Marble Mountains

Three weeks of hiking and camping exclusively in groups had me primed for some time alone in the wilderness. The Marble Mountains and Sky High Lakes of northern California had been on my mind for months, so I loaded my pack and set out from the Lovers Camp trailhead on a glorious October morning.

Here, just south of the Siskyous, the Marbles form one of many dramatic skylines within the Klamath Mountains, another sub-range in this geologically and biologically diverse mountain wonderland that straddles the California and Oregon border. The rocks, the rivers, the craggy heights, and the air masses coming off the Pacific all combine to make this place, the "Klamath Knot," and endless source of inspiration and adventure. I will never spend too much time in the Klamaths.

For the better part of two days I clambered up ridges and down into basins, surveyed the marble rim and sat on the tranquil shores of a magnificent hanging lake. I identified conifers under windy blue skies and admired the white skeletons of aspens who had already given in to Autumn's gravity. At night, I laid in my tent and listened to rocks and trees crashing down the back wall of the cirque in which I had made my camp, sounding so much like thunder that I had to peek out of my tent and see the clear starry sky to convince myself that I wasn't about to be overtaken by a thunderstorm. 

Fall was in full swing, along the trail and in the sky high Lakes basin. The hike up featured bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyullum) ablaze with yellow leaves and Pacific dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii) transitioning from green to pale red, the fallen foliage crunching underfoot. In the conifer-dominated higher elevations, the ground cover provided the Autumn splendor.

My sense of wonder was rekindled at every turn over the course of my 22 miles of hiking, but no single site did more from my soul than Shadow Lake. Tucked away some 700 feet above the Sky High Lakes basin, Shadow Lake's perch affords it an aesthetic quality that its lower neighbors simply can't approach. Placid blue waters reflected the placid blue sky as I looked out across the valleys below to the far skyline of the Marble Rim and Black Marble Mountain. Like John Muir in Yosemite, I too was in a cathedral. This wasn't a Sierra cathedral, though. This was a Klamath cathedral, and on this Sunday morning all was well.

Chaney Swiney

Bend, Oregon

Naturalist, Photographer, Cartographer