Saturday, December 26, 2015

North Bank Deer Habitat 12/2015

I have met my nemesis and it is cheesecake. I was good at Christmas dinner and ate just one small slice of the calorie-laden carb-infused delicious goo-on-a-pie-crust. However, the leftovers mysteriously wound up inside our refrigerator and just as mysteriously, a large portion was consumed by some anonymous sugar-eater. It surely wasn't me and that is my story and I'm sticking to it. However, just to be sure, the day after Christmas was an opportune time for yet another calorie burning hike in the North Bank.

Leafless oak on a winter morn
The weather had not been very hiker-friendly in December but there was a short break in the deluges the day after Christmas and grandson Aiden and I were appreciative of the dry weather, although it could have been just a tad bit warmer. Actually, it could have been a lot warmer as the temperature was well below freezing as we set out in the early morning. Aiden was sporting a lot of warm weather clothing, courtesy of Santa Claus. I had received a lightweight hammock and rainfly as my reward for being nice all year (stop with the snickering, already) but the hammock is of little use in cold weather. Aiden must have been nicer for a larger part of the year.

Don't want to talk about it
At any rate, it was a frosty walk to the wet lowland sporting the hilarious name of Soggy Bottoms. I told Aiden that Soggy Bottoms was my nickname in grade school but I didn't want to talk about it. For added emphasis, I hung my head down as if in shame. Without missing a beat, he dropped his head down and said "It happened to me, too". He's from my gene pool, he can't help it.

Ice, waiting for the boy
We took the Soggy Bottoms Road because it is the easiest way to get up to the high ridges of the preserve. Any other trail would be a grueling test of manhood but the Soggy Bottoms Road settles for for merely going uphill. The air was crisp and ice crunched under our feet as we walked. Frozen puddles offered a certain grandson the opportunity of noisily cracking the ice crust.

The pooologist
The habitat's sole reason for existence is to preserve a herd of endangered Columbia white-tailed deer and we saw several deer scampering through the woods of Soggy Bottoms. The cougars consider the habitat to be their fast-food restaurant and we stopped to examine some predator poo which contained hair, bone bits, and maybe a white tail or two. I'm just saying, but pooing bone bits...yikes!

Bad creek!
As we walked, we had to ford several creeks while blue jays shrieked at us as annoyingly shrill as a sister. Soggy Bottoms was just that, and the water laden hillsides had slid down over the trail in a couple of spots. The swollen creeks had taken out part of the road beds here and there and the maintenance crew will have a lot of work to do once things dry out a bit.

Trail, at snow line
"What is that thing?" asked Aiden.  It was white and small, about the  size of a silver dollar. When we picked it up, it was hard but extremely cold.  Yes, it was our first glimpse of snow on Soggy Bottoms. As we reached the head of the valley, we were walking in perma-shade and more and more snow appeared along the trail. We are not talking ski-country snow and snow shoes certainly were not needed, but it was fairly unusual to see the white stuff lying below the leafless oaks.

Why we hike
As the trail left Soggy Bottoms and began angling uphill to the northern ridge, the air temperature dropped considerably and we encountered more and more snow and ice on the way. The views improved as we gained elevation with layers and layers of snow covered peaks dotting the horizon to the south. By the time we reached the Powerline Road and Grumpy's Pond, we were hiking in a veritable winter wonderland. The hills were bald and covered in white (just like my head!) and we enjoyed the scenery as we ate a hurried lunch at Grumpy's Pond. We were not the only ones lunching however, a lone hawk patrolled the snowy fields in search of a tasty mammal morsel.

One small leap for boykind...
Aiden started out being fairly ambitious at the start of the hike and was game for a 10 miler. However, his youthful enthusiasm waned once we reached the top of the boundary ridge. All that puddle stomping had wet his feet and he was getting both tired and uncomfortable so we grabbed the Blacktail Basin Road, which sadly took us out of the snow and down into the soggy bottom of the basin. And thus began the descent and a few moments of wet hilarity at a creek mishap.

Creek, crossing the trail
Because of the long run of wet weather, creeks were full and there was a particularly deep creek running across the trail in Blacktail Basin. I just waded through but Aiden bushwhacked downstream in search of a narrower crossing. The perfect spot for a leap across was found and he took off his hat and lobbed it across the creek. He tried to take off his brand spanking new Christmas winter jacket but the daypack was in the way so he sort of removed both at the same time. Grabbing a shoulder strap, he slung the pack across the creek. Unfortunately, the jacket was still entangled in the pack and while the pack sailed across the creek, the jacket separated in mid-air and floated down into the icy stream. I didn't know jackets could float like that and I didn't know Aiden could run along the bank that fast either. The jacket was safely plucked from the water just as it was about to go over a 4 foot waterfall and disappear forever.  

Tree under the incoming clouds
From there it was a quick walk back to the car as clouds scudded over and took away the blue sky. Obviously, it's time for another round of winter storms, darn it.

We walked in a winter wonderland
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Hall Lake

The rain was just pouring sheets of water early in the morning. Just the kind of morning that causes all good hikers to stow their boots back on the basement shelf and call the hike off. I woke up and readily admitted to Dollie that I really didn't feel like going hiking in the wet and cold weather. But I just knew I'd appear at the library parking lot and three hardcore hikers (actually, I used the term "morons") would show up and I'd have to take them out on the dunes in the crappy weather. And sure enough, waiting for me at the meeting spot lot was Kevin (accompanied by dog Wish) and John, with Rachel later showing up at the trailhead. Yup, three hikers and I called it.

On Planet Arrakis
As it turned out, the weather was not all that bad on the coast. The day was overcast, the temperature cool but not cold, and the wind blustery but about 40 m.p.h below hurricane strength. That would change though, as a nasty storm system was supposed to hit late afternoon so the plan was to keep the hike relatively short and make the great escape back to Roseburg in semi-safe driving conditions.

Must..kill...hiking leader
We had all been on Dellenback Dunes many times before, making the unique challenge posed by Dellenback to keep the dunes interesting for erstwhile jaded hikers. One way to ward off hiking ennui is to vary the route. None of my hiking comrades had ever been to Hall Lake before so a challenging hike to the picturesque lake was just the ticket. Upon entry into the expansive dunes an immediate hard right turn was the move that took three-quarters of our group onto a new and different Dellenback Dunes experience. The hard right turn also sent our little band of merry hikers painfully trudging in soft sand up the tallest mountain of sand within several miles.

More ups and downs in our future
This hike would be less about the mileage and more about walking up tall mountains of sand. Once atop the tall first dune, the view of the sandy expanse of Dellenback Dunes was much appreciated by hikers sporting burning leg muscles after less than 0.5 miles of hiking. The ocean was visible under the dark clouds and off in the distance, Arago Peak rose above Cape Arago. Unfortunately, eminently visible to the north was a successive series of sand alps paralleling the tall sand pile we were currently standing on. Ever the cruel hike leader, I pointed out that we would be hiking up and over each tall dune in due time. I get pretty brave when I'm leading just three hikers. 

Grave marker
Down we go and up we went to the top of the second dune, dotted with hummocks of beach grass. The second dune is pretty cool because there is a ghost forest on top. At some point, a thriving knot of trees grew here but were eventually overwhelmed by the marching sands. All that is left of the forest is a tree cemetery comprised of lifeless snags.

Let the skin exfoliation begin!
The third and fourth dunes were not all that tough to climb up, thanks to the elevation gained climbing the second dune, they were each summarily polished off in short order. However, the fifth dune was a rather imposing wall of sand that was hard work to get to the top of. It was two steps up and one slide down in the soft sand as the wind began to increase in velocity. But hiking stubbornness won out in the end and four persevering hikers and one mindlessly happy dog staggered to the top of the fifth dune.

We're number 5!
We had been photographically commemorating our dune climbs by holding up fingers denoting the cardinal order of the dunes. That is, we held up two fingers for the second dune, three for the third dune, etc. However, on the fifth dune, Rachel was about four fingers short of five, maybe that is how they mark five in England, I don't know. But the good news was that the fifth dune overlooked Hall Lake.

Hall Lake
Hall Lake sits in a bowl where forest and dune meet, the view of the lake from the dune overlook is impressive. The dark waters invited a closer look-see and accordingly we sat down at the water's edge, grateful to get out of the wind. Lunch was eaten there as tree tops swayed in the boisterous breeze.

Because the wind was picking up in advance of the coming storm, an impromptu decision was made to cut the hike short and circle back to the trailhead. So back up to the large dune we went and we were immediately sandblasted by the wind driving fine particulate matter over the dune crest. And to think, people pay thousands of dollars for skin exfoliation and dermabrasion treatments! Walking on top of the dune crest, we were being flayed alive by wind and sand, but at least we no longer had acne. The sand was whipping without mercy at dog level but Wish didn't seem to mind. The route lead downwards, dropping down towards the flat part of the dunes bordering the forest growing behind the beach foredunes. 

Wish takes his human for a walk
From there, it was a series of mild ups and downs before a sandy draw led to the exit point off of the dunes. Later that night, I checked the weather report and 30 foot ocean swells, driven by strong winds, were marching up the Umpqua River at Winchester Bay. Absolutely made the right call in leaving early and we were able to enjoy a nice hike unlike some of our namby-pamby hiking buddies who stayed at home. Plus, we went home with clean and fresh faces, thanks to the wind-supplied skin spa treatments.

Blurred lines
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.