May 20 (1979, 1987, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008)
The Near and the Far

5/20/79 ~ such hot weather. and so many insects. deerbrush beginning to bloom here, oaks in full leaf. i sit in my cabin in the early morning waiting for bill s. to come on kpfa so that i can hear cantata #78 by bach, such lovely music.


indians, indians. i stumble across grinding rocks after checking de angelo out of the library. [...] i found a fragment of a knife, chipped out of the fine-grained metamorphic rock i have noticed so much in every site i've seen in the northern sierra. farther south in the sierra all i've seen was obsidian. up here it's mostly chert, some quite colorful, and the almost black metamorphic rock, very little obsidian.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

May 20, 1987 ’Tis Wednesday, of that I'm certain. Yesterday I drove to Auburn and spent the day with Eric Peach, who dug into the coffers of PARC to fund the making of copies and purchase of envelopes, etc., for The Letter, the original of which was sent To Geri B. Larson. Now it remains to write cover letters to the many individuals to whom copies will be sent. I lack addresses for some of them.

The weather cools and clouds shroud and rain showers descend and a fire burns in my stove and my right shoulder aches, in the same way that my right knee sometimes aches when the weather changes, an ache which seems to forecast and forbode a bout with arthritis later in life. The right shoulder was separated in a motorcycle accident in 1973, the right knee injured in a fall from a ladder in 1975; and while I had surgery to correct the separated shoulder, it seems to have been unsuccessful, at least, it now looks separated, looks as it did following the accident. That was a terrible phase in my life, I kept no Journal at that time, so no record exists except my memory of those days when I would hitch-hike down to San Jose and the County Hospital, arm in a sling, to apply for Medi-Cal or get a checkup. Then the four days in the hospital; the man in the room with me who'd had hip surgery, and was going through delirium tremens, babbling nightmares about boys with gaping holes in their chests standing by his bed, and ripping the tubes out of his body from time to time. Those were extremely dark days for me… ”

[Russell Towle's journal]

May 20, 2002

A late snowfall in the high elevations, Sawtooth ridge in left center.

Odds and Ends
[North Fork Trails, May 20, 2004: ]
I have been uncharacteristically off the trails in recent weeks, and have no adventures to describe, except, yesterday I visited Green Valley with Catherine O'Riley, where we worked on clearing an old trail, which follows the Green Valley Blue Gravel mining ditch. It was a lovely spring day and we managed to open up about a half-mile of the old canal, which originated on the North Fork about a mile above Euchre Bar, and led to the hydraulic mines at the west end of Green Valley.

There is other news to report. The huge garbage site on the North Fork of the North Fork NFNFAR), less than a mile above Euchre Bar, inspired several of us to try to get Tahoe National Forest (TNF) involved in the clean-up. A helicopter seems required. Geologist Dave Lawler saw a mining claim notice near the garbage, and suggested we contact Rick Weaver, a TNF abandoned mines specialist. A few weeks ago I sent a map to Rich Johnson of the Foresthill Ranger District (which District has recently expanded northward, and now includes the garbage site) showing the High Ditch Trail and the garbage site.

Last Monday I called Rich to see what more could be done. He said that several such sites exist in the main North Fork canyon, and that it is a year-to-year process, writing cleanups into his District's budget. Rich said that the NFNFAR site would have to take its place in the queue, and it might well be more than a year before money would be available to clean it up. He suggested that we (we "citizen volunteers") could help out by bagging up the small stuff, so that it would be easy to load the helicopter cargo net when the time did finally come.

Julie, who has been carrying garbage up and out of the canyon from the Euchre Bar area generally, and who told me of this horrible mess up along the NFNFAR, wrote that at the site are several 55-gallon drums marked "laquer thinner," and that she opened one drum, and found it two-thirds full of laquer thinner. She speculates that a meth lab must have existed there. Knowing that this would immediately lift the site's priority and importance, from "garbage" to "hazardous waste," I put in a call to Rick Weaver.

Rick said he had recently visited the site (thanks to input from Julie and Dave), and had been unable to read the lettering on the 55-gallon drums. I told him of what Julie had found, and he seemed sure that this new development would lead to quicker action to clean up the site.

Quite a number of emails had accompanied all this, most of them copied to Rich Johnson and Mo Tebbe of the Foresthill ranger District. After the laquer thinner entered the picture, TNF staff decided upon a "keep away, hands off" policy, towards citizen volunteers. Now that hazardous waste is involved, they don't want any help.

So that's where the NFNFAR garbage site stands.

I must remark that over a period of many years, hiking in the Euchre Bar area, I not only have never seen a TNF ranger on the trails, but quite the contrary, everything I do see suggests that TNF rangers and trail crews literally never visit the area. Rich Johnson conceded this to be true enough. Apparently, even something as seemingly simple as, say, a monthly patrol of the area, or a yearly, or even a once-in-five-years visit by a trail crew, is not provided for in their budget. They will have one patrol ranger on the job this summer, who will be covering trails from the Granite Chief Wilderness, down through the French Meadows area, and in the North Fork canyon. It seems possible that once, over the summer, this patrol ranger will visit Euchre Bar.

We can help TNF out by reporting garbage sites, squatter's camps, and trails blocked by brush or fallen trees, etc. etc.

The main TNF telephone number at Nevada City is 265-4531.

The Foresthill Ranger District telephone number is 367-2224.

That's all for now.

Raging Rivers
[North Fork Trails blogpost, May 20, 2005: ]
Confluence of Canyon Creek (at bottom) and the North Fork
of the American River, during a high flow period, May 2005.
At 10:45 a.m. Thursday I met Mike Wall of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for a visit to the main drain tunnel of the Gold Run Diggings, which debouches into Canyon Creek at the end of the Old Wagon Road. With Mike were his assistants, Amy and Kyle. Mike's objective was to sample the waters of the tunnel for mercury contamination.

The gorge section of Canyon Creek
I obtained permission to park at Bob & Judy's place out on Garrett Road, since the road to the head of the Paleobotanist Trail is now blocked. Ron Gould awaited us there. A steady light rain fell as we set off into the Diggings, forded strangely huge Potato Ravine Creek, and met the Paleobotanist. The sky was auspiciously bright, and we hoped for the best.

Last Monday Catherine and Leslie and I had seen the North Fork running quite high and somewhat muddy, after a warm storm had started melting the big snowpack in the high country. Canyon Creek had been high, but not exceptionally so; there is no snow to melt, now, in its upper basin.

Tuesday night a light rain set in, becoming a steady heavy rain Wednesday morning. This lasted through the day Wednesday, and all through the night. Snow level, above 8000'. Thursday morning the rain turned to showers. I woke up around four in the morning and checked the North Fork Dam stream-gauge website. The river had climbed to over 12,000 cfs and was rising rapidly. I stayed up for a while and saw it reach 14,500 cfs, gaining over 1000 cfs/hour.

The meeting and water-sampling hike with the NRDC folks had been scheduled for a week, but I began to think in these terms: first, leading them to the Big Tunnel, and then second, abandoning them and dashing down to the North Fork, to see the rarely high flows. At four in the morning I shot an email to Ron and Catherine, with the stream-flow data pasted in, suggesting we take a look at the waterfalls and the river.

Ron, photographing into the Inner Gorge of Canyon Creek
By ten in the morning the North Fork had risen to 17,500 cfs.

Having driven up from San Francisco itself, I was surprised that the NRDC folk were at the Gold Run exit on time. So strange, to go from the streets of San Francisco to the wilds of the North Fork, in a few hours.

Mike wished to obtain reference samples upstream from the tunnel system, so we first visited the North and the South shafts in the main pit of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co., where they worked through the entire 400-foot section of sediments, right to the bedrock floor of the Eocene South Yuba river. Millions of cubic yards of gravel washed through the shafts and tunnels, to Canyon Creek and the North Fork.

The bridge held.
From the pit we broke out of the Diggings into Potato Ravine East and picked up the Canyon Creek Trail. The creek was loud, and very big, and as we reached the Old Wagon Road and had our first good looks at the thing, I said, "The bridge is gone!"

There was some chance it was still there. I asked the NRDC folk if they wanted to get a look at the waterfalls; they did, so it was decided that Ron and I would await them near the bridge, and they would join us after gathering samples, from the tunnel, from Canyon Creek upstream of the tunnel, and also from a point downstream.

It was a joyous moment to see the bridge still there, unmoved, two or three feet above a raging torrent of whitewater. We crossed and took our packs off.

It was still raining lightly and the wait grew long. Ron and I made a quick visit to Waterfall View, and saw, instead of one, four waterfalls breaching gaps in the cliff-top. It was all rain and spray and fog and thunder and a loud hissing which permeated everything.

The Upper Falls of Canyon Creek, sometimes called "The Leaper."
After about forty-five minutes, the NRDC people joined us, a daring bunch, picking their ways calmly across the narrow bridge and up the rain-slick rocks. We were all wet. Earlier, Amy had slipped into a creek in the Diggings, and wetted her boots. Now all boots were wet. At least, mine were, I might as well have stepped into a creek myself.

Being wet already has its advantages. The worry of getting wet was removed. We could descend the trail laughing at the million grass stalks laden with water, the hundreds of bushes shaking their little deluges upon us.

I was a little surprised at how hardy these NRDC folks were. A rough little trail crossing steep cliffs was nothing to them. We took the cross-country route to the base of the Big Waterfall and paused a while in its spray; it was raining anyway, so why be shy.

Canyon Creek was huge and every waterfall differed very much from its usual appearance. The Big Waterfall is usually a two-stepped affair; now it was one almost unbroken fall, the "step" hidden in swirling whitewater.

Then down the tiny trail past the Terraces, which some recent campers violated by building a fire in the middle of one terrace. Back on the main trail, we stopped at the amazing overlook-spot, where one can look almost straight down to the North Fork, and up the canyon to the Pinnacles and Giant Gap.

The river covered every bit of its channel bank-to-bank, all the rough old gravel bars with their big boulders underwater. When Catherine and Leslie and I had seen it, it was somewhat reddish-brown with suspended clay.

Now the North Fork was an odd grey color, which I deduced was imparted by suspended sand. I expect that a million little sand beaches will appear along the river, as it recedes.

Here the NRDC folk consulted the time and decided to start back up the trail. Ron and I wanted a closer look at the river, so we continued down the trail to its end, and spent half an hour looking around and taking photographs.

At long last the rain had stopped. The sky glowed brighter. I had developed quite a hot spot on my left heel, from wearing my ski boots in the vain hope of keeping my feet dry, this time, and I stripped off boots and socks for a look. A big blister had formed, popped, and drained down. No amount of tightening my laces had stopped that left foot from rubbing up and down at the heel. I took the drastic measure of stuffing my boots in my pack and making the two-and-a-half-mile hike up and out in my bare feet.

I had my doubts about this, for I don't go barefoot all that often, but it worked rather well. No more heel pain, and really it was nice to feel the earth itself, to feels rocks warming slowly in the weak sunshine—yes, we actually had shadows, blurred shadows, yes, but shadows, on most of the hike out!.

Anyhow, it was fine, I just had to be more careful where and how I stepped on that rocky little trail. I liked dead leaves and live grasses, for they cushioned the sharp little pebbles which covered so much of the path.

When we rolled into Bob & Judy's we found that the crafty and able NRDC folk had mysteriously found their own way back through the Diggings and up to the house—quite an achievement, for their first time ever in the area!—and had beaten us by full forty-five minutes.

Hence they could not have rested much if at all, in ascending the trail.

It was a great great day in the great canyon, and quite a privilege to see the North Fork during such high flows. The last such were in the late 1990s.

May 20, 2007 

The Dialectic of Dialogue
[North Fork Trails blogpost, May 20, 2008: ]
I have been working on geometry projects lately, and haven't been hiking much at all, except here on Moody Ridge, where spring has sprung early, and the rare Phantom Orchids are already in bloom, three weeks ahead of normal, and hungry rattlesnakes roam.

I occasionally receive emails from people seeking information about the North Fork. I am always glad to oblige. At times these exchanges develop a life of their own. A man named Fraser wrote some months ago; he wanted to visit the North Fork, "near Snow Mountain," at the end of April. He asked which trail would be best, and explained he would have his 12-year-old son with him.

I replied that all the trails near Snow Mountain would be blocked with snow, likely until June, but that he could drive up past Foresthill and use the Mumford Bar Trail, possibly hiking over a little snow at first, and once down on the river, follow the North Fork trail up to Sailor Canyon, and even beyond, with all due vigor, prudence, and so on.

Fraser responded to this, quite quickly: he had looked at a map, and thought the Big Granite Trail would work well for him. I was a little taken aback. Hadn't I just told him that it, and all the others up there, would be blocked with snow? I replied at some length, warning him that even if he managed to hike over the snow, or ski, or snowshoe, to get to the trail, it crossed Big Granite Creek along the way, and he would be taking his life in his hands to ford that creek, at the end of April.

Being surprised by his apparent willingness to cross miles of snow to reach one of the toughest trails in the big canyon, I Googled him.

I found he is quite an adventurer, with a lot of wilderness and whitewater experience. So. He was certainly capable. But his son? His son worried me. I suggested that what he envisioned might be a little much, for the son.

He did not deign to respond to my worries. A new idea had possessed him: he would hike over the miles of snow to the Beacroft Trail, or to the Sailor Flat Trail, drop into the canyon, swim across the North Fork, visit Big Granite Creek, and then hike up and out to the north, over more miles of snow, to Big Bend, on the South Yuba.

I was pretty thoroughly shocked. I wrote back, hesitantly, that for my part I would never ever, ever, swim that river at the end of April, and that what he envisioned was a truly major hike, and that I did not think it at all suitable for a twelve-year-old, but that, if he was determined to do it, good camping spots could be found at Bluff Camp, and then, across the river, at the base of Big Granite Creek. Three days would be about the minimum, I suggested.

To my complete astonishment, Fraser replied that he and his son would do it in one day!

By then, I was about six emails, and two thousand words, and one custom map, deep into our dialogue. Whatever wisdom I had to offer seemed to count for nothing. I finally knew when to stop "helping" Fraser.

A few weeks ago I heard from Fraser again. What with the warm dry spring, he had been able to drive almost up to the Beacroft, cross a few patches of snow, and follow the trail down into the canyon. He and his son camped at Bluff Camp, and made a day hike to look at Big Granite Creek the next day. They did not swim the river. The following day they hiked up and out on the Beacroft.

So the bottom line was that, while appearing to ignore my advice, Fraser actually took my advice. I wrote back, congratulating him on a good trip, and asked if he had seen the big waterfall across the North Fork from Bluff Camp.

No reply. Goodness, people are busy, nowadays.

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