September in our Ancient Forests

"Chicken of the woods" popping out on a down log in the Coast Range

Some rain has fallen, a chill is in the morning air, and it’s officially fall hiking season! Thank goodness, because it’s hard to hike where there is fire… I’m hoping for a pleasant and long transition into winter so I have plenty of time to get to more ancient forest hikes before the snows lock me out. So many more places to explore before then! 


That said, the last month has been productive and beautiful for working on the revision to the Oregon's Ancient Forests guide. For starters, I got to spend time in the northeast corner of the state in the Wallowas and Elkhorn Mountains. While I still haven’t gotten up into the Eagle Cap Mountains proper, I did come home from that trip with 4 Wilderness permits from entering the Eagle Cap Wilderness in 4 different places - just little incursions around the edges where the old forests are, but all very lovely! While the whole area was simply beautiful, I was least prepared for the beauty of the Anthony Lakes area. Wow! Backpack trip next summer, anyone? 


Another thing that struck me in the Wallowas - especially on the south and west side of the Eagle Cap - was how “wolfy” the forests felt. Yes, there are wolves in the area (fewer today, sadly, than there were 2 months ago), but I didn’t think there would be a “feeling” to that. There is. Maybe the forest just felt wild in a way some other places I’ve been have not, maybe it was all the other wildlife sign (bear, bobcat, elk, etc), but I sure felt like I could come across a wolf on the trail at any time. That would be a great story! I may not have seen wolves, but I did see salmon - Chinook spawning in the Imnaha River near a place called Blue Hole (which doesn't do it justice). How unexpected in late August, and also how amazing to see for myself these fish that make such an incredible journey so far upriver. 


Due to smoke and fires, I had to stick closer to home and to more limited trips for much of the month. But that just meant enjoying some favorite hikes on Mary’s Peak in the Coast Range, and around Waldo Lake. I also got to explore the Upper Clackamas River area since I couldn’t explore the area closer to Mt. Hood due to the Eagle Creek Fire. What a magical place! Nice paved roads, a stroll through an ancient forest to a hot tub carved out of a cedar log, a dozen empty campgrounds to choose from - it was heaven. A secret corridor those of us outside of the Portland area just don’t know about!


I also got to explore the forests of the north part of the Siskiyou National Forest in the southwest corner of the state. The Chetco Bar Fire has much of the forest closed, but I found some really nice forests along the Coquille River (including Oregon’s biggest Port Orford Cedar trees) and the Lower Rogue River (with gigantic and fragrant myrtle trees). Revisiting the Lower Rogue was bittersweet because the last time I was there was with Wendell Wood. He helped pick out the spot for our Oregon Wild staff retreat one summer 7 or 8 years ago and we camped on the Rogue and explored the area then. I’ll never forget learning to identify the California spikenard plant - what a great name! 


Stats for the book project so far: 

Total miles: Over 280 on foot

Total hikes: over 80

Best-smelling hike: Myrtle Tree Trail on the Siskiyou National Forest

Most "oohs" and "ahhs": My Utah-based cousin on the Old Salmon River Trail

Freshest wildlife scat: Bobcat (I think) on the Dutch Flat Creek trail, right next to a freshly killed mouse!


I’m heading out today on a vacation from Oregon’s forests, and am excited for the time to distill my notes and thoughts about this project into a real draft of Oregon’s Ancient Forests. When I return, I want this lovely fall weather to stick around so I can get to the Fremont-Winema National Forest, far southern Oregon, the North Umpqua, and the Ochocos. For how few ancient forests are left in Oregon, there sure are a lot of them to explore! I can’t wait to share more soon, but in the meantime, follow my adventures on Facebook and Instagram!


Yours from the base of an amazing cedar on the Old Salmon River Trail a few weeks back,