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Marble Mountains TR - Labor Day Weekend

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Marble Mountains TR - Labor Day Weekend

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Sep 20, 2016 10:06 am

Over an extended Labor Day weekend I did a trip in the Marble Mountain Wilderness with my son, Max, and his girlfriend, Julie. Despite some fairly sub-optimal circumstances, it was a good trip into a beautiful area I'd like to explore more sometime.

Max & I had done a trip in the Marbles five years ago, and we both wanted to come back sometime. On top of that, the logistics made sense: he and Julie live in Portland and I'm in San Francisco, and Yreka (a little over an hour from the trailhead) is just about the halfway point. So I planned a trip out of the same trailhead (Lover's Camp) but heading south instead of west, into Red Rock Valley and the lakes around at the head of the Shackleford drainage. Julie had never backpacked before, so I figured we would play it by ear--take a more or less strenuous route depending on how she was doing.

I set out at the cracko Thursday morning. Our designated meeting point was the Black Bear Diner in Yreka. The closer I got to Yreka, the smokier it got...not a good sign. At the Raley's there a clerk told me the biggest fire was near Seiad Valley--just north of the Marble Mountain area. I got to the Black Bear early, and several tables were taken up by fire crew. At this point I was thinking we might have to bail, and I was trying to come up with likely smoke-free alternatives. The kids were running late, and it was after 1:00 before they got there.

After talking over the smoke situation with the kids, we decided to check in at the Fort Jones ranger station and see what they had to report about smoke conditions. So after lunch we convoyed over to Fort Jones, where they told us it varied depending on the wind direction. We decided, what the heck, we'd give it a try. And in fact as the road climbed up to the trailhead we did leave most of the smoke behind.

We had originally planned to hike in a couple miles Thursday afternoon, but we were already getting a later start than planned. Then there was another complication on top of that. Heading up the forest road I realized, looking at my gas gauge, that I had forgotten to buy gas in Yreka; I thought I had plenty to get me to the trailhead and back to Fort Jones, but I wasn't absolutely sure. As I was worrying about that, just a couple miles shy of the trailhead I suddenly realized I didn't see Max & Julie's car in the rearview. I pulled over and waited a minute...no car. Well, hell. The last turnoff I remembered seeing was Box Lake, and I knew they had been with me then. So I walked down the road a ways, and maybe a little more than a quarter mile back there they were, stopped. They had, in fact, run out of gas.

So I drove them to the Chevron station in Fort Jones, worrying the whole way about whether my car was going to run out of gas, where they bought a gas can and a couple gallons. We all piled back in my car and headed back to their car, then to the trailhead.

By this time it was 5:30 pm, and after some idle talk about hiking in a couple miles we decided to camp at the trailhead. I think in retrospect this was a good thing, because it gave us a lot more time to get our gear organized and packed; had we left in a hurry, trying to outrace the dusk, I know we'd have left important stuff behind.

We started hiking next morning a little after 8 am. It was hazy, but still not nearly as smoky as it had been in the Scott Valley. (Still, the haze and smoke made for crappy photographic conditions. The ones I'm posting here are the best I could salvage.) We made decent time as we dropped to Long Canyon Creek and started switchbacking up the other side, then turned into Red Rock Valley. About two miles in we reached the first of several big meadows, and (hazy) views started to open up.

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The meadows were beautiful, even with the haze and the drying remnants of summer wildflowers. Without the smoke, and at wildflower peak, they must be spectacular.

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Red Rock Valley was a long uphill slog, and we were all glad to finally take a nice long break at a rock outcrop just above the Sky High Valley trail intersection (not marked, by the way). Refreshed, we attacked the last steep climb to the ridgeline (and the PCT) and made it a lot sooner than I expected.

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On the PCT we had spectacular views--rugged crags to the southeast, and endless forested drainages to the southwest.

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The PCT leg of our trail seemed to go on forever, but at least it was mostly fairly level. We stopped for lunch around the halfway point, soaking in the spectacular views. Then back on the trail and eventually, finally, the saddle where the Summit Lake trail branched off.

From here the trail takes a long level traverse to the north, then switchbacks down to lake level. We finally reached the lake around 2 pm, and after spending some time scouting for a decent campsite ended up setting up right where we had dropped our packs. There really aren't any good legal campsites at Summit Lake, unfortunately, but we made do with what there was.

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We had the lake to ourselves that night, and I suspect this was the silver lining in the smoke cloud: lots of people who might have packed into the Marbles were deterred by the smoke (as we nearly were ourselves).

Next day was a layover, so after a leisurely morning we hit the trail without packs around 10 am, heading to Campbell Lake. The smoke haze was unfortunately a little heavier this morning, though still not terrible. On the way we saw the first people we had seen since leaving the trailhead--a couple with a dog, headed for Summit Lake. At Campbell Lake we spent a long lunch break on the peninsula; this would be a great place to camp midweek, when the crowds are down.

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Next morning was even a little smokier. The only upside of this was deep red glow on the cliffs above the lake.

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We had planned to backtrack to the PCT and head over to Sky High Lakes that day. Once again, though, plans changed: one of the kids had woken up with a health issue that needed to be checked out as soon as possible. So instead we hiked back down Red Rock Valley and out to the trailhead.

So, a less than ideal trip in several ways. Still a good trip in other ways, and Julie enjoyed it--so we'll likely do more of these.



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TehipiteTom
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Re: Marble Mountains TR - Labor Day Weekend

Postby rlown » Tue Sep 20, 2016 2:56 pm

Interesting hair choice for Max; looks nothing like you though. Julie looks a bit trepidatious in the pic. Also a bad place to run out of gas..

Nice TR! thanks for sharing your report on time with the family.
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Re: Marble Mountains TR - Labor Day Weekend

Postby giantbrookie » Tue Sep 20, 2016 8:17 pm

Neat change of pace and a nice way to meet your son and his girlfriend "halfway" for a nice backpacking trip. Your report got me scrambling back into the archives to figure out when I was last up in that area. My last trip to the Marble Mtns was in 1993 and the only time I visited Campbell L. was in July 1982. This was on a trip that came in from Kidder Creek went over the top to Maneaten and then dropped to Cliff and Campbell before heading back to Kidder (note: this was before the PCT was constructed through this area).

Interesting coincidence that you had a bit of a problem with your vehicles (gas) on your trip, because my trip in 1982 was memorable for a vehicle problem of my own as well as a spectacular equipment failure hiking out. On a high-speed off trail scree/talus sprint descending on the last day the frame of my pack shattered. I had to tie my pack together with some cord. Even with this mishap, my buddy and I were hiking (mostly running) supremely fast and were pleased to be ahead of schedule--we were daydreaming about eating at what was our favorite spot in that area at the time-Jolly Kone in Etna. This jubilation was cut short when my car wouldn't start. The battery was dead. Automatic trans (only one I've ever owned) so couldn't push start it . Me and my buddy briefly considered "borrowing" someone's battery heading into town (in those days many cars didn't have the interior hood lock), charging mine, and coming back and returning the "borrowed" battery, but decided against this strategy. Good thing we didn't, because we later learned the trailhead was reportedly staked out by sheriff's deputies owing to a recent series of thefts at this lot. After debating whether to do the long hike down the dirt road to get assistance some backpackers arrived at the trailhead after completing their hike. They didn't have jumper cables though (and neither did I). They drove us into Fort Jones, though, where we looked around for someone to drive up and give us a jump. Things weren't working out too well and we ended up eating at this pizza joint because we were hungry. A young fellow working there heard of our plight and volunteered to help us in return for a case of beer. So everything worked out in the end.

Did you folks fish any of those lakes? My July 1982 notes say I didn't catch anything in a brief session at Campbell but saw quite a few rises. Cliff above gave up a bunch of small brookies. Maneaten, the objective was 95% frozen and had a surprising number of very dedicated off trail fishing folks crowded around the minimal stretch of open water. A few decent sized rainbows were extracted but the best part was to have so many experienced fisherfolk in one place telling all these fishing stories--I still remember the better ones. One guy was really hard core. There was open water in the middle of the rather sketchy ice. He got his raft, inflated it and shimmied across the ice like a seal to the open water patch where he launched his raft and had a field day (many large rainbows). I think this was the same guy who also climbed this class 3+ couloir to get over to Wooley Lake to catch a bunch of big rainbows there, but that may have been someone else.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Marble Mountains TR - Labor Day Weekend

Postby TehipiteTom » Thu Sep 22, 2016 9:34 am

Thanks, rlown!

Great story, giantbookie. Heck of a place to get stranded.

I actually had a few moments of sheer panic the morning we hiked in. I went get some stuff out of my car, hit the unlock button, and nothing. Tried repeatedly...nothing. And I'm thinking, well, I guess I could get by without the stuff I need from the car, but if I can't get into my car at the end of the trip I am well and truly screwed. And I'm thinking through the logistics of getting a ride from Max to someplace where I can call AAA....

...and then I look at the key and happen to notice that it's, um, a key. And there's a keyhole on the driver's side door.

Every car before this one had manual keys, but in the 9 years since we bought the Fit I hadn't used the key that way once. And I was actually (briefly) panicked because I had forgotten it even worked that way.
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Re: Marble Mountains TR - Labor Day Weekend

Postby rlown » Thu Sep 22, 2016 9:42 am

we all have those little moments of "oh no". I once was in Mound Minnesota and went to town to get gas for the Suburban. It was late December and -10. I go to unlock the fuel cap and it's solid ice. For a brief moment I thought of holding a bic lighter to it. :o It was a 3 second scary thought that haunts me still. I instead hit it with WD-40 and the ice melted.
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Re: Marble Mountains TR - Labor Day Weekend

Postby windknot » Tue Sep 27, 2016 12:23 am

Thanks for the report! This looks like a beautiful area, smoke notwithstanding, and despite the mishaps it sounds like it was a successful trip.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: Marble Mountains TR - Labor Day Weekend

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Sep 27, 2016 4:13 pm

windknot wrote:Thanks for the report! This looks like a beautiful area, smoke notwithstanding, and despite the mishaps it sounds like it was a successful trip.

Thanks! It really is a beautiful area, and we did have a good trip overall.
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