Saturday, January 1, 2022

Powerline Road

2021 was the year I entered the white-haired pantheon of senior-citizenhood. Even though I've celebrated at least 65 birthdays in my lifetime, in each instance I calmly accepted my new age with equanimity and grace. But then that damn Medicare card arrived. The ponderous bulk of the federal government has officially designated me an old person. No longer of any use to society, I might as well turn myself in to the Soylent Green factory, which is a dated reference that old people with Medicare cards will understand.

Winter wonderland

Along with advancing age comes advancing health problems too and in my case, hernias (two of them!) and diabetes reared their ugly heads and I have the statistics to prove it. Last year, I hiked a mere 181 miles with a per hike average of 5.7 miles, both all-time Richard Hikes lows. But on a positive note, I did manage to shed 25 pounds in 2021 and I now weigh a svelte 190 pounds, so why not start the new year by getting my slimmer and trimmer tail totally kicked on a New Year's Day hike?

The Powerline Road is not always this attractive

Brad had billed this North Bank Habitat outing as "The Worst Hike Ever". The Powerline Road route is probably the steepest trail in the North Bank Habitat, becomes overly muddy in wet weather, and if you like miles and miles of looking at power lines, pylons, and other accoutrements of the power grid, then this is your hike. This hike had already been elevated to Worst Hike Ever status before we even set foot on the trail, but snow and ice guaranteed this hike to be completely memorable for all the wrong (and a few right) reasons.

Hi ho, hi ho, through the snow we go

Fourteen hikers (and dog friend Gus, who thought this was the Best Hike Ever) passed through a livestock gate and began the slog up a bare ridge covered with snow. Critter tracks crisscrossed the ranch road as our feet crunched in the icy snow. We were walking in a winter wonderland as everything as far as the eye could see was cloaked in white, most unusual for the Habitat. Snow muffled all sounds except for noisy footsteps, heavy breathing, and the omnipresent buzzing of power lines.

At least we amused the cows

I had hiked this route once (and only once!) with Mrs. O'Neill and amazingly enough, our marriage survived the experience. However, on this second go-round, it didn't seem like it was all that bad. The really steep part was only about a mile or so, after which the trail actually levelled off before heading downhill. The problem with the downhill part though, was the relatively warm sunlight was melting the snow in an exposed swale, rendering the trail muddy and wet. Our choices were either sinking in the mud or sinking in the snow next to the mud and with bemused expressions, a small herd of cattle watched us physically wrestle with that not-so philosophical question.

View as we arrived at North Boundary Ridge

There was one more short uphill push before the route reached the hallowed destination of the North Boundary Ridge. Ostensibly, the ridge was the high point of the hike but in the North Bank, the downhill inevitably comes with intermittent uphill stretches, so there was no real rejoicing at arriving at the ridge. The snow was several feet deep here and hikers sunk up to their knees. The post-holing was taxing and tedious, especially since not one of us "experienced" hikers had ever thought to bring snowshoes. To be frank, I'd had enough at that point, so I grabbed the Blacktail Basin Road for a shorter route while my friends continued on the miserable North Boundary Ridge.

Amazing vista on Blacktail Basin Road

Blacktail Basin may have been shorter but it still was not easy. The Habitat's caretaker had driven some kind of all-terrain vehicle up here and the tire treads were nasty icy, forcing me to walk off the road and wade in the snow. Slogging in the slush was sheer trudgery, but at least it was safer than the icy road. No complaining though, because the views from high above the basin were fantastic, especially with bright blue sky looming over the snow-covered world.

This hike was half snowshoe trek, half wade

At the bottom of the basin, the thaw was in full swing and all manner of creeks and runoffs were carrying the melted snow down into Jackson Creek. Boots and feet were soon wet, of course. Your leaky garden spigot generally has more water flowing than Jackson Creek, yet on this day the creek was roaring like the nearby North Umpqua River, making several fords of the rushing stream somewhat sketchy. However, I'm glad to report that while feet got wet, I didn't slip and my ancient body remained upright for the duration.

The snowy headwaters of Jackson Creek

As the route worked its way down the basin, the basin walls shaded the wet trail, turning all moisture to ice. While the wet stuff was annoying and inconvenient, the frozen path was downright treacherous. Again, my superannuated (much cooler word than "ancient") body remained upright but it had been a close call at several junctures. At the trailhead, my companions straggled in behind me by an hour or so. Their faces were haggard, with fatigue etched onto their now wizened visages. Rheo looked like she had aged 15 years and Corinna said "I should have gone with you!" before plopping face-down in the snow in total exhaustion. Gus however, was all glee and joy and asked if we could do that again. Despite the arduous nature of the day's venture, it was all good because any hike where you don't have to use your Medicare card afterward is a good hike.

A great way to start the new year

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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