Director’s Diary: Why #trailsmatter to me

Director’s Diary: Why #trailsmatter to me

Siskiyou Mountain Club founders Jillian Stokes and Gabriel Howe

We want to hear your story about why #trailsmatter. Post your pictures to Instagram or Facebook with a short post about why trails, and the places they lead to, are important to you. Or send a picture with a short narrative to and we’ll use it in our communications.

13 SEPTEMBER 2018 | ASHLAND, OR. — My fondest childhood memories are from the farm I grew up on in Sheridan, Oregon. I remember sauntering into the drainage our farm fed, lured by a labyrinth of ditches. My mom had most of summer off, and we spent many afternoons at a secluded spot on the Yamhill River. Growing up there was dreamy and I had freedom of pursuit.

Jill and I earlier this year on a hike through the Siskiyou Wilderness Area

At age eight, we moved to a town called Boring near Portland. If Sheridan was a heaven,Boring was a purgatory. It was nursery land filling in, quickly, by suburban neighborhoods like the one I lived in. It didn’t have the exoticism of the big city, nor was it an interface to the open land I was accustom to. But my life outside didn’t end. I continued rafting the Wild Rogue River, a world class, four day river trip. During the schoolyear, I found nature through exploring the Mt. Hood foothills not far from home.

My wife, Jill Stokes, at a video shoot for Oregon Field Guide

By my sophomore year of high school, I was spending less time in class, and more time wandering the Mt. Hood National Forest’s western flank. I kept going back to explore the Bull Run watershed, and got to know that forest well.

Boring never felt like home. So those woods are where I went to feel back at home, where’d I’d summon the spirit that I’d left in those farm ditches of Yamhill County. My vice principal did not agree with my extracurricular exercises in personal growth, and by my senior year, I wasn’t really a senior so I dropped out. I went to work manufacturing wood trusses and wall panels. And if the weather was with me, each weekend I was hiking and backpacking.

Jill and the kids on the Chetco River

By the age of 21, I found myself living in Southeast Portland with my partner, Jill, picking my way through community college courses. In 2005, we moved to Southwest Oregon. That summer, I explored the underbelly of the Wild Rogue Wilderness, off and on trails, threading myself like a needle through its many tributaries and over its complex of rugged mountain ridges. I found something deeper that summer than I had exploring Mt. Hood or the Columbia Gorge.

This place was just more wild, and one evening I turned over a Forest Service map to reveal the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. At 180,000 acres and just one big ridge south of the Wild Rogue,
it dwarfed the 36,000-acre Wild Rogue.The map took three dimensions that night.

So the next year Jill and I visited the Kalmiopsis for our first time and kept going back. The unconfined and challenging nature of our adventures built stronger communication and trust. It peeled away layers of veneer, exposing everything about one another. It left us vulnerable to each other in a way the city or the front country ever did. Those early experiences in the Kalmiopsis is where we had the chance to really get to know each other, and where we fell in love over and over again.

Our kids, Carter and Azalea, explore the Mule Creek Trail #1159, Wild Rogue Wilderness

We got married on September 13, 2009, and started the Siskiyou Mountain Club the next spring. We summoned a handful of volunteers, bought some tools, and got to work in June 2010. Since then we had two children and grew this organization from scratch. Somehow bought a house (still not sure how we swung that). It’s been a long, winding trail with a challenging elevation profile.

The winding trail of life has taken me to some of the wildest places in the Pacific Northwest, and I have had profound experiences exploring the inner reaches of the Siskiyou range. But #trailsmatter most to me because of the relationships I have built from them. It’s where I got to know my wife and my best friends. Trails made me who I am, and I could never give back as much as they have given to me.

My son Carter at age 2 hiking the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

That’s my story about why #trailsmatter. Now we want to hear your story, too. Post a picture of Facebook or Instagram, tag it with #trailsmatter, and share a little bit about why trails matter to you. Or send a picture to with a short narrative of why #trailsmatter to you. ###

Gabriel Howe is executive director of Siskiyou Mountain Club and old enough to mistake hash tags for pound signs. Today is his ninth wedding anniversary.