Losing Our Marbles

I’ve been here before, I think. I’m on rock, under a tree, waiting with the dog. I’ve never been here, but it’s familiar.

We came hiking down the Canyon Creek Trail two hours ago, to a parking lot bursting with vehicles baking in the late afternoon sun. We started early that morning on another trail, at another trailhead – one with no other cars.

following "someone's" trail

We were in the Marble Mountains, a compact, rugged wilderness in the Klamath Mountains of Northern California. A lot of the trails in this area don’t get a lot of foot traffic because of its remote location, so we weren’t too surprised when we found the Box Camp Trail to be a little less maintained than we’re accustomed.

As it turns out, we weren’t on the Box Canyon Trail, but a spaghetti network of game trails that traversed the ridgeline around 6,000′. We picked our way through deadfall conifer forest and an incredible amount of bear poop to hack our way across drainages thick with slide alder. We had lost the proper trail about a quarter of a mile from the car.

a friendly goldfinch mocks me in the slide alder

We thrashed and stumbled our way up the ridge, generally following the terrain up, confident that we would intersect the PCT at some point. At some magical elevation, we broke into rocky alpine meadows just starting to pop with wildflowers. We started to get some great views across the valley to Black Marble Mountain and further south into the Marbles. The snowy peaks of the Trinities sparkled in the hazy heat.

the Marble Mountain ridgeline from the Box Camp Trail

it got easier the higher we climbed

we found the Box Camp Trail!

Black Marble Mountain

It had taken us three hours to climb to the PCT, a mere three miles from the car. The thought of turning around and returning the way we came (our original plan) wasn’t at all appealing, so I climbed to the ridgeline and called my friend.

“Hi, Allison!” she said, sounding surprised to hear from me.

“Hi, Kacia! We’re on the PCT! We just spent the last three hours bushwhacking up the Box Camp Tra… Hello?” The phone went dead.

I fired off a text asking someone to meet us at the Lovers Camp trailhead at 5PM, hit send, and held up my phone to better catch the weak signal. The phone said “message sent” but I wasn’t convinced it did.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have called. I couldn’t get service anywhere else along the trail and may have caused some undue stress for our friends because of the dropped call. We weren’t in a life threatening situation and shouldn’t have initiated a conversation that may have implied that we were in one.

But we had committed to a plan, even if the text didn’t make it through. We continued hiking up the ridge and soon intersected the PCT. It’s highway-like tread was unmistakable. It was straight out of the Sound of Music.

Marble Valley

the ridge from whence we 'schwacked

the wildflowers are starting in the high meadows

I had really wanted to see the Marble Rim, a mile-long escarpment of rough white rock that has eroded to form hundreds of caves. We stopped to explore parts of the rim at the base of Black Marble Mountain and I look forward to going back to take a closer look. The rough stone was too much for extended walking for the dog’s paws, and we were running out of time.

It took a lot less time and effort to hike along the well-defined PCT, down to Marble Valley, and to Lovers Camp. We got to the trailhead just before 3PM and plopped into the shade, over 12 miles under our sweaty belts.

“Trail mix?” I offered, settling into the shade and leafy litter of a large tree.
“No, thanks,” said Bill. “I think I’m going to go get the car.”
I stared at him blankly.
“I can’t sit here for two hours,” he exclaimed.
“But it’s another 6 miles of full-sun road walking!” I said. “Just kick it with me. If they don’t show up at 5, we’ll just start hiking back together. It will be cooler then.”

He pulled on his backpack, kissed me, and started jogging across the parking lot.

Exactly two hours later, at 4:58, I heard the unmistakable thrum of a Chevy Blazer charging up a steep forest road. Bill drove into the parking lot, sweaty and grinning, satisfaction knit on his shining face. This isn’t the first time that he’s gone the extra mile, literally. I think this is his calling; his need to challenge himself and be the hero, but truly and purely for himself. They used to call him “Selfless Bill” in college, and that’s been true for much of our marriage. He’ll deflect praise and admiration, satisfied with his internal push to be out of his comfort zone and his desire to help. It’s what makes him a great paramedic, and it sure is handy for me, who has been the anchor for these 92% loops all these years. I have the easy part, the sitting under a tree on a boulder part. The part that feels all too familiar.

holding up my part of the bargain

We met our rescue car on the drive down from the parking lot. In fact, the text message had gone through. I’m grateful for our friendship – the kind where you would drive head first into a muddy situation to help – and, for that, I owe Kacia many thanks and many beers, and the promise to never call unless it’s a true emergency from the trail again.

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