Drive to Yreka and hang a left. That's the flippant answer about how one finds the Marble Mountains, but it's more or less all you need to know for general driving directions.
This may be hard to take for some liberal Mendocino County residents, but if Herbert Hoover hadn't been enamored with the streams and land around Wooley Creek in the 1920s, the Marble Mountain Wilderness would not have been designated a “Primitive Area” in April, 1931 let alone advanced to a federally protected “Wilderness” in the last days of 1953.
Even with backpacking growing almost exponentially in popularity in the last half century, the Marble Mountains remain much closer to a true wilderness than other federal lands in California. Though a section of the Pacific Crest Trail runs through it, the Marble Mountains see about one-tenth the number of visitors as the John Muir Trail between Yosemite Valley and Mt. Whitney.
Pulling open my Marble Mountain maps I can almost smell specific campfires and wilderness meals consumed alongside long time backpacking friends. Not all Marble Mt. maps depict the more colorfully named lakes of a region jigsawed into the Scott, Salmon, and Klamath River watersheds. My favorite moniker is Man Eaten Lake, which rests steeply below the convergence of the Kidder Creek Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Beyond Man Eaten one can travel cross country on less and less visible pathways to Milne, Osprey, and Wooley Lakes.
The next major trailhead north of Kidder Creek takes backpackers to the Shackleford Creek Trail. Last year, about this time, I wrote about traveling that trail to Calf Lake. “There is a further goal than Calf Lake in this part of the Marbles. That is the ultimately secluded “A, B, C, D” Lakes. The letters stand respectively for Aspen, Buckthorn, Chinquapin, and Dogwood. To reach them from Calf Lake requires another hour or hour-and-a-half scramble and crawl over red rock boulders (difficult with a daypack, extremely strenuous with a full backpack). Trout big enough to make a meal can be fished from all of these lakes. An osprey often demonstrates its hunting process on Dogwood and Chinquapin.
In this writer's eyes Dogwood is the most appealing of these four mountain marvels. However, it was at Dogwood that I also walked past a disturbed rock walled fire pit with an inflatable raft left on top of it (the air let out of the raft, of course). The specific manner in which the fire pit and surrounding camping spot was mussed up looked much like the handiwork of a backpacker named Greg Woods, who frequented the most out-of-the-way places in the Marbles in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The diagnosis of a Greg Woods campsite actually came from a fellow backpacker with whom I've trekked for decades and who had been in the Marbles with Greg Woods more than once. Readers may ascertain why I kept anyone else out of the story while we go on with last year's narrative: “Gregory Joseph Woods loved the outdoors so much that he would spend weeks at a time in the Marble Mts. He disdained the use of cairns or "ducks" to mark seldom used cross country trails, knocking the "ducks" (piles of rocks) over on his way out of a hidden lake or gulch stream. Greg didn't dislike all people, he just didn't want anyone finding nature's secret treasures after he'd located them.
“Greg had one major problem: When he wasn't in the mountains he liked to gamble. He liked to gamble, but he didn't win often enough. He took to forging his roommate's identity to help pay off debts. He pulled something similar on a one-time woman friend. Greg held a decent paying middle class job, but it wasn't enough. The gambling debts grew and Greg became more and more desperate.
“One late September night in 2005 Greg Woods robbed a gas station/mini mart in Yreka at gunpoint. Law enforcement arrived at the scene quickly enough to spot Greg's pickup truck leaving the scene. A three-and-a-half-mile pursuit ensued through residential neighborhoods. Greg's pickup reached speeds of over 65 miles per hour, failing to stop at stop signs. He turned his headlights off and on during the chase in hopes of confusing law enforcement. During the pursuit one officer got into an accident with a third car, causing damage to the patrol car and injuring the occupants in the other automobile. The chase ended when Greg crashed his truck into yet another vehicle.
“A search of the truck revealed a blue and gray backpack with duct tape on it. In the backpack, officers discovered a headlamp, pepper spray, $215 in cash and 40 cans of chewing tobacco. The latter two collective items had been the sum total of the haul from the gas station. All of this would be fairly typical for any such arrest. Greg Woods was subsequently convicted. He also lost an attempted appeal plea in 2010. Whether or not he is still in prison I could not ascertain through a cursory computer search after my return from the Marble Mountains, but the deliberately covered over and messed up campsite above Dogwood Lake certainly appeared very similar to the handiwork of one of the 1990s most frequent visitors to the remotest realms of the Marble Mountains.”
I didn't give the piece any more thought until February 9th of this year when my personal email inbox contained a message from somebody calling themselves “Rambo Woods” with an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. Rambo's message said,”Listen Malcolm or whatever your name is. Need to watch who your [sic] writing about. A lot of nonsense in your article. I would never hike a raft in to the ABCD lakes basin. You don't know me, but you better watch your back.”
At the time the original piece appeared in the AVA there were no comments in the online version of our favorite newspaper. That remained the case until March 21st of this year when someone called Ruben Ramirez wrote in, “Oh boy, your article that talks about Greg Woods and the Marble Mountain Wilderness is a huge failure. Greg is the ultimate outdoorsman, but I have a feeling when he reads this, well I wouldn’t want to be you. Good luck I guess because your going to need it.”
Readers might speculate on the similar tone of “Rambo Woods” and Ruben Ramirez's comments. An internet search for “Rambo Woods” turned up Facebook sites for a Rambo (Jamrock) Woods at the Wichita Area Technical College in Kansas, a Rambo Woods that appears to be the home page of a snake, and a Rambo Woods at the California Department of Corrections Health Care Facility in Stockton. Clicking on that site brings up several photos presumably from inside the institution and “Rambo Woods'” profile: “Shot Caller at CHCF Stockton; BA in History/Government at California State University Chico; Went to School of Hard Knocks; From Marble Mountain, California.”
Reckon that nails down another AVA reader from inside the California Dept. of Corrections. A little over a decade ago Greg Woods was a creative, functioning part of mainstream society in Northern California. This small part of his tale should be cautionary for the rest of us, particularly those with any addictive personality traits. So Greg, or “Rambo,” apologies go out to you for any member of our backpacking crew presuming that you might tote an inflatable raft into Dogwood Lake.
Later in March, 2016, this comment, authored by Curt Johnston, was submitted as an attachment to the original Marble Mts. article: “Greg Woods was in my high school class of 83 at Etna high school. I have many times thought about his case. I wonder also if he is out yet. I believe what happened was a result of desperation and not a pattern of crime. He has a good heart and is a friendly person.”
For those interested in more details about Greg Woods' trial and appeal a reader named Cindy sent this link just after Independence Day:
Cindy also stated, “Sadly, Greg’s gambling addiction is only one of his problems. He’s taken advantage of friends and strangers alike.”
(More tales of saints, sinners and addicts can be found at: malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com.)