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On the last of four days in the Marble Mountains, I scheduled a half day-ish outing to allow me to get back to San Jose at a reasonable hour. I was after a pair of P1Ks in the southern part of the range, just outside the Marble Wilderness. I had spent the night parked at the Tanners Peak TH, about a mile and a half in on a good gravel road from the paved Sawyers Bar Rd. The trail is no longer maintained and hard to follow in places, and one wouldn't know there is a trailhead here unless you were looking hard for it. A small wooden sign marked "Tanners Peak Trail" about 20yds up from the roadway is the only help that you're on the right track.
I started off at 6:40a by headlamp in a dark forest, gradually growing light over the next half hour. The trail climbs incredibly steeply up a ridgeline, more than 1,700ft in less than a mile. Without a single real switchback, it makes modest "S" turns as it weaves through the trees in the understory. I was sweating and breathing as heavy as I ever have on a hike to keep up the pace without stopping to rest. After that first mile the trail veers right as it begins to contour around to the north side of Tanners Peak. There is still 2,200ft of elevation gain to the summit, but it proceeds at a more reasonable pace. There are two old, historic camp sites that the trail passes through and I managed to lose the trail briefly at each. The first is the Hennings Mine site found not long after the trail begins to contour and the second is about a mile and a half further, near the headwaters of Sawmill Gulch. Both sites have rusting tins and pieces of old iron stoves scattered about, neither seems to be actively used for camping anymore. The topo map shows the trail going up from this second camp to a saddle on the NW side of Tanners, but I never found it again once I reached the headwall. I scrambled up cross-country to the saddle, reaching it by 8:30a, almost two hours after starting out.
Unbeknownst to me, there is a use trail that can be used to skirt around the the right (southwest) side of the ridge to reach the summit in short order, only about a quarter mile distance from the saddle. Instead, I scrambled along the ridge more directly, finding one obstacle after another, each time climbing down on the left side to get around it. It ended up taking me half an hour to go this short distance that could have been done in less than half the time on the easier side. An empty, rusted tin was all I found in a small cairn at the summit with views overlooking the Salmon River drainage on three sides. To the north rises Yellow Dog Peak which I'd climbed the previous day, and to the northwest was the ridgeline I planned to take to the other P1K, unnamed Peak 6,487ft. It's a long way, some 2.5mi of rugged ridgeline going over a bonus peak enroute. Normally this ridge would be thick with brush as is much of the area, but a 2012 fire burned up Sawmill Gulch to the ridge, offering an opportunity to hike here more easily.
I was able to return to the NW saddle in only ten minutes thanks to the use trail I found on the way down. Continuing northwest, I found some rocky scrambling initially, requiring me to circumvent the direct line along the ridge for a short distance. In doing this, I dropped a Powerade bottle off one side, watching it drop 25ft before impacting and bouncing its way another 50ft downslope. Amazingly, the plastic bottle never exploded as I'd have expected, not a crack or a puncture. I climbed down to retrieve it, finding it a bit banged up but little worse for the wear, considering. After this I was able to stay close to the ridge, weaving around brush when needed, but never getting into anything too serious. In places I found old flagging and signs that brush had been cut - perhaps hunters had cleared a route along this ridge in years past.
I reached the intermediate bonus Peak 6,237ft by 10:30a, an hour after leaving Tanners. Tucked in a rusted tin at the summit was a disturbing note from 1987, from an incident in which firefighters were forced to flee their position without food, water or gear due to smoke and deteriorating conditions. An online search later turned up the 1987 Complex fire which burned in the area but no mention of lost firefighters, so hopefully they got out safely. From the summit it's another mile to the higher Peak 6,487ft along an easy ridgeline. The fireline is abrupt here, brush and forest on the west side of the ridge, burned but recovering brush and forest on the east side. I picked my way through the brush, by now my pants, shirt and gloves streaked with black soot. It took 45min to get to the higher summit, the last several hundred feet left unburned and a little trickier to get through. Finding nothing here, I took a few photos of the views looking south and north before sitting down to consider my return.
I had originally assumed I'd be heading back along the same ridgeline to return on the Tanners Peak Trail, but it was obvious by now that that would probably consume a good three hours. I had been eyeing a ridge dropping east down from the summit crest, noting it had burned as well, and wondered if it might not provide an easier, more direct descent back to the TH. The GPSr gave a straight-line distance of just over two miles which I figured was short enough to make it worth trying. The first half mile consisted of a steep, descending traverse to reach the ridgeline, and once there I found the going a bit tough because the ridge did not burn as completely as I might have hoped. Lots of burned sticks poked up through recovering brush, making for a moderately difficult bit of thrashing to make my way down the second half mile along the ridge, eating most of an hour. Eventually I got down to around 5,000ft where the forest had not burned as effectively as the brush. The going started to get easier and soon became rather pleasant, dropping steeply through forest understory and making the second mile go far faster. The only concern here was poison oak which began to appear below around 4,400ft, never a significant amount, but enough to make me wary where I stepped or placed my hands. At one point I slipped on a steep slope littered with pine needles and found myself sledding down into a bed of poison oak, stopped only by vigorously digging my heels in. The last quarter mile was a flattish ramble through rocky streambeds to get myself back to the road near the trailhead. The descent had taken a bit under 2hrs, so overall it was the faster way to return, albeit perhaps not the easiest. Still, it had been a great little adventure and I was quite pleased with how the day turned out. I stripped off all my clothes and tossed them in the laundry bag (I assume they were contaminated with poison oak, even if I don't recall touching any of it), showering there at the side of the lonely road before starting the long drive home. New clothes, some cold drinks from the ice chest and some salty snacks kept me happy on the drive out of the Marble Mtns. I would get home my 8p, making good time down Interstate 5. The only downside were all the "Farmers for Trump" signs I had to put up with along the way...
This page last updated: Wed Oct 12 11:01:42 2016
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