Get wild in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness

"Only in the Kalmiopsis" from Medford Mailtribune's Oregon Outdoor Section

Wilderness whoops, plans change

On June 22, SMC volunteers woke up at 6am to the sound of rain pattering on the textile of their tents.

"It wasn't bad in Brookings when we left for Vulcan Lake. The rain was light, and it seemed like it might let up," says Gabe Howe, the SMC's field coordinator and trail crew leader. But the forecast said different. It was calling for more than an inch of rain over the next 24 hours, and Howe and his volunteers were planning on camping at about 4000' on an exposed ridge.

"But we went to the trailhead anyway," says Howe. But from the Vulcan Lake Trailhead, an inch of rain seemed very real.  "People don't get hypothermia when it's snowing and 28 -- people get hypothermia when they're wet, it's 40 and they can't get dry," says Howe. 

The temperature was dropping and everyone was already soaked. Worried about the safety of himself and his volunteers, Howe called the trip -- well, sort of. 

Instead, volunteers slated to work between the Box Canyon Area to Taggart's Bar June 22 - 30 will hike into Carter Creek from Babyfoot Lake Trailhead on June 25 and attack the route from the other side.

"I can't look back and wonder if I always make perfect decisions" he says, "but I can always look back and know I made safe decisions."

Volunteer Profile - Laura Pfefferkorn

Laura relaxing on the Chetco River
Name: Laura Pfefferkorn
Age: 27
Crews: Aug/Sept 2010, June 2011
Hours on the trail: 145

Before 2010, SMC volunteer Laura Pfefferkorn of Portland, OR had been on day hikes -- a lot of them.

"But I had never been in a federally designated Wilderness Area," she says. "And never for that long either. Being out there seven days blew my mind."

The first day was hard on Laura. "Hiking in nine miles with all that stuff on my back, that was the toughest part."

Laura Pfefferkorn and Jill Stokes at Babyfoot Lake Trailhead, 2010
She came in 2010 to "support the endeavor. And because we had been hiking so much -- I wanted to give back. Now we know all the hard work that went into building and maintaining those trails." 

She spent a week that summer brushing the Bailey Mountain Trail No. 1109 between Carter Creek and Slide Creek along the Wild & Scenic Chetco River.

In 2011, Laura came back for more. Last summer she put in another 70 hours of work on the opposite end of the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route, working from Johnson Butte toward Box Canyon Camp on Johnson Butte Trail #1110 and Chetco River Trail #1102. 

"The hardest part was dealing with the walls, to get through all those trees." Laura says she spent most her 2011 trip crosscutting. "To watch each log break and roll off the trail -- it was really satisfying work."

That year Laura and her crew worked through many sections of trail filled in with logs killed by the 2002 Biscuit Fire, the brush that had been growing for ten years since, and the maintenance deferments forced by diminutive Wilderness budgets.

Laura and Josh Pfefferkorn watch sunset from Johnson Butte Camp
"With other trails I've hiked, I have memories of the top, the bottom, where I stopped and where I ate lunch. But with that trail [the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route], I have a memory of its every turn. I take so much pride in it."

Laura was used to getting up early for work at Starbucks Coffee in Portland. But she wasn't used to getting up early, hiking into a work site and crosscutting for hours on end.

"I realize it can sound intimidating," she says. "But it's one of the most rewarding things I've done, this is an experience people hunt for, and that's why we're going to be back. We're in it."

Both years Laura came with her husband, Josh. "We really feel like we're a piece of something."

Act Now to Keep Trails

Lately, I have ran into a number of people who, about trail maintenance in Southern Oregon's federally designated Wilderness Areas, say, "That's the government's job. They should be doing it."

You know what? They're right. I of all people would obviously like to see an effort from capitol hill down to preserve the Wilderness experience and the primitive infrastructure that facilitates it. But, you know what? That aint' happenin anytime soon. 

We've got a backwards tax structure. We've got a backwards congress, a backwards budget, and we've got a backwards government. So what? It's time to stop looking out and start looking in. 

If you love Wilderness Areas in the Siskiyou backcountry, if you want others to be able to enjoy trails and the destinations which they lead to, act now. If you want to preserve trails that will be lost this year to neglect and maintenance deferments, then act now. 

Because trails rot quicker than lawmakers, lawyers and stuffy bureaucrats up in D.C. Trails are preserved by volunteers that get up early, work hard all day and go to bed late. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it will always be. 

Give your time and sign up for a trail spike. Come out, have the adventure of your life, and give some service to your country. And if you don't have time, but you've got some expendable income, give your money. Because without boots on the ground now, the trails the Siskiyou Mountain Club is working on will rot. 

We've got trail crews running in the Siskiyou backcountry all summer long, and we're gonna make a huge difference in the health and vitality of Wilderness resources. We don't have a Civilian Conservation Corps. We don't have a Franklin Roosevelt, or leadership in place whom understand the Wilderness Experience. 

But we do have the SMC, and we do have volunteers, but we can't make it happen without you. 

-Gabe Howe, SMC Co-Founder, President, Director, Volunteer Coordinator