Labor Day Trip Report

Labor Day Trip Report

Labor Day Support Crew Packs 12-Miles Into Kalmiopsis Wilderness


Finds Heaven-like Oasis: Taggart’s Bar

By Gabe Howe

“It’s really beautiful,” says volunteer Jackie Vargas Friday morning of Labor Day Weekend. She rouses her senses and looks west over Red Mountain Praire.

The night before Vargas and SMC board member Allison Gilroy traveled to Grants Pass from Portland on a dicey ride-share. They were met there by myself, as well as volunteers Adrian Groth and Devin Stacy of Ashland.

“We got pulled over in Riddle,” Allison explained in the Shari’s parking lot. “And we had to make a lot of stops. So we were late.” We packed the car full and got on our way.

By the time we got to Red Mountain Praire it was after midnight, and very, very dark, revealing a sky full of stars.

Friday morning we packed our bags with food for the crew, drove the couple of miles to Vulcan Lake Trailhead, and started the long haul in. The 12-mile hike to Taggart’s Bar from there is tough.

The first half or so is pleasant enough, a traverse of high country ridges with far out views. But then after reaching the junction with Upper Chetco Trail 1102, we make a plunge east, down about 1500 vertical feet in just a couple miles to Box Canyon. Then we hike up about 700 feet in less than one mile, and back down to Taggart’s Bar.

The trail includes many steep pitches. It’s rocky and uneven. But it’s open.

The hike was rendered impassable after the 2002 Biscuit Fire. Thousands of trees fell onto long trail sections, forming thick walls of wood that masqueraded the trail bench altogether. SMC volunteer and paid crews have been using crosscut saws to cut them out for five years now, and finally got ahead of the damage this year.

On Friday when we ran into the crew near Taggart’s they were busy widening tread, clipping brush, and cutting step over logs. “Detail work is tough,” said crew leader Aaron Babcock. “It just takes a long time.”

After reaching the banks at Taggart’s Bar, we unloaded a pile of food for the crew, who will be working there until around September 7.


“Mmm. Chips Ahoy,” mumbled Micah Nash discovering a pack of cookies. The crew ate their fresh greens, roast beef sandwiches, and got to bed early.

The next morning the support crew woke up late and started the long hike to Vulcan Lake, where we stayed overnight. We sat there on the peridotite banks examining battered feet, sore bodies, aching ankles. We ate cold bratwurst wrapped in stale hot dog buns smothered in mustard.


“Thanks so much for helping out,” I told the group as I drifted off to sleep with a cup of water in my hand.

The Kalmiopsis has compelled me and helped define our organizational culture. This wild land is so remote, so special. Its mysteries are deep and infinite, and beautiful.

But the real inspiration are these volunteers, all of them with a little crazy in their eyes, who keep showing up to make a difference.


They batter their feet and blow off holiday weekend plans. They travel long miles. They make physical concessions and emotional sacrifices. And without them this project and this organization would be nothing more than a pipe dream.

And the trail to Taggart’s Bar, crown jewel of the Upper Chetco River, would be non-existent, lost underneath piles of dead logs and brush, robbed from the next generation of wilderness lovers.


It’s taken over 6,600 hours of on-the-ground labor. 58 volunteers. Numerous crews. A number of foundation grants, support from the Forest Service, and over 100 SMC members’ support. And back when we started, a lot of people said the goal wasn’t possible.

They were wrong. We win. The Trans-Kalmiopsis Route is passable and people are hiking it.

On Sunday we head to the beach before driving back to Grants Pass.

“I have to get to work tomorrow,” says Vargas, digging her feet into the sand of Crissey Field State Park. The muscles in her face pulse around as she looks out beyond the edge of the continent. “I just can’t believe it’s over. It wasn’t long enough.”

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