Saturday, June 27, 2020

North Bank Habitat (Blacktail Basin/East Ridge Loop)

When you volunteer to lead a hike, you do copious research to sort of figure out which route to take, what weather conditions might be like, what condition the trail is in, and then consider stamina and determination of potential participants. And after all that meticulous planning, there's hikes like this one at the North Bank Habitat, where nothing turns out like you planned but it all works out anyway.

Busy as a bee in a blackberry patch
Normally, you try to come up with a route that satisfies the average fitness of the hiking group, with options for more or less mileage, depending on the fortitude of each individual hiker. Basically, the core hike will tend to be an easy or moderate six to eight mile route with trail steepness also being somewhat moderate, although in the North Bank all trails are unavoidably steep.

Elegant brodiaea purpled up the dry grasses

However, when your group consists of only Brad and Coreena, well then, let's go for a good long hike, shall we? Those two certainly weren't going to show me any mercy! The planned route up Soggy Bottom was tossed into the mental garbage can and totally on the spur of the moment, I changed the route to go up Blacktail Basin with a return by way of North Boundary Ridge, Middle Ridge, and Thistle Ridge. Plenty of miles and uphill steps on that route to hold our collective interest. 

It was easy hiking in Blacktail Basin
The first mile and a half at Blacktail Basin were relatively level and served as a nice little warm-up for the upcoming lung-busting quad-burning endeavors. The sky was overcast, the temperatures were mild as we strolled lazily through the stately oaks dotting the pastures next to the small creek coursing at the bottom of the basin. The surrounding hills were just starting to brown but there was still plenty of grassy greenery surrounding the trail as we hiked in easy companionship.

Some of that moderate uphill grade
The levelness of the trail inclined toward the uphill side of things when we reached the basin's terminus and began hiking up the headwaters wall. Actually, "wall" is a bit extreme, for in all reality the uphill pull out of the basin was not all that bad. We were reminded that the North Bank is also a working cattle ranch for the trail was bordered by electric fencing that effectively discouraged any off-trail hiking. Besides which, on the other side of the electric wire were dense stands of head-high poison oak bushes, which also effectively discouraged any off-trail hiking. Plus, there were probably thieving deer lurking in the itch-spreading vegetation, just waiting to steal hiking poles, which would also discourage any off-trail hiking.

Why we hike
As we climbed, the views and panoramas expanded into that stunning scenery which is the main reason we hike here. We had attained the rolling windswept grass-covered North Boundary Ridge and were peering down the twin valleys of Jackson Creek's two forks as the small creek beelined for the North Umpqua River. Farmlands dotted the river plain and the North Umpqua River valley could be visually traced all the way to nearby Winchester. Beyond river and creeks were layers of hills and rounded peaks, marching into the distance like some hazy blue geologic army on its way to battle.

What "mostly sunny" looks like in Oregon

Part of my copious research duties required for planning this hike was checking the weather forecast, which called for "mostly sunny" weather. A forecast of "seldom and hardly ever" sunny would have been closer to the mark as the sun was about as rare and elusive as an albino Sasquatch. The air was welling up and out of the valleys which translated to a chill breeze wafting over the broad ridge we were hiking on, and windbreakers and extra clothing layers were quickly donned. 

Astounding view from North Boundary Ridge
There was a barbed-wire fence going across the trail and I didn't recall that being there before. We wanted to be good citizens and not trespass on private property so we turned back and made an impromptu decision to return by way of the East Boundary Ridge Trail. On the way back, we quizzed some hikers coming up from Blacktail Basin about the route and they said you have to hop over two fences to continue on the North Boundary Ridge, a fact that was later borne out when I read my notes from the last time I had hiked there. I guess my memory is as sharp as a watermelon these days.

Glad to be going down instead of up!
The East Boundary Ridge is a pretty cool hike on its own merits as it provides epic views of the surrounding terrain while going downhill. I've hiked up the East Boundary Ridge before and did take in the views during frequent rest stops where I huffed and puffed while bent over, hands resting on knees, majorly exhausted from the daunting uphill grade. Going downhill like we did today allows hikers to actually enjoy the scenery just for being scenery and not as an excuse for stopping to rest.

View down to Soggy Bottom
Brad is probably the fastest hiker in this spiral arm of our galaxy and mere mortals like me and Coreena cannot keep up with him. Hiking at Brad speed would be akin to keeping up with a cheetah on speed. Suffice to say, he couldn't stand walking with us slower folks (and were weren't THAT slow, either) and he soon disappeared from sight on the way down. When we reunited at the trailhead after this ten mile hike, his excuse was that he thought we were going to shorten the hike by hiking straight downhill to the trailhead instead of taking the longer trail. Nothing like that had ever occurred to me before but now it will, thank you very much Brad. I'll have to do some copious research to come up with a downhill shortcut for the next time I lead a hike here.

The East Boundary Ridge was our return route
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Nice hike, great views, chilly weather but, why did you have to insult the watermelons?

    1. Ha ha, watermelons are round and just sit inert on the ground. They're fair game!