Thursday, June 2, 2005

Return to the Iowa Hill Canal

Wednesday I met Ron Gould and Catherine O'Riley for a return to the head of the Beacroft Trail and the Iowa Hill Canal (IHC). The long drive up Foresthill Road eventually led us past Mumford Bar Trail a few miles to the Beacroft. A side road leads in to a parking area. Here one can see the Secret Canyon Branch of the IHC twenty or thirty feet higher in elevation, to the east.

At 5400' elevation, the forest is a mixture of Ponderosa and Sugar Pines, Douglas Fir, and both White Fir and more rarely, Red Fir. There is a scattering of Kellogg's Black Oak and Pacific Dogwood. Small patches of snow persisted here and there. A few puffy white cumulus clouds dotted the sky; a perfect spring day.

A rocky roadlet leads away north towards a pass. The Beacroft is signed (again; the sign was gone a couple years back) and forks away west, climbing out of sight--a strange course for a trail to follow, since its entire raison d'etre is to go down and down and down and down. The rocky roadlet, however, continues north into the pass, and one can see where the Secret Canyon Branch entered the tunnel beneath this pass. The tunnel is now collapsed. It is quite short, perhaps as little as 200 feet, and debouched into a short continuation of the Secret Canyon Branch just north of the pass. The Beacroft Trail crosses this ditch.

The whole situation there is confused, since as it happens the Iowa Hill Canal itself is not continuous in that area, where it seems to have been a wooden flume atop a trestle. The topographic map (7.5 minute Duncan Peak quadrangle), perversely, shows the IHC in that area, where it does not exist as a ditch, but does not show the Secret Canyon Branch, which does exist as a ditch.

We blundered about for a bit before dropping into The Hollow and catching the ramping bench cut which once supported the wooden trestle and flume. This led us up, through heavy brush and fallen trees, to the IHC at a section where it is a deep and broad ditch, about 1/4 mile east of the Beacroft.

As mentioned before, the IHC is marked as a Forest Service trail on the 1962 TNF map. We had fairly easy going, despite the fact that no one has maintained this fine old ditch trail for many a decade. In short order we passed the farthest point I had reached, last week, and soon entered upon a long section which had been trestled and flumed. Catherine caught sight of a road paralleling the ditch-line, just above, and struggled up to it and followed it. It soon dropped down to the ditch-line, tho.

As we appraoched Tadpole Canyon we admired many fine sections of the old ditch-trail, notched directly into cliffs and rock outcrops, with fine views across the North Fork canyon to Big Valley Bluff and the fine 100-150-foot waterfall low in Big Valley. In several places the trail has slipped away in rock slides and snow avalanches and one must pick one's way very carefully over steep slopes above cliffs.

We encountered thousands of Plainleaf Fawn Lilies in full bloom. These small plants thrive on wet rocky ledges. Some bloom pure white, others grade in purples. They were astonishingly beautiful and profuse.

At Tadpole we found a series of charming waterfalls and cascades. The ditch-line led to a crossing of the creek which would have been easy were the creek just a mite lower. The easy crossing required a jump of four feet. The only problem was that the rocks were wet and polished. So we played it safe and scrambled down a minor talus slide to a point lower on the creek where we could ford the fast and icy waters.

On the east side of Tadpole, the IHC resumes easy to follow, but soon enters a cliffy area where it becomes less distinct and where, again, some caution must be used.

At last the IHC gets clear of the rough steeps near Tadpole and resumes the form of a ditch. But just about as this point the brush becomes thicker, and thicker, and thicker. We rounded the corner out of Tadpole onto the main North Fork canyon wall and found a vast sea of Green Manzanita and Bush Chinquapin and Huckleberry Oak. Even the bears had had to walk on top of the bushes, as we could see from their trunks, smoothed and bruised by bear feet.

We struggled along for a hundred yards or so, hoping that the brush would open up, or at the least some kind of decent bear trail would resolve itself from this vast knotted flowering thicket. But no.

This large brush-field is plainly visible from Big Valley Bluff. One can see the IHC crossing it, and to see it is to know, it couldn't be easy, and might be impossible.

We did get far enough around the corner to see the cliffs above the IHC between Tadpole and New York Canyon, and to see the big waterfall in Big Granite Canyon, across the North Fork; also, Snow Mountain, and even Basin and Castle Peaks, away north in the upper South Yuba. But never a view up the great canyon to the crest.

Looking down the North Fork, we could see the entire length of Sawtooth Ridge, with Moody Ridge in the distance.

The afternoon shadows were deepening as we returned, helping to bring out detail in the high ragged cliffs of Big Valley Bluff. Tadpole seemed icier than ever. And then, as we meandered along the old canal line, my eye was caught by a distinct trail climbing above the ditch. We took a chance on it and found that it was the same road-thing Catherine had followed earlier. It seems to be quite and old road, constructed to haul the thousands of board feet of lumber needed for the trestle and flume in Tadpole Canyon. It could only lead directly back to the pass where the Beacroft begins.

So we followed it up and out, stopping at a nice rocky overlook along the way, and found that this old road does lead directly into the pass. It is artfully concealed, tho, near the pass itself. I am convinced that this road forms the beginning of the IHC Trail as depicted on the 1962 TNF map. In fact, it makes a better fit to the 1962 map than any possible combination of Beacroft Trail and trestle-ramp.

All in all, a very nice day high along the south wall of the North Fork canyon.

On our way down the hill we stopped at Westville, near the Mumford Bar Trail, and explored down a road to find the line of the IHC. There are some very lovely large Sugar Pines in the forest there at the head of Indian Canyon. The Foresthill Ranger District has been planning an "interpretive trail" for some time. It might be nice to open up the old canal as a trail in that area.

Continuing, we spotted the IHC once again as it crossed the Foresthill Road near the China Wall OHV staging area. It is interesting to get a better idea of the reality of this historic mining ditch.

No comments: