Thursday, February 3, 2005

In Search of Garbage

Wednesday morning I met Catherine O'Riley for a ramble down to Euchre Bar, in search of garbage. With quite a few others we have been cleaning up garbage sites scattered up and down the North Fork American between Euchre Bar on the east and Canyon Creek on the west. Rumor had it that one of the larger sites lay hidden near Euchre Bar, and, as hope is entertained that a helicopter can be found soon to haul it all away, we needed to find and evaluate the thing.

The Euchre Bar Trail (EBT) is one of the more popular trails in Tahoe National Forest (TNF), within the Foresthill Ranger District. Despite its popularity, TNF does not regularly maintain the EBT, nor do TNF rangers ever patrol the area, except, perhaps, once in a blue moon. Hence miners and squatters and marijuana growers of every stripe have a free rein down there, and some of the more horrendous piles of garbage I have ever seen, grow unchecked from year to year, with new ones developing almost every year.

TNF is sympathetic to the problem and they cite budget constraints in excusing the complete absence of rangers and complete lack of trail maintenance. They do have time and money to manage an extensive OHV trail system over on the Foresthill Divide, near Sugar Pine Reservoir, China Wall, and Humbug Canyon, etc. The roar of these motorcycles and OHVs can be heard every summer and fall weekend, from all the way across the North Fork canyon, miles to the north. But that is only parenthetic.

From the Alta exit on I-80 one takes Casa Loma Road east and south to the trailhead at Iron Point. We continued past, driving down the Rawhide Mine Road to the locked gate, and then walking down the Lucky 3 Claim road to the North Fork of the North Fork American River (NFNFAR). Our destination was not far from the EBT itself, but approaching from this side, we had less than 1000 feet of elevation loss/gain, versus around 1800 feet on the EBT.

Incidentally, it would be wonderful if TNF could purchase the 40-acre parcel of the Lucky 3 Claim. The road-trail from dropping to the NFNFAR is of great recreational value. Of course, as often mentioned here, the Rawhide itself seems to be for sale, and like the Lucky 3, governs, as it were, public access to important trails, such as the Rawtooth, from the mine, up to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge. It too should be purchased by TNF.

The river was in shadow, running high and fast and cold, and The Sidewalks, lovely polished plane surfaces of Shoo Fly Complex metasediments, were all wet with dew and slippery. We picked our way downstream, around a rocky point, to the big mining ditch, and followed the Ditch Trail down to River Camp, the garbage site a few of us worked on last Halloween, preparing it for the helicopter. Then as now shade enveloped all, and a damp chill settled quickly into us. We noted that all the garbage bags we had used had developed holes, as tho clawed by bears, but the garbage has not yet been scattered at all.

Continuing southwest along the Ditch Trail, into the sunshine again, we looked for a trail climbing up and westward. Neither of us had ever seen this site before. We tried on one promising trail and wound along higher and higher, eventually striking an even better trail, which then seemed to end. However, above us we glimpsed some sort of flat or bench on the canyon wall, and investigating, found a lovely grove of Canyon Live Oak with talus fields lapping into the area from above. Here some 5-gallon plastic buckets and other marijuana cultivation paraphernalia appeared, and an odd old steel wire ran far up the steep slopes above us.

We retreated to the Ditch Trail, followed it farther down towards the Confluence of the NFNFAR and main North Fork, and found "the" trail to the garbage site.

The trail climbs steeply to a little flat 100 feet above the Ditch Trail, quite near the Confluence. Here we found a cubical cabin, perhaps eight feet on a side, all tightly wrapped in tarps. A faint odor of wood smoke told us someone had been there that very morning. A large pile of garbage, covered in still other tarps, was ten feet away from the cabin. The general appearance of the area was fairly neat.

A trail led away south and west towards the EBT, which could only have been a quarter-mile away, and would intersect it, I am sure, at the old cabin site on the EBT itself.

So, we found our garbage, with a squatter thrown in for good measure. This complicates the matter.

All in all, it was a pleasant hike, on a remarkably warm day for early February.

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