I made choices to get here

I made choices to get here

I made choices to get to this moment

Karli White gazes into the recess of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Karli White, 2017 intern

I could be anywhere right now. I could be organizing manuscripts in an office. I could be lounging on my couch back home. But no, I made choices to get to this moment. I was going to prove to myself that I made the right one.

That became my mantra for the summer. Every mountain I climbed, every ounce of weight I carried, every log I sawed, every mosquito I swatted right out of the air. This was my choice. And I would continue to make it, every minute of every day.

And it’s what I told myself June 23rd, as I trudged my way up seemingly endless switchbacks, 80lbs of weight on my back, in the unrelenting 110-degree heat of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. It was day two of our training orientation. Only two more months of the summer to go, but who’s counting.

I’d been hired as a Siskiyou Mountain Club intern, and was spending June 23rd-28th training. Eight young adults, including myself, were thrust into the culture of SMC, an organization that stresses the importance of “bringing people, trails, and wilderness together.”

Our mission was to reopen a segment of the Tincup Trail connecting the Kalmiopsis Rim to Gold Basin, the birthplace of the famous Kalmiopsis leachiana.

Our journey started at the Onion Camp Trailhead with a night hike to a campsite at Eagle Gap. This particular weekend brought a heatwave to Southern Oregon, with sustained temperatures over 100 degrees. This section of the Kalmiopsis was burned in the Biscuit Fire of 2002, leaving flame-scarred trunks aplenty, but shade cover few and far between. We would spend most of our work hours avoiding times of peak sunlight.

The next day started bright and early at five am, with a 1500ft climb up to Eagle Mountain. Sweat dripping down my face, heavy breathing from my fellow crew mates, loose rocks sliding down the slope behind us.

The same day we climbed up Eagle Mountain we decided to camp at Frog Pond, a shaded oasis at the base of Pearsoll Peak. The crew was exhausted.

Nevertheless, a few of us decided to make a climb up to the Pearsoll Peak Lookout for sunset. The heat of the day was slowly starting to burn off, and a warm breeze was blowing in from the Pacific.

I bounded up the serpentine ridgeline, wind whipping my clothes, tying my hair in knots. As we got closer to the summit, the marine layer of the ocean came into view, and white-capped mountains could be seen in the distance.

I was flying.

Reaching the lookout, I took a deep breath, reveling in the sound of my heart pumping, heat pouring out of my cheeks. Opening my eyes, the entire Kalmiopsis Wilderness was spread out before me, sun kissed by the dimming evening light.

The fire-scarred trees left by the Biscuit Fire lit up like candle sticks, slowly burning red as the sun sank below the horizon.

I made choices to get to this moment.

That’s an exciting thing to realize. Our lives are a series of choices, each one with its own unique significance. That day I could have spent sitting on my couch was instead used to reopen heritage trails in one of the most remote wilderness areas in the country. I had conquered the mountains, the heat, the rattlesnakes, bringing me to this moment atop Pearsoll Peak.

I was doing something. And I was doing something real.

Karli White was a 2017 intern. She is from Pennsylvania, but has found herself working in Hawaii and Australia since her internship.

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