Thursday, January 13, 2005

Visit to Canyon Creek

Happy New Year!

There's been a ton of snow around these parts, and scarcely an ounce of hiking. The last fair weather in December found me visiting Green Valley with friends, and packing out the last of the garbage gathered up from an old marijuana grower's camp last winter.

Then came the storms. Snow and then rain, snow and then rain. Heroics of shoveling snow. The building of igloos and arches and sculptures only to see them melt in the rain. The shoveling of hundreds of feet of driveway only to see it buried all over again. There came a final snow storm, with no rain afterward, a final igloo was built, with the visage of a wild and mighty mouse glaring from one corner (my igloos can have sharp corners, spires, windows of any shape, buttresses, and so on, including, perhaps, the hundred-times-life-size bust of a mouse).

And then there was at last one sunny day. Wednesday. So the intrepid Catherine O' Riley and I dared to hike through the snow into Canyon Creek and wander a mile or so down the old trail.

The Diggings were only lightly frosted with snow, and dotted with crystalline icy puddles, and walking the Paleobotanist Trail, we saw many interesting ice patterns, as we crunched along. Snow almost obliterated by rain had frozen hard under the stars, Tuesday night. Reaching the Canyon Creek Trail, we soon dropped below the snow, and continued quickly down past the little bridge to the sunny side of things, where first big waterfall comes into view, The Leaper almost hidden beside it.

The Leaper needs middling high water to even exist. Water surges into a narrow polished channel which plunges over the top of a cliff. The channel leads into a shallow pothole which makes the water shoot out and up with great force. It sails across a narrow chasm and hits another cliff before falling to a deep pool at the base.

Yesterday The Leaper was in good form.

We decided to visit the Blasted Digger Overlook, and took the side trail from Waterfall View. Arriving at the spur ridge dividing Canyon Creek from the North Fork, we followed down the ridge, which narrows to a single sharp blade of rock, and suddenly one is at this ancient lightning-struck Digger Pine, and Giant Gap is in view, and the river, and in fact, one can look far upstream and far downstream.

Gazing through the Gap, two snow peaks floated like clouds above distant dark forests. These were Monumental Ridge and Quartz Mountain. Rarely are they so white.

We explored some other viewpoints, cliffy spots where the sun beat hard on bare rock and a glorious warmth and light embraced us. This is California in the winter. One day after a snowstorm, and even at 2600' elevation, one gets a tan, or looks for shadows to hide in.

A bird appeared in Giant Gap, with small white things dropping away from it. After a moment, we realized these were feathers. It took a while to grasp what was going on. The feather-dropping bird flapped vigorously east, a thousand feet above the river, and behind it five, ten, twenty, who knows, fifty little feathers sparkled downward in the sun, easily seen against the shadowed cliffs of the far canyon wall.

Suddenly a second bird, much like a hawk, shot out from the side of the canyon and chased the first bird out of view, in the vicinity of Big West Spur. We realized that the first bird had been attacked just before we'd seen it, and had probably just been attacked again.

Retreating to the main trail, we walked on down in the sunshine, to the Inner Gorge and Gorge Point and the Six-Inch Trail. The rock doves or pigeons were circling about, perhaps fifteen in all, and I counted nine pure white. A couple of Brewer's Rock Cress were in bloom at Gorge Point, which is second only to The Terraces in priority of bloom.

We'd had a late start and while lazing around down there next to those wild cliffs and chasms and waterfalls, the sun slowly lowered toward Diving Board Ridge, to the west. The faintest hint of the ridge's blurred shadow-edge touched us, and that was all it took, we were on the trail immediately, slogging back up to the Diggings, and crunching across the snow and ice.

It was another great day in the North Fork.

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