for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Gabriel Howe, executive director
The approximately 9 mile route from Onion Camp into this remote, unnamed camp isn’t perfect. But it’s worth it for some solitude.
28 JUNE 2017 | KALMIOPSIS WILDERNESS, ORE. — I recently had the chance to spend a few days backpacking along the Kalmiopsis Rim Trail 1124 with the 2017 Siskiyou Mountain Club trail crew. For them, a week in the Kalmiopsis is a training exercise. For me, it’s an escape from the current news cycle.
We started with an evening hike from Onion Camp to Eagle Gap. The trail here starts in a Jeffrey pine savanna, then contours the west aspect of Whetstone Butte, where summer flowers were erupting from this ultramafic outcrop of peridotite, and the trail is getting pretty brushy.
The one mile hike was a head start on the next day, when the temperature was forecast to reach into triple digits.
The spring at Eagle Gap is a cold, sweet reminder that water still flows downhill. I spent that night downwind of a field of blooming azaleas, and watching the sun fall into the Pacific from there would be reason enough for an easy overnight backpack.
But the next morning we started the trudge north on Kalmiopsis Rim Trail 1124. The serpentine trail to the peak of Eagle Mountain is a little faint, and washed out. Just follow the ridge and make your way up into a green forest with Brewer’s spruce, Douglas-fir, sugar, western white, knobcone, and Jeffrey pine; white fir, Port Orford cedar, and maybe a few more.
By the time we reached Chetco Pass, it was hot. That was about 8am.
About a mile north of Chetco Pass, the track reaches a saddle and junction with the Pearsoll Peak Trail, which heads northeast to its namesake. We continued on the Kalmiopsis Rim Trail north for less than a 1/4 mile to where there’s a small pond, and a hard to find spring, but with better water than the pond.
The crew dropped their packs, got acquainted, and learned some Leave No Trace basics. How to die a bear bag, and dig a latrine. What to do with your toothpaste, and where to wash with soap. That evening a few of us scaled Pearsoll Peak to watch the sun go down.
The view from here went in all directions, and we could see the marine layer settling over the ocean. On a clear day, you can make out the surf.
The now inactive fire lookout was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Paul Fattig’s father helped on the project.
“When my father and a fellow named Art Cribb were waiting on top of the mountain for mules to haul in the lumber, they took out their hammers and chisels and wrote their names in stone,” he writes on a Facebook post. “Dad was about 24 at the time.”
“It is such a cool site,” Fattig adds.
The next morning we hiked a few miles from under Pearsoll Peak, north to the saddle between the Pearsoll and Gold Basin Butte. This defines the official wilderness boundary. To the east is the Illinois Valley, to the west the Kalmiopsis and the Chetco drainage.
We reached Granite Springs. Don’t camp here. This had to have been a pretty enchanting forest, before the 2002 Biscuit Fire roared through and left a 100% crown mortality rate, leaving a charred forest full to the brim with heavy brush. Instead, we continued west and upward on the Kalmiopsis Rim Trail.
We camped in a nice flat area just beyond the junction with Tincup Trail 1117, putting us at the head of Tincup Creek, whose elusive headwaters are pristine, but not super easy to reach. We just followed the apex of the drainage down, sometimes crawling through and under thickets of alders until we reached a small pool to get water from.
The mosquitoes here were fierce, and next time I’d schlep water even further for a more mosquito-unfriendly site in a windy burn area. The approximately 9 mile route from Onion Camp into this camp isn’t perfect. There’s brush. There are signs missing. And true to the Kalmiopsis, it’s rugged and rocky, shaped by the cycle of fire and hard to get around in.
But in a couple of nights, anyone can find some solitude, and discover a very, very wild place. On my night there, we had a strong thunderstorm. The next morning we spotted a small fire start in the distance.
The cycle goes on.
On my hike back through the serpentine highlands, I was reminded of why I come to the Kalmiopsis so religiously. It’s a place where reality exists in a plain version, and nobody bothers you. A place anyone can succeed on their own, and a place you’ll have to work hard in. Very American.
Before you go: