January 10 (1981, 1987, 2002, 2003, 2006)
Fearful Whooshing! And Busy Peeps

1/10/81   Night before last, Terror Struck. As I was trying to go to sleep, around midnight, I heard heavy footsteps in the dead leaves near here. Quietly opening the sleeping loft window, I leaned out to listen better, alarmed at the thought of a man stomping about at night near my cabin. But no man was it. As I leaned and listened, the footsteps stopped. Then I was electrified to hear some extremely loud, whooshing inhalations/exhalations. They were emitted in pairs, each pair of whooshes lasting about three seconds or so, followed by a silence of perhaps ten seconds. These electrifying whooshing sounds continued for five minutes or so. Finally, in a paroxysm of fear, I closed the window and snuck downstairs, pulled on my pants, and eased the door open a crack. Leaned and listened. Nothing.
I don't know what it was—a deer, or a bear, or a mountain lion. It was large.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

1/10/87   Eric and Paula and I had a wonderful time skiing. I took them to Rowton and through the Onion Creek meadows; they exclaimed happily that they had never before dared to go such places, never before really skied. It was a great day; except we stopped for a few drinks at the Serene Lakes Lodge, and I spent too much money. We had wonderful conversation as well. On a sour note, I must record that Royal Gorge ski area is strangling public access to the high country around Serene Creek; I'd like to sue them or something.


Eric & Paula and I saw a snow bunny scampering; we had a really really nice time, on a beautiful sunny day with excellent powder in most locations, and dramatic views.”

Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 08:26:34 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: High Flows in Canyon Creek

Hi all,

Possessed by a stubborn impulse, Catherine O'Riley, Pat Devereaux and I ventured into Canyon Creek last Sunday, under sodden clouds and forecasts of unrelenting rain, and to our surprise and great good luck, the clouds thinned and parted and we began to joke about sunscreen.

The creek was flowing high and loud after weeks of snow followed by weeks of rain. There is still snow in the upper basin of Canyon Creek. On Sunday I saw the creek at a higher stage than at any time since the construction of the little bridge, two years ago. Not only do the waterfalls get larger and roar louder and fling their spray farther when the creek is high, but entirely new waterfalls appear, such as at the first big fall, just south of the bridge. Here a little leaping fall develops thirty feet or so west of the main fall, when the creek is high enough. It actually jumps out and a little up, a real leaper.

We visited the Big Waterfall and the Terraces, on the way to the river. Near the Terraces I saw some last year's earliest flowers, those of the California Milkmaids, in the genus Dentaria, or Cardamine, depending upon which manual you consult, close to first bloom. Last year some were already open on January 6th. The California Bay Laurel is also showing flower buds.

The voice of a Canyon Wren could be heard near the rock slides on the way down; not the high rollicking laughing cascade of its song, bot those busy peeps made while exploring miniature caverns and niches, in search of food.

At the river we reveled in actual sunshine. The North Fork was flowing rather high and fast for early winter. On our climb out, the clouds parted even more, and after so many dreary storms it seemed such a blessing to be out in the great canyon, in such a wild and beautiful place. We visited the viewpoint of the Blasted Digger and looked up through Giant Gap, where wisps of fog rose lazily into the void and miles beyond we could see the snow peaks at the head of the North Fork of the North Fork, Black Mountain and Quartz Mountain.

Such was an excellent afternoon in Canyon Creek.

Date: Fri, 10 Jan 2003 12:06:50 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Blasted Trail
Cc: John Ramirez, Nick Chickering

Hi all,

I had a nice conversation with Jay Shuttleworth last night. Jay has been largely responsible for solving the access problem to the head of the Stevens Trail at the Iowa Hill end, and has pursued efforts to get the Stevens Trail designated a National Historic Landmark.

This is a designation which some of us have considered to be a good goal for the Gold Run Diggings. It might help find the money to buy the 800 acres currently for sale there. Howsoever.

Jay called to talk about the Blasted Trail. He is of much the same mind as most of us. Now, it so happens that Catherine O'Riley, who alerted us to a major garbage infestation along the Stevens Trail, Colfax side of the river, has been suggesting that our thus-far informal North Fork Trails group should become, well, formal. This is also what Bob & Judy Suter have advocated for years. There is, for instance, the possibility of getting non-profit organization status, so that donations could be written off for tax purposes.

Jay wrote today as follows:
>Hi, Russ,
>Very refreshing to talk with someone so passionate and informed about the North Fork. I am bristling at the idea of just plowing through the canyons for a "recreation trail."
>Please consider these ideas: The Stevens Trail Society is likely to oppose use of the Stevens Trail for the Capitol-to-Capitol Trail. I am going to encourage the route to take the Shirttail Canyon dirt road from the Yankee Jims Bridge into the south part of Iowa Hill. From there, it could possibly connect up with some of your suggestions.
>What are your thoughts on these possibilities?
>Also, from what I gathered from Greg Wells, he is giving more consideration to people who are part of a "trail group." You may want to form a small non-profit association so you can gain that political recognition. Something to think about. I would like you to join our Stevens Trail Society.
>Regards, Jay
So Jay too thinks that we ought to formalize our North Fork Trails group.

So far as the Shirttail Canyon to Iowa Hill idea of Jay's, I like it. I like the idea of using existing roads for the horses and bikes. As Deane Swickard of BLM remarked, there's a reason why there's no trail running right up the North Fork, after 150 years of American settlement. And that reason is that the canyon is so steep and so rocky in so many places that construction of such a trail would be very difficult. That is partly why almost every trans-Sierran route avoids the canyons and keeps to the ridge-tops. Only in the higher elevations, where the canyons were widened by glaciers, such as for instance the South Yuba from Lake Spaulding up to the summit, can the canyons themselves become easy routes.

In fact, the original surveyors of the Central Pacific Railroad were guided by this rule. They followed a ridge dividing two canyons until they got far enough east and upcountry to turn into the broad glaciated valley of the South Yuba, which heads up at Donner Pass. Similarly with the Placer Emigrant Road, which followed up the Foresthill Divide, and then split into two branches, making its final approach to passes across the crest in the upper basins of the North Fork and Middle Fork American.

Now. The planners of the Capitol-to-Capitol Trail wish that it not go up and down; for we already have one trans-Sierran trail in Placer County--the Western States Trail--and it goes up and down with a genuine vengeance. Suppose Jay's idea of Shirttail Canyon to Iowa Hill comes to pass. Then really the only sensible thing is to just stay on the Foresthill Divide as far as possible. Then, possibly, the trail could climb out of the North Fork near Lincoln Peak, either by going through the Onion Creek Experimental Forest, or by following the road into Ice Lakes and turning east, through Sugar Bowl, and across Roller Pass into Coldstream Valley.

Of course, if the Foresthill Divide were followed up, the most sensible route would be to veer into the upper Middle Fork for the crossing of the Sierra crest into Squaw Valley. But that means going through the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Terry Davis of the Sierra Club has had conversations with Rich Johnson of Tahoe National Forest and others, about the Blasted Trail, and it looks, increasingly, as though the idea of a new, broad trail, right up the North Fork itself, has very little chance. However, everything is still quite uncertain.

Well. What do y'all think about formalizing the North Fork Trails group?


Russell Towle

Imminent sunrise over the Foresthill Divide from Moody Ridge, January 10, 2006

1 comment:

  1. That top journal entry sounds pretty spooky! I would be extremely frightened if I heard those noises outside. Canyon Creek sounds just beautiful.