[Russell Towle's journal]
A light pattering of rain last night, and epic upwelling of fog in Giant Gap this morning, then a day of clouds in bloom, full bloom with petals dropping, cool air surging into California in the wake of the tiniest of storms; so I sawed and planed and hammered while little buds hailed all around me, sun shining, mostly.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001 11:43:46 -0800
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Re: North Fork American photos
> The Sierra Club has requested information on areas needing LWCFGood to hear from you John, I will send some photos along later today.
>appropriations that the Club should support. I am preparing information
>for the North Fork American. The information must be submitted by March
> They would like to have a photo, preferably a digital photo. I
>recall a recent e-mail in which you mentioned that you had taken many
>digital photos of the North Fork American. Please select a few and
>e-mail the files to me. I will send them in with the information. I
>think that at least one "large-scale" picture including the river and
>part of the adjacent canyon walls would be good.
> Please call me or e-mail me if you have any questions.
> Environmentalists lobbied intensively for purchase of PG&E lands,
>but there is no recent news about the subject.
I have several areas in mind for LWCF funding:
1. North Fork American RARE II area: portions of Big Valley, Little Granite Creek, and Big Granite Creek; Snow Mountain, Long Valley, Trail to Palisade Creek Bridge from south. Dividing ridge between Wildcat and Wabena.
2. North Fork of the North Fork: Section 23 T 16N R 11E: historic town site of Lost Camp, head of China Trail to North Fork of North Fork.
3. Lands in and near the Gold Run Addition of the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, said addition exempted by Congress from spending limitations on acquiring private inholdings; contains historic Canyon Creek Trail (waterfalls, river access); no inholdings yet purchased. Several hundred acres needed, currently for sale by Gold Run Properties. Also, lands on rim of canyon in Giant Gap along line of proposed Giant Gap Trail.
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001 14:08:32 -0800
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Re: North Fork American photos
Here are a few photos, more to come.
1. Canyon_Creek1.jpg. On Canyon Creek, near the historic trail, within the Gold Run Addition of the NF W&S River, on private property currently for sale.
2. lower_Big_Valley.jpg. Looking across the lower part of Big Valley to Sugar Pine Point. SPI lands checkerboard in this area. Directly adjacent to North Fork canyon.
3. panorama_east.jpg. View from Big Valley Bluff east to Snow Mountain etc. Note ridge dividing Wildcat and Wabena.
|Click to enlarge|
4. Pyramid_to_Giant_Gap.jpg. From a serpentine knoll known as The Pyramid, in Green Valley, on private land west of the FS boundary. All private inholdings in Green Valley important, this area is west of FS boundary and off their radar.
Also, there are some pictures of the North Fork etc. on my web pages.
Expedition to Cherry Point
[North Fork Trails blogpost, March 9, 2005:
However, one can see it from Cherry Point, at around 6800' on the divide between Little and Big Granite creeks, south of the Loch Leven Lakes. And from the top of the NYC waterfall one can see, across the main North Fork canyon to the north, not only Cherry Point, but also two high knolls or peaklets I call Fisher Point and Loch Leven Point.
A couple of springs ago I made an effort to get in to Cherry Point via Huysink Lake, a mistake on two counts, for not only is Huysink not the shortest line one can follow, but the weather was so warm as to render the snow almost unskiable.
This morning, on impulse, I had another try. I was up at six, drinking my coffee, and by seven-thirty I was tuning my skis, that is, if by "tuning" one means filing the rust off the metal edges, and rubbing an old candle stump over most of the bases and sides. These trusty old cross-country skis have carried me thousands of miles, but I haven't done much skiing in recent years.
I was on I-80 before 8:00 and reached Kingvale before 8:30, crossing under I-80 to old Highway 40 and driving west a little ways past Donner Trail elementary school, to Troy Road. It was important to start early, for I had quite a few miles of skiing to get in to Cherry Point and then back out, and the colder and harder the snow, the better. The first presage of doom was that, even at the bottom of the South Yuba canyon, where things should be coldest, I shed my sweater and left it in the car, and set out in just plain jeans and a t-shirt.
There was no point in snapping on my skis for the climb up Troy Road. The snow was packed and frozen hard. I just carried skis and poles in my arms and stomped on up, taking the left fork, which leads in to Devils Peak. I noticed a fancy new "No Trespassing" sign hung directly over the center of this old road, which happens to be one of the historic trails for which Placer County residents fought to maintain public access, back in 1953.
Fought and lost.
The "No Trespassing" sign was signed "Sinnock Properties." I tried to contact this fellow Sinnock a couple years ago, but he did not reply. I believe he's over in Grass Valley.
Just beyond the sign, the road crosses the Union Pacific tracks. I continued on up, carrying my skis, and took the right fork just beyond, which a sign marks as a Nordic ski trail to High Loch Leven Lake. In years past I had always skied up the Devils Peak road, and though friends had recommended this side trail to me, I had never tried it.
Ron Gould and I explored in that area a while back, while following the route of one of the many historic trails which have been obliterated by logging, the Big Bend-Devils Peak Trail. So I knew my way around and soon left the ski trail for a more direct line south towards Fisher Point.
Almost immediately I found out why my friends had told me to ski there. People like Gene Markley and Steve Hunter, who know this area very, very well, had recommended it to me, Gene, way back in 1985. But I had never given it a go. Now here I was, on really decent snow, hardpack with a film of soft stuff on the very surface, the true and finest silk spring skiing can offer, and there were vast expanses of easy slopes and hills and valleys, just wide open, no forest, fine views of Devils Peak and Castle Peak etc. etc.
|This view is towards Devils Peak, (middle), Castle Peak is at left. |
The panorama is composed of 6 photos stitched together.
Clck to enlarge.
I wasn't there to play around and practice telemarking, so I just kept on making my way south and a little west, and reached the summit of Fisher Point, a little over 7200', and just above frozen Fisher Lake, by about 9:30 or 10:00.
I whipped out my 12-power binoculars and looked down the canyon of Big Granite Creek and across the North Fork into New York Canyon.
Oh-oh. It was as I knew it would be. I could see Chert Knoll, the amazing overlook right beside the 500-foot waterfall, but not the waterfall itself.
Loch Leven Point was quite near, and being slightly to the south and west would offer a better angle on the falls.
Cherry Point looked to be about one air mile south, with quite a descent necessary, all complicated with ups and downs and rights and lefts, before I could level out and ski a simple line directly towards it. I thought, "Hmmm, one air mile means two ski miles, and that means four miles of skiing to get back here, and I'm nearly four miles in from I-80 already."
I didn't have a map with me, and later I found that I was not one but over two air miles from Cherry Point.
The snow seemed perfect, and I decided to just forge ahead and see how it went. A series of telemark turns got me off Fisher Point and I skied below and south of Loch Leven Point, a high granite knoll quite near Middle Loch Leven Lake. As soon as I dropped below 7000' on those south-facing slopes, the snow just went to hell. I was sinking in, and even breaking through altogether and dropping a couple feet, where the snow covered talus and brush.
A minor summit south of Loch Leven Point seemed to offer a chance of a view of the NYC waterfall, so I skied to the top and took out the binoculars.
Sure enough, I could see the upper 50 feet of the waterfall. It was in shadow and was not much to look at. The great spur ridge dropping away from the summit of Snow Mountain to the southwest was blocking my line of sight to the rest of the falls. The one and only remedy would be to ski farther south, towards Cherry Point.
But the snow was rotten and the route was nasty and I decided it would be a bit too much to take on, under today's conditions. It was bizarrely warm for a March day at 7000' elevation, with snow for miles in every direction; it was like skiing in June, yes, but not like skiing in March.
I visited the summit of Loch Leven Point, which I hadn't set ski on since about 1985, and which has truly exceptional views, from the Coast Ranges of Mendocino County to Grouse Ridge, Red Mountain, Old Man Mountain, Mt. Lola, Basin and Castle peaks, Devils Peak, monstrous Snow Mountain almost within reach it was so close, and even including Tinkers Knob and Lyon Peak. Big Valley Bluff was prominent to the southwest.
Part of the reason the view is this broad, is that the South Yuba canyon is shallow and could never hold the full flow of the great ice-field, during glacial episodes, so the ice just rode up and over the divide and dropped into the North Fork canyon. The dividing ridge was worn down low by the ice, so one can see easily into the South Yuba high country, even though one is in the North Fork basin.
In fact, the difference between these two parallel and adjacent canyons is so extreme, that it makes one of the great geomorphological contrasts of all the Sierra. The floor of the South Yuba at Kingvale is at about 6000', while directly south, the North Fork is racing along in its tremendous canyon at about 3500'. The two canyons have similarly-sized basins, hence should be similar. But they are vastly different.
The difference in form seems to reflect the difference in bedrock: granodiorite in the South Yuba, metamorphic rock in the North Fork.
There is enough in the way of bare granite on the summit right now that one could camp without touching the snow. The summit falls away in cliffs to the south.
I noted that, for all the abundance of ski tracks to the north of Fisher Point, I could not see one single track, either here at Loch Leven Point, or to the south. It's just a bit too far for folks on a single-day ski tour.
After taking some photos and looking at the distant waterfall through binoculars, and noting that Chert Knoll itself is entirely free of snow, I telemarked off the summit northward and decided to just meander through the forest until I struck the Nordic trail to High Loch Leven.
It was nice to ski in the shade of the forest, and I let myself veer west a little, hoping to strike the Nordic trail all the sooner, and maybe catch a glimpse of the lake.
I missed the lake but found the trail. A couple of miles of easy going brought me back to where I had forked away earlier, and I was soon back down at the car.
It was 1:00 p.m. exactly. I had skied about eight miles or so, with a good amount of climbing involved, and was basically thrashed. Two cars were parked there; I had seen their fresh new tracks, on my way out. They too had left the Nordic trail for the Wonderland north of Fisher Lake.
When I reached my home, at 4000' elevation, it was 75 degrees!
So, a second attempt to reach Cherry Point on skis failed. I am much of a mind now, as I was a couple years back, to just give up on the distant-view thing, and hike right to the waterfall itself, by way of Mumford Bar. But that is more than just a hike, it is a backpacking trip. I've done it in two days, one night, but that is too much, too strenuous. To visit the falls, walk back down the North Fork, and then make the 2700-foot climb up the Mumford Bar Trail, only to have to ski a few miles to one's car, all in one day—ouch!
Oh well, I guess it's time, maybe past time, to make the somewhat drastic hike via Mumford Bar, and visit the waterfalls of New York Canyon before the snow is all gone, and the trails, all open.
The Strange Fanglomerate
[North Fork Trails blogpost, March 9, 2006:On Wednesday, March 8th, the only sunny day in a million years and my fifty-seventh birthday, Catherine O' Riley enticed me to visit Green Valley, and we stomped and slipped along in a foot of wet snow, through and under groves of manzanita bent low across the trail by recent heavy snows, rounded masses of a hundred pounds or more still hanging on, here and there—and a pleasant sunshine warmed the air, slightly, anyway, and then, down about 3000', we left the snow behind, and I began talking about the Secret Cave and the Strange Fanglomerate, of Ginseng Ravine.
It becomes time to define terms:
1. Ginseng Ravine heads up in the Valley Springs rhyolite ash beds and Mehrten andesitic lahars capping Moody Ridge, and around the perennial springs issuing from the top of the rhyolite ash, grow clumps of the California Ginseng, Aralia californica if I recall, in the Ginseng Family but not itself “ginseng.” It does have knotted gnarled roots, which send up brash and ill-smelling six-foot-tall stalks every spring, with large leaves and showy flower-clusters and fruits, in the season. The stalks die back each fall. Ginseng Ravine flows south to meet the North Fork just downstream from the Hotel Site and Joe Steiner's Tunnel (the old George Opel mine), near the center of Green Valley. Ginseng is about two miles long, or less. It is quite steep and has many waterfalls.
2. Fanglomerate. We call consolidated pebbly sediments "conglomerate," but when an alluvial fan somehow becomes consolidated, it is proper to call this sedimentary rock "fanglomerate." I used to call the Strange Fanglomerate, "agglomerate," to distinguish it from ordinary conglomerate, for this strange stuff in Ginseng Ravine is made of very angular, unrounded chunks or "clasts" of serpentine, whereas conglomerate has rounded pebbles and cobbles and boulders, etc. The clasts are supported in a fine-grained grey matrix of sandy sediments.
3. Green Valley. A Gold Rush mining camp on the North Fork, predating Dutch Flat, where two thousand people once lived, and mule trains from Illinoistown brought supplies. Noteworthy for a higher-than-usual incidence of Chinese miners, who were always prominent in the river canyons, anyway; but in Green Valley, they were not only prominent, but persistent, significant Chinese mining continuing down into the 20th century. Green Valley is walled off from the rest of the world by the cliffs of Giant Gap. It is a kind of Yosemite. The rock is mainly serpentine, of the Melones Fault Zone, but there is much glacial outwash. From the I-80 exit at Alta, Casa Loma and Moody Ridge roads are followed to a parking area, where the trail to the North Fork begins, three miles long, about, with over two thousand feet of elevation loss/gain—a strenuous hike.
Despite many visits to Green Valley, Catherine had never seen the Secret Cave.
The top of Moody Ridge is about 4100', the North Fork, in Green Valley, 1800', and as I have mentioned, a grove of Ponderosa Pines marks a zone of sweet soil amid the half-poisoned country rock of this part of the canyon, serpentine; and this sweetness derives from glacial outwash sediments, which occasionally buried Green Valley during glacial maxima, over the past million years or two, and in particular, Green Valley seems to have been buried beneath outwash as recently as 12,000 years ago, in the so-called Tioga glaciation.
Although the upper edge of the Ponderosa grove hugs the 2200-foot contour, one does not actually see much outwash until down around 2000'. But one knows, if at all familiar with the response of our native plants to serpentine, that somehow, some way, the serpentine bedrock has been masked, the poison, neutralized; for the Ponderosa Pine, like the Kellogg's Black Oak, will rarely ever grow in serpentine.
Sun-blasted brush and a few Digger Pine line most of the trail. Then, one approaches the Outwash Grove; the tops of the tall pines are still below, but only just below; and at a certain point, a secret trail forks right, back into Ginseng Ravine, to the west, and tho at first it looks like a badly neglected squirrel path, almost immediately it grows into what can only be an old human trail.
I first followed this trail back around 1980 or so. It led to some very strange rock outcrops, serpentine, it seemed, but somehow all fractured and split apart into little chunks or big boulders, and then absolutely welded together. I had never seen the like, and, battering away at it a little here and there, I found it, if anything, tougher than it looked. And it looked plenty tough.
I climbed up on top of one such outcrop, and followed along higher, passing a spring which sprang directly from the frozen matrix of angular serpentine, and then, moving north, I reached a spacious terrace of this strange strange rock, and saw a one-pound coffee can, red with the rust of ages, buried in the ground, almost invisible.
A miner's cache of gold, no doubt! Those crafty, crusty old fellows, always worried someone would steal their poke! Ergo, bury it somewhere, hide it in a hollow oak, put it in a coffee can, and set it below ground level, and scatter rocks and leaves over it ... .
I cleared the debris away, and saw that the "coffee can" extended indefinitely deep into the solid rock; an impossibility, of course, but, there it was! What—the gold had fallen through? What kind of inept miner?! ...
I strode to the edge of the level cliff-top, said cliff facing directly into Ginseng Ravine. The strange fractured serpentine-mass fell away sheer about twenty feet, and below, very steep slopes plunged towards waterfalls and cascades, dimly seen through a curtain of Canyon Live Oak, Bay Laurel, and young Douglas Fir.
I found a way down around the end of the cliff, and circled back to a point below my "coffee can." And there was the Secret Cave, with various old junk lying about, including a ruined table, built with square nails, and then repaired with round nails; and I saw at once there had been two different times of occupation, neglecting possible Indian uses, and that the latter time of the two was likely the Depression. An old Prince Albert tobacco can was in the cave, containing buttons, and a fragment of a 19th-century saw blade, etc.
A trail led from the Secret Cave south a few yards to the very spring I had seen from above; and an old galvanized one-inch pipe was easily cleared of obstructions, and water flowed through the pipe again, clear and cold.
Western Azalea crowded the spring.
And the "coffee can"? It was, of course, a stove-pipe; the miner had managed to punch through the cave ceiling, following a natural crack in the Strange Fanglomerate, fully ten feet up to the surface of the terrace.
For, yes, the Secret Cave is in the Strange Fanglomerate. It is a west-facing cave, and a wild and beautiful place.
Catherine and I explored cave and spring, then dropped to the waterfalls below, where there are other impressive exposures of this same fanglomerate.
The fanglomerate, let us say, is 800 feet above the North Fork, or about 2600' in elevation. It has several distinct "strata" ten to twenty feet thick, all sloping south towards the North Fork; these several strata may be the signatures of several intense episodes of erosion, on the canyon walls above.
I suppose this fanglomerate is 750,000 years old and dates to the Sherwin Glaciation, to which date and glaciation I also assign the Hayden Hill Terrace, the highest glacial outwash terrace I know of in Green Valley, 600 feet above the river.
My reasoning is somewhat as follows.
In Sherwin times, a glacial outwash plain developed in Green Valley, its surface at the 1800+600 = 2400' contour, while the bedrock floor of the North Fork was then at 2200'. The various ravines on the canyon walls now discharged their sediments, not into the North Fork itself, most likely, but onto the outwash plain. Hence alluvial fans built up; we might also imagine that, during the Sherwin, temperatures were enough colder that frost-wedging and overall erosion of the canyon walls occurred at a much higher rate than at present; so that, like the other ravines, Ginseng Ravine carried more sediment than usual. And most of that "sediment" was angular chunks of serpentine: a constant rubble of angular serpentine slid down into Ginseng Ravine. And, so far as possible, the waters of Ginseng Ravine moved that mass of raw rocky angular seds down towards the outwash plain, at 2400'.
But there all gradient was lost and the rocky seds stopped, and backed up into Ginseng Ravine itself, above the outwash plain, forming a kind of narrow, ravine-walled alluvial fan, about two hundred feet thick and five hundred to a thousand feet long. The top of the alluvial fan pitched steeply down towards Green Valley.
There is an unknown (to me) cementing agent present in ground water in serpentine bedrock, and one of the mysteries of Green Valley is the cemented glacial outwash, seen mostly quite near the North Fork, and always directly in contact with serpentine bedrock.
Whatever this cementing agent is, it is tremendously strong. These cemented outwash seds are true conglomerates, even though some may be quite young, less than 20,000 years old, say.
OK. Clearly the fanglomerate was cemented by the same mystery mineral. Perhaps it is a type of iron arising in a chemically "reducing" (oxygen-starved) environment. It does not turn red, tho, when exposed to air for any length of time, up to thousands of years. So I wonder whether the cementing agent could really be any type of iron.
At any rate. My model is: the Green Valley outwash plain stood at 2400' elevation, 750,000 years ago, and the ravines delivered so much rocky serpentine debris to the outwash floodplain that it backed up into each ravine, forming a steeply-pitching alluvial "fan." The parts of each fan closest to the underlying bedrock, suffused with ground water for thousands of years, became cemented. But the other parts—the "core" of the fan, let's say, and its uppermost layers—were not cemented, so, after the Sherwin ended, and temperatures moderated, and not so much serpentine was being frozen off the slopes above, the waters of Ginseng Ravine cut the unconsolidated, uncemented part of the alluvial fan away, and left the cemented part.
And to this very day the weakling waters of Ginseng Ravine have not succeeded in cutting all the way through the fanglomerate, down to the pre-Sherwin bedrock floor of the ravine.
It is certainly possible that these fanglomerates, found in every ravine in Green Valley, date from one of the younger glaciations, Tahoe I, say, 130,000 years ago, or even Tahoe II, 65,000 years ago; we have no age control whatsoever on these fanglomerates, except, perhaps, some educated guesswork.
For instance, one of the strongest arguments that the Strange Fanglomerate is not Sherwin in age, and must be younger, is that the cemented fanglomerate filled the pre-existing bed of Ginseng Ravine. What fanglomerate remains in the creekbed is not thick, not deep; the bedrock is only inches or feet below. In fact, parenthetically, the extreme toughness of the mysterious cementing agent is betokened by the fact that, at the creek itself, the fanglomerate has been planed down smooth, each individual clast of angular serpentine reduced to make one, common, smooth, nearly plane surface. This could only occur if the fanglomerate was very well cemented.
|Ginseng Ravine fanglomerate|
So. Think about Ginseng Ravine before the alluvial fan was emplaced. It had incised slowly into the canyon wall. At some instant in time, a portion of the floor of the ravine was buried under alluvium. Suppose that instant was exactly 750,000 years ago. Then, whatever else we might know about the rate of incision of Ginseng Ravine into the canyon wall, we can say, "Ginseng Ravine cut this deep, right here, 750,000 years ago," and we would be pointing to where Catherine and I stood the other day, beside waterfalls flowing over polished fanglomerate, staring at other smaller waterfalls spilling over cliffs of fanglomerate across the way, on the east wall of the ravine.
So. Since this special spot, the base of the fanglomerate, coincides with the present floor of Ginseng Ravine, we are left concluding that not much incision can have occurred since the fanglomerate was emplaced.
Yet the longer the time, the more the incision.
Hence we must lean towards less time, not more, a younger fanglomerate, not an older.
Yet—yet—the fanglomerate must have armored the floor of Ginseng Ravine in millennia past, just as it armors it still, today, and that may have slowed apparent incision: Ginseng had to expend its energies cutting through the fanglomerate, before any true deepening of the ravine could proceed.
Do you see what I mean? There are conflicting impulses, it seems; on the one hand, we wish to think that not much time could have passed, because the base of the fanglomerate is close to the pre-fanglomerate bedrock floor of the ravine; on the other hand, we wish to think much time may have passed, for the fanglomerate armored the creek, and retarded incision.
One always also wishes to make the fanglomerate old, on account of its remarkable toughness; but this is a false trail; it is just amazingly well-cemented for an essentially young rock. The cemented outwash down at river level is much the same: bizarrely tough and resistant to erosion, yet quite young.
So, I cannot really say that the Strange Fanglomerate is Sherwin in age, or Tahoe I, or Tahoe II; it is about certain it cannot be Tioga in age, but we are left having to say, greater than fifty thousand years old, less than a million. Not very good!
As described in previous emails of years past, this serpentine fanglomerate is not only found in all the major ravines in Green Valley, but also in the Bear River canyon, to the north; so I suspect, extrapolating, we may have half a dozen or more major canyons here in the Sierra, which will be found to contain vestiges of this special cemented fanglomerate. For many canyons cut the Melones serpentine.
I call the fanglomerate strange; in the fullness of time, I might see that it is ordinary.
Catherine and I found a different old trail leading up and out of Ginseng and back to the main Green Valley Trail, which we immediately left and wandered out into heavy manzanita to the east, following an old trail-bed, from a century or more past, which switches back and forth on an easier grade than the present trail, and starts to aim towards the Hotel, more directly; but then we lost the darn thing, and while scouting widely back and forth, unsuccessfully, continued down to the High Ditch, which spans Green Valley from east to west at about 2000 feet in elevation.
We explored east along this fine old mining ditch until we reached surprisingly full and boisterous Moonshine Ravine, and then it was time to turn tail and run for cover, I mean, I had to pick up my daughter from her school bus; so, quickly, under increasingly cloudy skies, we slogged on up and up and out, reaching the top just before a light rain set in.
Another great day in the great canyon. Thank you, Catherine, for saving me from my chores.