Monday, May 27, 2013

Marble Mountains Wilderness Memorial Day Backpacking

This weekend started off with a bang... literally.  Emily and I had packed for our weekend getaway to northern California on Thurs night and she picked me up from work early at 3pm so we could get on the road and hopefully beat the rush hour traffic out of Portland.  Not only did we not beat the traffic, but we also ended up getting rear-ended in the middle of it.  No one was injured but the girl who hit us was a little shook up and needed some guidance off the road and reassurance that it wasn’t the end of the world as it was her first accident.  I tried to call the police but after message systems just called 911 who told me an ambulance and fire were on the way just in case.  I picked up the parts of our bumper off the road and when the firemen came they helped me duct tape our bumper back in place so we could continue on.  They also really enjoyed petting Leo in the back of the Prius who didn’t seem at all phased by the accident and loved the attention.  

The accident set us back a little and we didn’t end up getting to the Tree of Life Campground just across the California border until about 10pm after we stopped for some food and groceries along the way.  The campsite was completely full and we ended up just parking in the day use area and camping in the back of the Prius with Leo who as usual felt a little crammed between us.  We had a few beers and relaxed with an audiobook I had before hitting the sleeping bags for the night.

In the morning we stopped at Daddy O’s Diner in Yreka for an amazing, and huge, breakfast before heading down Scott Creek road to the trailhead at Lover’s Camp.  The roads were well maintained thankfully as we had a bumper that was taped in place.  We started our hike around 11am and made it up to the Sky High Lakes area around 3:30pm in the afternoon.  Along the way we passed multiple streams and a pretty big waterfall, all of which Leo stopped at to stand in the cool water and take a cold drink.  He is terrific to hike with as he generally stays on the trail or just off of it along side us the entire way.  He often looks back to check on us as we hike and even prefers to stay between us to keep tabs on us.  

We only saw two other hikers the whole day who were leaving the area and I’m pretty sure Emily and stayed where they had been as we found a lean-to with piles of dry wood all around it for the campfire.  We walked around a bit to look for other spots but decided that if it rained it would be really nice to be under a dry shelter (mostly dry as there were a few holes in the roof).  We saw two other tents at the shore of one of the lakes but by the next morning they were gone leaving us an entire alpine lakes basin all to ourselves for 3 days!  

On our walk around the lakes to check out the area we came across some food that was left behind... not normal camp food, but huge blocks of cheese, eggs, sausage and friggin’ bacon wrapped fillets!  It looked like someone had just dumped out about $60 worth of food!  At least we figured any bears in the area would be more interested in that than our food!  

We spent the rest of the night relaxing with a nice fire that Leo wasn’t fond of listening to more of the “Hunt for Atlantis” audiobook I had on my phone.  Emily had packed in a couple small boxes of wine with about 4 glasses in each for us to enjoy that night with some chocolate covered pretzls after we ate our usual Mountain House meals.  We were able to briefly see some stars before the clouds rolled in over the mountains in the distance.

On Sunday we awoke to pouring rain, which didn’t let up until about 2pm in the afternoon.  We basically stayed in our warm sleeping bags with Leo also in our crammed tent squished between us but happy listening to the end of our audiobook and snacking on food we had brought in.  Almost perfectly, my iphone battery lasted until the end of the book and the rain seemed to have stopped at the same time.  I knew we had about 5 hours left of sunlight and I really wanted to see the Marble Mountain Rim area so we quickly packed up some stuff, put on our rain gear and took off with just one backpack and Leo following us.  

It quickly became apparent that the rain was done for the day so we undressed a bit down to our thermal underwear for the hike and continued on.  Along the way we spotted a young deer at a cliff overlook far below us that Leo thankfully didn’t notice.  By the time we had reached the junction with the PCT we had amazing views of all the snow covered peaks of the Klamath Mountains around us as well as spectacular views of the interesting Marble Mountain Rim that we were headed towards.  

Emily lead the way and we soon noticed that we had traveled a bit too far on the rim trail which led us to the backside of Marble Mountain.  This actually worked out ok as it afforded us some cool views of the backside (west face) of the mountain that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.  The cliffs above the valley below were huge and Emily even spotted a single Elk in the glacial bowl below which had a very young fawn in tow. I checked my gps and we found our way up to the top of Marble Mountain which gave us even better views.   

We had put booties on Leo back at the PCT junction and it proved to be a great choice because as we traveled out onto the face of Marble Mountain we really got an idea of how sharp the marble was.  If you ran your hand across it, it felt like sharp sandpaper.  It would have severely injured Leo’s paws had we not had the booties for him.  At first he looked ridiculous as he adjusted clumsily to having them on but by the time we got to where he really needed them it looked as if he didn’t even notice they were on as he kept up with us easily.

About half way across the face of the mountain I told Emily to wait with Leo while I ran ahead to see if there was anyway we could descend down from the marble formation to Marble Gap to make the hike a loop hike back to camp.  I ended up hustling up the far north peak of the mountain only to find that there was a huge cliff right before Marble Gap so that option was not going to pan out.  When I walked back down to the two of them Emily told me that Leo had been whining and was clearly worried about me walking off.  Cute.  

Before we let the area we relaxed for a little bit to get some photos and take in the scenery.  The face of the mountain looked like a “lava flow” of marble.  It was expansive and only had a few trees sticking out of the rock, much like the dark lava flows in Oregon but this one was a bright white landscape littered with caves.  Before the trip I had read there were over 16 miles of underground caves in the area where it was rumored sasquatch was living along with black bears.  Most of the caves had deep vertical entrances that were dangerous so despite Emily’s love for spelunking we stayed away from looking for any and simply returned back the way we had come.  

Leo had a slippery time making it over some of the snow fields on trail back to camp with his booties on but with some help from me catching him I think it was best that we left his booties on until we got back to camp just at sunset.  Emily filtered water and I got the fire going for a second night and we listened to the Great Gatsby on her phone while I figured out how to successfully write messages with our headlamps using a long exposure on our camera.  

Once again we awoke to pouring rain, but this time it would not stop for us.  We packed up all our gear after sleeping in a little bit on Monday morning and headed out of camp around 10:30am.  We were completely covered in Gore-Tex Pro Shell which kept us dry on the 3 hour hike out of the woods despite pouring rain the entire way.  Leo wasn’t as lucky and ended up getting soaked.  Near the parking lot we encountered a volunteer who was taking surveys on users of the Klamath Forest Lands and I got stuck answering questions to his very lengthy survey.  I felt bad for the guy though as I’m sure he didn’t see many people that day.  

Despite the trail being the most popular in the wilderness we were the only ones in the Sky High Lakes area and despite the weather we had a great time and even had a weather window to explore the namesake peak.  It was a pretty uneventful ride home with Leo passed out in the back of the car the whole way.  We got home around 8pm and I think Leo was glad to be back in a familiar place.  It was a great weekend in a geologically amazing area we hadn’t explored yet and we will definitely return to sometime!

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