Lightweight Backpacking After 60 in the Rogue Valley

Sky High Lakes – July 27-30, 2010

This was a return three day trip from last year’s LTBackpacker’s trip – almost to the  day. It was also only a few miles north of our last trip to the spectacular Cliff Lake also in the Marble Wilderness near Fort Jones, California and not far from the Oregon border.

Trail map starting at top following dark red line 6 miles

Trail profile from left gaining 1500'

Everyone gathered at Terry and Chiyemi’s house, leaving Chiyemi behind with her hip pointer.  This is, parenthetically, the only backpacking trip her hubby has taken without her. Five people in two cars on the 1.5 hour trip through Yreka, to Fort Jones and along the Scott River Road to the Forest Service road leading off to the south from Indian Scotty Campground, where we stayed overnight last year.

Again this  year we had 5 people, last minute Alan P., Tysen M., the maximum and awesome group leader, Terry D. the blog-meister and two newcomers, Maria G. and Steve W.

Start of Sky High Lakes July 2010 - Tysen, Maria, Alan, Steve & Terry kneeling

Then 15 miles or so on the  nicely surfaced road to a parking lot alarmingly filled with 20 or so cars, horse trailers and the like. Overall, we did see quite a few people on the trail and camping but we never felt cramped or crowded.

Marble staircase

The first day we hiked in breaking all records and in a mere 4 hours hiked the 6.5 miles into Lower Sky High Lake.  This included the trip up the Marble Staircase which seemed longer last year.  We all started out with 20-35 pound packs, Maria winning the prize for lightest.  Steve claimed to be packing 30 pounds which included the 1.5 lb. iPad! No network connection but the iPad’s maps coupled with Tysen and Alan’s GPS’s, made navigation a snap.

Terry on marble step

The weather was bright, warm-but-not-hot, with clouds. Since we started off at 11 am or so and made the lake mid-afternoon.  As we passed the midpoint, clouds gathered and a small thunderstorm rolled past to the east with the meagerest of sprinkles.

The lightning did start a small fire behind us on the side of the hill (see pix). The Forest Service sent in a helicopter to dump water on the fire, now several miles behind us, and by the next morning no smoke remained.

The first 4 or 5 miles of the trek is through woods, high above the stream. Occasionally there were streams crossing the trail, so you could fill up the canteen at various points. The last mile or so was through a path closed in by 5′ hellibore and flowers of various sorts. One could easily imagine meeting a bear pretty closely under these circumstances  but we did not.

There are 3 lakes: Upper Sky High Lake that we visited, Frying Pan Lake where Tysen swims occasionally and Lower Sky High Lake (all of 10 feet lower, I expect). The camping is primarily at the latter though one campsite was at Frying Pan, which is Spanish for “Don’t Drink The Water”, I believe. Shallow and warmish with frogs.

Panorama of all 3 lakes in Sky High basin

We camped in exactly the same spot as last year after looking the lake over and hung our food contra-bearwise on just about the same tree. There was horse leavings but a largish, almost flat campsite for our 4 tents and possibly a couple more depending on how close you want to be to someone snoring.

Frying Pan Lake at sunset looking toward "handle"

Wednesday morning all awoke after a nice long snooze and all but Alan, nursing his own joint problem, stayed behind to read while Tysen, Steve, Maria and Terry hiked up to Shadow Lake, resting 800 feet or so above Sky High Lake. This was a 5 to 6 mile day hike and quite pleasant with a section of the trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.  There was momentary confusion as to where the trail to Shadow Lake might take off but we opted correctly for one running steeply up the ridge just off the PCT.

The scramble/trail down to Shadow Lake

Turns out that it is a loop trail up to  Shadow Lake, back through an  old burn area near the summit and back down to the PCT. Nice trip with commanding views of the Sky High Lakes basin: Upper and Lower Sky High Lakes plus Frying Pan Lake and a huge meadow. This with Marble Mountain and Black  Marble Mountain made for a really gorgeous viewpoint.

The second night was calm with the  pitter-patter of little feet, deer perhaps, outside heard by many. No bears this trip only monster pile of bear scat along the day hike. We awoke, packed up after breakfast and headed out. The hike out took between 2.5 and 3.5 hours so the nickname One Mile Per Hour Club was increasingly inaccurate.

Hiking out - Alan, Tysen, Maria, Steve and Terry

Tiger Swallowtail

We polished off the trip in fine fashion at the Etna Brewery, just like the last trip and the one year ago trip as well. Knowledgeable packers stocked up on the absolutely incredible Etna Brewery Root Beer: nothing like it, the best.


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