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Mountains of Marble

Backcountry, Phil Akers author badge for myoutdoorbuddy.com

elcome to the Marble Mountain Wilderness located in the heart of the Klamath National Forest. Designated in 1931 as the Marble Mountain Primitive Area, this later became one of California’s original established wilderness areas. It protects over a quarter million acres of pristine alpine lakes and streams, offering stunning and diverse geology and vegetation.

It is a historic place where you can feel at home, casually welcomed by a rustic sign bolted to a Douglas fir inviting you to the amazing backcountry of the Marble Mountain Wilderness.
Photo by Phil Akers, Marble mountain Wlderness, dog standing in pathway with faded sign tacked to tree
Fragrant and inviting, ferns, mountain lady‘s slipper, Scarlet Fritillary, Indian paintbrush, and wild ginger decorate the many trails.
ferns and wildflowers, photo by phil akers, marble mountain

There’s a richness in forbs, many unique plants thrive in this lush environment. Some endemic species living here are found nowhere else on earth. The wing-seed draba of the mustard family can only be found in the vicinity of Marble Valley and King’s Castle. About eight years ago, botanist discovered two plants previously unknown to science. More exciting botanical discoveries are expected to be found in the years to come.

Marble vly lovers sign bolted onto a huge tree, phot by Phil Akers
The most direct route to the Marble Rim is via Marble Valley but this route completely misses Sky High Lakes Basin.
horseback trail riding in Marble Mountain, photo by phil akers
Traveling the high country with stock can revive a historic link with our past.
green placid water of Lower Sky High Lake, photo by phil akers
A lone float tuber enjoys a postprandial troll for trout at Lower Sky High Lake.

Trail riding is very common in the “Marbles“, as is hiking, hunting, fishing, photography, plant watching, and even spelunking. You think anglers are mum with their honey holes? Well, along with archeologist, spelunkers are the most tight-lipped group of all. If you insist on caving here please note that the few walk-in caves are far from exciting -- the magnificent and majestic caves are vertical-entry and highly technical. I recommend doing your research, assimilating with the Forest Service and groups such as the Klamath Mountain Conversation Task Force.

hill and platuae surrounding Sky High Lakes Basin, phil akers
Coexisting with trout, amphibians thrive in Sky High Lakes Basin. Frogs, tadpoles, and the ubiquitous orange-bellied rough-skinned newt can all be seen while exploring the shorelines.
Sky High Basin, Phil Akers
Doing nothing is a perfectly acceptable way to enjoy Sky High Lakes Basin.

This particular outing chronicles the route up Canyon Creek into Sky High Lakes Basin. Although the route parallels sonorous Canyon Creek for several miles, it remains invisible from the trail for the duration of the route. Not to worry, you will traverse many feeder streams and springs providing ample sources of water. When planning your trip, and pouring over maps, please know that a solid blue line indicates a year-round water source. A blue line periodically interrupted by blue dots indicates a seasonal stream or spring which, depending on the time of year, may not have water when you visit.

sky Hight Gate, Phil Akers, Marble Mountain, Diminutive Gate Lake
Be careful of what a map details as a lake. Diminutive Gate Lake is actually a brush-choked pond.
Marble mountain view, phil akers
This unique place is available to anyone who enjoys unspoiled nature, quiet, and solitude.

As you enter the gentle rolling basin -- which contains a few lakes -- you are first greeted by Gate Lake. There is a maze of use trails crisscrossing the basin but the official trail skirts tiny Frying Pan Lake before getting serious and climbing out of the basin to meet the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Once on the PCT, travel north for a little over a mile until you reach a use trail providing access to the Marble Rim. This is, deservedly, the best knock-out view of the entire wilderness area with Trinity Alps views to the south.

Black Marble Mountain, Phil Akers
Glacial activity and erosion revel the spectacular mountains of marble we enjoy today. Black Marble Mountain is a misnomer, in that this peak hasn’t eroded enough to expose the marble beneath.
marble Monolith, phil akers
Diverse rocks and sediments make up the area, from marine origin to volcanic in nature.

The Marble Mountain area is near the center of the Klamath Mountains geologic province. This province consists of several types of rock in which heat and pressure transformed into metamorphic types: marble (from limestone), greenstone (from basalt), quartzite (from sand and chert), and serpentinite (from peridotite). The limestone responsible for the Marble Mountains originated from a large offshore island’s coral reef. Over time, this reef collected in thick layers and eventually solidified into limestone. Heat and pressure caused by this landmass colliding with North America transformed the limestone into marble. Roughly two million years ago glacial activity removed the deep soils, carved out valleys, and formed lakes within glacial basins such as Sky High Lakes Basin. This process also sped up erosion, reveling the marble.

Sky High Upper, Marble lake, Phil Akers
There are plenty of pan-sized brook trout to harass while wandering around Sky High Lakes Basin.
state of Jefferson sign, Phil akers
Indulge yourself in the many attractions contained within The State Of Jefferson.

Lover’s Camp trailhead provides the most direct access to Sky High Lakes Basin and has separated areas for hikers and stock travelers. Corrals, water, and vault toilets are all available at the trailhead. No wilderness permits are necessary and I didn’t encounter a trailhead registry. Always leave an itinerary with a loved one, check for current fire restrictions, and bring along a valid campfire permit for use of fire or stoves.

Fishing is good in Sky High Lakes Basin for boilerplate 11-inch trout. Other areas of the Marbles offer much better fishing. The entire 20-mile length of Wooley Creek is completely protected within the wilderness as it drops 5000 feet from its headwaters here to the Salmon River confluence. Always understand all regulations before plying wild anadromous waters. Plan well, be safe, and have fun experiencing these awesome mountains of marble.

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