Foreman Phil's Favorite Place
Copyright © 2005 by Richard S. Platz
All Rights Reserved

Pleasant Lake Backpack
Marble Mountain Wilderness
August 1-6, 2004

A well-published secret

A barbershop chair is a hell of a place to chart the course of a man's destiny. Yet as I sat draped for shearing in Delilah's Hair Styling in Arcata, a middle-aged fellow by the name of Phil stopped by to chat. Stationed in Happy Camp, Phil turned out to be the Trail Crew Foreman for the Marble Mountain Wilderness. This year, he lamented, no funding was available for his crew. He and I fell into swapping backpacking tales.

Phil announced that Pleasant Lake was his very favorite place in the entire Marble Mountain Wilderness.

"Where's that?" I wanted to know, trying not to bob my head beneath the snicking scissors.

"Up Bridge Creek," Phil replied.

"Bridge Creek? Where's that?"

"Well . . . let's see . . . if you go in through Haypress . . . and cut over to Cedar Flat--"

"Oh, sure, Cedar Flat. We camped there once on the way back from One Mile Lake. We dayhiked up to Medicine Mountain."

"That's Bridge Creek. Up the creek a ways is a spur trail up and over the ridge to Pleasant Lake. The little lake hangs on the eastern slope of the granite looking right out at Black Marble and Marble Mountains."

"Your favorite place, huh?"

"Yup. Only one problem."

"What's that?"

"Lake sits in a steep granite bowl. There's only one good campsite."

The seed, having been sown, took time to germinate. Barbara and I had talked of returning to Cedar Flat and maybe going back to Medicine Mountain, which lies in the heart of the Marble Mountain Wilderness. According to Karuk legend, this was the center of the Earth. In 1992, a couple of years after becoming aware of the degenerative arthritis in my right hip, we had hiked to the top of Medicine Mountain, where we had each beseeched the Karuk gods to cure our respective ills. Now, twelve years later (and after a total hip replacement in 2000) I prance about in the wilderness as if my hip had never been diseased. Perhaps my prayers were answered. Perhaps not. But even if the Native American gods had nothing to do with it, returning to update our supplications certainly couldn't do any harm.

So the idea of extending our journey beyond Cedar Flat to the favorite lake of the Trail Crew Foreman resonated with our latent aspirations. Pleasant Lake grew even more attractive as we read the Forest Service wilderness map, rating its use as moderate, in contrast to the heavy use of the nearby lakes along the Sandy Ridge Trail. It occurred to me that no one else knew about Pleasant Lake. And certainly no one else had overheard Foreman Phil at Delilah's barbershop. Tentatively we suggested Pleasant Lake to Mr. Popper as an alternate destination for our group backpack in July, but to no avail.

So on Sunday afternoon, August 1, 2004, we set out for Pleasant Lake. After an early dinner in Willow Creek, we motored north on Highway 96 through Weichepec and Orleans, to Somes Bar at the confluence of the Klamath and Salmon Rivers. From there we drove up Forest Road 13N03, past Olfield Saddle with its sweeping view of the western Marble Mountain highlands, to Camp Three, the site of an abandoned logging camp in the tall forest. We had once van-camped there before dayhiking into Haypress Meadow and considered again stopping for the night, but because the next day's hike would be long, we pressed on to the trailhead to get an early morning start. The road climbed another thousand feet in the next five miles.

At 4540 feet and 18 miles from Somes Bar, the Haypress Meadow trailhead sits at the site of old logging Camp Four, the only patch of level ground around. The parking area has recently been improved with a graveled surface and a luxurious new pit toilet. Vehicles enter from the south, and hikers and equestrians exit on a narrow trail at the north end. We parked the van in the shade of a fir grove by the entrance and moved our gear off the bed for the night. Only three other vehicles were parked in the lot. We had the place all to ourselves.

After dinner we explored the locale. The main road continued eastward a tenth of a mile to a wide turnaround for horse trailers and a relatively secluded campsite. We might have camped there for the night, had we known about it. Beyond that, the mountain dropped off into a canyon, where we could hear Haypress Creek cascading 200 feet below. On the far side of the canyon would be Let'er Buck trailhead, though neither of us had ever been there. A different series of logging roads puzzles its way through the steep terrain to that trailhead. The Haypress trail is carved into the west slope high above Haypress Creek, the Let'er Buck into the east. The two trails climb to meet two miles north at Let'er Buck Meadow, southeast of Haypress Meadow.

We climbed the main road back past the parking area turnoff. Wide shoulders for horse trailers to pull off had been provided with hitching posts. A rusty pipe fed a trickle of water into a stock trough. The place was obviously popular among folks of a horsey bent. The prior week's fires in the Willow Creek area had left a haze over the landscape. Cooler temperatures and north winds expected for the coming week should clear the air.

All was well as darkness fell. We climbed into the van and were soon sound asleep. We dreamed of forgotten things, perhaps of sugars plums, perhaps of a contented locomotive chuffing placidly down a pine-scented track in the night.

Suddenly a blinding white locomotive headlight pierced my dreams. I awoke disoriented. "The hell was that?"

Car doors slammed. Someone laughed.

"What time is it?" Barbara muttered.

I looked at my watch. "Uh . . . midnight. D'ya'think they're pirates?"

All we had to protect ourselves were a mushroom knife and a corroding can of pepper spay. If we could locate them. Not much defense against the cutlass and flintlock.

High beams from a second vehicle swept our van in a full-body search as it roared past and crunched to a halt beside its companion at the north end of the parking lot. Laughter and loud talking. A flashlight beam swept our privacy. We propped ourselves up and gazed through our mosquito netting at the group milling about in the headlights of two vehicles. They didn't look like pirates.

"No," Barbara whispered. "Young people."

They spread out tarps and tents and sleeping bags and generally celebrated the night, oblivious to the their elders' desire for a sound night's sleep. After maybe twenty minutes, which seemed to take an hour, the commotion subsided and all lights were quenched. We fell back asleep.

Five weeks after the summer solstice, the sun still rose early Monday morning. I wanted to slam doors and bang pots together by way of instruction, but Barbara said no. Instead, we spoke in low tones and clicked the doors softly shut as we heated water, then drank tea and mocha in our chairs at the private end of the van. By the time we had eaten breakfast and were sorting through our possessions, the young people were up. I walked over to palaver. Four clean-cut young men in their late teens or early twenties were headed for Onemile Lake to fish. They seemed polite and pleasant, not at all the depraved, ecstasy-gobbling ravers I had imagined.

We were on the trail at 8 a.m., just ahead of the four young fishermen.The trail immediately encountered a single steep switchback in a rocky outcropping and climbed 200 feet in the first quarter mile, then contoured high above Haypress Creek, climbing gently through the Douglas fir forest. The young men quickly overtook and breezed past us with an exchange of pleasantries. We plodded on, dropping into several wet ravines carpeted with lush green ferns, thimbleberry, and vanilla leaf, then climbing steeply on the other side. A forest fire had burned through at the crest, and an army of tall snags marched over the ridge and descended to the grassy bank of the Haypress Creek crossing at 4840 feet. The forest had begun to regenerate with new saplings. The standing deadwood was full of birds and other wildlife, and flowers were abundant along the creek's green swale.

At the fine campsite on the far side, the young fishermen had taken off their packs and were resting. I unclasped the belt of my pack for safety and, using both walking sticks, tight-roped over the precarious rock crossing, then returned to carry Barbara's pack across. Barbara, unencumbered, used two sticks to follow. We chatted with the young men and asked one to take our photograph. As if on cue, one after another each of them pulled out his own camera and asked us to take their pictures.

We pressed on ahead past Haypress Meadow to where the Haypress, Stanshaw, and Let'er Buck trails converge. On two previous occasions we had camped there in a broad flat parceled by fallen deadwood. At the main campsite we greeted a man in the company of a young boy, a younger girl, and two dogs. Slight, bespectacled, perhaps in his early forties, he bore a strong resemblance to our postman in Blue Lake. They had spent the night there and were just packing up to move on.

"Where y'headed?" I asked conversationally.

"Pleasant Lake," he informed us. "Hope t'camp there tonight."

A cold fist squeezed my heart. Phil, the Trail Crew Foreman, had told me there was only one good campsite at Pleasant Lake, and now this imposter postman and his unruly dogs and spawn were bound to beat us there.

"Ever been there before?" I wanted to know.

"Nope. Never."

"How'd you learn about it?"

"A fellow I know told me about it," the postman responded. "Said it was his favorite place. He heads the trail crew up here."

Somberly we pressed on as my hopes evaporated of having the one good campsite at Pleasant Lake. Who else had Phil blabbed his secret to? The postman and his retinue quickly overtook and passed us. We would encounter them twice more on the trail as we took turns resting and hiking past each other. But there was never any doubt who would get to Pleasant Lake first. Cedar Flat was about as far as Barbara and I could hike in a single day.

The trail began its climb up the forested moraine toward the Sandy Ridge 1400 feet above, but we would be turning off at the Half Moon trail before it got really steep. The map showed the junction to be less than two miles ahead. The trail rose and fell over a series of ridges, ever climbing, arcing north and south in great, unnecessary slaloms around a series of meadows we had trouble identifying. After an hour, tired and dismayed, we stopped to get our bearings. We had already climbed 400 feet above Haypress Meadow. I had not felt it necessary to enter into the GPS the coordinates of the Half Moon trail junction. How could we miss it? But had we missed it? Or had we taken a wrong turn? Retracing our steps was not palatable, so we resolved to press on for another fifteen minutes and see where this path took us.

Our resolve had just about run out when the trail crossed a substantial little stream, then rose to a trail junction. The stream was Half Moon Creek, and our trail followed it down to Half Moon Meadow on the right. Someone was resting at a horse camp sheltered in the trees beside the creek on the edge of the meadow. Barbara thought it was the postman. We made a note that this might make a fine campsite on the way out, leaving a four mile stretch back to the van. As the trail began to climb away from the creek, we stopped for lunch on a sunny hillside.

The trail now had to climb out of the Half Moon Creek basin and drop into the Bridge Creek valley. Slowly we lumbered up the slope in the afternoon heat. Only halfway to our destination, we were already tired. Our packs dragged us down. Suddenly a pair of small dogs were nipping at our heels, so for the last time we stood aside and watched the postman and his crew pass. They hiked with discouraging vigor, even the young girl, whose pack appeared as heavy as she was. The trail continued to climb annoyingly up the slope in the tall fir forest.

More than six miles from the trailhead, we crested a ridge and finally began the long contour downward. The valley far below would harbor Bridge Creek. Barbara moved ahead as I slowed to guard my left knee. One painful step after another, the seventh and eighth miles were the hardest. It was not any particular pain--although the cutting shoulder straps and aching lower back would have been good candidates--but the overall burning of fatigue, the longing to be finished, the certainty that old folks were not meant to bear forty- and fifty-pound packs so long. Barbara immersed herself in the landscape, wild and rugged, with its tall canopy of trees and lush green understory. Her feet, though weary, sang the descending trail. I concentrated on my breathing and snippets from the Prajnaparamita, expecting nothing, so my heart would not break at the sight of endless trail stretching on beyond each fruitless bend.

Hot and tired and craving freedom from our burdens, we finally arrived at the valley floor and a junction with the Bridge Creek trail. We did not stop, perhaps could not, but ascended the creekside path northward. It was already late afternoon, and our blood sugar levels were lower than a snake's hips. Everything ached. As in a dream, we at last crossed a pretty little streamlet and noticed how stunning the giant Douglas firs and incense cedars had become. We had arrived at Cedar Flat. According to the map, Cedar Flat was the historical site of a cabin. Nothing remained. Just below the junction with the Medicine Mountain trail, a small, level clearing, perhaps the cabin site, was bisected by a massive rotting cedar log. This was the same snag, now fallen, that had teetered menacingly over our tent the last time we had camped here years ago.

We dropped our packs and for a long time merely sat, exhausted, waiting to recover that sweet fruitland of calm, which had been inundated by prolonged misery. A rational civility was slow to return. Simple questions, like on which side of the log should we plant the tent, were slippery, elusive, irritating. In frustration, I changed my sweat-soaked shirt and wandered through the brush trying to orient myself. Eight miles was a long way to go.

Our thirst drove us down the Medicine Mountain trail a quarter mile to the crossing of Bridge Creek, flat, wide, rushing, and crowded by alder, blooming dogwood, thimbleberry, and ferns. We filled our water bottles and gazed up at the mountain's imposing dome. The pretty streamlet back up the trail was probably a closer and easier water source, but this way we got to explore and reminisce about our prior visit and the bear we had seen crashing through this brushy creek bottom.

The campsite had been improved since our last visit. Sitting logs had been stacked around a large stone fire ring, and benches cut into the rotting pulp of the fallen snag. The afternoon was warm, with very few bugs. We set up camp, built a fire, and ate dinner. Our rope for hanging food was missing, probably left at Bullard's Basin on our last hike. Bears visited Cedar Flat, so we utilized the clothesline to hang the food. We saw a Pileated Woodpecker, Red Breasted Nuthatches, and an Olive Sided Flycatcher. In the evening we pulled on our down jackets and sat before the fire, chilled from exhaustion as much as from the cool breeze blowing down the canyon. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but no rain fell. Cow bells clanked unseen across the creek towards Medicine Mountain. The inferno of the long hike had burned away our worldly worries, even my obsession with the gentle postman. We would find a place to camp at Pleasant Lake. Or not. What would be, would be. No blame. Of this are adventures made. We crawled into the tent early and slept deeply.

On Tuesday morning we took our time breaking camp. The previous day's hike had been long and undulating. Today's would be short and steep. Cedar Flat sat at an altitude of 4600 feet, barely fifty feet higher than where our van was parked at the trailhead. To reach Pleasant Lake, we would have to climb 1300 feet and drop 400 feet in little more than three miles. But we had all day to do it.

The trail ascended the Bridge Creek bottom through lush ferns, vanilla plant, thimbleberry, and grass, across muddy seeps chocked with alder brush, and over dry terraces of granitic moraine. To the west the thick forest rose toward the unseen Sandy Ridge high above, and to the east, across the alder-choked creek, loomed the stark granite rim over which we would have to scramble, running north from Medicine Mountain to the Salmon Mountains crest. The valley narrowed as we climbed, crowding us toward the creek. The brush thickened.

Suddenly something crashed nearby to our left. Something big.

"Look!" Barbara whispered, stopping.

A huge stag was regarding us beneath an impressive, multi-forked rack of antlers. This proud beast was no deer. We took a step back. Apparently satisfied that we understood whose valley this was, the elk slowly turned its broad back and crunched away into the brush. When we resumed hiking, more crashing sounded from other locations on our left. Through a clearing on the right we spotted more than a dozen Roosevelt elk on the slope beyond the creek. We had hiked smack into the middle of a whole herd. Big yellow signs posted along the highway at Prairie Creek Park caution visitors never to approach these dangerous animals. Here on Bridge Creek it was not entirely clear who had approached whom, although in a territorial battle, that point might not carry much weight. Proceeding cautiously, hoping not to divide a mother from her calf, we followed the trail a quarter mile through the brush to a crossing of Bridge Creek at 5000 feet.

At the crossing, we paused for a break beside the babbling stream. Beyond this point Bridge Creek circles west to climb to its source at Meteor Lake, but no trail goes that way. Our trail left the creek and climbed northeast up a canyon to the junction with the Pleasant Lake trail 400 feet higher. Rising steeply through increasingly drier forest, this section seemed longer than the half mile shown on the map. By the time we reached the trail junction, we were seriously tired, so we took off our packs for another break. The morning was almost gone.

The Pleasant Lake trail cut back southeast onto sparsely forested moraine beneath the rugged granitic ridgeline we would have to cross. At first it was surprisingly well-constructed with an even, moderately steep grade that would easily accommodate horses. We soon arrived at a small, shallow pond full of granite islands, chiseled from the rim overlooking the Bridge Creek valley. The granite crest across the valley to the west would be the Sandy Ridge, and through the binoculars we thought we saw segments of trail.

Beyond the little pond, the trail deteriorated. We began to climb an impossibly steep track of loose granite rocks and sand zig-zagging through the manzanita. It became difficult to tell the trail from the cascade of dry washes. Half-buried granite fragments were jagged and loose like steps in a badly constructed staircase. Our feet slipped on sand-covered rock. In places the route became a vertical scramble, and we had to use our hands to steady and pull ourselves up, hoping not to dislodge a loose boulder. Our walking sticks dangled uselessly from our wrists, clattering against the rock. The trail led up through a jagged, narrow cleft in the white rimrock. Coming back down would be a problem, but for another day.

At last we reached the ridgetop, and a new world opened out before us (see opening photo). Four hundred feet below Pleasant Lake was set like a sapphire in white granite. Beyond, the world dropped precipitously into the vast, wild, and trailless upper forests of Wooley Creek. On the horizon stood Marble Mountain, notched by the Marble Gap. Black Marble Mountain crowned its northern flank.

Many trails seemed to descend the open, rocky moraine toward the lake. Perhaps it made no difference, but we tried to follow the most prominent. Though steep, it was not as tough as the scramble up from the Bridge Creek side. We contoured south to a gentler slope that took us through a broad swale to the lake's thickly forested southwest shore. The main track led directly to a fine campsite in the trees and brush where two tents had been pitched. Dogs began barking and yapping as we approached. The postman shushed them and greeted us like old friends.

We asked about campsites. He told us that he and the kids had not circled the whole lake, but they hadn't seen any. As far as he could tell, there was no easy way through the heavy brush around to the south. But two backpackers had arrived at dusk the previous night and circled north around the lake. They were camped somewhere over on the granite lip.

We climbed up over the massive slabs of a granite bulge that dropped abruptly into the water and found a place to rest and have lunch overlooking the lake. It was not clear how, or even if, the trail continued through the boulder field. After some experimentation, Barbara found a trail higher up the slope. It dropped down through a swale to the trees on the north shore. After lunch, we strapped on our packs to see where it led.

We passed through a steep, rocky woodland, which ended at a large grassy crescent of meadow spangled with a profusion of wildflowers. Yellows and whites were splashed with blue gentian. There, beneath a grove of red firs, we found the traces of an old campsite. Above was a rocky outcrop with an overgrown fire ring. Long-neglected, the place felt raw and wild, but it might do in a pinch. Leaning our backpacks against the red firs, we explored further.

A footpath continued through the knee-high meadow grass, then climbed onto a series of rocky, glacier-polished ledges overhanging the valley below. In a gravel flat on one ledge sat two tents with no one around. The views of Marble and Black Marble Mountains from that site were spectacular, and I wanted to take a small site just below on another ledge. But it would have been too close to the other campsite. And there was no shade.

Barbara argued for the protected campsite in the meadow beneath the red firs. I leaned toward the exposed granite shelf with the view. In the end, after agonizing compulsively over the choice, I relented. The level area in the duff beneath the trees was just too small for our tent. Besides, the trunks and brush hid the lake. But by matting down the grass at the lake's edge, we would have shelter and a view of the lake, if not the Marble Mountain. As we stomped down the tall grass, we discovered channels and deep holes pocking the meadow, and wondered what made them. We weren't anxious to have a marmot tunnel up through the bottom of our tent as we slept. We finally found sufficient solid ground for the footprint of our tent and pitched it there. As it would turn out, Barbara's counsel proved wise when the winds came up the next day. We stuffed rocks into the largest holes to keep from breaking an ankle in the night.

Tent erected, we eased into the lake for a swim. Ah, baptism! Nothing places a pilgrim there in the wilderness like a refreshing swim. The water was unexpectedly "warm." No heart-stopping shock and life scramble for the beach. We paddled out and swam in the deep for a while. Naked in the tall grass beside the water we sunned ourselves, clean and purified, until a dark-bottomed cloud sailed across the sky. Dark clouds threatened, but no rain fell. Even in the grass, bugs were few.

A wildly bearded man and teenage boy approached on the trail which ran through our campsite. They were father and son, the owners of the tents we had seen on the exposed ledge, and were returning from a failed attempt to cross-country along the ridge crest to Medicine Mountain.

"Just too rugged up there," he explained.

We chatted a bit. The man seemed to know something about wildlife and was of the opinion that the large holes and trenches in the meadow were made by mice, pointing out little piles of dried grass lying in a rut he believed they had harvested. We never saw any mice. But we believed him.

I asked if he had ever been here before.

"Nope. First time."

"How'd you hear about the place then?"

"Trail Crew Foreman recommended it to me. Said Pleasant Lake was his favorite lake in the Marbles."

Incredible. Pleasant Lake had become a well-published secret.

After dinner I hiked out on the granite ledge and took pictures of the sun's last light kissing the western face of Marble and Black Marble Mountain. Tired from two days of exertion, Barbara stayed at camp and watched for birds. We sat by the fire until the bats came out, then went to sleep.

Wednesday morning we had nowhere to go, so we lay in our hammocks with mocha and tea and enjoyed the birds in the meadow and trees: brown creeper, junco, robin, chickadee, red breasted nuthatch, red breasted sapsucker, flicker, Wilson's warbler, phoebe, and olive sided flycatcher. After a leisurely breakfast we hiked out on the slick rock ledges overlooking the forested valley and tried to identify the distant peaks. To the northeast the cleft whiteness of Marble Mountain was easy. Due east rose the raw granite massif of the Wooley Creek rim, beyond which lay Campbell, Cliff, and Summit Lakes, and the Pacific Crest Trail running north above Sky High Lakes and through the Marble Valley to Paradise Lake. We had hiked that trail and visited each of them.

We turned back to our own lake and explored along the east side to a secluded bay at the southeast corner, from which the unnamed outlet stream flowed down into Pleasant Valley to join the Cuddihy Fork of Wooley Creek. The stream coursed through the bottom of a rocky, brushy gorge below us. One small, but beautiful campsite sat on the other side of the stream, but we couldn't figure out how to get to it. The whiskered man and his son had made it across to begin their climb up the spine in their failed attempt to follow the crest to Medicine Mountain, but we could find no clear path through the thick manzanita choking the gully floor. Our hearts weren't into a brushy scramble, so we gave up. The wind picked up, and we were glad we were not camped out on the exposed granite lip.

The postman and his kids were fishing from the big rocks along the south side of the lake. That meant they had discovered the secret passage through the brush from their campsite to the south shore. After lunch we hiked around to their camp and asked about it. The postman pointed out a short scramble up the steep bank on the far side of the rocky inlet wash, which led to a trail. We followed the trail and explored the rocky south shore. It was rough going up and over huge, jagged boulders, which had tumbled from the crest, but we found two nice campsites there. It would have been tough to reach them carrying backpacks at the end of the long climb into the lake.

The weather was warm and sunny, so we returned to our camp and went for another long, refreshing swim. Toward evening, a cold fog drifted in and the temperature dropped to 48 degrees by 7:30 p.m. We pulled on our down jackets, built a crackling fire, and sat in its glow until an early darkness fell. That night we heard a great horned owl nearby.

Thursday we awoke to sunny and clear skies, but cold. The thermometer read 35 degrees. The inside of our rainfly was dripping wet. Whisps of fog danced on the lake. We broke camp around 10 a.m. and began our climb up and out of the Pleasant Lake cirque, not certain where we were bound. Rested and in no hurry, we found the climb through the manzanita and granite rocks and scree comfortable. At the crest, we tarried to rediscover the Bridge Creek vista and bid farewell to Wooley Creek.

In my usual obsessive-compulsive manner, I insisted on going over my Rules for a Safe Descent. Barbara endured the lecture good-naturedly, then led the way gracefully down the cliff to the sparkling green pond without event. There the trail improved, and as we hiked, we discussed our next destination. Should we return down Bridge Creek, or loop north and west to return via the Sandy Ridge trail? The weather radio forecast "a slight chance of rain" after midnight, which had to factor in. Today's hike would be pleasant, but we would not make it out in one day, so where would be best to spend a night in the rain?

Soon we arrived at the Bridge Creek trail junction. A left turn would lead us back down to Cedar Flat and the long, viewless haul to Half Moon Meadow. Turn right and we would have to climb a thousand feet in two miles to reach the Sandy Ridge trail, then follow the scenic Sandy Ridge five or six miles back to Half Moon Meadow. Three or four lakes along the high route would offer camping that night. My unnatural predilection for loops was exposed, discussed, and factored in. In the end, we both surrendered to the spectacular beauty of the Sandy Ridge and, even though that route was a mile longer, turned right.

The Bridge Creek trail climbed relentlessly north through old growth fir forest, then swung westward below the Salmon Mountain Rim. At a little rivulet in a wet meadow we topped off our water bottles, since there would be no water on the Sandy Ridge. The stately timber opened in a series of dry, sloping meadows, revealing views of the Sandy Ridge, Medicine Mountain crest, and the forested green valley of Bridge Creek.

Just as we began to wonder how two miles could be so damned far, the ridge above began to descend to meet our climbing trail. We finally arrived at the junction with the Sandy Ridge trail and dropped our packs. On the rounded ridgetop in a dry field of small yellow and white flowers, we ate lunch overlooking Onemile Lake (where the four young fishermen had been bound the first day) and the broad Klamath River Valley beyond. Turning back east, we could once again see the Marble Mountain and the notch we had climbed through to reach Pleasant Lake. Far to the west a dark streak of clouds and fog approached from the ocean. We decided not to hike down to Onemile, nor backtrack to Cuddihy Lakes, but to press on to either Meteor or Monument Lake.

The hike south on the Sandy Ridge trail was as spectacular as we remembered. Barbara had come this way twice before, I four or five times. The trail cut through a maze of manzanita, granite sand, and rock atop stunning razorback ridges and rocky notches, then snaked from east slope to west slope of the anchoring knolls. The knolls were forested with ponderosa and whitebark pine, red fir, and an occasional pale incense cedar. The weather front pressed closer from the west, crowding us as we hiked. Haze began to filter the sunlight. Before too long fog would engulf the ridge.

After a while we dropped to an exposed razorback saddle above Meteor Lake. Below us the lake was a shallow green circle surrounded by thick forest. The outlet flowed east, away from us, through a lush meadow on its way to becoming Bridge Creek. Directly across the valley was the familiar granite saddle we had scaled to get to Pleasant Lake. In the distance to the northwest lay Marble and Black Marble Mountains and nearer to the south Medicine Mountain. No one appeared to be at Meteor Lake, and we were weary, but we decided to press on to Monument Lake to be closer to the trailhead when the foul weather hit.

The trail stretched on and on. Low clouds obscured the sun. At long last we descended to another exposed saddle opposite Medicine Mountain. Cedar Flat was hidden in the trees 1500 feet down. Directly before us lay the Monument Lake cirque with the green lake beckoning in the trees three hundred feet below us. As the ridge trail dipped toward the trail junction, we heard loud voices and a barking dog, and wondered if we had blundered. We had not particularly enjoyed our last visit there, crowded together with a score of other hikers like some bizarre Disneyland family-value theme park. Youngsters of all ages leapt yelping off rocks into the deep water while parents barbequed. Everyone wore swimming suits.

Through the binoculars the main campsite on the lake looked vacant, but what if we were wrong? If we were to descend the long trail and find the place crowded, with no pleasant place to camp, we might not make it back out before the weather socked us in. But neither of us wanted to hike back to Meteor Lake or on to Half Moon Meadow, so we started down the path cut into the rocky west slope of the cirque. The switchbacks were needlessly long and gentle, obviously designed to accommodate equestrians. Barbara went on ahead. When we finally reached the lake, no one was in sight. So we took the big horse camp in the trees and began to unpack.

As we were setting up camp, fingers numb from fatigue and the engulfing dampness, a parade of brooding teens emerged silently from the trees to fill their bottles at the lake's north shore. A young woman approached us to explain that she was leading a drug and alcohol rehab group. Their camp was out of sight in the forest, so as not to interact with other campers. I related our unpleasant experience with Boy Scouts at Ukonom Lake. She smiled and promised that they would be silent, because that was an essential part of the program. Soon they all melted back into the forest, and we neither saw nor heard them again.

We had Monument Lake all to ourselves. It was an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place. The camp was in a grove of enormous, stately red firs and offered a wonderful sandy beach, although the weather had grown too windy, cold, and overcast to swim. Instead, we pulled on our down jackets. When it was time to gather firewood for dinner, the ground was bare, as if the place had just been vacated by an obsessive troupe of vacuum salesmen. We had to hike back up the trail and into the woods to find a sufficient quantity of downed limbs and branches.

After dinner, we hiked part way around the lake and found the old campsite we had occupied when the lake crawled with campers. Fog had moved in to obscure the ridge above. We returned through a lush meadow filled with flowers and corn lilies and battened down for rain, breaking up our precious firewood and stacking it neatly between two trees, covered with a plastic garbage bag. Darkness fell early as the clouds pressed down on us.

We awoke Friday morning to find that no rain had fallen. How lucky! As we sat with our tea and mocha gazing out over the placid water, the breeze began to bear a mist, which gradually grew into a very light drizzle. We scrambled to take down the tent before it got wet and gathered our belongings in the dry circles around the tree trunks. The drizzle turned into a light rain as we sat for breakfast. From a fairly dry harbor between two massive trunks we watched the rain come and go. Each wave was a little heavier than the last and penetrated a bit deeper on the rising breeze. Then it was time to pack up our wet gear and strap on our packs.

In our GoreTex jackets and rain pants, we plodded up the long switchbacks to the socked-in Sandy Ridge trail at 6100 feet. There were no grand views that day. Visibility on the crest was no more than a quarter of a mile. Stoically and blindly we plodded down the trail, rising another hundred feet, then beginning the long 2200-foot descent to our van.

The fog, low clouds, and drizzle accompanied us all the way to Haypress Meadow, which we passed by unrecognized in our foggy tunnel vision. At the Haypress Creek crossing the rain finally ended. Patches of blue sky teased us as we crossed the creek and hiked over the burned area and through canyon back to the trailhead. We reached the van around 4 p.m. after more than six miles of hiking. When we had removed our backpacks, one dazzling blaze of full, hot sunlight served as our valediction.

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