Copyright © 2008
by Richard S. Platz, All
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Bolan and Tannen Lakes
Red Buttes Wilderness
Siskiyou National Forest
August 10-12, 2007
the Author and Barbara Lane
"D'ya have t'poop, baby? Can y'poop in the water?"
An easy half mile stroll inside the boundary
of the Red Buttes Wilderness leads to Tannen Lake. This destination,
however, cannot be comprehended apart from Bolan Lake, which
lies outside the wilderness two-and-a-half miles to the north-northwest,
with its odious no-host communal drive-in campground. The Tannen
Lake trailhead and Bolan Lake Campground are linked by seven
miles of well-maintained, but winding Forest Service road and
an outlaw culture of ignorance, noise, garbage, disrespect,
and self-indulgent rapacity. At neither lake are wilderness
ethics recognized or comprehended by the dullards who infest
Barbara and I started the week innocently at
our cabin east of Ashland, Oregon, taking it easy. Way easy.
Easier than I can ever remember. Three weeks previously "seeds"
of radioactive Palladium 103 had been rudely rammed into my
nether regions to kill off prostate cancer cells, those unwelcome
descendants of dread. Of us, yet other, cancer
cells are adolescent stepchildren grown beyond reason and determined
to break your heart.
Tired, listless, astride an ever-burning coal
which pressed against bowel and bladder in a vital place I had
rarely contemplated, day by day I was losing traction with this
world. This was not an ideal time to venture beyond the bathroom,
the familiar, or the convenient. Yet I would attempt
the wilderness, which might, I hoped, cleanse my body of impurity
as it had for decades cleansed my soul. And perhaps it might
have, but for the horror of the screaming children.
We decided to take it one small step at a time.
See how it went. We would try camping one night in the van at
Bolan Lake, and, if all went well, attempt an overnight backpack
the next day into Tannen Lake. The Bolan Lake Campground was
already half-full when we arrived. Fishermen, their wives and
yelling children, and their tents, campers, and pickup trucks
clustered at the beach and gravel boat ramp at the north end
of the lake. Out on one of the spiral arms, where the gravel
road looped back toward the galactic center, we found a nice
spot above the southeast shore, furnished with picnic table,
tent site, and barbeque grill, comfortingly near an all-night
pit toilet (N 42 01' 23.9", W 123 27' 31.8", 5394
feet). We considered ourselves sufficiently away from the main
An isolated foot-trail left our camp and wound
counterclockwise around the lake, out of earshot of the main
campground. We followed it through verdant brush and a profusion
of summer wildflowers tumbling down to the water's edge. The
lake was lovely, viewed at a distance from the campground.
Later that afternoon, as we set up our camp,
the thump and whine of rock and roll music began to override
the rustling silence. A DJ on amphetamines offered oldies but
goodies. The noise grew louder. In the large double campsite
in the center of the campground someone had opened both doors
of a beat-up old felony Trans-Am and torqued up the volume of
the stereo. Speakers in both doors were aimed right at us. I
groused to Barbara, who advised me to try and ignore it.
I tried, but the thudding and shrieking grated
on my nerves. "Now I know why campgrounds have hosts,"
I grumbled. "I think I'll go on down and ask the guy to
turn it down."
Barbara didn't think that was a good idea.
"I'll be diplomatic," I assured her.
I took a wide meander through the main campground
to evaluate the impact the music was having on others. Though
especially loud at our campsite, the music intruded everywhere.
I would take a poll. I started to approach an attractive young
blond mother, but she was distracted chasing two toddlers, hollering,
up a hill. At the next campsite sat an elderly gentleman in
a folding chair. He wore a sea captain's cap and a thin moustache
curled up at the ends. I asked him what he thought of the music.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head, but obviously didn't
want to get involved in a potentially homicidal confrontation.
Fine. It was up to me. Feeling like a peace officer
about to make a dicey felony stop, but without benefit of a
sidearm, I circled back to the offending campsite. The stereo
was now blaring out a Rolling Stones number:
". . . Now she gets her kicks in Stepney
. . ."
"EXCUSE ME!" I yelled to a paunchy,
barefoot man in shorts and a gray tee-shirt.
" . . . Not in Knightsbridge anymore
. . ."
I called again, inching cautiously into his territory,
before I caught his attention.
". . . So don't play with me . . ."
He looked as dilapidated as his car. Puffy and
worn. Greasy hair hung in his face in tangles, and two incisors,
one upper and one lower, were missing from his dull smile.
". . . Cause you're playin' with
fire . . ."
As he approached, strong fumes of alcoholic beverage
crashed over me. Behind him I noticed a similarly stocky, unkempt
woman dangling a half-empty quart of whiskey from one arm. I
braced myself and said, "Do you think you could turn the
music down a little bit? We're camped up there," I pointed,
"and it's pretty loud."
He swayed for a moment trying to process what
it was I wanted, then grinned. "Sure!" No problem.
Glad to comply. He lurched into the front seat and the cacophony
"Thanks a lot," I said sincerely. It
had dawned on me that this man and woman possessed no sinister
intent, but had been blissfully unaware of the impact they were
having on those around them. Once they were enlightened, they
did the Right Thing. Problem solved, I headed back to join Barbara
at the van, rejoicing in the innate goodness of humanity.
But we had made one fatal miscalculation. We
were in a public campground on the cusp of Friday Night. Vehicles
began arriving about dinnertime. From Cave Junction and Grants
Pass they came, and from Happy Camp over the mountain on the
Klamath River. This was their province. Their
playground. Their familiar place to party and unwind
from another tough week of drudge labor. Two more vehicles had
joined the Trans Am, and the music was again cranked up. This
time it was country and western. Johnny Cash bemoaned incarceration
in Folsom Prison. Family and friends drank and staggered and
danced and swayed and laughed around a roaring bonfire. Tribal.
Barbara and I resigned ourselves to the fact
that we were the interlopers, the foreigners, the strangers
with strange expectations. Comforted by the anticipation that
we would hike into the wilderness the next day, beyond the reach
of motor vehicles and madness, we made preparations for a noisy
night. Mercifully, the revelers turned their music down when
darkness fell. Perhaps they had all passed out.
Saturday morning the campground was peaceful.
A few early risers, like us, sat silently around their campfires.
The lake lay calm and still in the silver light. After breakfast,
we stuffed our backpacks and packed up the van. I was feeling
good to go for an overnight excursion.
The short drive to the Tannen Lake trailhead
should have been easy. Forest Service Road 041 would have brought
us there in less than twenty minutes, had we not missed a sharp
left turn just before Kings Saddle. Instead, we continued straight
ahead on well-graded FS Road 19N01. No signs announced the road
change. After descending a couple of miles into the Klamath
Valley we came to a sign marking the southern terminus of the
Boundary Trail. This trailhead seemed to be in the wrong place.
The previous year we had hiked the upper segment of the Boundary
Trail to its northern terminus at Windy Gap, sixteen miles away
(See A Campsite Lost and Found). We stopped to study
the map and realized our wrong turn. The Boundary Trail was
indeed another, longer approach to Tannen Lake, but there was
no place to pull the van off the narrow roadway. Besides, considering
my recent surgery, I had signed on for a half-mile excursion,
not a three-miler.
we turned back and found where Road 041 cut over the shoulder
of the ridge, arriving shortly at a wide place at the end of
the dusty spur road. Another vehicle was already parked. Unsigned,
the Tannen Lake trail was a little tricky to locate about 100
yards back up the road where it slashed into the underbrush
and up the overgrown bank. From the top of the slope, before
the trail cut into the gentle green valley that harbors Tannen
Lake, we observed a beat-up Trans Am pulling off on the side
of the road far below. It looked oddly familiar.
Our little excursion barely pricked a western
bulge of the Red Buttes Wilderness, which drapes over the high
and craggy Siskiyou Mountain Crest like a prayer flag, fluttering
partly in California and partly in Oregon. The Siskiyou divide
separates the headwaters of the Illinois and Applegate Rivers,
which feed the Rogue River to the north, from the Klamath River
drainage to the south. The Pacific Crest Trail ascends the steep
forested valley wall from the Klamath toward the twin ultramafic
peaks for which the wilderness is named, then doglegs eastward
just shy of the wilderness boundary to follow the crest bound
for Mount Ashland.
Our hike was over almost as soon as it began.
We did not even break a sweat. The trail leveled out through
a brushy meadow and arrived at the north end of the lake, near
the outlet stream, where twin giant Douglas firs towered over
a rare patch of flat, open earth hosting a rock fire ring. Beyond
the twin towers lay a small, grassy beach, interlaced with the
gray-white skeletons of fallen trees. We off-loaded our backpacks
to claim the campsite (N 42 00' 33.7", W 123 27' 52.5",
Tannen Lake sits in a glacial cirque wooded and
brushy down to its shore, a small blue-green gem in a verdant
setting. The guidebooks say that this area of the Siskiyous
is one of the most biologically diverse in the world. Lush.
Overgrown. Rare species of conifer are said to adorn these woods,
although their subtle differences were beyond our poor powers
We left our packs and followed the fishing trail
along the south shore in search of a more secluded campsite.
Large incense cedars and white fir grew abundantly from a rich
and varied ground cover of rhododendron, scrub oak, wildflowers,
berries, and ferns. Willows and alders choked the shoreline,
making it difficult to access the water. At the southwest corner
we found another campsite, but it was primitive, overgrown,
and long abandoned, with difficult access to the shallow water.
On our way back to our chosen campsite, we met
two fishermen with long poles over their shoulders. "D'ya
know where the trail to East Tannen is?" asked one
of them. He was the Trans Am guy with the missing incisors whose
music had so irritated us at Bolan Lake. His face was ruddy
from the short uphill hike. In this wilderness setting, without
the booze, he looked younger and healthier than when we spoke
the previous day. His companion was a teenage boy. Perhaps a
nephew or an in-law.
"Sorry," I said, shaking my head. I
had not yet studied our map. "I think its over that way
someplace." I waved across the lake to the northeast.
We watched them continue south along the trail
before disappearing into the brush. Small world, I thought.
I really had no idea how small it would become.
We popped up the tent and threw in our pads and
sleeping bags. I rearranged some rocks in the fire pit to accommodate
our grill while Barbara hung a few things from nails in the
trees and gathered firewood. Then we sat on a log by the water
and watched the fishermen fish the southeast shore far across
"Do you feel like hiking over to East Tannen?"
"How far is it?" Barbara wanted to
"Round trip? Couple of miles. Tops."
"How are you feeling?" Her eyes wore
"I feel okay. I think I can make it. We
don't have to go the whole way if it gets tough."
zipped up the rainfly and set out pots and bottles to make it
clear this campsite was occupied. I strapped on the camera.
We easily crossed the brush-choked outlet stream on broad rocks
and followed a trail northeast into the forest. The shade of
the tall Douglas, red, and white firs smothered out the thick
underbrush. Soon we circled eastward up out of open forest onto
the exposed metasedimentary rock of a north-facing leg that
overlooked the Illinois River Valley.
From there we could see the central bulk of the north-south
trending Siskiyou ridge, which the Boundary Trail traced to
granitic Grayback Mountain. Our trail soon looped back southeast
and climbed a fern- and brush-filled meadow into another glacial
cirque like that of Tannen Lake.
Tannen Lake was a smaller version of Tannen Lake, even more
brush-choked and shallow than its companion. We had to climb
over fallen logs to reach the shore, which accommodated one
miserable little fire ring, abandoned and overgrown. Another
massive fallen tree had plunged into the lake, blocking access
to the water. The cirque walls here were steeper, with more
exposed rock than at our lake, making it more intimate, but
it would have been difficult to scratch out a clearing for a
level tent site. We were glad to have seen it, but did not tarry
One the way back, we met some elderly day-hikers,
who wanted to know where the hell East Tannen Lake was.
"Not much further," we encouraged them.
We heard the screaming children long before we
could see our lake. Their shrieks pierced the gentle forest
like needles. As we came into view of the lake, I scanned the
shore to see how close they were to our camp, but saw nothing.
The screaming grew louder as we climbed from the brushy stream
crossing into our campsite.
The young blond woman I had seen chasing children
at Bolan Lake came up from the lake between the twin firs. She
was in her early twenties, with a pretty face and blond hair,
but stomach and thighs bulging a bit too much for the bikini
she wore, her youthful beauty sinking into a swamp of adipose.
"Hi'ya," she greeted us. "Pretty
"We're spending the night," Barbara
explained, gesturing unnecessarily to our tent and backpacks
leaning against the trees.
"Oh," she said, astonished. "What
about the bears?"
"Bears?" Barbara was taken aback. "What
"Oh, I'm just afraid a' bears in the woods.
D'ya have a gun?"
No, we did not have a gun, Barbara replied, wondering
at the extent of the arsenal in their truck and maybe concealed
among their clothes haphazardly strewn around our camp.
"Ain'cha afraid?" she asked, wide-eyed.
"Do you come here often?" Barbara asked.
A child let out an unnerving scream that set
my teeth on edge. The woman seemed not to hear it. "Yeah.
Sure do. Twenty-eight miles from Cave Junction. Better'n drivin'
up t'Grants Pass." Unheeded, the mindless screaming persisted,
and a naked two-year-old trailed into our camp.
For the first time that day I was beginning to
feel unwell. I eased myself down on a log beside the fire ring.
"That's my husband." She pointed to
a slender blond fellow fishing off a tree that had fallen into
the water. He looked barely out of his teens. The woman herded
the child back down to the beach, where she and a younger infant
splashed and squealed in the mud and water. The man fished like
he was alone and had all day to catch something.
I could not get comfortable. I felt trapped like
a rat in some sleazy terminal waiting room, forced to watch
a soap opera on a television with the volume turned up way too
loud. Time dragged on. This was not the communal drive-in campground
at Bolan Lake. This was Tannen Lake. Within the sacred
boundaries of the wilderness! Where hikers are supposed
to respect each other's privacy. Where campers leave each other
distance. Where everyone reveres peace and quiet.
At Barbara's suggestion, we took a walk, gathered
some firewood, and returned. The man had inflated an air mattress
and was paddling out on the lake, making a grand sweeping tour
of the entire shore. Forty-five minutes grew to ninety.
"D'ya have t'poop, baby?" I could hear
the woman talking to the little girl just beyond a willow hedge.
"Can y'poop in the water?" In the water? Surely
I misheard. That's our drinking water. But I said nothing.
Did nothing. Only endured with plummeting blood sugar, waiting
for them to go away.
Still they splashed and whooped on our doorstep.
The older child kept returning to show us one thing or another.
We did our best to ignore him. That only made him more persistent.
I turned my back. He padded around in front of me.
"I don't want to see it," I
finally barked, a little louder than I intended. And perhaps
with an edge of hostility. Maybe even, to his mother's sensitive
palate, with just a soupcon of infanticide.
The blond woman hurried in and scooped him up,
perceiving for the first time that we might not be all that
friendly. The festive mood had changed. She and her husband
hastily began packing up their belongings, which was not a trivial
task. Barbara and I sat silently and endured. Our parting was
not uncordial, but we were thrilled to see them carry their
children through the meadow and disappear into the brush. At
long last, we had the campsite to ourselves.
buoyed our spirits. That evening we sat in the grass on our
foam pads at the edge of the lake, leaning against a log, and
for the first time began to feel a full measure of peace. That
night was a little rough for me, but I learned the skill of
digging holes in the duff by flashlight. Something to add to
Sunday morning I was feeling fine again as we
sat beside the morning fire, watching the sunlight silver the
still lake. Pondering the arc of circumstances, I wanted to
attribute my misanthropy not entirely to events, but to my mood,
to my illness, to my convalescence. The myriad perceived offenses
were nothing but figments. It was all in my mind.
Then an ember spat from the fire and burned a
quarter-inch hole in my pant leg.
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