Lessons learned on the Emily Cabin, Kalmiopsis Rim Trail

Lessons learned on the Emily Cabin, Kalmiopsis Rim Trail

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Gabriel Howe

17 FEBRUARY 2019 | BABYFOOT LAKE, OR. — In the years 2011 – 2013, I spent a lot of time on the Emily Cabin and Kalmiopsis Rim trails. In 2010, my grandpa Lowell Nelson chainsawed the Babyfoot Lake Rim Trail and left us thousands of logs beyond the wilderness boundary.

Through 2010, we hopped over those logs on our way down to the Chetco, where we prioritized even worse trail conditions we encountered there. See, the old road beds that make up this three or so miles of trail was still distinguishable, and while there were tons of trees to hobble over, the brush wasn’t impenetrable yet.

So the Kalmiopsis Rim and Emily Cabin trails weren’t a priority in the beginning, when further on in the route we were crawling our way through walls of tanoak and ceanothus, climbing over log stacks as high as our chests, that summer cutting a canker from the middle of the underbelly of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

This was our first volunteer hitch in 2010. Seth Swan and I headed for the underbelly.

But by 2011 logs and brush along the Emily Cabin Trail had stacked up. The work was close enough to attend on a day trip, and so that spring I started heading out there on my own to get the job done.

I’d show up at the trailhead at daybreak with water and snacks, a 5.5-foot crosscut saw, a handful of wedges, an axe, pruning saw, and a pair of loppers.

I got the luxury of making mistakes without anyone watching. Just walk by sometime and you’ll see more than one old log bucked with my incomplete saw mark in it. But getting my saw stuck got old fast, so I learned, to size things up, you know. The logs were leaning on a cut bank there, so sometimes they’d have intense binds and plenty of movement, and taking them apart can be like a puzzle.

Karin Burroughs and I walking on the Emily Cabin Trail. Burroughs was Siskiyou Mountain Club’s very first board secretary.

You can imagine the frustration of cutting all the way through a log, and having a perfectly cut round pinned and unmovable. And imagine the danger of cutting through a log and having the top end of it slide down the hill, limbs, branches, and the log itself heading straight toward you.

I was never afraid of cougars or bears out there by myself. Never carried a firearm. I learned to be afraid of gravity and logs.

That’s where I learned to take care of my tools, too, out working the Emily Cabin Trail. And to bring my tools. I once hiked about four miles from the trailhead, huffing and puffing up and over the rim of Babyfoot Lake, and a mile or so down the Emily Cabin Trail from its junction with the Kalmiopsis Rim.

I opened up my bag and realized I didn’t have the handle of the saw. I brushed the trail for a couple hours and headed home. After 2013, the organization’s growth pushed me further and further into the recess of development and administration.

Tom Peil walks through a section of the Emily Cabin Trail that we brushed together in late summer 2013.

Heading back
July 19, 2018, I headed out to the Babyfoot Lake Rim Trail again with a few volunteers and a staff member from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The trail needed another brush job, so we did just that.

A few months later, Babcock asked me who had worked on the Babyfoot Lake Rim Trail. Before I said anything, I asked, “Why? How’s it look?”

“It looks good,” he said. He was working on the Little Chetco Loop, miles below where I had ever laid my saw or loppers in those early years.

“It was Dave, Andrea and I,” I told him. “We did it.”

Out on that road by myself in those early days, I learned a couple of things. I learned that sometimes a strong leader just does what needs to be done. When everyone is standing around speculating about a problem, sometimes you just have to wake up at 3am, drive to the trailhead, and figure out what works.

Volunteers, SMC staff, and Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest brush out the Babyfoot Lake Rim Trail in 2018

I also learned not turn my back on places. If you love a place, keep returning. Get to know the place well, and give back to it. Take care of it.

You will get your saw stuck. You’re going to forget the handle, but only once. You’ll come back tired having made a difference, and at the end of the day there’s nothing better than that.

So long live the backwoods trails.

Gabriel Howe is executive director of the Siskiyou Mountain Club.