In 2009, when the Siskiyou Mountain Club started an ambitious trail project in southwest Oregon’s Kalmiopsis wilderness area, a lot of people thought they were crazy. The 2002 Biscuit Fire — the largest wildfire in Oregon’s history — had left thousands of trees strewn over the trails that lead into the Kalmiopsis’ deep recesses. And as prescribed by the 1964 Wilderness Act, they’d have to cut them by hand — no chainsaws, just vintage, crosscut saws. Nobody else, not even the Forest Service, had undertaken such an ambitious, arduous project.

“It’s doubtful you’ll ever make it to the Chetco,” said a U.S. Forest Service staffer. “We’ve had guys try and get down there to do surveys, and they just end up turning around.”

But over the next two years, the SMC certainly did make it to the Chetco River, Oregon’s largest unimpeded and most pristine river, renown for its purity and native fish runs and listed as one of America’s most threatened rivers because of gold-mining interests.

Cooling off in Oregon's Chetco River

The SMC set out for 4-10 days at a time with adventurous volunteer crews to cut through the country’s worst trail conditions. One log at a time, they made progress and in two years cleared 21-miles of the 28-mile “Trans-Kalmiopsis Route.” Volunteers camp from remote basecamps and spend their days working hard — sawing logs, pruning overgrowth from the trail corridor. Volunteers return to the trailhead changed by the experience.

“When I got back to the city,” says Matt Cortese, a 2011 volunteer, “I felt like I could do anything — it built my confidence. If you can spend a week in the Kalmiopsis and thrive, you can thrive just about anywhere.”

Howe adds, “It’s not all work. Every volunteer crew gets at least one full day of rest at a premier destination — the Chetco, or a swimming lake. That’s how we get people to come back.”

The route starts from the Babyfoot Lake trailhead west of Cave Junction, OR, descends to the Chetco River via Bailey Mountain, and climbs up to the Vulcan Lake trailhead east of Brookings. To make the route passable this year, they need help: volunteers and the financial resources it takes to support them. They are running crews throughout the 2012 summer, including some shorter trips in the Soda Mountain wilderness area near Ashland.

To learn more, sign up and help out, visit www.siskiyoumountainclub.org.

Ashland, Oregon: The Siskiyou Mountain Club

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