Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kerby Peak

Proof we were there
Several weekends ago, Ray and I opted to do Kerby Peak as an impromptu Plan B hike when Plan A was snowed over. Plan B did not pan out that day either because of a road closure but we were very impressed with the massive rock wall that is Kerby Peak. Our legs trembled with both fear and anticipation at hiking up to the Kerby summit, a paltry 2,600 feet above us. So, when the aforementioned road opened, we found ourselves craning our necks once again to peer at the summit all those thousands of feet above us.

Hiking is fun, right?
The trail wasted no time heading uphill and we stopped at every other switchback panting with the exertion. Thank goodness there were switchbacks, it could have easily been a lot worse as the old trail simply charged straight up the forested slope that was nearly a vertical wall. Periodically, a break in the forest would show us that Kerby Peak was so far above and so far away. Better to head back into the forest and focus on getting to the next switchback.

I'm NOT TIRED, I tell you!
At least spring was happening on the forest floor and I stopped to take pictures of all the flowers because I like to take pictures and I was NOT TIRED.  Suffice to say, lots of pictures were taken on the climb up.

Siskiyou lewisia
At the halfway point, the trail spit us out onto a rocky cliff totally devoid of trees. Little rock gardens consisting of pink mats of phlox, stonecrop (not yet blooming), and cliff maids (also known as Siskiyou lewisia) colored the rocks nicely.  

And we are only halfway up!
But really, this was all about the view. The Illinois Valley lay spread out below us with green pastured farmland straddling the Deer Creek valley. Rising beyond the small town of Selma were the orange-brown mountains of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, all stripped clean of trees by the 2002 Biscuit Fire. And, unfortunately, Kerby was still high above and far away. Sigh.

Time to break out the sunscreen
We had been switchbacking back and forth on the north face of Kerby and eventually the trail surmounted a ridge and put us on the sunnier south slope. The vegetation changed, there were more ponderosa pines and cedars and a whole lot more sunshine. And blessedly, the trail switched from steep to merely uphill.

Brewer's weeping spruce, taken by a weeping hiker
Brewer's weeping spruce made an appearance also, the branches drooping sadly like our heads. The trees then thinned out together and the trail began switchbacking through an open slope of low-growing manzanita, just the right height for scratching hiker's shins. I made the comment to Ray that this must be the final push but a couple of miles later we were still hiking upwards. Just like child labor, it was a long and painful push.

One of many false summits

Summit cairn

Rocky towers loomed above the trail, contrasting nicely with the blue sky and we were ever hopeful that one of these towers would be the actual summit. But Kerby was a cruel and capricious taskmaster and was merely throwing false summits at us. It was almost anticlimactic when I strolled onto a flat spot with a summit cairn on it.
Magnificent view from the top

Climber's ritual of adding to the summit cairn

A magnificent panorama awaited us at the top and we soaked in the views while waiting for the feeling to return to our quavering legs dangling over the edge as we lunched. We could see the towns of Selma, O'Brien, Murphy, and Cave Junction as they sprawled in the valley dotted with farms. The rugged Kalmiopsis Wilderness dominated the northern view and we could see the snow cone of Mt. McLaughlin, and the gray mounds of Grayback Mountain and Mount Elijah. To the southwest were the snowy peaks of Preston Peak, El Capitan, The Lieutenants, and Bear Mountain, all located in California's Siskiyou Wilderness.

Going down is also "fun"
All good things must end, and we headed downhill towards the trailhead.  Going down was harder than going up with all the leg braking, but it was quicker: it took three hours to reach the summit but only an hour and a half to get down. Ray summed it up best when he said "That was the hardest 7 miles I have ever hiked!" Short, succinct, and entirely accurate.