Sunday, March 18, 2007

Garbage Supreme

[written March 18, 2007]

After receiving a goodly number of emails of the "sorry, I can't make it" variety, and a lesser number reading "maybe I can make it," and but one single "I'll be there", I was not surprised to find only Joe Gerber at the Tesoro gas station at Dutch Flat. It was quite a beautiful day for hiking in the Great American Canyon, as it was once called. We waited until 10:08 for latecomers, and proceeded to the trailhead.

I knew that good old Steve Hunter would join our garbage party somewhat later, possibly with reinforcements, and I knew that whether it was today, or a month from today, the last of that despicable pile of trash left by "gold miners" was leaving the canyon. That garbage was marked for death. Its time in the great canyon was short, very very short. It really only remained to have some fun, see the river, admire flowers, lop some brush off this or that ancient trail, hoist some ungainly mass of junk onto our backs, and then trudge slowly up and up and up and out.

I had never met Joe. He recounted that he had moved to California in 1980, and had immediately run afoul of The Cedars, that club of wealthy self-admirers with land in the upper North Fork, who have arrogated unto themselves the historic public trail down the river to Heath Falls. Joe had found a way wide around, and had, of course, fallen in love with the place. So we soon established points in common.

It was Joe's first visit to Green Valley. I took him down the East Trail to the High Ditch, which we followed west through its sharp bends in and out of Ginseng Ravine (named for the water-loving native, Aralia californica, growing around perennial springs at its head), to the Meadow Cedar on the West Trail, and thence to the river, passing the old suspension bridge site, to trail's end, where some of the miners' garbage remained.

We had lunch amid many butterflies of many types, admiring the North Fork, flowing so high and fast and cold, what with the recent heat wave destroying the snowpack in the high country. We saw a group of seven kayakers whip past, on their way to Mineral Bar, near Colfax, a dozen miles or so downstream. They would dare the rapids of Giant Gap, which is much more than I would dare, incidentally.

Steve Hunter and Dan Farmer joined us, mentioning another man on the trail, who proved to be one of our party, although we did not know that yet, by name of Ron Brasel, and as we rolled up moldy sleeping bags and bulky foam mattresses and gathered the last odds and ends of the miners' mess, Steve and Dan said they were making for the Hotel Site, to the east, and would return to the Meadow Cedar to load up with garbage, later. So Joe and I were on our own again.

We climbed to the Meadow Cedar, and rested for a while, and I took my loppers and worked on an excellent route linking the High Ditch to the Low West Trail. The connection between the two has been difficult since many Ponderosa Pines died in a bark-beetle infestation nearly thirty years ago, and then fell, criss-crossing the trail in many places. After maybe an hour of this I rejoined Joe. The sun was still fairly high, and we didn't want to make the climb until shade had blessed the ridge bearing the Green Valley Trail. While I had been away lopping, Joe had worked on loading his pack, and it had become this gargantuan deformity which weighed around sixty pounds. This meant, first and foremost, that Joe would be slow. So we decided to leave without the full blessings of shade, and work higher until stopped by the sun.

We reached the Peter Wright Anvil, hidden along the trail, and took a sustained break, for sun still scalded the ridge above us. Steve and Dan and Ron caught us up, and I found that Ron had waited for us that morning, at the top of the trail, but we had missed him, taking a slightly different and shorter route. So, almost miraculously, but mainly because Joe was carrying so very very much, we five were carrying *all* the garbage left by the miners of last fall, the miners of the white van.

During our time at the Peter Wright Anvil, we talked about trails, and I expressed my usual dissatisfaction with Tahoe National Forest (TNF), for not only not maintaining its own trail system, but for allowing, with a murmur of protest, private interests like The Cedars to close public trails, here, there, everywhere.

Steve Hunter is about the straightest shooter a man can find and it happens that his sympathies seem to lie more with the private landowner than with the great unwashed, The Public. The conversation turned to a historic public TNF trail Dan had explored, running up the ridge dividing the South Yuba river from its Bowman Lake tributary, Canyon Creek.

Naturally I expressed my usual outrage that this trail had been abandoned by the Forest Service. I knew some of the details, having had conversations with Joe Chavez and other TNF employees about this very trail. A man had purchased a large parcel in the area, what seemed to be one of the old "railroad" sections, and had gated the old road, and had told TNF, "story over, trail closed, private property."

Steve, naturally, said something about property rights, and I held my peace, for a while. But then Dan told us of a similar situation near the Alta Sierra subdivision, over Grass Valley way, where a deeded trail easement had been recorded, way back when the subdivision began, several decades ago, but that now, in the fullness of time, and with new owners of the parcel through which the easement passed, these new owners felt they would enjoy their property so much more without hikers walking through, and now it was being fought out in court.

So Steve said something like, "That's ridiculous: the hikers have a deeded easement? End of story, it's a public trail, the property owners can't block them."

Which is only reasonable; but I saw my chance, and lunged into an inarticulate mish-mash of words, to the effect, "This case is no different from up there by the South Yuba: the Ridge Trail is ancient, it was not only open to the public for maybe 150 years, it was also a formal part of the TNF trail system, and We the People have an 'easement' on it! That fellow who bought the big parcel, I say to him, "Sorry, Mr. Sir, but you have purchased a piece of property encumbered with an easement, an easement to The Public, for use of that old Ridge Trail, and that is just the way it is."

I think I may have scored a point. But then even I had to agree that the situation is really more complicated: if We the People have an easement, does that mean that yahoos with quads and motorcycles and guns and garbage get to use it, too? The best I could come up with in response was, I myself would gladly support the property owner in seeking a motorized vehicle closure, and a firearms closure, on the trail in question.

We managed to distribute some of Joe's garbage to others, so for the last half of the climb he was carrying a paltry forty-five pounds or so. Some of us were faster, some were slower, and Joe was slowest, reaching the top a little after sunset. It was so so good to sit down, and drink a cold beer, and munch on chips and garlic olives and things. It was a supremely successful Garbage Hike, and of course we had the magic and mystery and beauty of the great canyon of the North Fork of the American River to distract us from what can only count as a galling tedium, carrying someone else's moldy bedding up miles of trail.

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