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A backcountry hiker's paradise

I've always had a soft spot for the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Any wilderness named after an ice-age relic wildflower is all right by me. The wild rivers, serpentine forests and expansive vistas kindle my imagination and soothe my soul.

Following the 2002 Biscuit fire, and subsequent clearcuttings in 2004 and 2005, I was curious to see what had changed in the Wilderness that has been so dear to my heart. So on May 20, 2007, I eagerly made the 10-mile, roundtrip hike from the Babyfoot Lake trailhead to the old Bailey Cabin site.

The Babyfoot Lake trailhead lies about 20 miles from Cave Junction. The trailhead and portions of the Babyfoot Lake Botanical Area are now a stump field following logging operations. (Dozens of peaceful protesters, including myself, were arrested for participating in civil disobiedience by sitting on the Green Bridge on the haul route to this timber sale.)

It was a tremendous relief when the Babyfoot trail carried me past the blackened stumps and I entered the unlogged forest in the wilderness area that is naturally recovering from the Biscuit fire.

The trail splits about a quarter-mile from the trailhead, and I followed the route less-traveled to the south, which leads away from Babyfoot Lake and deep into the wilderness. The trail climbs sharply to a ridge where a pocket of extremely rare Brewer's Spruce trees survived the fire. Brewer's Spruce, which grow only in the Klamath Mountains, were one of the last conifers discovered in North America.

The route then drops down to an old mining road that has been grandfathered into the wilderness area. Hiking on the road can be tough because of the number of trees that have fallen like pick-up sticks along the route, but the lupine wildflower show on the recovering road in early spring is simply breathtaking.

From this point it's a long slog down into the wild and remote Chetco River watershed. The trail eventually splits and I stayed to the right, climbing a ridge toward the old Bailey Cabin site. At this point I found the Holy Grail of wildflowers — the endemic pink Kalmiopsis flower that grows only in this wilderness.

Looking at the Kalmiopsis flower is like looking back in time. Because this mountain range was spared the most recent ice age, the flower community has been in this wild country for more than 10,000 years. I couldn't be more pleased that — like many wildflowers — it appears to have benefited from the natural fire event of the Biscuit burn.

The trail eventually led me to the Bailey Cabin site, nestled in a gorgeous saddle on the ridge. Not much is left of the cabin, just a few nails and the old stovepipe from the woodstove. Fortunately the spring at the site is still there and is running strong. It was the first running water I saw on the hike, and the filtered spring water tasted divine.

From the cabin site, one can hike trails either north or south down to the Chetco River. The area is remote, the trails are faint, and the slope is wicked.

In short, it's a backcountry hiker's paradise.

George Sexton lives in Ashland. The hike took him between eight and nine hours to complete.

A view of the trailhead and portions of the Babyfoot Lake Botanical Area.