Sat, Oct 8, 2016
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I'd spent the night parked off the pavement at Etna Summit on the eastern edge of the Marble Mountains. The PCT crossed the roadway here and I planned to use it in the morning to tackle Peak 7,521ft, a P1K, and Yellow Dog, a CC-listed summit. It may not have been the easiest way to reach either one of these peaks individually, but the PCT route was certainly the best way to do both together.
I was up around 6:30p and heading off northbound on the PCT an hour later. Sunrise had come not long after 7a and it was promising to be another beautiful day in the Marble Mountains. I passed the Wilderness boundary after the first mile and half, the trail following closely along the high ridgeline separating the Salmon and Klamath River drainages. I followed the PCT for two hours, covering 6.5mi in the process until I was about 1.5mi SW of Peak 7,521ft, my first stop. I noticed an unsigned, unmaintained trail breaking off from the PCT in the area I was looking to find the old Mill Creek Trail. While I was fiddling with the GPSr (I was still about a quarter mile short of where I expected it), a backpacker came by heading southbound. I looked at him for a second before commenting, "Hey, didn't I run into you yesterday?" Indeed, it was the same guy I had passed in the vicinity of Sky High Lakes just east of Marble Mountain. He smiled and responded with something I didn't catch. He didn't slow down and seemed to be making record time in the opposite direction.
I decided to take the unsigned trail which did indeed prove to be the old Mill Creek Trail. Though loaded with downfall and somewhat brushy in a few places, it was still easy enough to follow and way better than having to struggle up to the crest cross-country. The trail switchbacks a number of times before crossing the crest just south of Pt. 7,430ft. The trail then starts to drop down into the Mill Creek drainage, but not before getting me within about 0.6mi of my summit. Where the trail begins to drop more steeply, I left it for a cross-country ascending traverse under forest cover with fairly easy going. The last hundred feet or so becomes rocky along the ridgeline, going over one false summit before bringing me to the highpoint by 10:45a. The high peaks of the Marble Mtns (Boulder, Black Marble, etc) can be seen in the distance to the northwest. Scott Valley can be seen about the same distance to the northeast. The southern Marbles stretch off to the south framed by the Scott Mtns in the background. No register was found, though I really didn't expect to find one. In fact I found no registers on any of the summits I visited today.
I returned back to the Mill Creek Trail and then the PCT, shortcutting some of the switchbacks on the old trail to save time and distance. It would take me two hours after leaving the summit of Peak 7,521ft to return to the saddle on the ridge that would take me to Yellow Dog. The latter was another 1.7mi along the ridge heading south and west. In between were two bonus peaks, Peak 7,122ft and Snooze Ridge, somewhat obliging me to go over them since they were more or less on the way. These two summits turned out to have the best scrambling of the day, with some fun class 3 on both peaks. As I was starting to descend Snooze Ridge to the west, I spied a momma bear and her cub crossing the saddle with Yellow Dog. They were gone and out of sight long before I reached the saddle, but there was much evidence of this being bear country. The ridgeline rising to Yellow Dog showed numerous bear tracks beaten into the sandy sections, with copious amounts of bear scat littering the area. If I was going to hunt bear, seems like this would be the place to do it.
It was nearly 2:30p by the time I topped out on Yellow Dog. The south side of the mountain drops away steeply, more than 4,000ft in a few miles. There is a much shorter route from the south starting from the Mule Bridge Campground, less than 3mi one-way, but the slopes look to be horrendously brushy and I would not recommending any but the most adventurous to give that route a try. The ridgeline from the PCT, though it has a number of intermediate peaks and smaller bumps to go over, is a fairly brush-free route.
Taking a cue from the bears, I noticed there might be any easier way to return that avoids the two bonus peaks by skirting the ridge lower on the NW side. This proved to save 1/3 of the time, or half an hour, vs my outbound route along the ridge. I had some fine luck as well in finding two sections of old trail that helped speed things up. Where these trails originated or ended I never found out, but they were a neat find. I finished the return to the PCT with a 0.4mi climb out of the Big Creek drainage to get me to the saddle where I had left it 2.5hrs earlier.
With 3mi to go, I made a last stop by going up and over Peak 6,732ft, about a quarter mile north of the PCT and about half way along the return. Nothing special about this one, just some stat padding. It was shortly before 5p when I finished up, the outing coming in at something under 9.5hrs, covering about 20mi with 6,000ft of gain. I drove down the southwest side of Etna Summit some 8mi to the junction of Russian Creek and the N. Fork of the Salmon River. The Idlewild CG is located here along with a good gravel USFS road that I drove about a mile and a half to the trailhead for the Tanners Peak Trail, the next day's route. After showering, it was time for a beer, dinner and a movie - all the luxuries of civilization out in the sticks...
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