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.


AJ said...

I find it difficult to respond to people when, after having asked for and received my advice, they tell me that they are going to do exactly what I advise against. You showed tremendous patience by continuing to respond. You may have saved a life or you may have just saved a bunch of money that would have been spent trying to rescue this hiker. Either way, thanks.

Molly said...

Hi Richard - I've been trying to find some information on a couple of hikes in the North Fork (i.e. Canyon Creek Falls, etc.), but information seems sketchy, at best. You seem to be our local, resident expert. I'm unable to find an e-mail contact for you - thus leaving a comment on your blog in hopes you respond to it. Thanks!