Crazy for coming back

Crazy for coming back

It was 2008. The welts on my shins were becoming unbearable. Small, springy branches protruding from fallen trees killed by the 2002 Biscuit Fire were being cocked by my front foot and released onto my back shin like a switch. But I was tough.

“Oh, no” One of the welts – maybe more – was spilling its lacquer down my leg, and I was only a few miles into a nine-mile day. I continued on under the assumption that things couldn’t get worse, but they did.
Snags left by the 2002 Biscuit Fire

I got lost because the trail was left impassable by the fire’s aftermath, and nobody had done anything about it. But the shattered route brought me to destinations fare more wild, remote and pristine than my excursions through Oregon’s better known Wilderness Areas.

In the following years, the Kalmiopsis’ recesses brought me through more abusive adventures. By way of map, compass and ignorance, I found rare plant communities, no-name waterfalls and wild, rushing rivers. But I was sick of walking over the same logs, so I started bringing a crosscut saw and cutting through them. It didn’t take me long to realize I needed help.

I made a name, the Siskiyou Mountain Club, and recruited some volunteers. I approached the Forest Service, set some dates and got some tools. Then we went to work, 8 to 10 days at a time, 8 to 10 hours a day, by the end of which everyone was very tired.

“Where’s this river, Gabe?” asked Seth Swan, a hyper-productive volunteer, after three days of back-breaking work around the Bailey Cabin area in 2010. I’d made promises about the Chetco, about how beautiful it was and how it would make their trips worth it.

I got out the map. “See, Seth, we’re right here,” I asserted.

“Okay. How big is the, what’s the name again?”

“Here’s the Chetco, it’s big. Huge.” The Chetco isn’t huge, but it’s wild, roadless, unimpeded and, well, magic.

Seth was an Eagle Scout well versed in map reading, and he knew where we were. The next day we passed Bailey Mountain and began descending through fields of blooming Kalmiopsis leachiana.

Finally we reached the river’s banks and we swam in its crisp, clear, emerald waters. I was worried that all the days up on that remote, dry ridge had worn my volunteers down, that the experience hadn’t lived up to their expectations, that I had made promises that couldn’t—.
“Nice work, Howe. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen water like this,” said Seth.

“Was it worth it?”

“Yeah, Gabe, this is something. I was starting to get worried,” lamented Dan, a friend Seth had brought along. “But this is definitely worth it. I wish we didn’t have to go back.”

That moment I realized – despite the pushback, despite the odds, despite everything – it was going to work: I was gonna clear this route. I was gonna show the Kalmiopsis to a new generation and they would love it. I was gonna whoop these mountains into shape, and it was gonna change peoples’ lives.

That moment I realized I wasn’t crazy for loving the Kalmiopsis, and I wasn’t crazy to come back.