Monday, July 03, 2006

Pre 4th of July campout.

The tail end of June, and the high country still closed by a lingering snowpack. Trails still blocked by downfall. It was a heavy winter.

I’m usually in the mountains before now, and I wanted to get in at least one trip before the holiday week set in and camps filled with people. Back packers and horsemen come from all over to hike and ride in our Wilderness Areas and the surrounding mountains, and the Forest Service would be directing them to the areas that are open. A phone call to the local Forest Service headquarters, and I was informed that the trail out of Lover’s Camp to Sky High Lakes was still closed. The trail had been cleared to the old cabin in Marble Valley, but snow still lay along the trail on Yellow Jacket Ridge and in pockets below the lakes. Hikers could make it, but horsemen would have to wait awhile.

I called an old friend and we decided on Shackleford Trailhead. Jim is an old hunting and camping buddy. 75 years old now, he spends most of his time puttering around camp, but he was ready to go. I gathered my camp outfit, loaded the mare in the trailer and the dogs in the pickup, and I was finally on my way to the mountains.

It didn’t take long to discover that the trails up the Shackleford Creek drainage were still in pretty bad shape. A group from Oregon, the Northwest Youth Corp, was clearing trail and doing general maintenance above our camp. This was my first encounter with this particular organization. I am familiar with the CCC’s, the YCC’s, and of course the Forest Service trail crew; but I had not heard of this group before. They did a fine job on the section of trail where I saw them working. A commercial packer took their tools and a camp outfit up the trail for them on Monday morning.

It was hot, and generally dry, during the 9 days we spent in the mountains. I don’t know what the actual temperature was, but I rode past Campbell Lake at an elevation of 5745 feet with sweat running down my face. Back home, the thermometer on my porch registered a high of 102 degrees while I was away. On 2 nights we could see lightning flashing farther north in Oregon, but we only got a few sprinkles. Not enough to settle the dust.

I fished Campbell Lake twice. It was slow, but I caught a few trout that went well with bacon and eggs for breakfast. Just not enough of them. Pretty brookies though, with nice pink meat; about as good as mountain trout get. I talked to a few people who had fished both Calf and Cliff Lakes, and no one was bragging much about the fishing.

I took the spillway trail down from Campbell Lake where it dumps into the creek. I found it still clogged with deadfall, but nothing I couldn’t jump Sis over or work around. The trail to Cliff Lake was open, and I heard that the trail to Calf Lake was accessible to horses for most of the way. Snow still blocked the upper part of the trail.

The trailhead was a busy place the whole time we were there. Day hikers and horse groups were in and out every day. The commercial packer took a party of 7 people to Cliff Lake for an extended stay on Thursday, and brought the Youth Corp out on his way back. A horse group from down south packed in to Summit Lake, or tried to, on the day we broke camp. I hadn’t heard anything about the condition of that trail, and I don’t know if they made it or not.

With all the activity around camp and up and down the trail, not a lot of wildlife was seen. A black tailed doe crossed the road just below camp several evenings on her way to the creek and water. Then there was the rattle snake that was entirely to close to where the dogs were tied on the edge of camp. Neither Jim or I tried any predator calling. We thought it would be a futile attempt under the circumstances.

I’ll sit out this holiday week at home and catch up on a few chores. I prefer some solitude when I set up a camp in the mountains, and it wasn’t to be had on this trip. In another week or so things will begin to settle down, and more trails will be open as this heat melts the snowpack.

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