Sunday, February 25, 2007

Giant Gap

[written February 25, 2007]

I have posted a three-minute "Tour of Giant Gap" movie on YouTube, see

where it is currently the latest offering. By way of a sound track, I read an 1876 newspaper article about a visit to Lovers Leap.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Intractable Obstacles

[written February 16, 2007]

What a day, what a wonderful day!

For weeks now, I have been saying, to myself, and to whomever, "I should take my chainsaw down the Green Valley Trail, and cut up some of the trees which fell this winter, and blocked it."

The weather has been nothing but perfect, well, most all of January was sunny, then followed some storms, some rain, and now, sun upon sun, a northeast wind, birds singing and chattering as though Spring is really here, and finally, and at long last, the weeks spent hunched in front of my computer, doing geometry, dividing the determinant of one square matrix by the determinant of another, oh glory of all glories, seemed far far too much. It was time to bust a move. Time to escape.

So I carefully cleaned the air filter on my chainsaw's carburetor, washing it in warm and soapy water, set it to dry, built a peanut butter sandwich upon some kind of blueberry-cinnamon bread, grabbed my ancient frame pack from the back outside wall of the little hexagonal cabin, threw in gloves, fully fueled chainsaw, ear protectors, hat, water, and sandwich, and, picking up some loppers at the last moment, I set off down the old old trail.

I had an ulterior motive. I wished to reach the High Ditch, which runs from the very east end of Green Valley to the very west end, with some fuel left in my saw, and work west along the ditch. This will make a fine trail, someday. About 80% has already been cleared. Some really hard work remains. So that was The Plan: conserve fuel, ignore this and that leaning manzanita, focus upon the various trees, and, having taken care of that most pressing business, proceed, in keeping with my own peculiar and cherished agenda: the High Ditch Trail.

The best-laid plans of mice oft gang a'gley, or whatever, and so also with my plans. For as I descended the ancient path, once the busy avenue for a thousand iron-shod mules (see how the bedrock bosses, rising from the bed of the trail, are rounded? human feet never wore them down, in that way), as I descended, I found manzanita which could not be idly passed, I found other trees, which I had forgotten, in my aged and forgetful way, and so, off came the pack, out came the saw, on went the gloves and ear protectors, and work was essayed.

Finally I reached the Big One, a two-foot-diameter Digger Pine fallen directly along the trail, only a few switchbacks below the Echo Tree.

The Echo Tree is an Incense Cedar, which, by its size, one would surmise could be but fifty years old. Except, it grows in plant-stunting serpentine, and is likely more than one hundred and fifty years old. It is scarcely fifty feet high, and a little over two feet in diameter, but I know from conversations with Bernie and Harriet Denton, that the Echo Tree was thriving in the 1930s, when they used to spend their summers in Green Valley. Those skinny little kids would swim the North Fork all summer long.

They called it the Echo Tree because a good shout to the west will echo back nicely, from the far wall of Ginseng Ravine. They considered it to mark exactly half the way to the North Fork. It provides welcome shade.

Bernie and Harriet would never walk the Green Valley Trail without each carrying a long thin stick, poking ahead to awake the rattlesnakes.

At any rate, passing the Echo Tree, I soon reached the Worst Offender, the aforementioned Digger Pine.

It did not look good. My saw has a sixteen-inch bar, the tree was on the beefy side of two feet through, and lay along fifty or so lineal feet of trail. Thus many cuts were called for, severing it into rounds, each round to be rolled away into the manzanita, below.

I tried one cut, at an advantageous spot, and was rewarded by being able to open ten feet of trail, rolling a massive log but a short distance.

That took care of the small end of the tree. Looking at the rest, I realized I would run my saw right out of fuel, and still not be done, making the other ten cuts needed.

I thought to myself, "This is just the job for Ron Gould's big chainsaw," and with that pleasant and rational thought, I packed up my gear and headed down and down and down.

Unfortunately, in only a little ways I came to one of the many charming Corridors of Manzanita which frame the old trail. This Corridor evoked the idea of an historic Gold Rush trail; one could almost see the bearded, red-shirted miners trudging along, hemmed in by the gnarled red branches.

And this Corridor had shrunk to dimensions even a deer might disdain. I could not even traverse the thing, with my chainsaw projecting from the top of my pack. There was really no choice. I had to work, and work hard.

So I cut and cut and cut, and pitched brush and pitched and pitched, and rested, and then cut and cut and cut and pitched and pitched and pitched.

I realized I was only a few yards above the Secret Side Trail to the Secret Old Miner's Cave in the Serpentine Fanglomerate of Ginseng Ravine.

Thus, I was only a few yards above yet another tree, this one a Douglas Fir, which fell ten years back, and is a real nuisance. There was no longer any chance of working the High Ditch. Too much fuel had been expended in the Corridor. So I waltzed down to the Secret Side Trail and attacked the Douglas Fir.

It was only sixteen inches or so in diameter, only a smidgin too large too cut through in one pass, and I made one cut, and then most of second, which pinched shut on me before I could finish, so I made a third cut between the two, which would have left me with two four-foot lengths to roll out of the way. Well within my capabilities.

An inch or so before the third cut was completed, my saw ran out of fuel.

What followed would have provided some good entertainment, had anyone been there to see.

I went in search of levers, confident I could just break the remaining wood in the second cut, and snapped one hefty, yet too-rotten, branch after another. Did I quit? Oh no! I just kept on scouting around for bigger and better levers. I found some. Using pieces of broken levers, I could lift the one free end an inch at a time, and shove the broken lever pieces underneath. I gradually, gradually, moved the free end full sixteen inches, to the accompaniment of various cracking sounds from the second-cut-which-had-pinched-shut-on-me. But it never broke.

Many a time I lay full flat on the ground, grabbing whatever was handy, and used all the power in my legs to try to move the eight-foot log that one last inch which would break the pinched cut.

To no avail.

I found natural wedges and used boulders to pound them into the pinched cut, which had opened considerably, the pinched cut which needed so very little to break that last vestige of solid wood.

To no avail.

Again and again I lay on the ground and strained with my legs. Again and again I pounded the ad hoc wedges deeper. Again and again I levered the free end up, or to the side, shimming it and chocking it in various ways, and using small boulders, with near-incredible cleverness, as fulcrums. Or fulcri.

To no avail.

I knew that, once in a blue moon, when the saw ran out of gas, I could start it up again for a few seconds. So I tried that.

To no avail.

At last, sweaty, dirty, and even leafy, with ants climbing all over me and through my hair, I had to give up. I left my wedges and levers just as they were. God. An hour, at least, I spent. I came within an inch of cutting through the damn log with my saw, and it ran out of gas. Did I give up? Yes.

But not without a fight.

Still, I lost. I lost that one. Darn it!

So, I trudged back up to my pack, finished pitching manzanita off the Corridor, loaded everything, and made a nice slow step-after-step ascent of the trail.

It was a day of bright sun and blue sky, of bright snow in the distance, of the fewest and scantiest of clouds, of a brisk northeast wind aloft, but the more typical upslope winds at the surface. I had a chance, of course, to ponder geology, for I really cannot stop pondering geology (it may well be a vice), and I concluded that the east wall of Moonshine Ravine, over towards Casa Loma, was really too high and too steep to be a result of mere stream incision, that it represented, in fact, a distinct record of the glacier which broke out of Canyon Creek into the North Fork canyon, either 65,000 years ago, or 130,000 years ago, or both; so that the gap, or pass, in the dividing ridge, should better be called Glacier Gap, than Hogback, which latter is its historic name, not that anyone remembers that that is so.

No, around here, the guiding concept of local history is, "I moved here in 1955, and you moved here in 1975; end of story."

Such was a wonderful if strenuous day in the great canyon of the North Fork of the American River.