In 1964 Congress passed The Wilderness Act in a nearly unanimous vote. Though the idea of wilderness was nothing new, its legalized preservation was. The act was meant to acknowledge and define the immediate and lasting benefits of protecting wild places—stating that land shall be set aside for “preservation and protection…so as to remain untrammeled…to retain primeval character…to only be affected by forces of nature…and to guarantee solitude…devoted to un-mechanized public purposes.” I quickly discovered these places were for me—a freedom-loving environmentalist who enjoys unconfined primeval recreation.
— Conifer Country (2012)
Since first exploring the Siskiyou Wilderness in February of 2003, I became convinced that the Klamath Mountain wilderness areas contain some of the wildest and most rugged terrain in the contiguous United States. This is country that is often so steep, and thus spatially isolated, that there are places that have rarely–if ever–been visited by humans. The Klamath Mountains also hold one of the most species-rich temperate forest in North America–with nearly 3,500 taxa documented. The diversity is due to many factors, but in essence it represents a means to appreciate the wildness that has maintained across the numerous sub-ranges in the region. The variable topography, relatively stable climate, and varied soil types have offered (and continue to do so) a refuge for plants to persist or speciate. This is a phenomenon which I am cautiously optimistic will persist into the future, even as climates rapidly change to to human activity–I also beleive this to be true do to the wilderness that is preserved that will help to promote biodiversity. September 3rd, 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act – wilderness is a part of me as are these mountains.
I’ve been to all these wilderness areas except the Chanchelulla and Wild Rogue. I’ll share an image and a few tidbits about each area, and since they have to be in some sort of order, I’ll work from my favorite first.
I’ll start by admitting that my son’s middle name is Siskiyou. This wilderness was my first destination upon moving to Humboldt County and I’ve been back many times since–and learned something new each trip. The wilderness represents the mystery and intrigue of Conifer Country and holds within its boundaries at least 16 species of conifers – making it second to the Russian Wilderness in diversity within the Klamath Mountains. A few other regional highlights include the success story of the GO Road, the epic Bigfoot Trail along the crest, and a stay at Bear Basin Butte on the edge of the wilderness. Once you visit, you will never forget this place.
It was deep in the Marbles in the summer of 2004 when I came upon a stand of Pacific silver fir and the idea for Conifer Country first evolved. I contend that somewhere near this stand of trees one could claim to be the farthest from any road within the state of California–I need someone proficient with GIS to prove this though. The Mable Mountain Wilderness is a solid block of land where adventures on wild rivers, subalpine lakes and mountain summits await.
The Trinity Alps are the one place most outdoor enthusiasts have heard of–and probably been to. While the alps are the most visited wilderness in the Klamath Mountains it is also one of the largest in the state, so there is room to roam. The high white granite of the central wilderness (The White Alps) are similar to the Sierra Nevada and just as visually spectacular. The eastern Red Alps holds some of the oldest rock in the Klamath Mountains, known as serpentine. The Green Alps in the west are the least visited and easily the wildest region within the Wilderness.
I first visited the Yolla Bollys in search of foxtail pine, my favorite conifer. There are actually two stands of these trees, on the two highest peaks in the wilderness – North Yolla Bolly and Mount Linn. Mount Linn is also the beginning of the Bigfoot Trail. These two peaks stand at the headwalls of some spectacular north coast rivers. The rolling summits of the regions form a maze of canyons and ridgelines which flow into the Eel, Mad and Sacramento rivers. The trails are less-traveled than almost any in the state and are thus often hard to follow – but that is the best part of the adventure, as you never know what you might discover.
The Miracle Mile, along the ridges and drainages of Sugar and Duck Lake creeks, stands as the highest concentration of conifers per unit area in the temperate world. So, in many ways, this is the heart of Conifer Country. While this is a “small” wilderness compared to the others discussed so far, it protects some spectacular country along the Salmon River – Scott River divide in a subrange of the Klamath called the Salmon Mountains. There are extended backpacking trips that can be made along the Pacific Crest Trail or Bigfoot Trail as well as short day hikes to beautiful swimming lakes. It really is a wilderness for everyone in this respect.
The Red Buttes are part of the Siskiyou Mountains (a sub-range of the Klamath) and protect a crest between the Klamath River to the south and Applegate River to the nort–along the Oregon-California border. The rock is generally serpentine, which encourages rare plants to grow and the conifers, while not concentrated in one particular area, are diverse and exciting to discover. The drainage below the Red Buttes (pictured below) is home to one of the rarest conifers in North America – the Baker Cypress. There is also a small pocket of subalpine fir near Tanner Peak. Take and adventure here and learn for yourself how to recognize wild.
The Kalmiopsis Wilderness is the second largest in Oregon protecting an area that is a rainforest in winter and a veritable desert in summer. Serpentine ridgelines collect winter rain which quickly percolates through the porous soil and springs out below forming what is known regionally as Wild Rivers Country. The Chetco, Illinois, Smith, and Rogue rivers all receive input from the precipitation across this vast region. The wilderness is also home to a rare azalea-like plant known only by the the name Kalmiopsis leachiana. While difficult to access, the Vulcan Lake Trail offers subalpine lakes and serpentine rarity that is found nowhere else on Earth.
- The Chanchelulla Wilderness has been on my bucket list for a long time. I’ve been close but never within the boundaries. I’ll surely make it there soon – have you ever been?
- The Wild Rogue Wilderness is a place I’ve never been — but I hope to one day raft its 15 miles of Wild and Scenic River.
- The Soda Mountain Wilderness, designated in 2009, is probably not technically in the Klamath Mountains proper–however it is within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument which preserves the land-bridge between the Cascades and Klamath Mountains, so it is worth mentioning and including here.