February 12 (1978, 2005, 2006)
Return to Ponderosa

2/12/78   morning. snowing lightly. yesterday was mostly sunny and much of the snow melted, but the ground retains a veneer. i am low on food and should try to make it to the store today.

yesterday i heard the thud of snowballs hitting the cabin and stepped out to look around. i was brushing my teeth at the time. soon dana and gary emerged from hiding. [...] we had a nice day, hiking through the snow out to lover's leap [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Sat Feb 12, 2005
To: NorthForkTrails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Return to Ponderosa

Hi all,

From Weimar Crossroads on I-80, Ponderosa Road leads away south, gradually narrowing and turning back and forth ever more sharply. The pavement ends, and after some good hairpin turns, one reaches the river at a long level section of road.  A quarter-mile downstream, one parks near the somewhat rickety old bridge. The Codfish Falls Trail follows the right, north bank of the North Fork downstream to Codfish Canyon, where, set back from the river, are some pleasant cascades and low falls.

On the left, south bank of the river a trail leads away downstream. It begins by following the remains of a road I suspect had something to do with the big floating dredge which once worked the bars both up and down the river. All this left bank is north-facing, and is only beginning to enjoy a taste of sun after months of shadow.

This morning I met Julie Chauvin at Sierra Market in Colfax, and we drove to Ponderosa Bridge and set off down the Left Bank of the North Fork. Our objective: to determine whether this "use" trail continued past Gravel Bar Six.

Soft clouds filled the sky, but it was warmer than Wednesday, almost spring-like. No, it actually was spring-like.

From Ponderosa Bridge to Upper Lake Clementine, there are seven large gravel bars along the Left Bank. These are denoted as GB1, GB2, GB3 , GB4 , GB5 , GB6 , GB7.

Between GBi and GBi+1 runs "high trail segment" Ti,i+1. That is, between GB3 and GB4 is found T34.

This rather nice route down the Left Bank alternates between (1) long bouldery gravel bars, sometimes sandy, sometimes a little meadowy, and (2) relatively short high trail segments, which climb up into the oak woods on the canyon wall, and then drop down to the next gravel bar.

“Part of the 7.5 minute Greenwood quad with today's GPS of the route. It shows our path back to Ponderosa Bridge this afternoon (the bridge is at the very top of the map). I drew in by hand our last exploration, to the last gravel bar before Upper Clementine bar, in a slightly different shade of blue and slightly wider line.”
(Click to enlarge)
GB1 begins with the broken road, but immediately becomes a classic ankle-twisting romp through a field of solid rock eggs, most around a foot in diameter. Quite a few people walk down this way, and a faint track can often be discerned amid the boulders. There is some sand, too, between the boulders, which keeps them steady, and has a smoothing effect.

After a time, large dredge spoil piles appear on GB1. It becomes somewhat meadowy before pinching out where bedrock is exposed all along the river. Here one leaves GB1 for T12.

T12 is an old mining ditch, much overgrown. In all those north-facing oak woods there is a tremendous amount of poison oak. There is even more than usual on T12. But it makes for a nice walk of nearly half a mile before one drops away from the ditch onto a spur trail, which makes a winding path down to GB2.

The upstream end of GB2 is more or less directly across the North Fork from Codfish Canyon's wide alluvial flood plain. One veers away from the canyon wall to pass some willows, and then GB2 follows the river around a major left turn. One leaves the main boulder-bed of GB2 for a meadowy stretch pinned close by the canyon wall, with more big heaps of dredge spoils. A marshy area, where the dredge once dug itself a pond, is too overgrown to cross directly, so one must actually get up on the spoils for a short distance. Then more meadowy areas, and GB2 ends against another patch of bedrock on the Left Bank.

T23 leaves GB2 on the left and climbs perhaps 100 feet to cross above an outcrop of rock. It is perhaps a quarter-mile in length. It drops towards the upstream end of GB3, but one can stay a ways above the river and wind along through woods and meadows, past the odd little well, and at times on a mining ditch. Eventually one is forced down to GB3, about midway down its length.

T34 is shorter yet, and instead of making a fairly straight downsloping line from its high point, down to GB4, it manages a couple of little switchbacks, which are hard to see. One hits GB4 near its upstream end.

GB4 has some good sandy stretches, easy walking. It pinches out against rocks and steep slopes at the beginning of the river's huge arc around the base of Chamise Ridge.

T45 begins nearly level, enters upon an embarrassingly steep climb, and then mixes level sections with short gentle climbs in an especially pleasant part of the woods. It is longer than any other high segment with the possible exception of T12.

I have not yet worked out the perfect descent from T45 to GB5. I am sure there is a good trail line in there somewhere. Today, we got impatient and thrashed down through brush and poison oak to the bar. Even that cross-country route wasn't too terrible.

GB5 is at the very toe of Chamise Ridge. I noted that the Chamise does indeed grow right down to river level. But not on GB5 itself.

GB2, 3, 4, and 5 all show heavy OHV use.

Julie and I walked to the downstream end of GB5 and found Michael Garabedian's footprints, from Wednesday. We took a lunch break. We had fine views of the next section of canyon wall above the Left Bank, where T56 must run, if it even existed. We saw nothing too promising. However, a little gully nearby looked just like a small trail simply choked with poison oak and dead brush of seven separate species. After lunch I bulled my way in and found T56, sure enough.

So off we went again. T56 climbs quickly to avoid nearby rocks, and hits a faint old ditch line with some dry-laid stone walls, or, rather than a ditch line, the line of a wooden flume which once crossed the rocks. So they built a little perch here, and a little perch there, and between perches were some steep cliffy sections. We picked a path across the perches and soon were on nice open slopes and had easy going on the old ditch into a ravine.

Portions of the stone dam which had once diverted the waters of this ravine into our ditch could be seen. We crossed and scouted high and low, looking at various game trails before settling upon a well-defined path much of the same pattern as T23 or T45.

Then Julie made a most momentous discovery: just above our trail she saw another old ditch.

This one was much larger than the one with the perches. The steep slopes above, so deeply mantled with colluvium and soil, had shed enough dirt and rock in a hundred years, to fill this old ditch to the brim. It looked like a road.

It led into another ravine, and continued on the far side, noble and broad as ever.

Then it entered still another ravine, with much signs of mining in the way of stacked boulders, and on the far side the ditch diminished.

It diminished, but did not end. Shortly we entered upon a fine grove of trees, mixed Ponderosa Pine and Black Oak, neither too common in that part of the canyon, and here at scarcely 800 feet of elevation. Amid these was one great and stately oak with pure white bark. It may have been a Valley Oak. The ancient scratches of a bear could be seen on its trunk.

Near it, a strange totem or monument of rock almost marked the last gasp of our wonderful ditch.

We were running out of time. Our broad glade was attractive, and I think an exploration would have shown some kind of continuation of T56, or even a morphing into T67, with no drop to GB6 at all. We saw no side trail leading down to GB6 so we walked right towards it, directly below The Glade.

“A panorama taken from Gravel Bar 5 at the toe of Chamise Ridge, looking downstream.
The line of the ditches and trails Julie and I used are roughly sketched in. The Glade,
above Gravel Bar 6, is labeled. We dropped down to the gravel bar there. That is getting
to be quite close to Upper Clementine. Note that the ditches wind in and out of the ravines
and make for a somewhat longer route than necessary. But that one ditch is a real winner.
Leads right to The Glade.”
However, a strange little pond lies along the edge of GB6, dividing GB6 from the canyon wall. So we scouted along for quite a while before we could find a way around the long narrow waters.

GB6 is not as big as the others. We could see right down to GB7, the bar at the base of Upper Clementine Road, scarcely an eighth of a mile away, and see every part of the canyon wall which T67 must traverse. But, we were out of time. T67 must wait.

"Mosquito Bills",
or Woodland Shooting Star
or Henderson's Shooting Star
(Dodecatheon Hendersonii)
So, with a little brush clearing, there could be quite a nice foot trail linking Ponderosa Bridge and Upper Lake Clementine. Right now it would be somewhat hard to find and follow, in places.

It took two hours of steady walking to reach the bridge. Yet I do not think it makes all of six miles, down to GB6, where we stopped; probably more than four trail miles, but not six.

And only one-quarter, maybe one-third of a mile left unexplored!

Such was another fine day in the North Fork. We also saw wildflowers in bloom, notably, Mosquito Bills. And a hawk. A little limestone. A bumblebee. Some nice cliffs, high on the canyon wall, across from GB4 or T34, as I recall. Should be a nice overlook spot.


Russell Towle

High water, 2/12/06, view into Giant Gap from the west. "H" indicates the HOUT (High Old Upriver Trail).

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