Continuing with our endeavor to climb the highpoints in seven of Northern California’s wilderness areas, I went for a long, steep hike up to the summit of Boulder Peak (8,299 feet), the highest point in the 225,114 acre Marble Mountain Wilderness that is just west of the town of Fort Jones, California (details). Boulder Peak sits across the Canyon Creek drainage from Marble Mountain, a long, curving, escarpment of stark, red-and-gray marble rock (often referred to as the Marble Rim), and the namesake of this wilderness. There are three trailheads giving access to Boulder Peak: Boulder Creek, Shackleford Creek, and Big Meadows (the easiest if you can figure out the logging roads leading to it). Boulder Creek is the one used most frequently and is the one I used. Previously, we’ve hiked to Marble Valley from Lovers Camp (post) and to Campbell Lake from Shackleford Creek (post) but this was my first visit to Boulder Creek.
To reach it, I took a right turn on the paved Scott River Road at the west end of Fort Jones (next to Ray’s Supermarket) and followed this increasingly narrow paved road for 14.1 miles to a sign for Indian Scotty Campground and Lovers Camp. I turned left here on to paved Forest Road 44N45, crossed the Scott River on a narrow bridge, and continued on FR 44N45 past Indian Scotty Campground for 1.6 miles. I then turned left on to bumpy gravel road FR 44N53Y for a 2.2 mile climb to the Boulder Creek Trailhead, where there is room for several cars. This trailhead is accessible to low clearance vehicles.
This trailhead is at 3,800 feet and you reach the summit at 8,299 feet in a little over 6.6 miles. So in between is A LOT OF UP – the trail climbs over 3,000 feet in its first 3 miles. The route is easy to follow – it was completely clear of any downed trees – as it gained altitude through the forest on trail and pieces of old logging road; there had been horse traffic over the weekend so it was loose and dusty in places.
I entered the Marble Mountain Wilderness at about 5,500 feet and then continued switchbacking up until a ridgeline at about 6,300 feet. Then came a rare level stretch to the signed junction of the Wright Lake and Deep Lake trails. There was a large tree down right at the start of the Deep Lake trail, so I stayed (left) on the obviously more heavily used trail to Lower Wright Lake. After a little more almost level travel, I turned a corner (at about 6,600 feet) into the Boulder Creek drainage and the scenery went from dry forest floor to lush creek valley.
The trail then crossed and followed up the valley – through trail-hiding swaths of vegetation – to where the stark north face of Boulder Peak came into view over large fields of wildflowers – LOTS of wildflowers.
At about to 7,000 feet, Lower Wright Lake came into view. Judging from the folks I saw there, it looked like there were several good campsites at the north end of the lake.
There are use trails down to the lake here but the main trail – now grown a little fainter – continues steeply up the slope toward Upper Wright Lake – another gem of an alpine lake. The lake’s banks are pretty steep, but I saw one small campsite at its west end and the much larger one shown on the map at its south end.
From Upper Wright Lake there’s yet more climbing – Who would have guessed? – up to a ridgeline at about 7,700 feet, where I got my first big view out over the Scott Valley to Mount Shasta on the eastern horizon. I have to say that this view did a lot to revive me after the 4,000 foot climb it took to reach this ridge!
There’s a T-junction here and a sign indicating that Boulder Peak is along the trail that heads southwest (or right). This trail does not show on either the current USGS or USFS topo maps for this area; it does show on the current ArcGIS topo.
This is a pretty clear and easy to follow use trail that features deightfully level walking for about 0.5 miles and then heads uphill again for the last 0.25 mile or so to the summit.
I continued up the use trail until I was about 100 feet from the top of the ridge and then angled up cross-country to the summit, which is a somewhat undistinguised mound of black rocks. Staying on the use trail will take you to the ridge about 300 feet west of the actual summit and you’ll have to work your way around an intervening rock pile to get over to the true high point.
From the top, the view down the north face to Lower Wright Lake was a breath-taking 1,500 foot drop!
The still snow-covered high points of the Trinity Alps Wilderness – such as Thompson Peak – were visible on the horizon to the south,
as was the upper Second Valley Creek drainage, with Marble Mountain in the distance, to the west,
and (of course) Mount Shasta to the east.
There were a few mosquitos at the trailhead but after that it had been an amazingly bug-free day – even in the lush Boulder Creek drainage – until I got to the summit, where horse flies began a series of painful assaults on any exposed flesh, which, with just shorts and a t-shirt, was, unfortunately, a lot. Buzz buzz! Between fly swats and snack bites, I thought about making a loop out of this hike by descending off the summit and back down along Second Valley Creek to the Deep Lake trail. The ArcGIS map shows a trail here and a 2005 trip report detailed how to do this. But 10 years is a lot of time in the life of a trail and I wasn’t willing to commit to a descent that might unexpectedly involve finding faint trail while climbing over lots of downed trees – seems we’ve already done a lot of that this season. So, I just went back the way I’d come up, with its omnipresent views of Mount Shasta,
past Lower Wright Lake, now shadowed by clouds that had begun building toward a possible thunderstorm,
across the meadows at the head of Boulder Creek,
and then back into the forest and down the steep, steep trail to the trailhead. A long and strenuous day hike (13.3 miles roundtrip; 4,400 feet of elevation gain) BUT one which rewarded me with a visit to two beautiful lakes and with massive views from the summit on a perfect (flies aside) bluebird day. Well worth the effort!