Memorial Day Memories

Well, I managed to make it through another Memorial Day without sitting in traffic and fighting the crowds in some supposedly secluded spot. I was out at Laity Lodge and spent most of the day in this isolated, idyllic spot, hanging out with my wife and daughter. I was not at a beach so full that you can hardly find a spot to sit, or at a park jammed with celebrants blasting their music and drinking adult beverages. Been there, done that, never again if I can help it.

A backpacker in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Photo from

Many years ago, my wife and I began a two-week vacation on Memorial Day weekend. We intended to go camping, but wanted to avoid the campgrounds that would be overflowing with early season campers. It was too early in the season to do much backpacking in the High Sierra of California, which would have been our preference. There was still too much snow up in those high mountains. So we did some research and discovered the Marble Mountain Wilderness in the northern reaches of California. This area offered Sierra-like features because of its northern location, though the elevations of the mountains and lakes were much lower so there wouldn’t be a problem with snow.

Linda and I packed up our gear and headed north, way north, driving 700 miles from Los Angeles to Happy Camp, yes, Happy Camp, California. From there, we drove south on a dirt road for about ten miles, until we found our trailhead. As I had hoped, there were only a couple of cars at the trailhead. My plan had worked. We had before us a Memorial Day weekend of peace, tranquility, and no crowds. Oh, and something I had not expected or planned for also. I’ll get to that in a minute.

On our hike to Bridge Camp, our first stop, Linda and I encountered three forest service employees who were working on the trail. Otherwise, nobody! The men said they hadn’t seen any hikers that day. This pretty much meant that we had a whole section of the Marble Mountain Wilderness to ourselves.

Linda snapped a picture of me in our tent at Bridge Camp.

We spent the night at Bridge Camp, a forested spot at the junction of two creeks. Then we pressed on for higher elevations, walking through thick pine and fir forests and alpine meadows. Finally, we reached our destination along the shore of Blue Granite Lake. We set up camp and explored this gorgeous place.

As night approached, I noticed that some clouds were gathering in the sky. They looked like rain clouds, which gave me a bit of concern. The weather report had allowed for a chance of rain, but nothing too terrible. Our tent was relatively rainproof. But, still, I would have preferred a dry night.

That dry night didn’t happen. Instead, somewhere around midnight the wind began to howl. Shortly thereafter, it started to rain, and then to pour. Linda and I huddled in our tiny nylon tent, feeling utterly exposed to the ferocity of the weather. At some point the rain seemed to become less strong. Finally, we fell asleep for a few hours.

When we awoke in the early light, we realized that we were soaked. Our tent was not suited for such heavy rain. We were also freezing cold, not only from the water in our sleeping bags, but also from the air itself. The temperature must have dropped 30 degrees during the night.

I crawled out of my sleeping back and zipped open the tent to see how things looked outside. As I pulled back the flaps, a bunch of soggy snow fell into the tent. I peered out and everything was white, covered by three or four inches of wet snow. It was still lightly snowing. This was an unforeseen problem, the cost, I suppose, of solitude on Memorial Day weekend.

At this point, Linda and I had only one sensible option, since we had no idea of the weather report and since everything we owned was sopping wet and freezing cold. We threw the tent and sleeping bags into a large trash bag and lashed it to my backpack, adding at least thirty pounds to my load. Then we started out with a death march pace for our car, which was parked ten miles away. It snowed for about a half hour. Then the snow turned to rain. As I hiked along, drenched, freezing, and carrying a pack that weighed about 75 pounds, I wonder if it was worth it. I began to have visions of enjoying some crowded beach in Southern California. I’d be warm and relaxed, even if there were 100,000 people jammed in next to me.

Linda and I did reached our car in just over three hours. We had been hiking fast. We drove for a couple of hours until we reached civilization in the form of Eureka, California. We found a motel with a heater and managed to dry out both ourselves and our gear. Eureka is a quaint, seaport city on the northern coast of California. It’s not, however, the sort of place that gets inundated with tourists for Memorial Day weekend. So Linda and I had a grand time exploring a part of the state we had never visited before. I’d be happy to go again sometime, even on Memorial Day weekend.

Never tried backpacking on Memorial Day again, however.

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  • BuckeyermnBetsy

    You have an amazing wife, Mark Roberts.

  • I’m reminded of our family vacation trip a few years ago. We set up a tent at Enchanted Rock, planning to camp our way across Texas. The first night was a Tornado Watch. The next night was La Quinta.