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.

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