a former ranch property in the gentle (ha!) rolling hills on the north bank of the North Umpqua River. The grassy hills are dotted with oak, maple, and cedar trees and hikers don't want to generally go off-trail due to poison oak and thistles with both plants ready, willing, and able to torment would-be explorers.

Old man's beard

All trails in the Habitat begin low, next to the river, and wind up high on the grassy ridges about 1,200 feet above the river. The trails get up there in a hurry and despite the relatively low elevation, there is plenty of steep uphill hiking involved. While the Habitat trail system is a medieval torture chamber with trails, it is nonetheless a beautiful place to visit and the views of the North Umpqua River valleys make all the sweat and toil worth it.

Beginning at the western parking lot, a level trail through the working part of the Jackson Ranch warmed up legs in pleasant preparation for the uphill hiking. The oaks were all scraggly and leafless while the odd big-leaf maple tree provided some autumn color.  A hawk in a tree whistled an alarm, ensuring I'd see no wildlife today. After a mile or so, a junction with the Chasm Creek and Bear Tree Roads (all the trails are jeep roads) put an end to the level hiking and the real "fun" began.

The Bear Tree

A steep climb (a phrase that will get used often in this blog entry) pulls hikers out of the Chasm Creek valley floor and delivers them to the Bear Tree. This tree is the oldest and largest madrone tree that I have seen, so much so that it has a name and a namesake trail. A remark in the visitor's log indicated someone had a bear encounter at the tree but I'm glad to report no bear was visiting the tree when I arrived, thanks to the tattletale hawk.

Up, up, up...
After taking some Bear Tree pictures which do not do justice to the majesty of this ancient giant, it was back to the uphill grind. The trail took off at a steep rate up a hill and how many steep hill climbs can there be on this trail anyway?  The answer is 1,418 hills were climbed on my way to the Boundary Ridge, for those wanting an empirical answer to a rhetorical question. At any rate, there were plenty of opportunities to admonish myself for sleeping in as my penance was paid on the push up through the grass covered hills.

I hate hiking!
Up, up, up the trail went, rising 800 feet in just a mile, or a 15% grade as we like to call it. Finally the boundary ridge was reached and the trail leveled out, comparatively speaking. The ridge consisted of a series of grassy knobs and the trail went up and down, up and down, up and down, but never level as it surmounted in turn each of the knobs.

View to the North Umpqua River
No complaining allowed, though, as the views really do make it worthwhile. From the ridge, I could peer down into Sutherlin while smoke plumes from rustic wood stoves floated poetically out of the North Umpqua River valley. Looking southwest, layers of layers of blue mountains marched as far as the eye could see. Virtually at my feet, about 1,300 feet below, was the river perambulating around Whistlers Bend, the water glinting silver in the afternoon sun. A perfect place for a lunchtime lollygag and I obliged.

Oaks, overhead
The 7.8 mile loop was closed after lunch by dropping down the steep (what else?) Middle Ridge Trail as the afternoon shadows lengthened.  The steep descent was broken up by the occasional steep ascent up a grassy or oak covered rolling hill. The Habitat is a cruel and capricious taskmaster, indeed. Dropping closer and closer to the car, I encountered hikers just starting out; they must have really slept in late. Well, they did come to the right place for atonement.

Blackberry doing the autumn thing
For more pictures of the Habitat, please visit the Flickr album.

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