September 5 (1976, 1985, 1986, 1987, 2002, 2014)
Green Valley Trail and Trash ~ Alta-Dutch Flat Geology

9/5/76    just before dawn, already the drone of insects, yellowjackets i guess, and the tooting of nuthatches. signature sounds for this time of year.

i moved my bed & stuff over on to the floor. such a beautiful floor, and the tongue-and-groove fits so tightly ~ i hope the boards don't shrink. All blind-nailed, except at the edges, where the walls will cover anyway. a strong floor, and with the 4 x 6 joists on 5-foot centers, a generous booming sound is generated when it is walked upon. i am well satisfied with the floor […]

yesterday there were some thunderstorms along the crest, and clouds outreaching from them extending a solid cover overhead, and only breaking up further to the west and downslope. the air was hazy and soft.

last night there was a lot of commotion over on the green valley trail, shouting back and forth and firing guns. i've got to get some signs posted. what a drag. and work on the cable entrance.

a red shafted flicker alights on the big leaning oak of arches, and squeals. […]

i would like to thin out the live oaks to the east, to better see the sunrise sky.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

“September 5, 1985

Yesterday my brother and I drove up to Grouse Ridge and parked. Then we set off cross-country for the Black Buttes. For me it was a wonderful and exhilarating hike; for Richard it became a bit of an ordeal, for he developed blisters and turned away from the summit when just a quarter-mile short. I continued on, and then descended a steep gully to join him at Glacier Lake, where we watched whirling water beetles and then picked up the trail for the 3 miles or so back to the car. Many small lakes and ponds, some dried up in the late summer season; bear footprints in soft mud and quartz outcrops.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/5/86 Friday morning. What can I say about this week? Well. Beginning on Monday, the day after Tinker's Knob; I lazed around home for most of the day, and then wandered into town, where I ran into Bill. Went to his place for a beer. Some friends of his from Squaw Valley were on their way over to talk about some proposed timber harvests and new ski lifts in the Shirley Canyon area, and Bill invited me to stay. It seems as though there are constant assaults upon the last remaining wild or semi-wild areas in this part of the Sierra. [...] Bill gave me a book on zoning law to read; in order for the Shirley Canyon project to go ahead, the land will have to be rezoned. Later Bill and I went to Dingus McGee's for dinner…”

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/5/87   Morning, about 4:30. Smoke shrouds the stars.

Afternoon; back in the cabin after a walk around the meadow and the Big Oak grove. An orange light filters through the smoky air above, and hints of nostalgic Fall gain sway. My own nostalgia is to recall the days, which seem so long past, when I scrambled the deer trails through the oak grove, and marveled at the andesite boulders, the constant creep of soil, crackling rain of acorns and sweet afternoon light. I was entranced then by Moody Ridge, and eager to observe fine details, and treasure up the nuances of such a lovely place. 12 years ago, my eyes were fresher. Longer than I have lived at any one other place.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

September 5, 2002
Geology of the Alta-Dutch Flat Area
by Russell Towle

The rocks of the Alta-Dutch Flat area in particular, and the Northern Sierra Nevada generally, can be divided into two broad groups: the younger "superjacent" (lying-on-top) formations, and the much older "subjacent" (lying-beneath) formations.

The older rocks are sometimes called the "bedrock," and are much more like real rocks. In the Alta area they include slates and metamorphosed sandstones, etc., of the Shoo Fly Complex (oldest rocks in the Sierra, 450 m.y.); serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone (an old and almost entirely inactive fault; about 200 m.y.), and metavolcanic rocks of the Calaveras Complex (greenstone, etc., about 200 m.y.). These old rocks are turned up on edge, in long bands running parallel to the Sierra crest. When you drive out Drum Powerhouse Road to the powerhouse you pass through all three, Calaveras Complex, Melones serpentine, and at the powerhouse, a little of the Shoo Fly Complex.

These old rocks were added to the west edge of North America about 150 m.y. ago by "continental accretion," a consequence of continental drift. The old rocks used to be ocean sediments (Shoo Fly Complex), basaltic ocean floor (Melones serpentine), and oceanic volcanic deposits (Calaveras Complex, eastern part). When North America was moving west, and the Pacific Ocean floor was moving east, these rocks were bulldozed right into North America and became part of the continent.

Sitting on top of these turned-up-on-edge old rocks of the subjacent series are the younger rocks of the superjacent series. The Eocene river gravels are the oldest. These can be seen in the red banks beside Highway 80 just west of the Dutch Flat exit. These gravels are from a large river which flowed over a floodplain of deep sediments. In this ancient, Eocene landscape, the Sierra were just low hills and ridges with sluggish rivers meandering through broad valleys. Then volcanic eruptions started to bury this landscape. First rhyolite ash almost filled many valleys in a long series of eruptions beginning about 30 m.y. ago. This is the Valley Springs Formation. The white rocks which are like sandstone, exposed near Lake Alta and in the railroad cuts just east of Alta itself, are this rhyolite ash.

After the Valley Springs Formation almost buried the old landscape, andesite mudflows from other volcanoes finished the job. They are called the Mehrten Formation. These mudflows completely filled the old valleys and made a large plateau over all this part of the Sierra. The flat-topped ridges all around near Alta are remnants of this plateau. The andesite mudflow is about 5 to 15 m.y. old.

Around five million years ago, the Sierra began to tilt up like a giant trap door. The uplift occurred along a series of faults along the east side of the Sierra which are all still quite active. In the Donner Pass area, east of Alta, there has been about 4000' of uplift. There has been much more in the Southern Sierra, maybe 10,000'. The uplift caused the Sierra to slope more steeply to the southwest.

As the Sierra grew higher, the Ice Ages began, and brand new canyons were formed. These canyons cut quickly through the young volcanics into the old bedrock. They kept on cutting farther and farther down into the bedrock. Even though our modern canyons, of the Bear River, and the North Fork American River, are around five million years old, geologists call them "young," because they are still getting deeper, and are very steep and deep, and are much younger than all the rocks around them.

The river "bars" made famous by the 49ers are deposits of glacial outwash sediments, from the last glaciation, which ended about 12,000 years ago. The glaciers came down the Bear River almost to Drum Powerhouse, and down the North Fork American to about Humbug Canyon. From the lower ends of these glaciers long trains of sediments ran down the canyons all the way to the Sacramento Valley. When the glaciers melted away and stopped adding all the sediments to the rivers, they were able to erode these sediments away. Only vestiges are left, which are the gravel bars of the 49ers. One of the best examples of these is Pickering Bar, below Gold Run on the North Fork of the American.

800# of Trash Removed from Green Valley

On Wednesday September 3, 2014 the efforts of many people culminated in a grand achievement. There is way less trash now, in Green Valley.

At cleanup events in years past, we carried out some of the worst of the gruk, but no way could get it all. We collected and bundled what we couldn't remove, above the high water line, and in an area open enough to accommodate a helicopter landing. Here's Gay, Walter and Caroline, drying out stuff before compiling it—this was a year or two ago on a cleanup hosted by NFARA (North Fork American River Alliance):

This summer, Eric Peach of PARC (Protect American River Canyons) got busy connecting people and agencies. Green Valley comprises a mix of land ownership—Tahoe National Forest, BLM, and private owners. Eric got support from Jeff Horn at BLM, and I don't know just who he connected with at TNF; but somehow he got a lead also to contact the CHP, and requested help lifting out the pile with their helicopter based in this area that is sometimes used for canyon rescues. They set up a date to do the liftout as a training session—September 3, 2014.

On Monday September 1—Labor Day in 2014—Ron, Cindy, Gay, Karen, Dale and Brian gathered to bundle...

and haul the most recent crop of garbage left by visitors, through the valley trails to the meadow gathering point. Some of the items included a broken-in-half kayak, old ripped and yucky sleeping bags, empty fuel cans, batteries, plastic of indeterminate history, real junk.

 The gathering point was in the meadow just east of the old hotel site and spring.

Will it all fit? Ron determines that we might be able to get it all in two net loads, but may need 3 nets.

Lift out day dawned gloriously bright, clear, sunny and blue, and a little bit cooler than Labor Day. Ron, Eric and Cindy hit the Green Valley Trail early to carry down the haul nets, bundle even more gruk, and prepare the loads for the lift.

Eric and Ron on the Green Valley Trail, carrying down the haul nets:

Green Valley, on the morning of the lift out:

One of the local residents:

The valley team loads all the trash into the two nets.

The helicopter arrives, right on time!

Cindy and Ron hook it up...

and get out of the way!

The first load leaves the valley!

And arrives over the drop zone, at Casa Loma. Jeff Horn, of the BLM is waiting at far right, where Eric's rig is parked, awaiting the loads.

Jeff signals to the pilot that the load is unhooked.

Between the loads, an oil train passes through (arrghh)... 

 The second load arrives:

Ohmigosh, there's a guy standing on the runner!

Load 2 comes down:

Once unhooked, the helicopter lands nearby. Jeff coils the cable and waits for the blades to stop rotating before delivering it to the copter crew.

The copter crew, on the ground: CHP officers Joe Hagerty and Matthew Calcutt.

Jeff Horn with the CHP copter crew, Giant Gap  in the background.

The valley crew made the long, grueling HOT middle-of-the-day hike out of the valley and came to Casa Loma to load Eric's trailer. Jeff had already taken out the first load at this point. Here are Eric Peach, Cindy Goldman, and Ron Gould, tired, but SO HAPPY!

It was a wonderful day in the Great Canyon, Russell!

(We miss you. We carry on.)

September 4 (1976, 1978, 1985, 1987, 1996, 2003, 2006)
On Top of Snow Mountain, Overnight

9/4/76    early morning, canyonland. i drove out last night with some food and 24 16' 2x6 T&G, 8 14', & 6 12'… hemlock, i think, or at least it is stamped ‘hem fir’—select decking. i thought i would be getting the lowest grade 2x6 T&G i could find, but only in this stuff could i get the necessary lengths. with these sizes i won't have a joint in the floor… so. a floor i will have, maybe before the day is through. yellowjackets buzz about, food and water, food and water. a thin cloud cover east of here softens the morning light. to work, to work.

~ late afternoon… the floor is finished, all the edges neat and trim, no left-over boards—in fact i was just under one short, but had a couple of old 6-footers around, nailed them in. the only butt joint in the floor ~ and it will be beneath a wall. a mild capriccio, i suppose.

i’ve been here all day, on this spot. now over to the outcrop for a smokita.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/4/78    morning. again, clouds cover most of the sky. last night, as i was going to sleep in the loft, i heard a low rumble and the cabin quivered slightly. i woke up completely and listened carefully. the sound was still there, increased in loudness for a few seconds, and then the cabin was jolted briefly, rattling a few things. i climbed down out of the loft and listened again. all was quiet and still. an earthquake. i perceived the sound and the jolt as coming from the west. haven't heard anything on the news…”

[Russell Towle's journal]

September 4, 1985

Yesterday my brother Richard stopped by and we went out to Lovers Leap (to the First Step). Worked on the Trail to First Step, and scouted new routes. Then back here to talk. He's coming over this morning and we'll go hiking or gold mining or something. [...]

High clouds, cool weather, a fire of newspapers in the stove.

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/4/87 Thursday morning, about 5:30, stars sparkling in the skies which were swept clear of smoke by strong west winds yesterday afternoon. When I awoke to see Venus flashing so brightly over the eastern horizon, I felt compelled to rise and shine in my own right, so, here I am. [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

September 4, 1996

Alone at my little cabin, everyone away at school. Greg is doing fine with his kindergarten, and Janet with second grade.

Keeping a journal on a computer is different than in the old days, when I wrote in blank books. I find less time for it in any case, and when I do find time, it seems more awkward.

I at last finished my Coffin diary book. It could stand plenty of improvement, but I can’t justify spending any more time tweaking it at this point. I am having copies made at Accucopy, but their 5090 copier has been on the blink, and so far only four copies exist. I’ve had one in the Dutch Flat store for a week, and it hasn’t sold. After so much effort, it will be a bit of a letdown if nobody wants to read it.

With that monstrous project out of the way, I have returned to the problem of rendering landscapes. I have succeeded in writing Mathematica code to render a single 7.5 minute DEM, or a pair of DEMs, and am now working on assembling a group of four; but the memory requirements are so large that even if the code works, I may not be able to render the assembled DEMs without various work-arounds, allocating most of 64 MB to the kernel while assembling the profiles, writing the PostScript to a file, then allocating most of the RAM to the front end, then opening the file and rendering it. All in all, however, it is very gratifying, because at last I can view these landscapes at their maximum resolution; the method I had been using, employed a program called DEMView which read the elevations into a grayscale, so if more than 256 meters of “relative” relief existed within a DEM, the elevations were quantized, imposing “virtual contour lines,” which do not exist in these digital topographic maps.

I returned to the Sacred Grove with Neil Gerjuoy and Gay a few weeks ago, and we explored it a bit more thoroughly. There are many many huge sugar pines there. It turns out that TNF does know about the site, it is called the Sugar Pine Point Natural Study Area.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Lost Camp THP* approved
[North Fork Trails blogpost, September 4, 2003: ]
I heard from Rich Jenkins, CDF archeologist at Redding, today. He wrote: "... Visited the THP area two weeks ago. Plan still under review. Thanks for all of the provided information..... ."

Since the plan is still under review, I believe the public comment period is technically still open.

It is quite doubtful that any comments would substantially change things at this point, unless we found some weird hybrid of a Spotted Owl and some rare, endangered trout, and then, and only then, the OwlTrout would save the day.

590 acres of Placer County history is about to get hammered.

* THP = Timber Harvest Plan

Visit to Snow Mountain
[North Fork Trails blogpost, September 4, 2006: ]
Gay at the trailhead, Devils Paek in background.
Saturday morning Gay and I threw packs and sleeping bags into the Subaru and drove up I-80 to Soda Springs, thence to the Serene Lakes subdivision (at Ice Lakes, also known as Serena and Dulzura, supposedly so named by Mark Twain), thence on Pahatsi Road west to Cascade Lakes, where we parked.

Our goal was the West Summit of Snow Mountain. It had been ten years, no, closer to twenty years since I had last visited Snow Mountain, on skis with PARC's Eric Peach, in one eternally long spring day, beginning and ending near Kingvale on I-80. My first visit had been in 1972, also by way of Kingvale and the old Devils Peak road.

Although its summit barely exceeds 8000' in elevation, Snow Mountain is blasted by powerful winds, and what little forest clings to its bald crown (Western White Pine, Mountain Hemlock, etc.), is stunted and gnarled and the limbs often "flag" to the northeast. The mountain has the form of a long ridge, trending east and west, and on the south, a long line of ragged cliffs falls away 4000 feet into the Royal Gorge. The East Summit, being a few hundred feet below the storm-ravaged crest, has the only real forest on the mountain, a grove of Red Fir. I camped there once, almost accidentally, abandoning my first choice because it was haunted by bears, but there was no escaping the bears of Snow Mountain. When dawn's first light struck the East Summit, I realized I had slept within a few yards of a bear bed.

The Main Summit has a few little towers of rock rising above the main crest. There are some deep beds of talus on the summit, and I have always suspected that Tioga-age ice, of the most recent glaciation, ending 12,000 years ago, never covered the summit of Snow. No, in my imagination I could see the summit ridge poking up above a sea of ice. Under such conditions the summit would be exposed to severe frost wedging, hence the deep beds of talus; and with no ice flowing directly over the summit, the talus was never scraped away.

I have seen rattlesnakes on the Main Summit, where the deep talus conceals an infinitude of rodents, and also, on the Main Summit, I found two Indian hunting blinds, rough circles of rock stacked up, with chips of obsidian, quartz, basalt, and chert within the circle. I have only seen the like in the Great Basin, also on windswept summits. Perhaps Bighorn Sheep once frequented Snow Mtn.

From the Main Summit the ridge drops gently west until the many West Summits are met, a series of rock knolls at about 7600' elevation, the most westerly offering wonderful views of Big Granite Canyon, Big Valley Bluff and Sugar Pine Point, the main North Fork canyon, and more. Gay and I wished to visit these West Summits and, also, find and follow the "jeep trail" shown on the USGS 7.5 minute Royal Gorge quadrangle, said trail crossing the summit ridge from north to south just east of the rocky West Summit knolls, and dropping away south into a large flat. I had never tried to follow the jeep trail beyond its crossing of the Summit Ridge.

A portion of the Tahoe National Forest map. The private lands within the forest—the
"checkerboard" of old railroad land-grant sections—are shown in white.
We marched south on the Palisade Creek Trail from Cascade Lakes, and veered west onto the old trail to the north end of Devils Peak. Or rather, sometimes we were on that trail, and other times we lost it, for it is not maintained and is overgrown in places, but it was easy going over glaciated granite, passing just north of two deep tarns, before reaching the pass on the Palisade-Big Granite divide. Here all signs of the old trail disappear in the aftermath of timber harvests of fifteen or twenty years ago. Once again, it was the sudden sale of the old railroad lands which triggered the harvests which destroyed the trails.

The trail history in this area is complicated. Somehow we've arrived at today, in which most of the old trails, the historic Tahoe National Forest trails, have been ruined by logging or closed off to the public in some way. So. Here we are. And just a few decades ago, the trails were intact. Or mostly so ... by the late 1930s a sawmill was erected back by Snow Mountain at Huntley Mill Lake. So roads had penetrated as far as the lake, seven decades ago. This road paralleled, and sometimes coincided with, the historic Snow Mountain Trail.

September red carpet of foliage
Various trails linked to the Snow Mountain Trail; the Long Valley Trail connected down to the Palisade Creek Trail, east of Huntley Mill Lake; the Big Bend-Devils Peak Trail intersected near the north end of Devils Peak, as did the Palisade-Devils Peak Trail, which Gay and I followed. So. All four of these trails have either been ruined by logging, or have been abandoned, or have become roads. The final indignity was the construction of a house at Huntley Mill Lake.

I wish the house would be torn down and every vestige of its existence removed, and the whole region around Devils Peak, Snow Mountain, Cherry Point and Sugar Pine Point and the Loch Levens, etc., be managed for the preservation of wilderness and open space and non-motorized recreation. To do this will require much land acquisition. But it is worth it.

I had dreaded visiting Snow Mountain for fear of this one house. But there has been another dread. With Ed Pandolfino and Terry Davis, seven or eight years ago, I was involved with a group trying to identify areas in Placer County suitable for Wilderness designation. The North Fork American River Roadless Area was our largest potential Wilderness. We were unsure whether to include Section 13 of T16N R13E, up on Snow Mountain, within the potential Wilderness boundaries, for fear that timber harvests might have marred the area; and I was supposed to hike in and see for myself. But I never did. I dreaded to see the ancient giants of Snow Mountain's north slopes reduced to stumps.

These two dreads have kept me away from Snow Mountain, never an easy destination in any circumstances, for those four or five miles one sees on the map somehow propagate into, well, almost any number of miles.

So. Gay and I hit the logged forest in the pass and just blundered through stumps and slash, and skirted wet meadows and alder thickets, westbound, until we reached the Devils Peak road, and turned south.

Columnar basalt at the north end of Devils Peak
Devils Peak is a funny edge-up axe blade of a mountain, made of columnar basalts from two separate flows. I was pleased, on this hike, to scan the mountain carefully enough to distinguish between the two flows, a discernment always beyond me in times past. But from the west the two flows are fairly easily seen. The upper, younger flow makes up both of the two main summits and almost the entirety of the summit ridge to the north as well, but as the axe blade falls away to the north, the lower, older flow takes over. It makes a kind of secondary, lower summit at the north end of Devils Peak. The lower flow is characterized by long thin columns, mostly vertical, and a darker, browner color. The upper flow is also columnar, but the columns are larger and blockier and less regular, and are also of a slighter lighter and grayer color.

A ridge a few miles long connects Devils Peak and Snow Mountain. In this area, the shallow upper South Yuba basin could not by any means contain its ice-fields, during glacial maxima, and ice a thousand feet thick overflowed south into the much deeper North Fork American. This tremendous escape of ice from the Yuba into the American occurred over at least ten miles of the dividing ridge. Devils Peak, however, split the flow; a more easterly lobe of ice in Palisade Creek, a more westerly lobe in Big Granite Creek. Only the upper few hundred feet of Devils Peak protruded above the ice.

A sedimentary feature sometimes observed in glaciated regions is the so-called "crag and tail." A mass of resistant bedrock, forming a knoll or peak, is flowed over by a glacier. On the up-ice side the knoll or crag is abraded, and to either side it is steepened; but on the down-ice side, a mass of bouldery till may extend quite ways, protected by the crag. This is the "tail."

Devils Peak presents the case of a crag-and tail where the peak itself is the crag, of course, and the ridge of andesitic mudflow extending south to the bedrock high of Snow Mountain is the "tail." But the Devils Peak tail was not detritus deposited by the ice, merely mudflow protected from deep-scouring erosion by the crag of Devils Peak.

The height or depth of the ice surrounding Devils Peak is marked by the many glacial erratics, nearly white granite boulders up to twenty feet in diameter, quarried from the higher terrain to the north and east, towards Castle Peak and the Sierra crest. These granite boulders can be found right up to the summit axe blade of Devils Peak. It is not impossible that the entire mountain was under ice, but the erratics, fresh, unweathered granite boulders, can only be found up to about 7500', and the summit of Devils is at 7704'.

We marched along under partly cloudy skies, joking that, since we'd elected to leave the tent at home, we were now bound to get rained on. Immediately west of the main summit of Devils we left the main road to Huntley Mill Lake for the "high" road on the left, which, although somewhat longer, keeps one away from the horrible house at the lake.

At a second fork we kept to the lower of two roads, and watched Snow Mountain slowly grow near, and soon found ourselves on the old Snow Mountain Trail, with numerous blazes marking the large Red Fir and Western White Pine along the way.

Old blaze, with a new "X" cut above it.
Someone has been outlining the blazes in blue spray paint. Most of the blazes are not standard "small i" Forest Service blazes, but simple squares about four to six inches on a side. An unusual blaze began to appear, peculiar, one imagines, to this one old trail: a large "X" cut with a saw, each diagonal about eighteen inches or two feet long.

At about this time we entered Section 13, where I found what I had feared, stumps. However, thank God for small favors, the missing trees looked to have been all yarded with helicopters, not bulldozers, so if the slash and stumps were burned, the terrain would appear as wild as it ever was.

The Snow Mountain Trail climbed through rocky and meadowy terrain, with more and more of the X-blazes appearing, and fewer of the other types of blaze, until at last we reached the crest of the summit ridge, near point 7680', one of the West Summits.

We paused to explore, and found awesome views, north to the Sierra Buttes, south to the Crystal Range, with some excellent looks west into the North Fork canyon. All the terrain around the Loch Leven Lakes was in view, as was Big Valley, Castle Peak, Devils Peak, and even Mt. Rose.

Most all of Snow Mountain is made of the Tuttle Lake Formation, a series of volcaniclastic sediments, thousands of feet in overall thickness, now tipped up on edge, beds of sandstone made of volcanic ash, let us say, interlayered with beds of mudflows, and debris flows, and all these disparate types themselves intruded by coeval mafic magmas, of andesitic mineral composition, some of these intrusive igneous rocks cooling slowly, and becoming something like a diorite, and elsewhere, lenses and sills and pipes of andesite, which andesitic magma, at times, intruded soft wet sediments (it was coeval—remember?), and interacted explosively, producing a bizarre rock called peperite.

These Tuttle Lake Fm. rocks were deposited, and formed, in an ocean basin, near a line of volcanos. How they ended up here in the Sierra Nevada is not especially well understood. They are about the uppermost rocks in a quasi-stratigraphic column whose base is the (early Paleozoic) Shoo Fly Complex, separated by an unconformity from the overlying (middle-late Paleozoic) Taylorsville Sequence, over this are thin beds of Triassic conglomerate and limestone, separated by an unconformity with the (Middle Jurassic) Sailor Canyon Fm., and over this last somewhat conformably lies the (Middle Jurassic) Tuttle Lake Fm.; the whole ball of wax seems to have been rotated ninety degrees east and welded to the edge of North America, 145 million years ago.

There are spectacular glaciated exposures of these interesting metamorphic rocks all over Snow Mountain. The Tuttle Lake Fm. is only slightly younger than the Sailor Canyon Formation underlying it, to the west, about Middle Jurassic, say, 160 million years ago.

 We had considered camping up among the West Summits, but there was no water, save a tiny tarn, almost evaporated, so we decided to keep with the original plan and follow the jeep trail down to the big flat at 7000', to the south. However, the trail had faded away to nothing at the crest. Scouting in the likely direction yielded no more blazes. We set off down the hill, hoping to find the jeep trail at some point.

We had fairly easy going, although big brushfields made us swerve drastically off-course several times. Finally we reached the flat. We were more than ready for a rest; most of the day had been given over to marching, and the sun was sagging into late afternoon, and we wished only to sag into a total recline. We stirred a bear from his afternoon siesta, fifty yards away at the base of a Red Fir, and the dark brown big-fellow went loping away through a brushy patch of woods, raising a tremendous clamor of breaking twigs and branches. The sound slowly faded as our scaredy-bear got farther and farther away.

These big flats, call it the Flat, making a couple hundred acres in TNF's Section 14, are a mixture of wet meadows, dry meadows, forests, and thickets of Mountain Alder. Lee DeBusk, an Alta man who has hiked all these old trails, beginning in his childhood in the 1940s, had told me that the "jeep trail" led to "old Doc what-his-name's camp," at a spring. Doc was a shepherd. A cattle man maybe. The thickets of alder and the wet meadows showed there was plenty of water in the Flat; but where was old Doc's camp, where was the spring, where was the jeep trail?

The two large red firs, the bear-scratched lodgepole pine... mark the location of the spring!
After a short break we started scouting and, after ten minutes or so, we felt drawn to some huge Red Firs near a certain alder thicket. We found a blaze on a large Lodgepole Pine, and this blaze was outlined in orange paint. Suppose this was the jeep trail? I forged through the alder thicket near the blaze, and soon popped free beside another grove of tall firs, some quite large and ancient. A pair of giants stood a few feet away, and between them, a Lodgepole scarred with many bear claw scratches. I walked over for a closer look, and right behind the bear claw tree, a well-beaten trail led into the thicket.

"Ah ha!" thought I, and followed the trail to a pool of open water, with a slow flow down the thicket.

The bears' lodgepole pine scratching pole at left.
I should say that the bear-claw tree was quite amazing. It looked as though it had been climbed many many times, by bears, frisky bears delighting in their ability to leave deep scratches in the thin bark. The claw marks were thick for the first twenty feet above ground, and continued up to forty feet.

OK. We had water. But where was Doc's camp? A wide search turned up nothing. We determined to camp along the fringes of a huge open dry meadow, a hundred yards away. There were no more distant views than the stars themselves, which was enough, and we felt lucky to camp in such an obscure and recondite place.

This area forms the headwaters basin, as it were, for West Snow Mountain Falls, which Tom McGuire and I saw this spring, and are about 600 feet high. The Flat is both hemmed in by a terminal moraine and dotted with vestiges of other moraines. Often the slightly higher moraine crests are of the "drained-down" type, so porous they cannot retain ground water, hence cannot grow trees, hence are bouldery quasi-meadows threaded through a million times over by gopher tunnels. In places the moraine vestiges are just beds of raw talus, scattered at random, no cliff or outcrop visible as a source.

We explored that Flat rather throughly that evening and the next morning, and found that we were quite close to Section 23 to the south, which as I understand it is owned by Croman Lumber Company; I have long advocated that this Section 23 should be acquired by Tahoe National Forest; but nothing has ever happened in that way, and yesterday, I found "Timber Harvest Boundary" flagging, near the section line.

In fact, it began to seem that the one blaze I had found in the Flat had only to do with the section line, for I found more blazes of that type, a few hundred yards west.

I found and explored two different possible alignments for the seemingly mythical jeep trail, but was unable to settle on one over the other. We followed the one which ran along level in the Flat for quite a ways before climbing steeply out to the northeast. But we were unable to follow it all the way up. Once on the ridge crest, we made for Point 7680 and took a prolonged break, eating lunch and sketching and exploring the various summits. I took a serious peek at my map and deduced that the jeep trail ought to be scarcely more than a couple hundred yards away, and when we walked over there, sure enough, we found a blazed tree, the blazes outlined in blue paint, and were able to follow the jeep trail down a little ways. The thing is almost completely formless, now, and has been overgrown in many places; not even an old cut branch is to be seen, showing that it had ever been cleared. There are no ruts or anything like ruts. In fact, over the dry meadows, the gophers stir up the dirt so well, that no trace whatsoever would be visible.

It is quite possible that the jeep trail has more than one alignment. We found two X-blazes high on the West Summit ridge, which are difficult to reconcile with the map.

So we had some gratification at discovering at least one small part of the west-side jeep trail. It was time to start back out to civilization, a hike of several hours, which we enjoyed, taking it slow. We stopped for a few minutes while Gay swam at Long Lake.

It was quite a nice camp-out in North Fork country.

Looking west down the N. Fk. American canyon from the west summit ridge of Snow Mtn.