Monday, May 15, 2006

West of Canyon Creek

This morning I at last returned to the North Fork canyon, south of Gold Run, to verify that, yes, the HOUT exists west of Canyon Creek.

The day dawned cool and cloudy and in an instant I suddenly felt compelled to hike, not just those mild little mile-or-two hikes on old railroad grades here on Moody Ridge, which I have enjoyed in the past week, but a real hike, meaning, a blissful tripping descent to the North Fork, followed by some form of torture climbing back up and out.

So at eight a.m. I began a mild rush, stuffing my pack with a quart of water, a camera, and a sandwich made of two slices of wheat bread and two slices of Swiss cheese. Inspired cuisine!

I drove to the Dutch Flat exit on I-80, dropped down past the Highway Patrol, and used my usual not-so-secret entrance to the Gold Run Diggings (i.e., drive around the gate). Some new "No Trespassing" signs had been nailed up nearby; but they did not affect traction, so my Subie easily crawled around the steep little sidehill, and I was on the Main Diggings Road.

Driving west and south, I was dreaming, not really paying attention, when a woman suddenly appeared on the road ahead, and seemed to wish to flag me down.

It was Martha Arashi, once proprietor of the gas station at the DF exit. I often have seen her husband, Mr. Arashi, a Japanese native who loves to hike in the Diggings with his many dogs. Mr. Arashi keeps quite a variety of dogs, large and small; when I see him in the Diggings, there is always this elaborate dance we perform, without any variation: Mr. Arashi waves wildly for me to stop, shouting incoherently, and pointing to his smallest dog.

The smallest dog, it seems, is extremely, perhaps unprecedentedly liable to being crushed beneath an automobile. None of the other dogs are at risk. But for this one dog, Mr. Arashi imperiously stops my car, and only when it is safely nestled in his aged arms, am I allowed to proceed.

Today was different only in that Mrs. Arashi warned me that Mr. Arashi was ahead, and would expect me to stop so he could rescue his tiny dog from the impending destruction.

Eventually I was past the both of them and their many dogs, and in a few minutes, parked at the Canyon Creek Trail and set out walking.

I wrote a month or so back that we would have some kind of wondrous explosion of wildflowers, when the storms finally stopped. I saw many flowers today, but no more than usual, and perhaps less than I should have seen, at this time of year. Up in Potato Ravine it was Pacific Dogwood, Sierra Plum, Wood Rose, California Hazelnut; but as I dropped from the Indiana Hill Ditch towards Canyon Creek, more flowers began to appear, lush sprays of Alum Root, many Larkspur, and others.

The real flower display was on down the trail and across the bridge; then Indian Pink, Common Madia, Wild Hyacinth, Wallflower, Kaweah River Scorpionweed, Yerba Santa, and Bush Monkeyflower, began to appear in force.

The Monkeyflowers are spectacular, one small bush holding a hundred blooms, and so extravagantly large and luscious that such a bush can be seen at a distance of a quarter-mile, tho only two feet in diameter. There is something exotic and orchid-like about their light salmon blossoms.

By nine in the morning I was at the Terraces, well down below the Big Waterfall; these camping terraces were made in the 1870s, about, for the miners who tended the huge sluice boxes lining Canyon Creek. The terraces are supported by very impressive dry-laid stone walls, made from slabs of metavolcanic rock, often weighing in the hundreds of pounds. Lush little lawns invite one to just take a nap or something. But I scanned the cliffs across Canyon Creek. From the Terraces, no sign of the HOUT can be seen. Not only that, the area is rife with waterfalls and the creek is walled with sheer cliffs, near the Terraces. There would be no easy transition onto the HOUT.

I used the old miners' trail from the Terraces down to the creek, which trail ends in some neat stone stairs, and found an easy crossing upstream. Canyon Creek has dropped considerably, most all the snow having melted in its upper basin. Picking my way across cliffs, I climbed slowly while also making distance south, trying to find a traverse across a very perilous section. I kept getting forced higher, and sweat streamed down my face and soaked my shirt.

Finally a chance offered to advance farther south, and soon enough I struck the HOUT. It showed signs of having climbed from down near the creek (I was two hundred feet above, at least), but that seemed an impossibility; still, I will check that part, someday. Today I simply followed the HOUT south and west.

It was interesting to see this century-old trail, actually the line of the Giant Gap Canal, never constructed but surveyed, and "grade broken." To the east of Canyon Creek, it had seen some human use, since 1901 or whatever, and someone had actually lopped the brush back in places, twenty or thirty years ago.

Here, there was no sign of any human use whatsoever. Bears, yes; humans, no. No lopped branches. But it was wonderful, quite easy going, and again and again I was pleased and even astounded by the fine views I had of Canyon Creek and the North Fork and Giant Gap. All of the trails were visible: the main CCT, the Big Waterfall Trail, Upper and Lower Terraces trails, and even the HOUT itself, well east, at various points, including Bogus Spur.

It was much of the same character as the usual HOUT, east of Canyon Creek: a narrow path, a foot or two wide, bolstered here and there by dry-laid stone walls, and with some signs of blasting, at rock outcrops.

There were some lovely violet native onion flowers at one fine cliff-etched patch of trail where I paused to rest and take photographs.

The North Fork was flowing high and fast and a little murky, betokening the rapidity of the snowmelt in this warm weather. I could look straight down to the confluence of Canyon Creek and the North Fork, and see the last waterfall from above.

I was near the base of Diving Board Ridge, and in just the area where I felt, from past and distant observations, that a route might be found to the summit. I saw what seemed surely an old human trail leading up and away from the HOUT, in the most favorably open region. But I advanced and turned the corner of the main eastern spur of the Diving Board.

Immediately, passing from east-facing slopes to south-facing slopes, I was met with a tangle of buckbrush and poison oak. I spent ten minutes lopping until the sweat must have been squirting from my pores--it felt that way--just to get past one bad buckbrush threaded with a million poison oak stems and a trillion lush poison oak leaves. Finally, I could step past the thing. But to no avail: another mass of buckbrush waited just beyond.

So. Stopped by buckbrush. It has happened before.

I wandered back along the HOUT, looking for but not seeing the human trail which had seemed so obvious on the way out. The clouds were thinning and real sunlight began to warm things up. I decided I had seen enough, and at a likely-looking spot, began the climb to the Diving Board.

Soon I struck what must have been the very human trail I had noted before, and followed it up on easy grades.

Of course there were any number of game trails in the area as well. In such circumstances, if the human trail switches back, one is liable to lose it altogether; for game trails often emanate from switchbacks, and one is fooled, and follows the game trail instead of taking the hard left or right which is required to hold the line of the human trail. One bush, too, is enough to hide the true trail.

So, what with one bush and another, I lost the thing, but had easy going up and over various rock thrones and outcrops, and struck the human trail again, higher; lost it again; and then struck that very human trail which is a continuation of the lumber slide coming down the crest of Diving Board, and therefore I was only a few yards from the summit, where I rested in the shade and ate half a horrible sandwich.

I stripped my sweat-soaked shirt off and scarcely bothered to whisk the mosquitos away. The orange biting "deer flies" began to pester me, tho, so I started the climb up and out, shirtless, wet and yet not shiny, for every bush seemed to attached cobwebs and leaves and debris of all kinds to my torso, and I became increasingly dotted with gritty little things. I meditated on these gritty things as I climbed: spider legs, to be sure, but mostly just some kind of dirt.

At the Indiana Hill Ditch I crossed into the Diggings through a little pass onto a secret trail, which is not so secret now, with "quad" tracks leading right to the pass itself.

Soon I was walking through the great big huge pit of the Gold Run Ditch and Mining Company, four hundred feet deep and half a mile across, from which who knows how many cubic yards of gravel were washed into the tunnels and sluice boxes, to thunder away into Canyon Creek, and more sluice boxes, and at last, the North Fork.

The sun was now fully out, and the Diggings seemed an amorphous glare of light and heat, so I kept my head down and walked steadily along, soon climbing back up into Potato Ravine Pass and my car. It was noon. A short but sweet trip into the great canyon had verified that, yes, grade had been broken on the Giant Gap Canal, west of Canyon Creek, and, moreover, there seemed to be an old human trail connecting this new part of the HOUT, to the Diving Board itself. The course of this supposed trail is not entirely clear, yet.

Such was a morning near Gold Run.

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