Trans-Kalmiopsis Route Trip Report

Trans-Kalmiopsis Route Trip Report

A Victory Defined by Failures:


The Trans-Kalmiopsis Route Trip Report

Trip report by Gabe Howe

Friday, September 26 | Selma, OR — Driving up to Babyfoot Lake Trailhead we reach above the fog, and I’m crammed in the car with six hikers and good friends: My wife Jill, Allison Gilroy, Tom Doolittle, Stefani Gissel, Brad Dorchuck and Aaron Babcock. And a story teller with a side job of shuttling vehicles: “Barefoot” Brad Camden.

At Babyfoot Lake Trailhead Barefoot Brad bids us farewell and reassures us that there will be cold beer and hot pizza waiting for us at the other end, Vulcan Lake Trailhead, 26 trail miles away, and about 140-miles by road.

Babyfoot Hike

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My pack feels a little heavy for three nights. I’m expecting rain so I have some extra clothes, a tent. And my pack should decrease in weight as time goes by and I eat my food. But on this hike I’ll end up hiking out with more than I started with.

Stefani, Jill and I fall behind the group after about three-miles. We reach Carter Creek at 2pm and it’s tempting to camp there. But not ideal. So we forge a mile to Blake’s Bar, a pebble beach with great tent sites adjacent the water.

My shoes started to fall apart about a month ago, and now the sole has completely separated from the boot, so I tie them to my pack and wear sandals for the rest of the trip.

Tom at Blake's

We reach Blake’s Bar, eat, drink, and sit there in a circle sipping from cups. Everyone has their own stories from the Kalmiopsis. “My trip was depressing,” says Tom. “All the burn. It was devastating.”

In a few more miles we’ll have a new devastating story.

“106 people have worked out here on this project,” I tell the group. “And you’re my favorite six now.”

“Who’s your favorite in the group?” asks Aaron.


We doze off one by one.

September 27– By morning the dew is thick. Aaron gets a head start. “I’m in no rush,” I tell the rest of them as I sip coffee in my sleeping bag, the time approaching 9:30 a.m.

I’m the last one to cross the Chetco River and get to hiking. A couple of miles later I catch up with Stefani and Jill at Slide Creek confluence. The others’ packs are plopped in the middle of the trail, and I can see Tom crossing the river.

A note is resting on Allison’s pack: “There’s a bunch of trash across the river. Please come help pick it up. Five pounds each.”

There are rusty AA batteries. Plastic rubbish. Toilet paper. Cigarette butts. Shredded tarps. Moldy clothes. Tools for classifying gold, a home-made screwdriver, a dart gun.

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Shavers and toothbrushes and parachute cord. Knives. Spoons. Torn straps. Dirty underwear. All of it left for the weather to disintegrate and for us to pack out.

“It was disgusting,” says Tom Doolittle. “But we got inspired. We saw the trash and we said ‘lets clean this up.'”

I stand there hanging my head. I pick through the trash looking for clues, names, anything. My heart sinks.

We each consolidate a load for ourselves to carry out. In total it was around 85 pounds we packed out. And there’s still more there.

“It made me angry,” says Stefani. “All the energy just left me. It made me lose trust in humanity.”

We load our packs up and get hiking to Taggart’s Bar, about 3.5-miles away. By the time we get there we’re in the cool shadow of the mountains and swim time is over.

That evening we speculate about the trash, who left it there, and where they are now. None of it makes sense. We eat, drink. We watch the stars.

September 28– The sun hits Taggart’s Bar at around 9:30am.

“I’m staying here till about 2pm,” I say to everyone. “I’m going to enjoy the sun.” Jill and I swim across the river and find paradise-like sandy beaches. The sun heats up and I don’t want to leave.

We make small talk on the river. “I don’t like those synthetic shirts,” I tell Brad, who’s sporting fresh gear for this trip. “They always end up smelling like fish.”

We leave one by one for Box Canyon, a 700 ft ascent and descent, and congregate there. The sun is still shining and the thick canopy here feels like another world from the rocky-barren slopes near Bailey. It’s the Kalmiopsis before the fire. Deep gorges rise from crystalline waters and this spot doesn’t feel as forsaken. It feels magic, especially this time of year when mosquitos aren’t biting you by the hundreds.

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At around 4pm we start the hike out of Box Canyon toward Johnson Butte. This is the steepest and most arduous section of the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route. It is the most remote and was the most difficult to restore. By about 6pm we reach Upper Mosquito Bog, about half-way between Box Canyon and Johnson Butte.

This night we stay up later than all the other nights. The energy builds and the group gets noisy, rambunctious and wild. Each individual story unwraps to form a five-year narrative defined by defeat.

“We didn’t even make it to Box Canyon when I was here,” says Stefani.

“My first trip we got rained out and didn’t come back till later in the week,” laments Aaron.

“We were just in from Babyfoot Lake with the group I was with,” says Brad.

Now they’ve seen it all.

“We got it done!” I crack at the group, my voice reaching high octaves. “We did it.”

“Gabe, I’m proud–”

“Brad, it wasn’t me. There’s been so many people–”

“Gabe, just say thank you,” Brad says, raising his voice. “Would you just accept a compliment.”

“They said we couldn’t do it!” I yell. “Can you believe that, Aaron?!”

“Yea, well–” he responds humbly with a grin.

“They said we couldn’t do it Aaron! They said we’d never make it to the Chetco!”

The banter gets louder and more boisterous. I open a can of smoked herring and they all make gagging sounds.

“Maybe you smell like fish because you’re always eating it,” Brad informs me. The laughter becomes maniacal and so hard that tears run down my cheeks.

“You always know when Gabe’s around because it smells like fish,” says Aaron.

They all start poking fun at me and I love hearing their impressions.

September 29– I’m the first one to leave Upper Mosquito Bog and I reach the sharp ridge between Johnson and Dry Butte where there is a sweet, cold spring. The fog floats below me on either side. I fill up on water and wait for the group.

Jill and I make the rest of the hike out together. We’ve scouted from either side, but never hiked through until now. I draw out the last miles with the views as Jill, Allison and I hike in sync. We’ve each seen this project grow since its birth and that bonds us.

At the trailhead we’re greeted with cold beer and hot pizza, as promised by “Barefoot” Brad.

The rain clouds pour in, and memories of the last five years become vivid. On this trip, I lost some innocence hiking through with a heap of trash. Each time before now I’d gone back the way I came. Transcending the wilderness without crawling through slashed logs and brush tasted like victory bitter by battery acid. Victorious nonetheless.

I do not believe that smaller points of success necessarily lead to larger victories. In fact, I believe that simply chasing achievable task after achievable task leads to a dull albeit comfortable and safe existence.

Brad’s trip a few miles in from Babyfoot in October 2010 failed when sleet and high winds kicked his group off the mountain. In May all Tom saw was dead trees and forsaken soils. Back in 2011 Stefani worked from a dry ridge for a week, her group failing to reach Box Canyon. In 2012 Aaron’s trip got rained out. Our experiences in the Kalmiopsis are marked by a string of failures.

But each failure was a position to pivot from. Failure and learning to accept it and how to work from it is what brought victory in the Kalmiopsis. The willingness to go back in year after year to clear the same sections of trail, all while holding the expectation of different results, truly teeters on the brink of insane behavior.

But without the idea, and especially without the 106+ people who have bought into it and served on the ground to help realize a vision, the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route would be a forgotten lineage full of down trees, brush, impassable. A pipe-dream.

“I’ll be back,” says Stefani. “I want to bring people here.”

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Go hike the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route for yourself. Click here for a description of the route.