Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Visits to Canyon Creek and Giant Gap

[written May 30, 2007]

Over the Memorial Day weekend I took a tour of the Gold Run Diggings with Rick Creelman and Gay Wiseman. We drove down Garrett Road to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gate, a massive gate which serves to keep cars out of the Diggings, and to allow numerous Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) into the Diggings. Congress created the special Gold Run Addition to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River (W&SR) in 1978. Their intent was that this remarkable area of old gold mines and historic trails should become a "portal" for public access to the W&SR. The Gold Run Addition was an addition to the W&SR "corridor" and thus would be closed to motorized vehicles and mining claims. Congress directed that all private inholdings in the Addition be purchased.

The BLM has had twenty-nine years to make the Addition a portal to the W&SR, twenty-nine years to purchase the private inholdings, twenty-nine years to close this part of the Diggings to motorized uses, and twenty-nine years to close these public lands to mining claims.

But not one of these goals has been met. Only one of the several historic trails in the area is unaffected by private lands, but even this one trail, the Pickering Bar Trail, does not have so much as one sign marking its location. Meanwhile, the OHVs have discovered the Pickering, and have transformed the upper end of the trail into an OHV road. "Quads," the four-wheeled OHVs, can drive quite a ways down the old foot trail.

And at least one of the mining claimants has exploiteded his privileged access to the public lands in the Diggings to steal tons of petrified wood, using a backhoe and a dump truck to remove pieces weighing in the hundreds of pounds, including the largest single chunk of petrified wood exposed in the Diggings, a tree trunk about sixteen feet long and three feet in diameter.

Rick and Gay and I followed the OHV trail past the gate. Ordinarily, I would write, "we followed the historic wagon road along the rim of the North Fork canyon, a road which dates back to the 1850s." But now it is just an OHV trail, which forks into more and more and more OHV trails. We passed the OHV road which was once known as the Pickering Bar Trail. Thankfully, so many Knobcone pines have toppled over the old road just beyond this new OHV-road-once-known-as-the-Pickering-Bar-Trail, the no OHVs can pass, for the moment, so at last we were able to enjoy a simple ancient road winding through the sunny manzanita. We reached the Secret World and used a faint and secret path to enter that World and eventually, to cross Indiana Ravine and visit the Stone Cabin.

From the Cabin we climbed out of the World on the east, picked up the Indiana Hill Ditch, built in 1852, and followed this charming avenue, through an arched grotto of manzanita, onto open slopes which offered fine views of the North Fork canyon, of Giant Gap to the east, Pickering Bar and the Diving Board Ridge to the west, and Canyon Creek plunging fifteen hundred feet to the North Fork directly below us.

Slowly picking our way along the tiny dry canal, we reached the Old Wagon Road and followed it down to the Canyon Creek Trail and thence the huge tunnel from the Diggings. From an 1874 book I extract the following:

"The Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, of Gold Run, in this county, is engaged in an important undertaking, having for its object the "bottoming" (developing with a deep tunnel) of the deep placers of Gold Run district. Mr. H.H. Brown, the superintendent, communicates the following facts:

'We commenced constructing our bedrock tunnel in September, 1872, and made but slow progress until last August, when we put in two Burleigh drills, run by compressed air, and are now (December, 1873) making three and one-half feet in twenty-four hours in the hardest kind of rock, using XX Hercules powder as an explosive. The object of this tunnel is to furnish an outlet to all of the mines in Gold Run district east of the Central Pacific Railroad. The tunnel to reach the Blue Lead or channel will be 2,200 feet long, 12 feet wide and 9 feet high. We intend to put in two five-foot flumes. We shall tap the Blue Lead 70 feet below any point reached before, and 270 feet below any point where washing has been done. About 500 feet from the lower end of the main tunnel we are going to run a branch, diverging to the left, 7 feet wide and 7 feet high, to reach the celebrated Indiana Hill claims, which our company now owns. This branch will be 1,135 feet log, and will tap that claim 247 feet below any point that has now been worked off. We expect to complete the entire work within two years, at a cost of not less than $100,000.'"

I first visited this section of Canyon Creek, where cascades surge over water-polished bedrock, in 1976, by following the "branch" tunnel mentioned above all the way through from the Diggings.

Rick and Gay and I enjoyed the cold air flowing out of the tunnel, and then continued down the Canyon Creek Trail across the little bridge to Waterfall View. We found an astounding bloom in progress: Bush Monkeyflower and Brodiaea were at the very peak, and Mock Orange was just beginning. There were thousands of flowers.

We did not wish to follow the trail any lower, instead returning to the Diggings via the main Canyon Creek Trail, and to Garrett Road via the Paleobotanist Trail. We found a cute little Ringneck snake on the road, and managed to irritate it to the extent that it twisted its tiny tail into a kind of knot. When fully-grown this species only gets about fifteen inches long. Ours was about twelve inches.

Such was a nice five-mile loop through parts of the Diggings and Canyon Creek.

Yesterday Catherine O'Riley and I returned to the Canyon Creek Trail for a long ramble. On the way in to the trailhead we found two men in a pickup truck, who were on their way in to The Cave, as they called it, and one spoke of bringing his family in for a visit. I hope they know how to avoid poison oak.

Catherine and I made short work out of reaching Waterfall View, shed some clothes, and continued down and down to the HOUT. The bloom, which I expected to wither and decrease as we reached lower, hotter, drier elevations, if anything increased; it was all late-season stuff, the wonderful monkeyflowers, Brodiaea, tall larkspur, Lotus, Mock Orange, and Bi-Lobed Clarkia, all were present in the thousands. I was surprised. This has been such a dry spring I didn't expect such an exuberant bloom.

The flowers followed us onto the HOUT (High Old Upriver Trail), which took us east on an intricate path, through groves of Canyon Live Oaks, through heavy old brush, and across cliffs and rockslides, on and on and on, in the full heat of the sun, until we stopped to rest on a mossy ledge within Giant Gap. Here I discovered I could actually lie down at full length, inches from a 300-foot cliff, on moss so thick it was a perfect bed. I went to sleep. Catherine, in contrast, hiked another quarter-mile to Onion Point.

I awoke, she returned, we started back out, but, somewhat chastened by the glaring sun, we dropped to the clear cold river and splashed around for an hour, never really swimming, but getting wet, getting cool. The westering sun at last left the HOUT, which was our signal to resume the march, and the timing was perfect, so that even on the Canyon Creek Trail we enjoyed shade for the entire climb up and out. We reached the top around seven in the evening.

It was another very nice day in the North Fork.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Lost Camp; a Joke in New York Canyon

[written May 14, 2007]

Lost Camp is an old hydraulic mining town, south of Blue Canyon, established in a rush, in 1857 or thereabouts. No buildings are left, although two are shown on both the USGS 7.5 minute "Westville" quadrangle, and on the official Tahoe National Forest (TNF) map. I have a web page devoted to Lost Camp, see

The historic China Trail drops to the North Fork of the North Fork of the American from Lost Camp, and then climbs to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge, to the south. The trail was built in 1862. Forty-three years later, it was absorbed into TNF's system of trails. The old road to Lost Camp from Blue Canyon (Lost Camp actually predates Blue Canyon) has been open to the public since the 1850s.

Like many another old road and old trail, the Lost Camp Road and the China Trail pass through a mixture of private property, and public TNF lands. Ten years ago I began urging TNF to acquire the private lands at Lost Camp, and thus to secure public access to the China Trail. Nothing has been acquired, and we are now on the verge of losing access to road and trail alike.

Some of the private lands were subdivided and sold. The new owners wish the General Public would just go away forever; then the new owners could have the China Trail all to themselves. The summer before last, a "Private Road" sign appeared at the beginning of the Lost Camp spur road, near Blue Canyon. More recently, one of the new owners has been chasing people away at gunpoint, and trying to convince the other new owners to put a gate on the road.

I hear that Placer County does not regard the Lost Camp Road as a "county" road.

I thought to talk to TNF about the old road; after all, it shows on the old TNF maps, and is identified as TNF System Road "16N51," on the 1962-66 map. So I called Phil Horning at the Nevada City office, and spoke with him for about an hour, this afternoon.

Phil is currently much involved in TNF's OHV Study. Like other National Forests, the Tahoe is trying to regulate OHV use. This is a bureaucratic exercise of demonic and nightmarish proportions. It is an effort spanning several years. Now, I myself like our historic foot trails; I wish them to be preserved, protected, maintained, and put back on the maps--for hikers. Astoundingly, hardly any TNF employees have ever heard of these trails, and still less have they set foot on them.

I have been warned by sympathetic TNF employees, "Do not register your historic foot trails in the OHV study; if such a trail were to go on our map, it would (eventually) be designated an OHV route." So I have held my peace.

You see, the TNF OHV study will not examine each road and trail on its merits; TNF will not decree, "this trail is open to motorized uses, but that other trail is not." No. TNF will inventory all existing OHV routes, roads, trails, cross-country routes, whatever. Some few will be closed to OHV use, but most will become formally and explicitly open to OHV use; an Interim Order is about to be promulgated, which will add 50 miles of OHV routes to the existing two thousand miles or whatever it is.

When the final Decision is made, the most likely form it will take is that any and all roads, trails and routes now in use by OHVs will remain in use, *but* all further "cross-country" travel by OHVs will be illegal.

That is, at the bottom line, this vast bureaucratic exercise will in effect retain the status quo, but give TNF rangers more power to limit cross-country travel.

So. Back to Lost Camp. I was really interested in TNF's sense of whether the Lost Camp Road is a public road, or not; whether it is a TNF System Road, or not. I asked Phil, and I could hear the rustle of a large map unfolding through the telephone. It took a while to zero in on Lost Camp (Phil, despite twenty years at TNF, had never heard of the China Trail, never set foot in Lost Camp), and then he said, "Well, the road does not appear on the OHV Study Map at all."

How could that be? The Lost Camp Road is on the current official TNF "visitors'" map, the big map which unfolds to over two feet square.

I asked. Phil replied that, by its absence from the OHV Study Map, the implication is that TNF no longer considers it to be a System Road. Hence it does not appear on the map. And *hence* it will likely be closed to OHV use; for it has no formal standing, any more, as a Forest Road. It will count as "cross-country travel."

Note the conundrum here. Suppose we agitated the Lost Camp Road issue, and we went to TNF, and we said, "It is your job to conserve public access to public lands; you must keep the Lost Camp Road and the China Trail open to the public.

And suppose TNF listens, TNF agrees, TNF says, in effect, "Golly, you are right! It was once a System Road, and it shall forever be a System Road; the China Trail was once a System Trail, and it shall forever be a System Trail."

Oops! Now, like almost all System Roads and System Trails depicted on the OHV Study Map, the Lost Camp Road and the China Trail will be deemed "open" to OHV use!

Phil helped me sort out these imponderables.

He also told me an amusing story of a visit he made to the fabled New York Canyon and its giant waterfall, with John Skinner, at that time TNF's Forest Supervisor. John is on this email list, and may vouch for the veracity of the story.

According to Phil, they set out to find the giant waterfall, descending the ridge immediately east of the East Fork of New York Canyon. This eventually brought them to the top of the falls; but the cliffs there do not lend themselves to good views, so they made quite a scramble out of dropping below the falls, and then they climbed some kind of rocky eminence for a view.

They had some trouble descending from this eminence, and then were faced with the climb back up to the falls, and then, more climbing, up and up and up, to their vehicle. I mean, we're talking a couple thousand feet, maybe. This was a major effort, and the vicinity of the falls is rife with menacing cliffs. It is a dangerous place, and what's more, hardly anyone goes there. It really looks like no one has *ever* gone there. It is an amazing place.

So. They reached the top of the falls again, and Phil spotted some plastic flagging, some yellow flagging, tied to a tree. Below the flagging, he found a bottle nestled into a small cairn of rocks, and in the bottle was a message.

John and Phil were astounded. Who could have ever visited that place? And flagging! And a bottle! And a message in the bottle!

So they eagerly opened the bottle, and eagerly read the message.

It recorded a pleasant visit to the giant waterfall by such-and-such a *girl scout troop*!!!

After a time they came to realize that some TNF surveyors had visited that spot only days before; the surveyors had known of Supervisor Skinner's impending visit, and contrived a little joke.

At any rate, such is some news from Lost Camp and New York Canyon.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Return to the Iowa Hill Canal

[written May 11, 2007]

I was surprised, Wednesday morning, by a thump on my lonely, lost-in-the-woods door, and gave an inarticulate shout of welcome, whereupon Ron Gould stepped in and asked if I was ready to go to the Iowa Hill Canal that very instant.

Of course I was ready!

In a few minutes I had thrown together one of my embarrassing sandwiches, filled a water bottle, and packed my little pack, with camera, binoculars, and something warm to wear, and off we went. We met Catherine "Canyon" O'Riley in Colfax and were soon embarked upon the tortuous windings of the Iowa Hill Road; for it was required to cross the American River Canyon. After an eternity we turned left on the Foresthill Road and drove upcountry another ten miles or so, to the Beacroft Trail.

Ron and Catherine were aware that, scarcely a week ago, Steve Hunter and I had somehow done what no five people together could ever have done, that we had achieved the impossible, that we had blundered slowly through that vast green Ocean of Brush, to the very end of the Canal. There, a distant and obscure ravine plunged into the dizzy blue depths of the North Fork. A 100-foot waterfall sprang from serried cliffs above. Ron and Catherine had personally confronted the Ocean of Brush, in years past, and must see for themselves if this were not one of Russell's tall tales, one of his myths of derring-do, and high old-fashioned romance.

These easternmost two miles of the Canal appear as a Tahoe National Forest system trail, on the map of 1947. And most interesting is the spur trail shown, east of Tadpole Canyon, leading down into the North Fork. From the overall look of things, neither trail has been maintained since 1947. It is not exactly easy, nor is it safe, to hike the Canal. There are rockslides on cliffs, where no trail exists. There is an often-difficult creek crossing, at Tadpole Canyon. But this old Canal Trail is surely one of the most scenic of all trails. We made our way slowly east, crossing Tadpole with a short hop, and took a break at the point where we guessed the spur trail forked away north.

Here a few stout firs and a Sugar Pine mark the intersection of a faint ridge with the Canal. It actually looks quite as though an old trail drops steeply past these trees. But the path instantly enters thick Huckleberry Oak, and is lost to sight. Ron and I had been convinced, on previous occasions, that this must be "the spur trail." A White Fir, just below the Canal, bears healed-over scars which might be blazes. I walked below this scarred fir and turned to face uphill, to face the Canal, to face the blazes. Once again I realized that, with enough imagination, a "small i" Forest Service blaze could exist. What had been notches through the bark had healed over until the new wood actually swelled out from the main mass of the trunk. Ron had always doubted this contorted excrescence could be a blaze.

The excrescence contains a rounded boss of woody tissue. Suddenly I saw what I'd always missed before: centered upon the rounded boss was an arrow, pointing to the right, or west, along the Canal, pointing to the Beacroft Pass and, eventually, Civilization.

With the arrow in play, there was about no question that this was indeed the spur trail depicted on the 1947 TNF map. I explored a little ways down, and found the trail continuing beneath the brush. It would not be easy to follow this trail. One would have to use patience and instinct, and be willing to lose the trail altogether from time to time, and just keep to the faint ridge, knowing it would reappear.

So, this was very nice. We had found the Old Spur Trail. But the Ocean of Brush beckoned. We left the shade of the spur-trail-trees and followed the outside-the-berm trail east into the many-flowered, sunny, silent Ocean.

The tremendous views were duly enjoyed. Somewhere ahead, Steve and I had dropped into the bed of the Canal, and had lopped the natural corridor a gnat's hair wider. Once we reached that spot we'd have easy going. Hence, with so much excess energy, it behooved us to pioneer an earlier, a simpler, and a better descent into the Canal. We began the fight.

Unfortunately, this turned into a lesson we had already learned all too well: the Ocean of Brush fights back; it fights hard; and it never gives up. In half an hour we reached the spot, about a hundred yards east, where Steve and I had entered the Canal. Here, then, would be the "easy going" I had bragged about.

Mysteriously, there was hardly a sign that anyone had ever set foot there, much less lopped a thousand branches. We advanced slowly. It took forever to cross the Ocean and enter the shelter of the firs to the east, where immediately one reaches a big rock outcrop, and the Canal becomes a bench cut again, and one enjoys really incredible views of cliffs and waterfalls and snow peaks.

A grouse could be heard booming, in the forest above us.

From here, I declared, it would be easy going; the fir forest kept the brush down.

But somehow I had forgotten that an outlier of the Ocean had invaded that fir forest, so the going was not very easy at all. We persisted, and entered the forest shade eventually, squishing over a few tiny patches of snow along the Canal, and at last , there it was, the End. The Beginning, in one sense. The little creek, the waterfall. Catherine was surprised this creek had no name. I suggested Tad-York, since it is midway between Tadpole Canyon and New York Canyon. Ron thought York-Pole might be good. Neither is euphonious.

After a good long rest we began the tramp out. The sun neared the horizon as we neared the Beacroft Pass. We were very glad to shed our packs and sit in the comfort of Ron's truck. It's good he was driving, for I was little better than a zombie, possessed by a haze of dreams, of cliffs and canyons, roaring waterfalls, and silent, grasping, many-armed and many-flowered Oceans.

It was another great day in the great canyon.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Upper Iowa Hill Canal

Years passed, and finally the day had arrived when I could show Steve Hunter, connoisseur of local canyons and old trails, the remarkable, the amazing, upper section of the Iowa Hill Canal.

In this part of the Sierra, where miners swarmed the hills and the canyons for decades, in search of the golden metal, there are many mining ditches, some miles long, some many miles long, all constructed to bring water to the mines, to the diggings, to this or that fabulous trove which would send one back home to the States a rich man—home at long last!—to live like a lord, within the encircling glow of a faithful and a grateful family.

Such a man would, someday, command quite a large tombstone, in the old cemetery on the hill.

Never mind that in reality, one worked and worked, one dug and dug and sweated and sweated and banged one's hands bloody, and the few rich strikes accomplished little more than to keep the anxious bill collectors at a respectful distance. One's credit was reestablished at the general store, and some spanking fine mules would amble, heavily laden with supplies, to one's remote camp, and the other miners would see those mules, and say, that Jones, he's onto something good!

If a mining ditch aimed high, aimed to stand head and shoulders above the general case, above the pitiful and impotent streams of the commoner sort, well, that ditch would be called a Canal. Thus the Placer County Canal, which served the mines at Dutch Flat, or the Iowa Hill Canal, which served the mines at Iowa Hill.

Ditch or canal, the thing had an alpha, an omega, a beginning, an end. Ditch or canal, end and beginning alike could become blurred: there might be tributary ditches, there might be distributary ditches, multiple beginnings and multiple endings; and such was the Iowa Hill Canal.

Today, after so long, I finally reached the Alpha of the Iowa Hill Canal. Or is it the Omega? It is where the Canal begins, yes, but this Canal was never finished, this Canal was pushed higher and higher, farther and farther east, commanding more and more tributary streams, gathering more and more water.

Then the money ran out, and work stopped. The Iowa Hill Canal was projected to begin high within the great canyon of the North Fork of the American River, at Old Soda Springs. It would have leeched the life blood of the North Fork itself, and all its southern tributaries: Wabena Canyon, Wildcat Canyon, Sailor Canyon, New York Canyon, all would have fed the monstrous ditch. Excuse me, the monstrous Canal.

I met Steve at Colfax and we drove his wonderfully underpowered, gas-scorning little Suzuki Samurai across the North Fork at Mineral Bar, climbing through tortured curves to Iowa Hill, and far beyond, to the Foresthill-Soda Springs Road, passing China Wall (a spot along this same Iowa Hill Canal), passing Mumford Bar Trail, passing the road to Deadwood, passing the site of Secret House, and after quite a long time, we parked at the Beacroft Trail, which drops 2800' to the rowdy, spring-high North Fork.

This ancient trail begins in a low gap in the Foresthill Divide and makes short steep work of its descent to the river. A rough little road continues north from the parking area to the trailhead proper. There is a complex of roads and trail and ditches in the area. The Secret Canyon Ditch converges upon the trailhead from the south, and appears to end. It took me a while to realize that just there it entered a short tunnel, which has since collapsed.

The topographic map shows the Beacroft Trail crossing the Iowa Hill Canal a little ways below the pass, to the north, just within the North Fork canyon. Following the trail, one reaches the north end of the collapsed tunnel, and behold! An old mining ditch, and a large one at that.

But this is just the continuation of the Secret Canyon Ditch, which was itself but a feeder to the Iowa Hill Canal. Continuing down the Beacroft, the trail steepens, and in a little ways one crosses a flat bench cut. This is the Canal, which at this point flowed through a wooden flume.

Strangely, if one follows the bench cut east, it soon ends altogether, in heavy timber. With sharp eyes one can barely discern yet another ditch, well above and to the east. This too is the Canal, which, as I eventually realized, makes a sudden drop of about a hundred feet in elevation at this point. This sudden change in grade may have been prompted by the steep cliffs farther east, in Tadpole Canyon; that is, when faced with these cliffs, and the inevitable blasting required to eke out a bench cut upon which to stand a wooden flume, the builders may have found that some great advantage accrued from the higher line, probably, by avoiding some one pernicious cliff.

So one can struggle up from the bench cut to the upper line of the Canal, where briefly it assumes the character of an unusually large ditch, six feet deep, five feet broad at the base, eight or ten feet across at the berm. Following this large ditch east, one soon reaches another bench cut, indicating that once again, a wooden flume had been built.

Ah, it took quite a few visits to this area to sort all these things out. Eventually, I discovered the Chinese Road.

The Chinese Road begins back in the Beacroft Pass, climbs slowly through the fir woods, and then drops slowly to the exact point where the upper, eastern line of the Canal changes from ditch to flume. I call it the Chinese Road simply because it is very likely that most of the work of building the Canal, back around 1873, was performed by Chinese immigrants. The Chinese Road owes its existence to the need to bring lumber to the beginning of a long flume section.

The flume section continues east into, and then back out, of cliff-bound Tadpole Canyon, a north-flowing tributary of the North Fork. After the Canal gets free of the Tadpole cliffs, it reverts to ditch-form again, and sweeps east into the main North Fork canyon, and into an absolute ocean of heavy brush. All the usual suspects are present in abundance: Huckleberry Oak, Bush Chinquapin, Green Manzanita, etc. etc. And further progress east on the Canal is over. I call this area the Big Brush.

Steve was suitably impressed by the Canal. Old Tahoe National Forest (TNF) maps (1947, 1962, 1966) show this section of the Canal, east of the Beacroft, as a foot trail. Like so many other historic trails, TNF abandoned this trail. It often narrows to a precarious thread, crossing some rockslide on a cliff. It is definitely not for everyone.

But the views are extraordinary. Directly across the North Fork, Big Valley Bluff rises 3500 feet from the river, in ragged cliffs. Sugar Pine Point, Cherry Point, Snow Mountain, Devil Peak, and even some of the Yuba peaks, like Red Mountain, Basin Peak, and Castle Peak, are all visible from the Canal. To the west, one sees away down the canyon to Moody Ridge, near Dutch Flat.

Quite a number of waterfalls are seen. There are waterfalls within Tadpole Canyon, and one sees a few of these. But once one gets out into the Big Brush, one begins to see various more distant waterfalls, such as the 200-footer at the base of Big Valley canyon, and the 200-footer up in Big Granite Canyon, and the waterfalls which adorn Sugar Pine Point.

This is indeed Placer County's Yosemite.

One can often hear the North Fork itself, although 3000 feet above it, and, strangely, one can hear the beautiful Big Valley Falls, a distinct roar, louder and more focused than the generalized murmur of the North Fork.

Steve and I made short work of crossing Tadpole Canyon and entering the Big Brush. The sky was clear, the sun was bright, and a cool breeze kept us comfortable. Here was the insurmountable obstacle I had chattered about, that infinite tangle of muscular branches which forced even bears to somehow scramble over the tops of the gnarled shrubs, rather than on the good earth itself. The line of the Canal led almost due east through the Big Brush, and entered a sparse grove of fir about a quarter-mile away.

There, one could hope, the brush would abate.

We had approached the Big Brush only rarely on the berm of the Canal, sometimes in its bed, at other times on a faint old trail just outside the berm. This faint trail seems to be continuous, from the end of the flume section bench cut to the Big Brush, but is itself, often, most horribly blocked by brush. There are signs that it maintains its outside-the-berm alignment into the Big Brush, but since one can usually not even see the ground, this is conjecture.

I climbed onto a sturdy bush on the berm, its limbs hardened by decades of heavy snow, and looked up the Canal, into that vast and gnarled sunny ocean. Once again I saw that the very bed of the Canal makes a faint and narrow gap, an almost imperceptible corridor, with here and there a patch of snow gleaming through the chaparral. Ron Gould and Catherine O'Riley and I had given this quasi-corridor a try. It was an impending disaster of interlacing branches. It was no kind of corridor for humans. A fox would love the thing. A mouse would stroll along with the greatest of ease. A bear would have problems. A deer would not even try. A human would merely ask for trouble. Lots of trouble.

But I mentioned the almost-invisible corridor to Steve, and, always sensible, he said, "Maybe we should give it a try." Steve was intrigued by the fact that no one had managed to follow the Canal east to its end, that is, its beginning, for a long, long time. For decades, maybe many decades.

So we lowered ourselves down to the bed of the Canal, clinging to slender and strong Huckleberry Oak branches, and with one pair of loppers, began making our way.

There was no walking. There was only lop and lop and lop and lop, and then throw aside the cuttings, which would reveal still more branches, so, lop and lop and lop and lop, and one yard was gained.

Then repeat.

Rarely, we saw signs that bears had shouldered through, and often they had climbed above the Canal bed on the uphill side, and we could take advantage of a few yards of relatively easy going.

In an hour or so we had made half the distance to the sparse grove of fir trees to the east. We rested. A worse-than-usual tangle of manzanita and the like blocked the Canal ahead. It was prudent to stop, to give up, to call it a day. My lopping count was up over five hundred branches, and my arms and shoulders were screaming. My pants were torn, my arms were bloody. I pulled myself up to the berm, a minor feat of gymnastics, climbed a bush, and gazed ahead.

Just beyond the knotted tangle which had brought us to a stop, the "corridor" seemed to open somewhat, and a number of small snow patches, up to fifty feet long, could be seen in the bed of the Canal. I reported to Steve, who calmly opined, "Maybe we should go a little further; after all, the trees are closer than they were."

We left our packs behind and attacked the tangle. By inches we made ten feet, and entered upon the most open section yet. Suddenly we could take five paces at a time without any lopping. Suddenly the bear trail became better-defined, and would always climb to the inside of the Canal to avoid bad brush tangles. Suddenly there were little snowfields where we could just walk along like real humans, without dodging a single shrub. No crouching, no intricate sidling motions, just plain walking.

It was a miracle.

We reached the trees, and at their fringes passed some White Fir in the bed of the Canal, where so many bears had shouldered past, for so many years, that they had stripped all the side branches away on one side, for five or six feet from the ground.

At last we had easy going. Soon a certain rock outcrop was reached, which I had often noted when scanning, with binoculars, the line of the Canal from Big Valley Bluff, across the canyon. Here the ditch ends and a bench cut resumed. At a certain promontory we found an old flume timber, almost intact, studded with twenty-penny square nails, and really incredible views of the Big Valley big waterfall, and the Big Granite Canyon falls, and we could even see parts of the Big Granite Trail, where it makes begins its final approach to the North Fork, from a few hundred feet above. Snow-spangled Snow Mountain; the wind-wavering little waterfall on Sugar Pine Point; the rarely-seen waterfalls on the west side of Big Valley, well back from the river ... the view was truly exceptional. Our hard work had earned us something very very good.

It remained to follow the last quarter-mile of the Canal east, to an unnamed ravine below some notable cliffs. We had a little trouble rounding the view-outcrop, as the bench-cut was not continuous, and some minor rock climbing-scrambling was needed, but soon enough the Canal assumed ditch-form again, and in the shelter of the fir forest, there was much much much less brush, and we had reasonably easy going, comparatively easy going, to the very end, or very beginning, I should say, of the never-completed Iowa Hill Canal.

A small creek rushed in cascades beside steep cliffs, and just upstream, dashed over a 100-foot waterfall in clouds of glowing spray, towards which we climbed, over rough slates of the Shoo Fly Complex, and enjoyed mystical views of the falls, looking almost directly up into the early-afternoon sun.

We were exhilarated with our success in performing the impossible, in actually crossing that green ocean of chaparral. Slowly we worked our way back along the Canal, here on the berm, there, in the bed, and sometimes on some faint little bear trail above the bed. It was nearing four o'clock when we reached the Suzuki Samurai. Steve, thoughtful as always, had packed a couple of cold Hamm's, which we savored in the shade of a fir tree, while munching some stale pretzels. Then followed the long mesmerizing drive down the Divide, through lonely Iowa Hill, and back across the North Fork to I-80, and Civilization.

It was another great day in the North Fork.