February 18 (1986, 2003)
Deluge Continues; Discovering the HOUT

February 18, 1986   Well, guess what, it continues to rain heavily. [...] I walked into Alta yesterday [...] Got soaked, but got a good look at Canyon Creek, which is roaring muddy white water, barely fitting underneath the lone bridge connecting Moody Ridge from the outside world. I stood and watched it for a while, reflecting that if only one large tree trunk were to float down the rapids, the bridge would be destroyed. This storm is making the national news, and according to the National Weather Service, no end is in sight. I would guesstimate well over ten inches of rain have fallen since last Thursday. The river below is impossibly huge.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003
To: NorthForkTrails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: The High Old Upriver Trail

Hi all,

When Larry Hillberg and I explored the Upriver Trail from Canyon Creek into Giant Gap, on our way back down the canyon we crawled through a patch of horrible buckbrush and struck a certain gully. Since we were at least 300 feet above the river, we decided not to descend to the known, lower, more westerly part of the Upriver Trail, instead just climbing up to the Blasted Digger Overlook and thence to the Canyon Creek Trail at Waterfall View.

"Lucky", an intrepid companion on many of Russell's hikes in the canyon.
Early today I drove to the head of the Canyon Creek Trail, jammed on down to the river past sparkling hoarfrost and early wildflowers, and returned to where we left the high old trail, climbing up the gully from the lower upriver trail to the spot where Larry and I had struck out cross-country. I was planning to follow the high trail on up the canyon, but I noticed, across the gully to the west, a grassy ledge, at my same level, which could have been the westward continuation of the high trail. The gully is lined with mossy cliffs and has a water-polished bedrock floor, and today, after the recent storms, a nice little stream plunged over a series of waterfalls. I scrambled down and hopped across and climbed up to the moss-trimmed grassy ledge, and saw immediately that it was indeed the continuation of the trail. It looked as though at one time it had contoured right across the gully, but that big storm events within the last century or so had ripped that part of it out.

Following it west, I was amazed—so very amazed, my friends!—at its breadth, its dry-laid stone retaining walls, and most of all, at its almost level course. This levelness is in stark contrast to the lower upriver trail, which plunges up and down like a bucking bronco. This high old trail had clearly once been very heavily used. I was further amazed to find, where it crossed small cliffs and the like, that its builders had blasted a bench cut from the solid rock. One could see the tell-tale radiating fractures from the blast points. In such places it was about eighteen inches wide. To a very remarkable degree this trail avoided rising or falling; only the occasional patch of gigantic manzanita and other shrubs interrupted its stately, level course, and in a half-dozen or so such places I was forced downhill from the line of the trail; but it was always easily regained.

It continued west, winding in and out of gullies, and across the intervening ridges, which often offered extensive views up and down the canyon, and sometimes, I could see to the roaring frothing river below, still entombed in morning shadows. I struck the Canyon Creek Trail at the Fallen Oak, just a mite down the trail from the junction with Lower Terraces Trail. Oddly, for all the breadth and high definition the High Old Upriver Trail had shown farther east, just as it neared the Canyon Creek Trail, it suddenly became vague, and could be mistaken for a game trail.

An occasional grey and weathered old branch stump showed that the High Old Upriver Trail had been used a bit, perhaps fifteen or twenty years ago. The trail appears to have led to the area near the Big West Spur of Giant Gap, a ridge spurring away from Moody Ridge into the canyon, west of Lovers Leap and east of Bogus Point. In this part of the river there are at least two old camping terraces, perhaps many more, dating from, in the first place, the Gold Rush itself, and in the second place, from the era of Chinese mining, which I imagine mainly spanned the decade from 1855 to 1865, in that part of the canyon.

There are three main spur ridges jutting into Giant Gap: on the north, Lovers Leap and Big West Spur, and on the south, the Pinnacles Ridge. To these may be added Giant Gap Spur, east of the Pinnacles, and the unnamed massive cliff, likewise on the south side of the canyon, west of the Pinnacles.

Lest anyone on this list imagine that the High Old Upriver Trail could become part of Rex Bloomfield's misguided Capitol-to-Capitol Trail, I should say that every inch of it was infested with the most vicious Poison Oak, and where there was a gap in the Poison Oak, Rattlesnakes were either stretched out across the trail, sleeping, or were irritably gazing about and rattling, making sudden forward motions with their heads. The only parts of the High Old Upriver Trail free of Poison Oak and Rattlesnakes were the sheer cliffs, where one false step would send you tumbling uncontrollably down to the boiling white rapids, ten thousand feet below. So you can just mark this trail off your list.

Blue line is the Canyon Creek Trail; the red line is the HOUT (High Old Upriver Trail)


Russell Towle

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