Saturday, August 28, 2004

Fords Bar Trail, Big Granite Trail

The inimitable Julie wrote:

Hi Russell. What more can you tell us about the Ford's Bar crossing ? Is it an old over grown trail in partial ruin, or is it one people use but you just have to be in the right circles, with regard to private property ? I have afriend who used to drive down to near the river somewhere near the knobcone road section of Garrett road , but he says the road is gated now and he isn't exactly sure which turn it was anyway. Even more interesting though, is a section of trail I found while doing some work for a lady near the end of Garrett. Down in a brushy ravine I came upon a long portion of stacked stone trailway, quite significant in height , stretching for maybe thirty five feet or so and then seeming to disappear into the hillside. Since I was working I didn't get a chance to explore it but wondered if it could be a piece of the Ford's Bar trail ,or an offshoot of it. Any info ? See you later, Julie

OK. This Fords Bar is on the North Fork, roughly south of Gold Run. Julie's friend, who used to drive down to the river "near the Knobcone section of Garrett Road" was using what has become the Fords Bar Trail. I used to drive in there myself. Placer County allowed a subdivision at the junction of this road with Garrett Road, and, perhaps to disguise the true nature of the road, it was named "Knobcone Road" rather than "Fords Bar Road."

Historically, the Fords Bar Trail was the northern part of the trail from Gold run to Iowa Hill. The Blue Wing Trail forms the southern, Iowa Hill side of the trail. It may well date to the early 1850s.

Let us call the road-trail Julie's friend used the "modern route." In its final approach to the river, it drops steeply down the west side of a ridge onto the Bar itself, in the southwest 1/4 of Section 21, Township 15 North, Range 10 East.

However, there are other routes this old trail used to follow, as anyone who studies old maps is forced to conclude. For instance, the 1866 General Land Office map shows the "Trail from Ford's Bar" leaving Garrett (labeled "Road From the Mines") exactly where Knobcone forks away west today. So there at least some of the various routes coincide.

However, the 1866 map shows the Fords Bar Trail dropping down Tommy Cain Ravine (not so labeled on the 1866 map; see the current USGS 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle) most of the way to the North Fork before curving out of the ravine south and west to the bridge site, labeled "Ford's Bridge," in the southeast 1/4 of Section 21.

This "Tommy Cain Ravine route" could well be the same trail as you describe "in a brushy ravine," Julie. I have never tried to find and follow it. On the other hand, the description you give, "near the end of Garrett," might be too far east to be in the main section of Tommy Cain Ravine.

At any rate. There's the "modern route" and the "Tommy Cain Ravine route" and there may well be others; for at least one old map shows the trail following the crest of a ridge down, where the "modern route"is hewn into the west side of that same ridge. So let's call this the "ridge-crest route."

Also, as Dean Decker of BLM has shown me, on an old mineral plat in his archives, there were two bridges at Fords Bar, back in 1891. One is at the site of the older Fords Bridge shown on the 1866 map, and is labeled "Warner Bridge," and on the Iowa Hill side of the river is a building labeled "Warner Toll House." The trail itself is shown only in the immediate vicinity of the river, and is labeled, "Trail from Gold Run to Iowa Hill." The route of the trail seems to be the "ridge-crest route" but this is not terribly certain.

The other bridge is shown downstream, on this 1891 mineral plat, and would appear to be quite close to Fords Bar itself, whereas Fords Bridge and Warner Bridge were in a little inner gorge section, upstream from the Bar.

Lindgren's ca. 1900 USGS topographic map, in which it is noted that the topography was surveyed in 1887, shows the Fords Bar Trail following the "ridge-crest route." It shows the bridge, toll-house, and the Blue Wing Trail, climbing up the Iowa Hill side.

Meanwhile, a 1928 General Land Office map suggests that, low down, in the main canyon, the trail is following the "ridge-crest route," but that up higher, it crosses Tommy Cain Ravine, rather than circling around closer to the top of the Tommy Cain basin, as the "modern route" does.

Then there are some old Forest Service maps which show this trail. The 1939 map seems to agree fairly well with the 1928 General Land Office map, but does not show the trail connecting to Garrett Road! Another Forest Service map puts a trail to the east of Tommy Cain Ravine, where no other map would have it.

Thus, as Ron Gould writes, "Will the Real Fords Bar Trail Please Step Forward!" There seem to be at least two, maybe three or even four, fairly major variants of its route.

And not one of them is open to the public.

The easiest way to get to this part of the river today is to use the Blue Wing Trail, totally unmarked, over near Iowa Hill. Or still easier, with 4WD one can drive down the Truro Mine Road, a little up the canyon, and then cut over to the Blue Wing Trail near its base.

The Blue Wing Trail is a nice bit of trail. It switches back and forth through forest on north slopes. It is mostly on BLM lands but there are some private parcels at the head of the trail, where logging operations perhaps fifteen or twenty years ago damaged the upper end of the trail. People like Evan Jones have gradually opened a new route to the old trail. I would like to restore the upper part of the old trail itself, which follows a somewhat gentler grade; but it was blocked up by the loggers, who pushed a huge pile of manzanita bushes and dirt over it.

Unless we can find a way to get a public easement across these private parcels, or, much better still, find a way for the BLM to purchase them, we should fully expect that they will become residential parcels, and the Blue Wing Trail will be closed altogether, just as the Fords Bar Trail has been.

Of course, the same fate threatens the Canyon Creek Trail, at Gold Run.

For, after all, once upon a time this was Placer County, but now, it's Parcel County.

I would like to pay a visit to Fords Bar, by way of the Blue Wing Trail, and try to find the lower end of the Tommy Cain route, one of these weekends soon. If anyone is interested let me know.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Euchre Gorge

Son Greg and I met Ron Gould, Catherine O'Riley, and Cindy the Masseuse Wednesday for a hike through Euchre Gorge, between Green Valley on the west and Euchre Bar on the east. From Euchre Bar, we planned to follow the High Ditch Trail up the North Fork of the North Fork to its end, and then rock-hop up the river to the Lucky 3 Claim, and follow the little road up to the Rawhide Mine gate, where we would leave one vehicle; thence back to the top of the Euchre Bar Trail, our point of beginning.

Ron and Catherine and I had made a concerted effort, over the past year, to trace the lines of two of Green Valley's largest mining ditches, through oceans of brush and poison oak. There is a High Ditch, which begins at a minor ravine at the east end of Green Valley, and runs all the way to The Pyramid, at the very west end of Green Valley; so it is roughly a mile in length. The other "big one" is the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine (GVBGM) ditch, the line of which is cut into cliffs of gray marble at the east end of Green Valley; this ditch took its water from the south bank of the North Fork itself, well upstream from Euchre Bar, and crossed the river on a high wooden flume about half-way between the Bar and Green Valley. Its terminus is in the center of Green Valley.

The High Ditch is up at about 2050' elevation, the GVBGM at about 1950' elevation, while the North Fork itself is crossed by the 1800-foot contour in the middle of Green Valley. The GVBGM ditch is especially notable because it was the kernel of a plan to divert the waters of the North Fork into a canal, to supply the city of San Francisco, in the 1890s. R.L. Dunn, a mining engineer, was one of the principals, and hired on men to rough in the line of the proposed canal through Giant Gap, even driving two tunnels in the massive blades of cliffs below Lovers Leap. The whole project became known as the Giant Gap Survey. We just call it The Survey, and it makes a discontinuous trail all the way from Green Valley on the east, to Canyon Creek on the west, through Giant Gap itself.

We had explored The Survey time and again, and I named it the High Old Upriver Trail or HOUT, inasmuch as we almost always followed it east and upstream from its hidden intersection with the Canyon Creek Trail. But gradually it became clear that this little ledge hacked from the cliffs, with its strangely level course, was in fact that curious footnote to the history of the North Fork, the Giant Gap Survey.

Thus our explorations of the ditches of Green Valley were really a continuation of our earlier intense and recursive reconnaissance of The Survey, in and around Giant Gap. The Green Valley scouting had led us again and again to the Marble Cliffs, where the GVBGM ditch broke out of the Euchre Gorge into the Valley. And the time had come to dare to follow the deadly and tenuous track across those unforgiving cliffs.

10:30 in the morning, the sun bright, the day waxing hot and then hotter, found us at the top of the Euchre Bar Trail (EBT), and perhaps ten minutes' walk carried us down to near the 3000-foot contour, just before the main trail leaves the Iron Point ridge to switch back and forth through the oak woods down to the Bar. We turned onto the almost invisible Iron Point Trail, which forks away west, and dropped into the east end of Green Valley.

This Iron Point Trail (IPT) is not quite where it appears on the 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle, but then, neither is the main Euchre Bar Trail, in the switchback section. For quite a few years I didn't believe the IPT even existed, having tried and failed to find it both above and below. It is in middling bad shape and, as one makes the final descent into the gentle slopes of Green Valley, is difficult to follow in places, and splits into two trails.

Someone had tied many pieces of bright orange flagging to bushes and trees all along the Iron Point Trail, which we removed. What I consider to be the main (and older) trail in this last section levels out just exactly where Green Valley's High Ditch took its water from a certain ravine (tho one sees no sign of the ditch, across the ravine in thick forest). From there it is an easy ramble south through open oak woods to the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine ditch.

We were all feeling the heat. I had been lopping brush all the way down the IPT and was dripping with sweat. However, now we would be following the GVBGM on its almost level line, which was quite a relief. We began to notice the rushing murmur of the North Fork.

The relief did not last long. The rather large ditch bore southeast towards the river, and the terrain became cliffier and cliffier. A certain ravine and spring are met, just where the marble begins, where one drops down slightly, and a short scramble is required to regain the line of the ditch, which suddenly is no more than a tiny ledge on a sheer cliff, and that ledge has annoying gaps and outward slants and narrow places.

Catherine gave me permission to describe her as "petrified." Howsoever, we all crossed the nasty section in good time, found one last patch of shade where the ledge broadened, and took a sustained break.

The crystal clear water of the North Fork was gathered into pools large and deep just below us, well, I should say, almost if not entirely 200 feet below us, and we could look across the length of Green Valley to Lovers Leap, and see, all to well, one of the houses where some cute young couple with their shiny SUVs decided to lord it over the North Fork canyon and all the rest of us. How charming, to have an address on Lovers Leap Road! How clever, to hire a bulldozer and any number of men with chainsaws, to clearcut the forest below their house, so as to see the river itself in Green Valley, and the Sierra crest at the head of the canyon!

Insufferable wretches.

Green Valley, where the North Fork canyon attains unusual width, and where thick accumulations of glacial outwash gravels dating to a series of glacial maxima over the past several hundred thousand years, were mined and mined and mined for gold--Green Valley is an artifact of the weak serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone. If one were to ask, what would the North Fork canyon look like, were it to cut a band of unusually weak rock, the answer would be, Green Valley. The serpentine might be, is often glibly considered to be, a portion of ocean-floor basalt, now turned up on edge. The right conditions of metamorphism will transform such iron-rich basalt into serpentine.

And if one were to ask, what would the canyon look like, were it to cut through a band of unusually tough and resistant rock, the answer would be, Giant Gap.

So a rare and great contrast is exhibited, between Green Valley on the east and Giant Gap on the west. Giant Gap is a cliff-bound gorge cut about 2300 feet deep into the massive metavolcanic rocks of the Calaveras Complex (ca. 200 m.y. old). The Melones serpentine is in faulted contact withe the Calaveras on the west, and in faulted contact with the Paleozoic (ca. 400 m.y.) Shoo Fly Complex on the east.

But it is more complicated than that, for a narrow band or zone of Mesozoic metasediments actually separates the serpentine from the Shoo Fly (also metasediments). And the Marble Cliffs are part of these metasediments, being beds of limestone, tilted up 90 degrees to vertical, striking north and south across the river. Lens-like shreds of serpentine are mixed into the Mesozoic metasediments, so that this troubling little zone of rocks just east of the Melones Fault Zone should likely be considered to be a tectonic melange within the multiply-stranded fault zone itself. Whether the melange represents scraps of sediments overlying the original ocean-floor basalt, I cannot say.

Having passed the narrow ledge section, we soon left the steep gray cliffs behind and turned the corner into the gorge proper. This whole section of the GVBGM ditch appears to have been a wooden flume; there is never a hint of a ditch dug down into the steep slopes. It made for a nice trail, tho. Canyon Live Oak, California Bay Laurel, Mock Orange, mostly small Douglas Fir, and Poison Oak were common, and had overwhelmed the ditch-trail in many places, so loppers came into play. We passed Sugarloaf Ravine, with is fine high waterfalls, across the canyon, and sometimes had fine views of deep pools below us in the Gorge.

I had made this same hike once in years past, well, actually, several times, but once I'd followed the ditch-trail all the way through from Euchre Bar to Green Valley, and I had a vague memory of a little "side" trail to the river, at the critical point where the GVBGM had crossed the North Fork on its high flume. I couldn't dredge up the details and began worrying that we would pass this side trail; for it is by no means trivial to make the 150-foot descent to the river from the ditch trail. The slopes are quite steep enough up by the ditch trail, and usually steepen into al-out cliffs closer to the river.

Fortunately Ron scouted ahead and quickly found our crucial side trail, which mirrors the general scheme of things by starting off steep, and then steepening further yet, and then following a steeply-pitching ledge down an outright cliff. It took a while to pick our way down this cliff, and one pair of loppers could not take the strain and attempted suicide, clattering desperately onto the unyielding rocks beside the river; but we retrieved them unharmed, and made a short boulder-hop upstream to a fine long pool, fording the river to a gravel bar veneered by sand, with a fire-ring, some little garbage, and, thankfully, a large patch of shade.

It did not take us long to get into the North Fork at last, and swim up and down the pool. The rocks beside the pool were interesting, vertical layers of metasediments; I could not tell for sure whether they were part of the Mesozoic tectonic melange, or the Shoo Fly, but, my money is on the Mesozoic melange. There was no outright marble, but thin layers of limy sediments were in the mix, sometimes beautifully folded.

This counted as a lunch break. We swam, or waded, gingerly, as the case was, and explored up and down the river. Eventually we had to saddle up and press on. A good boulder-hop led us through a kind of tunnel-gate between two huge boulders, and another sandy camp area was reached. From here a well-defined trail continues upstream to the bridge, briefly climbing to the level of the GVBGM but not holding that level.

We crossed the bridge and climbed a short distance, a few hundred yards at most, to the side trail to yet another ditch, certainly close enough to the level of the GVBGM, across the North Fork to the south, that cannot entirely discount the possibility that this ditch, too, supplied water to the GVBGM.

However, my sense has always been that this "High Ditch" ("high" because it is higher than the much lower ditch-line one sees blasted from the rocks on the north bank of the river, above the Euchre Bar bridge)--this High Ditch was built to supply water to the mines of Euchre Bar itself. But my sense could be wrong.

I must bring this account to an end, somehow.

We followed the High Ditch up the North Fork of the North Fork, past the appalling, garbage-strewn miners' camp, to its terminus, and found a shallow pool for some more swimming and another long break in the shade, before making the boulder-hop upstream to The Sidewalks, large planar masses of unequivocal Shoo Fly rocks flanking the river, leading us quickly to the Lucky 3 Claim.

Here some remarkable dry-laid stone walls bolster terraces, presumably an old house site, in the forest just above the river. Gold-dredging equipment and other junk it scattered around. And here a terribly steep little road climbs to the main Rawhide Road. After another rest, we made the climb, and sweat seemed to almost explode from my face, and drip onto the trail in front of me, as I trudged along.

At least we were in the shade.

We hit the Rawhide Road about a half-mile below the gate, and soon enough, tho it seemed to take forever, we reached Ron's truck, and made the jolting drive back up to Iron Point.

We had made a kind of circumambulation of Green Valley's East Knoll and of Iron Point, a hike with occasional river scrambles of perhaps five miles, on a very hot August day. We did have nice strong breezes for most of the hike, and very little trouble with insects.

It is not easy to make the hike between Euchre Bar and Green Valley, on the ditch trail, the GVBGM trail; in particular, the Marble Cliffs are dangerous, and not just anyone's cup of tea. To follow the river itself would require a fair amount of swimming and one heck of a lot of boulder-hopping. I did that once, years ago.

It was another great day on both the North Fork, and the North Fork of the North Fork.

Monday, August 9, 2004

The Seven Sawbugs of Doom

Sunday morning Tom Molloy, Catherine O'Riley and I drove up to Emigrant Gap, out Forest Road 19 to Texas Hill, and then on up Burnett Canyon to Sawtooth Ridge. We drove the Sawtooth Road down the ridge to the southwest, the North Fork to our left, the North Fork of the North Fork to our right. We passed the steep SPI clearcuts in Section 35, just west of Helester Point, and at last reached the False Pass, a deep notch below the 3800-foot contour, climbing onto the minor knoll or tooth to the west, and parking at the True Pass, at about 4000' elevation.

It took about two hours to reach the True Pass from Dutch Flat. Immediately west of the True Pass is Tooth 4210, as may be seen on the USGS 7.5 minute Westville quadrangle.

We were determined to close the gap on the historic Sawbug Trail. It only remained to stroll merrily down the wide trail, bolstered by dry-laid stone walls, to, presumably, the Bear Bed Mine, where Ron and Catherine and I had lost the Sawbug last Wednesday. The task seemed so insignificant we were concerned to imagine what we would do with the rest of our day; drive out to Big Valley Bluff? Visit Burnett Canyon?

We gradually became ready, as the noon hour neared, and the sky was blue, the temperature, warming to hot, and as if in presage of what would befall us, I immediately seized upon a faint trail line leading through heavy brush from the road, and declared it to be The Trail; so we fought our way through it, and found it was actually not at all The Trail.

It was at least near. A short scramble put us on track, and there were the dry-laid stone walls, there was the wide trail bed we had walked so little of last Wednesday. So now, down to the Bear Bed! We lopped through the usual types of obstructions met on the upper Sawbug, mainly Canyon Live Oak branches, and some few spiky Torreya branches; an occasional Deerbrush, and one patch of manzanita. The trail began to make switchbacks, but its overall trend was down and to the west--perfect. We found some remarkable views all the way up the North Fork to Snow Mountain and even Tinkers Knob, on the crest. There was little to no doubt as to the line of the trail.

A long descending traverse west led us to a terrace fronting a collapsed tunnel. Immediately below, another terrace held some heavy bits of equipment of some sort. We were hot and sweaty after much lopping, and rested in the shade on the Upper Terrace. We would later call it the Upper Mine, for, as it transpired, there was a series of tunnels leading almost straight down the canyon wall, bearing only slightly to the east, and we developed names for each tunnel in turn.

Let us say there were five tunnels. From top to bottom, then, we had Upper Mine, then the Winch Terrace (not a tunnel site--a fragmented gigantic winch with hundreds of feet of cable embedded amidst various and sundry massive chunks of iron, axles, wheels, many spilled down the steep slopes, etc. etc.)--and then the Big Oak Mine, where the broad opening of the tunnel was framed by a truly ancient and enormous Canyon Live Oak, and an unusually massive wheelbarrow, all of dark iron, lay nearby; then what I thought of as Shaft and Stope, a tunnel which led quickly to a shaft opening just below the Big Oak Mine--but I believe we also called this the Fallen Tree Tunnel--then another tunnel, perhaps we never gave it a name--and then at last the Bear Bed Mine.

So. Almost right away we established that the Bear Bed was about 300 feet in elevation below the Upper Mine, and slightly to the east. I had dropped down slightly west from the Upper Mine, hit the Sawbug west and below the Bear Bed, and followed it up to that tunnel.

So, it only remained to connect the Bear Bed to the Upper Mine with a trail.

We scouted high and low and side to side. We dropped down to the Bear Bed, followed the Sawbug down and west to a certain spur ridge, and looked high and low for a switchback which may have carried the Sawbug higher onto the spur. Numerous game trails confused the issue, as usual, but we satisfied ourselves that the Sawbug did indeed make straight for the Bear Bed.

We followed the most proper continuation of the line of the Sawbug, up and to the east, past the Bear Bed, just as Ron and Catherine and I had, last Wednesday, and found a plausible trail line which, however, soon leveled out and then even dropped, only to essentially end in a clump of close-set Torreya.

Torreya californica is a conifer in the Yew family, a naked-seed gymnosperm, and rather than having cones bearing many naked seeds, it has single seeds, which resemble large green olives. Many of these somewhat scrubby and stunted Torreya, which have stump-sprouted again and again following wildfires, were carrying heavy crops of these giant green seeds.

Several times we ended up back at the Upper Mine, resting in the shade of the terrace, and discussing the problem. We were so darn close, a few hundred feet on a horizontal, and a couple few hundred in elevation. The miners must have had their own trail linking the many tunnels. Find the miners' trail, and let it count as the True Sawbug.

So. We had already often followed a certain switchback just below the Upper Mine, using it to gain the Winch Terrace, which trail, all in all, was the most plausible continuation of the Upper Sawbug. We spent quite a bit more time on this trail, and did discover its possible continuation, in a series of switchbacks which wore off roughly half of the elevation down to the Bear Bed.

But we never could connect it through.

Smoke had filtered into the canyon. Had one of the Calaveras fires flared up strongly? They had filled the North Fork with smoke two days before. We began to smell the smoke. The day was now hot, quite hot, and I for one had had quite enough of these steep slopes, with their slippery Canyon Live Oak leaves, and the constant slipping and stumbling which could attend even a very short climb.

We made our way up to the Upper Mine, frustrated, disconsolate; it was almost impossible, given how throughly we had scouted the length and the breadth and the very depth of these ragged slopes, impossible to have missed the trail. The most rational explanation I could find was that, since the Sawbug pre-dated the mines by several decades (the Sawbug was in use at least as early as 1863, as evidenced by the Diary of Isaac Tibbetts Coffin, of Dutch Flat; and the mines looked to date from as late as the 1920s, probably no earlier than 1900)--since the Sawbug was older, the debris from the mines may have slid down the steep slopes, and completely buried the line of the trail.

This seemed reasonable enough.

However, the uncertainty of it all weighed heavily. Could the Sawbug have leveled out past the Bear Bed Mine, which I GPSed at about 3600' elevation, and made for the False Pass, at 3720+ feet? So that the False Pass is in fact the True Pass, and the well-defined trail dropping in switchbacks to the Upper Mine, was a trail to the mine and nothing more? It cannot be entirely discounted.

So. The mystery continues.

We found the going rather tough, going back up to the Sawtooth Road and the Land Rover, but to was nice to drive along with the windows down, and gradually recover from our exertions. I was streaked with blood as usual, wet with sweat, little branches and leaves caught in clothes and hair. We all lamented our failure and kept on going over the same ground, in our minds, and in conversation, that we had criss-crossed on foot for hours.

I spotted a chunk of plastic trim on the road, and we snagged it, speculating it may have been stripped from Ron's truck, a few weeks ago.

Climbing east out of the False Pass Which Still Could Maybe Be the True Pass, we suddenly met Ron himself, who had on the spur of the moment decided to drive out there to see for himself. The piece of plastic was indeed from his rear bumper. After a brief chat--we learned that the smoke was from a fire near the Stevens Trail, down by Colfax--we went our separate ways.

By the way, the Sawtooth Road can absolutely eat a vehicle. The brush will scratch your paint. I can't recommend it to anyone, not much west of Helester Point, anyway.

It could be that Ron found the trail, where we failed to find it; he has an almost mystical sense for old trails.

I would like the benefit of cool weather, the next time I have a go at the old Sawbug.

Maybe the eighth time is the charm!

News Items

Several items of noteworthy news:

1. Tomorrow, Tuesday, the Placer County BOS will convene at the Domes on Fulweiler, to consider (at 10:00 a.m.), and probably appove, the Mitigated Negative Declaration (of environmental impact) for the proposed 12.6-mile multi-use trail from the Confluence to Ponderosa Bridge. I oppose this trail, and, with several others, hope to force the County into a full EIR. We have retained the services of an attorney.

2. District Ranger Rich Johnson of TNF's Foresthill Ranger District informs me that purchase has been made of one of the last large parcels along the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River. He quotes another FS employee as follows:

"As of July 21, 2004, the USA (Tahoe NF) has acquired the 578.28 acre
Government Springs parcel of the phased NFAR--SPI/TPL purchase! This
parcel is located on the North Fork American River and contains approx. 160
acres of the North Fork American River Wild and Scenic River corridor.
Only one of the original 12 parcels contained in this NFAR--SPI/TPL
purchase now remains to be acquired--and hopefully funding will come to
support that in fy05!"

3. I hope Tahoe National Forest will *vastly expand the scope of land acquisitions* in the North Fork basin to include lands outside the narrow Wild & Scenic River corridor. For instance, Lost Camp; the Rawhide Mine; and, for sale at this moment, a 320-acre parcel on Sawtooth Ridge, which includes a half-mile of the North Fork of the North Fork American, and is listed for $195,000. Add to these lands other parcels and entire sections, such as Section 31 on Wildcat Point--one of the premier scenic overlooks of the entire canyon--and lands up on Snow Mountain, Four Horse Flat and Pelham Flat, lands in Big Valley, other lands on Sawtooth Ridge, etc. etc.

At any rate, such is some news.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

The Mystery of the Sawbug, VI

Sawbug VII now looms on the horizon, as the Sixth Expedition failed to discover the line of the old trail from Humbug Bar to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge. The unusually cool August weather inspired Ron and Catherine and I to meet at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, to drive to Iron Point and the Euchre Bar Trail, pausing to leave one vehicle down at the gate on the rough road to the Rawhide Mine.

For we would follow the Sawbug up to the ridge crest, or failing that, just bushwhack up to the crest, and then walk the Sawtooth Road west to the Rawhide Mine Trail, drop down to the mine, and then, crossing the North Fork of the North Fork and Blue Canyon on the bridges there, climb up the Rawhide road to the aforementioned gate.

It would make a loop of about ten miles, with total elevation gain of about 3000 feet.

We started down the Euchre Bar Trail at 9:00 a.m. sharp, and reached the bridge at 9:30. After a rest, the long march up to Humbug Canyon was followed by an immediate ford of the river, and the short climb to the bridge site at Humbug Bar. Another rest, with the same biting quasi-horse-flies pestering us, for the passage across the canyon to the south-facing north slopes had bumped up the temperature instantly, and the siren song of sweat brought the hungry flies from near and far. It was nearing 11:00 a.m. when we shouldered our packs and started up the Sawbug.

There was the crucial switchback we had missed, two weeks ago; there, and there, the nasty patches of half-dead deerbrush and manzanita and fallen pines which so effectively hid the trail, but then, fairly soon and low on the line of the old trail, we were above the worst of it, on shadier slopes with much less brush, and the long climbing traverse to the northeast began.

Following The Plan we did little lopping, saving our strength for the unexplored upper half of the trail. Although occasionally this part of the Sawbug degenerates to the appearance of a game trail, it is punctuated by impressive dry-laid retaining walls, some all of six feet high, defining a trailbed four feet wide. Both Ron and I had our GPS units turned on for the duration, but mine often went into my pocket to free my hands for lopping, and when I returned home and transferred the track record to my digital version of the Westville 7.5 minute quadrangle, my track record proved to be fragmentary, made of many short tracks, interrupted by gaps where satellite coverage had been lost.

We crossed the main ravine along the line of the trail, and soon thereafter entered Terra Incognita, as we climbed around a spur ridge which springs away south from the knoll marked 4210 on the crest of Sawtooth, now somewhat less then a thousand feet above us.

The trail was marked in many places by old machete cuts, but as I recall, once we passed the spur ridge, there was not much in the way of dry-laid stone walls to reassure us as to the "true" course of the trail. We maintained a continuous climbing traverse, and after a time, reached an old gold mine, a tunnel driven into the solid rock. This was interesting in that it contained the single largest bear bed I have ever seen, where masses of Canyon Live Oak leaves had spilled into the tunnel from the slopes above, and been hollowed deeply by the bear, making a large bowl.

GPS put us at about 3500' elevation.

From the mine, the trail seemed somewhat fainter, and yet offered a climbing traverse of the same sort as we had seen all the way along. I saw more machete cuts. But after a time we felt we had lost the darn thing, and scouted across the steep slopes. I interpreted a certain ridge, dimly seen to the east, as the spur falling from the far side of The Pass, that certain low spot on the Sawtooth Crest, below the 3800' contour, where the Sawbug had been found and explored from the top, down, twice, in 2002 and 2003, seeming to end at yet another hard-rock mining prospect.

Since the USGS topographic map of 1900 shows a sweeping switchback almost directly below The Pass, and since we were well up towards 3700' in elevation, I was drawn to the east, towards the dimly-seen spur ridge. Ron and Catherine scouted a little farther west, out of sight and often out of hearing as well. The steep slopes were quite difficult to traverse. Occasional game trails led us here or there, but then, again and again, we were forced into scrambles directly up the steeps. I veered back west to Join Ron and Catherine. We were huffing and puffing and sweating like mad. GPS put us nearing 4000' in elevation; above the level of The Pass. But if that were so--then we must be well west of The Pass--we rested and thought it over.

In a few minutes we were ready to go. We had lost the line of the Sawbug, were too high, and too tired to retreat west and south and down, and the slopes to steep and nasty to contour east. The only sensible course was to scramble on up to the Sawtooth Road wherever gaps in the brush might permit. A few steps brought a beguiling terrace into view, above me. I pointed it out to Catherine. Ron had ranged farther east, and we heard indistinct exclamations, and as I climbed to the terrace, so did Ron, a hundred feet away, and we simultaneously realized we had found the good old Sawbug.

Having found it, we could scarcely believe we had ever lost it. For it was broad and well-defined and was often bolstered by dry-laid stone walls. However we had lost the line of the Sawbug--a switchback had been passed, perhaps--it had, somehow, climbed more steeply than we had.

There was no question of following it back *down*, we were too far gone for that. I recorded a waypoint, noting that we were near to 4000' in elevation, and we followed the Sawbug *up*. Almost immediately, it fed us onto the Sawtooth Road, but, far west of The Pass. I recorded another waypoint, and we hung a sharp left and started walking west towards the Rawhide Trail.

The upshot of all this is that the Sawbug does not climb to the pass-below-the-3800'-contour, but to the next pass west, between Knoll 4210 on the west, and a smaller knoll about a quarter-mile to the east, a little above 4120' in elevation.

A fine breeze stirred along the Sawtooth crest, and a mile and a half brought us to the top of the Rawhide. It was around 5:00 p.m. when we started down, through the dense tangle of manzanita Ron and I had lopped through a few weeks ago, and onto the easier north slopes of Sawtooth.

We had noted minor inconsistencies between the line of the Rawhide Trail, on the map, and the actual line of the trail, on the ground, while exploring it a few weeks ago. But now, as we followed it down, we realized that it departed rather drastically from the map, a long series of switchbacks taking the place of a direct descending traverse. The loppers came back into play, although we had already passed the more sensible limits of exertion. We passed an upper tunnel, and then dropped all the way below the main mine portal (not on the trail itself) without realizing it. We were too tired to climb back up and visit the interesting portal area, and just followed the trail on down to the mine road, and the road, down to the river, at about 2150' elevation.

Another rest, and then it was over the gate, over the bridges--the caretaker was not in residence--and past the houses, and up and up and up the rough road to the gate, and Ron's truck, at about 2900' elevation. It was around 6:30 p.m. Another great day in the great canyon.

It looks as tho Sawbug Seven will require a drive out to Sawtooth Ridge from Emigrant Gap, to the New Pass. From there the trail could be followed down, and we should need to go no farther than the Bear Bed Mine to finish the job of discovering the line of one of the North Fork canyon's historic trails.