Saturday, January 4, 2014

North Bank Deer Habitat

It's become a tradition:  the first Friends of the Umpqua hike of the year takes place in the North Bank Deer Habitat. This year was no different and we set off on a chilly morning to partake of the awesome views from the ridges of the habitat. Oops.

Now serving cougar Number 5,604,705
The habitat's raison d'ĂȘtre is the preservation of a band of Columbia whitetail deer and we had a grim exhibition of life and death just after we started out. While we humans refer to the habitat as "preserve", the cougars refer to the habitat as "fast food restaurant" or maybe "McDeernalds".  Deer parts were scattered all over the trail where a deer had become the entree of a cougar meal. Cougars sure are messy eaters, leaving bones and stuff strewn all over which reminds me, we're having dinner at my brother's house tonight.

The sun would not last

Of all the incredibly steep trails in the habitat, the Soggy Bottoms Road is the kindest and gentlest way to get up to the northern ridge. But that's kind of like saying a toothache is not as painful as an earache, or vice versa. It's still uphill. It's just a question of whether you want your severe pain all at once or less pain for a longer time. So uphill we go with the grade ratcheting up in direct proportion to the complaining from our youngest hiker, 13 year old Maeghan.

Maeghan:  See the view?
Lane: No

So back to the views thing. We had started under breaking cloud cover and we eagerly anticipated hiking above the clouds and enjoying fantastic views of the North Umpqua River valley covered by a white blanket of cloud under blue sky. As stated previously:  oops. The more we climbed, the deeper we got into the cloud cover which looked and felt like dense fog. As we climbed, the fog became thicker and thicker, and we soon abandoned all hope of any spectacular views.

Gray, in all its many shades, hues, and tints

By the time we reached the North Ridge, our group had strung out, leaving Lane, Maeghan, and I bringing up the rear. I had a camera and Maeghan had Lane so our lagging behind was not a chance occurrence. We could hear our comrade's voices floating out of the impenetrable mist but could not see them. At any rate, we made a left turn on the ridge road and followed the disembodied voices along the ridge.

Some pictures need no caption
Our minds told us because we had reached the ridge, all the bad uphill climbing would stop. Alas, that is not the North Bank way. The trail headed straight up the hills and then straight down the hills. And as we headed up the steep climbs, a certain teenager voiced vigorous objection, providing flashbacks to when I single-parented my three daughters. However, I did not send Maeghan to her room.

Ridge, where we got off trail

At some point, the road petered out, morphing into a trail that became fainter and fainter, or "sketchy" in hiking vernacular. Soon we found ourselves on a narrow rocky crest, with no trail on it.  Peering downslope, into the fog, we could see a well defined trail below our rocky promontory.  I'm not sure how we went astray, as the trail below was where we were supposed to be, but I'm blaming the fog.

Uphill, on the downhill
We had a decision to make at the junction with the Middle Ridge trail. Straight ahead was a longer hike continuing on the northern boundary ridge. A left turn would drop us off the ridge for a shorter route back to the parking lot. Since our hike leader told me the route would be on Middle Ridge, we made the left turn. Since the same hike leader (who shall remain nameless) told the others the route would be on the north ridge, they went straight. Oops.

View, sort of
Maeghan (Lane and I, too) was happy to be hiking downhill but she got a North Bank lesson when the trail went back uphill in the middle of the descent. About a mile from the car, we finally dropped out of the clouds but still couldn't see much. Maeghan actually did quite well, completing this 8.3 mile hike with her sense of humor still intact. Lane waxed philosophical, promising to return on a clear day to see what he can see. And me, I'll probably join him.

Shortcutting switchbacks
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

For Lane's take on this hike, follow this link, and all those things he says about me are not true!

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