September 30 (1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1985, 1999, 2001, 2005) Tone-Clusters of the Manzanita Song

9/30/75   late at night, crickets thrilling choruses to the stars, reciting mystic anthems to the New World. the elaborate tone-clusters of the manzanita song.

here—the west slope of the Sierra. an enormous block of the earth's crust, extending four hundred miles from northwest to southeast, from around mt. lassen to a ways south of whitney. so the west slope is really this southwest slope; a plane uptilted and consequently cut by rivers into a maze of deep canyons; in my mind's eye I stand on a dividing ridge and look southeast and, across a series, a multitude of other divides, with the great shadowy cracks between them, and their skin of forest and brushland, the elaborate tone-clusters of the manzanita music ringing just about everywhere ~


[Russell Towle's journal]

9/30/76 ~ early morning, like 2 a.m. this cold has me in a weird place. [...] i ate many grapes today, and drank grapefruit juice… knelt on the dirt of broken orchard and nibbled them right off the spreading vines… the sky is clear now. i saw a meteor tonight that seemed the largest of any i've ever seen. wobbled through the atmosphere. tomorrow i should go out to the ridge and work, if i can focus.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/30/78 [...] i walked home, up behind sons of norway to moody ridge road and back to the gap. it was dark by the time i got here, and although the air temperature was pleasantly cool as i ambled through alta and up the north slope of moody ridge, when i walked through the nary red gap and reached the n. fk. side of the ridge, the air temperature must have risen about five or ten degrees. i took off my shirt for the last part of the walk.

heard two flocks of geese go by yesterday while working, saw one. lovely. [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

9/30/79   afternoon in my cabin. 80°. sunny, hazy, dreamy canyon. yesterday neil & susan & dana & i went out to big valley bluff. afternoon shadows were lengthening in the Royal Gorge. a few puffy cumulus showed rain bands beneath them, but none reached the ground.

a day to myself. i am feeling good about my life these days. these good old days. it’s the first week of fall and winter’s shadow lengthens rapidly. shadows wax and wane as well as moons. i wax and wane… guitar playing continues, over the years, to be a joyful and challenging habit. words. i wonder why i write anymore.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

September 30, 1985

Dawn. The chainsaws buzz at the clear-cut across the canyon. That makes me so mad; it will be visible from Casa Loma, Iron Point, and here; the absence of trees will be visible from Lovers Leap. [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

September 30, 1999 [...]

I've been working on the New Pool, cutting out an ellipse in the volcanic ash, also Greg and I started work on a new trail to the New Pool which forks off from the Cliff trail [...]

I've had a hankering to hike and swim through Giant Gap and come out on Canyon Creek Trail to Garrett Road. But haven't done so. Time running out. Hot weather recently but not for too much longer I shouldn't think.”

[Russell Towle's journal]


Sunday night. A strange and terrible time, with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington. And in the meantime, things have gone poorly with our attempts to secure Wilderness designation for Placer County's last roadless areas. The group with which I have worked on this, American River Wildlands, was taken by surprise by the negative attitude of our District 5 supervisor, Rex Bloomfield. Rex was more or less given carte blanche by Sen. Boxer's staff, to decide the final boundaries of the proposed wilderness areas. And he ended up slicing them up according to motorcycle and mountain bike usage. So it doesn't look as though we will be able to support Rex's version of the boundaries and our areas will not be in Boxer's bill. I have been advocating wilderness designation for the North Fork American for over 25 years, and was hoping that at last it would come to be. My e-mail records my efforts over the past year on this.


Yesterday Dave Lawler, his friend Prudence, and I, climbed Castle Peak. A lovely summery day. Still a tiny patch of snow up there.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

More Photos from the Castle Peak Hike 
September 30, 2001

Castle Peak with its "battlements"—view from the south.
Castle Peak summit crags
Pyroclastic flows, northside
View northwest from the Castle Peak summit, along the ridge to Basin Peak
Mustang  Mint
(Monardella lanceolata)

Compare with this photo, of the flower head in late bloom state:

Date: Fri Sep 30 20:06:51 2005
To: Ron_Gould, Catherine_O‘Riley, Jerry Rein, Alex
From: Russell Towle
Subject: South China Trail
X-Attachments: :Macintosh HD :18:South_China.JPG:
[This map image is also displayed on the September 28 page, here]
Hey Ron, Catherine, Jerry, Alex,

Today (Friday) Jerry and I drove back out to Sawtooth Ridge, took the lower (new) Sawtooth Road, and parked where a road right switches back sharply to the northeast (see map, attached).

So, we parked at about 4500' elevation and walked down the logging road, built in the early 1960s (I guess) and regraded in the early-mid 1990s by SPI.

That's the blue line on the—my track record—but my batteries ran low in my GPS so I switched it off and only turned it back on to record waypoints.

The black line I drew in shows known parts of the South China Trail. There is only one big gap left, east and above Snake Point. Then there is a ridgecrest route without blazes which I am 90% confident is the true line of the trail, but still have some doubts.

Snake Point is an amazing viewpoint, you could make a trip out there just to visit that one place. But watch out for rattlers.

The road continues to drop northeast of Snake Point and there is enough tree cover that my GPS is a little off and shows the blazes near the log deck (marked "LOG DECK) as at or above the 4200' contour, the blazes are more likely a little below that contour.

The letters "B" mark approximate positions of TNF blazes.

The waypoint marked "ROAD" is a blaze along the road below and north of the log deck. Then, a little ways further down the road, another big tree holds a blaze, significantly, facing uphill across the road, not up or down the road.

So we interpreted that blaze to mean that the trail goes down right exactly there. We were right but it cost a lot of trouble to verify that. It actually goes down and to the west. But we went more straight down—Ron, remember how that one TNF map shows the trail paralleling a ravine?—so we kept on switching back and forth, east and west, from that particular ravine, on the east (it drops down near the "M" of "Many Blazes"), to the west, but, as it turned out, never far enough west. We finally got into TNF Section 26 and left the damn logging behind. A wonderful patch of forest, with huge Douglas Fir, and an obviously good line for a trail but no blazes, and no trail. So we bore west and finally found blazes, right at the top of the last steep drop to the NFNFAR. The trail was then obvious and, following Forest Service protocol, there were no more blazes.

We dropped down the trail to the river and hit the big camp with the slate benches above the pool where Ron and I saw the otter last summer. A miner's tarp storage cabin-thing is directly on the line of the trail near the river, blocking the trail itself. Quite a bit of garbage around this Slate Camp.

We had high hopes of following the trail back up from where we found the blazes, but although we managed to follow those blazes for a little ways, all too soon we were back in Section 25. Owned by SPI. So it was not trees with blazes, it was stumps.

Still, we were careful. We scouted widely back and forth, gradually climbing. Everything drew us east, where we had earlier descended through a magical forest, without a single blaze, but nevertheless directly beneath the "last blaze on the road, above" (the "uphill-pointing" blaze)).

But I felt 'west' deserved a close look. The "ridge closest west to the TNF-map ravine" was still west of me. And I knew there was a major log deck over that way. Yuck. Still I walked over there and immediately noted some large stumps on the crest of the ridge; if the South China Trail was following a "ridge course" here, these very trees would have held the blazes—and a skid trail went up the ridge crest—so I walked on up and eventually, lo!, I discovered a large blaze.

Sometimes this ridge skid-trail forked, and I would have to check out each fork, for none had blazes, and then decide which was the "true" line of the South China.

This all worked out for I found more and even larger blazes, above. So I had picked the correct skid trail. I had left the ridge and was climbing to the east.

And it gradually climbed east to a point 50 feet below the "last blaze on the road, above," where no smallest sign of the trailbed exists, surely because so much debris was bladed over the edge during road construction and reconstruction, above.

Still, we had found the true line of parts of the South China Trail. The parts known are drawn in black.

I put ?? on the map where I do not know the exact course of the trail.

Most of the South China Trail is now either a logging road, or a logging skid trail.

It intersects the High Sawtooth Road, the Old Road, near Point 5094' elevation, lower right on the map. There is an old TNF 4X4 sign post lying there— no sign boards. And in the forest a few steps, there is another missing sign. And a bunch of blazes.

Howsoever, don't you think the South China Trail could be restored for foot use? If so, and then TNF purchased Section 25 (now SPI), then, in fifty years or so, with, one hopes, some cool fires in the interval (burning the slash up and thinning the forest), one might almost have the same experience as I.T. Coffin, in 1863.

That is one pretty canyon, and a marvelous river. We saw a giant bird, maybe an owl or hawk or eagle, flap ponderously away down the river. From one tree to another.


Russell Towle

Date: Fri Sep 30 23:41:36 2005
To: Ron Gould
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Re: South China Trail

It would be fun to do the whole trail, from Lost Camp to Sawtooth, or the other way, and if we could get someone to drive us out to Sawtooth, and then also leave a vehicle at Lost Camp, well, that would be nice.

We did cover a lot of ground today, with all that scouting side to side. Jerry almost went far enough west to find the true line of the trail (tho he was no good at seeing blazes), on our way down [...]

Yes, the trail as I mapped it is not a terribly good match for the easement language.

I saw some more three-high surveying blazes today. Up on Upper Sawtooth Road.

But no—the trail could not continue uphill from the "uphill facing blaze" on the road. Not only is it too steep, but only a hundred yards or so up the road is another blaze, showing that the road itself was cut into the trail. That is, the point marked "ROAD" is a blaze-point on the road, just up the road from the uphill-facing blaze, and moreover, the blaze is on both sides of its tree—facing up and the road and down the road. A two-blaze tree.

That area is pretty torn up by logging.

In the well-defined lower section, on TNF land above the river, there is one bad tangle of fallen trunks which is forcing bears and people off the trail. A chainsaw is almost mandatory to fix it (it might barely be possible for a couple of men to heave the stuff down the hill). I remember that exact spot from exploring up there with Dave Lawler.

Up by the upper log deck about 4200' the trail makes a switchback onto a different logging road. Today I was able to find one new blaze up higher on that road. But we were out of time, I would have tried to close the gap up to the Lower Sawtooth Road if we'd had more time.

Oh yeah one more note: if the road is followed down from Lower Sawtooth, past the last, uphill-facing blaze, it ends almost immediately and there is the ravine we see on the map and just beyond is a possible cross-country route to the Gorge of Many Gorges, where you could maybe contour along and then pick your way down near the confluence of Fulda. Might be in fact the easiest possible approach to the Gorge.

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