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Siskiyou Wilderness celebrates 30 years

Clear Creek, a tributary of the Klamath River that runs through the Siskiyou Wilderness, has stunning water clarity, common in the wilderness.   Courtesy of Steven Bratman
Clear Creek, a tributary of the Klamath River that runs through the Siskiyou Wilderness, has stunning water clarity, common in the wilderness. Courtesy of Steven Bratman
Towering over the eastern portion of Del Norte County is the vast rugged expanse of the Siskiyou Wilderness, more than 180,000 acres of steep, forested peaks, lush mountain meadows, cold, clear streams and glacial cirque lakes.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Siskiyou Wilderness in 1984, the Friends of Del Norte Conservation Council is holding a series of free events from July through September that includes guided hikes, backpacking trips, an artists retreat, restoration events, and a Siskiyou Wilderness Gala in September.

The local events are in accordance with celebrations being held across the country for the 50-year anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which defined the term: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Joe Gillespie, a founder of Friends of Del Norte who lobbied and met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., during the 1970s and ’80s for the creation of the Siskiyou Wilderness, said the protection is not only important for environmental values, but also for the potential to build Del Norte’s recreation economy.

“I love the Siskiyous. I love sharing their uniqueness and beauty with people, and I think it’s important that we celebrate what we have,” Gillespie said. “When I learned that wilderness celebrations were occurring all across the country, I felt it was extremely important to take the opportunity to celebrate our wilderness.”

The Siskiyou Wilderness Celebration series of events will get started this Sunday with “Lookout Look-In: A mountaintop lookout adventure to look into the Siskiyou Wilderness.” Participants will meet at the Slant Bridge parking area (1 mile east of Hiouchi at the intersection of Highway 199 and South Fork Road) by 11 a.m. and are asked to bring a sack lunch and water. Binoculars are suggested.  

In this day trip, participants will carpool to the scenic Forest Service lookouts that overlook the Siskiyou Wilderness: the actively manned Ship Mountain Lookout that provides views of the entire 40-mile length of the wilderness and the more tourist-oriented, unmanned Bear Basin Butte Lookout that gives great views of the “High Siskiyous,” the highest peaks of the wilderness, which are found in the northern end. Organizers say this event is perfect for those who may be unable to take part on a day hike or overnight trip into the wilderness but would still like to take a gander at the panoramic mountain views of the Siskiyous. Another “Lookout Look-In” will be held on Saturday, Aug. 16.  

In this day trip, participants will carpool to the scenic Forest Service lookouts that overlook the Siskiyou Wilderness: the actively manned Ship Mountain Lookout that provides views of the entire 40-mile length of the wilderness and the more tourist-oriented, unmanned Bear Basin Butte Lookout that gives great views of the “High Siskiyous,” the highest peaks of the wilderness, which are found in the northern end. Organizers say this event is perfect for those who may be unable to take part on a day hike or overnight trip into the wilderness but would still like to take a gander at the panoramic mountain views of the Siskiyous. Another “Lookout Look-in” will be held on Saturday, Aug. 16.

Meet the Siskiyous

The star of the Siskiyou Wilderness is its 40-mile stretch of the Siskiyou crest, a north-south running ridge of 5,000- to 7,000-foot mountain peaks dividing the Smith, Klamath and Illinois River watersheds. The Siskiyous are well known by botanists for their plant diversity, boasting some of the highest concentrations of different conifer species on the planet and hundreds of plants only found in this region. The Siskiyous are the largest sub-range of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, which are considered one of the three richest temperate coniferous forests in the world.

Old-growth forests in the Siskiyou Wilderness are an important component for the health of the Smith River National Recreation Area, which draws thousands of tourists each year to Del Norte County, Gillespie said.

“Its protected forests provide cool, clean water for recreation and fisheries,” Gillespie said.

The cold, clean water that starts in the Siskiyou Wilderness and feeds the Upper South Fork Smith River, Clear Creek and Blue Creek of the Klamath River system, and the East Fork Illinois River are vital for salmon species that rely on cold water for survival. Gillespie noted how when tens of thousands of salmon died during the 2002 fish kill from low, warm water conditions in the Lower Klamath River, the salmon that stayed below the cold flows coming out of Blue Creek mostly survived.

Because much of the higher elevations in the Siskiyou Wilderness were not covered in glaciers like most of North America during the last ice age, the area has been a refuge for plants that survived past periods of climate change, and it could prove a refuge again.

“With a warming climate over time, the value of intact old-growth forests and forests returning to old-growth characteristics will be even more important in retaining that cold water for our fisheries,” Gillespie said.

Events through September

• Saturday, Aug. 2 — South Kelsey Trail Day Hike: This 2–4-mile day hike is for new visitors to the wilderness who are beginner to moderate level hikers. Participants will enjoy beautiful views high above the South Fork Smith River from the historic Kelsey Trail, and if the group has the energy, they can see the Buck Creek Shelter along the banks of the South Fork.

The Kelsey Trail was created in the 1800s to connect the port in Crescent City with mining operations from the coast to Fort Jones, near Yreka, in order to exchange supplies and the minerals being extracted. Now the South Kelsey Trail provides a great opportunity to enjoy the Siskiyou Wilderness with a day hike or multi-day backpacking adventures. 

• Saturday, Aug. 9 — Preston Peak Convergence: At 7,310 feet, Preston Peak is the highest mountain in the wilderness, providing views of the Pacific Ocean, Mt. Ashland and Mt. Shasta. 

This two-night backpack and climb is only for the seasoned backpacker familiar with off-trail hiking on very rugged terrain. This is a Siskiyou Wilderness celebration climb of Preston Peak, the Siskiyous’ highest mountain at 7,310 feet. This is not a guided trip, but people will be encouraged to meet at the top on a given day, converging from three possible camps.

• Wednesday, Aug. 13 — Devil’s Punchbowl Day Hike: This strenuous day hike will show people the most popular destination in the Siskiyou Wilderness: a glacial cirque nestled between peaks more than 6,000 feet tall. Participants will also learn about proper wilderness ethics and see the resource damage that has caused rare trees to be cut down from heavy use and campfire building.

• Thursday to Sunday, Aug. 21–24 — Artist Retreat: For artists wanting to try their hand at capturing the beauty of the Siskiyou Wilderness, there will be an overnight trip into the wilderness for artists to paint the landscape. Youth artists will also be invited to learn from the pros. All art will be displayed at the September Siskiyou Wilderness Gala.

• Friday, Sept. 26 — Siskiyou Wilderness 30th Anniversary Gala: This event is planned as a culmination of the anniversary celebrations of the spectacular Siskiyou Wilderness. Local artists and wilderness photographers will be able to show their appreciation for this area at a Siskiyou Wilderness Art Show opening and gala, bringing together businesses, recreationists, artists, and lovers of the Siskiyou Wilderness.

All events are free, but participants are asked to sign up on the Siskiyou Wilderness 30th Anniversary Celebration Facebook page (facebook.com/SiskiyouWilderness) or by calling Gillespie at 954-1641.

Reach Adam Spencer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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