Monday, October 3, 2005

Up and Down Sawtooth Ridge

Sunday morning I met Dave Lawler and Catherine O'Riley at Iron Point, near the head of the Euchre Bar Trail (EBT), for an ambitious ramble, up the North Fork to the Blackhawk Mine, fording the river, then climbing the Blackhawk Trail to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge, following the Sawtooth Road along the crest for a mile or so, and dropping back down to Humbug Bar using the Sawbug Trail, fording the river again, and returning on the EBT.

To save ourselves some climbing, we parked down at the Rawhide Mine gate, and used the Lucky Three Claim trail to get down to the NFNFAR. At the river, some fine flat expanses of Shoo Fly Complex rocks flank the river for a ways, studded with red-flowering California Fuchsia. We followed down the river to the Ditch Trail, and used it to get on down past the confluence to the Euchre Bar Bridge.

The big pool below the bridge made pretty reflections of the canyon walls and Sawtooth Ridge, just upstream. Skies were mostly blue and it was still nice and cool.

Hiking towards Humbug Canyon, the EBT climbs a couple hundred feet to turn the corner around a spur ridge; the USGS Dutch Flat quadrangle mistakenly shows the EBT closely paralleling the river, without any such climb. We had quite enough climbing ahead of us, on Sawtooth Ridge; this business on the EBT seemed unfair.

After the style of my friend Jim Trabulse, I must relate that the exertion, at that perilously high elevation, was extreme in its severity, and severe in its extremity: sweat beaded our brows, carving small canyons through the caked dust and grime; our muscles writhed like snakes in the agony of painful yet never-ending deaths; our joints creaked and complained, and my kneecaps were close to exploding through my skin, and then through my pants, possibly injuring nearby wildlife, and crippling some innocent deer, or squirrel, or beauteous bird of querulous and plaintive song.

Enough of the style of Jim Trabulse.

Many are the gold-bearing quartz veins, many the old hardrock mines in that area. We passed a fallen stamp mill while scrambling down to the ford across the North Fork, huge masses of cast iron and giant cams and stamps and a "battery box" labeled Risdon Iron Works, San Francisco, California. This heavy equipment was likely skidded right down the canyon wall; somewhere above us, in the forest of Douglas Fir and Black Oak, would be a groove in the steep slopes, a century old, where the ponderous machinery was dragged down, over the course of several days, I imagine.

Some Water Ouzels were singing and chattering quite merrily, nearby.

The river was cold and upper-thigh-deep. Since I underestimated the depth, I merely rolled up my pants and carried my shoes; so I emerged on the Sawtooth side with wet pant legs. But the sun was shining and I made it across about ten minutes before the always-cautious Dave and Catherine, in all due prudence, stripped half-naked (the south half of course), to wade the clear emerald waters.

A Kingfisher flew across the river as we waited to get dry, in the sun.

We got ourselves back together and climbed past another fallen stamp mill, this one of the Blackhawk Mine itself, to the River Trail.

The River Trail shows on a couple old maps, running along the Sawtooth Side of the North Fork from a point downstream from the Blackhawk, up to Humbug Bar, and beyond. It has been abandoned and it quite hard to follow in places. Some reaches of this old trail have huge dry-laid stone walls, and I wished to show the best of this old stonework to Dave and Catherine.

So we passed by the base of the Blackhawk Trail, noting recent OHV tracks of the "quad" type, and walked on up the River Trail, which is about a hundred feet above river level, and holds such a level course that it may well have once supported a flume which took water from the North Fork, and delivered it to the Blackhawk, powering the stamp mill.

In a few hundred yards we reached the Amazing Place I had told Dave and Catherine about, where the River Trail rounds a cliffy promontory, and a dry-laid retaining wall of slate-like Shoo Fly rock had been built in a tight arc, and finished with carefully selected slabs, nearly two feet square, weighing a hundred pounds and up, in a remarkable tour de force of stone and geometry. A fine view extends down the river from this promontory; call it Stone Arc Point.

There, the OHVers, who had ridden right past the (regrettably, unenforced) OHV closure at the crest of Sawtooth Ridge, and had then walked up to Stone Arc Point, had tipped every last massive slab around the arc, into the river, below. So one of the prettiest examples of dry-laid stone masonry I have ever seen, was ruined, in the summer of 2005.

We took a break and admired the beauty of the North Fork and its canyon walls, and discussed what might have led to an interruption in the coniferous forest across the canyon to the south and west, where a grove of Black Oaks capped a spur ridge: was it something to do with the system of quartz veins? Black Oaks prefer deep soils. Or could it be a case of relatively shattered Shoo Fly rock, on an en echelon fault, parallel to the Melones Fault, a mile or so west?

Finally we started back on the River Trail, and began our climb to the crest of Sawtooth, on the Blackhawk Trail. This trail is actually an old road of sorts, with a gentle grade, hence it switches back and forth constantly, as it makes a climb of about 1900'. The notorious Volcano Fire of 1960 had crossed the North Fork onto Sawtooth in this area, and the road-trail looked as though it had been widened by a bulldozer around that time.

About half-way up the Blackhawk, one nears a spur ridge from Sawtooth which has an unusually flat profile at that level, around the 3000' contour, and as we approached this area, we passed an old gate of steel pipe painted yellow, now wide open, and soon saw a grassy swale with much in the way of Ponderosa Pine and Kellogg's Black Oak around it, many large trees having survived the Volcano Fire. Here again we rested, and I explored the swale and followed bear trails and found bear beds and, especially, looked for rounded, exotic rocks, for on the trail itself we had noticed some rounded rock, and taking into account the suddenly deeper and richer soils of this little area, I suspected an old till body might be present.

However, I could reach no definite conclusion, so far as glacial till.

Continuing, we passed out of Shoo Fly up into the "young volcanics" of the Mehrten andesitic mudflow, which I knew capped the last "tooth" of Sawtooth ridge, above and west, and in the general scheme of things in the Northern Sierra, as soon as one reaches these young volcanics, when climbing out of a canyon, they extend right to the top of the ridge above.

Here they did not, or at least, the Blackhawk Trail soon climbed back into Shoo Fly metasediments, and stayed in these to the crest of the ridge, at about 3900'.

The TNF sign almost hidden in the bushes there reads "North Fork American, 2. Blackhawk Mine, 3. Rawhide Mine, 2." This would agree with the probably entirely mistaken location of the Blackhawk Mine, on the USGS Westville quadrangle, at Humbug Bar. It also implies that a hiker's route would be via the River Trail, not the EBT, since this "false Blackhawk" mine is shown north of the North Fork.

The sign must post-date the Volcano Fire.

It was now 3:00 p.m. and we had the option of taking the easy route, via the Rawhide Mine, or sticking to The Plan. We had a mile to walk, roughly east, on the crest of Sawtooth, before reaching the historic Sawbug Trail, with two summits between us and the Sawbug. Dave wondered whether we could ever get back to the truck by dark.

I said, "Of course we can!" And off we went, in a direction almost directly away from the truck. Up and down and up and down. Point 4210' loomed above us, and Dave wanted to turn back. But we struggled on up and over this major "tooth" on the ridge, and soon reached the Sawbug, almost invisible, on the south side of the road.

We followed down through a few switchbacks to the first of a series of mine tunnels arranged in a north-south line, directly up and down the steep canyon wall. Here the line of the Sawbug has been confused by mine tailings and lack of use, and we did a fair amount of skidding down the steeps over slippery live-oak leaves to reach the Bear Bed Mine, and the resumption of the Sawbug.

The open tunnel here has a giant mound of dry leaves well inside, with a deep hollow in its center.

From here, the Sawbug makes a long descending traverse of the canyon wall, until one or two minor switchbacks are met, just above the bridge site at Humbug Bar. It is a delightful walk, down the Sawbug, with occasional bird's-eye views of the Dorer Ranch, in Humbug Canyon. We hung a left up the River Trail for a couple hundred yards to the old mining road switching back sharply downstream, and made our second ford of the North Fork, almost directly across from the confluence of Humbug Creek.

This required more partial nudity and more drying and redressing.

We climbed to the trail to the bridge site and followed it up Humbug Canyon until at last we reached the EBT itself, and struck back sharply right. An hour brought us to Euchre Bar Bridge, where a glorious sunset spread glowing golden clouds across the sky, to the west, the south, the east, and we took many photographs of these flaming clouds reflected in the giant pool west of the bridge. I stayed behind to take even more photographs, while Dave and Catherine forged ahead up the EBT and then right onto the Ditch Trail leading up the NFNFAR.

I didn't catch up to them until that awkward place is reached where the ditch ends, presumably changing there into a wooden flume, and some careful clambering over steepish rocks is required to continue up the river.

As we walked up the Lucky Three Claim trail, the stars were coming out, and by the time we reached the truck, Catherine's trusty old Toyota, it was about pitch dark, tho our dark-accustomed eyes had no trouble seeing the road at our feet.

It was just after 8:00 p.m. We had spent eleven hours walking perhaps ten miles, with about 3500' elevation gain thrown in for good measure. It was another great day in the North Fork canyon.

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