Sunday, October 26, 2014

North Bank Deer Habitat

They say misery loves company.  But if that is true, then why was I hiking all by myself at the North Bank Deer Habitat? And who are "they" anyway? The fact that I was out all alone hiking the ungodly steep trails of the habitat in a torrential downpour proves that even misery has the good sense to stay home when I do not.

Graceful oak on a hillside
Because of heavy rain, I spent all day Saturday cooped indoors like a life-without-parole convict. However, the legs became quite restless on Sunday morning. The alluring siren song of freedom called to me and since the rain was not coming down with the same intensity as it did on Saturday, I made my great escape by driving the short distance to the nearby habitat in a steady rain.

My life for the next 12 miles
Lucky me though, because the rain abated as boots were laced up at the west trailhead. It was actually pleasantly cool, just perfect for hiking, as I set out on the dirt road leading to Middle Ridge. What was not perfect, though, was the uphill grade as all trails in the habitat are quite steep. Oh well, it's what I do, though.

A great day to hike...temporarily
Once Middle Ridge was attained, a nice view was had overlooking Whistlers Bend on the North Umpqua River. As I hiked, sunbeams broke through the heavy blanket of dark clouds, lighting up the farms next to the river. It matched my mood perfectly as in my head, sunbeams of optimism poked holes in the heavy tapestry of doom and gloom in direct correlation to the scene unfolding below me. Another hiker came traipsing down the trail and we agreed it was indeed a fine morning for a hike. But he was heading down and I was heading up and therein lies the difference.

Moody view
Middle Ridge is a broad and grassy ridge leading from the North Umpqua River up to the North Boundary Ridge and halfway up is a high point known unimaginatively enough as Middle Knob. A quick side trip to the knob provided more views. However, the north ridge above me had been overtaken by a wall of dark black clouds full of watery trouble. Bad weather was coming and it was a matter of when, not if.

From day into night
Naturally, I continued walking up Middle Ridge to immerse myself in the impending weather mayhem. The scene was quite photogenic as golden grass was lit up by the sun while the sky above was a dark and gloomy black. And sure enough, as the camera was happily taking pictures, the rain finally arrived.

The day was sunny, then rainy, then sunny, then...
It was a light rain though, and I quickly planned an out route back on a left turn down the Chasm Creek Trail. Unfortunately (in hindsight) I was feeling quite walky and a five mile hike just wasn't going to do it so I headed uphill to the North Boundary Ridge where another left turn and an 8 mile loop awaited. However, the clouds had now scattered, the sky was blue, and I was still feeling walky so I took a right turn and committed myself to a much longer hike.

That deer path is my trail
The trail on this section of the north ridge is dotted with rocky points and pinnacles and is probably the wildest section of trail in the habitat. And of course, the rain came back while a knot of white-tailed deer grazed on a grassy hillside; they easily loped uphill into the forest at my arrival. I, on the other hand, cannot easily lope uphill and it was slow going along the ridge as the deer wondered what the heck a human being without a gun was doing up there on a rainy day.

Rainy view
Normally, the view is great from the ridge but all I could see by now were curtains of rain and naturally at the point furthest from my car, the heavens absolutely opened up. Lashed by a fierce downpour, I quickly donned my wet gear and kept on walking in the monsoon. At a junction with the Powerline Road, a right turn was taken and now I was heading back towards the car instead of away from it, unfortunately there were still many miles between me and dryness.

Hiking in the rain...whee!
The weather forecast had called for showers which implies on and off rain but the "on" part lasted for well over an hour on the descent into the aptly named (today, at least) Soggy Bottom. However, the showers in the forecast probably referred to the stream of water falling from the sky which matched the volume of water that emanates from my shower nozzle, minus the happy hot water. The mud was slippery and there were several near pratfalls as I passed Grumpy's Pond, which was probably named after a guy hiking in a heavy rainstorm. The camera was stowed safely away in a dry case and there was only one picture taken on the way down, one water-ruined camera this year is enough. 

Steamy Oregon tropics
At this point, I so wanted the hike to be over and a plan was quickly formulated where I'd hitch a ride at the east picnic area from someone who'd feel sorry for me. Unfortunately, the east parking lot was empty, like anyone besides me would be visiting the habitat in a biblical rainstorm. But at least the rain eased up a bit as I pitifully began the slog up the West Barn Road to Middle Ridge.

Sun broke out at the West Barn
No longer feeling walky, I trudged uphill to the barn where a brief and dry breather was taken while listening to the music of the rain on the tin roof. By the time I hit Middle Ridge the sun had come out again and the rain had stopped for good. At a crest and trail junction, I took the left turn onto Middle Ridge, happy to be winding this hike up.

I hate hiking!
On the way down, the view to Whistlers Bend didn't look quite right as the angle of the river was a bit peculiar. Out came the GPS and lo and behold, I had turned left onto the Thistle Ridge Road with Middle Ridge being, much to my dismay, over a mile away across a deep creek drainage. So back up I go and naturally, the steepest section of trail rose above me like a muddy and grassy Great Wall of China. I hate hiking!

Autumn comes to the North Bank
The final stats for this hike were 12.7 miles hiked and 2,275 feet of elevation gain. I was a very tired guest of honor at my birthday party that night; my guests enjoyed the festivities while I nursed sore legs in a lonely corner in the living room. Actually, my house is round so there are no corners but that's beside the point, the point being misery does not love company despite what "they" say.

Farmlands at Whistlers Bend
For more pictures of this wet one, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Come on, a young guy like you, tired on his birthday after a short little hike? How does it feel to finally reach the age of 30?? So how many total miles have you hiked this year so far??? Getting close to the 500 mile mark?

    1. Obviously, you've never hiked in the North Bank, lol. It's all about the steep and not about the miles, but when you do both you have a right to be tired! I'm up to 452, coming down the home stretch for 500 miles