Gardner Peak (6,884 feet) sits on the eastern edge of the Sky Lakes Wilderness, overlooking the northern reaches of Upper Klamath Lake. It’s a named peak without a benchmark and the origin and date of this name are uncertain; it was probably named after an early settler in the Wood River Valley around Fort Klamath. It certainly doesn’t get the same attention as does Devils Peak along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to the west. Still, a cross-country hike to its summit was as good a reason as any for a first visit to the Sevenmile Marsh Trailhead and the associated Sevenmile Trail. With its easy trails, plethora of campsites, and over 200 lakes of varying sizes, the Sky Lakes Wilderness is one of (if not the most) beguiling and wonderful wilderness areas in the state. But only the hiking-obsessed (hand raised here) visit before September, when the clouds of blood thirsty mosquitos that hatch from snowmelt until mid-August have dissipated.
The gravel road to the hiker trailhead (at the end of the road past the equestrian trailhead) was in great condition and it looked as though the compact parking area (4-6 cars) had just been freshened-up with new gravel. There is one vault toilet.
The Sevenmile Trail starts off due south from the trailhead, soon crosses Sevenmile Creek (still running a little high thanks to our wet winter),
and continues wide and straight toward the wilderness. There were a few fallen trees blocking the trail and it was lightly flooded in spots but was otherwise in good shape. It struck me as a nicely graded and thus mellow way to reach the PCT or the Seven Lakes Basin.
The huge Sevenmile Marsh lies just to the southeast of the trail and, thanks again to that wet winter, was backing up on to the trail in spots. All of this calm, shallow water did wonders for the mosquitos – they weren’t that noticeable as long as I kept moving but they were on me en masse if I paused for any reason.
After only 1.75 miles, I reached the PCT, which is now entirely snowfree in this area, and of its usual easy-to-follow width.
After a short walk southwest on the PCT, I turned off it to the southeast to pick my way cross-country through the forest toward Gardner Peak. The forest isn’t as thick and impenetrable as it looks at first and, by ducking and weaving and moving slower than usual, I was able to link together open areas almost all the way through to the summit.
Without looking at my GPS, it would have been hard to distinguish the gently rounded, viewless summit from the surrounding forest.
Two hundred feet further on, however, you come to the edge of Gardner’s abrupt eastern escarpment,
with its view out over the northern end of Upper Klamath Lake.
The best thing about the summit was that it was mosquito-free and hence the ideal (only) spot for a bite-free lunch. After that I took a different route back (as if I could have retraced the weaving I’d done to get here) and managed to cross what is now shown as a trail – but is actually a really old logging road – about 0.5 mile before reconnecting with the Sevenmile Trail. The map shows this trail/old road going back to the Sevenmile Marsh Trailhead along the southeast side of the marsh, suggesting a way to loop the marsh if you were so inclined. The mosquito hoards had withdrawn somewhat in the heat of the day but the deer flies had not, so I kept moving past the shallow pools alongside the trail,
stopping only to admire one of the tiny gold and green toads that were migrating across the trail from one pool to another. I can only hope they have a voracious appetite for mosquito larvae. You go microtoads!
After a refreshing hop back over Sevenmile Creek,
I returned to the trailhead where, thanks to a liberal application of DEET, I counted no mosquito bites! A moderate hike (9.3 miles roundtrip; 1,900 feet of elevation gain) mainly because moving cross-country through the forest is simply more work that simply striding down a trail. So, was Gardner worth it? Well, probably not – the one view did not really compensate for the work required to see it. But the Sevenmile Trail, and the Sky Lakes Wilderness in general, are absolutely worth a visit – be it hiking or backpacking. Just plan your visit for the Fall, unless you like being swarmed big-time by mosquitos!