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For the Forest Hiker

December 1, 2016

Author and outdoors enthusiast James Thayer joins us today to introduce us to the many hiking opportunities available in Oregon's northern Coast Range. Thayer runs a popular blog called Forest Hiker, that served as a starting point for his new book, Hiking from Portland to the Coast. This book includes extensive details about 30 different trails, including access information and historical anecdotes about the places hikers will pass along the way. In today's blog post, Thayer shares the sense of excitement and adventure that he found at the end of Belding Road.

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Hiking from Portland to the Coast is a unique collection of 30 never previously published trails in the North Coast Range of Oregon. These are the result of seven years of hiking these mountains and extensive local research. Alongside each hike you'll find a linked story, making this more than a guided trails book. It is also a unique anthology of stories, events, and folklore about all the people and places along the way.

"What else is there to know about any of these places?" my friend asked, gazing out across the Salmonberry Gorge. It was a blank slate to him. For me the view captured a myriad of perspectives and stories which, taken altogether, give these places their own unique resonance. The result of this "mash up" is the blending of the sundry oral histories, newspaper clippings, railroad histories, logging chronicles, personal papers and community newsletters. What emerged was a two-sided effort: 30 short stories to accompany the 30 trails.

The Chaos at the End of Belding Road

I've been attempting to get to the bottom of the Belding Road.

The Belding Road is an old logging road that descends way down to the Salmonberry River. No one I know (and that includes forestry types) have been down this abandoned road that crosses back and forth for 11 miles as it sinks nearly 2,500 feet in elevation down into the Salmonberry River Canyon.

Some people get a kick out of climbing up things. In my world the rivers run along the bottom of deep canyons and I'm descending from above. Because the only roads out there are logging roads, they all lead to nowhere in particular. In fact, they're everywhere-- but only along the ridge tops.

Sometimes, to get out into the really remote rivers, you have to drive a labyrinthine route that unspools itself along the mountain spines. Ridgeline roads built to carry heavy loads of timber snake out along the heights pushing ever outwards until the very last ridge has been traversed. The Belding Road is one of these sinuous and convoluted trails cut into the steepest slopes along the Salmonberry Canyon. It is both primally beautiful and terrifyingly brutal at the same time.

This close to the Coast the landscapes become fiercer: precipitous ravines with towering timbers growing off the cliffs. One of my favorite eyries is a place called Windy Gap. From there, on a good day, you can see the ships sailing up the coast. But when the gales came in 1955 this was no place for mortals. That winter it blew Lee Carrigan's cabin right off the mountain.

When the big expected gale comes roaring ashore tomorrow, these slopes will be the first landmass they encounter. The barometer is dropping, there is an edge in the air, the elk are hunkering down, and the doug firs are clenching their roots. There is a promise of violence in the air that Coleridge would appreciate.

In 2006, a gargantuan logjam blocked the Salmonberry River at Tunnel Creek. Caught in the tightly twisting canyon, the river breached its banks and poured through the train tunnel. A roaring brown whirlpool swept back up the valley pulling the steep slopes down upon itself.

I bet that by tomorrow when the first storms are due to hit, the river will churn once again. This once placid stream will be transformed as the heavens open up, the storm roars up the canyon and the syrupy brown water is whipped and churned with great chunks of wood and rock. As the storm intensifies the Salmonberry will froth and thrust forth gouts of muddy water. Tossing rocks and limbs as much as 50 feet above the river, it will scour the cliffs of vegetation.

Now can you understand why I want to descend the Belding Road to see the chaos at the end of the road?

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