By: Mary "Fireweed" Kwart
Love trees? Love a scavenger hunt challenge? Covering 360 miles in Northern California and southern Oregon, through 6 wilderness areas, 1 national park and 1 state park, you can traverse little known wilderness in northern California and hike all the way to the Pacific ocean, ending at a lighthouse that has been continuously staffed since the 1850's, while encountering 32 species of conifers.
Shasta fir, Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, N. Calif
Scavenger hunting for the 32 conifers that earmark the Klamath-Siskiyou Region as a World Heritage site and one of the most diverse conifer tree species havens in the US adds a unique hiking challenge. Guided by Bigfoot Trail founder Michael Kauffmann's 'Conifers of the Pacific Slope' and the Bigfoot Trail Guide (downloadable online at www.bigfoottrail.org), you can plan your hike every night on the trail, plotting what new conifer you need to be looking for the next day. Some trees are plentiful: you can be walking through groves of stately Shasta fir, Sugar pine and Mountain hemlock. Others exist in secretive enclaves you have to seek out next to high elevation lakes--like the graceful Pacific silver fir near Diamond Lake in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Relic species at the southernmost tip of their range will surprise you, like when you whip out a monocular and spy remnant Alaska Yellow-cedars down a drainage just north of the Boundary Trail in far northern California's Red Buttes Wilderness, knowing that these small trees are either the pioneers or the remnant stragglers of their species, beating a hasty retreat from climate change or adapting to it.
Camp under Port Orford Cedars, Little Bald Hills, Redwood National Park, N. Calif
You can also encounter trees you may be familiar with from other hikes in California's Sierra Nevada mountains or in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, like Foxtail pine in the Trinity Alps Wilderness and Engelmann spruce in the Russian Wilderness. An Engelmann spruce giant lies off the trail, hidden in groves of more populous species. You are guided by hints from the Bigfoot Trail Guide to discover it.
Redwood, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, N. Calif
And, by the time you reach the Russian Wilderness, about 160 miles into your hike if you start in the Yolla Bolly Wilderness, you will be primed to marvel at the 'Miracle Mile', where 18 conifer species crowd together, the meeting place of trees common in many adjoining ecosystems. Yet, looking at a blended line of modest, un-showy conifer crowns silhouetted against a blue sky, you still have to check your tree guide to identify individual species. In the Red Buttes Wilderness, the Grand Champion Incense-cedar grows next to Tannen Lake.
Conifers along the "Miracle Mile" in the Russian Wilderness, N. Calif.
The crown jewel of the hike after traversing miles of dry forest is trekking through coastal Redwood groves with their associated ferns and rainy climate tree species, like Port Orford-cedar and Western hemlock. Identifying your last conifer (Shore pine) only a mile from the trail's end at Battery Point Lighthouse, which is perched on a spit of land jutting out into the Pacific Ocean west of Crescent City, California, you consult your tide table to make sure you can complete the last 300 feet of the trail that will be covered with ocean during high tide. You've finished the Bigfoot Trail!
Western Juniper, Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, N. Calif