ABCD Lakes, Marble Mountain Wilderness (CA): 8/29-8/31

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awildman
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ABCD Lakes, Marble Mountain Wilderness (CA): 8/29-8/31

Post by awildman » September 2nd, 2013, 8:42 pm

The Marble Mountain Wilderness is in the Klamath National Forest (CA), just north of the Trinity Alps and west of Mt. Shasta. Tucked in the northeastern corner of the wilderness is a high basin with a string of small alpine lakes called the ABCD Lakes (or ABC Lakes) that require some moderate cross-country hiking to reach them. My husband, another couple, and I did a leisurely 3-day, 2-night point-to-point backpack that started at the Shackleford TH and ended at the Lovers Camp TH to visit them. It's a 7-hour drive to either trailhead from Portland, but easy freeway and rural highway driving with little traffic, similar to the drive to Joseph.

Our backpacking partners were our septuagenarian friends who live in the Scott Valley, the valley below the Marbles. We've explored the Trinities and other parts of the Marbles with them before, but they had never been to the ABC Lakes and were keen to see them. This trip pushed their limits, mostly because they were not in backpacking shape and were carrying heavy packs, which can be an added challenge off-trail when your balance isn't as good as it used to be.

The trail out of Shackleford starts as an old road and then narrows to a lovely trail that parallels Shackleford Creek through mixed forest and meadows. There were some impressively large pondorosa pines and sugar pines along the trail.

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a mighty large pondo

At the start of a trail, you pass through a latched iron gate that keeps summer grazing cows corralled. Ultimately, the cows were the worst aspect of the trip. While their afternoon lowing and bells can be charming, there was cow poop everywhere - on trails, in meadows, in camps, in drainages, in the lakes (our filter clogged on the third day) - and their grazing is ruinous for the meadows, especially above 6,000'. As it turns out, cows can be excellent climbers.

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cow stare down

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a skittish herd of cows at 7,200'

After a couple of miles, we turned north to climb to the Back Meadows Trail and started the 2,000' climb to Calf Lake, where we planned to spend the night. As we climbed, the forest thinned and transitioned to manzanita, pondorosa pine, and kinnikinnick. We passed a log cabin (Reynold's Cabin) and through some lovely meadows ringed with cedars.

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meadow ringed with cedars

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skull entry feature at the Reynold's Cabin

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rock surfing at Calf Lake

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previous high water marks at Calf Lake

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cow skull near Calf Lake

After setting up camp, Bill, Oscar, and I went for a cross-country hike up to nearby Long High Lake and the basins above it. We startled a herd of cows in the basin and sent them running higher up the mountain. The lake basin, while pretty and hosting decent-sized trout, was trashed by the cows. It was really disheartening to see in the Wilderness, capital W.

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Long High Lake (Cliff Lake in the middle distance)

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I didn't set this up, I swear

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Marble Mountains and the Trinities (distant)

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flowers in the upper basin near Long High Lake

We scouted the route we planned to take over the ridge to the ABC Lakes after dinner. The route didn't gain much elevation (about 100'), but was about a mile of walking/scrambling over large, rough boulders. Our partners weren't comfortable with the terrain because of their balance with the packs and because it would be hard on their dog's paws, so they decided to take an alternate route 800' up a drainage to a saddle and then drop down to Aspen Lake directly. After some discussion, we decided to split up; we would take the low boulder route, they would take the high route.

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morning reflections on Calf Lake

We set off on the boulder route around 9AM and reached the top ABC Lake (Dogwood Lake) about 30 minutes later. The low route was very straightforward (if you can read a topo map) and was less a boulder hop than a boulder walk because the rocks were so large and stable. I used my hands only once, but we both have very good balance and are comfortable in this type of terrain. The dog's paws were slightly abraded at the end of the day; it would have been a problem if it was a longer route. We met another backpacker coming from the other direction and he gave us some beta on how to exit the ABC basin on the other side. He also said that he had seen a cinnamon bear that morning in the basin.

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starting out on the boulder route (Mt. Shasta in background, Calf Lake below)

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on the traverse

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the final traverse to Dogwood Lake (go above the rock spire)

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peace sign at Dogwood Lake made from marble chunks

The ABCD Lakes are all very close to one another, one pooling into another. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get from the top lake (Dogwood) to the bottom lake (Aspen), but the open terrain and sticky rock make it fun to wander around. There are a few one-tent campsites at Dogwood, Chinquapin, and Aspen but camping is really limited.

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Chinquapin Lake

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Buckhorn Lake

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marble vein that runs from Buckhorn Lake to Dogwood Lake

It took us about 50 minutes to get from Calf Lake to Aspen Lake, stopping along the way to take photos and check out some stuff. We found an excellent campsite between Buckhorn Lake and Aspen Lake, set up our tent, and then went to explore the immediate area while we waited for our friends to get there. They ended up reaching Aspen Lake, completely spent, about four hours later. The route they had chosen was a long, hard climb and a longer, harder decent (which is why we chose the other route).

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Our friends' route to the ABC Lakes (chute in background) - not recommended!

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the basin and reading with our feet dangling in the lake. There was very fresh bear scat in the basin, so we were extra cautious with our food and other smellies. That evening, we were treated to an insanely yellow-red-orange sunset that lasted an hour or more.

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glacial erratic at Aspen Lake

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Aspen Lake sunset

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Deep Lake, 800' below (the route out is along the ridge to the right)

We had a 9-mile hike out the next day to Lovers Camp, dropping to Deep Lake off-trail (cairns and a pretty decent use trail), and then on very good trail from Deep Lake to Little Elk Lake, Red Rock Canyon, and Canyon Creek. We were hoping to see some bear along the way, but we weren't stealthy enough.

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the route out of the ABC Lakes basin to Deep Lake

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cooling off in Red Rock Creek

Our friends were pretty cooked from the arduous journey into the basin and the (relatively) long hike out, but were happy to have checked the ABC's off their list. I'm glad that we got to experience it with them and see more of this intriguing and beautiful wilderness.
Last edited by awildman on September 3rd, 2013, 11:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Bosterson
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Re: ABCD Lakes, Marble Mountain Wilderness (CA): 8/29-8/31

Post by Bosterson » September 3rd, 2013, 9:45 am

Very cool, Allison. I've been to the Trinities, but not to Marble. The to-do list grows longer...
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awildman
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Re: ABCD Lakes, Marble Mountain Wilderness (CA): 8/29-8/31

Post by awildman » September 3rd, 2013, 10:31 am

Bosterson wrote:Very cool, Allison. I've been to the Trinities, but not to Marble. The to-do list grows longer...
As a scrambler / climber, you'd love the Marbles, Nat. Google "Marble Rim". There are hundreds of caves in the rim, as well as excellent ridge scrambles.
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Re: ABCD Lakes, Marble Mountain Wilderness (CA): 8/29-8/31

Post by jointhedance » September 3rd, 2013, 1:26 pm

thanks. great to see a report on this. i have day-hiked the Marble Mtns. once. Had one of my several bear-on-trail encounters there, and heard a rattlesnake a little distance off the trail as i passed. It is marble, i think, and the caves are so prevalent in marble because marble can be eroded by lower pH water. Interesting area for geology. too bad about the cows, that I don't remember, but things, regulations, change. Or, are there some parts of the Marbles that don't have cows?

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awildman
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Re: ABCD Lakes, Marble Mountain Wilderness (CA): 8/29-8/31

Post by awildman » September 4th, 2013, 8:04 pm

jointhedance wrote:thanks. great to see a report on this. i have day-hiked the Marble Mtns. once. Had one of my several bear-on-trail encounters there, and heard a rattlesnake a little distance off the trail as i passed. It is marble, i think, and the caves are so prevalent in marble because marble can be eroded by lower pH water. Interesting area for geology. too bad about the cows, that I don't remember, but things, regulations, change. Or, are there some parts of the Marbles that don't have cows?
In the handful of times I've hiked the area, I've seen lots and lots of bear sign, but no bears. Everyone you run in to has seen one, though. We're a little unlucky that way, but it probably has more to do with the dog.

The area is extremely interesting if you're into geology. I don't know a lick about rocks, but even I was kept entranced by all of the different colors and textures.

Cattle graze throughout most of the wilderness, unfortunately. Though it sounds like there are several suits in process that will restrict grazing in certain areas. They seemed extra cow-dense out of Shackleford. We ran into four separate "herds" from the TH to Long High Lake. Our friends told us a story about how they ran into 300 head of cattle on the trail about 1/2 mile from the Lovers Camp TH, and had to turn around because there was no getting through. :shock:
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Re: ABCD Lakes, Marble Mountain Wilderness (CA): 8/29-8/31

Post by justpeachy » September 5th, 2013, 5:53 pm

Wow, that looks like a beautiful area! I was totally unfamiliar with this hike but I think I'll have to add it to my list.

That is very unfortunate about the cow situation, though. I'm actually really surprised to hear that the cows are even allowed inside the wilderness boundary. It's ironic (and idiotic) that the Forest Service won't maintain lookouts and historic structures inside a wilderness area - which would have a pretty low impact overall - but they DO allow cattle grazing. That is totally crazy.

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Re: ABCD Lakes, Marble Mountain Wilderness (CA): 8/29-8/31

Post by drm » September 5th, 2013, 7:01 pm

The cows are enough for me to head somewhere else. As with other issues we've been talking about, re permiting and crowds et al, there really is no shortage of places to visit.

There is a long history of cattle grazing in wilderness areas and the people who have the permits to do so have been getting those permits for a long time in most cases, and their business is often completely dependent on that land. They are not manmade structures and so they do not violate the wilderness act any more than taking your dog up there. But usually they are lower altitude wildernesses that attract less recreationalists. Of course hundreds of cows trample the ground unlike one or two dogs, but the regs are supposed to prevent "over"-grazing.

In theory they are supposed to have auctions for those permits, but once an environmental group tried to outbid a rancher for a permit he had had for decades to take the land out of grazing, and you can imagine how that went over. I think that was in Colorado. I think that they did not accept the bid from the group, and this led to law suits and the like.

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