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.

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