February 16 (2002, 2007)
Gnarly Brush and Other Intractable Obstacles

Date: Sat, 16 Feb 2002
To: North_Fork_Trails Email Group
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Canyon Creek to Bogus Point

Hi all,

Catherine, fully suited up
for a day of trail work,
brandishing trusty Fiskars
Catherine O'Riley and I made our way up to Bogus Point from Canyon Creek yesterday. There are traces of an old trail climbing the ridge dividing Canyon Creek from the main North Fork American canyon. With our amazing Fiskars loppers we pursued an intricate path and slowly made our way up the ridge. I have always imagined this route as part of a possible "Giant Gap Trail" from the Gold Run diggings to Lovers Leap.

For those of you unfamiliar with this area, I-80 passes Gold Run, Dutch Flat and Alta on its way up the hill to Donner Summit, Truckee, Reno etc. The freeway follows the ridge dividing Bear River from the North Fork American in this area. Extensive hydraulic gold mines ("diggings") flank the freeway to the north and south; on the south, the mines of Gold Run stretch away almost two miles to the edge of the North Fork canyon. Meanwhile, Canyon Creek, which parallels the freeway for miles above Dutch Flat, suddenly turns to the south and skirts the Gold Run diggings as it approaches the North Fork. Its gradient steadily increases and it breaks into a series of waterfalls and rapids over the last mile or so, before it meets the river. On the opposite side of Canyon Creek from the diggings rises Moody Ridge, where the amazing 2400-foot cliff, Lovers Leap, is found.

The Canyon Creek Trail leaves the diggings through a pass and enters the canyon of Canyon Creek, following it down to the river. At a certain point, near the first high waterfall, an old trail forks away and climbs slowly to the southeast, to the crest of a ridge which divides Canyon Creek from the North Fork. Actually, Moody Ridge itself is part of this divide for a couple miles, and this little ridge is kind of the westernmost spur of Moody Ridge.

Catherine calls it Brushy Ridge, a name it deserves, but which I myself find unappealing. On the one side of its narrow, steeply-plunging crest is the majestic North Fork canyon. There are many fine viewpoints along the way. Sometimes snow peaks are in view. To the other side is the smaller canyon of Canyon Creek; as one climbs, one can see the Indiana Hill ditch, parts of the Canyon Creek Trail, and finally, one can see over Indiana Hill itself (between the diggings and Canyon Creek) to the red and white gravel bluffs over by Garrett Road.

Many gnarled old live oaks and huge manzanita bushes grow along the crest of the ridge. At a certain point it levels out, where an old road comes out to the rim of the canyon, from Moody Ridge road. There are some old hydraulic pits in this area. I used to drive out here back in the 70s and early 80s but someone gated it closed. At any rate. As we reached this little flat at the end of the road, we passed though a dense stand of old manzanita, where some marijuana growers made a network of trails fifteen years ago, and we explored some of these.

I should say that from a botanical standpoint this brushy ridge is admirably well-suited for the growing of poison oak. There are also some truly massive and ancient bushes of various types, manzanita, buckbrush, toyon and silktassel being commonest. In many places what seem to be traces of the old trail along this ridge disappear beneath massive tangles of large branches, far beyond the capability of our Fiskars. In fact, the brush is so heavy, in many places, that the very continuity of the supposed old trail is called into question; one devises some ad hoc path swinging wide around. There was a certain amount of crouching and crawling involved.

On the way back we left the ridge at a certain point and followed an old trail to the north, descended another ridge for a ways, then followed still another old trail paralleling Canyon Creek up to the vicinity of the big tunnel and the sharp U-bend I call the Oxbow. There we crossed the creek, gained the Canyon Creek Trail itself, and hauled our weary bodies up and out to Potato Ravine and my battered old truck.

It was a fine day of obscure old trails and ancient shrubs and fine views. There was a little sun, some rain, and much pleasant, misty gloom. We saw some manzanita in full bloom, high on the little ridge.


Intractable Obstacles
[From North Fork Trails blogpost, February 16, 2007:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2007/10/intractable-obstacles.html ]
What a day, what a wonderful day!

For weeks now, I have been saying, to myself, and to whomever, "I should take my chainsaw down the Green Valley Trail, and cut up some of the trees which fell this winter, and blocked it."

The weather has been nothing but perfect, well, most all of January was sunny, then followed some storms, some rain, and now, sun upon sun, a northeast wind, birds singing and chattering as though Spring is really here, and finally, and at long last, the weeks spent hunched in front of my computer, doing geometry, dividing the determinant of one square matrix by the determinant of another, oh glory of all glories, seemed far far too much. It was time to bust a move. Time to escape.

So I carefully cleaned the air filter on my chainsaw's carburetor, washing it in warm and soapy water, set it to dry, built a peanut butter sandwich upon some kind of blueberry-cinnamon bread, grabbed my ancient frame pack from the back outside wall of the little hexagonal cabin, threw in gloves, fully fueled chainsaw, ear protectors, hat, water, and sandwich, and, picking up some loppers at the last moment, I set off down the old old trail.

I had an ulterior motive. I wished to reach the High Ditch, which runs from the very east end of Green Valley to the very west end, with some fuel left in my saw, and work west along the ditch. This will make a fine trail, someday. About 80% has already been cleared. Some really hard work remains. So that was The Plan: conserve fuel, ignore this and that leaning manzanita, focus upon the various trees, and, having taken care of that most pressing business, proceed, in keeping with my own peculiar and cherished agenda: the High Ditch Trail.

The best-laid plans of mice oft gang a'gley, or whatever, and so also with my plans. For as I descended the ancient path, once the busy avenue for a thousand iron-shod mules (see how the bedrock bosses, rising from the bed of the trail, are rounded? human feet never wore them down, in that way), as I descended, I found manzanita which could not be idly passed, I found other trees, which I had forgotten, in my aged and forgetful way, and so, off came the pack, out came the saw, on went the gloves and ear protectors, and work was essayed.

Finally I reached the Big One, a two-foot-diameter Digger Pine fallen directly along the trail, only a few switchbacks below the Echo Tree.

Bernie and Harriette, Green Valley,
sometime in the 1930s.
The Echo Tree is an Incense Cedar, which, by its size, one would surmise could be but fifty years old. Except, it grows in plant-stunting serpentine, and is likely more than one hundred and fifty years old. It is scarcely fifty feet high, and a little over two feet in diameter, but I know from conversations with Bernie and Harriette Denton, that the Echo Tree was thriving in the 1930s, when they used to spend their summers in Green Valley. Those skinny little kids would swim the North Fork all summer long.

They called it the Echo Tree because a good shout to the west will echo back nicely, from the far wall of Ginseng Ravine. They considered it to mark exactly half the way to the North Fork. It provides welcome shade.

Bernie and Harriette would never walk the Green Valley Trail without each carrying a long thin stick, poking ahead to awake the rattlesnakes.
[One of Bernie and Harriette's miner “uncles” was Joe Steiner, who lived the last part of his life in Green Valley; he died there, and is buried there. The Denton's shared with Russ their amazing photo collection from their years of trips to Green Valley, a few more of which will appear in this blog as the year progresses.]
Joe Steiner, who lived most of his life and
died in Green Valleyhis grave is a landmark
pushing Bernie and Harriette on his ore cart.
At any rate, passing the Echo Tree, I soon reached the Worst Offender, the aforementioned Digger Pine.

It did not look good. My saw has a sixteen-inch bar, the tree was on the beefy side of two feet through, and lay along fifty or so lineal feet of trail. Thus many cuts were called for, severing it into rounds, each round to be rolled away into the manzanita, below.

I tried one cut, at an advantageous spot, and was rewarded by being able to open ten feet of trail, rolling a massive log but a short distance.

That took care of the small end of the tree. Looking at the rest, I realized I would run my saw right out of fuel, and still not be done, making the other ten cuts needed.

I thought to myself, "This is just the job for Ron Gould's big chainsaw," and with that pleasant and rational thought, I packed up my gear and headed down and down and down.

Unfortunately, in only a little ways I came to one of the many charming Corridors of Manzanita which frame the old trail. This Corridor evoked the idea of an historic Gold Rush trail; one could almost see the bearded, red-shirted miners trudging along, hemmed in by the gnarled red branches.

And this Corridor had shrunk to dimensions even a deer might disdain. I could not even traverse the thing, with my chainsaw projecting from the top of my pack. There was really no choice. I had to work, and work hard.

So I cut and cut and cut, and pitched brush and pitched and pitched, and rested, and then cut and cut and cut and pitched and pitched and pitched.

I realized I was only a few yards above the Secret Side Trail to the Secret Old Miner's Cave in the Serpentine Fanglomerate of Ginseng Ravine.

Thus, I was only a few yards above yet another tree, this one a Douglas Fir, which fell ten years back, and is a real nuisance. There was no longer any chance of working the High Ditch. Too much fuel had been expended in the Corridor. So I waltzed down to the Secret Side Trail and attacked the Douglas Fir.

It was only sixteen inches or so in diameter, only a smidgin too large too cut through in one pass, and I made one cut, and then most of second, which pinched shut on me before I could finish, so I made a third cut between the two, which would have left me with two four-foot lengths to roll out of the way. Well within my capabilities.

An inch or so before the third cut was completed, my saw ran out of fuel.

What followed would have provided some good entertainment, had anyone been there to see.

I went in search of levers, confident I could just break the remaining wood in the second cut, and snapped one hefty, yet too-rotten, branch after another. Did I quit? Oh no! I just kept on scouting around for bigger and better levers. I found some. Using pieces of broken levers, I could lift the one free end an inch at a time, and shove the broken lever pieces underneath. I gradually, gradually, moved the free end full sixteen inches, to the accompaniment of various cracking sounds from the second-cut-which-had-pinched-shut-on-me. But it never broke.

Many a time I lay full flat on the ground, grabbing whatever was handy, and used all the power in my legs to try to move the eight-foot log that one last inch which would break the pinched cut.

To no avail.

I found natural wedges and used boulders to pound them into the pinched cut, which had opened considerably, the pinched cut which needed so very little to break that last vestige of solid wood.

To no avail.

Again and again I lay on the ground and strained with my legs. Again and again I pounded the ad hoc wedges deeper. Again and again I levered the free end up, or to the side, shimming it and chocking it in various ways, and using small boulders, with near-incredible cleverness, as fulcrums. Or fulcri.

To no avail.

I knew that, once in a blue moon, when the saw ran out of gas, I could start it up again for a few seconds. So I tried that.

To no avail.

At last, sweaty, dirty, and even leafy, with ants climbing all over me and through my hair, I had to give up. I left my wedges and levers just as they were. God. An hour, at least, I spent. I came within an inch of cutting through the damn log with my saw, and it ran out of gas. Did I give up? Yes.

But not without a fight.

Still, I lost. I lost that one. Darn it!

So, I trudged back up to my pack, finished pitching manzanita off the Corridor, loaded everything, and made a nice slow step-after-step ascent of the trail.

It was a day of bright sun and blue sky, of bright snow in the distance, of the fewest and scantiest of clouds, of a brisk northeast wind aloft, but the more typical upslope winds at the surface. I had a chance, of course, to ponder geology, for I really cannot stop pondering geology (it may well be a vice), and I concluded that the east wall of Moonshine Ravine, over towards Casa Loma, was really too high and too steep to be a result of mere stream incision, that it represented, in fact, a distinct record of the glacier which broke out of Canyon Creek into the North Fork canyon, either 65,000 years ago, or 130,000 years ago, or both; so that the gap, or pass, in the dividing ridge, should better be called Glacier Gap, than Hogback, which latter is its historic name, not that anyone remembers that that is so.

No, around here, the guiding concept of local history is, "I moved here in 1955, and you moved here in 1975; end of story."

Such was a wonderful if strenuous day in the great canyon of the North Fork of the American River.



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