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Gerber Potholes Trail was a true test

Photo by Lee Juillerat Hikers on the Potholes Trail are flanked by large Ponderosa pines.
Photo by Lee Juillerat Like many reservoirs in Southern Oregon, Gerber Reservoir is unusually low this year.

We had hiked 2.7 miles, but the real test was about to come.

No, we weren’t facing a test of stamina by bushwhacking and fighting our way through thick, unyielding brush and over downed trees. Neither was it something that would test our endurance, like having to imitate bighorn sheep and power our way up a torturously steep mountain. And no, it wasn’t anything that would test our will, like having to fight off blood-sucking mosquitoes and body-hugging ticks.

It was another type of test, a multiple-choice test devised by our trip co-leader Hans Kuhr.

Hans, a retired electrical engineering professor at Oregon Tech, was literally testing our knowledge of where we’d gone and what we’d seen during the first half of our hike at Gerber Reservoir about 40 miles east of Klamath Falls.

Test questions on the six-page handout included things like, “How long did it take us to get to the first gate?” “The distance from the first gate to the second gate?” “The total distance from Gerber Potholes campground/bathroom to the Stan H. Spring campground/bathroom.”

Some questions were injected with humor. One question asked was, “What would you do first if you got lost on our hike?” The choices included: A. Scream for help as loud as you can. B. Hike up the nearest hill so you can see more. C. Call 911 with your cell phone and ask for help. D. Stop, sit down, take a break and drink some water, stay calm, access your situation and location.”

Another asked, The most challenging part of our hike today is: A. Keeping up with the latest gossip. B. Looking out for potholes and muddy sections. C. Following the trail so I would not get lost, and D. Looking out for ticks.

The test came during a lunch break on a Klamath Basin Outdoor Group hike led by Hans and Diane Barrick, a loop trek that began and ended at Gerber Reservoir’s Potholes Campground.

The Potholes Trail isn’t a trail that tests stamina, endurance or will. It’s a pleasantly easy trail with gradual ups and downs that weaves through stands of pines and junipers. Atop one of those distant pines we saw a regal bald eagle perched high above, seemingly oblivious us. Along the way some of us left the trail and ambled up a ridge hoping to see something special. Nope, we found only an endless stretch of timberlands and, in the distance, Yainax Butte. The trail later dropped and crossed a dry creek bed before reaching a gravel road that led to the campground.

Not seen was Gerber Reservoir, at least not until nearing the Stan H. Spring Campground, our lunch spot. The 3,815-acre reservoir is about five miles long, nearly 2-1/2 miles wide and reaches a maximum depth of 65 feet. Fed by four creeks — Miller, Barnes, Barnes Valle, and Ben Hall — it normally provides irrigation water for downstream farmers and ranchers. This year, however, Gerber’s water level is reportedly only about 20% of normal. We did see the lake, but far beyond its usual shoreline.

Information about Gerber wasn’t part of the test. Some of the questions were thought-provoking, while others were difficult or impossible to answer without a map. Here’s a sampling of questions to test your skills:

  • What is the name of the 7,226-foot mountain that is located to the northwest of our trail? A. Gerber B. Black Hills C. Horsefly D. Yainax.
  • What is the highest mountain in Klamath County? A. Mount McLoughlin B. Diamond Peak. C. Mount Scott D. Mount Thielsen.
  • We hiked at an elevation of (plus or minus 300 feet): A. 4,200 feet B. 4,800. C. 5,200. D. 5,600.
  • The Mountain Lakes Wilderness Area in Klamath County is a perfect square. The total square miles is: A. 36 B. 64 C. 100 D. 144.
  • Hans also added a bonus question: list the seven tallest mountains in Klamath County and their elevations.

According to Hans, the correct answers to the questions above are:

The 7,226-foot mountain is Yainax. The highest mountain in Klamath County, surprise, is Mount Thielsen (McLoughlin is in Jackson County). We hiked at an elevation of about 4,800 feet. The Mountain Lakes Wilderness, the nation’s only square wilderness area, spans 36 square miles.

As for the bonus question, the highest Klamath County mountains and their elevations are: Thielsen, 9,182; Scott, 8,926; Diamond Peak, 8,744; Howlock, 8,396; Aspen Butte, 8,208; Yamsay, 8,196; Hillman, 8,159.

Our return route to the Potholes Campground was one Hans had prepared us for on his test, asking: A. Walking along the shores of the reservoir to the bridge then bushwhacking to the Potholes Campground. B. Swimming south in the reservoir to the gauging station and then walking the road to the Potholes. C. Using a compass heading and bushwhacking directly to the Potholes from Stan B. Spring. D. None of the above: Taking the road.

We took the gravel road, the road most traveled.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.