Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Wabena Trail, West Branch

I met Ron Gould early Monday morning for a drive up Foresthill Road, to find and explore the West Branch of the Wabena Trail. We lost hte pavement at Robinson Flat, and a little more than eight miles brought us into the headwaters of Wabena Creek, to the unmarked trailhead.

We parked and set out down the trail with loppers in hand. The day was fresh and cool and hinted of Fall. A mining road switches back and forth, the trail almost insensibly forks away north, and soon one reaches a rocky point, offering great views into the Royal Gorge, Snow Mountain, Devils Peak (a tiny spike from this angle), and then also east to the Sierra Crest.

Wabena Point, with its petroglyphs, stood a scant mile to the east. The trail leaves the rocky knoll bearing northeast and plunges north down the canyon wall, into a miasma of heavy brush. Commonest is the Huckleberry Oak, but cherry bushes, and currants, and manzanita, and Ceanothus, were well represented. This main trunk of the Wabena Trail is seldom used, and despite repeated passes with loppers over recent years, is still badly overgrown in many places.

A descent of about 1200 feet, to an elevation of 5200', brings one to the vicinity of a mine shaft shown on the USGS 7.5 minute Royal Gorge quadrangle. The North Fork is still well below, around 3600' elevation. Near the mine shaft, which I have still never found, the West Brnach of the trail forks away from the main trail, which breaks northeast and crosses Wabena Creek itself, near some waterfalls, before continuing down to the river. A tributary of Wabena Creek is near the mine shaft.

We scouted the tributary, which is quite steep and cliff-bound, looking for a crossing, found one, and pushed northwest onto steep slopes with cliffs, big patches of brush, scattered patches of timber, talus slides, and many tantalizing ledges and bear trails which all seemed to lead nowhere at all.

To make a long story short, we searched for hours, gradually making down the canyon wall to the northwest, as the trail must, as it passes beneath the cliffs of Wildcat Point; we found any number of possible trails, but never a cairn, never an old lopped branch, and never any kind of rock work, to suggest a human trail. At last we could commit ourselves no farther; we descended quite ways, hoping that perhaps our lost trail followed a lower line than we'd expected, but, no.

I believe the trail is there, but that, unaccountably, we missed it.

We were exhausted. The long slog up to the truck wore us down to nothing, but we could not pass by Wildcat Point without a visit, driving out the unmarked logging road to one of the very best of all the best scenic overlooks flanking the North Fork canyon. We were three thousand feet above the river, and could see Wabena Falls (on the main river) plainly, with is large pool back with depth, and even hear the falls. Snow Mountain was directly across from us, and as the sun lowered to setting, the great thousand-foot-high talus piles skirting its base, along the river, were brought into sharp relief by the light streaming east up the canyon. Big Valley Bluff, a 3500-foot cliff some six miles down the canyon, was almost lost in a glowing haze around the sun.

It was another great day in the great canyon, but, strangely, we found ourselves baffled in finding the West Branch of the Wabena Trail.

We probably struck its line a few times without even realizing it.

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