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Riding the Chetco Gorge Trail

Mountain bikers Scotty Hedenskog, left, and Dylan Hiller make quick time on a clear portion of the Chetco Gorge Trail. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
 

With the exception of walking into the water to swim, sun and relax at the terminus of the trail, fording the Chetco River at the old low water bridge had to be the easiest part of the 1.7 mile mountain bike trek along the Chetco Gorge Trail.

After crossing the river, a group of friends and I had to swim through a tangle of blackberry vines that obscured the signpost marking the beginning of the trail.

The first time I was introduced to the Chetco Gorge Trail, Eagle Creek and the beauty that is the wild surrounding the Chetco River was on my honeymoon.

 

At the time – almost 16 years ago – the site was used, but uninhabited;  the trail was in good condition with creek crossings providing the only difficult part of the hike.

Over the next five years we made multiple trips into the area and – while we occasionally ran into people on the trail, or on the river – the only people issue we ever faced was after the Forest Service built a tent platform, an outhouse, installed cots and began renting the campsite as an overnight site.

Fast forward 15 years. The creek and river crossings are the same, and the overall shape of the trail is similar, but all similarity came to a screeching halt as soon as we approached the beginning of the trail.

According to Virginia Gibbons, the Forest Service public affairs officer for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest office, the money for trail maintenance has all but disappeared over the last decade. 

“It’s a challenge for us to maintain,” Gibbons said. “There are more trails out there than we’re given money to maintain.”

Hoping to mountain bike the trail, I had invited four friends to join me on what I though would be a quick out-and-back trip with time for lunch and swimming.

We made the trip, but the more than 20 trees blocking the trail, and the multiple rock slides, made the journey anything but quick.

Our party was jovial throughout the trip, cracking jokes as we dragged, lifted, pushed, carried and finally pedalled our bikes along the trail.

Starting at the base of the hill found us walking our bikes up the switchbacks until we could mount up and ride, but once on top of the ridge the ride was fairly easy.

Multiple small creek crossings provided a challenge for those of our group brave enough to attempt riding across them, and the trail claimed just two riders on a narrow downhill stretch that took a sharp left.

Luckily for my old bones, the last person to dive into the ferns called out a warning in time for my brakes to take control, and me to avoid the danger.

The water on the Chetco was cold enough to be inviting but not so cold it drove us out in seconds, and while the jumping rocks weren’t as high as, let’s say, Elephant Rock, they were fun.

Frogs, newts, a jumping trout or two, and a plethora of birds rounded out the flora and fauna we observed.

There was evidence of bear and deer in the form of scat, but we didn’t see any creatures larger than ourselves.

Clearing the trail is obviously going to be something for a group of volunteers but, according to Gibbons, those volunteers will need to work closely with the Forest Service to get that wheel spinning.

I can’t speak for my friends, but in my book the swimming hole where Eagle Creek dumps into the Chetco River was well worth the investment in time, sweat and blood.

If you go: Follow North Bank Chetco River Road past Chetco River Inn before taking a left on NF 1846 to Low Water Bridge. Ford the river and look for signposts at the edge of the hill directly in line with the direction the remainder of the bridge points. The trail is well defined until it terminates at Eagle Creek.

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