Siskiyou Mountain Club has brought the 14-mile trail route to Madstone Site back to life after decades of no maintenance. The historic cabin site is located on the mainstem Chetco River about 50 river-miles above Brookings, deep in the 180,000-acre Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.
"This happens to be one of the most remote trails in the Pacific Northwest," says the club's Executive Director Gabriel Howe.
He points to a big blank spot at the bottom-left corner of an Oregon map. "There's a lot of nothing out there." The project took Howe's crews four years to complete.
In 2002 the Biscuit Fire burned through the area, and "the trail all the way to Madstone hadn't been maintained since at least then," Howe said. "It had been left to disappear and I guess everyone was just OK with that. We weren't."
Corps member Tiffani Ayres says the crew got off to a rough start, their first day involving a long hike carrying packs weighed down by eight days of food and provisions.
"We got about a mile from camp," says Ayres. "The sun went down as we looked for the trail. And then it just got dark."
She went on to describe the final off-trail descent to Madstone.
"At some point we lost the trail and we started bushwhacking down,” she said. “I kept falling. Everyone kept falling."
The crew camped near the old cabin site, and the pristine water quality stands out to Ayres.
"You could see to the very bottom and open your eyes under water,” she said. “The water was amazing."
The work wasn't so amazing.
"We were cutting through brush that was like 30 feet tall," Ayres said.
She describes scooting on her hands and knees to reach the base of trunks that had grown into 20-year-old brush fields consuming the trail. She'd cut the base of those trunks and keep scooting along.
"We started calling it the jungle," says Ayres's supervisor, Owen Brodie. "It's very claustrophobic in there."
Alfred and Charlie Fattig built a cabin at Madstone Site during their foray as WWI draft dodgers. The full account was published by their nephew, Paull Fattig, in his 2019 book Madstone. Brodie recalls what it was like to read Madstone at Madstone.
"There was this moment where we were reading about their smoker that sat on two rock piles." says Brodie. "We looked over and saw the same two rock piles. They were still there. Reading the book became like following a treasure map."
Ayres says it feels good to become part of the history.
"We were all really proud when we got to the top."
Get directions, maps, and read more about visiting Madstone Site at siskiyoumountainclub.org/madstone. The project was funded by a grant from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest recommended by Josephine County's Resource Advisory Committee.