Twenty-five years ago I made a series of explorations in and around Giant Gap and Canyon Creek with several friends from Dutch Flat, including Neil Gerjuoy, the amazing guitarist. Yesterday I joined Neil, his friend Cindy, and Ron Gould, for a jaunt to Giant Gap, by way of the Paleobotanist Trail (PBT), Canyon Creek Trail (CCT), and the High Old Upriver Trail (HOUT), this last being the line of the old Giant Gap Survey.
In the late 1890s a scheme was hatched to divert the waters of the North Fork American into an existing mining ditch serving the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine, and then carry the ditch west through Giant Gap and on and on down the canyon, finally breaking out near Auburn. From there a pipeline would carry the water to San Francisco. Apparently to demonstrate the feasibility of the project, much work was done to eke out a bench cut between Green Valley and Canyon Creek. The bench cut was never finished, but in places it can be used as a trail. Hence the HOUT.
The "secret" road into the Gold Run Diggings being blocked at last, we could not drive to the Canyon Creek Trail, and so we started from BLM lands at the Bluffs. This adds 1.6 miles to the round trip in and out of the great canyon. The Paleobotanist Trail follows a somewhat wildly meandering course through the Diggings, past some rather large pieces of petrified wood, over 50 million years old, and, crossing the Main Diggings Road, follows a spur road east to the CCT.
We soon reached the huge tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. (1873), which leads from the Diggings on the west over 2000 feet to Canyon Creek on the east. Here the miner's camp had at last been vacated, with the large blue tarp still tied up to the trees, and garbage strewn about. We cut the tarp free and piled all the garbage on it, folded it and rolled it up and used scraps of rope to cinch it up into an ungainly bundle almost four feet long. This we left on the trail above the tunnel and continued south on the CCT, passing the bridge, and lovely Waterfall View, with the side trail to the Overlook of the Blasted Digger, and wound on down the steeps of the CCT to the secret junction with the HOUT.
Neil was duly impressed with the HOUT. The HOUT winds along in and out of ravines and around little spur ridges, on a nearly level line, sometimes blasted right out of little cliffs, where one feels much the mountaineer, to have dared to traverse the airy ledges.
Starting cool, the day had warmed rapidly, and we were eager to reach the river for a swim. What with this eagerness, and that extra eight-tenths of a mile at the beginning of our hike, it seemed right to make no attempt to continue on the HOUT into Giant Gap itself, but rather, to drop down to the river at Big West Spur and then boulder-hop up to the deep pools and steep cliffs of Giant Gap.
We found a huge boulder which provided a kind of cavern of shade, stashed our packs, ripped off our clothes, and dove in. The water was much colder than it had been in Green Valley last Saturday; the clouds and cool nights of recent days must be responsible; and so we swam with a certain amount of screaming and exclamations and were not long in the crystal-clear water.
Lunch followed, and then a foray up into the Gap, swimming across a cliff-bound pool, and exploring upriver until another deep pool barred our way.
All in all we were several hours down at the river, and waited for the sun to lower, before starting the march up and out. Canyon Wrens serenaded us, and the occasional Ouzel flashed past like a little fighter jet, low to the water and hugging every curve. At last, after a third river revel, we made the steep climb up to the HOUT, followed along the cliffs back to the CCT, which had only just lost its afternoon sun, so we made that steep climb in the shade, and eventually, arrived at the tunnel, and lashed on loads of garbage, and slogged slowly up and out and across the Diggings to the Bluffs and our vehicles. It was 7 p.m.; we had started around ten in the morning; altogether, a hike of some eight or nine miles, just to spend a few hours in great and glorious Giant Gap, had been more than worth it. It was a "good one" indeed.