Break Through: Trans-Kalmiopsis Route

Break Through: Trans-Kalmiopsis Route

SMC Crew Brings Route To Passable Standard

Crew At Box Creek

But They’re Not Done Yet

In 2010 Siskiyou Mountain Club volunteers started working to restore a 26-mile network of trails that had been severely damaged by the 2002 Biscuit Fire, and left to fill in with fire-killed trees and overgrown with brush.
Five seasons later our youth crew knocked through the last impassable sections of the route from Babyfoot Lake Trailhead to Vulcan Lake Trailhead via the majestic upper reaches of Oregon’s Chetco River.

They spent 18-nights in the Wilderness, camping out out miles from the nearest trailhead.

“We hiked in and started brushing out the trail. As we got further the trail got worse,” says Southern Oregon University student Katherine McCredie, 21.
The crew, known to dispatch as Chetco 1, was supplied by volunteers who hiked in food to their remote camps. The crew used crosscut saws to buck over 600 downed trees that were making the route impassable to hikers. They brushed over five-miles of the route that had overgrown with brush.
“Welcome to the jungle,” says crew leader Aaron Babcock of Williams, pointing at a tunnel of ceanothus growing up to 15-feet tall behind him. “I have to call timber when I cut it.”

Sign up for a volunteer project or members-only hike there now, and explore the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route for yourself.

The crew was busiest clearing a three-mile section of Upper Chetco Trail 1102 around Box Canyon and Taggart’s Bar. Fertile soils there had supported a lush, mixed hardwood forest that the 2002 Biscuit burned through.
In ensuing years tanoak and other hardwoods started falling on the trail, forming stacks of impenetrable “jackstraw.” New growth, namely tanoak and ceanothus, started growing through the stacked trees, obstructing the trail altogether.
“Lots of places we had to look to find the trail,” says Babcock. “It was invisible.”

“It’s the worst trail I’ve been on in 35 years of backpacking,” said SMC member Phillip Ringnalda of Brookings. He hiked it back in June before Chetco 1’s work started. “I was crawling on my hands and knees through poison oak, under ceanothus that was two-inches thick,” he said. “I collapsed at Box Canyon.”

The crew got to explore the Chetco River and its rugged tributaries on their days off.
“It was the most inviting water I’ve ever seen,” says Alex Relph, 19 of Rogue River. “My favorite part was the magic canyon,” a stretch of the upper Chetco between Carter Creek and Blake’s Bar.

Sign up for a volunteer project or members-only hike there now, and explore the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route for yourself.

“You can always see the bottom,” says McCredie. “It’s so clear it doesn’t even really have a color.

The crew hiked out of Babyfoot Lake on Independence Day. “You are some of the toughest people I’ve ever met,” Howe told the group of six. “You did it. You made my dreams come true. Thank you so much.”

Chetco 1 will be working in the Kalmiopsis for another 18-days in late summer. They have a couple of hundred “step over” trees to crosscut, as well as a few brushy sections to tackle, tread to widen, and signs to hang.
“I’ve had a few people raise their eyebrows when they learn the crew is mostly young women,” says Howe. “To them I roll my eyes. This group is tougher than iron.”

While the route is passable for the first time in over a decade, it is not signed. There are obstacles, and we have received reports from hikers who miss critical junctions and end up lost. Only competent wilderness navigators should attempt passing through. The route will need continued annual through 2022 to keep at bay seasonal windthrow and brush.

Sign up for a volunteer project or members-only hike there now, and explore the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route for yourself.