Monday, February 10, 2020

North Bank Deer Habitat - Soggy Bottom/Blacktail Basin Loop

Normally, when I hike in cold weather, I usually start out somewhat underdressed. The reason is that once hiking commences, the exertion soon gets the old body warmed up. So, if I am nice and warm at the outset, then I'm roasting and sweltering underneath all the layers of outerwear within a few minutes. It's more convenient to start out slightly cold and then warm up to a comfortable stasis and avoid all that having to stop and shed clothing while your comrades leave you behind. But then again, there are days like this hike at the North Bank Habitat, where I had to stop in less than a quarter-mile of hiking and hurriedly put on layers because it was freezing cold and starting out with minimal protection was not one of my better moves.

Squish, squish go the boots
Once I was properly clad with ski cap, mittens, muffler, and a down jacket, the hike continued on in earnest to a broad grassy swale known as Soggy Bottom, which was not named to memorialize that time that I ate too many dried apricots. Soggy Bottom is appropriately named however, because a creek runs through it while every other square inch of soil in the swale seeps ample moisture into the creek. They've been doing some habitat restoration lately and the jeep road that serves as the trail had been all chewed up by ATVs. All that seepage had turned the dirt road into a muddy quagmire of boot-sucking doom and that turned out to be one of the main themes of this hike. Much or most of the nearly eight miles of hiking were spent slogging and sliding through the goo. Periodically, the thick mud would accrue on the underside of my footwear, and I lumbered clumsily forward on boots with six-inch soles of thick clay like some incredibly handsome Frankenstein.

Smile for the camera!
A new livestock gate had been installed over the trail at Soggy Bottom and a sign above an electronic gizmo attached to the gatepost advertised the whole setup was part of a wildlife survey. I assumed the gizmo was a trail camera and one must respect the fine work the wildlife biologists do, so naturally I made funny faces and did my one-footed "running man" pose in front of the presumed camera. As I walked, I pondered the form or format of the survey, imagining a clipboard-toting someone polling wildlife about their political preferences. Preliminary results say hooved creatures are all in for Deernald Trump, bears will throw their weight behind Joe Bear-den, and the mountain lions think all candidates taste equally good.

Mud was a recurring theme on this hike

All trails in the Habitat go uphill, it's just a question of gradient. Because hiking in the mud was pretty tedious, I opted for the route of least resistance. Soggy Bottom Road still goes uphill but not as quickly as some of the other pain-filled trails around here. It's kind of like whether you prefer chiltepin chiles over habaneros. Either way, there is same-day and day-after burning pain involved but it's mostly a question of degree and flavor.

Grand vistas are to be had in the North Bank

As the trail climbed up and away from Soggy Bottom, the higher ridges were hidden in the cloud cover. Great, my hike was going to wind up being both cold and foggy. However, as I gained elevation, so did the clouds and by the time I crested at the intersection with Powerline Road, the cloud cover had lifted off the ridges. That was a good thing because one of the main reasons for laboring up the Habitat's steep trails are the views that reward determined hikers. 

View down Soggy Bottom
Accordingly, the drainages of both Jackson Creek and Soggy Bottom lay well below the trail in all their awesome view glory. Grassy hills, forested ridges, and deep creek valleys rolling all the way to the farmlands surrounding the North Umpqua River. It was enough to make me forget I was cold and tired and I daresay I even felt spritually, if not physically, energized and replenished by the superb vistas from the top. More replenishment took place at Grumpy's Pond where a quick meal was consumed. For some reason, the name Grumpy's Pond reminds me of my ex-wife, not sure exactly why that is.

Grumpy's Pond and no frogs
One little oddity I noticed was that when I was coming up Soggy Bottom Road, the frogs were croaking en masse like some amphibian tabernacle choir in the creek canyons running down the grassy slopes. However, at Grumpy's Pond, where there exists an ample and stable water supply, there was nary a croak to be heard. The water was colored an unappealing gray so that might explain it, or maybe the frogs eschewed the acerbically humored pond for waters that were in a better mood.

A thick stand of oak trees
At a trail junction atop North Boundary Ridge, there are several options for a return loop and I grabbed the most gentle way back, that being the descent through Blacktail Basin. The basin is dotted with oak trees, still leafless this time of year, and poison oak growing underneath effectively discouraged any off-trail exploration. Blue jays squawked in noisy abundance and alder trees, leafless like the oaks, sported thousands of dangling flower tassels in a harbinger of spring.

I got "ticketed"
Once the trail descended into basin, it was several miles of mostly level walking next to Jackson Creek running through an oak savanna. After closing the last gate (and making more funny faces at a wildlife survey camera), I entered the parking lot and noticed a white piece of paper fluttering underneath my windshield wiper. A ticket? Here? Really? What on earth for? There's no fee for parking at the Habitat! Turned out it was a note from friends John and Bill who apparently were also hiking in the North Bank Habitat. "Hey Dude, got mud?" it said. I promptly walked back to the trail gate and held it up in front of the wildlife survey camera. I'm so easily amused sometimes.

How to tell it was a good hike
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. See you are out these a sloggin' it on the trail. Like being a kid again!