April 15 (2003, 2005)
First Sight of West Tunnel; and Flowers

Date: Sun, 20 Apr 2003 12:02:57 -0800
To: NorthForkTrails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: The Mystery of the HOUT and the SHOUT

Hi all,

On Tuesday [a reference to April 15, 2003], with clouds boiling and darkening above, and vestiges of snow along the canyon rim feeding long stripes of white water down the cliffs of Giant Gap, Ron Gould, Gus Wiseman and I peered over the edge of a precipice, in search of the next, critical reach of the SHOUT, where it must somehow contend with the very steepest cliffs between Canyon Creek and Green Valley, said cliffs arising in a complex of massive blades of rock around the base of Lovers Leap Spur.

To our astonishment, a large tunnel lay across the sheer-walled gully, driven directly into the face of the cliff, with no apparent access from above, below, or either side. The only entrance into the gully itself from our side involved a rather treacherous set of steeply sloping, wet ledges, the first and highest of which I followed far enough to see that, all in all, a rope would be quite a good thing.

On the other hand, as I remarked to Ron and Gus, these same linked ledges, taken from the gully, going up, might seem, and be, easy. It's always easier climbing up.

We were on the crest of a prominent boss of rock, with a broad level top perhaps fifty feet by one hundred and fifty feet in extent, and various old lawn-like camping terraces, standing around 300 feet above the roaring tumult of the North Fork American, and 2100 feet below the summit of Lovers Leap, in the very heart of Giant Gap. We had approached from the west, from Canyon Creek, on the HOUT, and then on its continuation, the SHOUT, which as it penetrates more deeply into the gorge, pitches sharply higher and lower to pass various cliffs. We had passed Lovers Leap Ravine, into unexplored terrain, and a few moments' scouting had revealed the SHOUT, much overgrown but easily followed. We had seen this flat-topped "Terrace Spur" from afar and knew that the SHOUT must cross its top. When at last we reached it, we were stopped cold. Quite cold, in fact, as storm winds beat strongly upon our exposed position, and not one ray of sunshine could break the shadowy grip of the menacing clouds.

Directly across the river, we could see parts of the east side of Pinnacles Spur, where a ruler-straight, tiny waterfall descended one of the master joints in the bedrock, direct from the V-notch separating the two lowest pinnacles, a thousand feet above. Tunnel Gully looks to lie in the northward continuation of this prominent vertical joint plane.

We scouted high, and scouted low, but only the linked ledges offered any hope for crossing the cliff-bound gully, and the linked ledges were wet, and a fall would be disastrous. So we retreated, giving up on our hope to break through into Green Valley, and all in all enjoyed a very nice hike, with a little sunshine eventually blessing the somber canyon.

At one point we dropped down off the SHOUT to a perch near the river, and were treated to a long rippling canyon aria, by a water ouzel.

Ron and I exchanged a flurry of emails and phone calls in the days following. This trail, into the ruggedest part of Giant Gap, was so incredibly scenic, so well-defined in some reaches, yet entirely erased in others. Ron had GPSed its course and found that Terrace Spur/Tunnel Gully is about 2.71 miles from the Canyon Creek Trail, likely a little more, since the GPS unit tends to round off the sharp corners of one's path, as it were. The tunnel had taken us by surprise. There was no quartz vein, no sign of mineralization of any kind, just a horizontal tunnel driven into the toughest of the tough metavolcanic rock in Giant Gap. I recalled that there had been an effort, in the 1890s, to divert water from the North Fork to supply San Francisco; the scheme involved using the existing ditch of the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine, which took its water from the North Fork a mile upstream from Euchre Bar, and delivered said water to the west end of Green Valley. From there, the plan had been to carry the ditch through Giant Gap and on down the canyon, breaking out to the ridge-top around Auburn, and thence into a large pipeline across the Sacramento Valley.

Could this tunnel be part of that old scheme? I felt sure that it was, and it raised suspicion that even the HOUT, which is so level as to suggest an old ditch-line, might have been made as part of that same project. In my book, "The Dutch Flat Chronicles," there is one item, from the April 26, 1901 Colfax "Sentinel," bearing upon this old scheme:

"Some work is being done on the Giant Gap survey near Green Valley. This is the canal that R.G. Dunn surveyed some years ago with a view of taking the water to San Francisco. Only a few men are working at present, but it is said more will be put on later."

I also remember seeing a ca. 1898 brochure about this project, which is in the California Room of the State Library in Sacramento; and in this brochure is a nice little sketch of the surveyors' camp in Green Valley, with the Pinnacles of Giant Gap in the background.
[This can be seen digitized on Ron Gould's website, here:
http://www.northforktrails.com/northforktrails/green_valley_north.htm ]
Ron and I are determined to run the course of the SHOUT and break through to Green Valley, or from Green Valley break through to Canyon Creek, it doesn't matter which. It occurred to me that Gene Markley might have accomplished this, decades ago, so I gave him a call. For those of you who don't know him, or of him, Gene has, yes, climbed mountains all over the world, but he also undoubtedly knows the canyons and gorges of Placer County better than anyone else alive. I knew he had scrambled and swum through Giant Gap many a time; but had he ever found the SHOUT?

Gene, as it turned out, had (probably) discovered the HOUT, and followed it a little ways. He had heard of the SHOUT, and knew one person who had made it all the way through, from Green Valley to Canyon Creek, a Sierra Clubber named Jack Rankin. Gene thought this had been done in the late 1960s or early 1970s. He said Rankin was an accomplished rock climber and an extreme hiker, who would, for instance, climb Mt. Whitney from the floor of the Owens Valley, disdaining the road up to Whitney Portal.

Saturday was forecast to be sunny, and I began to think about trying to find the Green Valley end of the SHOUT. The various people I called all had other plans, so I hit the trail alone and soon found myself on the same nasty slopes of shattered serpentine I had visited in January of this year, hoping to find this same old trail.

I have a 1927 General Land Office map which depicts a high trail from Green Valley into Giant Gap, labeled "old trail." Scouting high and scouting low I had as little luck as in January, until I found a ledge blasted into a serpentine eminence. This was a good thing, and I sailed along merrily until suddenly a cliff barred further progress. I could have stepped into the branches of a Bay Laurel and made it down the cliff, but my dog, Lucky, could not, so I retreated and dropped lower.

To make an overlong story not so long as it might well be, I scouted west from a certain serpentine pinnacle beside the river I call the Gatepost, which is almost on the fault dividing the serpentine on the east from the Calaveras Complex metavolcanics on the west. I found some lovely old camping terraces, and some obscure trail threads, and worked my way west past the main gully on the east side of Lovers Leap, directly above me, with Lovers Leap Spur only a few hundred yards ahead. The terrain became extremely rough and steep and I was stopped by cliffs. Retreating to the Lovers Leap East Gully, I climbed it and struck, oh glory of glories, the line of the SHOUT!

There it was, hewn neatly from massive rock, and I eagerly followed it west. However, all too soon the trail led up to a cliff face and directly into a large dark tunnel. Although it was difficult to see, I was convinced that the tunnel only penetrated the cliff to a depth of forty feet or so.

Near the tunnel was a steeply sloping ramp of rock, infested with poison oak, which could offer a passage west. I did not give it a try. Rome wasn't made in a day, etc. etc.

There can be no doubt but that this tunnel is on the same horizontal line as that at Tunnel Gully; it is possible that they are the eastern and western ends of the same, never-completed tunnel, but more likely, a series of short tunnels were planned to penetrate the monstrous blades of rock buttressing the base of Lovers Leap Spur.

Between this more eastern tunnel and Green Valley are several reaches of the Giant Gap Survey canal line which remain intact, where the rock is more competent. In the weaker, rubbly zones between the more solid zones, every vestige of this "trail" is gone. However, for practical purposes, one can follow the river bank itself west from the end of the Green Valley West Trail, down to the Gatepost, and then climb to the SHOUT.

It is certain that the Green Valley end of the SHOUT, as far west as Tunnel Gully, derives from the Giant Gap Survey of the 1890s-1900s. It is possible that the HOUT also derives from this survey. We may never know. I still lean towards the opinion that parts of the HOUT and the SHOUT go back to earlier days, either to the Gold Rush itself, or to the somewhat later era of Chinese-dominated river mining.


Russell Towle

Spring Blooms on the HOUT
(High Old Upriver Trail)

 April 15, 2005

Harlequin Lupine
(Lupinus stiversii)

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