Changing forests, many trails

The past month has been a flurry of hike activity - from the State Parks on the north coast, to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (currently under threat of repeal by the Trump administration) and southern Cascades, to the Deschutes and Malheur National Forests (a TON of hikes in each of these Forests). I also led a hike for the Friends of the Douglas-fir National Monument to one of my favorite places: Crabtree Valley (see photo above).

Stats so far:

  • Total miles: Over 150 on foot (Over 3,000 on my trusty Tacoma!)
  • Total hikes: 53


A few notes to share as August draws to a close...

Being a woman in the wild:

I’m a confident and capable woman in both outdoors and more urban settings. But I know the importance of safety - especially when I’m spending time alone. I’ve been trying to prepare in advance of my trips - knowing where I’ll be when, checking in regularly, etc - but with limited cell service and changing plans it can be difficult. Though I wasn’t keen on it, before setting out for a week in the Malheur National Forest a few weeks ago I invested in an emergency satelite tracker so that I could check in “ok” without cell service and have access to emergency services if needed. I had to swallow my pride a bit, but I’m glad I have it. I’ll be happy if I ever really need it! I know that not all women feel confident camping or hiking - alone or not - and I feel grateful for my years of experience. For those who need or want a boost for their skills and confidence, I recommend Ruby McConnell’s book “A Woman’s Guide to the Wild” as a great place to start!

A little help from your friends:

Another thing to note is just how wonderful it is to have the support of so many friends, family, and forest lovers for this project! I’ve received great information from colleagues and friends about some of the places I need to explore for the book - info that helps me determine when and where to focus my limited time. Friends have offered me a place to stay, kept me company on hikes, and talked through ideas. AND, a growing number of forest-lovers - many of whom knew and loved the original author Wendell Wood - have contributed financially to help support my travels and to get this book published. I feel honored and so grateful for all of this support! (You can also be a part of this project by sponsoring the development of “A Guide to Oregon’s Ancient Forests”!)

Ch Ch Ch Changes…:

One of the most interesting things about this endeavor is seeing how and if places have changed in the 25 years since Wendell wrote about them. In many cases, I'm surprised at how little updating his hike descriptions and directions need. For example, the Malheur River Canyon was exactly as Wendell described (possibly because it is protected as a Wild & Scenic River), as was the Island Lakes Loop on the south side of Waldo Lake. Perhaps the most amazing non-change I have encountered is at the trailhead for the North Fork Malheur River, where Wendell made note of an interesting 4-topped Ponderosa pine. What are the chances that tree (and all its tops) would still be standing - given it’s unique structure? Lo and behold, there it was!

In other cases, though, the forests Wendell highlighted have changed drastically. Several hikes he included in the Malheur National Forest, for example, have burned in fires over the past 25 years. The Little Malheur River trail, in the Monument Rock Wilderness, for example, is nearly impassable with down logs from the north, and is inaccessible due to closed and salvaged-logged roads from the south. Other areas that aren’t technically “hikes” but more “explorations” have had more changes. Where Wendell notes ‘pulling over on a roadside by a mile post marker and following a faint trail,’ for example, most of these I’ve checked out have not been accessible.

Biggest heartbreak: The East Fork Canyon Creek Trail on the south side of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness that Wendell described as “one of the prettiest riparian zones on the Malheur National Forest”. The Canyon Creek fire of 2015 burned pretty extensively in the area, but before I visited I held out hope that at least sections of this trail would have survived the fire. Alas, no. Skeletal remains of giant Ponderosa pine, cottonwood, aspen, and other trees were all that remained. While I sorely wish I had been there to see the beautiful streamside forest before the fire, it was interesting to walk through the blackened forest, thinking about this natural process of fire and how it plays out over time. Hopefully, in 200 years, this place will be visited by future forest lovers drawn there by the ancient forest before the cycle repeats again.


Best wildlife sighting: Hiking along Myrtle Creek in the Malheur NF, I heard a “scream” that I could have sworn was a small child. Instead, a fawn came crashing down the hill and across the creek, disappearing up the trail I had just come from. As I then turned back towards the trail in front of me, I spied a small black bear along the hillside on the opposite side of the creek from me. Pretty far away, but still cool!

Most elusive wildlife: Beavers! I have hiked numerous trails in the past month where I saw a LOT of trees recently felled by beavers - from 12" thick spruce to tiny lodgepoles. Did I see any actual beavers? NO!? One of these days...

Worst animal sighting: A mile and a half up the Myrtle Creek Trail, I startled a heard of cows grazing in the riparian area. They took off running up the trail ahead of me - leaving a trail of runny poop and stirring up a ton of dust. Yuck! They kept stopping to look back for me as I kept hiking behind them - and they’d startle anew. I followed them for over a mile until I got just too disgusted with the whole situation and turned around.

I have a busy September before taking a vacation and getting some writing done (a book is not made by research alone!). I plan to visit the Wallowa and northern Blue Mountains, the Fremont-Winema National Forest, and either the old-growth forests around Mt. Hood or the Siskiyous in Southern Oregon. Current forest fires are keeping me out of areas of the Umpqua and Willamette National Forests, but hopefully they will be safe to visit later in the fall. Until then, follow my adventures on Facebook and Instagram!