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Working in the Wilderness

We left Ashland at 6 a.m. Monday, July 3, for the first of four 10-day work hitches we'll do during the summer of 2017.

Today our crew was headed into the Siskiyou Wilderness Area in Northern California, an area known for its stellar geology.

Six of us arrived at the Elbow Springs trailhead in the Klamath National Forest just to the southeast of the wilderness area. Five of us left with everything we would need for the next 10 days stuffed tight into the heavy packs on our backs.

Gabe Howe, executive director of the Siskiyou Mountain Club, was there to drop us off. We watched him drive down the gravel road, leaving us with only a few extra pieces of chocolate, some words of encouragement, and a small cloud of dust in the dry California summer.

We started hiking west around 11 a.m. along the Kelsey National Recreation Trail (#5204). We reached the crest above Bear Lake after about two miles and 1,000 feet of elevation gain, and were blessed with 360-degree views.

To the north we could see Bear Lake directly below us, and a stunning view of Mount Preston in the distance. To the east we could make out the Marble Mountains. To the south we saw the Trinity Alps.

Looking down the trail to our west, we could make out Red Hill, a unique remnant of the geologic processes that have formed the Siskiyou range. It is made up of ultramafic rocks that failed to subduct beneath the North-American plate when the Siskiyous were being built. Ultramafic rocks have less than 45 percent silica content and contain iron and magnesium oxide.

These are the same rocks that make up the earth's mantle, moving slowly beneath our crust. They were squeezed to the surface when they failed to subduct along the coast and have been raised skyward by ongoing subduction. Because they are high in iron content, they rust on the surface and give off that red, rusty color of peaks like Red Hill.

We made camp at Willis Hole, the head of a nameless tributary that eventually flows into the north fork of Dillon Creek, which eventually winds its way down and out of the mountains to join the Klamath River.

The bugs were plenty, but after 10 hours of hiking up, down and alongside breathtaking geologic outcroppings and stunning panoramas, we were all grateful for a good night's sleep.

We consulted our maps and estimated no more than three miles to complete in the morning, and only a couple hundred feet of elevation gain. This excited us. I think we were all ready to set up camp and get some of the weight out of our packs.

On July 4, we woke shortly after 5 in the morning and quietly packed up camp. We set out at 6 for what we thought would be no more than a two-hour hike. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t study our map closely enough in the dim light the night before, and failed to realize the elevation contour lines were 200 feet as opposed to 100 feet.

A few hours passed before we reached the northern saddle of Harrington Mountain in the Siskiyou Wilderness, but was worth it. Harrington Lake, approximately 11 miles from the trailhead, was within eyesight and in our minds was nearly within our grasp. We took a moment to catch our breath and replenish our water we had depleted in yesterday’s heat.

Harrington Lake was our home for the next eight nights and nine days working on the Boundary Trail south of there, and I can't think of too many places better to post up.

If you decide to go, pick up the Siskiyou Wilderness Map. From Happy Camp, California, head west on Highway 96 and use the map to reach the Elbow Springs Trailhead. Always leave no trace, plan ahead, and prepare for volatile weather conditions.

— Brandon Larrabee is from Siletz.

'Sawtooth Mountain in the Siskiyou Wilderness seemed to be a straight-forward hike and climb up a steep trail. But the trail isn't always there to see and it's your perserverence that will see you through the hard and dangerous times,' said Branndon Larrabee. [Shot with a GoPro]
Brandon Larrabee checks out a nameless pond a short walk from where he and a Siskiyou Mountain Club trail crew camped while working in the Siskiyou Wilderness in July. The pond was filled with tadpoles, salamanders and water beetles. [GoPro photo by John Maglinao]