Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kayaking for conservation—A Wilderness Journey

On June 15, 2011, four intrepid river runners went looking for a wild river in the heart of one of the wildest wilderness areas in the West. They went knowing a Forest Service gate would add five miles (all up hill) to what was going to be an arduous trek anyway.

It's all uphill from the Wild and Scenic Illinois River to Chetco Pass the watershed divide of the two wild rivers.  Google Earth Image.
On the banks of the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River, they strapped their supplies, camera gear and boats on their backs and went looking for the Chetco, a little known, seldom run river.

Honoring the Forest Service gate designed to protect Port Orford cedar—a keystone riparian conifer—Zach Collier, Billy Miller, J.R. Weir and Andy Maser strapped their boats and gear on their backs for what in the best of times is a grueling 9 miles. Zach Collier photo.
It essentially took them two days to reach their put-in at the confluence of Slide Creek and the Chetco.With no maintenance the Wilderness trails are disappearing and it was easy to make a wrong turn.

From Chetco Pass it's all down hill to the put-in. However, taking a wrong turn in the maze of old mineral exploration tracks, the four had to rope their boats down a steep slope to Slide Creek. They made camp and after 8 hours of dragging and shoving their boats down the steep Slide Creek the next day they reached the Wild Chetco in time to hit the river and make some time before dark.  The darker red is the "wrong turn/Slide Creek route.  The lighter red is the old mining track that serves as a wilderness trail when its not overgrown with brush and covered with deadfall.
Learning of their proposed Chetco River trip we made a request for photographs and video that we could share with the public, documenting the beauty and wild values of this little known American Treasure. We're working on a video slide show of the images Zach Collier brought back and generously shared.  Look for it soon.  Until then you can read his trip report on the Northwest Rafting Company's website and see a sample of Zach's photographs. See also our media page for these videos and a lot more.

Photos like this are not only beautiful, they document the exceptional clarity and quality of the waters of the Chetco as it flows through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.  Zach Collier Photo.
The importance of the images lies not only in their beauty but also that strictly under their own muscle power they intimately documented the Chetco as it flows through a deep, steep boulder strewn canyon with no maintained trails, in a Wilderness tough to travel at the best of times but tougher yet in its recovery from the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

The photos also document the Chetco's legendary water quality and great beauty.  The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act mandates that the outstandingly remarkable values of a designated river be protected and enhanced.  Along with Oregon's Clean Water Act rule, which prohibits activities that increase turbidity in the waters of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, compliance with these laws could make the mining proposed for the Chetco in the Wilderness uneconomical. If the mining is not economical, the three existing claims in the Wilderness are not valid and therefore no prior Mining Law rights exist.

Read more about Oregon's Clean Water Act rule here and as it applies to the proposed mining in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness here.

Andy Maser, is a filmmaker as well as a kayaker and took video footage of the Chetco adventure. He's provided us with a short teaser of the Wild Chetco.  J. R. Weir is lead kayak instructor at the Sundance Kayak School. Billy Miller is a guide for Echo River Trips. Zach Collier is a partner in the Northwest Rafting Company.