Bittersweet Memorial Day Departure

Bittersweet Memorial Day Departure

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Gabriel Howe, executive director

25 MAY 2018 | BABYFOOOT LAKE TRAILHEAD, ORE. — Yesterday I had the pleasure of rising early and heading for the Babyfoot Lake Trailhead instead of a desk. I left at 5:30am with a van full of volunteers, who were joined by our three-person Chetco Bar Crew.

The crew will be out there for five nights, slowly working their way through a punishing elevation profile that traverses nine or 10 Forest Service system trails, three Wild and Scenic watersheds, two mountain lakes, a handful of botanical areas, and treasures otherwise tucked deep in this remote wilderness.

They’ll remove hundreds of downed logs, dig out thousands of feet of trail, and brush out thickets of tanoak, manzanita, ceanothus. The crew will hang signs, and maintain a route that without their effort would have been lost forever. They’ll sweat and get blisters and sunburns and curse wildly at times.

As they marched out of view, I was left to reconcile hundreds of memories from this remote trailhead. I started coming out here in 2006. I was young then, real young, and the experiences I had starting at this parking lot lead me to where I am now.

And that is not in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. I didn’t follow them up the Kalmiopsis Rim and down to the Chetco Divide. I headed back to Grants Pass for a string of meetings that lasted until around 5pm.

By the time I got home for dinner with the family, I imagine the crew was sitting around eating down the heaviest of their food to drop pack weight. Their shoulders were burning and their bodies sore as they sulk in some of the last old growth forests left on the eastern boundary of the Kalmiopsis.

They may have looked out onto the horizon, climbed a peak, and caught a glimpse of the mighty Pacific so close, but so far away. After day one, the conversation was probably still pretty civil, but I imagine they had began making some light jabs and hearty jokes that the wilderness brings out in us.

Jealous. I wanted to be there.

But I’m proud that with no waver, no question, no second thought, we keep coming back to this same place, ever more committed. It’s a tough business I’m in, building support to do essentially the same project over and over.

I’ve watched some organizations let their supporters lead them into causes and projects that are popular at the time. Not us. We’re in the business of leading, time after time, to fulfill a vision of connecting people, trails, and wilderness.

This morning, I’m a bit bitter; bitter that the crew is waking up to a soggy campsite, bad coffee and some vast view of a place that I love so much. That’s where I want to be, but I’m here arranging my calendar.

But I’m satisfied that we’ve stayed small and true. The wilderness has given so much to me, that I could work my whole life giving back to it, and it would never be enough.

Back to the trailhead yesterday, my crew weren’t the only ones there. I saw a member, Edem Gomez. He was getting ready for a hike with his partner, Nicole, down to the Chetco.

“Thank you guys so much for what you do,” he told me with the rim of Babyfoot Lake behind him. Before our persistent work here, Gomez’s trips would be a pipe dream of downed log thickets and impenetrable brush. His trail would be gone.

“It just means so much to me what you guys do,” Edem adds.

Yes, waking up to good coffee and a calendar is worth it. ###

Gabriel Howe is executive director of Siskiyou Mountain Club. When he’s not working, you might find him at the Y swimming laps.