Kerby Peak (Oregon) ~ The Old Way 19-May-2018

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon

The trail up Kerby Peak from the north (White Creek Road Trailhead) is steep and challenging but well graded and rewards your efforts with wonderful views of the Illinois Valley, the Siskiyou Crest, and beyond.  That trail apparently dates back to 1915 (or earlier) and was heavily used when a fire lookout sat atop the peak. The lookout was burned in 1966 and a new trail was constructed in 1978 but soon fell into disrepair. It did so mainly because, in those days, it was much easier to reach Kerby’s summit from the south via the Rabbit Lake Road (Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Road 39-6-9). Not until the BLM abandoned this road (in the 1990s) were they able revive both the northern trail and its trailhead on White Creek Road. But 39-6-9 is still there and I (The LovedOne demurred due to the possibly of bushwhacking through ticks) thought that (with a bike assist) it would be fun to reach Kerby’s summit the old way.

I got to Rabbit Lake Road (which doesn’t actually go to Rabbit Lake) from Williams, Oregon via the South Fork Deer Creek Road (BLM Road 38-7-13), a one-lane, twisty, but paved, mountain road.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Kerby Peak and Point 5112 from the old Rabbit Lake Road

The Rabbit Lake Road was not actively decommissioned (no berms, trenching, etc.) but is simply being allowed to fade away naturally.  But it was a well-built road in its day, so it’s still pretty much intact. Wash-outs have reduced its surface to a gravel field in some spots,

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
The road has been eroded down to lumpy gravel in a few spots

and there’s one place where a huge, heavily eroded culvert will take out a big chunk of the road when it finally fails completely (one or two good storms from now). But, at present, the old road is perfect for hiking or mountain biking. And judging from the broken side mirrors, smashed running lights, bits of mud flap, and other automotive effluvia strewn here and there along it, ATVs and motorcycles use it too. So I hiked and biked up the road,

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Higher up on the old road

to where it makes a sharp turn to the south at 4,680 feet, and stashed the bike there. I figured I’d have to bushwhack my way from here up to the ridge but, no, there was a two-track “trail” going straight up the slope right in front of me.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
A two-track path heads directly up toward the ridge

So, not wanting to look a gift trail in its tread, I went up it,

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Along the two-track path toward the ridge

to where it ended abruptly short of the ridge. Fine, time for cross-country travel. But after only about 100 feet or so of that, I came across an obvious real trail running along below the ridge. Not a well used tread, but an obvious one.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
An old trail  runs along below the ridge

So I followed it north. Very soon it emerged from the trees on to the open, rocky, manzanita-strewn slopes of Kerby’s south ridge.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
The old trail emerges from the trees

Although low-growing manazanita is pretty from a distance, it’s horrible to hike through (a close second to buckbrush), so I figured it was time to pay some dues on the way to the summit in the form of scratches and punctures.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
It looked like a painful sea of manzanita stood between me and the summit

But no, the old trail continued, wending its way through the rocks and around much of the brush, marked here and there by cairns.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
A cairn marks the old trail

So I continued up, through the rocks, following the obvious tread, and looking for cairns in those few spots where it wasn’t so obvious.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Clouds swirl over the old trail
Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
The summit from the old trail

As I got higher and closer to the summit, the manzanita seemed to thicken.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Except for the manzanita, almost to the top…

But here, it was obvious that someone had recently been maintaining parts of this trail because there was a clear tread hewn through the manzanita.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
A clear path through the dreaded manzanita

Looking back from just below the summit, my path up from the old road was fairly obvious.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Looking back along the ridge: (1) old road below, (2) two-track to the ridge, (3) old trail along the ridge

The 1954 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) map for this area shows a jeep trail and then a trail running from Williams, past Rabbit Lake, and over Kerby. But the actual alignment (and existence) of this trail, particularly around Rabbit Lake, is uncertain. More recently, Ken Shopken has been working to both find and restore this old trail. Some of the cairns and clear tread I was following today were likely the result of his efforts.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Oregon Caves USGS map (1954)

And then I was on the summit – in amazingly good time, unscratched, and tick-free! An overcast was starting to move in but I was able to get off a few snaps before the atmosphere fuzzed-up completely.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Mount McLoughlin (m) to the east
Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Little Grayback Peak (g), Preston Peak (p), and Point 5459 (5) to the south
Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
High clouds to the north
Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
Peaks in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to the west

After a little quality time on the warm and sunny summit, it was time to head back – which was easy thanks to the trail. Once back at the bike, I coasted a lot of the old road, only resorting to some peddling in the last two miles or so. Overall, an excellent adventure (13.2 miles round-trip; 2,600 feet of elevation gain) in great weather to recapture what it was like to climb Kerby the “easy way” back in the day! The Rabbit Lake Road will remain a great way to hike or bike to Kerby long after nature’s forces stop it from being a road.

Kerby Peak Illinois Valley Oregon
My path to Kerby – black track is the old road, red track is the two-track and old trail

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