Canyon Peak (Kalmiopsis Wilderness) 03-May-2019

In 2002, the Biscuit Fire roared through Southwest Oregon’s rugged Kalmiopsis Wilderness, reducing 500,000+ acres of cool, green forest to charred sticks and cinders. Then the Chetco Fire in 2017 and the Klondike Fire in 2018 added to this misery. Trails were lost along with the trees and, for many years, access (to the extent there was any) was a brush-chocked steeple chase over miles and miles of downed trees on faint tread. Then Gabriel Howe and the Siskiyou Mountain Club stepped-up and began the arduous task of bringing these trails back from oblivion. Thus far they have succeeded brilliantly, not only in the Kalmiopsis but also in the Wild Rogue and Sky Lakes Wilderness areas. But Gabe and the club, no matter how great their love for the Kalmiopsis, can’t bring back its trees. Maybe in 100 years or so, if the process isn’t derailed by climate change, Gabe’s great-grandkids can once again explore a forested Kalmiopsis. But in the here and now, every hike in the Kalmiopsis will, for me at least, be tinged with sadness for what was lost. It doesn’t help that, back in the day, I had opportunities to visit a forested Kalmiopsis and passed on all of them. Not one of life’s big regrets, but one nonetheless. 😥

Still, the hike must go on. With The LovedOne embroiled in a full day of library activities, I decided to hike to the top of Canyon Peak (4,916 feet) on the Kalmiopsis Rim south of Babyfoot Lake. At the Babyfoot Lake Trailhead, I encountered three kayakers heading, with staggeringly heavy loads, for the Chetco River some 2,600 feet below.

Looking south from the trailhead

From the trailhead, I followed the Babyfoot Lake Rim Trail (USFS #1126) past the turn-off to Babyfoot Lake and up to the saddle west of Hungry Hill. This was the only place on the trail where new trees were making a comeback. The trail was blocked by snow just short of the saddle – the work around was easy for me; not so for the kayakers with their huge, ungainly loads.

Climbing Hungry Hill
New growth on the northwest side of Hungry Hill
On the saddle at Hungry Hill
Canyon Peak (C) from Hungry Hill

I continued on to the unsigned junction with the Kalmiopsis Rim Trail (USFS #1124), which is an old mining road from here to the Emily Cabin Trail (USFS #1129) near Canyon Peak. Along in here the Chetco Fire took out any vegetation, such as knobcone pines, that was starting to make a come-back from the Biscuit Fire.

Here the Rim Trail is an old mining road
Chetco Fire devastation viewed from the Rim Trail
Burned down to mineral soil

At its junction with the Rim Trail, the kayakers turned west to descend the Emily Cabin Trail and then the Bailey Cabin Trail (USFS #1131) to the Chetco. I continued south on the Rim Trail, which is now a single-track rather than an old road. The forest between here and the peak escaped being burned, so I got a small feeling for what the Kalmiopsis was like back in its forested days.

Still living trees at the Emily-Rim trail junction
On the Rim Trail toward Canyon Peak

There used to be a fire lookout on Canyon Peak and the side trail leading to it from the Rim Trail is still easy to find and follow. From the summit I had a truly 360 degree view.

Looking north with the Bailey Cabin Trail (B) in the foreground and Pearsoll Peak (P) in the distance
Looking south, with Preston Peak (P) on the horizon
Looking east toward Mount McLoughlin
Looking west toward Vulcan Peak and the Pacific Ocean

An L-4 cab fire lookout was installed on Canyon in 1941 and remained in operation until the early 1960s (which explains the handy trail to the summit). This lookout, as were many others, was burned down sometime in the late 1960s. What a rental cabin this would have made!

The Canyon Peak lookout in 1944
Only four footings, a retaining wall, and some small pieces remain

After a snack on the summit, it was back the way I’d come in.

Heading north on the Rim Trail, with Pearsoll Peak in the distance
The loss still saddens me
Fire in the abstract
Babyfoot Lake

It was a great day for this hike (8 miles round-trip; 1,800 feet of gain), no matter how bittersweet some of the scenery. Aside from a few downed trees and that pesky snow patch, the trails were in good condition. The weather was perfect 😎 and the views from the summit were astounding. There were even a few green trees left to fuel my nostalgia.

My out-and-back to Canyon Peak
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6 comments

  1. One of my favourite local conservation parks has recently had a fire but from what Ive read the main walking trails werent affected too much. Its devastating to watch the news & see fire ripping through natural areas that you feel a connection with & that bring you joy.

    1. Yes, it really is. Particularly when it happens 3 times in 16 years. 😦 Makes you appreciate the remaining green forests just that much more. 🙂

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