Copyright © 2010
by Richard S. Platz, All
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Campbell Lake, Cliff Lake, and Log Lake
Marble Mountain Wilderness
Klamath National Forest
July 27-31, 2010
Photos by the
Author and Barbara Lane Except Where Noted
"The Curse of Campbell Lake?"
My friend Jerry invited me to join the Annual
Spring Acid Backpack of July 1980. My life was at loose ends,
so I welcomed the new experience. Never having backpacked before,
I had no clue what to expect. I hiked in by myself and brought
along my aging German Shepard, Baron. I recall sweating uphill
in the blazing sun lugging a borrowed aluminum-frame backpack
crammed with freshly purchased gear. An orange holofill sleeping
bag. A Montgomery-Wards pup tent. A brass Svea stove and jug
of white gas. Nesting aluminum pots. And way too much clothing.
Counting canned goods and dog food, the backpack must have weighed
over seventy pounds. That first trek was up Shackleford Creek
to Campbell Lake in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. It changed
Those first years, Campbell Lake was the center
of my backpacking universe. I returned there several times.
My visits were occasionally cursed by misfortune. Once a bear
stole my food. One stormy night I was rudely awakened to the
shock that my tent fabric was not waterproof. Each time I learned
Three years later, the ASABP group scheduled
a return to Campbell Lake. I hiked in alone a day early through
increasing drizzle, splashing across flooding creeks. With numb
fingers I set up my tent on the only patch of ground not covered
by lingering Spring snow. The rain turned to fat snowflakes
that clumped on the tent fly. Damp with perspiration, I crawled
into my sleeping bag to get warm, but I couldn't stop shivering.
I discovered that by snapping small, dry, dead branches off
the standing timber, I could build a campfire. Of necessity
I had begun to learn survival skills. No one else showed up.
I learned later that, hearing of the harsh conditions and flooding
creeks from a ranger along the way, Mr. Popper had posted signs
diverting the group to Paradise Lake further north.
After that I moved on. Three or four times each
summer I backpacked elsewhere. Then on an ASABP to Stoddard
Lake in 1986, I met Barbara. Again my life was changed. From
then on we backpacked together, Barbara and I, to all the wilderness
areas in the State of Jefferson and beyond. Trinities. Russians.
Marbles. Siskiyous. Yolla Bollys. Red Buttes. Sky Lakes. Mountain
Lakes. Lassen. Caribous. Warners. Eagle Cap.
In 1995, Barbara and I decided to backpack up
Shackleford Creek. She had never been there. It was the Fourth
of July weekend. Never backpack on a national holiday.
Campbell Lake crawled with people like an overturned ant's nest.
Far from the lake we scraped out a rough campsite for a single
night, then continued on to Summit Lake, scrambling over ten-foot-high
snow drifts to get there. We spent that night alone in a torrential
lightning storm before moving east to Reynolds Cabin and Calf
Lake on the southern haunch of Red Mountain.
Fast forward another fifteen years. Barbara and
I, retired now and on Medicare, tottered on the cusp of our
dotage. Only a few backpacks remained unspent. It seemed fitting
for me to return to the place where it all started. To close
the circle. The hike from the trailhead to Campbell Lake is
four-and-a-half miles with an elevation gain of 1400 feet. If
the going got tough, we could camp on Shackleford Creek along
the way. The forecast was for a slight chance of scattered thundershowers,
followed by a week of clear skies. Barbara was willing to give
it a try.
We spent Sunday night visiting friends at the
Trinity Alps Resort. On Monday morning we motored north on Highway
3 over Scott Mountain into the Scott Valley. At Greenview we
turned west into the Quartz Valley. Just past Mugginsville we
caught Forest Service Road 43N21, which took us to the Shackleford
Trailhead (N 41 33' 45.1", W 123 02' 55.7", 4464 feet).
The trailhead was obviously a popular place.
Pit toilet. Parking for fifty vehicles. Well-maintained corrals
for the horsey crowd. Fortunately there were no horse trailers.
The lot contained only a half-dozen cars and trucks. Beneath
tall firs and within earshot of the rushing creek, we set up
camp in the van. There was even a picnic table. No one else
was around. The air was muggy, but bugs were few. That evening,
lightning blazed and thunder crashed around us. A violent microburst
of wind rocked us after dinner, but only a light drizzle fell
where we were camped. Somewhere above a storm raged. The
Curse of Campbell Lake?
On Tuesday morning we awoke to clear blue skies.
As we ate our oatmeal, a dusty truck rumbled up the road and
dropped off two backpackers, who promptly set out up the trail.
Then a couple of dayhikers drove in, parked, and started up
the trail while we did our final packing. We were on the trail
by eight-thirty. An early start for us. But hiking uphill in
the cool of the morning was a tactical necessity.
Above the north bank of Shackleford Creek an
old logging road had been bulldozed into morainal deposits and
outwash. Below, the creek pounded over an inarguable chaos of
rounded rocks and boulders. Metavolcanic bedrock. Ultramafic
fragments torn from Red Mountain. Granodiorite transported from
the faraway Shelly Lake Pluton. The trail crossed Back Meadow
Creek, then climbed steeply southwest up the abandoned road
through a healthy, mixed-conifer forest. At the road's end,
we came to an antique sign, leaning drunkenly against a tree,
announcing that we were entering the Marble Mountain Wilderness.
A smile curled my lips. I drew a deep breath. I had returned
home to a sacred place sculpted by purblind forces of nature.
Where man is an irrelevant, transient visitor.
The trail climbed southwest through a steep gorge
with slopes of sharp metavolcanic bedrock and talus. To our
right loomed the forested wall of Red Mountain. We climbed to
a weathered wall of dry-stacked stone and passed through a cattle
gate. A quarter mile past the gate, in a broad, grassy, sunbathed
meadow, we arrived at Long High Creek and easily hopped across
it on solid stepping stones.
entered a broad old-growth forest punctuated with a chain of
lush, wet meadows. Small streams lined with alders and willows
crossed the path. Thirty years had passed, but I remembered
these woods. On my very first backpack, alone and apprehensive,
I had propped my pack against a fallen log and wandered into
the brush to teach myself a fundamental backcountry hygienic
skill. In the wilderness all sanitary engineering is local.
The trail climbed gently through the forest to
a rocky gravel bar beneath the tall canopy. There stood a sign
(see Opening Photo). One arrow
pointed left, across Shackleford Creek, to Campbell Lake. Another
arrow pointed right, up the creek, to Campbell Lake. The route
across the creek followed the lake's small outflow creek, climbing
800 feet in a little over a mile. Short, steep, and rough, the
trail had been abandoned by the Forest Service and was no longer
regularly maintained. The right-hand fork was the better trail,
if longer. It continued along the northwest bank of Shackleford
Creek through a steep side canyon of well-maintained switchbacks.
It would also allow us to stop at Log Lake along the way. We
took the longer, gentler trail.
We climbed through the canyon,
twice crossing its perennial creek, where we stopped amid ferns
and wildflowers to pump water. We emerged above the gorge to
rejoin Shackleford Creek and soon passed the Red Mountain Trail
fork to the right. That way lay Reynolds Cabin, Calf Lake, and
Long High Lake. Continuing on the main trail, we arrived at
Log Lake. Maybe an acre of green water. Lots of lily-pads. No
apparent inlet stream. Surrounded by forest and meadow. No headwall.
The shoreline was choked with grass and brush. Old weathered
logs poked out of the shallow water. Not a bad place. Not a
great place. An abandoned campsite beside the trail was little
used. The fire ring had been broken apart and the blackened
rocks scattered by little rangers. "Too close to the water,"
they would say.
dropped our packs against a fallen log and ate cashews, crackers,
apple chips, and cheese sticks. After lunch, rested and rejuvinated,
we considered our options. We had three choices. Continue on
up Shackleford Creek to the headwaters at Summit Lake. Or cross
the meadow and climb another 400 feet in a mile or so to Campbell
Lake. Or stop at Log Lake for the night. But it was early afternoon,
and Log Lake was not particularly enchanting. Summit Lake seemed
to lie in the wrong direction. So we continued on to Campbell,
taking the climb slow and easy.
Beyond Log Lake a broad glacial valley opened
with long views of the surrounding mountains. Across the dry,
yellowing grassland of the upper Shackleford Creek Valley the
peaks bore witness to the chaotic collision of bedrock. The
gnarly red peridotite of Red Mountain dominated the horizon
to our right (northwest). It was grinding out a battle with
the black metavolcanic greenschist crags and spires that held
Cliff Lake to our left (south). Between them, Campbell Lake
was cradled in the melange of competing rocks and debris. Through
the meadow and glacial till of the valley floor flowed the meandering
strands of Shackleford Creek, which we would have to cross.
A few isolated thunderheads had begun to blossom in the otherwise
Soon a trail sign pointed left to Campbell Lake,
and we followed the trail through the wide meadow, crossing
three separate streambeds of Shackleford Creek. Only one contained
flowing water. It was here in 1983 that I had slogged through
floodwaters overflowing the banks. Cow pies now befouled the
empty channels. A few black cows mooed at us from the shade
of distant willows. Then the trail began a steady, numbing climb
through forest shade until it crested the rim of the bowl that
held Campbell Lake.
We dropped to a trail junction at the northeast
corner of the lake. Arrows pointed left to Summit Lake and right
to Cliff Lake. I vaguely remembered our old campsite on an island
at the end of a peninsula that protruded into the lake from
the north shore. It had not been easy getting there. My instinct
said turn left.
As the trail neared the shore, we saw a campsite
across the water a few hundred yards to our right. A man and
a woman were standing between their tent and a massive rock
outcropping that rose abruptly from the water. "Have you
seen any other good campsites?" I called out.
"There's a real good campsite just on the
other side of this boulder," the man replied, jabbing his
thumb to the outcropping behind him.
"We wouldn't want to crowd you."
"No problem. We can't even see it from here."
Barbara and I were both tired and aching to take
off our packs. Hunting through woods and brush for a remote,
thirty-year-old campsite did not sound like fun. So we turned
around and retraced our steps past the trail junction. Not wanting
to intrude rudely through their campsite, we followed the shoreline
trail toward Cliff Lake, figuring we would cut back to the water
further up. The trail passed three small tents, then hooked
around to the northwest side of the lake. When we finally tried
to cross back to the lake, we had gone too far and ended up
at a marshy bog. A big, empty horse camp beyond the bog seemed
inaccessible without a horse. We split up and wandered lost
among a maze of outcroppings and boulders until we found a spur
trail back to where the man and woman were camped. We rousted
the woman from whatever they were doing in their tent. She seemed
neither young nor old. Patiently she pointed us to the promised
We arrived at an excellent campsite with splendid
views of the lake and mountains beyond (N 41 32' 02.6",
W 123 06' 28.7", 5790 feet). It was perched on a forested
outcropping of rusty ultramafic bedrock. Rough boulders along
the shore provided privacy and a place to sit and swim. We had
been hiking for five hours and were tired, but not exhausted.
The hike had been a good one.
In our moment of triumph, a black thunderhead
moved across the sun. Before we could set up the tent, drizzle
began to fall. We pulled out our ponchos, stood under sheltering
trees, and waited. The rain grew heavier. Fat drops pummeled
straight down without a breath of wind. Thunder rumbled. The
lake grew choppy and boiled from the rain. The Curse of Campbell
Lake, I thought. Hunkered down in our grove of firs and
pines, we didn't even get wet. Like a stray dog, the thunderhead
soon lost interest and sallied off to bark at other campers,
leaving our neighborhood with clear blue skies.
was only one relatively level tent spot. It was a tight fit
and the angle a little steeper than usual, but it would work
just fine. I strung up the hammocks and engineered the fire
pit to accommodate our grill. An occasional mosquito buzzed
past. Sporadic. Anemic. We would encounter more aggressive ones
in the deep woods of evening, but on the lake shore they were
not a problem.
After a refreshing swim, we explored the vicinity.
A short path climbed over a hill and dropped to the main trail
where we had seen the three tents pitched. Three men were camped
there, all on the twilight side of middle age. We spoke with
one. He was local, from Chico. He explained that the other two
were old friends who had moved back east. One now lived in Atlanta,
the other in Raleigh. They had recrossed the country for a backpack
and a little auld lange syne.
The forest in the lake bowl made cross-country
hiking difficult. Slender trunks grew tightly packed together.
Not a pigmy forest, but certainly not the open parkland of the
towering old growth that thrived in the canyons below. Probably
because of the poor ultramafic soils. I did a cursory inventory.
Lodgepole pine. Mountain hemlock. White fir. Red fir. Douglas
fir. An occasional towering sugar pine. A few groves of aspen.
Along the shore and streams, red alder and willow. The usual
evening I gazed out over the lake looking for the island and
peninsula I remembered. Like Sicily off the boot of Italy. And
there it was, just across from us. What had appeared
to be the east shore of the lake was actually the west shore
of the peninsula. But the island was no longer an island. I
studied it through the binoculars. The water had dropped a couple
of feet, and the stepping stones linking the island with the
mainland now studded a narrow isthmus. The island had become
a part of the main.
Wednesday we spent a leisurely morning at camp
gazing out over the lake. Birds flitted through the branches
above our hammocks. A flock of chickadees. An olive-sided flycatcher.
Steller's jays. Brown creepers crawling up the trunks. A red-breasted
nuthatch crawling down. Robins patrolled the meadowlands. High
on a barren bough, an osprey kept vigil.
After breakfast Barbara agreed to hike back three
decades with me to explore the island campsite I remembered.
The shoreline trail left the water to cut diagonally across
the base of the peninsula's rocky spine. The ridge itself was
a collision of glacial deposits and basement rock from the surrounding
ultramafic and metavolcanic formations. Near the crest we left
the trail to cross-country down the peninsula. The hike through
boulders and trees and around fallen logs was rough, rocky,
and difficult, but worth the effort.
The shore closed in on both
sides. The peninsula narrowed. I found myself searching for
a particular rock, only vaguely remembered. A shape. A low boulder.
An altar that had formed the heart of my old campsite. Although
I retained no clear image in my mind, I knew it instantly when
we saw it. And I remembered.
had camped beside this rock three decades ago. My tent had stood
nearby. The others had all crossed the stepping stones to set
up their tents around a huge fire pit on the island. I had stayed
on this side. Perhaps because I was an outsider. Perhaps so
I could preserve my space. Or perhaps, even then, on that first
backpack, the silence of the unsullied wilderness had already
touched me. I knew I would not be entirely comfortable with
boisterous laughter around a blazing bonfire deep into the night.
I sat on the familiar slab of metavolcanic rock,
its corners rounded by time and water. Its flat top had served
as my table. Rocks, stacked against one side, had formed the
fire ring. The fire ring had been broken up, the rocks scattered.
No clearing for a tent site remained. My first campsite had
Barbara found the stepping stones that crossed
to the island. They were now high and dry on a ten-foot-wide
isthmus. Signs proclaimed the island to be a restoration site.
No camping. No fires. "Responsible Recreation Helps
Keep Public Lands Open." I was not disappointed.
We stepped onto the island, a boulder-strewn
and lightly-forested dome of bedrock. Where a slab of the bedrock
angled gently into the water off the north shore, we enjoyed
a pleasant swim. Sunning ourselves dry, we ate lunch facing
the lake's east shore, not far across a narrow arm of water.
At the northeast corner of the lake, a man-made dam held back
the waters. From the dam the old, unmaintained trail dropped
800 feet down the outlet creek to rejoin the Shackleford Creek
trail. The short, steep route. We had a spectacular view of
a ring of snowy pockets in the black cliff face rising above
Cliff Lake to the southwest.
I wandered around the island and recognized the
little grove where our old bonfire had been. And the sites for
tents crowded around it. And the high outcropping where young
men and women, strangers to me then, had dived naked into the
deep cold water.
And then I had seen enough. My trip down memory
lane was over. But the circle had not closed. Not really. The
past will not be resurrected. At best we brush its cheek in
passing. Perhaps there are no circles. Only spirals.
This revisitation of things past was already
itself becoming a new memory. Faded. Fading. The fuzzy approximation
of a reality which once burst forth full-blooded. Effervesced.
Evaporated. Defying capture or encapsulation. A new memory to
be sketched in this wan account.
Barbara blazed a shorter, easier route out to
the main trail, and we hiked back to camp to refill our water
bottles. Then we climbed the trail a short way toward Cliff
Lake. A profusion of flowers grew in the wet meadows bordering
the stream that flowed down from Cliff Lake. Columbian wind
flower. Columbine. Tiger lilies. Yarrow. Indian paintbrush.
Pine drops. Shooting stars. Penstemon. Five fingered ferns completed
the arrangements, and a few incense cedars added their own distinct
My towel was missing from
my daypack. I remembered leaving it on the island, in a patch
of sunlight, draped across a rock to dry. So we hiked back to
our camp and then over to the island. I tried to use the GPS
to chart an easier route down the peninsula's wasteland. But
in the trees, the signal was weak, the readings sporadic. The
little arrow pointed us into more tangles and obstructions than
eye-balling it would have done. I found my towel where I had
left it. Once again it was easier coming out than going in.
Though the island lay directly east of our campsite, it took
almost an hour to hike there and back.
morning we broke camp around ten to relocate up at Cliff Lake.
In days gone by I must have dayhiked there, perhaps more than
once, but remembered nothing of it. The trail was good, if steep.
We quickly passed the flower-spangled meadow, then entered a
different landscape of sharp greenschist outcroppings and canyons
down which the creek cascaded and fell. It was a beautiful climb.
The trail ascended a half mile through dense
forest, then descended to the steep northwest shore of Cliff
Lake. Impenetrable brush made the water nearly inaccessible.
At the north end below us, the outflow stream tumbled from a
flat rock, which we would later discover to be the reconstructed
spillway of a low dam. We did not tarry there nor explore. The
maps and literature showed the best campsites to be along two
inlet streams at the far, southwest corner of the lake. And
as usual, we hurried so no one would beat us there.
Cliff Lake is the deepest
lake in the Marbles. Abrupt metamorphic cliffs, towering more
than a thousand feet above the water, plunge steeply into the
lake's deep glacial bowl. There is no trail across the massive
talus rockfall below the cliffs at the south end of the lake.
Fed by melt from snow fields lingering on the north face, the
water was cold and clear. We enjoyed the changing perspectives
of the wild land.
Lake is the second largest lake in the wilderness, so our hike
along the west shore took a while. We came upon three men in
hiking shorts and daypacks resting on a fallen log beside the
trail. They turned out to be the auld lange syne boys who were
camped down the path from us at Campbell Lake. Chico introduced
us to the other two. Dayhiking, they had gotten an early start,
biding their time. Along the way they had encountered two woman
backpackers hiking out of Cliff Lake, who told them the campsite
at the far end was vacant. We headed for it.
Halfway along the west shore, we crossed a substantial
inlet stream on stepping stones. Beyond the crossing a large
campsite lay sprawled over the hummocky open forest floor. A
major horse camp. It looked a bit worn out and bedraggled. Hooves
had dug up the topsoil and manure seasoned the air. The fire
pit overflowed with charred wood, rusting cans, and trash. Hoping
for something better, we pressed on.
we approached the talus wall blanketing the foot of the impassable
south shore cliffs, we arrived at a second large campsite beside
a rushing inlet stream (N 41 31' 17.3", W 123 06' 55.5",
6115 feet). The campsite was clean. The stream ran brisk, cold,
and melodic. The open forest of red fir, white fir, alder, and
hemlock provided level tent sites and a neat fire pit with logs
to sit on. The brushy understory was open at the water, like
a drape drawn back. We liked it immediately.
Our three friends stopped by on their dayhike.
As we chatted, they swatted mosquitos on their sweaty bare legs.
They said the women had told them about one more campsite "in
the rocks" past our inlet stream. Fewer mosquitoes, the
women had claimed.
When they were gone, we left our packs and fought
our way along the eroding tread of a degenerated use trail through
branches and brush to a small campsite beside a trickle of water.
It lay just below the treeless rockfall that rose all the way
to the cliff face above. A patch of snow melted nearby. The
place felt harsh and wild. It wasn't bad, but we liked our site
better. It felt more hospitable.
After dinner, we sat beside the water and watched
the changing colors of evening. Cliff Lake is one of the most
visited in the wilderness. But no one else seemed to be camped
there besides us. For the middle of summer, it was a stroke
of good fortune and a rare delight. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes
grew more aggressive as evening fell. We had endured worse,
but they took a bit of cheer out of our enterprise. We dabbed
on a little bug juice, but by twilight the only safe harbor
was inside the tent.
In the cool of early Friday morning the mosquitoes
were sluggish. We enjoyed sitting quietly by the lake. Doing
nothing. Watching the water. The silent slopes. Wilderness all
around us. No other humans to see or hear. Just our tea and
mocha and the thousand smells and sounds and nuances that might
otherwise be missed. All was well with the world.
In late morning we hiked out, without hurry,
stopping to explore the north end of lake. Surrounding the dam
were campsites we had overlooked on the way in. No one was there.
We took pictures of the dam and spillway. Then we moved on.
On the narrow trail down to Campbell Lake we passed eight backpackers
in a single group. One couple knew a friend of ours in Blue
Lake and had just bought a home there. Small world.
At Campbell Lake we took off our backpacks at
the campsite abandoned by the man and woman who had directed
us to ours. We swam and ate lunch. No hurry. Then we stopped
by to say goodbye to our three new friends. We took their pictures
and they took ours. That morning they had been to the dam on
Campbell and saw a large group of backpackers arrive at a campsite
on the east shore. They had come in for the weekend. We heard
one of them hollering merrily from an inflatable raft in the
middle of the lake. Time for us to go.
hiked steadily down, crossed the bovine-infested channels of
Shackleford Creek, and stopped at Log Lake. It was three in
the afternoon, and we had a hell of a time deciding whether
to stop for the night or hike the rest of the way out. The campsites
nearby were all right along the trail and not particularly attractive.
Leaving my pack, I explored the other side of the lake. One
campsite on a bluff overlooking the lily-padded water was a
bit more inviting and secluded (N 41 32' 43.5, W 123 05' 58.4",
5541 feet). We decided to stay the night.
No surface water flowed into or out of Log Lake.
The shallow lake was probably just a low spot in the gravels
by Shackleford Creek, fed underground this time of year. Brush
and reeds and lily pads at the shoreline made access a problem.
We had to improvise a method to collect drinking water. I dropped
a rock into our plastic milk jug, tied on a rope, and slung
it into the deeper water, then reeled it back in. Like fishing.
The forest surrounding the lake was scrawny.
Lodgepole pines, I thought. But when I looked for lodgepole
pines, I found none. Odd. Probably the soils. Somewhere to the
west, beyond the trail, we heard a waterfall spilling down the
wall of surrounding cliffs. For a long time Barbara watched
a water ouzel fishing from rocks and fallen logs on the edge
of the water. It was windy until sunset. Then mosquitos came
out. They were not as bad as at Cliff Lake. A mild annoyance.
Saturday morning we were awakened by the trumpeting
of Gyoto monks. The bellowing turned out to be from cows. The
meadow was alive with birds and butterflies. We left Log Lake
around a quarter to ten for the long hike out. On our way we
met a steady flow of newcomers. A couple heading for Cliff Lake.
Two dayhikers bound for Campbell and "all the lakes."
Four horseback riders, heading toward Summit Lake, leading an
overloaded pack mule and accompanied by an obscene number of
dogs. One fellow was dayhiking with his dog to Calf Lake and
maybe Dogwood Lake. We would find twenty cars and three horse
trailers in the parking lot below. The flood gates had been
broken open for the weekend, and we rejoiced to be swimming
downstream against the tide.
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