Trail magic: An ode to partners

Trail magic: An ode to partners

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Karli White, 2017 intern

15 OCTOBER 2017 | BROOKINGS, ORE. — Siskiyou Mountain Club is known for working in the most remote Wilderness Areas on the Pacific Coast. We often reopen trails that have been inaccessible for a very long time, even decades. Work crews go out for long stretches of time, sometimes up to 20 days or more.

Inters take an oath to work a series of 10-day-long work “hitches” over the summer. During that time we’re self supported, packing in enough food and supplies on our backs to work and live for the entire trip. Ten days allows enough time to clear miles of trail, but can take a toll on morale. Sometimes the tiniest change – a smiling new face or a crisp fresh apple – can make a huge difference. This “trail magic” was much needed during the second hitch on the Red Mountain Trail.

The Kalmiopsis Wilderness has a certain reputation.

“People die out here,” said executive director Gabe Howe during orientation week.

“You know who made these trails?” asked field coordinator Aaron Babcock with a mischievous grin, “Satan.”

Known for its steep inclines, rocky soil, and lack of available water, the Kalmiopsis is not for the faint of heart. My crew, also known as Crew Chavez, was tasked with reopening the Red Mountain Trail, a route that connects to the Chetco Divide Trail Trail near Vulcan Lake. The goal was to reach Cottonwood Camp, a halfway point between the trailhead and the Chetco Divide.

Pulling up to the parking lot, the trail was in worse condition than we imagined. In fact, it was nowhere to be found. The only marker was a half-demolished trailhead sign thrown haphazardly into the nearby forest.

“Well, I guess we’ll be sleeping on the gravel road for the next few days,” said crew leader Valentin Chavez.

Jenna Comstock gets her morning oatmeal

The next week was spent slowly clipping through the jungle of brush that had spread its way across the path. The way was blocked by massive thickets of manzanita, saddler’s oak, and fallen trees. Every movement would release a cloud of tan oak dust that coated our lungs and clothing. Uncontrollable sneezing would become the expected background music to our daily workdays.

As we continued to complete sections, Chavez was anxious to move camp.

“We have to get out of that gravel pit,” he said. “Cottonwood is a shaded oasis filled with cascading waterfalls and translucent pools – we need to get there as soon as possible.”

But alas, patience is a virtue, and that determination to leave the parking lot would take quite a toll on the crew members. Never underestimate the Kalmiopsis.

It was day six. Moving day. Our morning started with a 1500 foot climb to the ridge line where we had finished work the day before. We had reached the burn, an area marked with fire-scarred tees and thick stands of brush. We were working in direct sunlight with shady areas few and far between. By the end of the day, we were excited to continue on to Cottonwood and swim in the pools Val had talked so much about.

This landscape looks much different now, after the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire came through the area

“Feel free to take your time,” said Chavez. “It’s an easy two miles downhill.”

Oh how he was mistaken. The “easy two miles” quickly turned into a harrowing trek through log jams, confusing turns. The crew was quickly split up, each fending for themselves as we trudged our way down the mountain. We were exhausted.

2017 intern Trevor Meyer poses on the Red Mountain Trail

Morale was low the next morning. We walked in silence as we climbed up through the log jams we traversed just hours before. However, at the top of the ridge we were rewarded with the most incredible sight: Forest Service Employee Steve Diccico! With snacks!

We spent the next thirty minutes hearing stories about the civilized world and chowing down on fresh blueberries. It was magical. Trail magical.

Steve spent the rest of that day working alongside the crew: running the crosscut, exchanging jokes, and spreading an extra dose of good vibes. The woes of the previous day were quickly forgotten.

Trail work can be difficult. It can be demoralizing. But the support given by volunteers like Steve make every bump in the road worth it. ###

2017 intern Karli White was promoted into a staff position for 2018. Help 2018 interns soar like Karli:

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