Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Mike and Jason IV

Here is the next part of Mike's and Jason's adventure on the North Fork, from Euchre Bar down to Mineral Bar:

August 19th, 2003 Well, today was the day. Back into Giant Gap once again. Neither Jason or I had voiced our opinion out loud to each other, but now I found myself telling him that I really was not looking forward to re-doing Giant Gap. To my surprise Jason responded that neither was he. So, when camp was broke, breakfast cooked and ate, and our rafts loaded and the gear tied down, we sat down and discussed our options. We could spend the next 7 days exploring Green Valley to our hearts desire then climb back out on the Euchre Bar trail. Or we could go back to Euchre Bar and explore up river for a few days. But, after discussing it for perhaps a half hour, we decided to push on down river. After all, we had been having extremely good luck so far. There were no holes in the rafts yet, we had made speedy progress on the two days we had traveled, and the river seemed to be slightly higher than last year making travel a little easier. One thing that had been bothering me the whole trip however was a premonition I had been plagued with for several months - that something was going to happen on 8-19. 8-19 of when I didn't know and I didn't know if it was an hour or date. And here it was, 8-19 and we were diving into the depths of Giant Gap once again. Talking about tempting fate! Before we shoved off down river we asked God for protection during this day, to protect our loved ones, and to prove my premonition wrong.

At 9 a.m. we took our lines and headed into the great chasm. Within five minutes we came to the large log wedged up against the house sized boulder and carried our fully loaded rafts around the end of it. It was our first portage of the day. Last year this log still had all of its bark, but now it was mostly bare. We also noticed that where it was touching the boulder that the log was worn almost in half. Not too many more years and it will break in two. Minutes later we passed the mine and stamp mill, and silently saluted those old miners and all their hard work. We both agreed that we'd like to dig out all the silt in there, they couldn't have got ALL the gold! Pushing on down river, a few minutes later we came to the pinnacle of rock officially marking the entrance to Giant Gap. With most of the deep pools still in the morning shade, we were glad we had chosen to wear our wet suits. Last year we stumbled, tumbled, and slipped over the slippery rocks and made very slow progress, but now with our rafts riding high and dry and the wet suits protecting us from the cold, we found ourselves skimming over the slippery boulders and making great time. Instead of spending all our time lining the rafts, we half rode and half walked. Standing at the rear of the raft, we'd lean forward and grab the ore locks with our hands, then run. Sort of like the Flintstones in their primitive cars. We found it worked great and alleviated a lot of slipping on the rocks and needless lining.

Soon we realized that we were having fun, and Giant Gap was not near the challenge to us that it had been last year. We found many places where we stopped and panned for gold through out the day, fished in many places, and took dozens of pictures. Soon we came to a lovely waterfall on the left side, and took a break beside it. Up until this point I had not done much gold panning, just being with Jason and taking pictures seemed to satisfy me. As I was sitting there eating my snack, I began looking at the bedrock around me when something caught my eye. It was small bright stone, and definitely not like all the others. Leaning over to it and inspecting it closer, I realized it was a small gold nugget tightly wedged into a crevice. It was right at water line and I moved some rocks from around it and attempted to remove it. But it was stuck solid, and I had to end up breaking the bedrock immediately around it to free the nugget from its prison. It was the biggest nugget I had ever found outside of Alaska, and I guessed it would weigh in around 1.5 dwt. (when I got home I weighed it, and it was 1.7 dwt.) So, we spent another hour panning the cracks in the bedrock there, but found only small flakes and mostly dust after that.

Pushing on down river, the day went quickly. We passed many lovely pools, and lots of fantastic bedrock formations. We panned at several more locations and had a blast in spite of our worries. We began to wonder why on earth we had had such a difficult time through here last year? The stair stepped mountain on the south rim got closer and closer, and pretty soon we were beside it. At one point the cliff on the north side came directly down to the river from perhaps 1500 feet above. Soon the sun was setting behind the western rim, and we were traveling in the shade. The day had gone extremely fast. Suddenly, emerging from a pool between two house sized boulders we recognized our first camp site where we had spent our first night in Giant Gap last year. We really weren't ready to call it quits for the day yet, but we decided to anyway. We called this place "camp solitude" last year because it was so deep in the canyon you felt totally cut off and alone in the world. We had been fatigued and beat by the time we got here last year, we were VERY thankful for this camp site, which was only a small gravel bar island about 8 X 12 feet. It was still here, and had even grown a little over the winter. We leveled off the top and made camp. It felt good to get out of our wet suits and into dry clothes. Breaking out my chair, I sat there in solitude with my son, finding it hard to believe we were actually back here! I had thought about this place so much over the winter and stared at the picture dozens of times. Now we were back. If only I could make time slow down somehow, I thought. We swam in the pool and got cleaned up, really appreciating the bio-degradable shampoo my wife had so thoughtfully provided us with. Soon daylight was beginning to fade and the bats appeared. We knew it was time to get us something to eat, and once again freeze dried food tasted very good! This particular camp in the depths of Giant Gap was my very favorite of the trip. I guess there was little else to do there and it gave me time to relax and reflect on many things. I'll try and attach a picture of this camp. It had been a good day, we had lots of fun without stress, we made excellent time, and only had to portage our gear 3 times all day. Even portaging our gear was fun today, compared to last year when every portage seemed like a major undertaking and consumed valuable time we didn't think we had. Soon the stars came out, and snuggling down in my sleeping bag I soon became drowsy and said goodnight to the world while a little waterfall across the river provided the music that led to a deep and peaceful sleep.

August 20, 2003 We were up early and cooked us a hearty breakfast once again. We had a very good night and slept comfortably. Last year at this campsite the wind had blown 15 - 20 mph all night, Jason had got cold. It was here that we had realized the rest of the trip would be with leaking, heavy, water filled rafts and wet gear, as our patch dope had got wet and had become useless. What a difference learning from our mistakes last year was making! We made good time through out the day stopping many times to take pictures and pan for gold and fish. This was also Jason's birthday and he turned 27 today in Giant Gap. Last year he had turned 26 at Pickering Bar. I had several small gifts in my bag that I had been saving, and gave them to him after embarrassing him severely with my rendition of "Happy birthday to you" with my ridiculous echoes bouncing off the canyon walls. The gift he appreciated the most was the 20 power jewelers loupe that I had got him, and he used it to look at every piece of gold he found during the rest of the trip. Quite often I'd hear, "hey Dad, look, this piece has mercury on it, or this piece has some quartz in it!" The day went quickly and before we knew it the sun was dipping behind the canyon rim once again. We were in the lower half of the Gap now, and the country was becoming more open and less constricting. We passed our old camp site from last year (day 2 in the Gap) and stopped there for a break. The same sand bar was still there. Now we had traveled farther today than we did last year due to our speedier method of traveling - Jason called it "boogying". Leaning over the rafts and hanging onto the ore locks and running was certainly safer and faster. We knew Pickering Bar wasn't far. Today we had to portage only twice, and nothing had got wet yet on the whole trip. Coming to a large, wide, open gravel bar about an hour later, we leveled off the top and made camp. The evening passed as quickly as the day had, and before I knew it the stars had tumbled out, supper was over, and we were laying there watching satellites and meteors with our field glasses. The day had passed very quickly. Then we both realized something at about the same time - we were actually enjoying Giant Gap and wanting to come back next year too!

August 21, 2003 Jason, get up quick, its raining! It was barely light out and the large rain drops were falling fast. In no time our bags and gear would be soaked! Scrambling, we quickly stowed everything in our water proof bags and took the 8 x 10 plastic tarp we had been sleeping on and put it over our bags and carefully crawled in. The rain sounded heavy on the tarp, and we couldn't believe it was actually raining! I mean, it just doesn't rain in California in August, does it? It hadn't last year and we didn't bring a tent. No sooner had we got into our bags and the rain quit. Laying there for a few minutes it quickly got hot and sweaty under the plastic tarp. So, we got up well before sunrise and cooked breakfast under an overcast sky. What a change from yesterday! Not knowing what lay in store for us weather wise for the rest of the day, we stowed everything extra careful and both wore our wet suits, as it was definitely cooler out. Even though they were only shorty wet suits, they sure helped keep us warmer. We soon shoved off down river, making excellent time. The day remained fairly heavily overcast but it didn't rain anymore. We had some long and tedious portages today, but they all went fast and smoothly except one. In one particular place the river squeezed between ten foot boulders, and the only place to float our rafts was a narrow chute about 2 feet wide and 8 feet long. Rather than portage around it, we chose to up end the rafts and float them through on their sides. I went first with Jason watching, and everything went well. At the end of the chute there were some rapids emptying into a deep pool. Letting my raft float into the pool by itself I threw the line aboard and then watched in horror as on the very last roller the raft flipped neatly upside down! Jason saw it and was laughing hysterically. The only thing I could think of was my expensive cameras and ran and dove headlong into the pool and towed my upside down raft to shore. Righting it I discovered everything was still tied down intact, and nothing had got wet. Then it was Jason's turn. He got his raft through the chute OK, then yelled, "hey Dad, this is how you do it, you keep the line in your hand to control the raft down the rapids, see? Then promptly in the same exact place where my raft had flipped, Jason's did the same thing!. Standing on a huge boulder watching the drama play out, I laughed hysterically as Jason swam out to retrieve his raft also. Again nothing got wet, and we considered ourselves lucky. Before we knew it we came to the pool where last year we had met a homeless miner who had saw my bottle of strawberry cool aid in the bottom of my raft and demanded to buy it for a dollar. I gave him the cool aid since he seemed rather crazed, and we left pronto. We knew this to be about 3/4 of a mile above Pickering Bar. It was here that we experienced the longest portage of the trip. It was over large boulders that we had to jump from top to top on, and was around 200 feet long. It was here that I spotted something yellow caught high in a willow bush, and went over to see what it was. It turned out to be a very expensive water proof bag full of something. I untangled it from its willow prison, and took it back to where Jason was to see what was in it. We were thinking maybe camera gear, or small cooking stoves, or maybe a GPS. But when we opened it a stench emerged that almost made us sick. Someone had lost their lunch bag probably several months back! Oh well.....

Continuing on down river, we soon came to Pickering Bar. Now last year we had met this character there who called himself "Joe the Troll". He had seemed harmless enough at the time and even invited us up to his well established camp in the tailing piles under an oak tree in the middle of Pickering Bar for a cup of coffee. He had talked our ear off for over an hour and even showed us where to pan for gold, and a good place to camp. But we were thankful when he finally went back to his own camp and left us alone. He seemed friendly enough the next day too and even let us use some of his mining gear, such as 5 gallon buckets and shovels. But our initial encounter with him as we arrived at Pickering was an eye opener, as he accused us of being BLM people and was quite irate. It took us several minutes to convince him we were not employed by that organization. He then made a threat that if we were indeed BLM and got him kicked out of there, that he'd "get us". Well, as luck would have it, sometime last fall I was contacted by BLM and questioned about this Joe character. I don't have a clue as to how they got my name or phone number, but I answered their questions as honestly as I could, and with as short of answers as possible. They called back a couple weeks later and told me that they had kicked Joe out, and that at that time (late October) he was over in Reno in a homeless shelter. This was quite surprising to me, because when they called the first tiime they had said they had given Joe permission to stay there, and were giving him the privilege of being the "camp host" of Pickering Bar. With this weighing on our minds, we approached Pickering Bar quietly. Not knowing if he was still there, we lined our rafts to the lower end of Pickering and set up camp, keeping a close watch on the tailing piles above for any sign of him. After a while it made me angry that here we were, on the trip of our lives and afraid of some small mouthy guy who called himself a miner, and we were sneaking around. In frustration with the way we had been acting, I told Jason that we were marching up to his camp and confronting him. I was going to get this over with one way or another! But, arriving at his camp, we found it empty and abandoned. There was trash and camping gear strewn every where, and it was quite evident that he had just pulled up stakes and left all his trash and a lot of his gear. It was a sickening sight to behold and smelled terrible. Sadly we walked back to our camp and got supper. How could anyone just walk off and leave that much trash in such a beautiful place? Soon we tired, and situated our bags. Atleast we could see the stars now, and the overcast day seemed to be coming to and end. Intently, we listened for the ghostly music that we had heard here so plainly last year, but heard only small sporadic bits and pieces. This is where last year, Jason had been down at the river pumping us some drinking water just before bedtime, and had been startled out of his wits by someone or something playing a fiddle right behind him. He had come running wild eyed back into camp asking if I had heard that fiddle. When I said no he just couldn't believe it. Silently we went to sleep, hoping for a prettier day tomorrow.

Suddenly about 2 hours later I was awakened by a bright flash of light! Someone with a flash light, I thought? Then I heard the thunder. Storm clouds had moved in once again, and now it was beginning to thunder and lightning. With ominous feelings we went back to sleep, only to be awakened a little while later by heavy rain hitting us in the face. Quickly we put the plastic tarp over our bags, rocked down the edges, and crawled into our bags quite soggy. The thunder and lightening increased in frequency, and it flashed at 2 to 10 second intervals the rest of the night. The thunder was the loudest I've ever heard! It would rain for about 20 minutes, then stop for maybe a half hour, then rain harder. It was so hot, sweaty, wet, sandy, and muggy under that tarp we couldn't stand it! It had to be the worst night I've ever spent anywhere! We had just thrown back the tarp when it quit raining once to get some cool fresh air, and was just beginning to doze off in the thunder and lightning when we were suddenly and without warning plastered with hail stones! They were big enough to hurt when they hit! Diving back under the tarp I screamed at Jason to put his pillow over his head. It was so loud we could hardly hear each other screaming. Our bodies were being pummeled, but at least our heads were safe. A couple minutes later it quit hailing and started raining harder than ever! I reached down and got my LED lamp to survey the damage. To my horror, the ground was covered with hail, and it looked like it had snowed! Some of them were 3/4" in diameter, but the rain drops were so big the hail stones were being tossed around on the ground! Now it had quit raining again and we were getting some fresh air after the hail storm. Here came the rain again, and we again dive under the tarp. It went like that most the night, right up until daylight. One time we had just thrown the tarp back to breath fresh air, and I had turned over on my stomach and stretched out. I was just dozing off when something landed on my back! Quickly sitting up and grabbing a rock, I shined my light around and saw nothing. Then I noticed tracks, and realized that a small fox or coyote had ran right over me! What a night!!! Wearily we arose and greeted the day at first light.

August 22nd, 2003 Fog! Pickering bar was shrouded in fog. It was still raining quite heavy about every half hour, and we looked forward with little anticipation to this day. At least the hail had all melted. We knew we had to have to have shelter. So, between rain storms we quickly grabbed our bags and gear and headed up for Joe's old camp. Atleast up there we could tie our tarp up in the tree and get under it. We really couldn't afford to spend another day lounging on the river time wise, as we had already spent all 4 extra days we had in the Green Valley and the Euchre Bar area. But we felt we must, and made camp as best as we could. What would this day bring? With only 3 travel days left, we wondered if we could make it all the way down to the bridge at Mineral Bar campground in time! According to our maps, Pickering bar was only about the half way point of our trip. Joe's camp had turned into a muddy mess, but we managed to get our tarp tied up, and even found one that Joe had left, and used it too. We found another piece of plastic that we washed off in the river and used it to put our bags on. Pretty soon we had a fairly comfortable camp, and set to work drying out our gear. What a night!

Well, I'll finish up this story with the next part, in a few days.

Best Regards,

Mike Case

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