Friday, September 3, 2004

The 1866 Tommy Caine Route, Revisited

After Wednesday's mixed results in finding the 1866 Tommy Cain Ravine Route (TCRR), of the Fords Bar Trail, going from the North Fork, up, Ron Gould and I drove out to Gold Run and south on Garrett Road to try to find the TCRR from the top, down.

Well, not exactly that, but like that.

On the Dutch Flat 7.5 minute quadrangle, note the ridge in the center of Section 16, T15N R10E. It so happens that almost the entire eastern 1/2 of Section 16 is public land, mostly BLM, but with a chunk of strange California State Lands thrown in for curiosity's sake (see the Tahoe National Forest "big" map: this parcel is shaded blue). On this ridge is a surveyed point with elevation 3007 feet.

We found a rough route to the center of Section 16, found a sign marking the State boundary, almost on the 3000-foot contour, and made a series of explorations off the end of the ridge, through some of the deadliest manzanita I have ever seen. It ranged from huge and elfin-forest-like, in which case one could often slither through somehow (possibly by crawling), to young and stringy, in which case it made an impenetrable thicket. Bear trails were common in more open areas, of which there were many, but in my mind's eye it is all manzanita, and all bad. Bad manzanita!

Off the main spur south of Point 3007 we found The Groove, that clearest of all trail-lines we had seen Wednesday; clear, but really too steep to be a trail, and likely as not marking the route mining equipment had been skidded down to the North Fork a century or so ago. We climbed back up and regrouped.

To make a long long story somewhat short, our final foray invited us to descend, lower and lower, through a convenient gap in that horror of manzanita. My best guess as to the upper crossing of Tommy Cain on the 1866 TCRR was that it occurred near the 2400-foot contour. At a certain point we steeled ourselves to drop just that low.

Canyon Live Oak forest, with rare old Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Fir, and patches of severe manzanita on every side, allowed our descent on quite steep slopes, in the heat of the early afternoon. Beguiling bear trails were everywhere, often, over a distance of fifty or one hundred feet, resembling old human trails. But then the bear trail would split into smaller trails, and these were positively inhuman.

We found more marijuana growers' garbage; plastic pipes, chicken wire, even a 1000-gallon plastic tank.

Finally we dropped to the 2400-foot-contour, and by golly, we found the old thing, the 1866 TCRR. In appearance it was much like the best of all bear trails we had seen, but what set it apart was that it continued, and continued, and continued, unsplit, undiminished, a narrow track, often six inches wide at best, but, after walking it for a few hundred yards, there was no doubt. It was the TCRR and it was making for Tommy Cain Ravine.

We followed it up to the crossing, a little higher than I'd guessed, perhaps 2480' elevation, and found it continuing on the far side, plain as could be.

At a certain point over there it seemed to fork into higher and lower lines, and we could see we were within an ace of converging upon the crest of the ridge dividing Tommy Cain from the ravine-to-the-west. This ridge would then be followed on up north, and then finally, the TCRR would break east to the old-time intersection with Garrett Road: in 1866, the Road From the Mines. For Garrett is quite an old road, and led right on down to Indiana Ravine, the site of the original discovery of gold in the high Eocene-age river gravels of the Gold Run Diggings, in 1851 or 1852.

My time had run out, I had to pick up my son from school, so we retreated back down the TCRR and then up and up and up to the State Lands sign and our secret bear trail over to Garrett. I was only five minutes late.

It was quite a satisfying day.. A trail which is depicted on an 1866 map, but on no later map that we know of, was found, still passable after all these years. I saw not one faint sign that it had been used by humans for any number of decades. No old cut branches, no nothing.

It was a great, albeit brushy, day, around Point 3007 and Tommy Cain Ravine.

More exploration is needed.

No comments: