Saturday, May 24, 2008

Helicopters in Giant Gap

A year or so ago I found that it was impossible to convince the Placer County Sherif's department that it should avoid Giant Gap with its helicopters, inasmuch as both Peregrine Falcons and Golden Eagles were actively nesting. The Sheriff's department seemed to think I was from Outer Space; what I asked was absurd.

Several times this spring the Sheriff helicopter has flown through Giant Gap.

Yesterday I received an email from Jan Cutts, District Ranger of the American River Ranger District, Tahoe National Forest (TNF), at Foresthill. Jan wrote:

"I want to let you know that in the next day or so there will be a helicopter operating in the North Fork American River drainage east of Giant Gap to remove trash from the Green Valley area. We have worked with our biologist regarding concerns with impacts to the Peregrine falcon in the Giant Gap area, and will be working with the helicopter to keep it as far away from the area as possible."

This was good news. I called Jan immediately and asked, which mess of garbage would they clean up? Were they going after all the garbage sites, or one, or what?

For years I have urged TNF to bring a helicopter in to the Euchre Bar and Green Valley areas, where huge and horrible accumulations of garbage exist, beyond, really, the capacity of hikers to simply carry up and out. I sent maps showing all these locations. My friends and I would volunteer to help pack it up for the helicopter cargo nets. However, there was never enough money in the TNF budget.

Well. Jan replied she did not know just what garbage site was being cleaned up, but that surely, any garbage taken out, whatsoever, was a good thing. I agreed, but wondered whether we could not expand the cleanup to include that especially horrid site, above Euchre Bar, on the North Fork of the North Fork of the American.

She advised me to contact Tom Madrigal of TNF, at the Foresthill office, and I immediately called, and left a message, but did not hear back.

Today, as advertised, a helicopter arrived in Green Valley. They appeared to be working on what I call Mexican Marijuana Growers' Camp #1, along the High Ditch, towards the east end of Green Valley. I could hear the thunder of the helicopter in the distance, grabbed my binoculars, and ran out to a cliff-top from which I can see much of Green Valley.

To my amazement, after spending quite a time in the east end of Green Valley, out of my view, the helicopter rose slowly westward, without any cargo net, and flew right through Giant Gap, perhaps 500 feet above the river, which is about as bad as it can get, so far as the nests of the falcons and eagles.

Needless to say, I was not pleased. I believe it was a National Guard helicopter. I would not be at all surprised if this garbage cleanup occurred under the auspices of the Drug Enforcement Agency, replete with special grants from the Bureau of Homeland Security, or whatever the blasted thing is called. For nothing happens nowadays without grants. Employees of one agency Coordinate Their Efforts with employees of some other agency, and this wonderful "coordination" could only happen thanks to a grant. It is the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, dragged out to an impossible degree, under an infinite recursion.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Dialectic of Dialogue

I have been working on geometry projects lately, and haven't been hiking much at all, except here on Moody Ridge, where spring has sprung early, and the rare Phantom Orchids are already in bloom, three weeks ahead of normal, and hungry rattlesnakes roam.

I occasionally receive emails from people seeking information about the North Fork. I am always glad to oblige. At times these exchanges develop a life of their own. A man named Fraser wrote some months ago; he wanted to visit the North Fork, "near Snow Mountain," at the end of April. He asked which trail would be best, and explained he would have his 12-year-old son with him.

I replied that all the trails near Snow Mountain would be blocked with snow, likely until June, but that he could drive up past Foresthill and use the Mumford Bar Trail, possibly hiking over a little snow at first, and once down on the river, follow the North Fork trail up to Sailor Canyon, and even beyond, with all due vigor, prudence, and so on.

Fraser responded to this, quite quickly: he had looked at a map, and thought the Big Granite Trail would work well for him. I was a little taken aback. Hadn't I just told him that it, and all the others up there, would be blocked with snow? I replied at some length, warning him that even if he managed to hike over the snow, or ski, or snowshoe, to get to the trail, it crossed Big Granite Creek along the way, and he would be taking his life in his hands to ford that creek, at the end of April.

Being surprised by his apparent willingness to cross miles of snow to reach one of the toughest trails in the big canyon, I Googled him.

I found he is quite an adventurer, with a lot of wilderness and whitewater experience. So. He was certainly capable. But his son? His son worried me. I suggested that what he envisioned might be a little much, for the son.

He did not deign to respond to my worries. A new idea had possessed him: he would hike over the miles of snow to the Beacroft Trail, or to the Sailor Flat Trail, drop into the canyon, swim across the North Fork, visit Big Granite Creek, and then hike up and out to the north, over more miles of snow, to Big Bend, on the South Yuba.

I was pretty thoroughly shocked. I wrote back, hesitantly, that for my part I would never ever, ever, swim that river at the end of April, and that what he envisioned was a truly major hike, and that I did not think it at all suitable for a twelve-year-old, but that, if he was determined to do it, good camping spots could be found at Bluff Camp, and then, across the river, at the base of Big Granite Creek. Three days would be about the minimum, I suggested.

To my complete astonishment, Fraser replied that he and his son would do it in one day!

By then, I was about six emails, and two thousand words, and one custom map, deep into our dialogue. Whatever wisdom I had to offer seemed to count for nothing. I finally knew when to stop "helping" Fraser.

A few weeks ago I heard from Fraser again. What with the warm dry spring, he had been able to drive almost up to the Beacroft, cross a few patches of snow, and follow the trail down into the canyon. He and his son camped at Bluff Camp, and made a day hike to look at Big Granite Creek the next day. They did not swim the river. The following day they hiked up and out on the Beacroft.

So the bottom line was that, while appearing to ignore my advice, Fraser actually took my advice. I wrote back, congratulating him on a good trip, and asked if he had seen the big waterfall across the North Fork from Bluff Camp.

No reply. Goodness, people are busy, nowadays.