Saturday, January 24, 2004

Visit To Canyon Creek

Friday dawned cold, and high cirrus clouds filtered the sun for several hours, so that warming was slow. NFARA's own Secretary, Catherine O'Riley, suffered a broken clavicle last summer, a break which excited many remarks from her doctors, such as "I've never seen one that bad," etc. etc. (horrors!), and after five months of recuperation, she at last felt ready to take on her beloved Canyon Creek Trail. At ten in the morning I met her at the Monte Vista, and we snuck into the Gold Run Diggings, and parked at the trailhead.

We found that the miners' garbage from the Tunnel area had indeed been removed entirely. Many thanks to Julie, and to Tom Faust for taking that on! Catherine and I spent ten minutes cleaning up more garbage from around the Tunnel Terrace, where the steam engine once chugged away, compressing air for the drilling machine which bored the gigantic hole. The thing--the Tunnel--is fully twelve feet wide and nine feet high, for the last 400 feet before it breaks out above Canyon Creek. Made in 1873, by the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., this tunnel allowed the hydraulic mines to continue working down through the gravels, all the way to the bedrock floor of the ancient river channel.

The clouds thinned, the day warmed, and soon we were swinging along right smartly, down past the First Big Waterfall, Spike Point, the Inner Gorge and the Rockslide, and took the Upper Terraces Trail to where the California Milkmaids are already in bloom, in that sweet spot of microclimate around the Terraces. I have seen this species of the Mustard Family in bloom there as early as January 6th.

The Terraces seem to have been constructed for camping and cooking in support of sluice box operations in Canyon Creek. The last two miles of the creek was fitted with multiple giant sluice boxes over the two decades or less of the peak of hydraulic mining. These needed constant attendance, repair, and guarding. Work was done in two twelve-hour shifts. Mercury by the ton was thrown in to catch the fine gold, and special sluice boxes called "undercurrents" were set up in many places.

We dawdled around on the tiny lawns of the Terraces, enjoying bright sunshine that finally felt really warm, and admiring the flowers. Waterfalls crashed and hissed unseen below us. After a good break, we hit the HOUT, the High Old Upriver Trail, and followed it east on its strangely level line about a mile towards Giant Gap. The great cliffs and pinnacles drew nearer and nearer; winding in and out of ravines on the HOUT, the view constantly changed.

We stopped at Bogus Gully, although I skipped ahead just a couple hundred yards, as Ron Gould and I, while on the Diving Board, a week ago, had been scanning those very slopes rather closely with binoculars, and had been surprised that so little of the HOUT could be seen. However, the sun angle at that time was as if calculated to hide the HOUT. While on one of the best-defined level benches east of Bogus Gully, exactly where we had tried and failed to pick the thing out, I saw that there is an absolutely unobstructed view back to the Diving Board. So, it was the lighting. Had we been on the Board soon after dawn, the HOUT would have been easily seen. In the early afternoon, with the sun behind is, no shadows were visible to help eke out the trail.

Catherine had chores in town, so we wandered slowly up and out, taking the side trail to the Blasted Digger Overlook, and reaching her truck around four o'clock.

It was another wonderful day in Canyon Creek and the North Fork. Of course, we were trespassing nearly every step of the way, which should remind us that somehow, some way, we must find the money for the BLM to just buy the Gold Run Diggings.

It won't be easy.

Sunday, January 4, 2004

Diving Board Ridge

South of the town of Gold Run the Diggings stretch a mile to the edge of the North Fork canyon; paralleling the old hydraulic mining area on the west is Garrett Road, on the east, Canyon Creek. A ridge divides the Diggings from Canyon Creek, here and there broken by small ravines which predate mining. Towards the south this ridge is known as Indiana Hill. It is truncated abruptly by the North Fork canyon, but then emerges anew as a spur ridge jutting well into the canyon, dividing Canyon Creek from Indiana Ravine. I call this spur Diving Board Ridge, though Ski Jump Ridge better fits its shape.

In any case it is a remarkable place, at first plunging steeply, then leveling out, the flat part occupying an almost perfectly central place in the great canyon, with views to the east through Giant Gap to Sawtooth Ridge and Monumental Ridge--the latter, rising to 7000', deeply cloaked in snow--and to the west, a long series of interwoven, forested spurs, with Pickering Bar almost immediately below.

On Sunday I joined geologist Dave Lawler of Grass Valley, and masseuse Cindy Goldman of Dutch Flat, for a visit to the Diving Board. We drove south on Garrett Road, often icy, with a thin coating of snow on the adjacent hillsides, and parked above the BLM gate at the end of the road.

Actually, it is not the end; the road, clearly marked on my 1866 General Land Office map, continues almost another mile to the Secret World, or Indiana Hill Pit, a lost little mining pit on the very edge of the canyon, with a charming little stone cabin hidden away at its center. The road has been gated closed for scarcely ten years, if that, and one can no longer drive to the Pickering Bar Trail or to the Secret World.

We set off marching over thin crunchy snow that had melted ever so slightly on Saturday, and then frozen hard during the night. We all three had loppers and soon enough were hard at work, for the snow had pressed the manzanita down into the road. Snarls of fallen Knobcone Pines also blocked the road in several places.

The day was sunny and bright and cool to cold. Passing the Pickering Bar Trail, we descended slopes facing east, and the early afternoon sun hid away from us, stranding us in a mess of snow-laden manzanita; hundreds of branches needed lopping, and often a shower of snow and ice would shake down over us and sneak, somehow, inside our clothes. I was in the lead and was letting out little screams almost constantly.

We finally reached the edge of the Secret World and worked on re-opening a trail I had cleared seven or eight years ago, but which had become infested with the worst snow-flattened wall of manzanita and buckbrush imaginable. It took twenty minutes to clear a hundred yards or less. Finally we could cross Indiana Ravine to the stone cabin.

This cabin has been vandalized in recent years, portions of the walls battered down, and unless we do something to repair it now, it is not long for this world, and will soon pass beyond that bourne, etc. etc. It was built in the 1930s by one Byron Emrick, a miner and all-around eccentric. Somewhere he stole--well, who knows just how he got it--some heavy-duty corrugated iron roofing, which has stood the test of these last three-score and ten years very well, and is a deep dark rusty red in color, almost black, really. I took some photographs and we cautiously climbed across a vast snowy mass of boulders fifteen feet high and a hundred long, stacked up by the Chinese under Tia Sing, lo these one hundred and twenty years ago.

For, at first this area, exactly where gold was first discovered at Gold Run, was drift-mined, tunnels driven in horizontally a thousand feet along the bedrock floor of the ancient river, and the bottom five feet of cemented gravel stoped out and brought back in thousand-pound ore-cart loads, to a stamp mill on the edge of the canyon. Later, after this rich stratum was worked out, the ground was leased to Tia Sing, and he and his fellows hydrauliced out the pit, and worked the exposed bedrock over with fine-tooth combs. To do this, thousands upon thousands of boulders must needs be shifted to one side and then another.

So, it is an interesting place. We crossed to the east side and climbed the wall of the pit at a low spot, then crossed the snowy Diggings on a secret trail which really could be thought of as the actual beginning of the Diving Board Trail; for it leaves the Diggings through a low pass, and hits the Indiana Hill Ditch just exactly, not one foot to either side, where the trail to the Diving Board plunges down the canyon wall.

We tromped right on down. Over the past couple of years Catherine O'Riley and I have been working on this old old trail, lopping the branches back, and it is almost easy to follow now. Today we had the loppers hard at work, for if you let up on the endless supply of buckbrush and manzanita and silk-tassel and mountain mahogany and live oak, it will rather quickly overwhelm and obliterate a trail.

Pretty much all snow was left behind as soon as we dropped below the Indiana Hill Ditch, and views of the great canyon began to excite us; the North Fork could be heard roaring far below, and Canyon Creek's Big Waterfall, some 120' high, made its voice heard, louder and closer. The sun began to be felt more strongly--so welcome!--and Dave had me get my camera out and take pictures, as the Diving Board, the Big Waterfall, Giant Gap, and other points of great interest and beauty hove into view.

This ridge had been used as a lumber slide in the olden days, when sluice boxes, giant sluice boxes, were fitted into Canyon Creek and Indiana Ravine, and perforce much sawed lumber was needed in these remote, cliff-bound ravines and gorges. For lumber would only tolerate the great rushing streaming mass of mine tailings for a few months at best, even when armored with boulders and fitted with protective layers of railroad track. A constant supply of sawed lumber was required, and the Diving Board Ridge was the main route for delivery. A sometimes deep scar, from dragging bundles of planks and beams a thousand pounds at a time or more, is etched down the crest of the ridge.

The trail wanders back and forth nearby, following a gentler line. Eventually, the ridge narrows to a narrow blade of solid rock, and the slide was forced off the crest. They (and who were "they"?) built a massive dry-laid stone retaining wall along the west side to accomodate the lumber slide.

Just below this area, the ridge flattens, and soon we were on the perfectly level portion, with its tremendous views of the Big Waterfall, the Terraces, the Canyon Creek Trail, Giant Gap, Pickering Bar, etc. etc. We honored and admired the view east but moved rather quickly to the sunny west side, and lounged on the rocks in the warm sun, something which seemed impossible an hour before. Gnats, of all things, were floating in the little sunshine-ignited thermals near the dark-foliaged Canyon Live Oaks. I have often seen this, but after such cold nights!--it seemed, well, odd.

After a good long break we slogged up and out and broke away north into the Diggings, taking the round-about Diggings Road route, rather than the shady manzanita snow cloister we had walked on our way in. We crunched through the thin snow and climbed the long hills and, soon enough, were passing the spot where the largest petrified log in the Diggings was stolen not long ago, and where the one remaining large fragment of that log was stolen, by someone on an OHV, in 2003. Here we began to see many footprints, and the track of a plastic sled, coming in, and going back out, and we saw that there was not quite--almost, but not quite--enough of The Beautiful for sledding, and that the gang had walked in and walked right back out, and we followed their many footprints back up and out to the BLM gate and our cars.

It was a wonderful day, and a strenuous day, clear and fresh and full of fine views. Giant Gap's north-facing south wall was especially notable, with its heavy frosting of snow over the upper 1000 feet--only the most radical cliffs and protrusions standing out dark and unadorned and free of the icy crystals, such as the Pinnacles, and the Eminence.

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Visit To Canyon Creek

On New Year's Eve I met Ron Gould and his friend Dale at the Monte Vista Inn, whence we snuck into the Gold Run Diggings and drove to the head of the Canyon Creek Trail (CCT).

This trail leads from the Diggings down to the North Fork American, and probably went through several different alignments, beginning in the Gold Rush, until its present route became fixed, perhaps in the 1860s. In 1849 a trading post was established at Cold Springs, up on Cold Springs Hill, which rises above the Diggings on the west; and CCT would have left Canyon Creek by way of Potato Ravine, climbing the north wall of the ravine west to Cold Springs, the trading post, and the trail to Sacramento.

In the 1870s, Potato Ravine itself was mined away, where it crossed the Diggings. Thus the upper part of the CCT became empty space. New paths were forged across the Diggings to restore access to the old trail, and these in part comprise the combination of road and trail I call the Paleobotanist Trail.

The CCT itself now begins in Potato Ravine just east of the Diggings, near some old old house or cabin sites. It drops east a short distance before crossing the ravine to the Indiana Hill Ditch. Here one passes from the private-property-now-for-sale, the 800 acres belong to Gold Run Properties (GRP), into public BLM lands. The trail follows the line of this smallish 1852 ditch for perhaps three hundred yards, and then drops away left to Canyon Creek. There it re-enters the GRP lands now for sale, and remains on private property the rest of the way to the North Fork.

The day was overcast, alternately threatening rain and promising sun, and a thin layer of sloppy-wet, rained-on snow covered the ground. However, as we dropped south through the Diggings, we left the snow above and behind us. We parked at the trailhead. Ominously, a beer can had been left atop a small cedar, marking the trail. We set off, soon reaching the Old Wagon Road and then approaching the great bedrock drain tunnel, nine feet high and twelve feet wide, of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company. Near the tunnel a small flat held a steam engine, back in 1873, when the tunnel was made, and twice in the last year or so a would-be miner made a terrible mess of the flat, requiring many backpack loads of garbage to be hauled up and out. The sharp eyes of Ron Gould spotted another cache of garbage above the tunnel, half-hidden in the trees, from the last miner's camp. We dragged it down to the trail and left it for another day. Two backpack loads ought to do it.

On down the trail, the main North Fork canyon hove into view, fog and cloud clinging to the canyon rim, where snow still covered the ground, and some few snatches of fog remaining within the canyon. As the first large waterfall on Canyon Creek was approached, we saw that the creek was high enough to make the Leaper, a small waterfall to the side of the main fall, which plunges down a polished chute to a half-pothole and is flung out and up, making a nice arching water-rise, water-fall.

A hawk circled and soared above us as we entered upon the steeps of the trail, passing the remarkable Inner Gorge and the Big Waterfall, which speaks loudly but is never seen. Well below the Rockslide we took the faint trail right to the Big Waterfall and the Terraces, paying a visit to each in turn, before using the Lower Terraces Trail to return to the CCT proper. A few more minutes brought us down to the river, and a perch beside the last big waterfall on Canyon Creek, where we ate lunch, and bundled up a bit, as rain began to fall.

After lunch we ventured east on the Low Old Upriver Trail or LOUT, although hesitant to follow it past the rather dangerous section on a cliff. All day we had noticed how very slippery the rocks were, with no sun to dry them after recent storms. However, we girded our loins or whatever it is one does when facing such a hazard and were soon safely past, the main concern actually being our several dogs, two of which verged upon decrepitude. The other was a well-built youngster who had a happy habit of just knocking you out of her way, if she was in a hurry, on the trail.

The LOUT is rather faint in places and splits into multiple tracks, but we managed to hold the main trail at each split and eventually, after pitching up and down and up and down, with many fine views of the river, flowing high and clear and cold, below us, we reached the vicinity of Bogus Gully and began a zig-zag course right up the hillside, and after a climb of two hundred feet, reached the large bouldery area beside the gully, where a cache of mining tools exists. After a little break to recover our breath, we climbed the last hundred feet up to the High Old Upriver Trail, the HOUT, and followed it east to a very fine viewpoint.

Here one sees the North Fork, below, to the east and to the west, and the cliff I call The Eminence, or Sunset Point, right across the canyon. To the east, Giant Gap, flanked by Lovers Leap on the left, and the Pinnacle Ridge on the right, with Big West Spur hiding the lower part of the Gap, the heart of the Gap, where cliffs plunge almost vertically down to the river and its deep pools. We took a nice break and then walked the easy mile back to the CCT on the HOUT, which has an almost perfectly level course, as it originated not in the Gold Rush, like the LOUT, but in the 1890s, an artifact of the Giant Gap Survey. The Survey was a scheme to carry away the waters of the North Fork American, in a ditch and pipeline, to San Francisco. To demonstrate the feasibility of the project, men were hired on to not only survey the line of the canal through Giant Gap, but even blast out a tiny bench cut into the cliffs.

The net result is an almost-level trail, about three hundred feet above the river. One can follow it all the way past Big West Spur into the very heart of Giant Gap, with more and more outright rock-climbing required, and eventually, great tunnels appear in gigantic blades of rock, and a rather complicated route can be picked out, used by the Survey men themselves, which connects together the various level sections, where benches and tunnels were blasted from the cliffs, with sharp descents from and ascents over some very steep terrain.

Ron and I went all the way through, from Canyon Creek to Green Valley, in July. Towards Green Valley the disconnected vestiges of the Survey become even harder to follow and connect by side trails, and it works out well to hop along the bouldery banks of the river itself, until the Green Valley Trail (West) is reached.

Ron and Dale and I made the long slow trudge up and out, with occasional rain showers so light we were scarcely even dampened, but the CCT is only about a mile and a half long, so, soon enough we were at the truck, and, well, it was a fine day and a fine way to ring out the late great year, 2003.