Backpack Section
Loma Prieta Chapter
Sierra Club


Ukonom Lake & Environs
Marble Mountains Wilderness
Klamath National Forest
July 5-11, 1999

Solo Trip
Trip Report By: Roland Wentz

This year's cold spring and summer weather certainly put questions into the minds of backpackers as to what they might expect in our wilderness areas. About a month before the scheduled trip, I started checking in with the U.S.F.S. in Happy Camp, CA as to what the snow conditions were. Depending on who I talked with, answers to my questions ranged from "What do you mean by snow conditions?" to "I can give you our latest update." My last phone call to them was about three days before the trip was to begin, and the report was "Patches of snow on the north slopes above fifty-seven hundred feet elevation" - quite an accurate report of what I actually found. Hence, Bob Wallace's snowshoes became part of my sparse but cherished gear for this trip.

A major change in my plans was a decrease in the total number of miles and area from my originally planned large loop trip, as my final preference was to spend more time fishing and less time hiking. I decided to take the shortest route possible to the "high country" of Ukonom Lake. This meant driving to Happy Camp, CA (a real place) then southward on the Elk Creek Road to Norcross Campground and parking the vehicle at the end of the road (elevation 2,400 ft.). In starting the hike, it was necessary to wade through eighteen inches of water on Elk Creek to get to the trail, although a foot bridge was available about a mile downstream, it would have increased the hike's length.

After that wading, there were no more stream crossings, although my outdated map showed several. The trail crossed one stream bed that was noteworthy because it was widely and deeply eroded. One had to drop down about five feet into it, cross about a one hundred feet wide trough, then climb about five feet up onto the other side. Both sides, of course, had normal woods-like terrain - bushes, poison oak, trees, etc. that one might expect to find in an area such as this. But in this trough, nearly all shrubs and trees had been swept downhill. The wide and dry stream-bed had been swept clean by surging and treacherous waters leaving only dirt, gravel and a few large boulders and huge trees which had protective accumulations of soil and gravel in front and behind them and all of it pointing downhill. In my mind, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not the high Sierra Nevada, but the "moderate elevation of gentle Marble Mountains" of which I had previously thought I was so familiar with. This was certainly similar to the Sierras! Knowing that a raging river of water surged down the stream beds pushing all hell out of it's way made me glad that I don't camp overnight in such places! The words of one of the U.S.F.S. employees rang in my mind, "We had a lot of heavy storms this spring, one right after another!" I believed it!

The trail remained on the west side of the stream and only crossed a few shallow tributaries. Reaching Bridge Camp in the afternoon of the first day I had only hiked about five miles, ascended 2,100 feet and had carried a forty-three pound pack, but my body told me it was time to eat and sleep. And so I did. This spot became my first nights camp.

The next day, I hiked the two miles up to Blue Granite Lake, elevation 5,300 ft. and caught a few nice sized trout. While fishing, I met and chatted briefly with a U.S.F.S. biologist from Happy Camp. Because of the extremely rocky terrain, there was only one good campsite at Blue Granite Lake and it was right on the trail. Shortly after my arrival, eight stock animals arrived bringing four people and lots of gear up to be dropped off, then picked up the following weekend. I assured the wranglers that I was "not camping here, but pushing on toward Ukonom." But, instead of taking the only campsite, they rode around to the north side of the lake, got out their handsaws, axes, etc. and cleared a huge spot in the forest and set up camp. Next it was cigarettes, beer and you guessed it - a huge, roaring, smoky fire to keep warm by, all the necessary comforts of home at eleven o'clock in the morning. I had had enough. I tucked the fish I had caught in my pack and headed westward cross-country toward Ukonom Lake, determined to get away from people such as whom I was leaving behind.

While hiking, I hugged the north side of the ridge and only met a few snow patches around fifty-seven hundred feet elevation. However, a mile and a half before Ukonom around six thousand feet elevation, a few of the snow patches were extensive and one had to carefully pick out the general flow of the trail. Within a few hours I reached Ukonom (elevation 6,050 ft.) after about four miles, and had the entire area to myself. The lake was not a great fishing spot! It has very shallow edges with plenty of brush growing up from the water. No fish were caught, but beautiful views were had looking westward in Klamath National Forest. An interesting feature is the dam on the west side of the lake which was built in the eighteen hundreds to divert water for use in a hydraulic mine operation at the Bunker Hill Mine near the Klamath River seven miles to the northwest (from the book - Marble Mountain Wilderness by David Green and Greg Ingold published by Wilderness Press, 1980 & 1996). The dam is composed of rectangularly shaped blocks of granite stacked on top of each other to form a wall about ten feet high. The wall was built to hold back the water of course, but now has started to collapse and fall westward or downstream. This dam makes the lake the largest water surface area of any lake in the Marbles, but not the largest lake with the largest acreage feet of water because it is so shallow. I spent two nights there trying to find out if the fish were biting, but, unfortunately they were not. Rest, I got plenty of, and my pack lightened up from my food consumption and stove fuel usage.

Next, I hiked southward toward One Mile Lake along the ridge parallel to the outlet creek from One Mile Lakes. My 4.7 ounce cell phone received a fairly strong signal so I called my wife at work to say hello. The phone was carried only for emergencies and was not turned on during other times.
It was about four and a half miles to One Mile Lake (elevation 5,800 ft.) where I found six other hikers quietly camped. My campsite was chosen on the opposite side of the lake amongst tall pines. I immediately started fishing and did catch a few trout which supplemented my food. Some patches of snow lingered in the woods and on the steep side of the hills. Bob's snowshoes took me straight up and straight down the snowbanks.

After camping overnight, the next day I took off and hiked up the steep ridge separating One Mile Lake from Cuddihy Lakes, reached the ridge top, passed the Pacific Crest Trail then hit huge snowbanks on the north slopes. The snow disappeared after I had descended in elevation a few hundred feet. I dropped down to the Cuddihy Lake Trail and took the trail to the lakes. Walking around one of the largest lakes, I fished constantly but failed to catch anything. After changing into dry socks, I hiked back up to the P.C.T., and headed northwest on the Lakes Trail. Snow was constant then and the walking slippery. After hiking on the snow to an area (elevation 6,300 ft.) overlooking Gold Granite Lake near where I had first camped and later caught the first few fish, I decided to cross-country down the snowbanks to get below the snow. The snow was still up to eight feet deep in some areas. Holes in the snow existed circling around the pine tree trunks when the snow had blown and drifted to earth. It appeared summer may have been on it's way, but had not occurred yet. After descending 600 feet, the snow disappeared and I arrived at Gold and Green Granite Lakes, met up with the horsepackers still camped and who now had cut and built a woodpile four feet high and six feet long. I then hiked a half mile further downhill and camped for the night after having hiked about four miles of steep terrain.

The next day, the hiking was easy, being downhill most of the way for eight and one half miles. No bears were seen on this trip, but plenty of bear scat instead. The weather had been dry with sunny days and cold nights.

- Rolly