high cirrocumulus, a few small cumuli puffs over the crest of the range…
when i return [from two weeks working at Año Nuevo] perhaps the loggers will have raped green valley. it's just not right to defile this virgin canyon…
it is hot today! and very bright sitting here on the rocks. a few small cumulus play in the high country ~ breezes sweep up the canyon, trees sing.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Sugar Pine Point & Goshawk Valley
Son Greg & I met the intrepid Catherine O'Riley (recently returned from adventures in Corsica and France), and geologist Dave Lawler, at the Dutch Flat exit on I-80, packed ourselves into Catherine's 4WD pickup, and headed for Sugar Pine Point. This required driving up to the Yuba Gap exit, and following the road (right fork) in past the horrific clearcuts near the old Donner Trail and near one of the petroglyph sites along that pioneer trail, the glyphs showing, incidentally, that it was originally an Indian trail; and on to Forest Road 19, branching left from the paved road. This Road 19 leads past Lake Valley Reservoir, an old hydraulic mining reservoir serving the mines at Dutch Flat and Gold Run, since refurbished by PG&E; waters of the North Fork of the North Fork American are diverted to Drum Powerhouse and several other powerhouses and to domestic water supply farther west in Placer and Nevada counties. The lake is a couple miles long.
After several miles we hung a left on Forest Road 38, leading to Huysink Lake and the Salmon Lake Trail. This last provides access also to the Loch Leven Lakes, nestled in glaciated granite at the head of Little Granite Creek. Very very popular hiking/camping destination, with most visitors approaching from Big Bend, near I-80 to the north.
Beyond the trailhead the road reaches a pass in the ridge dividing Big Valley on the west from Little Granite Creek on the east, crossing to the Little Granite side before continuing south. Here in the pass, tho unmarked, is the Big Granite Trail from Cisco to the North Fork American and beyond to the mines in Sailor Canyon. It is about a 3500' descent to the river from this pass, and several miles of walking, say, six miles. We drove on, passing the pretty lake and meadow of Pelham Flat. I would love to see Tahoe National Forest acquire the private inholdings here and in this general area.
In fact, I just sent a letter to TNF Forest Supervisor, Steven Eubanks, to that exact effect.
Continuing south on the ridge, after a mile or so we passed the giant granitoid boulder with the mile number "9" spray-painted on by the loggers a few years back, measuring from I-80, and soon thereafter forded the outlet of a wet meadow, chugged through the disappearing snowdrift which stopped me a few days ago, and, after cresting a moraine, found our almost-hidden road branching to the right near a log deck on the left. I had brought my chainsaw along, to cut through a fallen white fir blocking this stretch of road. This took a few minutes.
On the east side of the pass one can find, tho not easily, a vestige of the old Sugar Pine Point Trail. I have purposely avoided clearing the entrance to this trail, hoping to entirely exclude motorcycles and all wheeled vehicles from Sugar Pine Point ancient forest. One has to sashay back and forth thru some brush and past a rotting stump before the trail breaks free and drops briefly eastward before crossing a tiny ravine and continuing south. I carried my chainsaw a little way in to clear another fallen rotten fir from the trail. Many other trees lie across the trail, but are not hard to step over, and help to keep wheeled vehicles out.
The old trail is cut in two places, first by a logging skid trail, ripping deep into the soft white chalky rhyolite ash of the Valley Springs formation. One has to descend a steep bank, five feet high or so. Then, a ways farther the trail is cut by a full-on logging road. Here the trail was buried altogether and one must pick one's way along a steep bank of rhyolite debris before regaining the path. In another few feet one passes into Section 20, Tahoe National Forest lands containing the ancient forest. A few rather large and old Sugar pines stand sentinel duty right where the trail crosses the property line.
Soon we reached the ancient forest proper, arcing into gently-sloping terrain with many huge trees. We visited the first spring, then the bear wallow spring, then a humongous Sugar pine a little farther to the west along this increasingly tenuous relict of the old trail, retreated east to visit the Indian site, then the cliffs in the glacially-polished Upper Triassic conglomerate, with their fine views of Little Granite Creek, Cherry Point, and Snow Mountain.
So we had to rush along even faster and farther east while the hawk gave us an earful and another swoop or two for added impetus and inspiration. Fortunately, it did not attack us. Goshawks have inflicted severe injuries on people coming within 1/4 mile of their nests. These are forest hawks, preying largely upon other birds; they are accipiters, related to Coopers Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks, but Goshawks are larger, really about the size of a Redtail.
Dave named the little valley Goshawk Valley.
So as it happens we made the crest of the Little Slate Ridge just where we planned we would, where the lower and upper members of the Sierra Buttes fms. cross the ridge. We took a long break and admired a broken-off Sugar Pine with massive side branches, trunk about 5 to 6 feet in diameter, and oddly, strongly marked with scratches from bears to over 30 feet above ground, as tho they climb up into these huge side-branches. One of the branches was about two feet in diameter itself.
We saw several large Sugar Pines marked with lots of bear scratches on our hike, and many "bear beds," where the bears scoop out a hollow in the pine needles on the uphill side of a large tree, and poop around the area.
We then followed the ridgecrest west toward the summit, and stopped there again to enjoy the views. One can see parts of the American River Trail way down along the North Fork, over 2500 feet below. I could see the knoll I climbed in early April to get a view of the 500-foot waterfall in New York Canyon, across the river and to the east. A little bit of the falls on Wabena Creek can be seen, several miles east, also, the snow peaks on the uppermost Foresthill Divide—Lyon Peak, Needle Peak, both in middle 8000's, and also Squaw Peak on the Sierra crest above Squaw Valley.
There is quite a bit of the low-growing Juniperis communis on this ridge, Jeffrey pines, very storm-stunted and picturesque, and, as with the other cliffy locations near the ancient forest, Douglas Fir. It is interesting that this species is not in the ancient forest itself, which, otherwise, has a spread of species identical to what one might see in the coniferous forests near Dutch Flat and Alta.
We passed Goshawk Valley safely and climbed back up into the ancient forest, did some wandering, and found ourselves at the bear den, in the hollow, cave-like base of a huge Sugar Pine, with deeply-footprinted bear trails converging from several directions.
After a final stop at the Triassic Cliffs, we walked up and out to the truck. It was a fairly leisurely hike of about four or five miles, enlivened by a rare bird and graced by a rare flower. As we drove past Pelham Flat, we saw a fine figure of a bear across the meadow, standing calmly, facing the lowering sun. We stopped and took photographs. As we left northward, the bear walked south, and Dave speculated that it had waiting for us to leave, before returning to the ancient forest.
Visit to New York Canyon
[North Fork Trails, June 13, 2005:For various reasons I'd put off visiting the 500-foot waterfalls in New York Canyon until too late in the spring to see them at high flows, but, better late than never.
Still, I can't help but feel irritated that my religiously and often-reiterated Grand Plan, the plan for my hiking buddies to spend their money to rent snowmobiles, so I could ride in all the comfort of a king up to Sailor Flat Trail, and then down it, so ever far as possible, never came to fruition.
Despite months of trying!
At any rate, good old Tom McGuire, who lives in Berkeley and hikes and bikes every which way—California, Utah, all over the place—good old Tom had the brilliant idea to visit New York canyon on Sunday, June 12th, and we simply made it happen. We met early at the Raley's in Auburn, stashed my Subie in the parking lot, and drove Tom's shiny mini-SUV up Foresthill Road to where the snow stopped us, on Canada Hill, elevation, 6600'.
Ron & Catherine and I had been there a few days before; nothing had changed, and I fully expected to walk a couple miles over snow before we would have dropped low enough on the Sailor Flat Trail to get clear of the stuff.
Tom, by the way, is a tall man, well-built, with brown hair in a short pony-tail and a quick smile, an artist and writer and adventurer who somehow lives in the very Hive of Civilization and works in an office for the University.
I always accuse him of being Politically Correct. He might as well accuse me of being a hiker. But he does pronounce manzanita "monzoneetah," in complete disregard for the old-time white-Californian purposeful slur on the Hispanic component of our history, the slur which makes an almost nasal "a" out of almost every Spanish "ah."
So that we now always say Sack-ramento, not Sock-ramento.
Oh well. Many were the 49ers from Pike County, Missouri.
A large party of hikers and runners were gathering themselves for a charge to Robinson Flat, a few miles up the road, and Tom and I quietly marveled that, sturdy and adventurous as they were, they had no clue that a scant two miles away, one of the largest waterfalls in California was spawning rainbows in clouds of spray. We almost had to tell them. But, it is a secret.
Perhaps better for them not to know. I have a feeling that those shapely legs, so artfully exposed, so carefully shaved, were never meant to crash the brushfields of New York Canyon. Permanent scarring would be the certain outcome.
They swiftly disappeared over the snow and Tom and I trudged along after. To my surprise, after passing the first big patch, the road opened up, and except for a minor snowfield at Sailor Flat, and another down the Sailor Flat Road where we'd abandoned Catherine's Land Rover last June, in a fit of prudence, we were able to just plain walk on the road.
We passed the first high hump on Canada Hill and soon reached the second high hump.
"This is where the dividing ridge between the East and West Forks of New York Canyon meets Canada Hill," I explained to Tom, who appeared quizzical and confused. "We could follow this ridge right down to the Chert Dome, and save ourselves at least a mile, if we were brave."
To Tom this was a mysterious and inconceivable idea. I let it drop and we strode along to Sailor Flat, crunched over a hundred yards of snow, and set off down the road towards the North Fork.
Sailor Flat itself is a wet meadow at the head of the road, on the north side of the Foresthill Divide. The name likely harks back to the Gold Rush and a group of sailors who were prospecting the area, or who perhaps had a camp down on the North Fork itself. Similarly, New York Canyon would have been named for a party of 49ers from New York.
A sign informed us that the Sailor Flat Jeep Trail was one and one-half miles in, the North Fork, four miles. It's a ways over three thousand feet descent to the river from that sign. Most but not all people use a 4WD of some kind to drive down to the end of the jeep trail, which is a mite less than 2000' above the river.
The road and jeep trail follow down the ridge dividing New York Canyon on the west from Sailor Canyon on the east.
About a mile down the Sailor Flat road one breaks out of the Red Fir forest into an open brushy area. Here I had noted, on my special Forest Service edition of the Duncan Peak 7.5 minute quadrangle, that a smaller road forking away east at this brushy area was "the" Sailor Flat Trail. So I talked Tom into giving it a try, as it had looked, on the map, to save some distance over the present main road.
It dropped steeply and straightly down to the beginning of the Jeep Trail, and was, in fact, clearly the very same trail, although somewhat disrupted by recent logging in the area.
The jeep trail continues steep and we made quick work of dropping down to a level area where our secret route to the falls forks away left. This route is so terribly secret that I myself can't remember its course from one visit to the next. We blundered through some heavy timber into a Kellogg's Black Oak forest and gradually gradually found ourselves on a major game trail. After a time a little flat, well-covered in Green Manzanita, is reached. One merely has to drop away west into a ravine of sorts, and find the almost invisible human trail which crosses this ravine to a mining prospect, a conical pit about six feet deep and twelve feet across.
If one cannot find this pit, it is best to give up on reaching the falls. There is what Saddam Hussein might call the Mother of All Brushfields between the ravine and a line of cliffs to the west. The crossing of this brushfield is the crux. From the prospect pit, it can be done. Anywhere else, watch out.
Along the way we found another old human trail, crossing the ravine lower down. It, however, was swiftly swallowed by the Mother of All Brushfields.
|East fork of New York Canyon|
|The "Chert Dome"|
Add to this that their hind feet land exactly on the spots just vacated by their front feet, and you see how a bear trail can often show very deep footprints, little almost circular shallow hollows, six inches across.
Having rested and dined, Tom jumped and I forded the crystalline stream, and a short climb in hot sun brought us out onto steep cliffs, where, as usual, I lost the almost-invisible optimal path, and we ended up doing a bit of a scramble up the steeps to gain the thing, which led us to a roughly 500-foot descent to Chert Dome.
Most of the area is cut into the Shoo Fly Complex metasediments, here more deformed and twisted than is usual, with quite a bit of thrust faulting and folding and the abrupt juxtaposition of different formations. Masses of grey and white chert are common. One of these, low on the divide between the East and West forks of New York Canyon, forms Chert Dome, at about 4400' elevation.
We hewed to cliff-edge on our way down and were rewarded by a series of different views of main falls. The East Fork approaches a sheer cliff in a narrow gorge and then plunges in wispy rainbowed spray hundreds of feet. Depending on whether you add some upper and lower falls to the tally or not, this waterfall is called 500 feet or 640 feet high.
As we neared the little pass before Chert Dome I spotted some long-trodden bear footprints in moss and we followed them out to a clifftop perch with an exceptionally fine view of the awesome waterfall. I often see these bear trails leading out to cliffy perches with exceptional views.
Tom marveled at the deep bear prints, but, Tom marvels at everything.
Soon we were at our destination, Chert Dome, and took shelter beneath a tiny Canyon Live Oak clinging to the summit, scarcely four feet high but overhanging some rock ledges in just such a way that we could rest in the shade. Otherwise we would have really cooked in that bright sunshine.
We had an unobstructed view of the very amazing and beautiful waterfalls from comfortable rock chairs in the shade.
With a climb of 2200 feet ahead of us, up to the Foresthill Road, I began wondering about the Dividing Ridge again. It would have to save us a mile, maybe a mile and a half. The climb would be no different, elevation-wise. The only question was, how bad would the brush really be? For in the course of about ten visits to New York Canyon I have come to respect and fear the many brushfields. There have been times in which I put myself way, way out into one, and thought, "Oh well, it's terrible, but only a couple hundred yards to go, and it won't, at least, get any worse!"
And then it does get worse. Much worse. But once in the middle of one of those nightmare patches, it is hard to wave the white flag and sound a retreat.
Well. I ran the Dividing Ridge idea past Tom, and although he seemed reluctant, trooper that he is, he agreed to a try.
He marveled that I would even consider such a thing.
|Click to enlarge|
We rested in the forest shade and I scouted the pass for a bear trail leading to the east face of the cliffs above. I knew from my last visit that on the west of this pass, the brush was extreme. And we had seen that east face from below; steep, but passable, we had guessed.
Soon enough a bear trail of the highest order was found. By this I mean a trail one might mistake for an old human trail. It had a distinct and broad trail-bed and wound up through brush towards that exact eastern area we had deemed passable. It could not be seen unless one was actually on it, with all the Huckleberry Oak.
Following it, we broke out into rocks and the trail became, if possible, even better-defined.
Tom, a word-smith, dubbed it the Ursine Trail. We followed it up and up and up, past one terrace-like summit to the next steep and cliffy rise to the next little summit, and so on. Occasionally we may have lost this wonderful Ursine Trail, as we had a couple of out-and-out rock climbs, where a bear would have taken a more sensible line.
After a climb from the Chert Dome of over 1500 feet, we reached a large step or broad pass on the crest of the ridge, hundreds of yards long, and near level, but filled with Green Manzanita and Huckleberry Oak.
Exactly what we had feared.
The Ursine Trail seemed to split into multiple lines which entered the heavy brush at many points, not one of which looked at all good.
After a long reconnaissance of the area, east and west, hoping for a long way around of some kind, we gave up and entered the sea of tangled stiff branches. Here we could often only walk on top of the brush. Towards the southern end we reached signs of logging from twenty years ago, and found a road which wound up on the eastern side of things. Another road stayed more west, and as it offered the more direct line, we followed it over snow until it ended and then zig-zagged up through fir forest and snow to the crest, on the next step higher.
From there it was easy going, although we were again and again deceived into thinking we had topped out and finally made an end to that endless climb from Chert Dome. The snowfields became larger and larger and at long last we reached the Foresthill Road.
Tom marveled at this, apparently never having really trusted my "theory" that one single ridge leads from the Chert Dome up to Canada Hill. Since he has been on two hikes into New York Canyon with me now, on both of which I managed to lose the way and have trouble finding that damn Prospect Pit crossing of the Nameless Ravine and the Mother of All Brushfields, I suppose he can be forgiven for doubting my theories of route.
We were not much more than a quarter-mile from his shiny little SUV and soon reached it, to find the earlier party of the shapely shaven legs gone, and one kindly-looking man resting on the tailgate of his SUV, reading a book.
It proved he was waiting for his wife and others, who had set out that morning from Squaw Valley for a run over the upper 30 miles of the Western States Trail. It was now a little after five in the afternoon. I had a feeling of foreboding that his wife and the rest might have had considerable difficulty, and that the kindly bookish man would have a long wait, maybe past sunset, before they'd arrive.
Tom and I settled into the comfortable seats for the long drive down to Auburn. He marveled at how good it felt to get off his feet. It had been a long and wonderful day in New York Canyon. The Ursine Trail would be my own route of choice to hike down to the big waterfall from Canada Hill, if only there was a way around that one brushfield.
More exploration is needed, as usual. The best things in life are free, but not always easy.