The day dawned so clear and warm that I felt impelled to visit Canyon Creek. Around eight I stepped out the door and saw my dog, an Australian Shepherd named Lucky, lying sadly in the morning sun. Lucky should have about a thousand sheep under his direct supervision, but instead, languishes with nothing to do, in an unending fit of boredom, broken only by the occasional digging of a boulder of andesite from the hillside here, which he then proceeds to herd down to and over the cliffs below, with great yelps and snorts of triumph.
I told him, "Get ready, we're heading out. Time for an adventure!" Then I got my second cup of coffee and threw my camera, loppers, GPS unit and handsaw into my pack. I debated calling a friend to invite along for a hike. Jim & Heidi Johnson? Not a chance. A perpetual round of home improvement there. Joel Baiocchi? Home improvement. Jim Ricker? Knees. Bob & Judy Suter? Always busy. The renowned Judge Sims? Scared of heights. The renowned Judge Newsom? Attacked by a wild pig in Italy long ago, feet never the same. Catherine O'Riley? Engaged. Instead, I called an old friend in the Bay Area; the line was busy. Now that the Fates themselves had confirmed that telephone calls were simply out of order, I stepped outside. Lucky had divined my intentions and began leaping for joy, yelping, rolling on the ground, dashing up the steps, etc. etc. I fired up the battered old Toyota pickup and made my way to Gold Run, and through the tortuous turns and mudholes which count for a road into the diggings.
I parked in Potato Ravine Pass and dragged the shovel and mattock from the truck. On the way in, I would dig out some manzanita stumps from the line of the trail, in that uppermost portion I have been slowly restoring over this winter. A salvage timber harvest, following a wildfire in 1960, had ruined this part of the trail, and adding insult to this ruination, a heavy crop of manzanita had flourished and thickened over the past forty years. Having cut a swath through this manzanita, it remained to clear the stumps from the trail.
So I set the pack down, put on my gloves, and got to work. A mattock is a tool like a pickax, but heavier, with one blade like an axe, and one like an adze. Mine is ancient. It is good for cutting roots. I dug up three stumps and filled the holes with good clean clay and rock fill quarried shovelful by shovelful a few yards away. Then the pack went on, the heavy tools were left behind, and it was on down the trail. I noticed with some consternation that many other manzanita stumps remained to be dug out.
In a few minutes I was passing the huge tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, made in 1873. In another few minutes I reached the bridge, with its now severely delaminating plywood. This must be fixed soon. The creek was running high and clear after the recent heavy rains and with the warm day cooking the thin snowpack persisting in the upper basin of Canyon Creek. I reached the first waterfall vista point and took a break. I made some short QuickTime movies of the waterfall with my camera.
I did not intend to go all the way to the river, only to Gorge Point, which has a very warm microclimate and has good early blooms of various flower species. However, I passed the point without seeing any flowers and stopped at the Rockslide, where a short reach of the trail had been destroyed, who knows how long ago. I parked the pack and started climbing up and down the ruined section, trying to imagine how it could be repaired, what the optimal line of the restored trail would be, and so on. Descending to the base of the ruined section, I began working on a short stretch down there. For an hour or so I heaved boulders around and tried to rebuild this little part of the trail. With the help of gravity, some 200-pound-plus boulders were brought into play, and a little progress was made. Then I worked for a while on another little section, trying to make stone steps.
I have this silly idea of making this part of the trail like some mountain trails in China, in Szechuan Province, where truly massive flat rocks weighing hundreds of pounds are used as stair steps over long distances. There are some rocks of this magnitude in the rock slide area. Today, however, I was mostly working with small stuff.
The sun was beating down and I was sweating. I decided to start back up, but paused at Gorge Point, where there was a nice patch of shade close by the cliff, as the sun passed the meridian. Having stopped there I realized that two species were indeed in bloom, the Carrot family's Biscuit Root and the Mustard family's Rock Cress. I took some pictures and then packed up again. As I started up the trail I heard the sound of a helicopter. It grew loud then faded away. I could not see it.
A few yards up the trail I heard it again, loud, and looking down the creek I saw it, rising right into the narrow gorge at Gorge Point. It apparently had flown right up past the Big Waterfall, and if its position when I first saw it was any indication, it would have been so close to the falls its windshield should have been wetted by the spray. I swung the camera up and took a few pictures. It flew directly up the creek, and the pilot peered down at me as he passed, only a hundred feet away or so. Illegally low, I think. I waved.
When I reached my mattock and shovel I stopped for some more stump digging. The morning stumps were easy, the afternoon stumps were hard, very hard, and took many many swings of the heavy mattock. In fact, I had to split the stumps into sections and then attack the roots of each section in turn. Another three stumps came out. I was exhausted, thrashed in fact, not from the hiking, not from the boulder work, but from that mattock.
Such was a day on the upper half of the Canyon Creek Trail.
[The blog post above was extracted from an archive of Russell's emails to his "North Fork Trails" email distribution list.
Posted by Richard L. Towle (Russell's brother)]