South Fork Mountain

Old Growth Trip

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When I have the opportunity, I love to explore old growth forests. These are plentiful in Six Rivers National Forest, as well as Shasta-Trinity and Mendocino National Forests. Here some pictures from a recent adventure. This forest is almost what would be called “California Mixed Conifer” but has some coastal nuances. Less pine and the presence of tanoak, alder and certain willow. These forests are also what we call “primary” forests, never been logged. Many thousands of acres of forest along South Fork Mountain transitioned from oak woodlands and savannah in the past several hundred years. Here is another example of transition – in an extreme sense – from oak to conifer forest.

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A Tree Falls

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Here is a relic from another time. This massive incense cedar must have fallen decades ago. This tree is in an ‘old growth’ forest and the canopy gap it created from its fall now provides light to the understory and a new group of trees has eagerly sprung up along the edge. The tree itself will continue to breakdown over the next hundred years, gradually releasing its stored carbon, some to the atmosphere, some back into the soil.

Hunting Season

As much as I like to think that certain forest roads are “mine”, I accept that other people come to the woods – other than forest workers – which tends to be during hunting season. Ive been on USFS Route 1 allot this year and during deer season it goes from seeing absolutely no one to seeing dozens of people a day. Private ranch patrols are out and all the little hunting camps are suddenly occupied with tents or trailers. Good Luck!

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One of dozens of hunters camps along South Fork Mountain.

I am not a hunter. I have no qualms over the idea however and am always grateful when I have the opportunity to eat deer. But for people who apparently ‘love the woods’, I will never understand all the trash that gets left behind. A minority of hunters Im sure are responsible for really ‘not givin a shit’ – but I think we need more boy/girl scouts. My mama always taught me to leave the woods cleaner than it was when you arrived. Pack it out boys!

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Come on guys, your giving everyone else a bad name. Dont trash your forest!

Blake Mountain, Humboldt County

SFM Map

I have promised myself for years to check out a few of the peaks that are right on Route 1 when I had the time. I finally did last December and stopped to check out Blake Mountain.

The view from 'lower' Blake. This spot is on a broad ridge with dense forest, and as such does not provide for much visibility.

The view from ‘lower’ Blake. This spot is on a broad ridge with dense forest and does not provide for much visibility.

Next I went over to Blake Spring Campground or at least what is left of it. An old jeep road runs down to the spring, but there is not much of a camp there. There is little flat ground, and it appears that camping on the ridge would be more comfortable. Perhaps the road used to go further past the spring to a more suitable spot, but if there is a road it is completely over grown past the spring.

Blake Spring. Yes its frozen!

Blake Spring

The view from the so-called Blake Spring Camp.

The view from the so-called Blake Spring Camp.

Just to the north of the camp is the high spot on Blake Mountain. A jeep trail traverses the ridge and the bench mark was easy to find.

Blake Mountain bench mark; 5,905 ft above sea level.

Blake Mountain bench mark; 5,905 ft above sea level.

Looking north east into Trinity County from Blake Mountain.

Looking north east into Trinity County from Blake Mountain.

From there you can check out the “South Fork” bench mark, a little further to the north. I would like to know how this spot got its name, as the ‘real’ South Fork Mountain peak is many miles to the south. Regardless, this is a neat spot, and perhaps the most interesting of the three bench marks on Blake.

Unlike the other two spots, the topogrophy really drops away from the top allowing for some spectacular views of the Middle Mad River.

Unlike the other two spots, the topogrophy really drops away from the top allowing for some spectacular views of the Middle Mad River.

How Old are Those Trees?

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The tight rings of this stump caught my eye. The two yellow pencils represent 100 years from the edge of the bark, and then another 78 rings to the red pencil. That is 278 years to where the heart wood column had rotted out. I took a few measurements to come up with a average of 18 rings per inch in the central part of the stump – and measured approximately 6 inches to the theoretical pith. That makes for a total age of 386. Wow!

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In the 1950s-1960s large tracts of privately held land where harvested on South Fork Mountain. The evidence is still present, in the form of stumps (obviously), old porcelain signs like this one, and cull logs left on landings.

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Fortunately, most of the USFS held stands in the upper elevations of South Fork Mountain have been left intact. Due to the short growing season in the sub-alpine areas (+4,000′ elevation), trees can take along time to mature. The true fir trees in this picture are well over 6 feet in diameter. Based on the age of the stumps on adjacent private lands, these trees are easily close to 400 years old. Food for thought next time you are on Route 1 and wondering about the old growth stands you are driving or hunting through.

More South Fork Mountain Diversity

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There are not many places in Humboldt County with this type of forest. I typically find chinquapin mixed in tanoak/Doug-fir associations and almost always as a minor component of the overall composition. These stands on South Fork have clusters of old, gnarly groves mixed with true fir and sugar pine.

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As small as the world can seem at times, you can still appreciate the vast expanse of forest in this part of CA. Most of the land in the picture is part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest which is a forest of about 1 million acres.

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Here is a stitched panorama. Its a great view of the South Fork Trinity River. Hyampom would be off to the right eventually, 5 or so miles up river.

Want to learn more about the unique golden chinquapin? Chrysolepis chrysophylla

Incense-cedar

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From Silvics of North America:
Incense-cedar (Libocedrus decurrens) is the only species from the small genus Libocedrus that is native to the United States. Increasingly, it is placed in a segregate genus Calocedrus. Incense-cedar grows with several conifer species on a variety of soils, generally on western slopes where summer conditions are dry. It is long-lived and grows slowly.