For weeks I had had been itching to explore an old logging road down the promontory that one can see from Four Seven Ridge – the narrow and slopping shoulder that squeezes itself down into the ravine on the southern flank of the North Fork of Cronin Creek. According to my older maps I saw that an old road had once twisted and turned down the descending terraces of the ridge until it got too steep and narrow and it slipped across a slope to connect with the upper reaches of the North Fork of Cronin Creek.We followed these tracks down into the the depth of this remote valley, warily following the logging roads as they went from solid downhill to steep, to nearly impossible to navigate without toppling over forwards – and tall the time the roads led ever downwards.
At lunch we stopped as one particularly steep portion where our forearms began to give way. The slope had been so consistently downhill that we were having trouble tightly grasping the handbrakes for so long. But as we descended the map clearly showed the old road looping down the steep slope and then doubling back and down into the v-shaped ravine bed. Down we rolled brakes squeaking and one leg stretched out at the side in case the bike slide away on the steep slope. A series of drops finally brought us to a level patch that led out to the northern edge of the shoulder, where the dwindling road now crested the corner and disappeared down the outside slope toward the creek below.
I was apprehensive as we neared the bend, because I could clearly see that the portion beyond the bend was rarely used and much overgrown. “Hold on”, I urged before Andrew and my dog Zoe lurched down the overgrown pathway. This was not looking good. To have the trail disintegrate this early in the descent did not bode well as we had miles to cover before we might emerge on Foss Road.
It became obvious to me that this was one of those wilderness decisions you have to make that will really test your mettle, and if you’re unlucky it’ll turn you into a statistic. I peered down into the valley floor trying the find that smooth dirt track that I hoped would whisk me out of there. But all I saw were tightly packed alders and huge stumps that dated back to an earlier harvest. In front of me the opposing hillsides loomed thickly forested and interspersed with small cliffs. Behind I knew lay an incredibly steep ascent that rose over 2,000 vertical feet in less than 5 miles. This would be a grueling and punishing climb if we had to push our bikes up the slope as well.
Before committing to any further descent we decided to exhaust all other options. We returned to a side road we had just passed. The map described this road as running all the way out to the farthest point of the ridge to where the loggers had pulled the trees up to the waiting trucks. There was no path or road that led beyond this promontory. Nearby, a short skidder road led down to an old hunters camp overlooking the massive clearcut. A thick alder jutted out from the embankment presumably to accommodate their multiple kills, but today it’s empty nooses simply signified the end of the road for us. This was a remote part of the Coastal Range and apparently a lot further from Foss Road than we had expected.
In Oregon, it is usually dangerous to descend into the river beds, due to the risk of hypothermia from all the wet and cold. And the rivers themselves could be astonishingly difficult to navigate even on foot. But this was a hot early September day, and the dark green jungle below me looked inviting – and besides there was that old road indicated on the map – so on we went rolling steeping down this overgrown trail and finally into a narrow animal trek that brought us to the river. Here we stopped amidst the green canopy of alders, big leaf maple and immense tangles of blackberries, thimble berries, salmon-berries, salal, nettles, and Devil’s Club. In the middle trickled a small stream of water amidst the giant tree trunks and huge log jams that blocked much of the valley floor. There was no sign of any road not in fact on in principle. The valley had reverted so completely to its native jumble of rocks and roots, that the very concept of “road” was foreign to this context. But we had cast our dice upon the brow of the hill and there was no turning back at this point.
From here on in we carried our bikes, suing them to shield ourselves from the vast swarms of nettles and the clinging tangle of back berries that blocked our progress through the tangled vine maple roots and up and over the towering log jambs. Down the stream bed we marched rolling the bicycles over the boulders, and over countless logs. Repeatedly we stopped as I scouted the best way to proceed with our cumbersome bikes slung over our backs. About a half mile further down the the stream bed, amid the wild clutter of branches and rocky embankments I first saw what was identifiable as the remnants of the original road. It proceeded onwards for 10 feet before being swallowed up by the landscape and its wild vegetation. We retreated to the stream bed to play limbo with the foliage that blocked our way.
I cannot recall how long we struggled through this rocky defile fighting the constant attack of the vicious vegetation. At first I winced and yelped as my bare legs repeatedly swished through the stinging nettles, but eventually everything below my thighs reverberated with a constant stinging throb, interspersed with bramble tears, and frequent lashing branches as I forced myself through the thickets that blocked our way. The “best parts” were when we had to cross the big muddy bogs that covered the abandoned trails, and the mud sucked at our shoes and filled our socks with soil.
In all we descended several miles in such impossible conditions, before the erstwhile road became more prominent. Back and forth we went trying to follow the elusive trail, but eventually we arrived at the back end of a piece of private property that extended completely across the lower part of Cronin Creek. I have never been so glad to see a “Posted” sign, because it meant that civilization was right around the corner. Fording the creek on e last time we scrambled up onto a vast lawn that stretched across a majestic valley graced by tall Douglas fir groves, several ponds and a gaily painted helicopter!
The route we had taken marched us right through the middle of this idyllic scene passing just below several homes tucked along the valley’s length – but no one was in evidence to whom we would have to explain our unlawful presence. Finally reaching the far end of the valley undetected we thought we were “home free”. But as we sailed through the open gate we triggered the most alarm din. While just minutes ago the forest had been peaceful we were soon surrounded by alarms, and several cars all inquiring why we felt entitled to breach the landowner’s privacy.
While not exactly endearing ourselves to the local residents, an abbreviated version of this tale of poor decision-making in the wilds soon brought our critics to understand that we were not bow hunters with illegal entry on their minds, but rather two “damned fools” that had gotten themselves trapped up the creek without a paddle or an exit strategy. Shaking his head at the idea of descending the North Fork of Cronin Creek with two bicycles in tow the landowner, just exclaimed, “that’s a first!” and from my perspective I agreed suggesting it might also be the last.
no doubt. truck was held up by a tripod of branches replete with the pole jutting out from the embankment to hang the venison stood empty – a mute testimonial that even these determined souls had reached this last drop=off would venture no further.
dared ro go much farther.
at the end of the road. Behind us lay 13 miles of steep gravel roads clawing their way out of the ravince. It was an unwelcome proposition, especially with the temperatures rising traversed back down to the creek-side near the top of the North Fork of Cronin Creek. I had no idea of how badly this portion of old logging road had been affected by the ensuing floods of ’96 and ’06.