Kerby Peak (Southwestern Oregon) 08-Jun-2020

Kerby Peak (5,545 feet) rises above the east side of the Illinois Valley, almost directly across from Pearsoll Peak in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Since the trail to the old lookout site on its summit was rebuilt in 1998, it’s become somewhat of a local favorite (even if Sullivan has relegated it to the back of his Southern Oregon guidebook 😦 ). It offers some good exercise, big views (if you time the weather right), and a variety of wildflowers (again, if you get the timing right). Today we hiked it mainly for the exercise (or just to show that we still had the legs), didn’t get the weather timed right, but were spot-on with the wildflowers.

The trail starts with a steep climb some 1,500 feet in 1.5 miles up Kerby’s rainforest-like north ridge, on a series of long and short switchbacks. It’s a steady, but relentless, climb that was relieved today by some wildflowers we didn’t expect to see in bloom this late. These included some freshly sprouted Snow Plants which were the most intensely fluorescent red color we’ve ever seen in the forest – we thought at first that they were some kind of survey marker.

Climbing the lower section of trail
Western Coral-Root
Snow Plant
The Snow Plant’s urn-shaped flowers
Fresh leaves

After this initial burst of climbing, the trail’s gradient eased as we made our way through a drier forest on the east side of Point 5112. On a clear day, there’s a nice view from here of Grayback Mountain and Big Sugarloaf Peak off to the southeast. Today all we could manage was a brief glimpse of the fresh snow (yes, snow in June!) on Grayback’s flanks.

Snowy Grayback peaks through the ever shifting clouds

The area around Kerby hosts small stands of the rare Brewer Spruce – one of the rarest conifers in North America. It’s characterized by its drooping or “weeping” foliage.

Brewer Spruce

The relatively gentle climb around Point 5112 ends with another short, stiff climb to the old lookout site on the summit. Thanks to the ever-shifting clouds, our views this day were pretty much restricted to Pearsoll Peak across the Illinois Valley in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

Swirling clouds from the summit
Pearsoll Peak (arrow) west across the Illinois Valley

Despite the clouds and a light breeze, it wasn’t particularly cold on the summit, so we had a snack and watched the clouds swirl. Although this hike was intended to put anxiety about the Big V in the background for a while, it was hard not to recall the old lookout’s connection with an earlier “epidemic” (we’re using that term very loosely here). According to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) brochure for this hike, the Oregon State Forestry Department acquired the decommissioned lookout from the Forest Service in 1966 and promptly burned it down. While lookout burning was not an uncommon practice back in the 1960s, the excuse here was that the lookout’s last tenant had a communicable disease (presumably Shingles – a varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox) and burning was necessary to prevent its spread. Applying the torch is certainly several steps above hand sanitizer and a face mask. o_O

Descending from the summit as the clouds swirl

The trail passes a rocky point (Point 4463) before starting its final plunge down Kerby’s north ridge to the trailhead. The rocks here host a garden of various stable-soil-loving plants, including various species of Stonecrop, along with the colorful Siskiyou Lewisia. By now, the sun had made an appearance, so we spent some time crawling (carefully) among the rocks admiring the blooms.

Sickle-Leaved Onion
Siskiyou Lewisia
Sierra Stonecrop
Broad-Leaved Stonecrop
Sugar Stick
Pacific Dogwood – the blossoms positively glow within the dark forest
The seemingly long trail back…

This short (6.4 miles round-trip) but steep (2,600 feet of gain in 3.2 miles) hike gave us all the exercise we’ll need for awhile. The views were dimmed but the wildflowers were amazing . We drove home through Williams on the paved forest road that follows the South Fork of Deer Creek. Along the creek we saw a dark colored, medium-sized animal lope across the road from the creek and scramble up the slope opposite. It was quick but we got close enough to see that it was a Pacific Marten, a member of the weasel family. We consider it a rare privilege to even catch a glimpse of one in the wild. 🙂


2 thoughts on “Kerby Peak (Southwestern Oregon) 08-Jun-2020

  1. What a wonderful hike! Lots of interesting flowers, rare trees, an unusual animal sighting, and a microbiology lesson to boot! It doesn’t get much better than this.

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