How it all started

People often ask me about the SMC story: where the inspiration came from and how things got started. It's quite simple.

SMC co-founder Jill Stokes, Wild-Rogue Wilderness area
In 2005, my wife, Jill, and I were summer caretakers at a historic BLM site called the Rogue River Ranch. Its backdrop was the Wild & Scenic Rogue River and the Wild Rogue Wilderness area.

The map that started it all
We spent a lot of time exploring on trails, off trails, through creeks, up ridges and down the other side of them.Familiar with the terrain and its divides, I wasn't afraid of getting lost, so I hiked with the curiosity of a child and with the ambition of a young man. 

By way of the Kalmiopsis and Wild Rogue Wilderness map, I located and found destinations most wild: old mine-shafts and sawmills, ancient tree groves, mazes of old trails, and paradise waters.

One day I was studying the Wild Rogue map, and flipped it over. There it was, the Kalmiopsis. From that moment, nothing but its deep recesses would satiate my appetite for wild adventure.

At 180,000-acres, it dwarfed the 38,000-acre Rogue wilderness. Its boundary was shaped like a tear drop which encompassed a free-running watershed, the Chetco. Crowded contour lines represented the sharp ridges and canyons I would later seek.

"Are you still reading that map?" Jill asked me later that summer. I had become enthralled and obsessed with it. I still am.

But In 2006 when Jill and I embarked on our first Kalmiopsis journey, I would be let down and frustrated, because the trails on that map were gone. They'd been smashed by the 2002 Biscuit Fire's aftermath. Dead trees filled the routes I'd planned, rendering them impassable, and we got lost.

Section of trail in Kalmiopsis completely covered by deadfall
We expected some wilderness fairytale from the cover of a magazine. What we got was slapped in the face with a lesson in self reliance.

But in those moments of despair, we overcame fear and found something far greater than just our way home: we found for the first time an adventure entirely authentic, uninsulated, unadulterated and completely uncontrolled. We found 180,000 acres of total freedom.

As romantic that may sound, it wasn't, and we left quite angry. Why had nobody fixed the trails? And why had nobody warned us that the trails wouldn't even be there?

In 2007 I went to New Hampshire to work for the Appalachian Mountain Club in the White Mountain Forest. There, I met hikers who loved the wilderness so much that they would volunteer to maintain trails. I became impressed by how much work they got done, and inspired by their commitment.

I returned to Oregon and started talking talking about bringing volunteers into the Kalmiopsis, like the AMC brought volunteers into their wilderness. In 2008, Jill and I moved to southern Oregon, and the rest is history. It took a lot of planning and persistence, but by 2010 we were running volunteer crews in the Kalmiopsis.
SMC co-founders Jill Stokes and Gabe Howe

So, really, the SMC was just the outcome of converging experiences.

I found in the Kalmiopsis a place that was special and wild yet damaged, I saw in New Hampshire the model to fix it, and I set off into the wilderness with some tools, a few volunteers and a whole lot of gumption. But it all started with that map. 

Fundraising Spike

A generous SMC donor has agreed to match up to $500 donated by March 1, 2012.

Donations of any size can be made, and every little bit counts -- we make your dollars stretch on the map. So head on over to our support page and make a tax-deductible donation through Google's secure checkout.

The next person to donate $100 or more will receive a free, 11"x8" framed picture of their choice from the SMC archive. This pic of Pearsoll Peak in the Kalmiopsis would look great on anyone's wall!

Crazy for coming back

It was 2008. The welts on my shins were becoming unbearable. Small, springy branches protruding from fallen trees killed by the 2002 Biscuit Fire were being cocked by my front foot and released onto my back shin like a switch. But I was tough.

“Oh, no” One of the welts – maybe more – was spilling its lacquer down my leg, and I was only a few miles into a nine-mile day. I continued on under the assumption that things couldn’t get worse, but they did.
Snags left by the 2002 Biscuit Fire

I got lost because the trail was left impassable by the fire’s aftermath, and nobody had done anything about it. But the shattered route brought me to destinations fare more wild, remote and pristine than my excursions through Oregon’s better known Wilderness Areas.

In the following years, the Kalmiopsis’ recesses brought me through more abusive adventures. By way of map, compass and ignorance, I found rare plant communities, no-name waterfalls and wild, rushing rivers. But I was sick of walking over the same logs, so I started bringing a crosscut saw and cutting through them. It didn’t take me long to realize I needed help.

I made a name, the Siskiyou Mountain Club, and recruited some volunteers. I approached the Forest Service, set some dates and got some tools. Then we went to work, 8 to 10 days at a time, 8 to 10 hours a day, by the end of which everyone was very tired.

“Where’s this river, Gabe?” asked Seth Swan, a hyper-productive volunteer, after three days of back-breaking work around the Bailey Cabin area in 2010. I’d made promises about the Chetco, about how beautiful it was and how it would make their trips worth it.

I got out the map. “See, Seth, we’re right here,” I asserted.

“Okay. How big is the, what's the name again?"

“Here’s the Chetco, it’s big. Huge.” The Chetco isn't huge, but it's wild, roadless, unimpeded and, well, magic.

Seth was an Eagle Scout well versed in map reading, and he knew where we were. The next day we passed Bailey Mountain and began descending through fields of blooming Kalmiopsis leachiana.

Finally we reached the river’s banks and we swam in its crisp, clear, emerald waters. I was worried that all the days up on that remote, dry ridge had worn my volunteers down, that the experience hadn’t lived up to their expectations, that I had made promises that couldn’t—.
“Nice work, Howe. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen water like this," said Seth.

"Was it worth it?"

"Yeah, Gabe, this is something. I was starting to get worried," lamented Dan, a friend Seth had brought along. "But this is definitely worth it. I wish we didn't have to go back."

That moment I realized – despite the pushback, despite the odds, despite everything – it was going to work: I was gonna clear this route. I was gonna show the Kalmiopsis to a new generation and they would love it. I was gonna whoop these mountains into shape, and it was gonna change peoples' lives.

That moment I realized I wasn't crazy for loving the Kalmiopsis, and I wasn't crazy to come back.