Tough Day on Big CraggiesI started out from Medford on Thursday June 15, 2006 to try to climb Big Craggie in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. I tried to do this climb twice before but I was turned back by the brush and underestimating the required effort both times.
It in only a little over a 2 hour drive from my home in Medford to Brookings. This is a beautiful drive along the Wild and Scenic Smith River and then through the Redwoods before coming to the coast. I could make that drive every day.
In Brookings I turned up North Bank Road and followed the Chetco River inland. I was pleasantly surprised to find the gate was open at the Snow Camp Trailhead, so I drove on to the end of the little spur road where I car camped for the evening.
The next morning I got up early, turned on my GPS and headed off into the brush. Today was going to be the day for Big Craggies! I made good progress at about ¾ mile an hour on the north side of the ridge. I bypassed Green Craggie because I had been to that summit on my previous trip. As I broke through the brush I knew I had made a mistake in not climbing the brush free route to the summit of Green Craggie. I persevered and finally made my way up to the east ridge of Green Craggie. I was only a few hundred yards from the summit. I headed down the east ridge to a grassy area I could see below. This was easier than breaking brush. Big Craggies was hidden by clouds, but I knew it was lurking out there waiting to feel my boots on its slopes.
At the bottom of the ridge, I crossed the grassy area and went left back under the forest canopy. I continued down trying to stay out of the thickest pockets of brush and I made good time for the next half mile or so. Eventually the brush closed in and my progress slowed. My plan was to skirt hill 4150 on its north slope. I knew the saddle connecting it to Big Craggies was at about 3,600ft, so I tried to keep my elevation at that level and just traverse around to the saddle. Good plan, but it wasn’t based in reality. Traversing along this steep slope, covered in brush, was miserable. The brush was big and the footing treacherous. I found myself swinging from limbs of brush like Tarzan. Progress was measured in inches and it took forever. The further I went, the steeper the slope. I crossed a couple of rock bands and could finally see that getting to the saddle was not going to happen. Below me was the creek bed coming off the north side of the saddle and it looked to be relatively brush free. On the other side of the creek bed was a slope of Big Craggies that looked to be brush free too. I headed down about 200 ft to the creek bed and then up the slope of white rocks that put me on Big Craggies itself. Finally!
I knew which way to go now. UP! and up I went. The footing was good, I followed some game trails. Heading up there were some pretty clumps of flowers that I didn’t recognize. These must be the famous Kalmiopsis leachiana. They named the whole wilderness after this little plant because this is the only place in the world that it grows. These little plants are everywhere and they were in full bloom. They call this area the Big Craggies Botanical Area. Now I know what they are hiding here.
This entire area was burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire and all the burned skeletons of the brush are still solid with sharp ends on every branch. As I climbed the brush skeletons became thicker and I had to work my way through them. At the same time, I enjoyed the blooming Kamiopsis leachiana. I continued up, knowing that I was heading to the north end of the summit ridge. I was in solid cloud cover above the saddle and it was kind of a warm fog. I couldn’t see the summit, but I knew I was heading in the right direction.
Soon I reached the summit ridge and turned right towards the summit. The footing was easier up here without as much brush. It was rockier too and there were several little rock outcroppings that I had to move over or around. As I approached the summit I could see a few Brewer Spruce trees just east of the summit ridge. I’m glad a few of these survived the fire too. The Brewer Spruce only grows in a few areas of the Siskiyou Mountains and are a pretty droopy evergreen.
At last I could see the summit, I think. Visibility wasn’t good, but this looked like the highpoint. Sure enough there is the Craggie 2 Benchmark, and there is a flat summit rock where I could put my butt, eat lunch, and survey the surrounding fog. I took a few pictures and finished my lunch before heading down. I was tired. It took me 6.5 hours to get to the summit. Not bad for 3.5 miles.
Heading down I took a different route to circumvent some of difficult areas. At the bottom of Big Craggies, I stayed in the creek bed and gave hill 4150 a wide berth. I descended all the way to about 3,100 feet before turning west. This was a good choice, much faster than playing Tarzan on the upper slopes of 4150. Also, when I got to the east slope of Green Craggie I continued all the way up over its summit. It only took me about 5 hours to get back to the car from the summit. I was beat, dehydrated, scratched, and bruised, but I had been to the summit. Thank God for my GPS, otherwise I would still be wandering in the forest somewhere…..