Monday, May 24, 2004

Expedition to New York Canyon

After a long time in which Summer seemed about to leave poor Spring a dusty memory, Spring has returned, and with it, great hiking weather; cool, breezy, fragrant with flowers.

Tho all in all, this is one of the poorer years for wildflowers I have seen.

Sunday morning Gay Wiseman, Catherine O'Riley, Tom McGuire, Peter Fortune and I met at the Raleys in Auburn and drove out the Foresthill Soda Springs road, packed into Catherine's Range Rover. Our objective: the Big Waterfall in New York Canyon. Our plan: to drive down the Sailor Flat road and jeep trail to a certain spot from which, with difficulty, one can make an almost level traverse, across some rough and rocky and brushy country, to open slopes above the falls. From there, we would cross the West Fork of NYC and make an anything-but-level traverse west, across the tops of steep cliffs, to where a descent could be made to the Chert Knoll, a minor eminence between the two forks of New York Canyon. There we would finally *see* the great waterfall.

Sailor Flat is twenty to thirty miles east of Foresthill; it is a meadowy area right on the Foresthill Divide, at about 6400' elevation. Its name likely goes back to the Gold Rush, when it was a commonplace to see sailors mining for gold, in the Sierra; when the very ships which brought the 49ers through the Golden Gate were left abandoned beside San Francisco. Part of their anchorage would later be incorporated into the very fabric of the city, and the hulls of those very ships became warehouses on dry land, as a great fill was built out from the original shores.

I was worried that a certain snowfield, often late to melt, would keep us from even entering the Sailor Flat Road. However, it had almost melted away and gave us no problem. But, a couple hundred yards down the road, another patch of snow brought us to a halt. It was about sixty feet across, and probably two feet deep at its center. The snow was firm in the cool of morning. But we had no shovel; would the Rover high-center as we drove across?

With some trepidation, we gave it a try. Again and again we lost traction and had to use loppers and branches to clear loose snow from around the wheels; but we did not seriously high-center the thing. By layering in slabs of bark and branches before the wheels, we crossed the snow in a series of fits and starts and stops.

It is perhaps useful to blame what followed upon the Civil Engineer among us. Young Peter Fortune added up all the variables: no shovel, the likelihood that the snow would soften as the day wore on, and of course, the remoteness of our location; and young Peter Fortune decreed we go no further, but immediately re-cross the snow and park the Rover on the safe side of things. This would add several miles and nearly 1500' of elevation loss and gain to our hike, which was going to be an awkward piece of business in any case. But the air was cool, the sun warm and bright, the day perfectly made for hiking any number of miles, so, without a speck of trouble, we raced the Rover back across the trenched snow and the dozens of branches and bark slabs to safety. We saddled up with packs and loppers and set off down the road.

At this elevation, still well above 6200', we were in a forest dominated by Red Fir, with some White Fir beginning appear and more to come as we descended, and, a little ways below our precious snowfield, there stood a gigantic, fire-hollowed Incense Cedar, which must have been fully seven feet in diameter, four feet above the ground, flaring to over ten feet at ground level.

In this part of the Sierra one draws a sharp distinction between the young volcanics of the Superjacent Series, and the vastly older bedrock formations of the Subjacent Series. All the flat-topped ridge-crests in this part of the Sierra are remnants of a generalized plateau of andesitic mudflow which pre-dates all our deep canyons. The mudflow is arranged in roughly horizontal strata, and is often named the Mehrten Formation, although it represents many different mudflows, of varying compositions. Below the mudflow lie more horizontal strata of the Valley Springs Formation, layers of creamy rhyolite volcanic ash. And below the rhyolite ash, the oldest parts of the Superjacent Series, not always present: Eocene-age river gravels from the "Ancestral Sierra," the low ground of the ancient landscape of hills and valleys which was buried beneath the young volcanics.

And then below the river gravels, when present, or below the rhyolite ash, otherwise, the ancient ancient bedrock. Much of this, in our area, is metamorphic rock, either sedimentary or volcanic in origin, its originally roughly horizontal strata now tipped up to near vertical. And to complete the picture of the Subjacent Series, there is our Sierran granite, usually much younger than the metamorphics, having melted up into them from below, in giant bubbles of granitic magma, called plutons.

Plutons are named after Pluto, the God of the Underworld; for these granites, somewhat rare in the North Fork American, are "intrusive" igneous rocks, emplaced miles beneath the surface, and only exposed to our view after many millions of years of erosion. That is, these plutons of granite have been "unroofed" and are often seen in razor-sharp contact with the surrounding metamorphic rock.

At any rate, we began our hike up in the andesitic mudflow, perhaps ten million years old, and soon were passing an especially thick section of the rhyolite ash, perhaps twenty-five million years old, here much more like a welded tuff, than one sees farther west in the foothills, likely because this spot was that much closer to the volcanos from which the rock-ash exploded, again and again; these volcanos are thought to have stood somewhat to the east of our present Sierra crest.

The unusual thickness of the young volcanics here points to the existence of a river valley in the Ancestral Sierra. And this is echoed and confirmed by several gold mines in the area, drift mines, where horizontal tunnels were driven into bodies of river gravels, underneath the rhyolite ash, above the bedrock.

The bedrock in New York Canyon is almost entirely metasediments of the Shoo Fly Complex. These are the oldest rocks in this part of the Sierra, about 400 million years old, and here they are twisted and sheared more than usual by a complex of thrust faults. Large bodies of chert are found, here a nearly white rock, made almost entirely of quartz. Otherwise, this part of the Shoo Fly is mostly metasandstone, itself highly siliceous and resistant to erosion; witness Big Valley Bluff, a few miles west and across the North Fork, standing fully 3500' above the river.

However, the bedrock hereabouts is complicated by a thin screen of younger Triassic metasediments, flanked by the still-younger Jurassic Sailor Canyon Formation, noted for its ammonite fossils. We would scarcely touch the former, and never see the latter. These lie to the east of the Shoo Fly, and are exposed in lower New York Canyon.

The road is steep, the jeep trail is steeper yet, and we sailed along merrily, making good time, until we reach a certain point at about 5160' elevation. A short distance below this point, the jeep trail ends, and the foot trail (Sailor Flat Trail) begins. This is the easiest of all the trails into this part of the North Fork canyon.

We were not aiming for the North Fork. Instead, we rambled away west into untracked forest, with gigantic Sugar Pine and White Fir towering over an understory of smaller conifers and Kelloggs Black Oak. Roughly holding to a level line, we meandered ever west, picking up the faint traces of last year's two hikes along this route, and then suffered a major delay at a minor ravine.

Here I could not remember exactly where the ravine was best crossed; there is a small gold mining "prospect" near the ravine, and from there I would know the way; but how to find the prospect? After a considerable amount of just plain wandering, up and down and back and forth, I bade the others to rest and made a more systematic exploration, finally finding the prospect, rather lower than I expected; we regrouped and continued west.

The importance of this prospect pit cannot be understated. It marks the "trail." There is an ocean of heavy brush to the west, and then a long line of steep cliffs. The one known feasible route leads through the brush-ocean and then gains the cliff-tops by a sort of magic, without any climbing required. And the prospect pit marks this one route.

We struggled and straggled across the brush-ocean. I noticed that Tom McGuire was just sauntering along, with the loppers I'd lent him in his pack, while I heroically opened something somewhat like a clear passage through the Huckleberry Oak and native cherry bushes. I set him to work, but Tom was talking, talking, exclaiming, marveling, joking. And he would talk to such a degree that he would just stop lopping. Again and again I chastised him into more lopping. Finally he invented a kid of motto with which to express my fundamental philosophy: "Less lip, more lop."

If only he had lived up to that motto. Ah, the young!

Once the cliff-tops are reached, there is a short steep descent, switching back and forth down a broad forested gully, and then one breaks free into a large open slope, dotted with Jeffrey Pines, but mostly just rock and ferns and some few flowers, such as the lovely Mariposa Lilies.

Directly below, the West Fork began to make its quiet voice heard; with so much of the snow already gone, we could not expect much flow over the falls, no thunder, no billowing masses of spray, at least, not on the grand scale. We zigged and zagged over easy open slopes and then paused for lunch near the creek. Several beautiful waterfalls are found there, pretty enough in their own right to inspire a hike. Catherine amused herself by climbing into a swaying, trembling alder tree arching over the creek, and taking photographs, as I understood it, of her shadow, in the water below. And this was all part of some work long in progress, having to do with documenting shadows and spirits, in many different canyons.

Ah, the young!

Eventually, we picked ourselves up and crossed the creek. A climb of 250' allowed us passage across the tops of tremendous cliffs just west of the Big Waterfall, of which we had yet to see any part. There was again a certain amount of fumbling for the correct route, but soon enough we were zigging and zagging down and down and down, and then we veered over to the welcoming cliff-tops, and there it was.

The Big Waterfall. The Mythic Waterfall, they had been calling it, for by now it seemed we had been on the trail forever, and would never ever reach the Chert Knoll, never ever see the falls. But there they were, and everyone was suitably impressed. They all confessed that they had doubted my "500 feet" and my "565 feet." Russell's exaggerating! Again! And then they all confessed that what we were seeing was indeed every inch of 500 feet high.

All along our ridge-route down to the Chert Knoll there are amazing views of the Mythic-Mystic Waterfall. One has the sense, we all had the sense, and it is quite likely true, that people never ever come here, never ever hike to the Chert Knoll, with its almost perfectly direct view of the Big Mythic-Mystic New York Canyon Waterfall.

The Chert Knoll is near the base of the ridge which divides the West and East forks of New York Canyon. The confluence of these two forks is at 3800' elevation, while the summit of the Knoll, or dome, is at about 4560'. The confluence of New York Canyon and the North Fork itself, a mile or so down the canyon, is at 3200', while the west rim of New York Canyon is up around 6400'. There is, then, a lot of relief in the area, in fact, the topography is quite severe, heavily glaciated, full of cliffs, and with what must be waterfalls in the dozens, along the two forks of New York Canyon, allowing anything with more than a ten-foot drop to count as a "waterfall."

The Chert Knoll is fairly well rounded and smoothed by glaciers, and yet, while exhibiting many patches of glacial polish, it is hard to find glacial striae, or scratches, in the chert. This is the same Duncan Chert which forms the summits of Duncan Peak and Little Bald Mountain, near Robinson Flat. During the last, "Tioga" episode of glaciation, which ended a scant 12,000 years ago, New York Canyon would have been full to overflowing with ice. This is evidenced by the young, fresh-looking bodies of glacial till above the canyon rim. Deep in the ice, in the two forks of New York canyon, ice flowed "locally" north, directly down the canyons. Above, near the ice surface, tho, there was likely a more "global" western flow, since the main North Fork glacier was over three thousand feet deep here, and from above, looking down, one would have seen no trace of New York, Sailor, or Wildcat canyons, or their dividing ridges, all being under the ice.

There are very few trees on Chert Knoll, none to speak of, really, but we saw an abundance of Bead Ferns and Common Juniper, this last, in other species, a tree, but in this circum-polar species, Juniperus communis, in the North Fork canyon, at any rate, it rarely reaches a foot in height, and spreads out in heather-like masses.

From the Chert Knoll, one sees, not only Mythic-Mystic, on the East Fork, but also a lovely broad cascade or waterfall, over in the West Fork, and Tom and Catherine and I made a difficult traverse, over very steep terrain to reach the creek, a little ways downstream from the main falls. Here cliffs pinched in tightly upon an inner gorge, and there was no easy way up to the falls.

Eventually Tom and I fought our way over cliffs and spurs to the main falls, perhaps fifty feet high, plunging into a deep round pool, and all encircled and embraced within a lovely amphitheater of solid Shoo Fly. It was almost like being in the crater of a volcano. Tom, amazingly, took a swim, which left him hooting and gasping and about frozen solid. But the sun was warm and bright.

We tried for an easier traverse back to Chert Knoll, but again found ourselves passing cliffs and ragged spurs, the only difference being we were a hundred feet higher on the canyon wall. But we won through to the easy terrain near the Knoll, where Catherine joined us, and where we were hailed by Peter, who had made his own solitary way to the same waterfall Tom and I had just left.

The rest of us just lazed about, and tip-toed around the cliff-tops, admiring the Mythic-Mystic. The sun had lowered to such an angle that rainbows played in the mist, and shadows were rapidly deepening on the west side of the canyon. We could see, as we had from so many vantage points all day, the great massif of Snow Mountain, across the main North Fork canyon to the north, and parts of Big Granite Canyon, and the Cherry Point ridge, and a more distant granite knoll, away north towards Middle Loch Leven Lake. Both Cherry Point and this Loch Leven knoll ought to provide views of the Mythic-Mystic. Cherry Point offers a better chance of seeing the entire waterfall. A trip to Cherry Point, on skis, in April, say, or even May or June of a heavy snow year, would be just the thing, to get "the ultimate" (distant) view.

The Chert Knoll provides the ultimate of all ultimate near views of the Mythic-Mystic.

Eventually we were all together again, and began the long and complicated traverses and obscure zig-zag sequences which brought us back to the jeep trail. We faced a climb of over one thousand feet to the Rover. I myself argued that the principal architect of this prolonged uphill agony, Civil Engineer Peter Fortune, should race nimbly ahead, and bring the Rover back down to some sane and decent elevation, such as 5160' (exactly where we met the jeep trail, as it happens). But no. He had so hypnotized us with his senseless prattle about lacks of shovels and remote locations that we just buckled down and slogged ever so slowly up that same road which had seemed so fair and short in the morning.

We reached the Rover just as the sun was setting over the ridge on the west side of New York Canyon. It had been an amazing and wonderful day, with a hike only to be classified as extremely strenuous. But we survived and all agreed that the Mythic-Mystic and the Chert Knoll are in the highest echelon of the serried ranks of the most wondrous places of the North Fork American.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Placer Trails History

Many times over the more than four years' duration of this "North Fork Trails" email list there has been mention of the (famous) 1953 Placer Co. Board of Supervisors' "Trails Ordinance."

Why was a "trails ordinance" needed? Even in 1953, gates and "no trespassing" signs were becoming all too common. Hikers, hunters, anglers, and equestrians banded together and tried to secure continued use of our old trails, for themselves and for future generations. I hear that Auburn's Wendell Robie was active in the fight to protect the old trails.

This ordinance declared *all* trails depicted on U.S. Geological Survey maps in Placer County to be "public roads," and set forth misdemeanor-type penalties for closing or blocking such trails. Then, sixty trails were named and described within the text of the ordinance, to which various U.S.G.S. maps were appended.

In 1954, the controversial 1953 ordinance was rescinded, and a much weaker ordinance enacted in its place.

Always interested in history, I paid a visit to the Auburn Library this morning, to use their microfilm reader, and see what I might find in the pages of the 1953 Auburn Journal. I knew the Trails Ordinance had been passed in May, so I started there.

The Journal was a weekly at that time. In the May 14th issue one finds articles entitled "Board Backs Water Bill," "Pear Sign Up Will Begin," and "New Television Store To Hold Grand Opening." And among all these is "Action To Determine Validity of Newly Passed Trails Ordinance."

In this article we learn that *within a few minutes* of the BOS' vote, an attorney named T.L. Chamberlain filed suit in the Superior Court to overturn the ordinance. He sought and immediately obtained a temporary restraining order, preventing its enforcement. Chamberlain represented "lumber companies and other large property owners in the upper part of the county." Among others, the Nicholls Estate is mentioned; the Nicholls being a Dutch Flat banking family of the olden days, who had somehow acquired title to some two thousand acres of land in the Devils Peak area.

This land contained much of the length of the historic Snow Mountain Trail, which is one of the sixty trails explicitly described in the 1953 ordinance. Snow Mountain is a remarkable place, quite wild and untrammeled, standing several miles west of the Sierra crest, its summit just over 8000', while the North Fork American flows 4500' below. That part of the canyon is called the Royal Gorge.

The trail, over most of its length, had become a logging road, leading in past Devils Peak to Huntley Mill Lake. The Nicholls eventually gated this road back at the railroad tracks, near Kingvale. This Huntley (saw)Mill does not appear on the 1928 Tahoe National Forest map, but does appear on the 1939 map. I know nothing about it. The lake is well in towards Snow Mountain. It is a natural, glacial lake, tributary to Big Granite Creek.

I made several visits to Snow Mountain and adjacent Big Granite Canyon in the 1970s and 1980s. I remember camping on a glaciated knoll flanking Big Granite Canyon in 1972 or 73; I was by myself, the sun was lowering, and the views over the North Fork canyon were tremendous. Suddenly a low rhythmic huffing noise startled me. Its source was close, quite close, and I was sure it was a bear, come to steal my food, as had recently happened to me above Yosemite. I whirled around, expecting to see the bear a few feet away; but no, there was nothing. The grunting and huffing continued. At last I saw the source: I was being dived upon, repeatedly, by a pair of Nighthawks. The huffing noise is made by their wings as they swoop out of a dive. I must have inadvertently invaded their nesting territory; and I believe these odd, whiskered birds nest on the ground. I moved my camp a hundred yards or so and they left me alone.

On another visit I camped out on the summit of Snow, again alone, and nervous at being ten miles from the road. I chose a noble cliff-top facing north for my spot. A giant Western White Pine stood sentinel there, centuries old. A snow bank dripped water close by. I was all set, until I realized that I had unwittingly camped right beside a bear bed, at the base of that giant pine. So I moved half a mile, in the deepening dusk, to another cliff-top, the East Summit of Snow, with its little grove of Red Fir. I did not find the bear-bed I camped next to *there*, until the next morning. But I was not disturbed.

Snow has always impressed me with its game. It is so far from people, so far from I-80, or any ski resorts. At least, it was back then. But the wildlife seemed more abundant there, than anywhere I had been, in Placer County. Game trails everywhere. Once I found a rattlesnake, right on the summit, over 8000' in elevation. There is quite a jumble of large blocks of talus on parts of the summit ridge. I imagine the warrens of many mice are down below those giant angular boulders. And when there are many mice there are many snakes.

Mentioning my observations about the game out there to old-timers, I learned that Snow was famous for its game and for good hunting. And then, around 1980 or maybe 1985, I was astounded to find two Indian hunting blinds up on the summit ridge. I had only seen one before in my life, on a ridge running up towards 13,000' elevation, in the Great Basin. The two on Snow are scarcely recognizable. One is on what seems the highest of the minor summits. The other, on another little knoll. Both seem to have been torn down somewhat (these hunting blinds are just rings of boulders stacked up, about four to six feet across). Flakes of chert and obsidian and quartz, left from fashioning arrowheads, litter the interiors of the rings. Only a very careful scrutiny will reveal the flakes, however.

So for many reasons I held an almost religious reverence towards Snow. Then disaster struck, twice. I happened to be in the office of a forester who prepared timber harvest plans for Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), over in Grass Valley, about 1994, and saw photographs of petroglyphs near Snow Mountain. I inquired, and learned that a major harvest was planned out there.

I made calls to CDF, told an archeologist there about the hunting blinds, and was assured that I could write letters until I was blue in the face and never stop that harvest. I was also told of a certain formal California archive of archeological sites, which influences timber harvest plans, and thought, "Well, perhaps the harvest cannot be stopped, but at least those who should know, shall know": and I called the archive. To my chagrin I spoke to an ignoramus who told me what I had found were probably not hunting blinds, but house-sites. At 8000' elevation! And of course, it turned out that only a licensed archeologist could actually record any such site into the archive.

And I am not licensed.

The other disaster was the sale of the Nicholls Estate lands to a man named Charlie Jones. This took place, I think, around 1995, or perhaps a few years earlier. Since then some kind of mansion has been built at Huntley Mill Lake, complete with a tennis court. I hear a caretaker lives out there full-time.

It would have been an act of only average intelligence and foresight for Tahoe National Forest (TNF) to have bought the Nicholls Estate lands. The historic trails; Devils Peak, Snow Mountain; the lakes; Big Granite Canyon; it is an especially precious part of the Placer high country.

But Charlie Jones bought it, and built his mansion, and now his wife warns hikers that they are trespassing. So the Nicholls Estate's wondrous dream, of a clear title to two thousand acres of land, unencumbered, unclouded by even the shadow of a public trail; their great dream, came true. For, the genuinely useful and even inspired 1953 Trails Ordinance was rescinded.

I have been afraid to even go out to Snow since learning of the timber harvest(s) and the mansion at Huntley Mill Lake.

And today, well, I could not take the time to try to follow the painful progress of the Trails Ordinance through the Superior Court. Another day, perhaps.

I would like to see TNF try to purchase *all* the private lands out near Snow. Some sections are owned by SPI; one section, of 640 acres, by Croman lumber company; and of course there are the old Nicholls lands. Make it a multi-decade project and, at long last, get it done. Perhaps a reasonable recreation plan would to allow vehicular access up to the edge of the plateau north of Devils Peak, and let people hike in from there (and ride horses, or mountain bikes, on the logging roads, at any rate). And somewhere, out past Huntley Mill Lake, nearing Snow Mountain, but not too close to it, should be the boundary of the North Fork American Wilderness Area.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Odds and Ends

I have been uncharacteristically off the trails in recent weeks, and have no adventures to describe, except, yesterday I visited Green Valley with Catherine O'Riley, where we worked on clearing an old trail, which follows the Green Valley Blue Gravel mining ditch. It was a lovely spring day and we managed to open up about a half-mile of the old canal, which originated on the North Fork about a mile above Euchre Bar, and led to the hydraulic mines at the west end of Green Valley.

There is other news to report. The huge garbage site on the North Fork of the North Fork NFNFAR), less than a mile above Euchre Bar, inspired several of us to try to get Tahoe National Forest (TNF) involved in the clean-up. A helicopter seems required. Geologist Dave Lawler saw a mining claim notice near the garbage, and suggested we contact Rick Weaver, a TNF abandoned mines specialist. A few weeks ago I sent a map to Rich Johnson of the Foresthill Ranger District (which District has recently expanded northward, and now includes the garbage site) showing the High Ditch Trail and the garbage site.

Last Monday I called Rich to see what more could be done. He said that several such sites exist in the main North Fork canyon, and that it is a year-to-year process, writing cleanups into his District's budget. Rich said that the NFNFAR site would have to take its place in the queue, and it might well be more than a year before money would be available to clean it up. He suggested that we (we "citizen volunteers") could help out by bagging up the small stuff, so that it would be easy to load the helicopter cargo net when the time did finally come.

Julie X, who has been carrying garbage up and out of the canyon from the Euchre Bar area generally, and who told me of this horrible mess up along the NFNFAR, wrote that at the site are several 55-gallon drums marked "laquer thinner," and that she opened one drum, and found it two-thirds full of laquer thinner. She speculates that a meth lab must have existed there. Knowing that this would immediately lift the site's priority and importance, from "garbage" to "hazardous waste," I put in a call to Rick Weaver.

Rick said he had recently visited the site (thanks to input from Julie and Dave), and had been unable to read the lettering on the 55-gallon drums. I told him of what Julie had found, and he seemed sure that this new development would lead to quicker action to clean up the site.

Quite a number of emails had accompanied all this, most of them copied to Rich Johnson and Mo Tebbe of the Foresthill ranger District. After the laquer thinner entered the picture, TNF staff decided upon a "keep away, hands off" policy, towards citizen volunteers. Now that hazardous waste is involved, they don't want any help.

So that's where the NFNFAR garbage site stands.

I must remark that over a period of many years, hiking in the Euchre Bar area, I not only have never seen a TNF ranger on the trails, but quite the contrary, everything I do see suggests that TNF rangers and trail crews literally never visit the area. Rich Johnson conceded this to be true enough. Apparently, even something as seemingly simple as, say, a monthly patrol of the area, or a yearly, or even a once-in-five-years visit by a trail crew, is not provided for in their budget. They will have one patrol ranger on the job this summer, who will be covering trails from the Granite Chief Wilderness, down through the French Meadows area, and in the North Fork canyon. It seems possible that once, over the summer, this patrol ranger will visit Euchre Bar.

We can help TNF out by reporting garbage sites, squatter's camps, and trails blocked by brush or fallen trees, etc. etc.

The main TNF telephone number at Nevada City is 265-4531.

The Foresthill Ranger District telephone number is 367-2224.

Rich Johnson's email is .

That's all for now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Gold Run Diggings: sold?

This morning I heard a rumor that the 800 acres of private land in the Gold Run Diggings, which includes some parcels outside the Diggings, for instance, a 72-acre parcel containing the historic Canyon Creek Trail, has sold, to a private party.

This 800 acres belongs to a group called Gold Run Properties (GRP).

Wishing to learn the truth, I called one of the general partners of GRP this morning. This is what he said:

1. After listing the 800 acres for several years with one realtor, without results, GRP changed to a "realtor in Nevada City, affiliated with a brokerage in Reno."

2. A couple, or several, offers have been received since then:

a) Someone interested in mining gold on the property.
b) Someone who imagined making a private campground with private trails.
c) Someone interested in owning the property as their own private "reserve."

3. Apparently the most credible offer is from party (c). GRP has made a counter-offer. They have not (yet) entered escrow.

Such is what I learned. It looks like bad news but, nothing is written in stone--yet.

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Lost Camp THP approved

At long last, CDF (CA Department of Forestry) has concluded its evaluation of the Siller Bros. lumber company Timber Harvest Plan (THP) at Lost Camp.

Near Blue Canyon, and south of the railroad, is the historic townsite of Lost Camp. An Eocene-age (ca. 55 million years old) river channel is preserved here, with a body of gold-bearing gravels, similar in age and nature to those at Dutch Flat and Gold Run. In the late 1850s, miners swarmed to the place, a town was built, and Allen Towle of Dutch Flat built a sawmill, anticipating brisk demand. However, the boom swiftly subsided, and but a few miners remained. One of these was Gold Run's Osmyn Harkness, who patented a claim on hydraulic mining ground there in 1872. Later, a hard-rock claim was patented on a quartz vein in adjacent Fulda Canyon, and was worked as the Red Rock Mine. Also, a "tailings claim" was located in Blue Canyon itself, below the Harkness mine.

Trails led away from Lost Camp west into Blue Canyon, east to Monumental Creek, southwest down the Lost Camp Divide (between Blue canyon and the North Fork of the North Fork American River (NFNFAR)) and south, across the NFNFAR, to Sawtooth Ridge and Texas Hill. This last became known as the China Trail.

These several patented claims eventually came under the ownership of Auburn's Wendell Robie, who wished to preserve the historic trails of Placer County. Later, Robie, or his estate, sold to Siller Bros. lumber company. This company is headquartered in the Marysville-Yuba City area, and owns lands scattered across this part of the Sierra, including one or two parcels in Green Valley, on the main North Fork.

In 2003 Siller Bros. filed a THP on its 590 acres at Lost Camp. Since Lost Camp lies within odd-numbered Section 23, I had mistakenly thought it belonged to Sierra Pacific Industries, another lumber company, and had written letters over recent years to Tahoe National Forest (TNF), asking them to try to purchase Section 23, to protect the townsite and the China Trail.

The Lost Camp THP took me by surprise. I went to CDF offices in Auburn and obtained a copy of the lengthy document. The public comment period had already obstensibly passed, but CDF itself had raised some objections to the THP, and while these were being addressed, public comment was still allowed.

Several of us on this email list wrote letters to CDF about the Lost Camp THP. Ron Gould and I explored the more easterly parts of the 590 acres, in Fulda Canyon. Some letters were also sent to Siller Bros., asking them to defer timber harvests there while attempts were made to get the lands there into the TNF "queue" of land acquisition targets. Siller Bros. did not reply.

The Lost Camp THP calls for a rather severe timber harvest. Three canyons cross the 590 acres: Blue Canyon, Texas Canyon, and Fulda Canyon. Within these canyons, broadly speaking, timber has never been harvested, and some truly gigantic Douglas Fir grow in Fulda Canyon, for instance. The THP called for helicopter logging of these three canyons, while ordinary tractor (bulldozer) logging would take place on the intervening uplands, as, for instance, the site of Lost Camp itself.

The severity of the THP is such that, in the upland areas, it amounts to a virtual clearcut, with two to three "overstory" trees per acre left uncut.

It should be noted that within the canyons, where helicopter logging will occur, there will be relatively little disruption of soils. These areas of old-growth timber are too steep for bulldozer logging and are essentially pristine. The steep slopes make for thin soils and the occasional pockets of deeper soils support pockets of heavy timber. Since, individually, these stands of old-growth Douglas Fir etc. are less than 20 acres in extent, they do not fall under CDF's definition of old-growth timber. Hence the extra protections afforded old-growth timber cannot apply here.

Our comments about the THP were rendered less effective, because we had no access to the confidential archeological assessment of the area. However, the concerns we raised, about the townsite, the mining ditches, and the China Trail, caused CDF to make its own on-site evaluation of the archeological resources there.

CDF's Official Response to our concerns is a 24-page document. It also comprises official approval of the (slightly modified) THP.

The main change to the THP is that plans for a major road and stream crossing in Texas Canyon have been dropped. Also, to preserve esthetics, care will be taken to lop logging slash down to within 18 inches of the ground in a zone extending 100 feet to either side of the Lost Camp Road. And finally, care will be taken to remove slash from the course of the China Trail.

The bottom line is that the Lost Camp THP has been approved, and that Siller Bros., by not replying to our letters asking whether they would be willing sellers of the 590 acres, seem, at this point, to *not* be willing sellers.

The Official Response and the THP itself make for somewhat difficult reading, difficult, and frustrating. I raised the issue of the destruction of historic trails by logging, for instance, and in response, CDF provided the pertintent portion of the Forest Practice Rules, which essentially ignore historic trails. However, it looks as though the China Trail itself will be protected from undue damage in this timber harvest.

Siller Bros. owns various lands which are important to the future of our trails and our wildlands. They were on the verge of helicopter logging their Green Valley lands in 1976. They also have minor holdings in the Bear River canyon along the line of an old narrow-gauge railroad which makes a fine trail. I wonder whether we might not make a better effort to engage Siller Bros. in a dialogue about these lands. Perhaps they might become willing sellers, in some cases.