Trail Clearing in the Kalmiposis Wilderness

by Zachary Collier

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” - Edward Abbey

I just returned from four days of trail work in Southern Oregon's Kalmiopsis Wilderness. This was a great introduction to the Siskiyou Mountain Club and an opportunity to work on the overgrown trail between Chetco Pass and Slide Creek which could provide the easiest access to the Chetco River. It was also a great opportunity to spend some time with Ryan and meet three other amazing individuals: Paul, Sarah, and Aaron. Our official name was "Chetco 2" but we preferred being referred to as the "A-Team" or "Team Awesome."

We met our crew leader Paul Saturday at 7 AM sharp at McCaleb's Ranch on the Illinois River. He quickly set the tone by pointing out our priorities: (1) Safety, (2) Fun, and (3) Work. We quickly loaded up my truck and drove up the 4wd road to Chetco Pass. The last time I went up this road we hiked our kayaks up this 5 mile road on our way to the Chetco River.

Chetco Pass

Chetco Pass

We soon reached Chetco Pass and I was pleasantly surprised to see the road was clear down the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary. Last June the road from Chetco Pass to the wilderness boundary was covered with downed trees.

Putting our packs on at the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary

Putting our packs on at the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." - The Wilderness Act of 1964

As visitors in the wilderness we can only travel by foot and only use simple hand tools for removal trees and brush. We were lucky to have Paul join us as crew leader as he has vast trail clearing experience and a full set of hand tools.

At the wilderness boundary we put on our backpacks and walked about a mile to set up a base camp at the Little Siberia Mine. We were all anxious to work so we threw our packs down and carried our tools down the trail. We cut small bushes out with the loppers and Ryan quickly fell in love with the Reinhart, a sideways shovel with a sharpened blade that pummeled small brush. We cleared some small bushes and came to our first section of trail with logs that required the larger saws.

The route from Chetco Pass to Slide Creek

The route from Chetco Pass to Slide Creek is full downed trees and overgrown bushes

After a good days work we headed back up to our base camp in the hot afternoon sun. At camp we found a small pool our tiny creek that we were able to cool off in.

Our base camp near the Little Siberia Mine

Our base camp near the Little Siberia Mine

The next morning we woke up early so we could work in the cooler part of the day. We took Paul's five foot cross-cut saw with us and some other smaller saws to cut through trees.

Using Paul's large crosscut saw

Using Paul's large crosscut saw

After an hour of work we started to come across some of the busier sections of down trees. We made a trail around some of the larger piles of logs and cut our way through the sections we could manage. Once the temperatures heated up we were all exhausted and slowly made our way back up the trail to our base camp.

We scouted some HUGE log jams that day and I had given up hope that we'd make it another 2 miles or so to the Chetco. The small brush was incredibly thick and we had already seen hundreds of logs. In the evening Aaron kept saying that he was going to make it to the Chetco River the next afternoon but I had little hope.

Aaron woke everyone up before sunrise and we got an early start on the third day. I started working on some smaller logs with the D-Handle K-24 while Paul and Sarah used the big crosscut to knock out some of the larger logs. We cut about 50 logs out of the trail that morning but only cleared a couple hundred feet of trail. Aaron and Ryan went ahead with loppers and the Reinhart to clear the small brush around the bigger log jams.

"Before" Photo

"Before" Photo

"After" Photo

"After" Photo

We had worked a solid 6 hours by noon and were dog tired when Aaron came back and said he'd made it to the river. I was shocked and we all decided to make our way down there to cool off during the hot part of the day. Aaron and Ryan cut out the small brush but we still had to climb over and under hundreds of logs on our way down. We all made it down to the Chetco and spent the afternoon swimming in it's clear waters.

The Chetco River at the mouth of Babyfoot Creek

The Chetco River at the mouth of Babyfoot Creek

The other Kalmiopsis trail crew (aka Chetco 1) had their spike camp at Slide Creek so we were able to spend some time with them when they came back from their day's work. Siskiyou Mountain Club founder Gabe Howe was part of this work party that was clearing the hardest and most remote section of the trans-Kalmiopsis trail. We were talking about how we've all seen the gnarliest trail conditions imaginable and Gabe told us he was reading a good amount of Edward Abbey who spoke of "God's forsaken country". We all agreed that the rugged Kalmiopsis is God's forsaken country.

"No matter where my head and feet may go, my heart and my entrails stay behind, here on the clean, true, comfortable rock, under the black sun of God’s forsaken country." - Edward Abbey

I don't think anyone wanted to be anywhere else.

After spending time along the clear and cool waters of th Chetco, we started the grueling hike back up to our base camp at the Little Siberia Mine. It was great to see the whole trail and get a sense of the amount of work that has to get done to get this trail open. This was our last night together in the wilderness and we all wished it wasn't.

The next morning we got up early to get some more work done on the trail. We got the crosscut saw going and cut out another 20 or so larger logs which opened up rugged 100 feet of the trail. Aaron took off down to the Chetco to join Gabe and "Chetco 1" for the week and we hiked back up to pack up the base camp and head home.

Our crew leader Paul

Our crew leader Paul

We all vowed to come back and finish the daunting task we started.

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds." - Edward Abbey


Zachary Collier

Zach is the owner of Northwest Rafting Company and has led groups throughout the U.S. as well as Siberia, Bhutan, Nepal, Honduras, and Chile. His passion for wilderness shines through how he runs both his trips and his company. He's as confident on the oars as he is on the chess board, while he delivers a truly memorable experience in the most amazing places on the planet.

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