In The Charcoal Cathedral
4 days in the charred remains of an ancient wilderness. 26 miles on foot. 2 Black Bears, one Bald Eagle, 3 Mule Deer, a Western Tanager, the sound of an Owl. One river, three springs, two dogs, two friends. I think I might have heard the sound of a Woodpecker. 4 days in the charred remains of an ancient wilderness.
Humility sanctified. Lessons in grace.
There was hope. The trip was defined simply enough. Hike from Chinaman Hat to the Illinois River at Collier Bar via the 1161 (or 2) and 1174 trails in the Kalmiopsis wilderness. By way of Bald Mountain Spring, Polar Spring, and the spring at the Pup's Camp. Around 13 miles each way.
The trail was rough and hard at the beginning and end, with a 3000 ft. descent from Bald Mountain into the Illinois River canyon representing the most formidible feature. It was a difficult and challenging hike. The first day we hiked to Bald Mountain Spring and then to Polar Spring and broke off to make camp at the Pup's Camp, totalling 9 miles or so for the day. The climb from our parking spot to Bald Mountain spring barely served to warm us (my friend Jim and I, the dogs Josie and Lily) up, and as the day progressed it seemed clear that our pace was not going to bring us to the IllinoisRiver by the end of the day. We shot photos and videos and looked for cougar (0), or as the local teen trail cleaner girls called them, "Screamers," which was followed with a bit of giggling. And bears (2), or Elk (0) or Deer (3). We lally-gagged at the springs, drinking deeply, and growing used to the wilderness. Jet fighters flew through a cloudy sky to help minimize the culture shock.
We fought our way down the trail. There was a lot of debris, since the forest was burned to a crisp in the 2002 Biscuit fire. Some areas were also burned in the 1987 Silver Complex Fire. There were many fallen trees and branches blocking the trail. Sometimes it is so much easier to walk around and step over the obstacles. It appeared the no one had been down the trail since last summer. We were alone. There was very little life and no bird song. It was ominous and severely quiet.
Charred giants. Entire hilltops rendered treeless. Sticks remaining. Large sticks. A forest destroyed, charred beyond comprehension. I was there in 2003 or 2004, and although the carnage was obvious, I just saw the edge of it. The Biscuit fire was the largest fire in Oregon's history. That forest was torched, totalled.
It is still inherently beautiful.
There is no way to describe in words or pictures the awesome power whose force is evident before me. And how insanely gorgeous I found this forest to be.
Part of the reason for stopping at the Pup's Camp was my concern about my knee and going downhill. We spent the night there and in the morning we hiked the 4 miles and 2000 ft down into the steep Illinois River Canyon and set up camp. This was a bit hard on my knee. But not as bad as the poison oak. I have poison oak. I got it 3 or four different times on this trip. The trail was overgrown with Poison Oak. The Elder Brother says that "it used to be called the poison oak forest ... ." Jim insisted that I eat tablespoons of Certa™ and I put Gold Bond™ cream on it. It disappeared. Like a badge of honor that vanished. I swam and bathed in the Illinois River. We hardly moved from the camp at Collier Bar until Monday when we packed up and bailed out with a bit less than a days food left, to hike the 13 miles out. We did discover this hornet's nest hanging in a tree almost in camp.
Oh -- The mushroom girl might enjoy this.
Lily at the first bath in the Illinois River.
Jim the videographer.
Josephine in the river cooling down.
On the way back down the trail we met a party of 12 of Oregon's youth clearing the trail. Their leader told us that while we were out the fire level had risen to 2, meaning no open campfires, and that they were to spend a week clearing the trail to Silver Creek. They were a sign of hope in a stale climate of preserving, rather than enjoying the wilderness. 12 young people learning early lessons of work and joy in the wilderness. So there is hope, we saw other signs of hope.
Those are rasberries there in the foreground. Despite the dead trees everywhere, the understory had sprung to life with layers of Madrone and Douglas fir, oaks, rasberries and poison oak. There was a carpet of a youthful forest before us, promising to return to a past glory. There were places with a hundred fir trees per meter. It was stunning; brilliant in both the vibrance and urgency of the new growth.
There was hope everywhere. Hope for me, in my 4 day marathon in charcoal, and hope for the forest. The two represent personal bests for me. Longest trip at 25+ miles, and longest single day at 13 miles.
End of the trail.