Part Five of the Adventures of Mike and Jason:
In part 4 my son Jason and I had just spent a harrowing night hunkered down under an 8 x 10 plastic tarp on a sand bar at Pickering Bar, while the heavens opened up on us. We awoke to a soggy and foggy morning punctuated with torrential downpours about every half hour. Eventually moving up into Joe the Troll's old camp, we made the best of the day and attempted to dry out our gear.
August 23, 2002. Knowing that we had to dry out our wet soggy gear, we un-strung our rafts and used the line for a clothes line. There were plenty of trees and bushes close at hand for the clothes line, and camp looked a lot like a laundry center too cheap to use dryers! It took a long time for our bags to dry because of the lack of sunshine and dampness. It was noticeably cooler out too. We cooked a late breakfast under our tarp and enjoyed every last bite. All of Joe's trash was really getting to us, so we gathered it all up and piled it in one neat pile then covered it with some black plastic that was lying around. It looked much better and controlled the smell too. We found a lawn rake leaning up against a tree and raked down the camp, removing the last small bits of trash. Now it almost looked like a clean, comfortable camp. After our meal and cleaning up camp, we both began to feel the effects of the lack of sleep we had not got during the night. Sometime around 10 a.m. it quit raining and we used the opportunity to grab a much needed nap.
Waking up a couple hours later we were surprised to see the sun shining. With nothing else to do, we decided to go exploring around Pickering Bar. Grabbing our camera gear and prospecting bags, we explored the tailing piles. It was just amazing how much work went into moving all that stone! What wouldn't we have given to have slipped back in time for just an hour to see this place during its heyday! We found several places at the back of the tailing piles where the large rocks and boulders gave way to very small sized gravel, and we suspected bedrock wasn't far down. If only we'd have brought a shovel. We even found a couple areas where old cabins once stood, their locations given away by the profusion of old square nails lying around. Exploring further up river, we came to the north end of Pickering Bar and found an excellent trail leading up river in what we figured was a slight N.E. direction. It was quite evident that at one time the trail had been well used and maintained. Or maybe it was once a ditch bringing water to the miners of this bar, and had been converted to a trail later on. Following it a little ways above the tailing piles, we found a spur trail leading up hill, yet back down river. Pretty soon we came to a large flat area with scrub Oak growing around the edges. Someone had been cutting the large Manzinita bushes down, and we wondered why. Dozens of the beautiful bushes lay where someone had chopped them down. On the east edge of the clearing was a blue tarp tied up in a tree covering someone's camp. Again we had found an abandoned camp where someone had left quickly and left most their gear! Investigating, we found lots of trash under the tarp. Nearby was a large hole someone had went to a lot of effort to dig. It was probably 8 feet across and 6 feet deep, and it was evident it had once been much deeper. In the bottom lay old trash, so we took 10 minutes and packed all the trash from the abandoned camp and put it in this hole. While picking up the trash Jason found a bronze U.S. Marine corps emblem that had once adorned an officers hat. We wondered how a Marine could have went off and left such a mess! This flat area consisted of perhaps 2 acres and would sure have made a nice place for a home if properly manicured. We wondered how it came to be. Continuing up river a ways at that elevation without finding much new, we dropped back down to the trail and followed it back to the tailing piles. It was then that we noticed a man in a yellow inflatable canoe lining it down the river. He was having a terrible time standing on the slippery rocks and was making very slow time. We figured we would catch up to him later and say hello.
Dropping back down to the river, we found the place where we had spent an enjoyable afternoon last year sluicing for gold. We broke out our pans and sieve and started removing some larger stones, scraping off the surface dirt under them. Putting this through our sieves, we each panned about 10 pans. By then the afternoon sun was getting real warm, and we decided we were rich enough! We had got quite a little color, but it was all fine gold, and nothing bigger than a mustard seed. Last year the wind had come up very strong while we sluiced here, and when we had got back to our camp a couple hours later, we had found it blown over a 50 foot area! Now, arriving back at camp up in the tailing piles, everything was still intact. It was late afternoon now, and we were feeling pretty scraggily. So, gathering up our shaving kits, shampoo, and towels, we went down to the river and got cleaned up. It had been hot earlier exploring up river and we were pretty sweaty. While cleaning up in the river I notice a line of small blisters on my right arm. Poison Oak! Silently I prayed I had just brushed up against a bush somewhere, and it wasn't from my previous puncture wound when I had jabbed a Poison Oak stick into my leg in Green Valley. Arriving back in camp we changed into clean, dry clothes and it felt so good! We felt much better. All of our gear had dried quite nicely after the sun came out, and we set to work re-stowing everything in the water proof bags. Taking the line down from the trees, we re-strung our rafts and blew them up solid. We wanted to get as ready as possible to shove off down river the next day as early as we could.
It was getting to be late afternoon now, and we again decided to explore the tailing piles. There is just something about tailing piles that draws me, a sort of doorway or connection with the past, and I find it difficult to pass any of them up. Walking among them I feel welcomed by the old miners who made them, and more at home than in a big city. This time we were exploring along the edge of them, by the river. Almost directly across the river from camp there was a small flat area about 25 feet up the bank, and it looked suspicisiouly like a former cabin site. So, crossing the river we climbed up to it. Surely enough, there was still some sign of rock work on both sides, and several very old pieces of green colored glass. Scraping around on the ground with our feet, we soon found several old square nails. While scraping the ground for treasures, I suddenly un-covered a small round coin with a square hole cut into the center of it. I showed Jason and we both agreed it was probably an old Chinese coin. We were both on our hands and knees intently looking for more of them when Jason said, "Dad, do you feel that?" Suddenly a wave of cold air enveloped me. It was much colder than anything we'd experienced on the trip either this year or last year. It was almost like we had just stepped into a walk-in freezer. We could actually see our breaths! We looked at each other and both said at the same time, "lets get out of here!" Not wasting any time we both headed for the river! We hadn't gone 5 feet down the bank when we entered into normal temperatures once again. Continuing on up the bluff on "our" side of the river, we stopped and looked back at where we had just been, trying to figure out what had just happened. It was then that I remembered something that Joe had told us last year. He said that several times he had seen a person standing in a flat area across the river, wearing a long coat coming down to his knees, and a large pointed hat. Joe had shouted hello at this fellow each time he saw him, but never had received an answer back. Then he said that just as fast as this stranger had appeared, he would also be gone just as fast. Joe was sure he was a Chinese ghost. When I mentioned this to Jason, he too remembered Joe telling us the story. We both wondered if we had just encountered this fellow! Needless to say, we stayed on our own side of the river, and just for good measure I threw the coin I had found back across the river. I'm sure it landed very close to the flat area where I had found it, and we had no further encounters with the "cold", although both of us, I'm sure, slept with one eye open that night! Remembering the movie about the Blair witch, I was glad I had "given" the coin back!
It was getting dark now, and we cooked our supper of Mountain House freeze dried meals. The bats were flitting around as we went down to the river to pump us a couple bottles of water for the night to mix with Tang. We both kept a close eye on the flat area across the river just above us as we got our water, but all was calm and the air warm. Arriving back in camp, we both realized we were pretty beat, and didn't take too long in getting into our warm dry sleeping bags. The stars were out and we saw several good meteors, as well as the normal airplanes and satellites. No talking that night, just normal sleep with no rain, hail, thunder, lightning, or animals running over us.
August 24, 2003 . We were up early with the sun just coming over the canyon rim. We wasted no time in getting breakfast over with, and then started packing our gear down to the river. Loading our rafts and tying everything down, we shoved off with the morning mists hanging lightly over the river. Coming to the first bend, we found where the man was camping who was lining the canoe we had seen the day before. He heard us going by, and crawled out of his small tent and talked with us for about 15 minutes. He seemed nice enough, but we were very cramped for time now, and said a polite good bye and pushed on down river. One bend later we were surprised to see him again, and he passed us in his fast canoe. He was riding in it and scraping over quite a few rocks. Jason and I both hoped he had plenty of patch gear with him! And later we would find where indeed, he had to patch his canoe, by the discarded patch kit wrappers. We wished him good luck, and he was gone. I have since wondered if this man was a BLM employee patrolling the river. Last year we had heard that they patrol the river in kayaks, and this inflatable canoe was pretty close to a kayak. Laying half on our rafts and running with our feet, or "boogying" as Jason called it, we made good time. Before we knew it we were approaching the Truro mine. This year there were no miners working the bedrock just above there. Last year we had both punctured our rafts on the sharp pieces of bedrock they were dis-lodging and throwing into the river. Beaching our rafts, we climbed up the cliff to the Apple trees and gathered 20 or 30 of the better ones. Then we hiked up the trail and filled a couple bottles with black berries. Jason wanted to hike up the road a little ways to some strange trees we had encountered there last year. They had a strange green round fruit growing on them, about the size of oranges. They were hard, green, and didn't look at all appetizing. We never did find out what kind of tree they were, but this year Jason took several of the fruit with him, intending on trying to be successful in growing one. We took pictures of the giant Oak tree growing there and shoved off down the river once again. This time we swam through the deep pool there, towing our rafts as we went, then continued "boogying" down the river as fast as we could go. No time for fishing now, only photography. We were now in the realm of the bass anyway, as last year we didn't catch a trout down river from Pickering Bar, only those pesky bass.
Not far below Truro we stopped at a place where on the north side of the river at a sharp bend, there were ample tailing piles on the hill at several different elevations. While exploring them, we found the track of some large animal in the sand. These tracks were bigger than a Fox or Coyote, and I thought Wolf. Then we realized they were not dog tracks, they were cat! We had found where a mountain lion had prowled the night before! I got several good pictures of them with my shoe in the picture for comparison. We had encountered plenty of Bear sign on the trip also, especially in the meadow where Joe Steiner's grave was, as well as several other places, but this was the first mountain lion tracks we had ever seen. There are no mountain lions in Alaska, and I wasn't surprised it took me a while to recognize them.
On and on we went, around bend after bend, until we came to another very large tailing pile area. It was on a very sharp bend in the river, and there was a road coming down to the river at this point. Just down river about 200 yards there was also a cable strung across the river, still high in the air. It was here last year that we had discovered a mine leading through solid bedrock to an ancient channel. We wanted to explore it again, and beached our rafts. Grabbing our LED lamps, we went into the mine. At the back of this mine, we had discovered last year that it went straight up perhaps 20 feet to a second level where it branched left and right, and the remains of an old wooden ladder was still evident. There were also intact but rusted ore cart rails still visible. We made our way to the back of the mine, intent on somehow getting up into the second level where it branched left and right. But to our dismay we found the back of the mine had caved in since last year. We were very let down, but took several pictures in there anyway, including one of a friendly little bat hanging upside down. Jason had wanted to camp in this area last year, but I had had a very bad feeling about this area and we had pushed on. This year however we both really wanted to camp here, but as constrained for time as we were now, and it still being only early afternoon, we pushed on. A little ways down river we came to the gravel bar where Jason had pulled the nose ring out of his raft last year. We both were a lot more careful here this year! Soon we came to where we had camped last year, about a mile below the mine. We briefly stopped, silently saluted ourselves for being so vigilant even finishing the trip last year, and continued on down river. It was another one of those gorgeous days on the American river, and we were very thankful that we had seemingly left the thunder and lightning behind.
Eventually about sundown, we came to a large gravel bar on the east side of the river, and found a spot smooth enough to make camp for the night. The sun had just set and we were both pretty tired. On the edge of the gravel bar by the hillside, there was an old sign nailed to a pine tree stating that 20 or so years ago this had been someone's mining claim, and no one was to trespass. We leveled off a spot and threw out our tarp and bags, and then I set up my chair and plopped down. I cooked supper sitting there with my little Svea stove that I've carried with me for over 30 years now. It felt so good to sit! We had situated our sleeping bags by a large boulder about 4 feet in diameter, and after supper we laid down to watch the bats and stars. For some reason something told me to get me LED lamp and look around. Turning it on and looking around the base of the boulder, I was horrified to see an army of small ants! They were in a line about 1/4 inch wide, but stretched as far as we could see down the gravel bar! They were coming out from under the rock. Quickly we moved our bags well away from them, and hoped they would keep their distance. Just for good measure, we set an empty can of sardines near their hole, hoping to attract them to the can instead of us. It seemed to work, because they left us alone the rest of the night. Again, as we drifted off to sleep, we both wondered aloud what had really happened up at Pickering Bar at that old cabin site. Pretty soon sleep overtook us and we rested peacefully until morning.
August 25, 2003. We had overslept! Suddenly the sunshine was hitting our sleeping bags turning them into ovens. Quickly we were up and around, and discovered it had dewed out heavily during the night and our bags were wet. After breakfast we packed up our gear, and by that time our bags were dry. As we packed our gear to the rafts and tied it down, Jason found a rock about a foot around. He said it was called "Mariposite", and that it was valuable. To me it looked like multi colored marble. He really wanted to take it with him, but it must have weighed 40 lbs! Try as we might, we could not break a piece of it off, even though we tried very hard. It was so hard that it broke every rock that we threw it against. Reluctantly we had to leave it there.
Today we knew that we would have to travel through Secret Gorge, a part of the river that had gave us real problems last year. But we had new hope now, especially because Giant Gap had been so easy this year. Maybe Secret Gorge would be fun this year too. We started down river half riding, half pushing our rafts, enjoying the beautiful country side. We passed small tailing piles hidden in the brush at almost every bend, but just couldn't take the time out to explore them. We took many pictures this day, and saw some of the most beautiful places God ever made! Soon we came to an area of river that had a white sandy bottom, which made the crystal clear water even more beautiful. A couple more bends and we were at the big log jam just above Secret Gorge. Here we beached our rafts and climbed over the log jam and took pictures of each other on the giant logs. What a flood it must have been to pile these huge logs 30 feet above the river! While walking back to the rafts I spotted a tin can that hadn't been opened. The label was gone, and we both wondered what was in it. We both secretly hoped it was peaches, but it turned out to be stewed tomatoes that had gone sour. What a let down! Continuing on down river, we almost immediately came to the entrance of Secret Gorge. In "boogying" fashion, we entered it hoping for the best.
We hadn't remembered Secret Gorge being this beautiful. Last year we had entered it at around 3 p.m. and had a terrible time lining our water burdened rafts down the non-stop rapids. We hadn't found a camping place until almost dark, on a small gravel bar not 8 x 10 feet square. Now we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, savoring every bit of scenery we could. Where last year we tripped and slipped over what seemed like miles of boulders, now we were skimming over them holding onto our rafts, with our legs dangling as high in the water as possible behind them. Although we did wish for some kind of leg pads! We hit quite a few shallow boulders with our legs and wound up very bruised, but happy. Soon we came to the place where we had been forced to camp last year due to the lack of daylight. Now it seemed a cheerful place, but our gravel bar was completely gone. Good thing we hadn't planned on camping here this year! At this particular camp last year we were kept awake a good portion of the night by the sound of what we were sure was the old time miners. Just after we had laid down on our bags, we had heard what sounded like rocks rolling down a wooden plank. With our poor flash lights we had searched for the source of the sound, but hadn't found it. As the night wore on, more and more rocks rolled down this plank, accompanied by the sounds of metal clunking off rocks, and low mumblings of men talking. It didn't take us long to figure out that there must have been mining activity here in the past, and we were hearing the miners shoveling paydirt into their sluice boxes, keeping the larger rocks scurrying through them with their shovels. It continued until around 2 or 3 a.m. before all became silent.
Continuing on down the river, we marveled at the scenery. We came to the huge quartz vein crossing the canyon that we had seen last year, but hadn't had time to spend much time at because it was almost dark. Now we stopped and explored the area, and took quite a few pictures. I pried a small piece of the vein loose for my wife. When she had seen the pictures of this vein last year, she had asked that I get her a piece of it this year. Now that piece lies on her desk, nicely cut and polished. Soon we came to the end of the gorge, as we could tell the country was becoming wider. We came to a deep hole with 15 foot cliffs, and stopped for an hour and dove off the rocks. We got pictures of each other diving and swimming, and we had a blast acting like we were kids again. About 1/3 mile further we came to Secret Ravine, and stopped to explore a little. The Apple tree there didn't have apples this year, and we were glad we had picked plenty at Truro. We picked a few black berries, hiked up the Stevens trail a little ways, then explored the other side of the river. We found where the old suspension bridge used to cross and followed the trail a ways, but was surprised that it didn't continue down river, only up river. Jason found a nice large quartz crystal here, among the many quartz veins. I would like to find some information on Secret Ravine, as it seemed there had been plenty of past activity here.
Now it was about 3:30 p.m. and I was beginning to tire out. Jason wanted to explore more around Secret Ravine, but I wanted to get to the camp site that we had stayed in last year about a 1/2 mile down river. We had just met a man about 200 yards up river who hadn't seemed friendly, and I wanted to be away from him. He had this look in his eyes of contempt when he saw us, even though we had been friendly and said hello. So, continuing on down to the bottom of the pool that extends down river from Secret Ravine, we fought a head wind and arrived at our old camp site about sundown. It was on the south side of the river, up on an elevated gravel bar on bedrock about 15 feet above the river. A lone pine tree stood there, friendly and inviting. We made camp under it and I set up my chair and cooked supper, sitting under Gods special creation. This year no one was on the trail, and we felt alone and happy. This was also the first place where I could get cell phone coverage, and I called my wife in Alaska just to let her know we were alive and well. She was happy we were having such a good time, and wished us Godspeed on down the river. We tried a little fishing, but the bass here were very fat and large and definitely weren't the least bit interested in our lures. Last year at this camp we had been sitting on our bags cooking supper, when a skunk had approached me to within about 2 feet before realizing I was me, and made a hasty retreat. No skunks this year, thank heavens! The bats came out, then the stars, then sleep. This was another of those special camps where you experience it once, then dream about coming back. It was hard to believe I was actually here again. If only we could find a way to make time linger a little longer! Here, we knew we only had 1 more full day on the river left with each other, and was kind of sad. But we were still having fun and the time of our lives, and were determined not to let the end of the trip get us down pre-maturely.
August 26, 2003 The morning dawned bright and cheery. The sun rose directly up river and I got a fantastic shot of the sunrise over the river. This was our last full day on the river, and we knew we didn't have to hurry as much now. We could make it to the bridge in time without any difficulty now, and would take the time to enjoy the pleasures of the river today. Cooking breakfast sitting in my chair, we discovered how many hash brown potatoes come in one serving. Thinking that one serving would feed one person, I cooked two packages. Big mistake! We had enough hash brown potatoes to feed all the people coming down the Stevens trail! We tried feeding them to the bass but they wouldn't eat them. The only thing that kind of put a damper on my morning was that pesky poison oak on my arm; it was spreading fast! It had even spread to my right leg, and I knew I was in for a good bout with it. After camp was broke and the gear tied down on the rafts, I set up my camera on self timer and took a photo standing in the river with our rafts in front of us. It was a classic photo. Going down river to the first set of rapids, we beached the rafts and explored the area. We found a very old rusty centrifugal water pump, and an old steam engine lying in the water. Jason panned gold here for awhile, and I took pictures. Here the bedrock had changed to a jet black color, and was very smooth. In a lot of places you could see pyrite crystals in it. Here we also found an old mine shaft and took pictures looking into it. Leisurely continuing down river we enjoyed the day. We swam a lot, took a lot of pictures, explored a little, and watched the Stevens trail climb the hill higher and higher the farther down river we went. Finally it disappeared and we knew we were getting close to the bridge. Last year we encountered many people in the stretch of river 2 miles above the bridge, but this year there was none.
We found our old camping place about a 1/3 mile above the bridge again, and settled in about 3:30 p.m. The sun was still up and we lingered and swam in the river in front of camp. Several years ago Jason had found a nice gold nugget at this place, and we were swimming with our face masks trying to locate another one. The bass were friendly and we almost had to push them out of the way several times. We cooked supper after it had got dark, and really enjoyed our last night on the river. Before going to bed we brought the rafts up from the river and put them in camp, just for safe measure. After all, we were very near a public campground and who knew who was there. We were nestled down among giant Pine Trees, and felt very secure in our camp. We talked and talked before going to sleep, and watched the bats fly within a few feet of us with our LED lamps. Before we knew it we were asleep.
August 27, 2003 In un-believing horror I awoke to rain in the face! Not again!!! What's with California this year, I thought. Yelling at Jason, we quickly inverted the plastic tarp and once again crawled into a hot, steamy, damp environment. The rain lasted until daylight, when it quit and the wind started. It blew hard enough to really bend those giant Pine Trees towering over us, and lasted a couple hours. Finally we gave up and got up. Without getting breakfast we packed things into our bags like we had hiked down the Euchre Bar trail in. Instead of floating on down to the campground and then re-packing everything, we had started packing up the night before. Now the wind was gusting severely, and all of a sudden it picked up Jason's raft and flung it against a thorn bush even though it had almost 15 lbs. of rocks in it. Ofcourse, the raft promptly deflated, becoming the only casualty of the trip. Soon we were ready to start the hike to the campground, and started in that direction. Almost immediately we started sweating, and it got worse. The worse part of the river definitely has to be the rapids directly above Mineral Bar campground, a section called "the boils". Here we had to pick our way between and under house sized boulders for probably 500 feet. In some places we had to jump 6 feet down, and the trail completely disappeared. Soon though we made it to the campground, although very tired and sweaty and looking like a couple of bums I'm sure. As we walked through the campground with our 65 lb. packs, we got some pretty severe stares. Then we came to the camp hosts trailer and as we approached, the host and his girlfriend recognized us from last year and welcomed us with, "hello again strangers, long time no see". We had a good visit with them for a half hour, then excused ourselves and went down to the river and got cleaned up, shaved, and changed into nicer clothes for the flight home. Our ride was supposed to arrive about 1 p.m., but showed up at 12:45 p.m. They called their business "Foothills Flyer", and the driver, Nick, was very friendly. They pick up people all along interstate 80 and provide transportation to the Sacramento airport. We sadly looked back at the river as we crossed the bridge, and wondered if we'd ever make the trip again. We got to Sacramento an hour later, and another hour later I boarded my flight back to Alaska.
I don't know if I'll be able to do the trip again next year, due to my job schedule. Working 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off, means I have to be away from my wife for 6 weeks in order to make this 2 week trip, because I work 300 miles away from home. Driving this distance is a real challenge every 2 weeks, especially in the winter. But Jason and I will figure out something to do. A trip that looks interesting is floating the south fork of the Yuba river from where it starts on upper interstate 80 down to the town of Washington. Jason and I drove through that beautiful little town in 1996 and sort of fell in love with it. Anyone have any information on that section of river? As a side note, after I arrived back in Alaska my poison oak became severe and I had to go to the doctor with it. The doctor agreed that it was probably the puncture would that started it, and said I was lucky because usually in cases like that people wind up in the hospital completely covered from head to toe with the stuff! An injection of prednizone cured it in less than a week. I wound up with over 500 excellent pictures of our journey this year, and coupled with what I took last year have almost 700 pictures of the river between Euchre Bar and Mineral Bar campground.
Jason and I had a very good time this year, and were thankful it was easier than last year. Again, after the trip was over we felt a good sense of accomplishment and pride, in that we had made it with so few problems. Aside from the weather, it was a perfect trip. But the trip last year was a bigger challenge, and somehow I don't think I'll ever be able to top it for learning about ourselves, and what we're capable of when the chips are down. God guided us through both trips with a heavy hand, and many answers to prayer. To Him I give the credit and praise. Where ever Jason and I go next year, I'll drop a note and let you know how it was.
Take care everyone, and God bless.