Friday, July 15, 2005

East Fork NFNFAR

Tuesday my son Greg and I met Ron Gould and Catherine O'Riley for a hike down the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River.


The name of this river gave us such fits that a goodly part of the day was given over to the truly intractable problem of making some good abbreviation or acronym. Matters were not helped when Ron brought up the 19th-century commonplace of calling the North Fork, the North Branch.

All I could come up with were idiotic affectionate pet names like "Easty."

We drove up east to Emigrant Gap and then south on Forest Road 19 across Fulda Creek and then over the NFNFAR, past Onion Springs Meadow to the East Fork. It bubbled along quite vigorously for this late in the season, and we hoped to find waterfalls.

A trail leads downstream on river left, staying high in the woods and merging into an old logging railroad grade. However, TNF land is too soon left for SPI land and immediately the railroad grade is obliterated by skid trails. We switched down to a logging road below, paralleling the East Fork until, around a mile down the canyon, the badly named Chert Dome is met.

It is not noteworhy for chert, but rather seems to be mostly beds of light-colored, presumably siliceous, metasandstone, penetrated by numerous veins of quartz.

It is both a Knoll and a Dome so Greg named it the Gnome.

This sheer-walled blade of Shoo Fly Complex metasediments commands great views. We scrambled up steep slopes through a maze of manzanita and Canyon Live Oak, until the rocky top was met and followed west.

Scott Hill rose to our north, Texas Hill to our south, to the west stood Giant Gap.

Below us, the East Fork broke into a series of waterfalls, the last one downstream just preceding an abrupt left turn in the gorge.

Wishing to circle down into this area, we left the summit of the Gnome and followed a faint ravine down and west, into the depths. The canyon of the East Fork seems to almost magically deepen while passing the Gnome.

We reached the East Fork below Gnome Falls, but had quite a pretty little array of six or ten little waterfalls beside us, and good gorge-scrambling terrain ahead. Large masses of Western Azalea were in bloom in wet areas, scenting the air.

Every so often along the East Fork some giant granite egg was nestled into the bank; these are erratics from the upper South Yuba, the icefield of which overflowed south into the North Fork American. They are the same light gray as most of the Shoo Fly, but their rounded shapes are distinctive.

We had chased a family of Water Ouzels slowly down the canyon. The fledglings had very stubby tails.

In following such streams many variables control one's path. If the stream is too high to cross, anywhere, that means trouble. We were fortunate to be able to cross, occasionally, and take advantage of the "easy " side of things.

Almost inevitably, if a stream has any gradient at all, waterfalls and cliffs will be met which demand a steep climb up and out of the inner gorge, until a passage can be found. We made half a mile or so over easy terrain until a 15-foot waterfall plunging into a pool ringed with sheer cliffs stopped us.

We took a long break in the shade; Greg actually swam, and made some slides into the long narrow pool, following strike along the Shoo Fly bedding planes. To continue down the canyon would require a high climb in the hot sun. We decided to retreat, and visit Gnome Falls.

We had hoped to reach the confluence of the North Fork of the North Fork, but stopped more than half a mile short.

In ascending the canyon, we soon reached the vicinity of the lowest of the Gnome Falls. The gorge makes a ninety-degree angle turn here. A waterfall could be seen roaring forcefully out into a deep pool ringed by high sheer cliffs. There could be no entry; that at least was clear. But as we drew near, a little ledge invited us over the last fifty yards to the deep pool itself, and said ledge was fitted with an overhang near waist level, so that one's handholds were all low, and it was a tricky business to sidle along, simultaneously lifting the cliff with one's hands, and driving it down with one's feet.

Lower Gnome Falls were fifteen or twenty feet high, with a lot of horizontal component to the motion; the water shot far out into the dark pool. An amazing place.

We tried, we dared to climb the cliffs lining the spur ridge connecting the Gnome itself to the sharp bend in the creek at Lower Gnome Falls, but the going got very steep and our hopes of regaining a streamside route were dashed.

So the kind of exploration needed was not an option. We ended up escaping the nasty scary cliffs, and slogged slowly up and out to the Range Rover, back on Texas Hill Road.

It had been a very nice day on the East Fork.

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