Freedom is in a hike to nowhere

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Gabriel Howe, Executive Director

The peridotite plateaus rising above the Illinois Valley don’t have one massive geographic feature, like a waterfall or a spire, to draw big crowds. Four of us headed out of O’Brien, Ore. on April 30 looking for something else.

1 MAY 2017 | O’BRIEN, ORE. —

8am
We arrived at the banks of a cold, clear creek that drains into the Illinois River. The day started with a thigh high ford.

9am
From there, we ditched an old road bed and headed straight up a very steep slope filled with soft green grasses and peppered with Jeffrey pine.

11:30am
We climbed about 2,500 feet in altitude to an unnamed peak that is best left that way. I was joined by three hikers, Scott, Angie, and Rhett.

What originally attracted me to this area years ago was the topography. This is a plateau matted by perditotite outcrops, a contrast from the razor sharp ridges that define most of the Kalmiopsis. When I first started exploring the Kalmiopsis, I was lured by the water, the Chetco, its tributaries, the lakes that feed them.

But over the years, my attention has been drawn to the rocky, mountainous manifest of the Josephine ultramafic sheet. I seek serpentine, savannas, plateaus, and ever more unsuspecting places ever further off the beaten path.

I can share a place like this with just a few people, and it inspires imaginations, especially when you start intertwining the area’s animated history.

1pm
We reached a sweet watering hole where a small and displaced grove of western hemlock caught my eye years ago. Back then I didn’t know the species. But I could tell these trees were different.

“Do you guys want to take an expeditionary route back down?” I asked, as we perched on a log. “I’m not sure what we’ll find. Could be jackstraw.”

“What exactly is jackstraw?” asked Scott.

“It’s when there’s stacks of logs you have to climb on and crawl through, could be a thousand feet or so of that.”

A raise of hands showed we’d go back the way we came. Slices of sun break through the modest canopy of this ancient forest where pines grow next to firs next to hemlocks next to cedars, and juniper laces along the ground like a vine in its serpentine phenotype.

2pm
We went back down the way we came. About halfway down the summit, Angie says, “It’s taking longer to get down.”

“You’re just tired,” I respond. I’m tired, too.

5pm
We cross the creek and limp back to the van.

Reflection
As a teenager, I had a hard time reconciling the authority of my parents, school, and the law. I got my license the day I turned 16 and would skip school for the nearby trails in the Mt. Hood foothills. Back then, I just wanted refuge in a place where nobody would bother me. I wanted to be left alone. I’ve since accepted authority, but I guess I’m still seeking the same thing: freedom. ###


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