Saturday, December 31, 2016

North Bank Habitat (West Loop)

On the last day of 2016. it was time to put this turbulent and strange year to rest and what better way to do that than to go out for a hike in the North Bank Habitat? Of course, 2016 could have been the best year ever and I would have still posed the same rhetorical question. So perhaps, the end of the year is just another irrelevant correlation to hiking, much like how I hike every February 5th to celebrate Shower with a Friend Day. And yes, there really is such a day, just in case you were wondering or maybe if you needed an excuse to shower with a friend at least once a year.  At any rate, the Friends of the Umpqua were hiking in the North Bank and I decided to go along.

Trail on top of the world
Actually, I'd been having a backpacking itch lately but the weather had been extremely wet and not particularly conducive to happy backpacking. I'd almost worked myself up to the point where I'd do it, rain or no rain, and meet everybody on the North Boundary Ridge, but the weather report said snow was coming and the temps were dropping to the mid 20's. Day hiking was looking pretty good after all! I was recounting this to my hiking buddies and Jennifer said "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes!" To which I replied "Hey, no fair using my quotes against me!"

Nice little glade on the climb up
The dozen or so hikers doing this hike were all donned in various layers of clothing, hats, and gloves designed to keep cold at bay as it was fairly nipply at the start. The trails of the habitat are generally wet and muddy, especially in the lowlands, and today was no exception as we enjoyed a pleasantly level walk along the misnamed Chasm Creek. At the intersection with the Bear Tree Trail, our group split up into two based on the preferred degree of difficulty of the hike. Guess which group I went with!

If you like oaks, then the North Bank is your place!
All that cold chilly morning was soon forgotten as the Bear Tree Trail charged straight up to the top of the North Boundary Ridge. That makes the Bear Tree Trail no different than about 90% of all the other trails in the North Bank, but that's just me whining. At any rate, everybody soon peeled off clothing layers as we chugged up the steep hills of the Habitat.

The upper branches of the Bear Tree
About halfway through the climb, a huge madrone tree known as Bear Tree provided a nice opportunity to admire the size of the orange trunked giant. Also, it was a nice stop to pretend to appreciate the size of the tree while simultaneously catching your breath and letting the pain subside in burning leg muscles.

"Are you guys OK?"
Jeremy tried to get his dog Stella to climb up Bear Tree for a photo but she was having none of it. While we walked 7.8 miles, Stella probably walked 20 miles because she was not steepness-challenged and she'd run up a hill and then run back down to see what was taking us so long. "Humans are so slow" she mused, pondering all the while how humans became the dominant life form on this planet.

Why we hike
As we got up onto the North Boundary Ridge, the leafless oaks thinned out and the views astounded. The North Bank is fairly low-elevation, beginning at 600 feet by the North Umpqua River and topping out at 1900 feet atop Round Timber. But it really feels like you are on top of the world, rivalling Mount Everest in altitude because the grassy slopes drop away from your feet and provide wide and expansive panoramas of river bends, creek valleys, and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. With such a gorgeous view, much photography ensued and Jeremy and I lagged behind as a result.

Bad uphill trail!
Despite reaching the northern ridge of the Habitat, there was plenty of steep trail still to be doled out as the route went up and down and never level on the ridge. All the bad uphill ended (for the most part!) at the 4 mile mark where Middle Ridge intersected with the North Boundary Ridge. Middle Ridge basically bisects the Habitat and would be our route back down to river level.

View to Whistler's Bend
One of the things I enjoy about hiking down Middle Ridge, besides going downhill, is that you hike for several miles staring down at the North Umpqua River glinting in the afternoon sunlight. The river is flanked by pastured farmlands and Whistlers Bend's horseshoe shape is eminently notable. The day was semi-sunny and the leafless oaks were all draped with old man's beard contrasting nicely with a light blue sky. But mostly, it was the downhill aspect to Middle Ridge that gladdened my heart.

Scott Mountain makes a mid-day appearance
After the hike was over, we regrouped at Lois's house where were fed fine pozole and chicken soup. The hike had been a great way to close out 2016 and I could hardly wait until the next hike which would be on January 6th. What better way to celebrate National Bean Day? By the way, National Bean Day is also National Cuddle Up Day but I'm choosing to celebrate National Bean Day because the traditional way of celebrating National Cuddle Up Day generally is not conducive to good hiking.

Trail on the "gentle" and rolling hills of the Habitat
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Good way to end the year, with a hike to a lovely place! Looks like your weather cooperated too (the weather has not been behaving itself much so far this winter!)

    1. I read your message with the rain just pouring down, the weather has been something else this winter