[Russell Towle's journal]
Date: Feb 26 23:37:29 2005
To: North Fork Trails Email Group
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Big West Spur
Giant Gap forms one of the most beautiful scenes in California. It was the subject of an etching by 19th-century landscape artist Thomas Moran. For a time in the 1860s there was a movement to rename it "Jehovah Gap," for such is the awe inspired by the place.
For instance, here the Eastern Belt is made of the metasedimentary early-Paleozoic Shoo Fly Complex, plus those younger formations to its east, such as the Sailor Canyon and Tuttle Lake formations. The Eastern Belt is divided from the Central Belt by the serpentines and peridotites of the Melones Fault Zone, also called the Feather River Peridotite. In this area the Central Belt is composed largely by the late-Paleozoic Calaveras Complex. This "complex" has not been successfully divided into distinct formations, but here at least it shows an eastern metavolcanic series, and a western metasedimentary series.
The Calaveras rocks were once roughly flat-lying, but are now tipped up on edge. Even the volcanics seem to have been deposited in layers, which is clearly true of the metasediments. The shear conditions under which metamorphism occurred were such that a fabric or grain was imparted to the rock; and this fabric itself is mainly parallel to the bedding planes, of both the volcanics and the sediments.
|Bigseed Biscuitroot |
|Brewers Monkeyflower |
We parked along Garrett and crossed the Diggings to the east, picking up the Canyon Creek Trail in Potato Ravine and making good time on the downhill. Flowers began to appear at the bridge (Biscuit Root), and I was not too surprised to find the smaller of the two Canyon Creek Larkspurs already in bloom, right below Gorge Point, along with False Rue Anemone. Then there was Buckbrush, and Manroot, and Brewer's Rock Cress, and Brewer's Monkeyflower, this last quite a little jewel, with its rich magenta petals and golden throat-streaks. Overall we must have seen over a dozen different species in bloom. California Milkmaids were especially nice, on the steep east side of Big West Spur, where the HOUT plunges through an elfin forest of dwarf Canyon Live Oak.
The pattern of recent days was repeated: clear skies early, a few little puffballs late in the morning, and then cumulus clouds every which way, rapidly growing into thunderstorms, but not so closely packed as to exclude all sunlight.
In other words, it was spectacularly beautiful. As the clouds grew taller, breezes stirred and freshened into a steady west wind, which brought the ghosts of the Valley fog into the Sierra, in the form of a milky humid air-mass which threw a bit of chill over everything.
(Dentaria californica, or Cardamine californica)
We were out on Big West Spur, where the HOUT winds in and out of a series of rock-blades and ravines about 400 feet above the river, in extremely steep terrain, pretty much cliff upon cliff and rock upon rock. The wind began to chill us, so we moved from a rock-blade to a ravine, and that little bit of shelter was just enough. The force of the wind was broken, the force of the sun, repaired.
After resting and exploring and taking pictures of the Milkmaids and the sparkling clear river, rich in rapids and deep emerald pools, we decided to climb to the "first summit" of Big West Spur, where the ridge almost levels out, like the Diving Board, a mile or so to the west.
|Westward view, North Fork American from below "The Eminence", west of Giant Gap|
It was a wonderful chiaroscuro scene, with bright and dark clouds, bright and dark cliffs, and we took many photographs. It is really one of the best of all vantage points on Giant Gap. To my amazement, we could see one of the two tunnels on the line of the HOUT, the West Tunnel, in Tunnel Gully, below Lovers Leap.
|Eastward view, of and through Giant Gap|
Click to enlarge