Sunday, April 4, 2004

The High Ditch Trail

Saturday morning, Catherine O'Riley and Dave Lawler kindly picked me up and we drove to the Euchre Bar Trail (EBT), on our way to the High Ditch Trail (HDT) leading away upcanyon from the Bar, where we would meet Julie and her sister, Kasa, and Ron Gould.

Sun bright and sky blue, clear and cool, shrubs a-flower, and work to be done. We carried loppers and small saws. I struck off fast down the trail, GPS unit in hand, with propitious satellites favoring high accuracy, aiming to pause at the invisible trail to East Green Valley, and scout its route. It leaves the EBT at the top of the switchback section, where a grove of Kellogg's Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii) adorns the ridge crest. I recorded a waypoint on the GPS (I was very close to the 3080' contour) and slung my pack off.

This trail is always hard to find, and where the Dutch Flat quadrangle would have it running straight, it actually switches sharply back and forth through oak woods, and these switchbacks easily become lost in the accumulating litter of leaves and branches, and are even guarded aggressively by poison oak. I kicked leaves and rotten old limbs around, threw bigger branches off the trail, lopped poison oak, and then, hearing voices above, left, content to have restored not the bed of the trail itself, but at least its line, over the first few switchbacks.

More work is needed. This trail drops down to the pass between Green Valley's East Knoll (a fine viewpoint) and the main canyon wall, and then descends a broad, poison-oak-infested ravine to the Valley itself. It course becomes again confused in these lower reaches.

I rejoined Dave and Catherine and, GPS unit tracking my course, immediately left them again on an intermittent jog down the EBT. I found that it is less than one mile down to the house site near the base of the trail, at the 2200' contour, and covered the distance in fourteen minutes, or a little less. The true course of the trail is perhaps a sixth of a mile north from where depicted on the Dutch Flat quadrangle. I recorded a waypoint and continued towards the bridge.

A hundred yards or so down the EBT brings one to the trail forking left to the High Ditch Trail. I put my pack down and did some serious lopping. Hundreds of small conifers are sprouting up in an area largely given to Canyon Live Oak over recent centuries; and now, without wildifire, about to become a crowded stand of Douglas Fir with a weakening Canyon Live Oak understory. I felt little remorse at felling some dozens of these coniferous weeds. A distinct trail connects the EBT to the HDT alog the shortest possible route, and in a few minutes, with Catherine and Dave and I all lopping away, we had this old trail exposed to view and easily passable.

The HDT itself has benefitted from lopping, much, recently, by Julie, and we added our mite while making good time on the easy, nearly level ditch. This ditch was blasted out from cliffs in places; it is rather large, and yet appears only to have brought water to the diggings at Euchre Bar itself. It must have cost someone, or more likely some company of someones, quite dearly in its day. I wonder whether their golden harvest ever settled that expense. The HDT very nearly coincides with the 2000' contour.

About a quarter mile on the HDT brings one to the confluence of the NFAR, and the NFNFAR. The latter stream suddenly appears directly beside the HDT, and near 100' below, blending an emerald crystalline clarity with foaming white rapids. In general, the HDT traverses steep slopes studded with rocky outcrops and draped with a fine old gnarled forest of Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepsis).

We caught up with Kasa and Julie just past a springy area where trees have fallen and blocked the HDT. Julie found a way to lop through masses of shrubs and avoid the trees, and she and Kasa had just then roughed in an excellent path, through what had been a major obstacle.

A half mile in on the HDT brings one to a major garbage site, a gravel bar gold miner's camp with all kinds of gear and garbage and strange debris. The magnitude of the problem is shocking and sickening. One despairs of every carrying all that mess out. A helicopter?

A well-defined old trail drops down the steeps above the HDT to this bar.

But we forged ahead, towards the upstream end of the ditch, and soon arrived at a long broad pool roiled by a small waterfall, and found sunny boulders beside the pool, and had lunch. The ditch was still all of 25 feet above the river, but just there a rocky eminence jutted into the canyon, making sheer cliffs along the line of the ditch, and no trace at all of a blasted ledge, or any continuation.

Julie and Kasa left us soon after Ron Gould (who had hiked to Humbug Canyon) joined us.

Ouzels zoomed up and down the river, chattering. Sawtooth Ridge soared 2000' above us, across the NFNFAR.

We decided to scout upstream, having heard from the good Steve Hunter that a road dropped down to the NFNFAR about a quarter mile up, from the Rawhide Mine Road. Perhaps we could pull off a loop. Turning the base of the cliff through dense willows and alders and over large boulders, we broke free onto a long and broad expanse of bedrock. The up-ended quasi-slates of the Shoo Fly Complex had been planed nearly flat, like a giant's sidewalk, and we could just stroll along and admire the view. A marvelous little stretch of river. A giant boulder of white quartz marked the beginning of the Giants' Sidewalk.

It looks much as tho the High Ditch took its water from the NFNFAR in the Giants' Sidewalk area, and carried it in a wooden flume down around Cliff Corner to where the ditch itself began.

Passing a side canyon, really a ravine, we saw an old bridge, with massive dry-laid stone abutments, a little ways above. We climbed to inspect it and found Steve's road, a curious little thing, just barely too narrow for a jeep, and often bolstered with old-looking dry-laid stone walls, along the downhill side. The bridge itself is made from three tree trunks, decked with two-by-fours nailed across. Following the road down, to the north, we reached some minor miner shacks, in a fairyland of dry-laid stone retaining walls, strangely perfect and made with an artistic flair, all overhung and hidden within the live oak forest. We dropped our packs and explored up and down and sideways.

Several gold dredges were in the area, and we found evidence that this is a mining claim on Tahoe National Forest lands. We were near a section line, as I found later, when I plotted my GPS track data on the Dutch Flat quadrangle, on my computer, at home. A rope and cable spanned the river just upstream, with a kind of trolley hanging from pulleys. Glacial outwash deposits across the river had been mined for gold in days long gone by.

After a time we hit the road and followed the narrow little thing on up the canyon wall, occasionally observing traces of an older mule trail, and in less than half a mile reached the Rawhide road, the last few hundred yards looking like nothing more than someone's aimless exercise with a bulldozer. We had stumbled upon a historic trail, or trail-and-road, one I had really never heard of, tho long suspecting the aimless bulldozing must really have aimed at the river.

Afternoon shadows lengthened and sheltered us from the sun as we slowly climbed the rough road. I observed little patches of glacial outwash, or maybe re-worked till, in two locations during our climb, at elevations 2400 and 3000 feet. The river below is at about 2000 feet.

Soon enough we passed the Rawhide gate and then another half mile brought us to our cars. On the way out, Catherine and Dave and I stopped at Casa Loma and walked down to the railroad tracks to enjoy the view of Giant Gap in the afternoon. It is one of the greatest views in California.

All in all, a very nice day, and I must say, that High Ditch Trail is a real winner. Thanks Julie!

No comments: