I first visited this area in 2004 when my friend Jay and I attempted an ambitious loop starting from the Wooley Creek Trailhead, to the headwaters at Wooley Lake, back to Hancock Lake, and then laboring along the non-existent trail on Steinacher Ridge back to our car. This was the first major hike I took in the Marble Mountain Wilderness and my encounter with Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis) around the Diamond Lake – English Peak region inspired the writing of my first book, Conifer Country.
One-third of manzanita species are facultative seeders. These are species that regenerate post-fire by both seed and burl resprouting. The remainder are obligate seeders that lose their entire adult population in a fire and depend on a seed bank for regeneration. Obligate seeding is the current model in manzanita evolution.
To understand why, consider the climatic dynamics over thousands, or tens of thousands of years or more. In the case of the resprouting species, particular individuals can live for centuries, resprouting over and over, cloning new individuals as the burls expand with each fire cycle. But in that population, the rate of genetic change is limited, because most individuals live a long time by way of asexual reproduction. This suggests that populations may be unable to respond to rapid climatic changes that might occur in only hundreds of years. The obligate seeders, on the other hand, lose all adults in stand-replacing fires and new post-fire generations have to establish from more genetically diverse seeds. Those populations consequently have greater flexibility to shift and adjust as circumstances require; traits that might have been rare and less important in older generations can emerge through natural selection and become critical in the newer generations within the lifetime of resprouting manzanitas.
Much of this area burned in the summer of 2015. While evidence of the fires were everywhere, there are many signs of the next generation of plants returning to the landscape. This was particularly true on some of the south-facing slopes above Philpot Campground where two species of manzanitas were exploring different reproductive regimes– both obligate & facultative seeding.
I have tracked how Klamath Mountain snowpack is correlated with the beginning of summer hiking season since 2003. In 2009 I started the Bigfoot Trail on the summer solstice, and it worked out perfectly—I found the perfect mix of snow, open trail, and manageable river crossings. 2010 was a late snow year and June was only open for hiking in the Southern Siskiyous. In 2011 I began a section hike from the Trinity Alps to the Siskiyous on June 29th in a snowstorm and we trekked across snow for nearly two weeks while in the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains. Our time also included numerous, often stressful, fords of raging rivers in the low-country. What follows is an analysis of the El Niño winter we are emerging from and what snowpack trends seem to be saying about the 2016 hiking season.
The action of changing the arrangement, especially the linear order, of a set of items (what came first, the conifer or the cone?)
Wandering Devil’s Hole Ridge, miles from anything human, the landscape shifts as quickly as the juncos dancing across the trail. Walkabouts bring a level of focus not found in civilization. Walking offers time to hypothesize about the world at a slower pace…How recently did the vegetation patterns I see come to be? When did the Ash-throated flycatcher arrive from its tropical winter-land? How did I find myself in this desolate, isolated place–seven years after I last visited–and so far from my family? Like the undulating contours on the ridgeline, I ponder my place in this dynamic world. Walking further I realize, while out of place, I am fortunate to be here with time to think.
Seeing the trees through the forests, the birds in those trees, and then this vast landscape through my astigmatized-wide-angle glasses; thoughts swirl through my mind. The first few hours allow time to come to terms with my isolation and my body’s age (I’m moving slower than when I was here in my 30’s). Slowly my mind settles into place, in the wilderness. I ponder plant migrations and vegetation patterns as a student of biogeography. A few miles later my mind drifts towards systems of order (and disorder) that are established out here. This is where true place-based interpretations begin to solidify: my understanding of wilderness and how I’ll never truly fit in among it. Then comes the delineation of rarity. I am a rare human here–among the trees, sky and soil–but this fanciful journey is for the rare plants of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel.
I first created a map set for the trail in the winter of 2009 after hiking the trail the previous summer. It was a fun, first attempt for me to create something like this. I offered the digital map set & route description for free the past 6 years (find original map set here). During that time, hundreds of folks downloaded the file. Some of those even hiked the trail, providing me feedback on the original description. With the launch of my grand plan to establish the Bigfoot Trail Alliance, I decided it was time to revamp and update the previous document.
That original file got a major overhaul this spring with the help of a terrific cartographer, Jason Barnes. He and I worked out a template for the route and then created 23 brand new maps. At a scale of 1:60,000, where one inch is a mile. The description has a new, more user-friendly look and Jason’s map layers are second to none for both beauty and navigability.
Here are the details from the cover page of the new map set:
All photos and text by Michael Kauffmann Book layout and map details by Backcountry Press Cartography by Jason Barnes Consulting and GIS work by Justin Rohde Editing and trail notes by Sage Clegg and Melissa Spencer GPX Coordinates by Sage Clegg Published by Backcountry Press | Kneeland, California
Take the maps for a walk (long or short) and enjoy one of the most biodiverse temperate coniferous forest on Earth.
I’ll be sharing a Bigfoot Trail Presentation exploring the hike and the natural wonders along the way for this month’s meeting of the California Native Plant Society, North Coast Chapter. I hope you can join me!
“The Bigfoot Trail: A Celebration of Klamath Mountain Flora.”
May 13, Wed. 7:30 p.m. At the Six Rivers Masonic Lodge, 251 Bayside Rd., Arcata.
The Bigfoot Trail travels 360 miles across the Klamath Mountains from the subalpine slopes of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness to the temperate rainforest in Crescent City. Michael Kauffmann, the trail’s originator, will take you on a photographic journey along the route to celebrate the region with both the common and rare plants along the way, including 32 species of conifers. Visit www.bigfoottrail.org to preview the route. To get ready for summer hiking, an updated map set and write-up for the route will be available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going to North Coast CNPS. Michael’s new book, A Field Guide to Manzanitas, will also be available with all proceed going to North Coast CNPS.
I was recently asked by KHSU, here in Humboldt County, to write a two minute script for their Sound Ecology series. I chose to write about the conifers of the Klamath Mountains. I hope you enjoy this piece and are planning your next adventure into this botanical wonderland.
Here are the activities I will be a part of in the coming months, please join me!
My high school biology teacher inspired my love for natural history. After hiking the Continental Divide Trail, I fell in love with long-distance hiking. The The Bigfoot Trail combines the two.
Eminent botanist John O. Sawyer and I once discussed the lack of connectivity between the wilderness areas in the Klamath Mountains. This led us to pour over maps, talk rare plants, and plan a path that would connect these wild places. In 2009, I first walked this route and over the past few years have re-hiked various pieces to “finalize” the trek I call the Bigfoot Trail. This project combines long-distance hiking and natural history by defining a thru-hike in one of the most species-rich temperate coniferous forest on Earth.
I recently launched a Kickstarter Campaign to fund the establishment of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance (BFTA) as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The BFTA will create a community committed to constructing, promoting, and protecting—in perpetuity—the Bigfoot Trail. I am asking you, noble reader, to become a founding member of this organization.
In my time living in northwest California, I have fallen deeply in love with the uniqueness of the Klamath Mountains. So much so that I wrote a natural history and hiking guide called Conifer Country which documents and celebrates the region. While writing that book, I hiked thousands of miles in search of wild trees.
The trail begins on the subalpine slopes of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, traverses the Klamath’s most spectacular peaks, crosses all its wild rivers, and ends at the edge of the continent in the temperate rainforest. It highlights all that Conifer Country has to offer.
I believe that by establishing this route—and ultimately the BFTA—a deeper understanding and awareness will be fostered for this region. This trail, and organization, is about the other biota who live in the Klamath Mountains—ultimately to function as stewards for their protection.
Please follow this link to join the campaign to establish the Bigfoot Trail.
Our adventure began in the heavy rain of late June. We waved farewell to Allison from the Canyon Creek Trailhead to walk the Bigfoot Trail–in search of wild plants and places–for two weeks. As we climbed into the Trinity Alps it was doubtful we would be able to hike very far because of heavy snow and high water. On our second day, as the rain cleared, we approached the dangerously swift Stuarts Fork and were, for a moment, stopped by Mountains and Water.