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Our backpacking trip from August, 2004

Why are we wearing sandals? Because a hundred yards from the car we have to wade across Elk Creek, which at this point is both somewhat deep and wide.

There's no easy way to get into the Marble Mountains - it's all uphill. Susan and I used this trailhead, up Elk Creek from Happy Camp, before, years ago BT (before Toby), so while our minds know what we're in for, our bodies have forgotten. The trail will go up and up and come to a giant rockfall that it can't go over, so it goes down, giving up all the hard-won elevation.

Eventually, hot and exhausted, we arrive at Cuddahy Lakes. The same glacier action that carved out the steep mountains also made the tarn lakes near their summits, and you have to climb pretty much to the top of the mountains to find them. We spend that night near the shore of the largest of the three Cuddahys. In the morning we jump off rocks into the lake and swim for an hour before getting back on the trail.

Burney Lake is our ultimate destination. It lies just north of the main ridge at the end of a one mile spur trail, and straight down about 800 feet. Very steep and rocky, and theerefore seldom visited. Just what we like; we have the whole lake to ourselves.

One of the nice things about the Marbles in late summer is that it's suffused with nature. Like similar spots in the Sierra, there are mosquitos, bees and flies, but they all seem to be on there way to some other business and leave the human visitors (I never feel like an intruder) alone. Most of the few people we meet along the trail mention seeing bears, but these are not like mid-Sierra backpack-robbing, human-snubbing bears. These guys don't want to have anything to do with people or their stuff.

There are wildflowers all around the lake, and dragonflies as big as your hand; butterflies, and thousands of pale blue damsel flies.

And the swimming! This time of year, it's a perfect cool-off. Out in the middle of the lake are two snags, old pines that fell into the lake many years ago.

The weight of the lower trunks keep them mostly submerged, like icebergs, with the top 10 or 12 feet sticking out of the water at a 30 degree angle. What were once branches have been worn down to smooth nubs, making the snag easy to climb, and at the top, eight feet or so above the lake, stand straight, and dive. Aah.

The night is amazingly quiet. Insect noises, the rustle of deer grazing in the meadow, the splash of the inlet creek around the lake. Late, we creep down to the lakes edge, turn off our flashlights and wait for our eyes to adjust. The arc of the Milky Way spans the lake, Vega, the summer star right overhead, Arcturus dominating the west. Each star is perfectly reflected in the calm black water.

We stay here for two days, swimming, reading (we read Across the Nightingale Floor to each other), napping, before diminishing time means it's time to hit the trail again. Our next stop is Rainy Lake, snug up against the limestone massif of Marble Mountain itself. There is still a remnant of snow on the far shore; water dripping from the cliff in a thousand rivulets makes it sound exactly like rain. Hiking around the lake for a swim, we find several large piles of fresh bear poop, but they don't visit us that night.

Next morning, on the hike out, we encounter our first and only bear. He is walking along in front of a log about 30 feet from the trail, and when he sees us, he leaps over the log and disappears into the forest.

A 15 miles hike brings us back to the trailhead, and the beginning of the trip home.

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Copyright 2005 Family Backpacker

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