Sand County Scholars Hike

Sand County Scholars Hike

Sand County Scholars

Discover history, treasures and a tough hike

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Gabe Howe, executive director
4 April 2015 | O’Brien, OR — A few members of our Sand County Scholars Circle were busy last weekend on a hike so special, we can’t tell you where it is.

It started with a drive to the underbelly of O’Brien, OR where we forded the frigid, waist-high waters of a pristine river. From there we ditched an old road and traipsed up a steep slope to a ridglet dominated by chunky peridotite. We balanced on the rough, rocky ridge that felt like a cat walk at times.

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Spring was making its first whispers, with small wispy flowers blowing alongside waves of native grass. Eventually we reached a dominant ridge dividing two watersheds. From there we headed down an old road lined by rock walls methodically built.

It faded in and out, but we kept our eyes on the topography. “You don’t know where you are,” said Tom Doolittle. I looked back, rolled my eyes, and pointed at the track which just below us.

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By this point I’d started to count the conifers and was happy with the roster: ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine, western white pine, sugar pine, lodgepole pine, knobcone pine; incense cedar, Port Orford Cedar and juniper; Douglas fir. But what I was really looking for was the hemlock rumored to be growing on this plateau that feels like a mountain desert.

From time to time, I’d fool myself into inspecting a Douglas fir, only to realize I’d been tricked. We reached a west aspect and descended into true-soils. “They’re full of it,” I said, “there’s no hemlock up here.” Everywhere I looked felt like desert, and I just couldn’t see it growing here. I was skunked on my tree hunt.

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Then we reached an old cabin notched out of Port Orford Cedar next to a cool, sweet spring. There we ate lunch and poked around the old site.

“Remember when you thought I was lost?” I teased Doolittle, who was busy feasting on a can of smoked herring.

“You lost that road, that’s for sure,” he boasted.

On our way out, I spotted the top of a tree growing asymmetrically. There it was. The tiny little cones confirmed my suspicion. That was it — a western hemlock. And more. My eyes adjusted and I soon discovered I’d passed a couple of stands of it without even noticing.

We checked out a nearby near-vertical mine shaft. The hike down was tough as we descended an old road unwisely built right in the middle of a creek. “I never get lost,” I murmured to Doolittle under my breath.

Crossing the river cooled our achy muscles. Every time I head to this spot, I find something new, and these are the places we invite members of our Sand County Scholars Circle.