I usually like to take a break between hikes but what with the latest decent weather window only two-days wide, I felt impelled to do back-to-back hikes. With The LovedOne up in Portland for the Rose City Yarn Crawl, I felt empowered (or sufficiently unsupervised) to have yet another go at a winter climb of Kerby Peak in the Siskiyou Mountains east of Selma, Oregon. We’d first done this peak in the low-snow winter of 2015 but had no luck in the “real” winter of 2016 – we’d turned back halfway when The LovedOne started post-holing to her waist. We hadn’t taken snowshoes on that hike and so I thought if I tried it this winter with snowshoes then all would be different. This is not known as a winter hike – snowshoes or not – so I’m not sure what I was thinking here. Later, I would come to embrace this as yet another hike encouraged by hubris and deflected by irony…
Access to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) trailhead at 2,900 feet is on paved and good gravel roads but it was a bit disconcerting to find snow on the road and at this low altitude trailhead.
From the trailhead, the wide, well-graded trail climbs steeply, with several switchbacks, some 1,500 feet in the first 1.5 miles up to a rocky ridge at 4,400 feet. Although steep, this is nonetheless a beautiful climb through old growth forest on a great trail. There was snow on the trail, but it wasn’t consistently deep enough to justify starting with snowshoes, so I carried them up this 1,500 feet. I felt my character (and the irony) building with every step up!
There is one small opening in the trees between the trailhead and 4,400 feet, and from there I could look west to heavily snowed Pearsoll Peak on the edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The Illinois Valley was filled with morning fog but I had gotten above that at the trailhead.
The snow got increasingly deep as I ascended but never much more than ankle deep and I felt my snowshoes were mocking me as they tugged at my packstraps.
The forested slopes of Point 4463 loomed ominously above me,
as I approached the point where the trail begins a somewhat steeper climb to the rocky ridge just west of Point 4463.
The trail had been evident up to this point but disappeared completely here under a large snow drift. With the trail gone, I did a short snow climb up snow that was steep but soft enough for good steps,
and was soon on the rocky ridge with its big views to the north and west. This is also where I got my first look to the south at heavily snow encrusted Kerby Peak past Point 5112.
Finally, it was time for snowshoes! In summer, the trail contours from here around the east side of Point 5112 so I started off in that direction. The trail was completely buried under snow, so this traverse became an exercise in sidehilling with boards strapped to my feet. And, as I was soon to discover, little of this considerable snow (we’re five months into our water year and already 113% of normal – with more on the way) had yet to consolidate. So, even with snowshoes, I would often sink in 18 to 24 inches.
An added bonus were patches of breakable crust which the snowshoes couldn’t float. But the best was a foot of soft snow over a few feet of springy manzanita bushes – the snowshoes would plunge through and get stuck in the twigs. Oh what fun were the extractions from these shrubby horrors! The irony of bringing snowshoes and having them be of little help peaked at this point. So, after putting up with this for a half-mile or so, I finally came to the realization that: (a) this was not fun, (b) four miles of this (round-trip) lay ahead if I floundered on to the summit, (c) I was still tired from yesterday, (d) I didn’t want to be up here for hours and hours, and (e) it was time for Plan B. So I bailed on Kerby itself and went to the top of the south ridge of Point 5112 where I got a great view of the precipitous west face of 5112, of Kerby Peak, and of the Illinois Valley beyond.
And then I headed back down, stopping only to admire the intricate lichen-hoary trunks of the old growth trees lining the trail.
Well, I underestimated the snow on Kerby and so couldn’t accomplish Plan A. Disappointing but it was a nice day to be out (barely ahead of the clouds scudding over for the next storm), the climb up was good exercise, and it got me looking forward to an early summer hike of this peak, with maybe another look at the rare Brewer spruce (Picea breweriana) that grows along the trail here. There’s also an option for coming at Kerby from the south – via Rabbit Lake – something new to look forward to come summer!