Catherine & Julie & Mike & I started down the Green Valley Trail around 9:30 a.m., in full sun, with some of dawn's coolness remaining. The amazing warm weather has spurred manzanita and bay laurel alike into full bloom, and sweet smells wafted around us on the long descent. Many tiny white and pink bell-like flowers of manzanita lay scattered on the trail; Catherine called it a "hail of flowers."
The High West Trail: crossing the dry creek, over a little pass, and down through an open forest of Ponderosa Pine and Canyon Live Oak, to an anonymous spot marked by many fallen pine trunks--there we stopped while I scouted for the trail to High Pyramid Camp and our garbage.
Having found the faint trail and made a dash to the garbage itself, I lopped my way back to the others and we ambled over to our work. The site had seemingly been a marijuana grower's camp, back in the 1980s.
A multitude of plastic sheets and tarps had slowly disintegrated in the sun, and scraps and pieces of plastic were spread maddeningly wide, while coffee cups had been left high in the branches of manzanita bushes, and odds and ends were all around in the heavy brush. The sun beat down and we worked up a bit of a sweat filling six garbage bags.
Then we lopped our way south to The Pyramid, a brushy knoll with tremendous views of Giant Gap, Lovers Leap, the Pinnacles, and even the river itself. The Pyramid knoll is about 470 feet higher than the river and is set well back, at least a quarter-mile, away to the north. Legend has it that this serpentine knoll, so carefully placed to receive the last light of day streaming through Giant Gap at the winter solstice, is an Ancient Alien Pyramid, and we joked about being beamed up, or down, or possibly sideways through Time Itself.
We hauled the garbage back to the High West Trail and proceeded towards the river, pausing at the spring and wooden trough, where water had ceased flowing through the old iron pipe, and I mucked around trying to open it up again for a few minutes. Then we made good time on the last section of trail, passed the old bridge site (I have photographs of that precarious suspension bridge, taken around 1935-40), and reached the sandy beach at High West Trail's end. A large pool extends down the river here, with Lovers Leap rising quite impressively, 2300' above us, to the west.
After a lunch break, and Mike's daring sort-of swim in the icy river, running high and fast from snow-melt, we boulder-hopped down the river to the faint trail which climbs to the line of the HOUT. The High Old Upriver Trail ("upriver" with respect to Canyon Creek) represents the line of survey and preliminary blasting work for a canal, proposed to carry water from the North Fork American to San Francisco, in the late 1890s. Here the HOUT is around 150 feet, to 200 feet, above the river.
Down here, where the weak and sheared serpentine gives way to the massive metavolcanics of the Calaveras Complex, the HOUT suddenly becomes very well-defined, cut directly into the sides of sheer cliffs, often overhung with Canyon Live Oaks, so that mounds of dead dry leaves cover the cliff-trail over some of its scariest parts. A bit nerve-wracking! We did not shy from the danger but slipped along past Lovers Leap's East Ravine, which heads up right at the overlook itself, and soon reached the dark maw of East Tunnel.
It is a shame East Tunnel was never driven all the way through its rock spur, it could only have fallen a few yards short, and would connect through to a nifty ledge, running along almost perfectly level, as the HOUT so often does. But the tunnel ends in a blank wall lost in the deep darkness, and one must drop well down below to find a way to climb back up and regain the HOUT.
On the steep slopes near the HOUT one finds a sudden almost abundance of the California Nutmeg, or Stinking Yew, Torreya californica. This tree looks a bit like a Douglas Fir but has larger needles, quite stiff and sharp, which, if bruised, give a rather pungent smell. I suspect the determining factor in its presence here, as at Pickering Bar, in the first 200 feet above the river, is the cold air which sinks into the canyon and intensifies, at night, through all the year except during strong storms. For then the air is mixed too well by the storm winds to stratify into a temperature inversion, in which cold air sinks beneath warm air.
One often sees a river of fog flowing down the North Fork, at dawn, after a storm has passed. This fog marks the river of cold air which likewise flows down the canyon. And the Torreyas seem to prefer just that zone of canyon wall which is always within the fog river, and always within the cold air.
These Torreyas usually do not get very big; a Torreya even two feet in trunk diameter is a rarety in the Sierra, tho a little commoner in the outer Coast Ranges.
The sun was lowering as we started back to the end of the High West Trail, almost a mile east. It's mostly a long river-side boulder-hop, sometimes complicated by native grape vines trailing over the boulders, or by vicious masses of long-fingered poison oak grasping at any and all bare skin. Julie forged ahead and, I suppose, ran right up the trail with a giant garbage bag on her back, reaching the top at 4:30. Catherine stepped out 'right smartly', but Mike and I held a slower pace; we were all finally up top at the stroke of seven, in near complete darkness. It's nice to take it slow coming up and out of Green Valley. There are wonderful views all along the trail, and many boulders to rest on.
Such was another great day in the great canyon.