March 7 (1987, 2004, 2005)
Wilderness Hazards and Trail Fragility

3/7/87   Evening; just returned from a hearty dinner at the Alta Restaurant, which I paid for with the first cash money I've ever earned by guiding, a grand $20 for an eight-hour day, wherein I led some 16 people up to Rowton and down to the Onion Creek Meadows. It was a difficult day, with several people not really skilled enough for a tour of that difficulty, or, rather, several who could not adapt—for others were equally unskilled—to the going-down-part of cross-country skiing, falling repeatedly, and consequently, lagging so far behind that I felt obligated to stay with them. One fellow got out ahead of the bunch and managed to get lost, which nobody realized for an hour, so that Eric and I had to go out and try to find his tracks; which, luckily, we accomplished in a few minutes, and then following them, found, to our dismay, that he had unaccountably plunged into the deep canyon of the middle fork of Onion Creek.

So, I plunged after him, enjoining Eric to wait for 10 min., so that if I found him quickly I could shout the good news back. But no such luck; I followed a track constantly switching back and back again, threading its way through heavy timber on steep slopes, all the way down to the creek, where he headed downstream, as I would've expected, and I followed along all the way down to the Cedars Road, where he lost one ski, and his track changed to one-ski-one-boot, which allowed me to determine that he'd headed up the road towards Serene Lakes, the correct choice, and, following swiftly now, presuming that with but one ski he would soon be found, by his slowness, I began to call and call, and imagined that I heard faint answers, so, skiing farther, I called more, and heard answers, unequivocal answers. But, strangely, not from the road ahead, but from below in Onion Creek. So I shouted to stay put and soon caught up with him, now carrying both skis, and descending Onion Creek towards the American River Canyon, where there is nothing but wilderness. But I found him. I managed to repair his ski and we slogged up the Cedars Road for a couple miles before meeting the others who Eric had led out from the meadows. It was just another mile up to where we parked.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Yesterday [March 7, 2004] my wife Gay and I met Catherine O'Riley, Julie, and Eric & Paula Peach for a hike down the Canyon Creek Trail to the HOUT, and then east up the HOUT into Giant Gap, to Onion Point. We hoped to sneak into the Gold Run Diggings and drive to the CCT, but the Secret Route was under the waters of a pond, and our whole adventure might have been reduced to extricating one or more 4WDs from a submerged mining pit, so we drove out Garrett Road to The Bluffs and followed the Paleobotanist Trail east across the Diggings to the CCT.

Western False Rue Anemone
(Isopyrum occidentale)
We reached the CCT at 10:00 a.m. and passed the Great Tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. (1873) at 10:15. From there I lost track of time. Canyon Creek was medium low in flow, but the falls looked good, The Leaper was leaping, and many more flowers were out. The Western False Rue Anemone, Isopyrum occidentale, was widespread and common: California Milkmaids were in various stages of bloom, from youth to old age, the latter signaled by the high proportion of seed-pods to flowers, Brewers Rock Cress, Biscuit Root, a few Blue Dicks here and there, and several little guys that I peer at and wonder, "what could that tiny flower be?"

Eric and Julie and I visited the Big Waterfall, using a fiendish shortcut, and then dropped back out to the CCT by way of the old miners' terraces, where a wood stove is in pieces, and many flowers bloom. We hit the HOUT with all due verve and panache and soon caught up the rest of our party, who seemed to have mounted a protest against the strenuous demands of the trail, and had settled into an all-out rest. We left them to their food and drink and strode quickly towards Giant Gap. Julie, the smallest of our group, did the fastest striding, and soon left Eric and me behind.

I will not describe every step of the hike, but it was wonderful, sky blue, sun warm, the temperature in the middle 70s, the North Fork roaring clear and blue-green or snowy in its white water rapids below us, the views ever-changing, until at last we wound in and out of the ragged rock spurs at the base of Big West Spur and entered the heart of Giant Gap.

It is like a cathedral, and seen from afar it looms with spires and buttresses, and they slowly draw closer and closer as one traverses a canyon architecture already extreme. Then one passes Big West Spur and enters the Cathedral proper, through an elfin oak forest with blushing milkmaids silently cheering. An opening in the gnarled little trees gives onto a clifftop perch with a fine view of Lovers Leap and the Pinnacles rising over 2000' on either side of the gorge, the river a few hundred feet below, roaring with rapids. Lovers Leap Ravine is traced by its waterfalls, and Onion Point is seen to be close at hand.

A few of us went on to Onion Point, others decided to rest at the overlook. We all met up later at one of the sunny angles on Big West Spur and made the two-miles-or-so hike west to the CCT and then up the often-steep trail, Julie as usual forging ahead and finally just leaving the rest of us to our own devices. Leg cramps slowed one of our party but eventually we were on the PBT, winding through the Diggings; The Bluffs drew near, forced us to climb one last climb, and at sunset we reached our vehicles. About eight miles, round trip, with only 1800' of elevation gain, had more or less ruined us all.

Except Julie.

Another great day in the great canyon.

[Er, hmm... yes, those cramps—that would be me—the first and only time I've had that debilitating and humbling experience! –Gay]

A Remembrance of Times Past
[North Fork Trails blogpost, March 7, 2005: ]
The Inimitable Julie, a hiker par excellence who stands about five feet two inches tall, and somehow takes ten-foot strides, writes:
My first experience with Canyon Creek was about 28 years ago. I spent quite
a bit of time at Pickering Bar with friends who had a mining camp there,
downriver on the north side where all those lovely ledges make a perfect
summer home. My friends were living in a tipi. ( Not Robert, the fellow who
lived in one at Green Valley years later.) Anyway exploring upriver led to
the discovery of an unbelievable sight. A creek that cascades down the side
of the canyon in a series of magnificent waterfalls, each one with it's own
deep clear pool, the rock is scoured clean like you expect to see on a big
waterway. We explored up the creek several layers of pools and lounged on
the large terraces of stone. Further up a huge waterfall pounded down
filling the air with a cold mist and rainbows. I don't think I'll ever
forget the first time I saw Canyon Creek. I visited the falls many times
over a two summer period. Then life changed, and different things were
happening. It seems I forgot about Canyon Creek for some years. I never knew
then that there was a trail. We were using Pickering Bar and Blue wing. I
have only learned about the trail from you, it was Larry who mentioned it.
He was talking about a trail, with a creek, with many waterfalls, in the
vicinity of Gold Run. I had never heard anyone else mention Canyon Creek.
Thank you for telling us about the special trail. As time goes by we do see
more and more people in the canyon. Each person wants to show one or two
very special friends, and those friends tell their special friends. And so
it goes. There is no answer. It's just the nature of things. However I now
have a different appreciation of the trail and will be even that much more
careful. I visited there a week ago or so. I have never met anyone on the

See you. Julie

Visit to Canyon Creek
[North Fork Trails blogpost, March 7, 2005:]
Near Gold Run, Canyon Creek turns to the south and enters the North Fork canyon in a long series of waterfalls. Sunday I met several friends for a walk down the Canyon Creek Trail (CCT). There were ten of us altogether. We left our cars at the Gold Run exit and sneaked through the defunct gas station to a road leading into the Diggings. A walk of half a mile or so brought us to the CCT trailhead in Potato Ravine.

A man named ----- contacted me several years ago, seeking information about waterfalls in the North Fork. He was developing a website about waterfalls. I made the mistake of telling him about the CCT, for, despite my request that he not publicize it, he put up pictures and maps on his website. Then he went further, and put the pictures and maps on a major trails website. Suddenly large numbers of people were wandering around out on Garrett Road, trying to find the way to the CCT.

I do not know whether this led directly to the recent closure of the old road from Garrett to The Bluffs and the Paleobotanist Trail.

The CCT is fragile. It has not been adequately maintained for over a century. I absolutely believe in public access to this fine yet fragile trail. I myself have led many many people in there. I myself have a map of the trail on my website. But one has to worm one's way into my North Fork American web pages to find it. My idea was, only someone who actually cared about the North Fork would find it; and that kind of person is welcome, and needed.

I write about the CCT to this email list all the time. So, I'm not keeping any secrets. But I maintain the notion that the people on this email list care about the North Fork, and that some kind of positive action on some issue or another, Canyon Creek, for instance, could result.

For if we don't succeed in finding a way for the BLM to buy the private lands now for sale in the Gold Run Diggings, including about 90% of the CCT itself, well, history shows that our access could be lost, or at least, broken and restricted. As has just happened, by the blockage of the Paleobotanist Trail.

I have worked on the CCT for over twenty years. Most of my work has involved cutting brush from the trail. I built a bridge where the CCT crosses Canyon Creek, six years ago or so, and then rebuilt it, a couple years back. Many many parts of the trail need work. It cannot well tolerate much use. It will be damaged further. It has been damaged further, already, by the increased use since ----- publicized it.

As our group filed down into the canyon, the young folks, ages 13 to 20, dashed ahead, running down the trail. Being young, they did not have the sense to keep their feet on the narrow path. The edge of the trail was broken down in places.

Now, I have carried a shovel in there many times, and have restored, with extreme care and delicacy, several hundred feet of the trail, where bushes once forced animals and humans alike downslope. I made a tiny bench cut in such places, in keeping with the overall narrowness of the trail, merely restoring its proper line. I tried to do it in such a way that no one would even realize the work had been done. But there are many many problem areas which remain.

After we reached the great drain tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., 1873, where three to five thousand cubic yards of Diggings gravel per day once flowed through the giant sluice boxes into Canyon Creek and into the creek's own giant sluice boxes, a few of us old folk took the lead and left the youngsters behind.

I noted footprints less than two days old on the trail, Vibram-soled prints unlike those made by me and Catherine and Alex near a week ago. Here again, one problem area on the trail had been broken down further by a careless hiker. This will about force me to restore this segment of the trail.

Now, I actually like trail work. I wouldn't mind making a complete fix of the CCT. It's going to require backpacking quite a few 50-pound sacks of mortar and concrete all the way down to the rockslide below Gorge Point. Then the stone steps can be built which will fix this dangerous reach of the trail. And before that is done, the deep gaps near the tunnel should be fixed. In fact, I have nurtured a vague and pleasant fantasy that, once the BLM buys the CCT parcel, they will let me repair the trail. Not to make it a highway; just to fix the bad spots and prevent further damage from occurring. Some hundreds of hours of work would be needed. I already have done a hundred or so hours of work on the thing, not counting the lopping which I do on a routine basis.

Perhaps it is not strange that I have developed a proprietary attitude towards the CCT. I have hiked it since 1976. I have literally bloodied myself working on it. I carried the lumber for the bridge over a mile on my shoulder, both times. It took several trips.

Oh well.

Sunday was a blessing of a day, warm and sunny. We straggled down the trail and some of us made it all the way to the North Fork. We had worked up a sweat just going down the trail, and at the Last Waterfall, beside the river, butterflies of several species landed on our heads and hands, to delicately sip our sweat.

Karen Towle-Mingst, Russell's sister, was in the party this day.
A Great Blue Heron suddenly winged past, heading down the river, and I said, “Just wait; some kayakers or rafters will not be far behind.” For the kayaks scare up ducks and herons and hawks and eagles and the birds usually go down the river to escape. Sure enough, five kayaks soon appeared. They stopped at Canyon Creek for a break, on their way to Mineral Bar from Euchre Bar.

We made a nice slow climb up and out in the afternoon sun. At the bridge, a cute couple was met, hiking down the trail with backpacks. Well, the man, a tall young fellow, had a tall backpack. I did not recognize them and gently asked how they had learned about the trail.

"I found out about it on the internet, on a waterfalls website," the tall young man replied.

They looked like good people, and I have no fear that they will leave garbage along the trail. It is likely enough that they will damage the trail a little, just as our party had. It is a fragile trail.

When we reached our cars, around four or five in the afternoon, I-80 westbound was at a near standstill. Perhaps there had been a wreck on Three Mile Grade, a few miles west. The traffic was backed up all the way up to the Alta exit, a few miles east, and beyond. What a nightmare.

It was a lovely day on the Canyon Creek Trail.

No comments:

Post a Comment