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Marble Mountains TR

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Marble Mountains TR

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Aug 23, 2011 10:37 am

Max and I had been talking about doing a trip together this summer (the first since 2001), and we had narrowed it down to the 3rd week of August. The original plan was someplace in the Sierra (I was thinking about a 4-day trip out of Lodgepole, to the Tablelands), but Max lives up in Portland, so as time constraints started to impinge we realized we could get more time together if we met up around Weed or Yreka and headed for one of the far northern CA wilderness areas (Trinity or Marble Mountain). This was a good call, especially since Max couldn't get a ride through Craigslist and wound up having to take Greyhound (9 hours from PDX to Weed).

I had never been to the Marbles until about 2 weeks before, when I had done a dayhike there during a weeklong trip around the Klamath Ranges. I decided we would use my dayhike as a jumping-off point for a longer trip into the area.

I picked him up Monday night, and we stayed overnight in Weed. Next morning we headed to Lovers Camp trailhead. The road is (freshly) paved all the way to Lovers Camp, and it took us about 1 1/2 hours--not bad, and in total driving time from SF it was comparable to some Sierra trailheads.

The first 3 - 4 miles of trail are through forest, and are made even more tedious by a bunch of small ups and downs before you really start gaining elevation. Highlight of this section is a nice 50' or so waterfall (the trail crosses just upstream; you can get a good view of it from a few feet off the trail).

Eventually you come out into the lower end of Marble Valley, and as you traverse over to Sky High Valley the views start to open up. When you emerge into lower Sky High Valley itself, it's a whole lot of wide open vistas.

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We headed up to Lower Sky High Lake, dropped our packs to scout a site, and found a prime campsite in a grove of trees northwest of (and well away from) the lake.

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We spent some of the afternoon exploring the area--up to Frying Pan and Upper Sky High Lakes, and over to a cabin we had seen below Lower Sky High Lake. I don't know how old this is or who built it, but the earliest date we saw scratched into the wood was 1946.

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And the rest of the afternoon we spent reading and playing cribbage.

Next morning we took our time and got out of camp around 8:30. The trail heads up past Frying Pan Lake...

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...and then, in a short steep climb, up to the ridge south of Sky High Valley (great views of Marble Mountain), where we turned onto the PCT for a ways.

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We continued on or near the ridgeline for the next couple of miles (the PCT drops down to Marble Valley after a half mile or so). This section of trail has fantastic views and amazing diversity and profusion of wildflowers.

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But the highlight is when the trail hits the very edge of the Marble Rim, a semicircle of massive marble cliffs on the north side of the ridgeline.

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After winding around another spur ridge, we branched off toward Rainy Lake. The trail drops steeply from the ridge, and in places is overgrown with head-high vegetation. (Rainy Valley is noticeably lusher than Marble or Sky High just the other side of the ridge, so I suspect it earns its name.)

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We got the best campsite at Rainy Lake, on a hill above the south shore. Rainy Lake is less open than the previous lakes--much more hemmed in by thick forest. It's very different from most Sierra lakes (even the ones that are surrounded by forest), and may be more typical of the Cascades or Olympics (I'm guessing). Cross-country travel in this terrain would be extremely difficult--as far as I'm concerned, effectively impossible.
Last edited by TehipiteTom on Tue Aug 23, 2011 12:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: Marble Mountains TR

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Aug 23, 2011 10:39 am

Next morning we got an early start (7:30) for the big 2400' climb to Marble Gap. It's not a straight climb, of course; first, the trail descends (more head-high vegetation) 800' to the bottom of Rainy Valley.

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Yes, that's the trail.

After crossing the creek, the trail meanders upstream on the other side, gradually gaining elevation. When the climb begins in earnest, you know it: it's seriously steep (not Tehipite Valley Trail steep, but darned close). The upside: if you can keep up a steady slog you gain elevation fast, and before too long you reach the saddle between Rainy and Elk Valleys.

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From there, it's a climbing traverse with spectacular views the whole way up to Marble Gap.

Marble Gap is a grassy saddle between two monolithic marble outcrops, with breathtaking views in every direction. Definitely the visual highlight of the trip.

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The descent to Marble Valley is steep and loose, and it wouldn't be a pleasant climb. Pleanty of flowers along the way, though.

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Eventually the trail leveled out in Marble Valley.

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On the recommendation of a couple we ran into at Marble Cabin, we found a great campsite with well-constructed stone benches and a great view across the valley. I'm pretty well used to granite countertops in the wilderness, but this was the first campsite I've seen that had marble countertops. Classy!

Just south of camp was an extensive marble outcrop that we had some fun exploring. I later learned that in this area is an entrance to Bigfoot Cave, one of the deepest caves in North America.

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Now, at this point we had made a slight change of plan. Max had to catch a 12:40 bus in Weed the next day, and although we had left a pretty good margin he was still a little anxious about making it in time. He was also starting to think more about the welfare of his fellow passengers, and really wanted to get a shower before boarding.

What we ended up doing was actually a pretty good compromise plan: using the marble camp as a base of operations, we explored the area some and hung out at camp in the afternoon, ate an early-ish dinner, and hiked out to the trailhead in the early evening. As Max said, all we really missed that way was a night of uncomfortable sleep.

Although the trip was somewhat truncated by circumstances, it was a great trip into a new area for me--an area that turns out to be spectacular and full of possibilities for longer trips. Max & I both want to go back.
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Re: Marble Mountains TR

Postby rlown » Tue Aug 23, 2011 11:55 am

Nice report. thanks, Tom! See any wildlife when you were out?
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Re: Marble Mountains TR

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Aug 23, 2011 12:01 pm

rlown wrote:Nice report. thanks, Tom! See any wildlife when you were out?

Deer, and some orange-bellied newts in the lake. Otherwise not really.
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Re: Marble Mountains TR

Postby pez_leon » Tue Aug 23, 2011 3:47 pm

Great pics. I was there in late June and I can tell you (and show you) that things looked quite different.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Looking down into Marble Valley from Marble Pass
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Lower Sky High Valley:
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Upper Sky High:
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What a difference a couple weeks can make.

James
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Re: Marble Mountains TR

Postby mokelumnekid » Tue Aug 23, 2011 7:45 pm

Wow- thanks to both of you for the two trip reports. California is blessed with so many *primo* backpacking destinations, the Marble region gets less attention than it might elsewhere. Now if I could only live to be (a healthy) 200...I might get it all in.
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Re: Marble Mountains TR

Postby TehipiteTom » Wed Aug 24, 2011 9:13 am

Thanks, y'all.

James, great pics--that is a heck of a lot of snow!

California is blessed with so many *primo* backpacking destinations, the Marble region gets less attention than it might elsewhere.

Ain't that the truth! I've lived in California 35 years and I'm only now getting to the Marble Mountains (and first backpacked the Trinities 2 years ago), because there are so many places to go in the Sierra I couldn't begin to exhaust them in several lifetimes.
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