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Due to inadequate precipitation, we’re talking record level lows, we’re talking a major drought throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California, the Illinois River, which river is more than a minor tributary or creek and typically reliable with regards to CFS and navigability—especially in January, rain and snow season in the Siskiyou Mountains—was too low to float. More specifically, it was too low to float the larger boats we had planned to use, and but even as down as it was, the Illinois is/was too difficult to navigate with smaller packrafts and/or kayaks due to a Class V rapid (Green Wall) and multiple Class IV and IV+ rapids, limited/non-existent portages, and sub-optimal whitewater skills, inclinations and proficiencies; i.e., Zach would have and could have done it, but I would have and could have died. With energy and resources already allocated to a particular window of time, we decided to hike the 28 mile Illinois Trail and perform our recon of the Illinois along with Silver and Indigo Creeks (which recon was the express purpose of the trip) on foot, with backpacks and walking sticks. At this point it’s worth mentioning that the Illinois River trail is not a “river trail” in the strictest or truest sense. While it does follow and, effectively, parallel the Illinois River, it does so from a great deal of height, and, most importantly, at least as far our experience was concerned, without the benefit of millions of years of erosion and the Illinois River’s absolute commitment (boring!) to the laws of Physical Science. Rivers go down. Always, it’s what they do. Every time, all the time. Trails go down and up, and up and down, and sometimes up and up. Also, the Illinois River trail (IRt), after years—decades maybe—of neglect on the part of whatever Federal and/or State agencies that are responsible for managing and maintaining the IRt’s “trailness”, it’s quality, character, legibility, etc., makes it really difficult to follow. Even with experienced topo map readers, who, incidentally, both have extensive experience navigating the Kalmiopsis by both river and on foot. Point is, we knew what we were doing, and we still got lost several times, once at dusk on the top of a rapidly cooling mountain in the rocks and ferns and chaos of a recent burn area still trying to get the hang of photosynthesis, understory layout, ground cover, etc.

 

DAY ONE: (NOT FEATURED ABOVE)

 

Zach Collier, Daniel Wakefield Pasley and Aaron Babcock (and his black Labradors Biscuit & Bud) hiked from the Illinois River Trailhead to Pine Flat Campground, with a small Siskiyou Mountain Club trail clearing crew. Along the way we cleared back brush and removed downed trees from the trail.

DAY TWO:

 

Zach Collier, Daniel Wakefield Pasley and Aaron Babcock (and his black Labradors Biscuit & Bud) hiked out of Pine Flat Campground on the known trail instead of Florence Way, a shorter (in terms of distance) game trail-type path that “cuts off” several miles of the IRt by following creeks and a fall-line straight-up to where it rejoins the IRt, not far from the IRt’s highest point. They continued on past the top of Bald Mountain (where they got lost, in the dark), descended the trail to the Silver Creek confluence, where they camped. Side note: They hiked/backpacked for 12+, the last three of which in the dark, in the middle (always the worst!, furthest from the entrance on either side, makes sense!) of the IRt.

DAY THREE:

 

Zach Collier, Daniel Wakefield Pasley and Aaron Babcock (and his black Labradors Biscuit & Bud) explored Silver Creek. We hiked to Oak Flat, where Bearfoot Brad picked us up with a large Meat Lover’s Pizza in the back seat of Zach’s pick-up.

SIX THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE WITH/ON THE ILLINOIS RIVER TRAIL (IRT):

  1. The IRt provided us with a number of excellent, though too few, vantages of the river below. Side Note: Because so much of the work we do in the Kalmiopsis is profoundly limited in terms of access—the only consistent POV, in the absence of a YJ branded Robinson R-22 or Bell 47, is either in or on, or right next to, a river—having the opportunity to shoot from several hundred feet, and from over a thousand feet in one or two spots, was welcomed.
  2. The IRt also provided us with water-level access in four spots; at Pine Flat Campground (five miles in from the East Terminus), the Silver Creek confluence, on Indigo Creek a few miles upstream from the confluence, and at Oak Flat (West Terminus).
  3. We considered taking the South Bend Trail to where it ends, several hundred feet off the river in the “alleged” vicinity of Green Wall. But that would have added several miles and several thousand feet of climbing, and the area where the trail ends is, by all accounts, dangerous/sketchy/gnarly.
  4. We also considered taking the Collier Bar Trail to Collier Bar1, but that would have added several miles and several thousand feet of climbing.
  5. Beyond Bald Mountain (where there was snow), the trail was in very poor condition. In the many burn areas the trail was difficult to follow. In other areas it was so over-grown it was difficult to navigate. We spent a great deal of time (hours and hour and hours and hours) clambering over the bigger stuff, and threading swing-one-leg-over-at-a-time-style through the smaller stuff. In 28 miles, we did very little “just” walking.
  6. The Illinois River trail is on the Siskiyou Mountain Club’s To Do list.
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