Overnight in the Outback

Sierra Club backpacking trips in Southern Oregon, Northern California can be easy or hard — it's your choice
Noah Volz will lead a Sierra Club overnight backpacking trip into the Siskiyou Wilderness Aug. 17-19, with day two featuring a nine-mile round-trip hike up to DevilĖs Punchbowl, seen here. (Photo courtesy of Noah Volz)Photo courtesy of Noah Volz

An old-timer and a young buck from the local Sierra Club chapter are teaming up this summer to lead a series of overnight backpacking trips into the Southern Oregon and Northern California outback.

Al Collinet, a 69-year-old Brookings resident, has led two groups this summer, one to Towhead Lake in the Red Buttes Wilderness the weekend of July 13 and one to Mount Eddy the last weekend in July.

If you go

Friday-Sunday, Aug. 17-19: Buck Lake and Devil's Punchbowl in the Siskiyou Wilderness. Group will take a 1.8-mile hike to set up a base camp Friday evening at Buck Lake. The next day offers a nine-mile, round-trip hike with a 1,650-foot elevation gain. Devil's Punchbowl is a glacier-cut cirque with walls 1,500 feet high. Group is limited to eight people due to campsite availability at Buck Lake. To reserve a spot or for more information, email Noah Volz at noah@rhythmofhealing.com.

Saturday-Monday, Sept. 1-3: Sky Lakes Wilderness trip. Group will use the Cold Springs trailhead off Highway 140, about four miles after Lake of the Woods. The hike in will be a flat five miles to Margurette Lake. The following day, folks can fish and explore the many lakes in the area or take an 11-mile hike with 2,541 feet of climbing to Devils Peak, mostly on the Pacific Crest Trail. Space is limited to 16. Noah Volz and Al Collinet will lead separate groups. To reserve a spot and for more information, email Volz at noah@rhythmofhealing.com or Collinet at dewbobal@frontier.com.

From Aug. 17 to 19, 33-year-old Noah Volz will lead a group of backpackers on a trek to Buck Lake and Devil's Punchbowl in the Siskiyou Wilderness. Then the two men will team up in early September to lead a trip into the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

"For the last couple of years, they've been trying to get some new blood in there," says Volz, a vegetarian, yoga-practicing massage therapist with ayurvedic leanings who moved to Oregon from Colorado six years ago.

Most of the Sierra Club's Rogue Group hike leaders are in their 70s, and many of the people who sign up for the group's hikes tend to be older adults, but Volz represents a new generation of backwoods enthusiasts.

Volz, who started leading overnight trips for the club two years ago, backpacks about 100 to 200 miles each summer. He'll pick a different region to focus on each year, and then do as many trips into the area as his schedule allows so he can get a good sense of what the area offers.

Last year, his focus was the Siskiyou Wilderness. This year, he's been keying in on the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains in Northern California.

Collinet has been leading overnight backpacking trips for the local Sierra Club since 2006, and the lifelong Boy Scout leads numerous day hikes in Curry County for a hiking group dubbed the Muscle Busters.

He doesn't intend to hang up his hiking sticks any time soon, but he admits he has days that are harder than they used to be.

He's become something of an advocate for lightweight backpacking, partly because he doesn't like to carry as much weight as he used to.

"I used to carry 36 pounds with no problem," Collinet says, "but as I'm getting older, I've started to go lighter. We ran into a thru-hiker on the PCT last year who was carrying 10 pounds of gear, and he shared his gear list with us. I've never gotten that low, but I have dropped about 10 pounds off my pack weight, so I'm carrying about 26 to 28 pounds."

About 5 or 6 pounds of that gear is what he calls "crew gear," things such as a first-aid kit and cooking utensils that'll be used by everybody on the trip.

Whether traveling with Collinet or Volz, backpackers who sign up for the free Sierra Club treks can expect a low-key outing that will be as easy or strenuous as they want to make it.

The groups will typically take an easy or moderate hike to a lake or some other area, then set up a base camp and do day hikes from there. Some people may choose to hang out at the lake and swim or fish, while others may bite off some serious mileage.

On Volz's upcoming trip to the Siskiyou Wilderness, the group will take an easy, mostly flat, two-mile hike to Buck Lake to set up camp. After that, the intensity level will rise for hikers who want to sweat.

"Getting up to Devil's Punchbowl is really tough," he says of the nine-mile, round-trip hike he has planned. "It's steep, with lots of switchbacks, and it's rocky, so the trail is easy to lose."

But the reward for the effort is well worth it, Volz says.

"Once you get into Devil's Punchbowl, it is just phenomenal. You've got these sheer cliffs diving down into that blue-green water."

That's the kind of beauty that keeps Collinet enthusiastic about leading people into the outback.

"I just love the outdoors and always have," Collinet says, describing himself as "an enthusiastic, amateur botanist."

"The diversity in this area is among the most amazing in the United States," he says, adding that he likes to pass along tidbits of what he's learned about local plants during his hikes.

"I like to translate some of what I know to people who maybe don't have as much knowledge," he says, "but there's no requirement that anybody learn any plant names, and I don't give quizzes."

Like Collinet, Volz is willing to teach people what he knows about backpacking, and both men are open to taking newbies on their trips. Both men are certified in wilderness first aid, and they provide hikers with suggested gear lists to help make packing easier.

Group sizes range from eight to 20 people, depending on the destination. Some wilderness areas limit the number of people allowed in, while some destinations might not have enough accessible ground to accommodate a large number of tents.

The trips are free, though people may be asked to pitch in for gas when carpooling to a trailhead.

Volz's trip into the Siskiyou Wilderness is limited to eight people. The September trip into Sky Lakes will be limited to 16, with Collinet and Volz each leading separate groups to reduce the impact on the area and to maximize the wilderness experience for all involved.

"Noah will take the fast group, and I'll take the slow group," Collinet says. "He's younger than I am."

To learn more about the Rogue Group of the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club, see www.oregon.sierraclub.org/groups/rogue.

For information about upcoming outings, email Volz at noah@rhythmofhealing.com or Collinet at dewbobal@frontier.com.

Reach Oregon Outdoors Editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or dsmigelski@mailtribune.com

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