Wednesday, April 6, 2022

North Bank (West Loop)

I went with some friends the other day on a mid-week hike at our frequent hiking haunt, the North Bank Habitat. Our route of choice was the loop which I have always unimaginatively and directionally referred to as the West Loop, but today I heard it cited as the Boot Camp Loop. It sort of fits because the steepness of the trails that wind up and down the various high points on the north ridge will have your wishing for an honorable discharge in no time at all.

Simply a beautiful spring day at the Habitat

It didn't take long for the seven of us to separate into two distinct hiking cadres: me and Penny, and everybody else. Guess which two hikers had cameras? At any rate, the morning was crisp and clear, the hills were bathed in green grass, and the floral end of the gene pool was in full spring symphony, be it in flowers or leaves. So we walked slow and enjoyed the scenery while our comrades marched in double-time up and down the hills at some unseen distance ahead of us. Just so they wouldn't wonder whether or not we had carked it on the trail, we sent a text message advising the speedsters not to wait for us.

Maple trees were in full flower

The first part of the route initially followed a gravel road through ranch pastures where bemused cows placidly chewed cud as we hiked by. A right turn put us on a dirt road accompanying barely trickling Chasm Creek flowing through some peaceful and serene oak woods, the trees still bereft of any leaves. Branches were draped with long strands of lichen that swayed with the slightest air current while birds musically chirped their mating calls in feathered hopes of scoring an avian romp in the woods. Wild iris, shooting stars, henbit, buttercup, and Oregon grape bloomed amok in the green grasses reposing under a vibrant blue sky, making bees and butterflies happy. Life was good and colorful here.

One steep trail in a Habitat full of them

The colorful beauty was soon forgotten though, supplanted instead by the immediate urgency of  burning leg muscles when the trail headed uphill in earnest, seemingly in a hurry to get up to North Boundary Ridge. Didn't anybody ever hear of a switchback?  But, if you are going to struggle on a hike, you should have beautiful things to look at, and we did. As we gained elevation, white baby blue-eyes populated the grassy parts, while flower friends desert parsley and purple sanicle aided and abetted. Penny and I spent more than one occasion crawling through the aforementioned green grass like human sheep, just to photograph the flowers.

The dark leaves of Satan's favorite shrub 

Spring is the optimal season to visit the Habitat in my opinion. As mentioned, the hills were wrapped in a vivid shawl of green grass; that is, if you ignore the dark bloodshot leaves of poison oak. Ignore at your own risk, though, for the plant is quite profuse and is ever ready to award rashes to inattentive hikers. The accursed plant was everywhere, and while I have issues with its itchy malevolence, the new red leaves do impart a splashy, flashy, yet rashy burgundy vibe to the hike. 

Gentle and rolling

As we gained elevation, the trees thinned out and then it was all gentle and rolling green hills dotted with small stands of oak trees. I've often said the gentle rolling hills are only gentle when you don't have to hike up them and that wry observation still holds true. At any rate, the more we climbed, the more we were treated to some amazing views of the peaks and valleys surrounding the North Umpqua River, ever flowing below our North Boundary Ridge aerie in a series of serpentine bends with the water glinting silver in the noonday sunlight. 

Trail on top of the North Bank world

Part of the reason we could see so far was that the weather was perfect. It was never too hot, the sun was out, and the sky was blue and cloudless. The clarity of the air meant that we could see many leagues in every direction, although the air did haze up a bit as the day wore on. As an example, the distant peaks of the Siskiyou Wilderness, located just over 100 miles away in California, were faintly visible to the naked eye on the southwestern horizon.

It's all (not!) downhill from here

Once on North Boundary Ridge, the Boot Camp aspects of the hike were on full display as the trail went up and down, always steep, and never level. The trail summited what felt like 5,532 high points and promontories, the only saving grace being the totally awesome views of the terrain flanking the North Umpqua River. But once we hit Middle Ridge, it was mostly downhill, the irony being there were still several steep uphill pitches on the descent, even though the trail was generally pointed downward. In the North Bank, even the downhill hiking can qualify as a Boot Camp Hike.

Butter cups by the cupful

All good Boot Camp Hikes do come to an end though, and this one ended at a noteworthy field of buttercups at the trailhead. One buttercup does not an awesome sight make, but cram millions of them into a grassy pasture then you then have a visual buttered French Toast ready to be slathered in sticky syrup. The sight of that golden parcel of pasture was more than adequate reward for the Boot Camp trials and tribulations on the day for us two plebes.

An agoseris blooms in the low grass

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

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