I love hiking in backcountry wildlands that have recently experienced wildfire.
Fire is the primary natural disturbance event that makes the forests of the Siskiyou Mountains so unique. Fire increases botanical diversity, restores wildflower meadows, reduces fuel loads and allows fire-dependent seeds to germinate. It can also significantly impact beloved hiking trails and recreational values.
So when the smoke cleared from this summer's Goff fire, I couldn't wait to get back to some of my favorite spots along the Siskiyou Crest on the Pacific Crest Trail and check out what the post-fire version of the Red Buttes looked like.
On a fine, crisp, October day, I started at the Cook and Green Pass Botanical Area and enjoyed the vistas as I hiked west on the PCT for a couple of easy miles to Lily Pad Lake. Shortly after the lake, I started to see the mosaic of the burn. Patches of dead trees, called snags, were attracting woodpeckers and providing wildlife habitat while most of the forest remained green. According to the Forest Service "Burned Area Report," the Goff fire affected about 23,000 acres, and of that only 1,086 acres burned with high severity.
As I continued west past Kangaroo Springs, I enjoyed a great view of the tapestry of burn patterns in the wild and roadless Portuguese and Canyon Creek tributaries that flow steeply down to the Klamath River. In many places hardwoods and brush were already sprouting back, mere weeks after the burn, and in my mind's eye I could anticipate the wildflower bonanza next summer.
After passing Kangaroo Springs, the PCT veers south along Devils Ridge, passing Upper, Middle and Lower Devils Peaks while plunging thousands of feet in elevation down to the Klamath River near the community of Seiad Valley.
It would be ideal to arrange a car-shuttle and follow the trail all the way downhill to the Klamath. I didn't have a shuttle, so each hundred feet down the ridge meant another hundred feet I'd have to climb back up on my way out. I couldn't help myself from bagging two of the peaks and enjoying the kind of wild landscape vistas that backcountry hikers live for, even though it made for a long trek back to the rig at the end of the day.
If not for thousands of years of fire, the forests of the Siskiyous would look nothing like they do today, and I found the opportunity to visit a wilderness so recently renewed and changed by fire to be very humbling.
My favorite trails were still there, the peaks I love to climb still towered above a spectacular forest, and yet fire had dramatically changed the views I was so familiar with. But in a forest that has always changed and evolved with fire, I think that means that in the long run things had pretty much stayed the same.
George Sexton is conservation director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.