February 5 (1981, 1983, 1997, 2002)
French Toast Mountaineering Club; and “Inca Ski Jump Ridge”

2/5/81   Before dawn. ... C & G & S & I went to the Pinnacles of Giant Gap a week ago or so. Saw many eagles & noteworthy things.”

the Dutch Flat Chapter of the  

French Toast Mountaineering Club

makes an ascent on skis of... Castle Peak!*

2/5/83   Morning. The penniless condition persists, but I did manage to go X-C skiing yesterday. Steve Rafferty and I ascended Castle Peak and finished skiing down in the starlight. Steve fell a bunch of times trying to telemark (and succeeding occasionally) but we both had a good time. Should have left the mountain earlier. What was a kind of delicate cornflake slush on the way up through lovely, open, juniper-dotted expanses, became breakable crust in starlight. Miserable stuff to turn in. Lovely clouds wafted by in the sky, cumulus, lenticular clouds, cirrus.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Ray-traced depiction of the North Fork American River canyon derived from digital elevation data.
Giant Gap is at the bottom, Green Valley just beyond. The Sierra Crest ridge is in the far distance.
Rendered by Russell Towle,
February 5, 1997

Date: Tue, 5 Feb 2002 08:42:32 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Brief Adventure

Hi all,

Yesterday the intrepid Catherine O'Riley and I made a late start on a Gold Run adventure. Our objective: the curious ridge dividing Canyon Creek from Indiana Ravine, which springs from the north wall of the North Fork canyon, plunges steeply, then levels off about 700 or 800 feet above the river, before plunging even more steeply to the cliff-bound rapids below. This ridge is quite conspicuous from other viewpoints around the canyon, as from the Canyon Creek Trail itself, or, say, from Lovers Leap. [This is the "Diving Board", as mentioned in other posts.]

We parked at the end of Garrett Road at the BLM gate and followed the old road down to the Secret World where the stone cabin stands. Scrambling up the east side of the pit we passed the reservoir with its huge dry-laid stone wall, at the terminus of the Indiana Hill Ditch, and followed the ditch's mossy berm as it wound through the live oaks and manzanita. Guessing at an appropriate point to break away southward and seek the strange ridge, we soon found the remains of an old human trail winding down the slope, steeply in places. The ridge blends into the general slopes at this upper level, but as soon as it began to have some slight topographic definition, we noticed a curious groove or trench running directly down its summit.

Having seen such grooves often enough before, I knew that a heavy object or objects had been dragged down this ridge, undoubtedly something to do with mining gold.

Patches of brush along the crest of the nascent ridge forced us downslope to the east, into the refuge of stands of Canyon Live Oak, shady enough to suppress shrubs, but each time we returned to the ridge crest, there we'd find the trench again, and some unequivocal sign of an old human trail. The ridge began to get sharper and more rocky, and suddenly, although blocked in many places by shrubs and tree branches, we found ourselves following a most amazing stretch of trail.

Here the miners, in order to facilitate the movement of the heavy objects farther south along the ridge, had been forced to build up a trail on the steep west face of the ridge, which here had sharpened to a single wedge of rock. Large dry-laid stone walls bolstered a trail often four feet wide. Occasionally we were forced off this trail by huge dead buckbrush bushes. With Catherine's little saw I cut several branches back, but a lot needs to be done to open this old trail up properly.

Click to enlarge
 Soon after this remarkable section of the ridge, we found ourselves on the level part of its crest, in a lovely glade of live oaks, with views to the east, not only of Giant Gap, of Lovers Leap and the Pinnacles, but of the snow peaks fifteen or so miles away, east of Yuba Gap, at the head of the North Fork of the North Fork; but we also gained unobstructed views of the Big Waterfall on Canyon Creek, the Canyon Creek Trail itself, the Terraces, and the trail to the Big Waterfall from the Terraces. To the west we could see Pickering Bar and the inter-fingering spur ridges in the canyon down to and past Fords Bar. We could also see Roach Hill, at the head of the Blue Wing Trail, near Iowa Hill.

Here the trail seemed to end. However, we saw faint suggestions of its continuation on the west side of the ridge, and unequivocal signs of an old trail on the east side of the ridge, which latter we followed for a ways; it appeared, from its steepish gradient and its tendency to bear westward, to be making for the river near Pickering Bar.

Click to enlarge
Considering that both Indiana Ravine to the west and Canyon Creek to the east had once been fitted with extensive systems of sluice boxes and undercurrents for extracting the fine gold from the tailings of the hydraulic mines, it seemed likely to me that this ridge had been used to drag sawed lumber down to the level part of the ridge, whence it could be dragged more or less directly down the slope to either side. As for the continuation of the trail on the east side of the ridge, this to me seemed less likely to have been an artifact of the sluice box construction and maintenance, and more likely to be a vestige of an older, Gold-Rush-era trail.

Click to enlarge
So it was a great adventure to find these old trails and the lumber slide and the tremendous viewpoints. We even found some California Milkmaids in bloom right up on the summit. The hike out was middling strenuous, and we were running about half an hour late when we reached Catherine's truck. My kids were only a little miffed when I finally picked them up at school. It would have been nice to spend the afternoon out there, exploring around, but, well, another day. For my own part I could not stop thinking about that little diving-board ridge, or ski-jump ridge, or whatever one should call it, for the rest of the day.

Catherine kept on trying to come up with a good name for this ridge. She doesn't like Diving Board Ridge. She suggested Ridge of the Lost Trail. The rock work along part of the trail was so impressive, I thought of the Incas. Maybe Inca Ski Jump Ridge. Doesn't that have a sufficiently noble and poetic aspect?

Click to enlarge.

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