Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Sawbug V

Tuesday morning Catherine O'Riley and I drove out to the Euchre Bar Trail and set off down to the North Fork. This is one of two trails which lead to bridges across the river, the other being far upstream, above the Royal Gorge, at Palisade Creek. The Palisade bridge is relatively new, a little over twenty years old, I believe; but the Euchre Bar Bridge is old, and has seen multiple incarnations over the past 100 to 150 years. The most recent incarnation dates from the 1964 flood event, which must have torn out the previous bridge.

At the bridge, one can see abutments and massive iron pins or bolts of various descriptions from an older incarnation of the bridge, slightly downstream from the present bridge. I do not know when a bridge was first built there; I have a newspaper article describing a collapse of the bridge, in the 1890s, which plunged two men, a horse, and a mule into the river, forty feet below. I also have the diary of I.T. Coffin, a gold miner who lived up in the Texas Hill area at the time (1863), which implies that the bridge existed then.

The long existence of the bridge shows that the Euchre Bar Trail's importance had more to do with points farther up the canyon, than with Euchre Bar itself. As one follows the trail up the North Fork from the bridge, one passes many old mines. In about two miles the trail reaches Humbug Canyon.

At Humbug Canyon, or rather, immediately downstream, another bridge crossed the river, at Humbug Bar. Like Euchre Bar, Humbug Bar was a large deposit of glacial outwash sediments. Both were mined heavily, probably by multiple methods, including drift mining, ground sluicing, and hydraulic mining. The Humbug Bar bridge facilitated access both to mines up and down the North Fork on the north bank, but to what I call the Sawbug Trail.

The Sawbug leads up to a pass, at 4000' elevation, on Sawtooth Ridge; from there, the Sawtooth Trail follows the ridge northeast and connects with a variety of other trails, giving access to, for instance, the Texas Hill and Burnett Canyon mining districts, where I.T. Coffin lived from 1858 to 1864. So again, the bridge's importance had as much to do with the Sawbug Trail as with mere access across the North Fork to Humbug Bar.

The Sawbug does not show on many maps. I can only think of the ca. 1900 USGS Colfax Folio maps. In November 2002 Tom Molloy and I searched for the upper end of the Sawbug, and found it. We covered a lot of ground that day, both in quartering the slopes trying to follow the Sawbug down towards Humbug Bar, and then later, walking the rest of the way to the very end of Sawtooth Ridge, above the confluence of the North Fork and the North Fork of the North Fork. We managed to get stuck on the wrong side of a huge patch of manzanita, and, by accident, stumbled upon the Rawhide Mine Trail.

Whew! That was one long, tough bunch of walking. Sawbug I.

Last summer, I visited Humbug Canyon and the Dorer Ranch with Steve Hunter and friends, and scouted for the lower end of the Sawbug, beginning at the bridge site. I entirely failed. Sawbug II.

In the fall, Ron Gould and I visited the upper end of the Sawbug, clearing some nasty little fallen Knobcone Pines from the trail. We failed, as Tom and I had, the year before, to find the true line of the trail as it dropped away into the great canyon. Sawbug III.

Last week, I returned to Humbug Canyon, again with Steve Hunter and friends, and Catherine, Ron, Jerry Rein and I scouted from the bridge site, in search of the Sawbug. We found it, but lost it at a shallow ravine, followed game trails and old human trails east on a climbing contour, and then found it again. Ron and I explored both east and west along the trail, over a distance of almost half a mile, perhaps. A very nasty patch of manzanita prevented us from connecting back down to the bridge site. Sawbug IV.

Yesterday, the plan was to hike on up to Humbug Canyon from Euchre Bar, where Catherine would enjoy a leisurely swim and a visit to Danny and Grant, the caretakers at the Dorer Ranch, while I thrashed around in the hot sun and heavy brush, in hopes of finding the complete line of the lower part of the Sawbug, from the bridge, up to where Ron and I had been stopped by brush, last week. Sawbug V.

Sawbug V proved to be the absolute charm. I forded the river, and clambered up to the bridge site, on a "strath terrace" (a bedrock terrace cut when the canyon was choked with glacial outwash, say, 12,000 to 20,000 years ago) about 60 feet above the river. Immediately I was sweating and huffing and puffing. It was just past noon and the day was fairly hot. Twenty or thirty feet above the strath terrace of the bridge site, there is another strath terrace. From here I picked up faint traces of the trail, which soon entered a dense patch of young Douglas Fir. All these slopes were scalded by the 1960 Volcano Fire, and a distinct generation of manzanita and young conifers seeded in after the fire. Many of the larger trees survived that fire, but some did not, and the bleached white trunks of fire-killed Ponderosa Pines criss-cross the slopes.

I had lopped a corridor through the young Douglas Firs last week. The Sawbug was quite well-defined, although buried within this dense little grove of conifers. At the east end, a shallow gully is met, and the trail disappears beyond. Last week we had continued a climbing traverse to the east, had found various suspiciously well-trodden game trails, had discovered an old hard-rock mining prospect well to the east, and then Ron had spotted the Sawbug, above us.

Yesterday I followed much the same course as we had last week, and met with the same difficulties, following a game trail onto steep rocky slopes where it eventually petered out, and I climbed higher to a very well-defined game trail, in open, easy terrain. Yet this, we had later found, was too low to be the Sawbug. I set my pack down and began a methodical scouting of the slopes around me. Bearing west, I squeezed through a gap in the manzanita and live oak, and suddenly found the Sawbug, wide, well-defined, and almost hidden in live oaks and young conifers. I lopped down and west, and entered a more open area, in which the post-Volcano-manzanita had mostly died, leaving an impassable welter of stiff branches. Several pines were down in the area. I trusted to a well-stomped bear trail, and began to detect traces of the Sawbug beneath the dead brush. Following the bear trail up the hill, looping around a fallen pine, found an old mining claim corner monument near a large multi-trunked Canyon Live Oak, with a bear bed beside the monument, and continued down in search of the Sawbug. At first it eluded me, and I ended up on a narrow promontory overlooking the bridge site, around 250 in elevation feet below and to the south. Retreating north onto the main canyon wall, a very faint trail appeared beneath a welter of mostly dead bushes, and between live oaks with many side branches to lower levels.

If this was the Sawbug, it meant that there must be a switchback; for my sense was that I was right up the hill from the corridor-through-little-conifers section of the trail, that I had lopped last Wednesday. So, I forced a route through the maze of trees and bushes, and, sure enough, about a hundred feet below, I found myself at the east end of the corridor, in the shallow gully. The vegetation was so heavy above that it utterly hid all signs of the switchback.

I was about 90% certain that I had found the true line of the trail, and put the loppers to work while following it back up. Most of the iron-hard dead manzanita was too big and too much for me to take on, but I hacked out a few short reaches of the trail, and even, horror upon horror, made a couple of rock ducks to mark its course. There were times I could not come within twenty feet of the trail, not while wearing shorts and a T-shirt, anyway.

I followed back up the Sawbug to the game trail where I'd left my pack, and thought I saw the Sawbug enter an even denser and even larger patch of half-dead manzanita and fallen pines. There was no possibility of following the old trail itself. I walked to my pack, just below the manzanita patch, and climbed onto a fallen pine and walked up the hill right into the worst of the brush. Fortunately other fallen pines made for a zig-zag route which allowed me to find the Sawbug again, and it was plain that just this one patch of manzanita and the fallen pines could keep four or five strong workers busy for hours, just to open less than a hundred yards of trail. Striking up (north) and east, I found another "corridor" which Ron and I had lopped last week, and realized I was exactly where we had stopped, when following the Sawbug back down towards the bridge.

From here it was easy going up and east, except, I was verging upon a sunstroke or something, in the hot weather, fighting brush and lopping and walking up and down and every which way. Since the trail entered a grove of larger trees, with almost no brush, and good shade, I didn't push it, but made slow steady progress, and stopped to rest frequently.

I reach the sunny bunchgrass opening with the view across the North Fork into Humbug Canyon and the Dorer Ranch. This was close to the highest, easternmost point Ron and I had reached. I GPSed my location, and, seeing how far the Dorer Ranch was below me, and knowing the ranch to be nearly if not all of 200 feet above river level (roughly, 2000' in elevation, at Humbug Bar), I figured I must be 400 to 500 feet above the river. However, the GPS settled into a reading of 2350' elevation, with reasonable satellite coverage. Later, when I plotted my track on the Westville quadrangle, it came in a little higher, about 2400' at that grassy viewpoint, or 400 feet above the river. I would still think I was a mite higher yet.

The trail remained open and easy to follow, although there were many oak branches and little conifers lopped. The lop count rose into the hundreds, and again and again I sank to the ground to rest, not even bothering to remove my pack. It was hot. I could hear a group of people playing and swimming and hooting and hollering far below, on the river. I heard children, too.

Climbing east and north, the trail narrowed, and I began to worry I might have lost it, when I began to notice very old cuts in manzanita branches, made by a machete twenty or thirty years ago. Why, they might even date to the Volcano Fire itself, when fire crews would have traversed the canyon walls to knock down hot spots, after the main fire had swept through. This was reassuring. Also, a bear or bears had made frequent use of the trail, which is often a good sign.

Eventually I hit a nasty little patch of manzanita and collapsed in a heap. After resting, I left my pack behind, and, carrying only the loppers and my GPS unit, climbed on up the trail.

Soon even better signs that I was on the true line of the Sawbug appeared: massive dry-laid stone retaining walls, quite a few of them, bolstered the trail. I was crossing a broad ravine or steep valley, easily a quarter-mile across, itself riven by many smaller ravines and gullies, some with impressive expanses of water-polished rock, pointing to transient, occasional flood events in the rainy season. The trail sometimes leveled out a little in crossing these minor ravines, but all in all maintained a steady climb to the north and east. I crossed the main axis of the valley, and ventured a few hundred yards further. I could scarcely even lift my loppers and was soaked with sweat. Several hours had passed since I had left Catherine, at the river, and I had told her I would be no more than three hours. It was time to retreat.

I switched on the GPS for the return, to record the line of the Sawbug. I was surprised by how far back down the trail I had left my pack. It took twenty or thirty minutes to reach the bridge site; I had followed the Sawbug almost a mile, almost half-way to the pass on Sawtooth Ridge. I was scratched bloody by the brush, and dripping sweat, and a kind of lanky horse-fly besieged me the whole way down to the river, and followed me right across as I forded. I stripped off my clothes and dove into the deep pool by the bridge site, hoping the lanky biting fly would leave me be, once I was a little cleaner, but, no.

Catherine was gone, up visiting Danny and Grant, but I had no wish to add another climb to the day's outing. I had climbed the better part of 1000 feet above the river, on the Sawbug, and had over 2000 feet of climb to get back out via Euchre Bar. So, I lazed around beside Humbug Creek, drank Gatorade, and stayed in the shade. After half an hour or so I began to wish Catherine would return so we could start the long march out, and gathered my stuff and climbed up a little ways to save her the trouble of dropping all the way to the river to find me.

Almost immediately I heard an engine, and surmised that Danny was giving her a ride down from the ranch, on some kind of ATV. This proved to be the case. Soon we were hiking back down the canyon, and to us both, the climb up from Euchre Bar seemed longer than usual. We hit the top about 7:30; the sun was lowering, and we could see the very notch in Sawtooth Ridge where the Sawbug Trail meets the Sawtooth Trail, just falling into shadow, while the "teeth" of the ridge were still up in the sunshine.

It had been another great day, but a greatly strenuous day, on the North Fork. Much progress had been made in establishing the route of a long-abandoned historic trail. Perhaps one day people will hike that trail again; perhaps, like I.T. Coffin, they will follow up Sawtooth Ridge, enjoying the awesome views of two awesome canyons. I hope the day will come when Sawtooth Ridge and the canyons on either side will be managed for wildlands and open space, and motorized vehicles will be blocked off well up the line of the ridge to the northeast, perhaps near the head of Wilmont Ravine.

To ever achieve this, Tahoe National Forest must acquire the private lands along Sawtooth Ridge, most of which belong to Sierra Pacific Industries, famous for clearcutting.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

In Search of the Sawbug

There are some really great trails in the North Fork canyon, many quite old. Some are abandoned and no longer appear on modern maps, not Tahoe National Forest maps, nor on the USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps, which are the most detailed maps readily available.

Old maps often show these now-abandoned trails, and for many years I have pored over these antique maps, studying them inch by inch with a magnifying glass, and transferring the lines of trails to our modern 7.5 minute quads. I have also visited map archives at the USGS headquarters in Sacramento, and studied the surveyor's notes which accompany some of them.

For instance, in 1866, in the Dutch Flat area, the government surveys focused upon laying out the section lines, dividing each "township" into a grid of thirty-six sections, each section a mile square. This was the primary goal, and the positions of roads and trails were often only partially recorded, where they happened to cross some section line. The surveyor's notes often contain more information about these roads and trails.

One of the more interesting of the old maps is the USGS Colfax Folio (from the "Geological Atlas of the United States", ca. 1900), the first good topographic map published of this general area. Contours are at an interval of 100 feet, with bold contours every 500 feet, of elevation. This map is notable, among other things, for showing trails from Sawtooth Ridge down to the North Fork, which do not appear on any other map I have seen. East of Helester Point, a trail is shown dropping away south from a pass on Sawtooth, to Italian Bar. West of Helester Point, another trail is shown dropping from a pass, south and west to Humbug Bar, where a bridge existed. Since this trail connects Sawtooth Ridge to Humbug Bar, I've dubbed it the "Sawbug" trail.

From the pass, the trail can be followed for a little ways, before a maze of game trails obscures its course. If one just forges ahead in what should be the right direction, a human trail reappears, which leads to a hard-rock prospect on one of the many quartz veins in the area. From there, the trail again fades away. I searched that area a couple of years ago with Tom Molloy, and then again last year with Ron Gould.

The upper part of the Sawbug had disappeared so completely that it seemed the next step must be to go to Humbug Bar and try to follow it up from there. Last year I joined Steve Hunter and others for a visit to Humbug Canyon, and while they visited old mines, I tried and failed to locate the Sawbug, beginning at the bridge site, finding instead an old wagon road on the north side of the river, and another wagon road which climbed up the canyon wall, in much the direction one would want to see on the Sawbug, but, sadly, too far east.

Yesterday Jerry Rein, Ron Gould, Catherine O'Riley and I met Steve Hunter and friends in Colfax for another visit to Humbug Canyon. Steve knows one of the owners of the Dorer Ranch, near the base of Humbug Canyon, and obtained a key to the gate, up high on the canyon rim off Elliott Ranch Road. We drove out there and down the road, pausing at the ranch to greet the caretaker, Danny, and his friend, Grant. The ranch is located on a meadowy terrace of glacial outwash sediments. It is an amazing, albeit somewhat ramshackle, place. After a time we made our way down to the river, a short distance away. A lovely deep pool is just downstream from the confluence of Humbug Creek, and we all swam, for the day was waxing hot, hotter, hottest.

The river was a comfortable 64 degrees, as a fisherman among us determined, and we jumped and dove from the polished bosses of rock beside the pool.

Soon, tho, our sub-group packed up, forded the river, and climbed to the bridge site, in search of the Sawbug.

Our search lacked a little in method. Howsoever, some widespread wandering up and down and back and forth eventually revealed a human trail, winding through a dense thicket of young Douglas Fir. I lopped a line through, where bears had often stomped, but soon enough we lost the thing, and wandered east, up the canyon, some scouting high, others low.

I found a plausible human trail amidst a regular maze of very well-trodden game trails, and called the others up. We followed along well enough for a ways, and then our trail again blended into the generality of game trails, in a forest of Canyon Live Oak, Ponderosa Pine, and Douglas Fir. I scouted high while the others took shelter beneath some trees, and found yet another supposed human trail, and, walking back west, and then east, and then up and down and every which way, established that a certain combination of the most heavily-trodden game trails, which combination might be interpreted as lightly-used human trails from long ago, led to a hard rock prospect with some terraces bolstered by dry-laid stone walls, littered with chunks of quartz.

I went back and retrieved the others, and we walked to this "prospect terrace." As we neared it, Ron split away and scouted higher, thank goodness, for soon he called down to us that he had found an even broader trail, and I hurried up to see.

Ron had found "it." The Sawbug. Finally, another piece of the puzzle.

It was past noon and sweltering, blazing hot. A climb of perhaps 100 feet brought me to Ron's trail, where a gigantic Canyon Live Oak and Douglas Fir were clasped in a strange embrace. The trail was broader than most we had explored that day, and was in just the right position, following just the right course, ascending to the east and north, to be the Sawbug.

We followed it up and east, passing some springs, and began to see dry-laid stone walls bolstering the trail. In a sunny, grassy opening, we could look across the North Fork canyon into Humbug Canyon and see the meadow and Dorer Ranch. We were perhaps 400 feet or so above the river.

Retreating down and west, we followed the Sawbug past the Trees of the Embrace, and became if possible even more convinced that this was indeed IT, the one and only Sawbug. Its course was gentle but inexorably down and to the west, drawing a bead on Humbug Bar. However, upon entering an especially brushy, overgrown area, we lost it, and, already scratched, tired, dripping with sweat, we set the problem aside for another day, and made our way back to Jerry and Catherine.

From there, a blundering descent was made to the northside wagon road, which we followed up towards the Cavern Mine, where the Steve Hunter party might be found. This mine is one of many in the area, has a stamp mill near the portal, and a slightly flooded tunnel, with ore-cart track still in place, leading perhaps a hundred yards into the cool depths of Sawtooth Ridge, to a sort of narrow cavern with side tunnels branching away, and a great, indefinitely high, stoped-out area above, with some relict timbering spanning a narrow kind of chasm. The mine was probably one of fifteen claims (the Adeline, I find, from old maps) owned and worked by the American Eagle Mine.

We met Steve Hunter et. al. on the wagon road; they were on their way back to Humbug Bar. We continued east to the mine, explored the cavern, and then swam in a great, great, deep pool below the mine.

As shadows began to lengthen we picked our way downstream along the river, over water-polished masses of almost-vertical Shoo Fly Complex strata, with unusual laminations, intercalations of limy sediments bordering upon being outright limestone. These were in close association with the ubiquitous quartz veins, and probably account for the white dripstone deposits within the Cavern.

After a time we were able to make a short climb to the American Eagle Trail on the south side of the river, and followed it back to Humbug Canyon, where another round of swimming cooled us in preparation for the final short sharp ascent to Catherine's trusty Land Rover. We left the Dorer Ranch at about 7:00 p.m., and made it back to Colfax a little after nine.

Such was another great day on the North Fork. It was especially notable on these two counts:

1. We found the long-lost Sawbug Trail.
2. Catherine O'Riley actually went swimming in the North Fork!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Source

Wednesday morning Catherine picked me up at home and we headed east on I-80, to visit The Source of the North Fork American. Of course there are multiple "sources" of the North Fork, uncountably many, one could say; but if one looks for the ultimate headwaters, for the very highest and easternmost perennial stream, one quickly (with the help of the USGS 7.5 minute "Granite Chief" quadrangle) fixes upon Needle Lake, a little above 8400', in the cirque northeast of Needle Peak (8871').

Although the map labels the perennial stream issuing from Needle Lake as "Chief Creek," its canyon is much the direct continuation of the North Fork canyon. Although its course roughly parallels the Sierra Crest, at right angles to the main thrust of the North Fork, Chief Creek's canyon is large and deep and is not, at first, what geomorphologists would call a "hanging" valley. That is, it is at the same level as the North Fork itself, which latter, otherwise, we would have to consider to suddenly and mysteriously end.

At any rate, I have long (since 1972) regarded Needle Lake as the "true" source of the North Fork American. To get there, Catherine and I would hike east, up the Foresthill Divide, from a pass on the Divide at about 7000', right up and over Lyon Peak, at 8891', thence east another mile to Needle Peak, scrambling from the summit lava flow down the steep walls of the cirque to the lake.

The upper basin of the North Fork is surrounded by ridges and peaks made of the "young volcanics." These are as old as 30 million years, as young as 3 (?) million years, and are called "young" in comparison with the vastly older "bedrock" beneath the young volcanics. This bedrock is either granite or metamorphic rocks, both Mesozoic and Paleozoic in age, roughly, between 80 million and 200 million years old. There is a "profound angular unconformity" between the young volcanics and the old metamorphic bedrock. For, the metamorphics are typically stratified metasediments, with the strata tipped up on edge, while the young volcanics are also stratified, layer upon layer of rhyolite ash, andesitic mudflow, and both andesitic and basaltic lavas. But these strata are *not* "tipped up on edge," rather, they are often nearly horizontal. Thus they represent not just a simple unconformity--a break in the depositional sequence--but an angular unconformity. And the angle approaches ninety degrees. This, combined with the difference in age, is what makes it, not just an unconformity, not any old angular unconformity, but a "profound" angular unconformity.

I planned to gather samples of several lave flows for Brian Cousens, who is studying the youngest of the young volcanics, in the Squaw Valley area.

We turned off I-80 at the Soda Springs exit, drove out old Highway 40 a little ways, and turned right again to pass through the Serene Lakes subdivision to the Foresthill-Soda Springs road. We followed this rough rough road down into, and then across, the upper basin of the North Fork, passing The Cedars and its many "no trespassing" signs, crossing the steel bridge over the North Fork, and then, a mile or less past the river, bearing left on the road which climbs up to the pass on the Divide. A sign reads "Tevis Cup Trail 2.5 miles" or something to that effect; for this trail feathers right into the pass, and then follows the Divide west.

At the pass we parked, saddled up, and began the climb to Lyon Peak. There was quite a display of wildflowers. The sun was intensely bright, but a stiff wind flailed away at us and kept us cool. The flowers distracted us from the sound and sober business of hiking, and we made slow progress up the ridge. Curious peaklets and cliffs and spires of andesitic mudflow studded the ridge in places, and as we climbed, we went back in time as it were, and species of plants which were past bloom and had set seed, where we parked, were still in full bloom, only a little higher.

Lupine, Mules Ears, Indian Paintbrush, and Mustang Mint were conspicuous and abundant, but many other species were present. There was a classic, Alpine, almost high-desert feel to the terrain, so rocky and barren, and the plants almost all much given to forming mats and cushions.

Snow Mountain rose into view, and as we zig-zagged back and forth across the summit of the Divide, we would see, alternately, the headwaters of the Middle Fork, and then the North Fork, of the American. Picayune Valley and Mount Mildred were just to the south, and then, as we rose higher, the Crystal Range, Jack's Peak, Dick's Peak, Pyramid Peak and Tallac all came into view. To the north, Castle and Basin peaks could be seen, with Mt. Lola just beyond. Red Mountain and Devils Peak were aligned with one another to the northwest, while English Mountain and the Sierra Buttes came into better and better view as we climbed. At the top of Lyon Peak we were even rewarded with a dim view of Mt. Lassen to the north, and the Sutter Buttes to the west, and Banner Mountain, near Nevada City.

However, long before we reached the summit, we met The Three Geologists, a teaching assistant (Scott Herman) and two students from U.C. Santa Barbara. The students were engaged in field mapping the area, and were identifying the many and various components of the young volcanics, their contacts with other components, the position of the underlying bedrock, etc.

After a nice chat we all continued towards Lyon Peak. Catherine and I paused at certain noble cliff of andesitic mudflow, which rises to a sharp pinnacle which can be seen from far and wide. To the north, the deep valley of an unnamed tributary of the North Fork fell away below us, and, nearly a thousand feet down, a curious plateau, or complex of terraces, made of several (?) lava flows, held two small ponds. Glacial scouring had planed down the lava to form the terraces, and faint curved lines could be seen, on their flat tops.

Snowfields were many, most small, but we managed to hike directly over the snow for a time, and at last were at the summit talus fields, crowned with three small peaklets, the easternmost the highest. The summit is made from one or more flows of andesite. There appears to be some glacial smoothing of the summit itself. We scrambled up to the western summit and were rewarded, immediately, with a view across the north end of Lake Tahoe to the Carson Range, and a huge cloud of smoke boiling up just beyond. It looked to be rising from near Highway 50, where it descends the east side of the Carson Range to Carson City.

Stiff south winds were stretching the upward-boiling cloud into a long north-trending pennant of smoke. After taking a sample of andesite, admiring all the views, and discerning the snowfields on the south face of Mt. Lassen, framed neatly between English Mountain and the Sierra Buttes, we continued east towards Needle Peak.

Long traverses over talus eventually brought us to the Needle itself. This too is part of a lava flow, severely eroded by glaciers, and the flow is evidently perched right on top of a stratum of the much more ubiquitous andesitic mudflow. I took a sample. We did not climb to the summit itself, but rounded just below to the east and found an easy descent into the cirque, to Needle Lake.

This small deep lake makes an ellipse in a meadowy flat with groves of graceful Mountain Hemlock, with their seemingly Japanese artistic flair of branch and cone. Snowfields and lava cliffs ring around the lake on the south and east, some of the snow still touching the water, and the lake is rather vigorously overflowing into Chief Creek, which is still bridged over by snow in places. Red Heather was in conspicuous bloom, along with some lovely daisy-like flowers, dwarf lupines, and many other species; yet it was clearly still before the peak bloom.

It was a relief to find the shelter of trees after a long time on the sun-swept, wind-swept crest of the Divide, where only a few stunted trees grow in the passes, and no trees at all live along the summit ridge itself. We rested and then wandered, taking many photographs. One could see Tinkers Knob, a couple of miles to the north, neatly framed between groves of hemlocks to either side of Chief Creek.

The sun was westering, and it behooved us to wester as well, so we saddled up again and followed a use trail along the base of the cliffs north of the Divide. We crossed several minor wet meadows, and wandered through forests dominated by hemlock and Western White Pine, occasionally following a well-defined trail, but also just making our own particular way. It is pretty easy going up there, One has to avoid the dense thickets of willows and Mountain Alders in the wet areas, but over talus or through forest, it is easy.

Eventually we were forced to climb a prominent spur ridge springing away north from the summit of Lyon Peak. A forested pass is just to the north of Lyon, at about 8400'. On the far side we dropped into the Valley of the Volcanic Pond, and found and lost "use" trails which allowed us to wind in and out of minor ravines and circle around the head of the valley, without losing too much elevation. Finally a short ascent through a grove of Red Fir brought us to The Terraces and the Volcanic Pond.

Again we rested, admiring and photographing the great view, with Lyon Peak high above to the southeast. I took a sample of the lava, beside the larger pond. However, the sun was rapidly lowering, and so once again we left somewhat sooner than we would have liked, and, by climbing up the ridge of these terraced lava flows, we were able to traverse across to the main Divide, well below the Cliff of the Pointed Pinnacle, and then follow the use trail down to Catherine's truck.

We had made a hike of nearly ten hours, covering perhaps seven or eight miles altogether, on the upper Foresthill Divide, visiting what could be regarded as The Source of the North Fork American river.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Meadow Lake

Rich Cross sent the following description of a recent exploration to some petroglyph sites in the Nevada County high country. Meadow Lake was the site of a major gold rush and a town grew up there in 1866, at nearly 7000' elevation, with hotels, a newspaper, and claims being filed every which way on the mineralized, gold-bearing quartz veins in the area. Some of the earliest accounts of skiing in the Sierra are from Meadow Lake.

I recelty found an 1866 magazine article describing this same area and hope to transcribe it for y'all sometime soon.

Sometimes when I write about my trips, I feel like my four year old son, telling complete strangers in the grocery store about the waterfall he saw that day. "I saw a cool waterfall today!" he'll tell the clerk. I guess there's still some kid inside of me, thank god, because I still get giddy over my trips to the hills.... Plus, I like the exchange of information. Your descriptions of North Fork trips have given me a huge list of places I need to visit. I had a great trip yesterday. I started out with no firm plans, just wanted to check out the territory between Highway 89 north of Truckee and Bowman Lake. I've done a fair amount of walks south and west of Fordyce Lake, but never been in the Meadow Lake area. I took I80 through Truckee, then worked my way back via dirt, past Webber Lake. Arriving at Meadow Lake after a couple minor stops, I drove up the ridgeline east of the lake, hoping for good views of the Fordyce Creek drainage and beyond. The views were great, as expected, but not spectacular, due to too many trees (ever hear my lecture on why some clear-cuts are good, haha?). I descended back to the north side of Meadow Lake, then headed around to its outlet near Hartley Butte, still trying to get that spectacular view of Fordyce, et. al. I started to descent the "jeep trail" shown on the map just east of the Butte, but the rocks were getting bigger and sharper and I was sick of driving. Time to walk a bit.... As I got out of my truck, a big fat marmot ran over a nearby outcropping and hid. I wasn't aware marmots could be found this far north, I've never seen them outside of the Sequoia area. This sucker was so big and moving so fast that my first (wishful thinking) thought was wolverine. So I start climbing the butte and almost immediately cross a road, not shown on the maps, which ascends almost to the summit. I hate when that happens. I walked up to the top and found the view I was looking for. Words can't describe. Sitting there, watching the world go by, I recalled reference to the "Meadow Lake Petroglyphs." So after looking around some more, the most likely spot for this site appeared to be directly below me. Not on the way back to my truck, but still an interesting looking "granite planet," so what the hell, let's check it out. And I found them! Amazing, a classic Style 7 site and I found it on the first try! So I used up most of the memory on my camera taking pictures. Then an interesting-looking mushroom rock caught my attention, to the south, so I packed up and went to climb it. Cools views, but no ancient rock shelters like I'd been hoping to find. Well, time to return to the truck and head on down the road, but I didn't actually finish exploring the northern side of the petroglyph site. Obsessive compulsive that I am, I backtracked back north through the site again, down towards a small pond; then I found the main petro site! Very extensive, probably larger than the Donner Summit site, with the art inscribe not just in the reddish-pink rock, but also in a black-colored kind of desert varnish. Neat stuff, including a stick figure human that appeared genuine. There was more modern art, too, boneheads. Found some ugly-looking tailings fields with nasty little creeks draining them. Also a number of flooded holes in the ground, don't know if they were just prospect pits or actual shafts. Not a good place to bring my kids, I'm thinking. Certainly not a good place to walk backwards. I eventually found my way back to my truck and continued on down the road northwest, past Tollhouse lake (worst biting flies I've seen in years, mosquitoes as bad as that hike we went on together to the Palisade Creek site), and on down to Bowman. The closer I got to Bowman, the more people I encountered. Towards its dam I got stuck behind a Forest Circus cop and a guy towing a boat, neither of whom would pull over to let me by, even though we're going maybe 10mph. Well, I also recall a site being near the dam, and I know of a big granite outcropping which fits the description, so I might as well pull over and let the slowpokes go on their way. I started checking out the outcropping, and within 5 minutes I found the site. Unbelievable, how lucky I'm getting today. I found three different glyphs, each carved into a natural round inclusion (is that the right word?) on a fairly vertical surface, creating a picture frame effect. Pretty neat, something I haven't seen at the other sites. I spent another hour walking around, but didn't find any more. The trip home from there was uneventful, about 6:30pm, medium traffic, but moving fast. I avoid Sunday hikes because that Sunday night traffic scares the hell out of me. Take it easy, rc

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Return to Wildcat Canyon

Wednesday morning at 7:30 I met Ron & Catherine for a return to Wildcat Canyon. Last week's tremendous thunderstorm had stopped us from continuing down the Walker Mine Trail to the North Fork, for all the bushes--and of those there were many--were dripping with rain, and we would have been thoroughly soaked, had we lopped into their trembling architecture of leaves and drops.

Hence a return, and with the hot weather at last cooling, it was time to go. This time, we forced a descent to the river, by leaving Catherine's 4WD rig at the bottom of the Sailor Flat jeep trail, and driving around to the Walker Mine Trail in Ron's almost identical truck.

In the meantime, the mystery of the painted arrows, the many cairns and many ducks, and the dozens upon dozens of surveyors' flagging, all along the trail down to Sailor Meadow, had been solved. The person responsible proved to be someone who enjoys working on our old trails, and worries that they will fall into utter oblivion if not marked, and well-marked.

He was apologetic, and promised to remove the spray paint; and then we heard that he had already done so. All this within a week. We were curious to see the results.

Parking at the trailhead, we saw at once that the large boulder of andesite, painted with the letters "SM" and an arrow, had been righted (we had turned the paint down to the ground). So we tipped it over again, and set off down the trail.

The paint removal was done very well. It was close to impossible to see where the arrows had been. One had to look closely. We were quite pleased.

The Walker Mine Trail follows the crest of the ridge dividing Sailor Canyon from Wildcat Canyon, as the ridge drops inexorably north to the North Fork. It ends in a classic glacially truncated surface, facing Snow Mountain, and rising more than 2000' from the North Fork. As one descends from the Foresthill Divide, one passes through various layers of andesitic mudflow, and then other layers of rhyolite ash. Changes in these layers' resistance to erosion has found expression as flattened portions of the ridge's profile. The best-marked of these flat areas is where the trail to Sailor Meadow forks away west.

Here a "use trail" has evolved over recent years, where the main trail levels out, at about 5800' (the trailhead is just less than 6800', and the meadow is about 5600'). Someone had tied two ten-foot Incense Cedars together to make an arch over this use trail. It was as tho all the cuteness of K-Mart had arrived at Sailor Meadow. The corn lilies are on sale! Go through the cute arch, you can't miss it!

Parenthetically, the "true" old trail down to Sailor Meadow seems to be a little farther north, and is blocked by a large fallen pine; so it has dropped out of use. A roll of barbed wire, left along this old trail, harks back to the days when cattle were driven down to Sailor Meadow every summer.

We tore the trees free of each other and continued down to the Walker Mine.

A second round of lopping made this part of the trail more passable. It veers off the ridge onto steep slopes facing east into Wildcat Canyon, and wastes no time dropping down and down and down. Excellent views open up of the main canyon, and Snow Mountain. We must have hit the Walker Mine around noon. The day was warm, the lopping, strenuous, and we were already soaked with sweat. A good rest and a change into shorts and lighter clothes (for me, nothing but shorts and shoes) followed. It must have been a little past noon.

Then at last we entered our own personal terra incognita, well-known to intrepid explorers like Terry Davis and Gene Markley and his merry band, but unknown to us: the continuation of the Walker Mine Trail down to the river.

It dropped steeply from the mine and then turned west to cross the ravine-of-the-mine-tunnel. I would say the crossing is above 4000' and below 4200'. Immediately there was more lopping, quite a lot of it, but less than I had feared. We were among Canyon Live Oak, Bay Laurel, Douglas Fir, and of course, Manzanita, and the shrubby Huckleberry Oak, but also were on slopes so steep that they were often too rocky to support dense vegetation. We were amazed at the width of the trail, and if possible, even more amazed at the very level course it held.

Reflecting on this width and that levelness, we tentatively ascribed them both to the "La Trinidad Mine" effect. The La Trinidad is in Sailor Canyon, right along the Sailor Flat Trail. Yet it was supplied much more from Cisco, over on the South Yuba, than from Foresthill. Pack trains came by way of Huysink Lake and the Big Granite Trail. For a time, I believe, there was a bridge across the North Fork. And why? Because many fewer miles of snow were crossed, in the winter and spring, coming from Cisco.

That the Walker Mine Trail actually improved between the mine and the North Fork revealed that this was the more important part of the trail. Hence supplies came *up* to the Walker Mine, from Cisco.

Or so we surmised. In the meantime, this strangely wide trail remained strangely level, and offered unusually good views out into the main canyon, as it rounded the corner out of Wildcat Canyon proper, onto the north face of the glacially-truncated spur at the end of the Sailor-Wildcat Divide.

Occasionally, the trail would steepen and lose one or two hundred feet, and we would think, "Ah, at last it makes for the river; no more fooling around."

Then it would level out again. We were making good time to the west, but, without really wanting that: for, we wanted to explore east of Wildcat Canyon, towards the Royal Gorge, after reaching the river.

Finally the trail sank ever so slowly to near the level of the main glacial outwash terrace flanking the river. Here, a "river trail" winds along nearly level, connecting Sailor and Wildcat canyons, along the North Fork. We were confident that the junction of the two trails was just ahead. But then, our Walker Mine Trail abruptly faded away. One fork dropped straight down the slope, violating the universal pattern of the last mile; the other continued nearly level, to the west. Of course we chose the latter, but it seems the correct path must have been the former, for we quickly ran out of anything like a trail, and were forced to just make right down the gentle slopes to the river trail. It was scarcely a hundred yards away. We were disappointed not have found "the" junction of the two trails, but wished to spend no more time on the problem, as yet another old trail beckoned.

We had made a descent of about 3400 feet.

Turning east on the river trail, something like a half-mile brought us to Wildcat Canyon creek. Here, a collapsed log cabin is at trail level, on the outwash terrace. The river cannot be seen, but is close by to the north; the river trail drops away east to the creek. Here we rested a good while before entering upon the second stage of our adventure.

The river trail crosses Wildcat Canyon Creek and climbs right back up to outwash-terrace level; then it keeps climbing, to the south, paralleling the creek, until at last it breaks away to the east. Ron and I had explored and lopped part of this trail last summer and again this spring. It is an important trail on a couple of counts: it allows one to pass above one of the greatest obstacles to canyon travel, a gigantic barrens of lichen-dark boulders I call the Big Talus. This talus-field verges upon half a mile in length, and a quarter mile in breadth. Some of the boulders are so large that caverns open up beneath them, and one must beware of falling in. To cross the Big Talus during the middle of a summer day, the dark boulders radiating tons of heat, is an interminable tedium of boulder-hopping. And the boulders are not rounded, nicely, gently, like river boulders; they are sharp-edged, angular, angry, implacable things, where a slip and a fall could easily result in serious injury.

The Big Talus Trail is important on another count: it could be, it must be, a part of a trail depicted on old Tahoe National Forest maps, leading from Wabena Canyon on the east, west to near Wildcat Canyon. The issue here becomes confused; for there is yet another trail, on a lower line, leading up to Wabena Creek from Wildcat; and, on the main Wabena Trail, use is concentrated on a more easterly line, which crosses Wabena Creek itself, near waterfalls, before dropping a final thousand feet to the North Fork, just where Wabena itself reaches the river.

We had more terra incognita, then, ahead of us, and Gene Markley's somewhat vague description, that the trail runs high, but stays below the cliffs, as it approaches Wabena. After a little wandering, where the trail breaks east through a forested flat, we picked up the track and lopped along, impressed, here again, by how well-defined the old thing remained, after all these years, tho of course much overgrown and occasionally blocked by fallen pines.

My own expectation was that the trail would continue climbing, making steady progress towards the crossing of the west fork of Wabena, at about 5200'. I began to hope that the "La Trinidad" effect must have come into play, making for an easily-followed trail, serving the mines in upper Wabena Canyon. Just above the Big Talus, our trail reached an elevation of about 3720'. It hewed close to the talus and offered us several fine views of that strange sea of angular giant boulders. This vast mass of talus looks to have originated high on the cliffs of Snow Mountain, and to have crossed the river and run hundreds of feet up the far (our) side, in a catastrophic rockslide event.

Such giant rock slides often develop a cushion of air beneath them, and travel great distances.

As we passed the Big Talus, the trail dropped. And dropped. And kept right on dropping. All the while I kept my eyes peeled for a fork right, for a trail which would hold our precious elevation as down payment on the long climb ahead. But no. After a time the trail reached an area near the ravine and perennial creek shown in the southeast one-quarter of Section 25, T16N R13E, on the 7.5 minute USGS Royal Gorge quadrangle. In this area, the ravine had apparently sustained a major flood event of its own in January of 1997, and spread smallish rocks over a zone over a hundred feet wide. Leaves had settled in and started to soften the harsh, purely mineral flood debris, and our trail disappeared altogether. We were only fifty or a hundred yards from the river, tho, and as we dropped to river level, we passed the lower "river trail" which leads up to Wabena.

We rested by the burbling clear water. I waded, and was at once shocked by how very cold the North Fork remained, at this late date, and stung by a hundred scratches on my legs, which all seemed to take fire.

Across the way we could see another ravine, dry, now, dropping down the cliffs of Snow Mountain. A talus fan spread down to river level from this ravine. This steep fan showed signs of having been trenched deeply by runoff from the cliffs, in the January 1997 flood event. We could also see up the canyon half a mile to the giant talus fans along the base of the Snow Mountain cliffs, where the North Fork goes completely underground, in the summer months.

Eventually we started back. There had been too much lopping and too much hiking already, for further explorations east. We walked west, crossed Wildcat Canyon, and in another mile or so reached Sailor Canyon, and the sometimes-level, sometimes-steep Sailor Flat Trail, up past the La Trinidad Mine to Catherine's truck. By our use of two vehicles, we had replaced a climb of 3400' with a climb of only 1700'. Of course, we were thrashed, when we reached the truck, we were hot and bothered, mosquitos hovering in clouds (for most of the day we had been free of them). The sun was almost setting, it was past eight o'clock, and we would not be home before ten.

It was another great day in the North Fork.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

First Canyoneering Descent, Canyon Creek

Various people on this email list know and love the Canyon Creek Trail, near Gold Run. It is surely one of the most beautiful and remarkable trails in this part of the Sierra. And, as one descends the trail, an inner gorge develops along the creek, twisted, water-polished, full of gloom (since the sun cannot pass the overhanging cliffs) and the dull boom of hidden waterfalls.

I have always wanted to rappel down into this twisted gorge; yes, I have talked, and talked, but I have never acted.

Yesterday a fellow named Mike Ming (?) of the Auburn area called to ask the way to the Canyon Creek Trail. He and a friend, Brendan, were planning to rappel down the waterfalls. I gave him directions to the Paleobotanist Trail, out along Garrett Road, and asked for a report on the day's adventures.

This morning he called, full of excitement, to duly report, that they had had success, and, starting up at the first big waterfall, had worked right down the creek, rappelling whenever necessary, through the twisted inner gorge, and on down over the Big Waterfall. Since they had started late, around 1:00 p.m., they had lost the sun by the time they reached the Big Waterfall, and were soaked and cold, from swimming through pools and roping down right through falls.

I asked him for a write-up of the great adventure, which I will send along to you.

Now if only we could find some money for the BLM, to buy the 800-acres-now-for-sale, which includes this remarkable trail, these amazing waterfalls ...

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Thunderstorm in Wildcat Canyon

Wednesday morning I met Ron Gould & Catherine O'Riley for an expedition to the Walker Mine, in Wildcat Canyon (see the USGS 7.5 minute "Royal Gorge" quadrangle). Tuesday, I had been laying slabs of sandstone in mortar, to make a path, and had heard the constant rumbling of thunder to the east; and at sunset, the lovely smell of fresh rain wafted down from the high country.

The forecast was for more of the same, but, inasmuch as Wildcat Canyon is fully ten miles from the Sierra crest, and a few sprinkles on a warm day could scarcely hurt, I made no storm preparations beyond packing a long-sleeved shirt. Instead, I took focus on baking some soy sauce and garlic tofu, and buying crackers and cherries and sports drinks.

Thus equipped, I felt ready to enter the wilds of Wildcat Canyon. To get there, we drove to Auburn, and up the Foresthill-Soda Springs road for many miles, past the Mumford Bar, Beacroft, and Sailor Flat trails, past Robinson Flat (which is often labeled "Robertson Flat" on the old maps), at about 7000' elevation, and then, in a couple of miles, we reached the unmarked trail to Sailor Meadow and the Walker Mine.

Except, it was now marked. A single new white Rav 4 was parked across the road from where a large boulder of andesite had been spray-painted with an arrow between the letters "S" and "M." This was especially strange, as Ron had just visited Sailor Meadow last Sunday; there was no spray-painted boulder, then. We saddled up and hit the trail, finding another painted boulder just up the hill.

Smalls trees and bushes were flagged with orange surveyor's tape all along the way; the flagging was new, since Sunday. And, quite often, cairns of boulders had been made to further mark the trail. To our utter horror, the spray-painted arrows marked many larger boulders along the trail, as well.

This is not a hard trail to follow. It is a little vague in a few places, but since its unvarying scheme is to *follow the ridge dividing Sailor Canyon from Wildcat Canyon*, one cannot go far astray. There is no point in flagging this trail, no need for cairns or ducks, and it is an out-and-out crime to paint large yellow arrows on boulders.

Fresh footprints of at least two hikers pointed down the trail, ahead of us. Were these the very culprits? The paint seemed dry. We wondered, and as we wondered, Catherine and Ron stripped every last bit of flagging from the bushes and trees, and kicked down every cairn. I happen to know it's a bit of a religion with her, to knock down ducks and cairns. Now she could exercise her faith with a holy vengeance.

There is a very thick section of andesitic mudflow (Mehrten Formation) at the heads of both Sailor and Wildcat canyons. For the first thousand feet of descent, we were in the mudflow, but as we approached the long leveling of the ridge which marks the vicinity of Sailor Meadow, out of view to the west, we entered the older rhyolite ash of the Valley Springs Formation, none of it directly exposed, only revealing itself as small white angular boulders, here and there.

Where the ridge levels, around 5400' elevation, there is a long narrow pond just below the trail on the west. The most-used trail to Sailor Meadow forks away west just before one reaches the pond, and we saw the flagging continue towards the Meadow, on this route.

We, however, stayed on the trail to the Walker Mine, and saw no more fresh flagging, nor any paint, nor any new cairns, as we continued north along the ridge. There is quite a fine old-growth forest in this general area; Sailor Meadow is famous for it, but the forest extends far beyond the meadow itself, occupying a broad bench on the east side of Sailor Canyon, with a smaller bench on the Wildcat Canyon side of the ridge. These quasi-level surfaces are fully in the volcanic ash layer, and in places, beneath the ash, are old river gravels. And in those gravels is gold. So there are various mines and prospects having to do with these old river channels, in both canyons.

Beneath the rhyolite ash and the river gravels is the bedrock, here, the Middle Jurassic Sailor Canyon Formation, made of beds of sandstone and slaty stuff, much derived from volcanic source material, which beds or strata are tilted up on edge, not to a pure vertical orientation, but near to that, having rotated about 75 degrees east. The strata strike slightly west of north, and, on the north side of the North Fork, cross Big Granite, Little Granite, and Big Valley canyons, reaching the South Yuba just east of Cisco Grove.

Fossil ammonites are sometimes found in Sailor Canyon fm. rocks. These sea organisms are much like a chambered nautilus. The one fossil I saw during our hike, tho, resembled a clam.

Both Terry Davis and Gene Markley had told me that the Walker Mine Trail continues past the mine to the North Fork American, a little ways west of Wildcat Canyon. Ron and Catherine and I hoped to reach the river, but this would mean a climb of nearly 3400' on the way out, so, without really saying so, we were planning to let events dictate our course: would we be exhausted by lopping, before ever nearing the river? Would the trail be easy to find and follow, or hard? Would the day be hot, or cool?

Catherine and I had been down to where the Walker Mine Trail plunges down the east side of the ridge a few years ago, but none of us had ever been down to the mine itself. We found the trail much larger than we had expected, badly overgrown in many places, yes, but showing signs of having been well-lopped maybe ten or fifteen years ago, and lightly lopped within the past few years.

By "well-lopped" I mean many things. First, one never cuts obtruding branches at all close to the traveled way of the trail, if one can help it; lean over and stretch your arms out and cut the branches several feet away. Second, get the cut brush off the trail, and if possible, well off the trail where it can't be seen. Try to get the cut ends pointing away from the trail, too.

Of course, on really bad brush--and we saw some of that--there are too many branches to cut in one pass; they make complicated, imbricated masses; often all one can reasonably do is take out some of the worst branches, and not worry too much about cutting these several feet from the path. These initial cuts often open the way for the deeper cuts which are still necessary. Multiple lopping expeditions are called for.

And finally, do not be fooled by small conifers. Let them live, and they will utterly consume the trail. They will soon get too large to lop, and cutting tree trunks with a handsaw is so very much harder than lopping small trees. If a small conifer is within a foot of the traveled footbed, have no mercy. It is actually better yet to take out every small conifer within reach. This is often impossible in practice, as there are hundreds of them, thousands, tens of thousands--you get the idea.

Well. We had started under clear skies, and soon had seen some wispy fluffy little white cumulus clouds materialize over the high country, and we watched these clouds grow and grow until they covered the sky, and thunder began muttering and rumbling at distance. We were thankful to be in the shadows of the swelling clouds, while lopping our way slowly down the trail.

The clouds only thickened and darkened, while the thunder grew louder. In fact, it rapidly grew so amazingly dark, I would have thought sunset was at hand; yet it was just after one in the afternoon.

Rather nice views open up across the North Fork canyon to Snow Mountain, from this part of the trail. One also sees well into Wildcat Canyon, to a series of high waterfalls on the east side, and to the head of the canyon. One can see the strata of the Sailor Canyon fm. as it sweeps up the south face of Snow, and see the contact between it and the next metamorphic rock unit to the east, the "pyroclastic member" of the Tuttle Lake fm.

This contact between the two formations follows up Wildcat Creek itself, although it often seems to fall just a mite up the east wall of the canyon. Supposedly, the contact is "conformable," that is, the pyroclastics to the east (pyroclastics: "fire broken" rocks, volcanic, eruptive rocks, such as mudflows, and ash beds; *not* lava flows per se) were deposited directly upon the Sailor Canyon fm. sediments to the west, in an uninterrupted continuation of the sedimentary sequence. Originally the Tuttle Lake rocks sat on top of the Sailor Canyon rocks; now they lie to the east. They are but slightly younger.

There was far too much brush for us to take on, and retain any chance of reaching the North Fork. The trail was very well-defined, despite being often buried beneath brush. It much reminds me of the Wabena Trail, a couple miles farther east. Most of the bushes were Huckleberry Oak, with a good amount of Green Manzanita, many live oaks, and many small White Firs and Douglas Firs. Bay Laurel became common, too, as we dropped below 5000'.

I forged ahead, while the others lopped, and reached the little flat near the main portal of the mine. This around 4400' in elevation. I explored down the side trail into a ravine where the main tunnel is located, with its ore-cart tracks, and where cliffs of meta-sandstone (?) with a very blocky, hackly texture rise quite steeply. Then I returned to my pack. I snacked, and explored to the east, and found the continuation of the main trail, down to the North Fork, and also another side trail, holding a level line east to a cabin site.

Returning again to my pack, surprised not to hear Ron and Catherine, I called out and heard an oddly distant answering shout. How could they still be so high above me?

Then it began to hail, very lightly. I moved under the shelter of a Canyon Live Oak, and dug out my long-sleeved shirt. I heard both Ron and Catherine shouting up above, but could not make out what was up. The hail ranged up to half an inch in diameter, and often bounced off the ground. It gradually turned to rain. Lightning was flashing in the clouds above, and some seemed to be hitting the summit ridge of Snow. The thunder grew much more intense, and, just as Ron finally appeared, the rain began to fall more heavily. He went off to see the tunnel; I waited for Catherine at the small flat, where bits of mining equipment are strewn about. A fire-ring is there, too.

When she finally arrived, we followed Ron, and found him crouched beside the hackly sheer cliff, which, just barely, kept the rain off, since it had some slight overhangs above. We all crowded into the dry spot. Thunder was crashing constantly, and lightning flashed closer, and closer, and it began, not just to rain, but to pour.

It was quite exciting. I was already pretty soaked, but the temperature was not cold, and it was really rather nice to have this little shred of shelter, and a view of a rousingly good thunderstorm. There were lightning strikes within two thousand feet, and the thunder that followed was extraordinary, deafening crackling, staccato bursts, set into a matrix of deep booms. What seemed to be a single strike could trigger thunder which lasted five or ten seconds; of course, the vast cliffy south face of Snow must have been echoing the thunder back upon us, but still, it seemed strangely long-drawn-out.

It was wonderful.

Once in a while, the rain would let up, and we would explore. Once we visited the cabin site to the east. Another time, we followed the main trail down to its crossing of the ravine, at about 4200' elevation.

We had to give up on reaching the river, for the trail continued badly overgrown, and now every bush and every tree was laden with rain, and to hike, or to lop, was to get soaked.

We had worked hard, too, and worried that one last descent of nearly a thousand feet, would transform an acceptably strenuous hike of the first order, into a nightmare thing, a staggering and demented and unending climb beneath an uncaring moon.

So, another day.

The storm lasted about an hour. We sorted ourselves out and started up the trail. Now every uncut branch shed its loads of rain, and we were all pretty wet, especially in the legs and shoe areas, as we climbed.

The trail is often somewhat steep, but really not that bad. We reached the level ridge near the narrow pond, and took a long rest, exploring the ancient forest into Wildcat Canyon a short distance. What appears to be a well-formed glacial moraine is near the trail here; all of its boulders look to be andesite, from the Mehrten fm. Also, we found an old sign post, which had once been set into a pile of boulders next to the trail, perhaps, even, a claim marker: it was made of a piece of old, fire-charred Incense Cedar, and had the initials "M" and "W" carved into it.

Did the "W" stand for "Walker"? It was below the "M" so it is hard to make the letters stand for "Walker Mine."

Continuing up the trail, we found that the orange flagging had been replaced, in the four hours or so since we had walked down. This meant that the party ahead of us, in the brand-new Rav 4, were indeed responsible for the flagging, and, one couldn't help but suspect, for the spray paint as well.

This would be confirmed if the Rav 4 was gone when we reached the top of the trail. The rain had washed away any clear footprints, but their ghosts remained, and they seemed to point up the trail, rather than down.

Ron and Catherine went back to work and removed another fifty to one hundred lengths of flagging. It was infuriating. We each nurtured our own little fantasies about the sort of beetle-brained, why, less than beetle-brained idiots who would perpetrate this. One theory is that some kind of 4th-of-July party is planned for Sailor Meadow.

We reached the top around 7:30 p.m., and found the Rav 4 gone, as we expected. This thing was so new it still had dealer plates: I think they may have read "Maita Chevrolet" or Maita something (Toyota?).

They should be made to remove all the rest of the flagging and scrub the paint from the boulders.

Such was another fine day in the North Fork canyon.