Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Land Acquisition, Green Valley

I hear tell that an important land acquisition has taken place, in Green Valley, just upstream from Giant Gap. The Siller Brothers Timber Company has owned these lands since at least as early as 1976. The land lies about in the center of Green Valley and carries a fine stand of pine timber, which the Sillers wished to helicopter log, back in 1976.

The Sierra Sun reports:

Two conservation groups have purchased 94 acres of land along the upper reaches of the American River’s north fork.
The Placer Land Trust and the American River Conservancy acquired two parcels totaling 94 acres of land within the North Fork’s wild and scenic river corridor for $100,000 from the Siller Brothers Timber Company.
The land is located southeast of the Gold Run area on Interstate 80. All the funding was provided by matching grants from private sources, including the United Auburn Indian Community in Rocklin.
Placer Land Trust Executive Director Jeff Darlington accepted $50,000 from the United Auburn Indian Community for the Giant Gap project.
“The North Fork American River Canyon, and particularly the area around Giant Gap, has been a focus area of Placer Land Trust since our inception in 1991,” said Darlington
The North Fork American River was added to the national system of Wild and Scenic Rivers in 1979.
“This acquisition brings one of the most spectacular river canyons in the western United States one step closer to full Wild & Scenic protection,” said Alan Ehrgott, ARC Executive Director. “We are very thankful for the cooperation and assistance that Siller Brothers has provided to us and the public for their support in this purchase.”
Ownership to the recently acquired 94 acres will be held by ARC until title can be transferred to the Tahoe National Forest for management as Wild & Scenic River lands.

This is great news. There remain a number of other private parcels in Green Valley which should also be acquired. Also, the Sillers own, or owned until very recently, the critically important 590 acres in and around Lost Camp, which contain the head of the China Trail. I hope that the Placer Land Trust and the American River Conservancy will become involved there, as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lost Camp, etc.

Ron Gould has put up a web page about the road/trail closure at Lost Camp, see


There is all kinds of interesting stuff there. Thanks, Ron!

Also re Lost Camp, Ed Stadum, the lead attorney, pro bono, on our successful legal battle to re-open the historic road down to Smart's Crossing (on the Bear River above Dutch Flat), back in 1984, took interest in our Lost Camp problem, and drove out there with Jim Johnson, an Alta resident, to see for himself. Ed lives in Germany now and is not in a position to assume legal command with Lost Camp, but he has offered important advice. Ron Gould and Jim Johnson will meet soon with the man who (illegally) gated the Lost Camp road, and try to reason with him.

The closure of the Lost Camp road, and thus, public access to the China Trail, is an absurdity and a crime. It is lamentable that Tahoe National Forest has not intervened directly, but the Forest has changed a lot, in its philosophy, since the days when rangers actually patrolled and maintained the good old trails. In those days, which ended, let us say, around 1960, the forest rangers would not tolerate the closure of any Forest trail. I know, for instance, the family which once owned the land at the head of the Green Valley Trail, from 1931 to 1975, and in the 1950s, they put a gate on the road to the trailhead. Tahoe National Forest rangers visited them and told them they had to immediately remove the gate. They complied.

Nor has Placer County intervened. Were either entity, TNF or the County, to simply do their jobs, i.e., protect the public interest, that gate would have come down many moons ago.

At any rate, for more information check out Ron's Lost Camp web page.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Horror, and, Green Valley News

What an unusual fall, so stormy, so cool and cloudy! So often, October is bright and warm. Today it begins to find its old self.

Our Black Bears, which are often not black, have been much in the news over the summer, breaking into homes in the Tahoe area. Here, it is not uncommon for a bear or three to wander through. Various adventures and misadventures have occurred; why, once a whole family of bears broke into our car, peed in it, and jumped on the roof, denting it. Another time, a bear found its way into our bathroom, entered the shower, and left a strangely indelible paw print on the white shower wall. It also scratched the bathroom door, which had swung shut behind it.

More typically, a bear will get its paws on a bag of garbage, and strew it across acres of hillside. Some years ago I built a sturdy garbage-bin, which has not yet been successfully broken open, although it bears the scars of their efforts. They have literally rolled this cumbersome and heavy plywood bin down the hill.

The other day, a most sad and horrible bear came by. It was almost coal black, and strangely leggy, which as I later realized, meant it was thin. Why thin? Because someone had shot it, and its lower jaw dangled low from a generous thread of flesh and ligament, flopping to this side and that, useless teeth jutting forward. It would not be chased away, which is quite unusual, for it had found no food here, and for a bear to stand its ground against a man wielding a shovel, a man throwing firewood at it, a man shouting at it, a man advancing against it, when said bear has found no food, well, in my experience, that means it is sick. This was my second such sick bear. The other, a few years back, a dusty golden color, bore no visible injuries.

I tried calling the CA Department of Fish and Game, but their line was busy for half an hour, and I gave up. The poor poor thing should be euthanized.

On a happier note, I was contacted by descendants of the Dunckhorst family, who own land down in Green Valley, on the North Fork American River, south of Dutch Flat. The land is the old Opel & Williams claim, patented in the 1870s, and includes Joe Steiner's Grave, and the Hotel Site. The East Branch of the Green Valley Trail passes through their property. Joe Steiner lived down there for many years, working their claim, and acting as their caretaker.

They called the place "Pine Shadows," and drew their water, bucket by bucket, from nearby "Crystal Springs." These springs are on a lost little patch of trail leading down to the Hotel Site from near the Dunckhorst cabin.

On the 7.5-minute USGS "Dutch Flat" quadrangle, a small black square immediately south of the "r" in the words "Green Valley" seems to mark the Dunckhorst cabin, now gone. A wildfire in the middle 1950s erased the cabin. The descendants have several old family photo albums, and sent me some pictures. The cabin was a small affair with a gable roof. Of most interest is a picture of their summer sleeping platform, raised about ten feet above the ground, labeled "The Roost." My other Green Valley friends, the Dentons, who spent summers there in the 1930s and 1940s, also had a raised sleeping platform, and also called it "The Roost." The Denton Roost was built by Joe Steiner himself.

The way the Dentons tell it, the summers were so hot one simply had to sleep outside, but the rattlesnakes were so fierce, and so pesky, and so determined to somehow, some way, enter one's very bed, one could not sleep on the ground, or even near the ground. Hence, The Roost.

The Dentons had mentioned the Dunckhorsts to me, specifically, I recall their story about a young Dunckhorst man who set the record for the fastest descent of the Green Valley Trail, back around 1940. He made the descent to the river in eighteen minutes!

Such is some news.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Down and Up and Down and Up

[written October 9, 2007]

The day after visiting Hayden Hill, and that lovely little patch of old-growth forest growing on the broad terrace formed upon the rhyolite ash stratum, a few hundred feet below the canyon rim, I was busy writing about Chinese ghosts, and Mesozoic screens, and thinking about the two old trails I had discovered.

I had found a "lumber slide" dropping away north from the summit of Hayden Hill itself, and also a nearly level trail leading west into the Magic Forest. With Ron Gould I had explored similar trails, and we had often found ourselves confronted with major game trails, whereupon I might say, "this must be an old human trail," which Ron would always doubt. He would scoff. Usually, Ron was in the right.

So, writing about ghosts, and thinking about human trails disguised as game trails, I wanted to drag Ron out there to Hayden Hill immediately, if not sooner. The hour of eight in the morning arrived and I picked up my telephone; but a family member had left her internet connection up, and I had to disconnect to get a dial tone. Before I could even dial, the phone rang; it was Ron. It was a fine sparkling clear fall day, and he suggested a hike. I broke in: "We must go to Hayden Hill!"

But Ron replied that he had been imagining doing the Blackhawk-Sawbug loop, up by Humbug Canyon, and Sawtooth Ridge. I was persuaded, and yet for one reason and another, it was ten in the morning before we parked at the head of the Euchre Bar Trail.

"It will be pitch dark before we return," I remarked. This was likely enough, as we had twelve miles and some thousands of feet of elevation gain ahead of us. Thus it was that when we did finally reach his truck, at the end of the day, the stars were bright. GPS revealed, when it was all over, that we had climbed 5,700 feet over the course of the hike.

Most people who hike the Euchre Bar Trail go only so far as the river, which is spanned by a footbridge. The trail continues up the canyon, after crossing the bridge, and technically it not only reaches Humbug Canyon, but follows the Humbug Canyon Road up to the canyon rim, to the gate on Eliot Ranch Road.

We made quick work of the descent to the North Fork, the river flowing slowly, calm and clear, with morning shadows still clinging to large parts of the far canyon wall; in fact, the bridge was still wrapped in frigid shade, and damp with dew. The bridge is scarcely a mile and a half from the trailhead at Iron Point.

Crossing, we made good time up the main trail, passing the confluence of the North Fork of the North Fork, which is divided from the main stem of the North Fork by Sawtooth Ridge. Another mile brought us to the Southern Cross Mine, with its collapsed and dismembered stamp mill, where we stripped off shoes and pants and forded the ice-cold river. A sunny patch of bedrock, metasediments of the Shoo Fly Complex, allowed us to relax in comfort on the far side of the river, while we dried, and soon we were scrambling up a steep bank beside another dismembered stamp mill, and reached the level ore-cart-run of the Blackhawk Mine. The little railroad tracks are still in place.

The USGS 7.5-minute Westville Quadrangle shows a trail descending to the Blackhawk Mine from the crest of Sawtooth Ridge. This trail was likely widened to accommodate wagons as early as the 1890s, and in subsequent decades, bulldozers widened it further. In 1978 it became subject to a motorized vehicle closure, following designation of the North Fork American as a Wild & Scenic River, but the closure sign, up on the crest of the Sawtooth, was soon ripped out and thrown far down into the manzanita; for such is the lawlessness of OHV (off-highway vehicle) users, who also make quite a point of leaving garbage, wherever they go. They can do this with complete impunity, for there is essentially no Tahoe National Forest law enforcement; the TNF budget will not allow it, just as TNF cannot afford to maintain its own trail system.

Ron and I picked up the odds and ends of OHV garbage and started towards the top of the ridge. We were somewhat shocked at the clear signs of heavy OHV use of the trail.

Incidentally, this heavy OHV use only began two or three years ago. One of the first consequences was the vandalizing of the ancient dry-laid stone walls along a mining-ditch-trail, leading upstream from the Blackhawk Mine; apparently, the lawless motorcyclists thought it would be great fun to topple the huge slabs of slate, so carefully set into the arc of a circle a century and more ago, down the cliff into the river, from where the ditch-trail rounded a rocky point above a deep pool. This ditch-trail shows on a number of old maps, but has disappeared from modern maps. It leads all the way up to Humbug Bar, and continues farther yet as the Cavern Mine Trail.

A climb of a little less than two thousand feet brought us to the summit, where the OHV closure sign used to stand. One official TNF sign remains, almost hidden in the manzanita; it reflects an error in mapping, as it reads "North Fork American, 2" (arrow left), "Blackhawk Mine, 3" (arrow left), and "Rawhide Mine, 2" (arrow right). The error lies in supposing that the Blackhawk Mine is at Humbug Bar, rather than right at the base of the trail, where it reaches the North Fork.

As it happens, this trail junction is at the very end of the Sawtooth Ridge trail. Essentially, at the end of the Sawtooth Trail, one drops away left to reach the North Fork, and the Blackhawk Mine, and one drops away right to reach the North Fork of the North Fork, and the Rawhide Mine.

However, in the same year the neat wooden sign was installed, the Rawhide Mine was sold, and the new owner (Harry Mayo) immediately closed the trail to the public, posting all kinds of threatening "no trespassing" signs, with pictures of revolvers and so on.

Did Tahoe National Forest intervene? Did TNF make Harry Mayo remove the signs, and stop harassing hikers? Oh no, TNF did no such thing. Here was a trail likely open to the public for over a century, instantly closed. It is exactly what we are seeing at Lost Camp right now: a new property-owner decides to close a historic public road, open since 1858, and a historic trail, open since 1862. The road and trail were once maintained by Tahoe National Forest.

Does TNF intervene? Does TNF make a telephone call, do they write a letter, do they lift their left little finger to protect the General Public's right to historic roads and trails?

No, they do not. As surely as they did nothing to keep the Rawhide Mine Trail open, they now do nothing to keep the Lost Camp Road and the China Trail open.

It's a funny thing: Tahoe National Forest has enough money to hire all kinds of people with degrees, people obviously too talented, too highly trained, to perform physical labor, to actually maintain a trail; and TNF puts these talented, talented people to work engineering more and more and more timber harvests. For that, TNF has money.

I should imagine these degree-adorned employees of Tahoe National Forest make a pretty penny. I should imagine they have benefits, like health care, like retirement, oh my, yes, they make lots of money, they enjoy lots of benefits.

Ah well, these TNF employees are Good People, as near as I can tell. They are not the ones who set the policy, not the ones who plot the course.

Sawtooth Ridge appears to have been scorched in the 1960 "Volcano Fire," which spread from near the Middle Fork of the American, north across the Foresthill Divide to the North Fork, hitting Humbug Canyon hard, and crossing the river to Sawtooth Ridge. A very large number of Knobcone Pines grow along the summit of Sawtooth Ridge, towards its southwestern end. They appear to date from the Volcano Fire.

The climb to the crest of the Sawtooth, from the Blackhawk, winds in switchbacks through a forest dominated by Canyon Live Oak, with scattered Ponderosa and Knobcone pines, and a passing-strange abundance of Kellogg's Black Oak. These are the classic deciduous oaks of the lower-middle elevations, and they seem to much prefer deeper and moister and richer soils than usually exist on south-facing canyon walls. I have only hiked the Blackhawk Trail twice, and during my first visit, I concluded that one of the concentrations of Kellogg's Black Oak was associated with vestiges of glacial till. The till was deeply weathered and altered and almost unrecognizable. It would date from a much earlier glaciation than the Tioga, which ended a scant 12,000 years ago. I would guess this older till is either Tahoe I or Tahoe II in age, roughly, 65,000 or 125,000 years ago.

At last on top of the Sawtooth, in the very last pass before the very last Tooth--this last tooth, at the southwest terminus of the ridge, being a kind of flat-topped molar, capped with a vestige of andesitic mudflow--Ron and I rested. A few feet away, the Rawhide Trail, unmaintained by Tahoe National Forest since at least 1978, led away into dense, post-Volcano manzanita. We had attacked this section with loppers a couple of years ago, and I proposed we execute some maintenance. So we picked our way into the tangled brush, lopping here, ripping dead manzanita from the ground there, and pushing the slender poles of dead Knobcone Pines away down the hillside, a process much like threading a needle, since they were usually thoroughly trapped in the manzanita, and the only hope was to simply push them in the direction they already lay, hoping to get them clear of the trail.

A quarter-mile or so of such work got us clear of the manzanita, onto more north-facing slopes. We could not take time to work any longer. That quarter-mile had already cost us dearly, in terms of exertion, in terms of blood smeared along hands and arms, from a myriad of vicious little manzanita jabs. We are not exactly young men. I mean, in my mind, anyway, I am young, but my drivers' license reveals me to be fifty-eight years old.

At any rate, we retreated to the pass, shouldered our packs, and walked on up the Sawtooth, through dense stands of Knobcone Pine, and brushy groves of Black Oak. We walked up and over the first minor Tooth. A larger Tooth, rising above the 4200-foot contour, rose before us; on the map, it is shown to have an elevation of 4210 feet. Here, on the down-ice, lee side of Tooth 4210, is a body of very old glacial till, probably of the same age as the till along the Blackhawk Trail. Again, it is not easily recognized. One of the things which help separate this patch of deep soil containing rounded boulders from, say, some vestige of Eocene-age river gravels (which also can be found on Sawtooth Ridge), is the presence of rounded granite boulders. The Eocene gravels generally do not preserve granite; granite is too easily dissolved by chemical weathering. These granite boulders might have come all the way from the South Yuba basin, or, perhaps, from Little Granite Creek, or Big Granite Creek, or the upper North Fork of the North Fork. They are visibly different from granite boulders in the recent Tioga-age tills, in that they have lost their smooth surfaces, mainly, I think, from chemical weathering, i.e., from exposure to soil acids over a long period of time. There are only a very few of these rounded granite boulders visible, in the very bed of the Sawtooth Trail.

A much more obvious body of old till, with similarly deeply weathered granite boulders, is on the crest of Sawtooth immediately down-ice (southwest) from Helester Point.

Crossing over Tooth 4210, we descended to a minor pass and turned sharply southwest onto the Sawbug Trail. This is our name for the ancient trail, which likely dates from the 1850s, connecting the summit of SAWtooth Ridge to HumBUG Bar. I much doubt anyone would discover the upper end of this old trail by accident. Near the top, it passes some smallish hard-rock mines in a series of switchbacks, and then makes one long gradual descent to Humbug Bar, with one more minor switchback near the base of the trail.

At Humbug Bar (which, incidentally, was entirely mined away, way back when; there is no "bar" left), we followed the Cavern Mine Trail up the canyon a short distance, to where an easy trail leads away down to the river itself. We were about to strip off shoes and pants when we realized that we could actually hop across the river, boulder to boulder. This was a welcome alternative to wading.

Afternoon shadows were long, most of the river already in shadow, but one broad beam of light still reached the river itself, just upstream, and made for an incredibly beautiful picture, glowing trees reflected in deep dark pools.

It only remained to walk the two or three miles back to the bridge, and then climb the Euchre Bar Trail to the truck. Ha! We were dragging along in painful slowness, in the dark, through interminable switchbacks, as the twilight gave way to full darkness, and the stars came out. For my part, I was reciting a litany of benchmarks, which would be passed in turn: "soon enough, the switchbacks-without-water-bars, where the leaves were scoured from the trail in the last storm; not too terribly far above that, the crest of Trail Spur, and the Iron Point Trail, forking away west into Green Valley; then, that long rocky section, through the errant patch of serpentine, serpentine separate from the main mass in Green Valley, mixed somehow into the Mesozoic screen; and then ... and then ... the last switchback ... and just a tiny little bit of ridge-trail left ... cross the Rawhide Road ... and the final, steepish, blessedly short bit of trail ... and then the Rawhide Road, again, and right there, well, a few yards away, Ron's truck ... ."

I went over these trail-phases again and again and again in my mind. I would carefully imagine what each section in turn was like. Eventually, I actually reached, and passed my benchmarks, albeit slowly, very, very slowly. When the trail entered denser forest, the world went black, but it was easy to feel the trail beneath my feet. We made the climb separately, alone in our agonies, but as I neared the tippy top, Ron caught me up.

Twelve miles, 5,700 feet of elevation gain.

We were absolutely ruined, but it had been, yes, another great day in the great canyon.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hayden Hill

Following the narrow ridge-crest north, zig-zagging just exactly as the local bears zig and zag, through masses of Ceanothus and small conifers, my musings, equally erratic, settled into a kind of coherence: "If the Chinese Historical Society did once visit this obscure and sacred precinct; if the Chinese Historical Society did place a commemorative plaque; if the Chinese Historical Society did annually burn offerings, to settle and reassure the ghosts of their ancestors, here on the very verge of the Great American Canyon, here, so near the summit of Hayden Hill, well, they left remarkably little trace of those visits--in fact, they left no trace--in fact, it would be about a miracle if the Chinese Historical Society ever set foot here--and it becomes a certainty that, when I myself reach the summit, there will be no 'commemorative plaque'."

Hayden Hill is a knoll or minor eminence within the North Fork canyon, above Green Valley. It just kisses the 3800' contour, and thus stands 2000' above the river, and four hundred feet below the canyon rim.

For thirty years I had wished to visit this "Hayden Hill." Far below its summit is the Hayden Hill Mine, that geologically significant hydraulic mine, involving Pleistocene glacial outwash sediments, involving a relict channel of the North Fork, the base of that channel four hundred feet above the modern river, the top of the outwash terrace six hundred feet above the modern river. The significance inheres in these numbers: four hundred feet, six hundred feet, connote great age, and I am tempted, very tempted, to correlate the sediments to the Sherwin Glaciation, of 750,000 years ago. The Sherwin is quite cryptic, its tills and moraines almost entirely erased by subsequent erosion, in fact, were it not for the blind luck that one solitary mass of Sherwin Till was buried, and thus preserved, by the Bishop Tuff, and then exposed in cross-section by a roadcut, near Bishop, along Highway 395, we would find this or that deeply-weathered till, and be able only to say, "Here is something glacial, and something old."

Now at least we can guess that such a till is Sherwin in age. The age of the Sherwin is given by dating the Bishop Tuff; and that tremendous outpouring of volcanic ash, of thirty-five cubic miles of rhyolite ash, took place almost exactly 750,000 years ago.

It verges upon the incredible that a glacial outwash terrace of Sherwin age could be preserved within any one of our Sierran canyons, as our canyons are so raw and so fresh, so rapidly incising, so rapidly eroding.

But that is a part of what makes Green Valley special: it does preserve glacial outwash terraces which are old, quite old. Green Valley is just exactly where the serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone crosses the North Fork, or is crossed by the North Fork, at about a right angle. The weakness of the serpentine has allowed the North Fork canyon to widen into a kind of broad amphitheater. The weakness of the serpentine has meant that this particular reach of the North Fork has always had a flat gradient; when one combines a broad amphitheater with a flat gradient, conditions become ideal for not only the deposition of sediments, but the preservation of sediments.

Of course, Green Valley is also one of two places in California where Aliens From Outer Space built pyramids. The other place is that same Owens Valley where we find the Bishop Tuff burying the Sherwin Till. At least, Dr. Wallace Halsey declared it so. Dr. Halsey believed that Aliens From Outer Space taught we humans to build pyramids, way back when. Dr. Halsey said that the Pyramid of Green Valley was at the Hayden Hill Mine, haunted by the ghosts of Chinese miners buried in a landslide.

I began hearing about the Buried Chinese Miners in 1976. According to legend, their sluice box was buried right along with them. Hence, with enough luck, with enough pluck and perseverance and plain hard work, one could dig down, down and down and down, down through the clay, down through the boulders, through, who knows, the very skeletons of the Chinese Miners, and one would at last find the sluice box, and one would become wealthy.

Many a person assured me of the truth of this legend. Crusty old-timers swore by it. But, over the decades, as I pursued research into the history of this area, and always, especially, the history of Green Valley, I could find no corroboration of the legend. I began to dismiss it as a fiction, as a confusion of myths, or a concatenation of true stories. For it is certainly true that many Chinese mined gold in Green Valley, and it is certainly true that many Chinese died in cave-ins and landslides, in the hydraulic mines of Dutch Flat and Gold Run. The old newspapers of this area can make for depressing reading, as one tragedy after another befell the miners.

Yes, I had pored over these depressing old newspapers, and I had gleaned many an interesting article about the mines of Green Valley, including, specifically, the Hayden Hill Mine.

But I found nary a word about a landslide burying, who knows, some said six, others said twenty, Chinese miners. So. It must be fiction.

Then, a few years back, I walked over to the Gold Ring Mine in Green Valley, and found the ancient and grizzled owners at home and receiving visitors. Al Platz nearly talked my ear off with his stories about Green Valley, and, of course he trotted out the Legend of the Buried Chinese. I bluntly expressed my doubts, my extreme doubts. Al added a new twist to the story, and this new twist was as follows: according to Al, a "Chinese Historical Society" came out here, every year, to a point above the canyon, where they had placed a plaque commemorating the buried miners, and every year, Al said, they would visit the spot, gaze out into the great canyon, and make offerings to their ancestors.

I believe I know the north rim of the canyon, above Green Valley, very well. I have seen no "commemorative plaque." Hence, the plaque must be on the south canyon rim. And where better, where more likely, than that spot labeled "Hayden Hill" on the USGS 7.5-minute Dutch Flat quadrangle?

This added some urgency, then, to my long-cherished agenda to visit Hayden Hill. I had often visited the mine, far below, but never the Hill itself. When an urgency of this magnitude breaks upon me, why, it may be as little as three years before I act!

And so it was that at long long last I threaded my way along the bears' zig-zag path to the summit of Hayden Hill. I found the cellar of the cabin depicted, quite near the summit, on that aforementioned Dutch Flat Quadrangle. The cabin had pretty clearly burned in the 1960 "Volcano" fire, which had charred large parts of the Foresthill Divide, and several square miles within the North Fork canyon, even crossing the river to Sawtooth Ridge. All that remains of the cabin is a hole six feet deep, maybe twelve feet long and eight feet wide. The cellar.

Just beyond the cabin site is the summit of Hayden Hill. Thick manzanita blocked further progress along the crest, so I dropped away west and picked my way through gnarled elfin Canyon Live Oak, until I could climb back up to this summit knoll from the far (north) side. I ensconced myself within the sheltering arms of a multi-trunked Canyon Live Oak and ate my lunch.

There was no commemorative plaque.

I noted that Hayden Hill itself was formed from bedrock of the thin "Mesozoic screen" which separates the (late Paleozoic) serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone from the vastness of the (early Paleozoic) metasediments comprising the Shoo Fly Complex, east of the Melones. The rock appeared to be a dark metavolcanic formation, perhaps quite akin to the lenses of dark metavolcanic rock one sees at and near Iron Point. I was probably about a quarter-mile east of the fault zone.

Although the summit of Hayden Hill, from a topographic standpoint, commands a tremendous view, one can never quite get clear of the oaks. Giant Gap was darkening with afternoon shadows to the west, but I could not really see it. I decided to explore down the steeply-plunging north spur of Hayden Hill, in search of a rocky outcrop, or some kind of break in the forest.

Immediately I saw what seemed an old trail, old and broad. Strangely broad, I would say. This old trail was blocked by fallen pines, well-rotted, presumably killed in the Volcano Fire, and I was pleased and interested to see a series of 2X4's, around four feet long, nailed to the side of one such much-rotted pine trunk. It seems that whoever once lived in the little cabin had himself wished for a better view, and nailed a kind of ladder up the trunk of the nearest tall pine. Only the heartwood core of the pine remains, the outer six inches of trunk having rotted, except exactly at those spots where the ladder rungs were nailed. Big old twenty-penny spikes. So, it is pleasant to imagine that as the storm-wrack cleared, of a winter afternoon, and a golden glow intensified away west, in Giant Gap, the man would scramble up his nailed rungs, and enjoy a view which would have made Ansel Adams jealous.

I explored further down the spur, and my putative trail disappeared, then reappeared, disappeared, then reappeared. So, it is real. Later, in thinking about it, I decided that, rather than a trail, it might more likely be an old "lumber slide," which one occasionally finds scoring the canyon wall. In such places loads of sawed lumber, and other mining equipment, would be skidded directly down the side of the canyon. These lumber slides were usually located along the crests of spur ridges. Inasmuch as this particular spur leads right down to the Hayden Hill Mine, I suppose it was their own particular lumber slide.

Climbing back to the summit, I followed the east side of the ridge, and the old trail/lumber slide, back to the cabin, although manzanita forced me to veer off track a few times.

Next on my list of Things to Do at Hayden Hill was to visit the second cabin depicted on the Dutch Flat quadrangle. The map shows it just at the head of a ravine which passes through the mine far below, call it the Hayden Hill Ravine. It is just east of the Hill and its principal spur. And, at the head of this ravine, the map showed a tunnel.

So I wandered through the heavy timber, soon found one collapsed tunnel, climbed above, and found the other cabin site, like the first cabin site making itself known only by its cellar, and some few scraps of metal scattered about.

I decided to make a more complete exploration, dropped back down, found more collapsed tunnels, in some of which the rhyolite ash stratum was exposed to view, that stratum so typically, almost always, completely hidden, covered in the rich soil which heavy forest will develop, given a few millenia. The rhyolite ash stratum is often the source of perennial springs, and this was exactly the case here.

A tunnel in this stratigraphic position (near the unconformity separating the "Superjacent series" from the "Subjacent series") can be safely considered to have been at the least an attempt to reach a hidden Eocene-age river channel. If they had succeeded, one might expect to see the rounded pebbles of white quartz and blueish chert, in the ravine below the tunnel; but I could see no such pebbles. However, such springs can generate astounding quantities of water during and after big rain events, and all such mining debris might have long since been washed away down the ravine. Aside from a few scraps of strap iron, there was little sign of human activity near the tunnels, and I expect many people would not even recognize them as collapsed tunnels.

A small mining ditch contoured across the gentle slopes just above the level of the tunnels, and I set out west to see where it went. There were four possibilities, so far as the grade of the ditch:

1. Sloping down from west to east.
2. Sloping down from east to west.
3. Sloping down from east and west alike, towards the collapsed tunnels.
4. Sloping down to the east and west alike, away from the collapsed tunnels.

I began to favor (3). The grade of the ditch was far too flat to see at a glance which way it had flowed. If it had flowed away from the tunnels (4), then it would have flowed *to* specific mining sites. So I followed it west.

A road dating from salvage harvests after the Volcano Fire paralleled the ditch, and soon coincided with the ditch. Some hundreds of yards west I found the rounded cobbles and boulders of quartz and chert which can only mean an old river channel is near. So. This supported (4), at least a little, but there was no obvious sign of past mining nearby.

Soon thereafter the road ended, but a fine figure of a trail continued along the same almost level, west-bearing line. It was either an old human trail or the King of All Game Trails. Following it, I entered quite a lovely and special forest. Huge trees were common, some Douglas Fir measuring close to six feet in diameter, with large Ponderosa and Sugar pines in the area, too. The terrain was nearly flat. A rather gigantic terrace had formed, at the base of the strata of andesitic mudflow which composed all the ridge above, and near the top of the rhyolite ash strata beneath the mudflows. This is just where perennial springs are wont to form, and even if there are no springs, there is often a generalized "seep," in which water-loving species of trees and other plants are well-established. The evidence of the top-of-the-rhyolite seep may be as subtle as a roughly horizontal zone on the side of a ridge (high on a canyon wall, say), a zone where Kellogg's Black Oak and Ponderosa Pine are larger than they are either above or below the zone.

That is, upon almost every ridge in the middle elevations of this part of the Sierra, there is a "perched aquifer," a water-bearing zone. Above this zone, horizontal strata of andesitic mudflow; and below, the rhyolite ash, so often weathered into a dense clay-like material, forms an "aquaclude," and inhibits the downward migration of water. Hence springs and seeps pop out at the surface. When one considers that, when undisturbed by roads or logging or anything which could impact the soils, the mudflow above has an almost incredible capacity to absorb rainfall and snowmelt without surface runoff, one can do a little arithmetic, as follows: such-and-such a ridge is capped by andesitic mudflow, and the top of the ridge has an areal extent of, say, 1000 acres. The annual precipitation is 60 inches, or five feet. Hence 5*1000 acre-feet of water are absorbed by the mudflow (an enormous quantity of water!). The water sinks lower, hits the rhyolite ash aquaclude, and migrates horizontally to discharge as springs and seeps.

Hence, if looking at a topographic map, one notes that along the sides of a ridge whose crest is at 4000' elevation, there is a series of springs at, say, 3800' elevation, one is entirely justified in assuming that that ridge is capped by andesitic mudflow, and beneath the mudflow, as always, lies the rhyolite ash. You have, in effect, discovered the top of the rhyolite ash layer. You have also discovered that the mudflow strata are 200 feet thick.

Having so discovered the rhyolite ash, one is also safe in assuming that the bedrock is not far below. These perennial springs are usually less than 100 feet above the unconformity separating the ancient bedrock from the "young volcanics."

Here, there were spectacular springs, huge trees, including somewhat unusually large Bigleaf Maples, a significant concentration of the passing-rare Pacific Yew, and even some Torreya, larger than our usual Torreya. There were Giant Chain Ferns, and White Alders, and many Pacific Dogwoods, all water-loving plants.

The old trail led directly to the largest springs, and then appeared to end. The lovely terrace of tall trees continued right along to the west, and I hope to explore further soon. On this day, I turned back when the trail seemed to end, and found a spring with an ancient iron pipe conducting the water.

Hence I propose that it was indeed Possibility Three, "Sloping down from east and west alike, towards the collapsed tunnels." I propose that this ditch led the waters of distant springs to the Hayden Hill Ravine, and that it may have had mostly to do with delivering more water to the Hayden Hill Mine, sixteen hundred feet below, than with whatever mining operations occurred at the Collapsed Tunnels. Actually, it could have served both purposes without a shred of conflict between the one and the other.

Returning to the cabin site, which happens to be beside a section corner, common to sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 of T15N, R11E, I decided to follow the ditch east. I saw from the little map I had packed along that I would immediately enter the broad basin flanked by the minor summit labeled "Sugarloaf" on the Dutch Flat quadrangle. This basin feeds the high waterfall one can see from Iron Point in the winter and spring. The map showed that my top-of-the-rhyolite-, base-of-the-andesitic-mudflow terrace continued right along, if anything more pronounced and larger than ever. The very same road I was on, there at the section corner, held an almost level line into this "Sugarloaf Basin." I thought to use the road to enter the basin, then drop back to the ditch. This worked out about as planned, except, a Reagan-era Tahoe National Forest clearcut had not only grown a host of young Ponderrosa Pine, it had also been infested with brush, from the increase in sunlight reaching the ground, and the disturbance of the soil, and I was soon forced off the road.

I dropped to the ditch, but it too was within, not the clearcut, but a more generalized harvest area, and so much new light had entered the forest that, between logging slash and brush, I was soon forced off the ditch.

Returning to the road, I found it clear, since it had entered a belt of heavy timber on the Rhyolite Terrace. A little exploration led me into a pesky little patch of private property, possibly a patented mining claim, where I found the detritus of a marijuana growing operation dating several years back.

The sun was lowering, and I made the climb up and out, trying without success to trace the line of the historic trail shown on the Dutch Flat quadrangle, through the TNF clearcut.

What would they say? "Oops, we destroyed another trail, another historic trail."?

Actually, for much of the day I was in a fuming funk about Tahoe National Forest and its timber harvests, nowadays conducted under the guise of "thinning the forest." For, my access to Hayden Hill was via Iowa Hill, via the Giant Gap Road, the Eliot Ranch Road, to a certain obscure side-road damaged by a very recent "thinning" timber harvest. I had seen, from Giant Gap Ridge on the west, to the rim of the canyon directly above Hayden Hill, on the east, a series of these thinning-harvest areas.

And, I found them very upsetting. Bulldozers, or similar heavy equipment, had scrambled and rampaged throughout the forest, raising the deep soils into furrows which will persist for centuries. I guarantee that my children's grandchildren will see those ridges and furrows and heaps of soil, if the land is left untouched until then. How can Tahoe National Forest rationalize scarring the land in this way? It is a crime, it is a kind of terrorism inflicted upon a landscape, upon a heritage and upon a wildlife and a scenery which can by no means speak for themselves, as it were, relying entirely upon us, upon the citizens, to stand up for them.

But we do not so stand up.

Tahoe National Forest no doubt let the thinning contract out to Sierra Pacific Industries, SPI, famous for their clearcuts, and the largest owner of private land in all of California, by far. So, SPI not only gets to inflict a totally corporate model, a totally industrial model, upon its own lands, it gets to industrialize our public lands as well!

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen historic trails absolutely erased, as though they had never existed, by SPI bulldozers. Of course, that has to do with how we manage timber harvests on private lands, and falls under the rules and regulations applied by the California Department of Forestry, or CDF.

That is bad enough. But a historic trail, entirely on our public land, erased by bulldozers? It is worse than an absurdity, and yet, put a Reagan or a Bush into office and you pretty much get what you asked for: the sale of public resources to private interests at bargain-basement prices.

So actually, for much of the day, I was fuming, in a kind of rage. I like to think of myself as a reasonable man. I totally support the harvest of timber on a sustainable basis. But how is it harvested? There is this way, and there is that way. And here, along Eliot Ranch Road, was a travesty. To cap it all off, burn piles a hundred feet long, thirty feet wide, and twenty feet high were seen here, there, and everywhere. Near almost every one of these piles was a sign, nailed high on a tree, reading "Timber Harvest Area. No Firewood Cutting Allowed. Tahoe National Forest."

So. Each pile held dozens of cords of wood. They will be burned to ash in one giant conflagration, but heaven help the citizen who dares to cut a pickup-truck load for himself.

Such was a very nice day near the south rim of the Great American Canyon.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Maze of Gorges

[written September 17, 2007]

Ron Gould and I headed up to Emigrant Gap, then a few miles south on Forest Road 19, to Sailor Point. We parked and set off walking down a gated logging road. We hoped to find a way down the ridge dividing Sailor Ravine from the North Fork of the North Fork American River (NFNFAR); for this particular ridge (call it Sailor Spur) stands like a knife-edge above the many waterfalls in that area, forming a narrow promontory wrapped tightly by the 4000' contour.

We had admired that narrow promontory from a distance. Wild, remote, cliff-bound, it would offer a most intimate view of what we call the Gorge of Many Gorges. It also looked to be well-guarded by brush. We could not be certain that some monstrous brush-field would stop us altogether. One could only try.

Half a mile brought us to the noble old Bradley & Gardner Ditch, or Placer County Canal, which was huge, glorious, intact, and very walkable on the west side of the road, but disappeared into the oceanic brush of a Tahoe National Forest clearcut, on the east. We continued down the road, which became tightly hemmed and overhung by brush, mostly that species of Ceanothus we call Deerbrush. In another quarter-mile or so the road struck sharply east, and we dropped away south into the forest, following the ridge.

Despite our fears we had easy going, and as the ridge-crest narrowed, if brush occupied its summit, we just dropped over onto the northern (shady) side of things, where often as not we found that the local bears had had the same idea, and their ponderous footprints could be seen dotting the leafy forest floor. Canyon Live Oak was quite common, with occasional old Ponderosa pines, and a scattered understory of young Douglas Fir. A mass of manzanita, then, might briefly run us off the ridge crest, but we always returned, and over a long distance, a very well-defined bear trail led us directly down the oak-clad crest.

The ridge plunged a couple hundred feet, and then Ron led us across a low swale in the oak forest. He forged ahead, into the sunlight on the far side. Soon I heard exclamations, shouts, and was pleased to think we had Arrived.

But we had not quite Arrived. We had reached the summit of a little spur ridge flaring south from Sailor Spur; this little South Spur had its own knife-edge crest, which dropped very steeply to the river below. We could hear the hiss and roar of several waterfalls. Across the canyon of the NFNFAR, to the south, was the sister-ridge to Sailor Spur, a spectacular knife-edge of rock; since this ridge, dividing the NFNFAR from the East Fork of that river, is named Scott Hill a little ways above and to the east, let us call this drastic arc of cliffs, this sister-ridge, Scott Spur.

Between Sailor Spur and Scott Spur the NFNFAR drops steeply, waterfall after waterfall, pool after pool, in a torturous series of abrupt curves. In a way, the NFNFAR presents the strange chance of a river entering its own gorge from the side. That is, there is a deep canyon; it is the canyon of the NFNFAR; and at a certain point, several streams enter the canyon, from the north, the east, and the south. They are like the fingers of a hand, radiating from the palm: Fulda Canyon, Sailor Ravine, the NFNFAR, the East Fork, Burnett Canyon, and Wilmont Ravine. To varying degrees, these are all "hanging" valleys, with respect to the main canyon of the NFNFAR. That is, their streams have not succeeded in incising their canyons down to the same level as the main NFNFAR. Hence these tributaries all have steep gradients as they approach the NFNFAR canyon. The odd thing is, when you are down in that gorge of many gorges, the NFNFAR seems not so much the main stem of the stream, but just another tributary, and if anything, one which "hangs" higher than usual; and what with its twisted course, there is no looking up the canyon of the NFNFAR: it immediately curves out of view.

So. All these words are only to say that the NFNFAR plunges, very steeply, along a very twisted course, into its own canyon. Into the Gorge of Many Gorges.

We were poised above this twisted, cliff-bound, waterfall-infested gorge, and had a great prospect of the broader region around it: Sawtooth Ridge, and the main canyon of the NFNFAR, were in full view; we could look all the way down the canyon, past Green Valley, to Giant Gap. Closer at hand, most of the various gorges were in view: Fulda, the East Fork, Burnett Canyon. We could see the forested slopes traversed by the China Trail, near Lost Camp.

Soon our little South Spur enticed us into a scramble, looking for some rocky viewpoint, but, having found such a point, we then could see one of the pools and some small waterfalls. They looked so close!

Yet the cliffs below were so steep! I decided to scout farther down the knife-edge crest, and found a kind of steeply-pitching rock ramp which made for pretty easy going. Soon we were on the river itself.

The pool which had enticed me down the cliffs was deep, black, and almost perfectly rectangular, its long axis at right angles to the river, about fifty feet in length by fifteen feet in width. A waterfall entered the center of one long side of the rectangle, and another waterfall left the center of the opposite long side. Although the sun was warm I was not at all tempted to swim. Something about the crystal clarity of the water ... the black depths of the pool ... and the way in which, even at midday, shadows clung to the cliffs falling from Scott Spur, why, the river itself entered the warmth-robbing cliff shadows just a few yards downstream ... so there was no swimming.

The bedrock is all Shoo Fly Complex metasediments, here mostly meta-sandstone, the strata mostly tipped up vertical. The rectangular pool is cut directly along strike of the sediment beds. These beds are up to a couple of feet thick. There is considerable deformation, too, of these rocks, small synclines and anticlines, for instance, and signs of possible soft-sediment deformation, in which (say) underwater landslides disrupted the sediments before they'd ever hardened into rock. In such cases the sediment "layers," the strata, may be formed from fragments of other strata, other layers. Very considerable soft-sediment deformation is visible elsewhere in the Shoo Fly Complex. At times huge blocks of slate were carried along in these underwater landslides, 400 million years ago, and left embedded, any which way up, within a matrix of, say, sandy sediments.

By "huge" I mean, blocks of slate which may be fifty feet on a side. But I saw no such huge exotic blocks here, on the NFNFAR.

We explored up and down only a few yards from the Rectangular Pool, for sheer cliffs and waterfalls stopped us almost immediately. Then we climbed back to the summit of South Spur. We could see our Ultimate Goal, that last long-jutting Promontory of Sailor Spur, a couple hundred yards away. Approaching, we had some trouble with fallen trees. Quite a population of fire-adapted Knobcone Pine lives, and dies, along the almost level crest of the Promontory. Fallen pines lie around like jackstraws. It thus became a bit of a fight to follow the ridge, but soon we were rewarded by amazing, amazing and spectacular views of pools and waterfalls, of gorge upon gorge, canyon upon canyon. We followed along to the very tip of the Promontory, and enjoyed a good break out there, admiring the view, taking photographs.

Then it only remained to make the slow slog back up the ridge. It was quite a good thing to see the truck, and so very fine, to just sit in the truck. It had been less than five miles, less than two thousand feet of elevation loss/gain, but I for one felt, uh, very very well-exercised.

It was another great day, in the main tributary of the North Fork, the North Fork of the North Fork.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The China Trail

[written August 13, 2007]

Walking down the ancient trail, with twelve people scattered along the way, some above, some below, I found myself thinking of my old friend Dave Lawler, geologist and paleontologist extraordinaire. In the early and middle 1990s we had made an extraordinary series of hikes which had greatly expanded and enhanced my knowledge of this entire area. Dave and I went to places I had previously, somehow, only dreamed of exploring.

For instance, once we visited Big Valley Bluff, away south on Forest Road Nineteen from Emigrant Gap. From the summit of the 3500-foot cliff we gazed up the North Fork to Snow Mountain and the Royal Gorge. I remember pointing out Sugar Pine Point, the first major promontory east of the Bluff, and explaining to Dave, that since at least as early as 1975, I had wanted to check out the Point, and now here it was, twenty years later, and I had never been there.

What mystical and soul-stirring views must be had from this Point, named for the King of All Pines!

With Dave, to think is to act, and within an hour we had driven back out to I-80, up to Yuba Gap, back in along The Nineteen, passing Lake Valley Reservoir, and then out FR38 to Huysink Lake and beyond. Nearing Pelham Flat, an enormous Red Fir blocked the road; undaunted, we hiked south towards the Point.

When we finally reached Sugar Pine Point, we found a few large stumps, some brush and small trees, and the sun was sinking low in the west. There was no view whatsoever into the great canyon. It might have been prudent to start walking the two miles back to our car. But I said to Dave, "It's possible that, if we drop right over the edge, into the canyon, we'll find a rock outcrop that stands clear of these small trees, and have our canyon view."

With Dave Lawler, actions speak a lot louder than words, so ...

We crashed through the thin screen of brush and trees and found ourselves in a magic world which had never been touched by logging, with gigantic, centuries-old Sugar Pines and other forest trees of the middle elevations, with springs, with meadows, and with an old, old trail winding through the woods. We did not know it then, but we had discovered Sugar Pine Flat, and the terminus of the historic Sugar Pine Point Trail, almost entirely ruined by logging in the early 1990s, but in these sacred precincts, intact.

We were in even-numbered Section 20, T16N, R13E; even-numbered, hence not part of the great and horrible land give-away signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862 and then, needing to give away even more of the public trust, in 1864. All the odd-numbered sections, for so many miles to either side of the railroad itself, were given to the Central Pacific Railroad.

I would return again and again and again to Sugar Pine Flat.

For many years Dave had studied the history of the hydraulic mines here in the Sierra, had guided field trips to these old mines, had taught volunteers how to collect the Eocene-age fossils, had added to the collection of the Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley. I had slowly developed the idea, over a couple of decades, that no one else had studied these mines, explored these old diggings, dared to enter those old drain tunnels, more than I had. Then I met Dave. As Dave was, to me, was as ten is, to one. The ancillary subject, of the mining ditches which fed these mines, by the miners' inch, by the acre-foot, fascinated us both; and what could be better, for hiking, than one of these old ditches?

Hence it was that we were out on The Nineteen, south of Emigrant Gap, one summer day, and saw a gate standing open, a Forest Service gate, which was ordinarily closed and locked. We decided to explore, and soon found ourselves on the historic Bradley & Gardner Ditch. A logging road followed the B&G out of Fulda Canyon, sometimes paralleling the B&G, sometimes cut directly into the line of the ditch. We reached an anonymous spur ridge, and here at least the road was separate, the ditch, somewhere below. We walked down to the ditch, and indistinctly, through the forest, saw a great canyon to the south. Perhaps some rock outcrop would stand clear of the trees, and allow a view?

We surged down the ridge, which soon narrowed into a knife-edge of upturned slaty outcrops. "The Blue Canyon Formation," I remarked, and was quite surprised when Dave replied, "No, this is the Shoo Fly Complex; a hundred years ago, Waldemar Lindgren called it the Blue Canyon Formation, but nowadays, we call it the Shoo Fly."

The Shoo Fly?

I must admit, it galled me a little, to be so ignorant. Here I had imagined myself acquainted with the local geology, but I was apparently not so very well acquainted. I had imagined myself the master of the old hydraulic mines, and then it had transpired, I was not the master. Dave was. In fact, he was The Master. And now, in an instant, I and my Blue Canyon Formation were down in the dust, pathetic coyotes, and some demented geological roadrunner had beep-beeped "Shoo Fly Complex" before disappearing into the distance.

The same pattern seemed to obtain when we hiked. Here we were, in drastically steep terrain, following a knife-edge of slate down and down and down amid a gnarled elfin forest of Canyon Live Oak, and some kind of foot race had developed, and Dave was winning. He dropped out of sight below me. We had imagined finding an outcrop with a view, but I had myself never envisioned that we would descend all the way to the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River before we gave up.

We knew we were entering the Complex of Canyons, the Gorge of Many Gorges. Who ever heard of having a race down cliffs? I remember feeling a little irritated as I pulled out all the stops, and alternately skied down steep slopes over the slippery oak leaves, when the slate knife narrowed overmuch, or when it made one of its sudden hundred-foot steps, or, sometimes following the ridge-crest itself. How could anyone in this world handle terrain like this, better than I? For it was one thing to know the hydraulic mines better, one thing to know more geology, but to out-scramble Russell Towle in such rough terrain was unthinkable. It was not only impossible, it was, well, unfriendly.

I brooded. What of the camraderie of the hike? Gone, destroyed, in a clatter of slate and a cloud of dust, somewhere below. So I pulled out all the stops and tried to catch up to Dave. Finally I reached the last step in the ridge-crest; a couple hundred feet below, almost straight down, the beautiful river. A gurgling, a murmuring, but also, the hiss and roar of waterfalls. There was no sign of Dave. He must have found a way down to the water, but I could not quite see how. The cliffs were steep to sheer. I shouted down. No response. Dave had either peeled off the ridge to the right, or to the left; there was no going straight down, not without ropes. So I sat there and shouted and brooded for a while. Ten minutes. The sun was lowering, the climb of more than a thousand feet was in my immediate future, but my hiking companion had disappeared.

Then he suddenly appeared, climbing down from above. In the intensity of my effort to catch up, I had passed him by. He had been on the other side of the knife-edge at that critical instant. So we sat and admired the scene for a while. This was quite an amazing canyon, most all of it incised into the Shoo Fly. Consulting our maps, we saw that a trail dropped to the river a little ways downstream, from a spot near Blue Canyon named Lost Camp.

Dave knew all about Lost Camp, and despite its proximity to Blue Canyon, being almost in my back yard, I had, somehow, some way, never visited the place. At any rate, it was clear to both of us what the next phase in our explorations must be. A week later we drove down to Lost Camp, in odd-numbered Section 23, T16N, R11E, and with a little difficulty, located the trailhead.

We had our loppers with us, as usual, and the old trail needed a lot of lopping. I forget whether, on that first-ever hike of the China Trail, or China Bar Trail, as it is variously called, we swam the Pool of Cold Fire, and entered the Gorge of Many Gorges. But we soon did. The canyon, the gorges, the river, the waterfalls, were of incredible beauty.

Twelve or so years later, here I was, following the old trail, built in 1862, passing giant Douglas Fir which had sprouted in, who knows, 1662, passing old Forest Service "small i" blazes. Like most trails in Tahoe National Forest, the China Trail long predated the establishment of the Forest itself, in 1905. For decades the trusty rangers had faithfully maintained the historic trail.

I had met Ron Gould, Catherine O'Riley, Jim Johnson, and Jim Ricker, of the North Fork American River Alliance, or NFARA, at the Blue Canyon exit, for a hike on the China Trail. A number of other people were present, including Bill Templin, of the American River Watershed Group, and Steve Hunter, who has been hiking the China Trail since 1955. It was not just a pleasure hike. There was trouble, right here in River City. The old road to Lost Camp, a public road since at least as early as 1858, had been gated closed, and posted with numerous "no trespassing" signs. Thankfully, NFARA had decided to act. The purpose of the hike was two-fold: to assert the public's right to use the road, by ourselves going through the gate to the trailhead, and to consider what to do about the closure.

In my opinion, NFARA should not have to act. This Lost Camp Road and this China Trail are both parts of the Tahoe National Forest "system" of trails and roads. It is Tahoe National Forest's job to protect the public's right to use these historic roads and trails. But Tahoe National Forest is too busy devising ways for Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) to harvest timber from our public lands, to trouble itself about historic roads and trails. Historic roads and trails are things which get ruined and erased in the ordinary course of doing sweetheart business with the most rapacious lumber company in California; historic roads and trails are curious artifacts from before the Atomic Age, before that great god, the Bulldozer, commanded our National Forests to bow to its every whim.

So, unfortunately, the custodian of our public lands in the middle and upper elevations, Tahoe National Forest, has not acted to protect the public's rights. Very far from it. To wait for the Forest Service to act would be to lose the Lost Camp Road, and the China Trail, forever.

Would Placer County act to protect the public's right? No. What Placer County will do is approve land subdivisions directly on historic roads and trails, as though we didn't have more than enough parcels already, as though we can afford to lose any number of historic public roads and trails. Placer County supports and aids in every way possible the "standard" path to progress: first log, then subdivide.

Look, look, how much the views have improved, now the trees have been cut down! Why, this is now a "view" parcel! Look, look, how the very roads made by the logging bulldozers, can become driveways! Look, look, how the log landings become building sites! Look how easily one can put up a gate, how easily "no trespassing" signs can be added here, there, everywhere!

The gate was not locked, on the Lost Camp Road. We let ourselves through and drove to the trailhead. A hazy summer day, the wildfire up by Chico spreading smoke into our area. The China Trail is short, not much more than a mile, and we were soon on the river. A glorious pool is just downstream. I hurried down ahead of the rest, tore my tattered clothes off, and dove into the crystalline coldness. If there had been a way to dive right back up and out, I would have. The North Fork of the North Fork is usually far too cold for my tastes.

The Shoo Fly Complex metasediments are often slaty in structure, and on the gravel bars one can find any number of excellent skipping stones. Several of us amused ourselves skipping slates down the long pool. Others debated what to do about the gate. Some left and explored up the river. Eventually, most of the group left, and Ron and Peggy and Catherine and I boulder-hopped up to the Pool of Cold Fire. We swam a little, and Peggy became a regular expert at skipping rocks. I had the pleasure of helping her, by telling her that one must throw the rock, so that it spins like a Frisbee. Suddenly she was skipping rocks like a champion.

We were directly below that last cliff-bound step on the very knife-edge ridge Dave Lawler and I had raced down in 1995. Just above the long and narrow Pool of Cold Fire, a waterfall, and then the Gorge of Many Gorges. We might have swum the Pool and entered the Gorge, but we merely relaxed in the shade of some alders, swam a little, skipped rocks, talked, took note of an infinitude of spiders and spider webs, found a chilled cicada in the Pool, rescued it, and visited various sunny boulders, beloved by birds, in the river.

At last our lazy day must end, we must hop back down the river to the trail, and then, up and up and up and up. I took my shirt off just before the climb, and wore nothing but shoes and my cutoffs. It seemed likely I'd be attacked by mosquitos, but nary a one chomped me on the way up and out. Only, those miniature flies I call Face Flies buzzed along beside me half the time, trying to get into my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my nose. Horrible little things.

In and era when the very entities we might reasonably expect to protect the rights of the public, Tahoe National Forest, and Placer County, are far too busy arranging timber sales and subdivisions, to be bothered with historic trails, it is indeed fortunate that we have people like Ron Gould and Catherine O'Riley and the others of NFARA, who are willing to fight the good fight. It may well be that this issue, the Lost Camp Road, the China Trail, will end up in court.

I did not say it, but even if the gate is removed, and the "no trespassing" signs come down, residential development of these little parcels north of Lost Camp will be like the kiss of death, affecting not only public access--one will feel as though one is driving through somebody's yard--but also ending the ambience of wildness and remoteness, which existed there until a very few short years ago.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Monuments

[written August 10, 2007]

My family joined our Bay Area friends the Creelmans for a visit to Monumental Creek, once again driving south from Emigrant Gap on Forest Road 19, past the North Fork Campground, past the Onion Valley (lower) Meadow, to Forest Road 45, thence on FR 45-2 to the historic Bradley & Gardner Ditch, or Placer County Canal.

This ditch was made in the 1850s, and delivered water to the hydraulic mines of Dutch Flat and Gold Run, as well as to smaller mining camps such as Lost Camp and Blue Bluffs. Its capacity was around two thousand miners' inches of water, a miners' inch being that amount of water which will pass through a hole one inch square, cut through a two-inch-thick plank, six inches below the water surface, in the course of twenty-four hours. This comes to around sixteen thousand gallons per day.

FR 45-2 forks right from FR 45 a quarter mile above Onion Valley, and soon descends to coincide with the Bradley & Gardner Ditch, just a smidgin above the 4800-foot contour. In about a mile it reaches Monumental Creek, a tributary of the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River. The ditch-road is only a hundred feet above the creek, but the forest is thick enough that one can't really see the creek.

The Monuments form a kind of witches' coven of stone pinnacles, huddled around a series of pools and low waterfalls on Monumental Creek. The principal Monument rises sheer one hundred feet from the water, and has a crown of white, which seems to be a combination of a quartz vein, and down-dripping white stains, which I speculate derive from centuries of nesting eagles.

When the Bradley & Gardner reaches Monumental Creek, one is directly above the Monuments, but they are well hidden behind a screen of trees. We followed the ditch-road on up Monumental Canyon, through a brushy clearcut where not only was the historic mining ditch destroyed for the sake of a few sawlogs, but the road which replaced it was left in poor condition, so one fights Ceanothus and stumbles over boulders to make a passage, and then, the final indignity, the road almost imperceptibly rises above the grade of the ditch, the brush so thick one can't see where the two diverge, so that after a time one must simply leave the road and strike downhill a few yards.

There one finds the rather large ditch blessedly intact, and the berm can be easily followed, through the deep woods, and soon one is much closer to the creek, and soon one can see across the canyon to the very same ditch, so it can make sense, as it did for us, to drop to the creek, hop across on a few boulders, and scramble back up the far side, saving hundreds and hundreds of yards of walking.

For the Bradley & Gardner's almost level grade sends it in and out of Monumental Canyon in a tight hairpin course of almost a mile, on both sides. We followed along the scenic path, often lined with large dry-laid stone walls, until we reached a point directly above the Monuments, again, but from this side of the canyon, one has a fabulous view of the pinnacles and the creek.

We rested and enjoyed the view, and then made a retreat, some of us descending directly to the creek and climbing steeply up the far side of the canyon, others keeping to the ditch. When we formed up into one group again, we had lunch, and then walked out to our cars, and drove to the North Fork Campground, parking along The Ninteteen.

We ambled through the campground and followed the trail leading down the North Fork of the North Fork to the lovely waterfalls and pools that Everybody Knows About. Quite a party of young men and women commanded the area around the falls, swimming, laughing, shouting, clambering up the cliffs to make thirty- and forty-foot leaps into the upper pool, or sunbathing on the polished bedrock between the two deep pools. So we located a little ways downstream, swimming in a lesser pool.

I had hoped we could all go out to Big Valley Bluff, miles past Texas Hill and the last of the pavement on The Nineteen, but our cars were too small and low to the ground, and the road too bouldery and rough. So, we declared the day a success, having visited both Monumental Canyon and the Waterfalls Everybody Knows, and having gone swimming.

From a geological standpoint, the Monuments are a curiosity, the whole area having been repeatedly and heavily glaciated: such thin spires of rock could never withstand the inexorable ice. I envision the inner gorge of Monumental Canyon, around the Monuments themselves, to have been filled with glacial sediments, while the ice flowed by, above; and the thin spires arose in that hidden maelstrom, where a river, roaring in darkness, a powerful river of glacial meltwater comprising a hundred times the current summer flow of the creek, a powerful river, slowly dragged along a one-hundred-feet-deep mass of boulders, cobbles, gravel, sand, even clay.

And above, a thousand feet of ice.

Onion Valley's meadows are all glacial meadows, almost certainly silted-in glacial lakes. They are perched on the tellingly low divide between the North Fork of the North Fork, and its East Fork. In this immediate area the dividing ridge was almost destroyed by the ice. There is scarcely any "ridge" left. During the recessionary stades of the last, "Tioga" glaciation, perhaps 13,000 years ago, the ice paused in its retreat, and left various moraines.

It would appear that the larger North Fork of the North Fork Glacier crossed the dividing ridge, overflowing into the East Fork, again and again, over multiple different glaciations, over hundreds of thousands of years, thus gradually wearing the ridge down. This resembles what we see at the head of Bear Valley, where the South Yuba Glacier overflowed, again and again, into the Bear River Canyon, and gradually lowered the dividing ridge. There is essentially no ridge left at the head of the Bear River.

Here at Onion Valley, however, the overflow was not from one canyon, into the head of another canyon; it was from one canyon, into the middle reaches of another canyon, from the North Fork of the North Fork, into the East Fork. So the dividing ridge, almost erased in one area by the glaciers, reappears a little ways down, rising between the canyons into the eminence named Scott Hill. This eminence seems to be formed from an especially siliceous series of strata, in the Shoo Fly Complex of metasedimentary rocks. Probably these resistant strata are quartzite (metasandstone), with some chert.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Moraines in the East Fork

[written August 6, 2007]

Early Saturday afternoon Gay Wiseman and I drove up to Emigrant Gap and then south on Forest Road 19 towards the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River (NFNFAR).

There is a Tahoe National Forest campground where The Nineteen crosses the NFNFAR, a popular campground, and yet one often sees cars parked along The Nineteen, near the campground.

They park along the road in order to walk downstream to a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole. A close examination of the USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle reveals several of the 40-foot contour lines crossing the river near the falls; but for quite a ways further downstream, the gradient lessens, ergo, no waterfalls, and a cursory exploration twenty years ago or so had confirmed what the map suggested.

However, around a mile downstream, several more 40-foot contours cross the river in fairly close succession; hence, there ought to be more waterfalls, perhaps bigger and better waterfalls, with deeper and more dramatic swimming holes.

One always wants more drama while swimming--there can never really be enough--so Gay and I set out to find these supposed waterfalls, and their exciting pools.

While staring at the map, with its many contour lines, I noticed two strange spur ridges, one on either side of the river, one farther upstream, closer to the campground, the other farther downstream, close to Sailor Point. The area lies within Township 16N, Range 12E, in sections 7 and 18.

What drew my attention to these two ridges was their geometry. Imagine if you will a generalized canyon following a straight course. Let the typical cross-section be a simple "V" in shape. Now imagine the contour lines in such a canyon; they roughly parallel the river; they have a "global" direction which is nearly parallel to the length of the canyon.

Now further imagine that the walls of the V-shaped canyon are scored by ravines, and ribbed by intervening spur ridges, which are more or less at right angles to the river, to the length of the V-shaped canyon. Hence although the "global" direction of the contour lines parallels the river, locally, the contour lines bend in around the ravines, and bend out around the little spur ridges. We have defined the ridges and ravines as perpendicular to the river, and the "global" direction of the contour lines as parallel to the river. If we place a ruler so that it intersects all the little local outward bends in the contour lines, where a spur ridge is crossed, or so that it intersects all the little local inward bends, where a ravine is crossed, our ruler will itself be at right angles to both river and canyon.

However, these two little ridges which caught my eye do not exhibit this geometry. If one places a ruler so that it crosses all the little outward bends in the contour lines, it is far from being at right angles to the river. In fact, in both cases, the ruler would lie at approximately a 45-degree angle to the line of the river, to the trend of the canyon at large.

They are both moraines, portions of terminal moraines from a recessional stage or "stade" in the most-recent, "Tioga" glaciation. I say, recessional, because it is fairly clear to me that Tioga ice extended well down the canyon, miles down the canyon, during its maximum extent. The Tioga is somewhat poorly-defined in time: it is well known to have ended about 12,000 years ago, which is a geologic and climatologic blink of an eye, but its beginning point is harder to specify. We would not be drastically amiss, I think, to set the beginning of the Tioga to "about" 20,000 years ago.

To illustrate why the beginning of the Tioga becomes problematic, research has been conducted in recent years in which the sediments of Owens Lake, on the east side of the Sierra, were cored to a depth of a couple hundred feet, and the cores carefully analyzed. During periods of intense glaciation, one type of sediment reached the lake and was deposited. During interludes between glaciations, a different type of sediment reached the lake and was deposited. The sediment cores are longitudinally striped with these alternating types. All that remains is to attach a date to each stratum. This was done.

The Owens Lake sediment cores revealed no fewer than sixteen separate glaciations within the past 52,000 years. Sixteen!

And yet, it is a commonplace among Sierran geologists to refer to the Tioga glaciation of 12-20,000 years ago as having been preceded by the Tahoe II glaciation of 65,000 years ago. Clearly the glacial history is much more complicated, in detail. It is exciting to think that the story will continue to unfold as research progresses.

There is an important reason why geologists remain "stuck" in the Tahoe-Tioga model of glacial sequence: one the east side of the Sierra, so much drier than here, many terminal moraines are well-preserved, and in canyon after canyon after canyon one can see two principal terminal moraines: an older, more blurred moraine, farther down the canyon, and a younger, sharp-crested moraine, farther up the canyon. Sometimes only a little distance separates them. The younger, sharp-crested moraine is Tioga; the older, blurred moraine, farther down the canyon, is Tahoe.

Direct observation leads to the Tioga-Tahoe model.

Of course, as a glacier melts away it retreats up its canyon, and leaves a series of terminal moraines. Actually, if its retreat is steady and rapid, it may leave a formless mass of glacial till slathered over everything. On the other hand ...

It may well happen that during this retreat up its canyon, a retreat which may require well over a thousand years, the glacier stops retreating for a century or two. During such a "stade" the glacier will deposit a much more strongly marked moraine along its terminus.

My two ridges-of-odd-geometry, in the canyon of the NFNFAR, represent two such stades, the younger one half-a-mile up the canyon from the other. The upper, younger ridge-of-odd-geometry is in the SE 1/4 of Section 7, T16N R12E, near the word "Fork" as seen on the 7.5 minute quadrangle, and is on the southeast side of the NFNFAR. The other ridge-of-odd-geometry is to the west, in the NW 1/4 of Section 18, T16N R12E, near the surveyed elevation of 5137'. This moraine is northwest of the river, and The Nineteen cuts right through its upper end.

Both are really rather minor ridges. On the topographic map, they are expressed as a series of kinks in the contour lines.

It is not nearly as easy, here on the well-watered west slope of the Sierra Nevada, to see moraines. They do exist, but they are often inconspicuous. I have a rather short list of such moraines, in my mind: there is a fine figure of a moraine north of Lake Spaulding, visible from I-80 at a disiance of several miles. There is a long, brushy moraine complex on Black Mountain, also visible from I-80. Red Mountain has a blurred-into-till portion of a lateral moraine of the Fordyce Glacier, high above Fordyce Creek. And there is quite a distinct moraine at the lower end of Bear Valley. And there are others.

So, having noted the two ridges-of-odd-geometry, I was excited to see whether I was right, or wrong, when I actually got out there on The Nineteen and passed Sailor Point, entering the NFNFAR canyon.

Of course I was right.

And the waterfalls? Oh, well, Gay and I had quite a nice time, following the good old Bradley & Gardner ditch, and then dropping to the river and boulder-hopping along, farther and farther and farther down the canyon. We saw many a one-foot waterfall. We saw many a three-foot waterfall. But we found no big waterfalls. Pools, yes; but no "dramatic" pools. Oh, they were very nice I'm sure, and Gay went swimming. But they lacked drama.

It is a very beautiful reach of river and canyon, with pretty stream-polished exposures of the Shoo Fly Complex metasediments, and the giant-leafed Indian Rhubarb all along the water, and many many many giant granite eggs left there by the ice, 12,000 years ago. During our explorations we discovered several old narrow-gauge logging railroad grades which had been pressed into service by Tahoe National Forest as skid trails, twenty-five or thirty years ago. In fact, I was fuming quietly to myself as Gay and I finally climbed back up to the good, the old, the huge Bradley & Gardner, the Placer County Canal. A bulldozer skid trail angled steeply up the slope, and we followed it for a time. Under what possible pretext did Tahoe National Forest allow the canyon wall to be thus scarred for the next thousand years or more?

I can forgive the glacier, in fact, I rather admire its scars.

I can forgive the loggers of the 1890s, who made a few carefully-thought-out railroad grades and rolled logs right down onto flatcars. The loggers of the 1890s lived in an era of rapacity, in which rapacity was so universal that "everyone" did it. But to come along in the 1980s, and make scars on the canyon walls which will easily last a thousand years? If it was Sierra Pacific Industries, whose only view is the bottom line in a ledger, well, that would at least be intelligible.

But since the scarring was on public land, under the management of Tahoe National Forest, I can't shake the feeling the the public trust was violated. It's not a new feeling. When I stop and wonder how it could be that Tahoe National Forest either itself orchestrated the destruction, or stood by and did nothing to avert the destruction, of so many historic trails, in this same area: the Burnett Canyon Trail, the Monumental Creek Trail, the Mears Meadow Trail, the Big Valley Trail, the Sugar Pine Point Trail, the China Trail, et cetera, well, when I recall all that, I am worse than displeased.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mumford Bar to Italian Bar

[written July 27, 2007]

Early one morning I met Ron Gould and Catherine O'Riley for an expedition to Terra Incognita.

Terra Incognita: oh the magic, ah the mystery, of Terra Incognita! Or, as some would have it, the North Fork of the American River, between Mumford Bar on the east, and Italian Bar, on the west.

To reach the Mumford Bar Trail, we must somehow cross the North Fork, hence we traced infinite curves past Iowa Hill to Sugar Pine Reservoir, thence to Foresthill Road, and on up the Divide, to the trail.

Much of the Divide burned in the 1960 Volcano Fire, but here, one pretty little patch of timber escaped alive, and in this island grove nestles the trailhead, and a small campground. Around ten in the morning, we set off down the Mumford Bar Trail, leaving the Divide at 5400', aiming for the river, very near 2600', a descent of nearly 2800'. This is accomplished over the course of four miles and forty switchbacks, for the Mumford holds a gentle grade, and takes its sweet time about ever actually reaching the river itself.

It is really quite a nice trail, the Mumford. It is almost entirely a forest trail, but at one point, high on the trail, a view opens northeast, slanting across the east-west trending North Fork Canyon, to Snow Mountain, Devils Peak, and Big Valley Bluff. More typically, one walks through a classic fire-evolved, fire-adapted, Ponderosa Pine-Kelloggs Black Oak woodland, today being overwhelmed by shade-tolerant Douglas Fir. Ah, the Douglas Fir is on the very point of winning the battle: thousands upon thousands are reaching a height of fifty feet or more, and are shading out the Kelloggs Black Oak. Ghostly white dead oak trunks thread the forest: already half the oaks, in many areas, have been shaded to death.

There are some huge trees, the genuine first-growth timber, along the trail. Often these centuries-old trees show big fire scars on their uphill sides, near the base of the trunk. These betoken the almost steady state of frequent wildfires which governed vegetational patterns here for thousands of years. These "cool" fires left larger trees alive, but killed small conifers and shrubs. Hence the forest was much more open, and relatively clear of brush and small trees.

It is considered likely that the native Californians, the Indians, burned off the land regularly. For thousands of years, wildfires were a commonplace.

Then, in an almost unintended experiment, we said, as it were, "Let's take these forests, swept by fires every twenty years, for lo these last ten thousand years--let us take these forests and suppress all fires, and, in the meantime, let's cut down the biggest trees, so that the increased sunlight reaching the ground helps a million conifers take seed, and sprouts a hundred million shrubs."

And now the fire, when it does occur, will burn all the more intensely, likely killing even the largest oldest trees, trees which survived the cool wildfires of centuries past, but now die in the infernos of the modern forest.

Tahoe National Forest has done some interesting work on the Foresthill Divide, using fire to help thin pine plantations. I think we will have to devise more ways to bring fire back to our mountain landscapes. If we could burn a few tens of thousands of acres per year, we could gradually restore fuel loading to the lower, more natural levels of aeons gone by.

Hmmm. The Mumford Bar Trail. It winds through the woods, passing a few exposures of glacially-polished bedrock, but much more typically, glacial till covers everything, and as one at last nears the river, the trail bears east and drops onto the top of a glacial outwash terrace. This is Mumford Bar. All the "bars" of the 49ers are either glacial outwash terraces outright, or the reworked sediments of such terraces, as in gravel bars low to the river, which are swept regularly by high flows.

The last, Tioga glaciation ended a scant 12,000 years ago. As the North Fork glacier retreated up the canyon, it dropped a huge volume of bouldery sediments into the river, which volume exceeded the carrying capacity of those raging, glacier-melt-fed waters; hence a kind of narrow floodplain developed within the canyon. Once the glacier upstream had melted entirely away, say, 12,000 years ago, the sediment load quickly diminished, and the river, itself diminished, began cutting a channel into this long, sinuous floodplain of glacial outwash sediments.

Fast forward twelve thousand years, and we have only vestiges of the narrow, canyon-bound floodplain left, in the form of outwash terraces. Often these terraces stand sixty or a hundred feet above the river. Rarely, higher, older, even more fragmentary terraces exist, as well. At Mumford Bar, the terrace is well-formed and flanks the river for nearly a mile. Often these terraces support rich forests with large trees, and are full of springs.

So, as one descends the Mumford Bar Trail, one eventually reaches the principal outwash terrace, with its rich forest of larger-than-usual trees, and its many springs, and a sometimes spectacular understory of dogwood and maple. An old cabin of logs hewn square stands in a meadowy opening on the terrace. The North Fork ripples gently through a bouldery bed sixty or a hundred feet below.

Here the American River Trail leads away east, up the canyon, following a long series of such outwash terraces up to Sailor Canyon; although, in point of fact, this being one of the secrets I have divulged to you, my readers, the old trail continues right along past Sailor Canyon, following the good old glacial outwash terraces just as before, sixty or a hundred feet above the North Fork. One can even find and follow this same trail past Wildcat Canyon, where the Sea Of Talus is met: the old trail crosses above the rocky ocean.

Still another trail connects here, the Government Springs Trail, which drops to Mumford Bar from the crest of Sawtooth Ridge.

Ron and Catherine and I took a lunch break at the base of the trail, where we met many mosquitos.

Before I leave the subject of outwash terraces, however, I wish to set forth a certain model I have developed on glaciation in a canyon environment, in a canyon, let us say, much like that of the North Fork American; in fact, I will apply the model to this part of the North Fork canyon.

In the first place, glaciers are powerful agents of erosion, and while scouring away at the mountains, they carry bits and pieces along for the ride. They act as conveyor belts, gradually moving sediments down, including huge boulders, including sand and silt. A valley glacier, like the one which filled the North Fork canyon at Mumford Bar, will often, from above, show long lines of dirty, bouldery sediment on its surface. What is less easily seen is the very large amount of sediment hidden within the ice, or being dragged along below the ice.

So when we think back to the North Fork glacier, whatever boulders may have been up on top of the ice, we should imagine that at the base of the ice there are boulders, too, and many of them, but also, all kinds of fine sediments.

We should also imagine that rivers of meltwater flow both through the ice river, and beneath it, especially, of course, below, or down-ice, from the "firn line," above which ice accumulates, below which, it melts away. Moreover, we should imagine that although the principal river will be the deepest in the ice, along the floor of the valley or canyon the ice inhabits, other rivers may form and disappear, most often, along the margins of the ice; but these will find a way into the depths eventually, and join the main river of meltwater, at the very base.

Typically valley glaciers extend well below the firn line of the their tributary glaciers and ice fields. We might imagine the firn line, during the Tioga, at about the 5500' contour, higher on south-facing slopes, lower on north-facing slopes.

Near Mumford Bar the North Fork canyon is incised into the Shoo Fly Complex of early Paleozoic metasediments. The original horizontal beds of shale and sandstone have been metamorphosed and tipped up on edge, rotated almost ninety degrees, so that now the tops of the beds face east.

The sandstone has often metamorphosed into tough and massive quartzite, the shale, into relatively weak slate. It happens, then, that there is often an alternating sequence of stronger quartzite and weaker slate.

These tipped-up, east-facing beds of quartzite and slate are at right angles, often, to the line of the canyon. If the canyon were never glaciated, it would develop a strongly ribbed form, with side canyons incised into the softer slates, and spur ridges on the stronger quartzite.

But the North Fork has been glaciated, and the great mass of ice flowing down the North Fork tended to plane the quartzite ridges down. That is, we should imagine that, between glaciations, the "ribbed" pattern would begin to take hold, begin to develop, with ravines in the slate, ridges on the quartzite; and then along would come this big brute of a glacier, and it would plane down all those little nascent spur ridges.

OK. What this is all leading up to has to do with the sediments trapped between the ice and the canyon wall, and between the ice and the bedrock floor of the canyon.

Ice flows, and yet it is a solid. It easily breaks. And while ice at the surface is one sort of ice, ice three thousand feet down in the North Fork Glacier is another sort of ice. At any rate, the model I am struggling to propose is a simple one: as the ice, which does flow, which does bend, but which can only bend so much, before it breaks--as the ice flowed down the North Fork canyon, in the global, down-canyon, direction--west, let us say--it *of course* hit the crests of the spur ridges, tending to plane them down. But what happened in the little ravines between those spur ridges? According to my model, the sediment dragged along by the ice was such that it tended to fill those little ravines.

There is a subtlety here. Of course we expect a generalized mass of till to blanket many slopes, after such a monstrous glacier melts away. But what I propose is that linear masses of this till occupied the little ravines on the canyon wall while the ice was still there. So that, when one came right down to it, the North Fork glacier was flowing partly over bedrock, *and partly over its own till*. For the ice was too brittle to bend in and out of these abrupt little fluctuations in topography; the ice just carried majestically along. "Go West, Young Ice," etc. etc.

So the model is that the North Fork glacier skimmed along the crests of the spur ridges, planing them lower as it went, with the intervening ravines chock-full of that bouldery sediment we call glacial till.

Now, turning to the case of the North Fork itself: it raged along beneath three thousand feet of ice, through twisted caverns of Stygian darkness.

Suppose, now, that a previous glaciation was more intense, and suppose that more intense glaciation to comprise either or both of the two "Tahoe" glaciations, of 65,000 and 125,000 years ago. The previous glaciation deposited even more glacial outwash, as the glacier retreated up the canyon from Mumford Bar. This bouldery outwash is a very effective agent of erosion when added to a raging, perpetually-at-flood-stage river, i.e., the North Fork. So, when at last the glacier was gone, and the river etched down through the narrow floodplain of outwash, to the bedrock buried below, with the infinitude of boulders rolling along in the flood, it was a matter of a few thousand years to nick a gorge into the bedrock.

A gorge, say, one hundred feet deep. Picture a vast canyon, three thousand feet deep, and right at the bottom, the river flows through a narrow gorge, with cliffs on both sides. But the gorge is only a hundred feet, two hundred feet, deep.

Now come forward to the Tioga glaciation. We have proposed that the North Fork Glacier flowed both directly over bedrock, and directly over till. At the base of the glacier the North Fork rages along through its caverns. But is it only water which moves? No. There is a huge sediment load, of boulders, cobbles, sand, silt, even clay, being dragged down through those buried abysses in the ice.

And the ice, not bending too well, not being able to conform to every minor fluctuation in topography, flowing in the global direction, west, would, I propose, skim right over the tops of these little inner gorges, inner gorges incised during the *previous* glaciation. I envision that, the instant the North Fork canyon was re-occupied by (Tioga) ice, perhaps 25,000 years ago, these little inner gorges filled with glacial till, with the bouldery sediment load being rushed along by the ice-bound river of meltwater.

So that when one enters such an inner gorge along the North Fork, say, the one a couple hundred yards downstream from the cabin at Mumford Bar, one should *not* imagine that the North Fork Glacier actually occupied the gorge.

Imagine rather that the gorge was buried in glacial outwash, that the hidden, "glacial" North Fork raged along above the buried gorge, and above the river in turn, there were three thousand feet of ice.

It is quite clear, in some locations, as for instance, Green Valley, that inner gorges along the North Fork were created, then buried in glacial outwash, and finally, exhumed, during Post-Tioga erosion.

I believe we see exactly the same thing near Mumford Bar: inner gorges created 65,000 years ago, say, which were filled with till (or better, sub-ice glacial sediments) as soon as the Tioga glacier re-occupied the canyon, remained buried for the entire time the Tioga glacier was there, and then, when the glacier finally melted, 12,000 years ago, and the sediment load dropped to something like modern (low) levels, these little gorges were exhumed.

They do not seem to have been much deepened in post-Tioga time, in the Holocene.

The idea of a major valley glacier flowing, not over bedrock, but over till, is exemplified by Yosemite Valley, where earlier, more intense glaciations hewed the bedrock nearly a thousand feet deeper than the present floor of the Valley. This was revealed by drilling out sediment cores. For a time, there was a Lake Yosemite; but it silted up full with glacial outwash brought down the Merced River and Tenaya Canyon. When the Tioga ice re-occupied Yosemite, it did not bulldoze this thousand feet of outwash sediments out, but skimmed along over the top. Oh, it carved a bit of a broad trench for itself through the Valley, but it never came close to the bedrock floor. And the broad trench has since been filled in.

Returning to the North Fork, that a long narrow floodplain of glacial outwash sediments choked the canyon downstream from the North Fork Glacier, has long seemed obvious; but near Mumford Bar we are presented with evidence that a kind of outwash "floodplain" may have existed beneath the ice itself, as well.

It is by this same model that I explain the Monuments, at Monumental Creek: they were beneath the ice, buried in glacial outwash. They were created by river erosion, in the churning maelstrom, in the roaring abyss below the ice. Such tall spindly towers of rock would fall immediately if exposed to the inexorable flow of a glacier. No, they were protected from the ice by sub-ice glacial sediments.

Since the tallest Monument is about one hundred feet high, we should probably imagine the sub-ice sediments to have been at least one hundred feet deep, there.

Ron and Catherine and I had all three studied the topographic maps, and had noted that the North Fork canyon, below Mumford Bar, suddenly narrowed, the walls steepened, and we expected to find any number of inner gorges in our Terra Incognita. We expected to find cliffs falling into deep pools; we expected to have to swim through these deep pools, as one does in Giant Gap. We had somewhat more than three miles of river to follow down to Italian Bar; those three miles could become an infinity, and we might not reach Italian Bar before dark. Hence our early start.

We dropped down to the bouldery river bottom at Mumford and almost immediately met our first gorge. Spectacular exposures of water-polished metamorphic rock were all around us. I noted an old iron pin set into the bedrock above our first gorge pool, and now, in retrospect, I believe it to be evidence of when the North Fork was turned right out of its bed, into a wooden flume, a common strategy in the early days of gold mining, in the 1850s. We found a gap in the cliffs which allowed us to continue downstream; I believe this gap is where the flume once led. The actual point of diversion would have been a quarter-mile upstream, near the cabin, say.

It strikes some geologists oddly that glacial outwash sediments could be gold-bearing; but it is not widely realized that the "bars" of the 49ers are exactly such glacial outwash terraces. As Ron and Catherine proceeded slowly down the narrow canyon, often within the still-narrower inner gorges, I saw that almost all vestiges of outwash had been eroded away. However, wherever a patch of outwash clung to the canyon wall, there were signs it had been mined.

The sky was blue, the sun was hot, the water was clear and cool. We entered a gorge which showed every sign of forcing us to swim, but found our way on foot almost entirely through, before a long and deep pool barred further progress. We stopped and repacked our packs, and changed into river shoes of various types, before entering the pool. But, it transpired that we didn't really need to swim. We could merely wade, holding our packs up, and we needn't have bothered with all our special dry-bags and plastic bags.

Briefly, we were in an incredibly beautiful gorge, walled by vertical cliffs, and we could more or less just saunter along, hop from boulder to boulder, do some mild wading, ford the river from one side to another, and at the bottom line, it was easy going.

We found two old miners' camps strewn with garbage. Here and there along this gorgeous gorge, it could be that a miniscule flat above the river, with a spring, and a grove of alders, would make for a nice camp-site. But, once a little below Mumford Bar, though we crossed many a gravel bar, many a bed of sand or fine gravel, we saw not one single human footprint, not one sign that anyone had been along the river this summer.

Bizarre! I'm not complaining, I don't visit the North Fork for the crowds.

We chased ouzels slowly downstream, and wondered about the shy, the mysterious, Purple-Pooping Bird of Paradise, which is only to say that, in many places, the rocks were splashed by ... purple bird poop. There were ripening blackberries in the area.

About a mile, a mile and a half, below Mumford Bar, massive quartz veins laced the cliffs, and some rather large boulders had broken away, exactly along the vein itself. While clambering over these jumbled, quartz-encrusted boulders, we found incredible masses of quartz crystals, some inches in diameter, studding the surfaces.

We did not pause very long to examine these crystals. In one place, a wonderful Crystal Cave was formed by two such boulders leaning together; one could actually enter, and be surrounded by quartz crystals. Clearly, many of the larger, nicer crystals had been broken off in years, or maybe centuries, past. We left them untouched, which is only as we should all do. "Leave No Trace" means, among other things, don't drag arrowheads and quartz crystals and old bits of ornamental iron from the Gold Rush home with you. Leave them there for future generations to ponder and puzzle over.

Take photographs, but leave the crystals alone.

Before we knew it we had made two of our three miles down the river. The sun was still high. So we stopped and swam in this pool, stopped and swam in that pool, we found patches of shade and just lazed around. One of the principal spur ridges dropping from Sawtooth Ridge down to Italian Bar was silhouetted against the western sky. We were close. Finally we continued on our wandering, boulder-hopping, river-fording way, turned around the spur ridge, and saw the dark mouth of a tunnel driven into the slate. We had reached Italian Bar.

It only remained to switch back from river shoes to hiking boots, and then to climb up and up and up and up through the woods, 2700' or thereabouts, to Ron's truck. It seemed to take forever. I had my loppers and many a small Douglas Fir fell to my wrath. However, since there are no fewer than a thousand (or is it five thousand? ten thousand?) small Douglas Fir which should be cut from near the trail, and I only accounted for a hundred, it hardly looks as though I did anything at all. Still, the sweat literally poured into my eyes as I combined the trudge up a viciously steep trail, with heavy lopping. Eventually I had to give it up, and save my energy for the climb alone.

We reached the truck just at sunset, after a long day in the great canyon, after discovering the Crystal Cave, after scaring any number of trout and water ouzels, after swimming the clear cool pools, after jumping and diving from the rocks. We were pretty beat up, sunburned, bruised, scratched, soaked with sweat. It was all more than worth it.