July 1 (2000, 2002, 2004)
Thunderstorm in Wildcat Canyon

Date: Sat, 1 Jul 2000 07:46:52 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: trails

Hi all,

Recent developments:

A short list of trails with descriptions of the problems associated with each was sent to Rex Bloomfiled, our District 5 Supervisor, a few weeks ago. The potential for linking some of these trails with others farther east, to form one grand trail, roughly paralleling the North Fork American from Colfax to the Sierra Crest at Mount Lincoln, was also mentioned. Supervisor Bloomfield is interested in creating a trail like this, so he had Vance Kimball of the Department of Parks & Recreation contact me to look into the matter.

I went to Auburn and met with Vance last Tuesday. I brought some maps and a copy of the 1953 ordinance which lists sixty historic trails in Placer County and declares all sixty to be County roads (later repealed by the Board, in 1954). Vance was quite interested in this document and made copies. As one might expect, the issue of trails crossing private property, and public access to historic trails, has come up again and again over the years. Vance had some materials bearing upon this. In 1970 County Counsel wrote a short opinion to the effect that a "public" trail is any trail which has remained in use by the public over a long period of time. Later in the 1970s the BOS enacted an ordinance which declared the Stevens Trail, from Colfax to Iowa Hill, to be a County road.

I drew in the approximate locations of quite a number of trails on 7.5 minute USGS quadrangles during the meeting with Vance. While discussing the 1953 ordinance specifying the sixty trails, it occurred to Vance to check with Public Works to see if they had copies of the historic maps to which the sixty trails were referenced. It turned out that they did have some poor copies of the maps, and that they have been trying to draw in these sixty trails on the various 7.5 minute USGS quadrangles (apparently at the behest of Rex Bloomfield). But, since the staff are generally unacquainted with these trails, there are a lot of errors. For instance, instead of drawing in the Blue Wing Trail from near Iowa Hill to Ford's Bar, they saw the Truro Mine Road on the map sheet and assumed it to be the trail. I should probably spend some time there and help them straighten things out.

At any rate, I sketched in one possible course for a trail from Colfax to the Sierra Crest on Vance's maps. There are all kinds of problems of course. Some of the historic trails in the higher elevations have been ruined by logging, for instance, the trail from Lost Camp to the Sawtooth Ridge, and the trail across Big Valley Canyon just north of Big Valley Bluff.

Deane Swickard of BLM suggested that David Sutton of the Trust for Public Land be contacted and an effort mounted to acquite private lands along the line of the proposed Giant Gap Trail from Gold Run to Lovers Leap. So far I have been unable to reach Sutton. Also, the BLM trail crew, which Deane promised would be available to help clear those portions of the Giant Gap Trail already on BLM land, are still tied up fighting fires in Alaska, and will not get down here until the end of July at the earliest. I have to make some maps for Deane of the trails we want cleared, so that an Environmental Assessment can be made. I have these trails as candidates so far:
1. Indiana Hill Ditch (gives access to Canyon Creek and the Giant Gap Trail, and is a wonderful trail in its own right).

2. Giant Gap Trail, Canyon Creek to Bogus Point. This has been roughed in at either end but is still badly overgrown as it climbs the ridge to Bogus Point. It will switch back and forth across the ridge, giving tremendous views of Giant Gap.

3. Giant Gap Trail, Lovers Leap to BLM property line ca. one mile west. Spectacular views of Giant Gap.

4. Blue Wing Trail. This trail is blocked by fallen trees in many places and needs some work. Also, the trail from Fords Bar to Pickering Bar and on up to Canyon Creek needs work.
So, that's the latest trail news.

Date: Mon, 1 Jul 2002 21:58:53 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: BLM action in Canyon Creek?

Hi all,

Most of you know that, near Gold Run, 806 acres of the old gold mining lands are now for sale, including the somewhat disjunct 72-acre parcel in Canyon Creek, fully a mile long, which contains the historic Canyon Creek Trail, leading down to the North Fork American. For years I and others have urged the BLM, specifically, Deane Swickard and his fine staff at BLM's Folsom office, to acquire these lands; at the very least, the more southerly parcels of the 806 acres, in and near the special Gold Run Addition to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, as constituted by Congress in 1978.

I wish I could say that the BLM is now in a position to take action on these very important and acquisitions. However, other plans seem to be afoot, not originating in the Folsom office of BLM, but rather, from the BLM's Abandoned Mines Program. As the name suggests, abandoned mines are being inventoried, and where hazards exist, efforts are made to eliminate the hazards. They have recorded the locations of many drain tunnels in the old hydraulic mines in this part of the Sierra, and in some cases, grates have been installed to bar human access while allowing ingress and egress by bats.

Any number of such drain tunnels, driven through slaty, faulted masses of weather metamorphic rock, are genuinely hazardous. However, the great tunnel of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, entirely within the Gold Run Addition to the Wild & Scenic River, incidentally, is not one of these hazardous tunnels. The tunnel is driven through some exceptionally competent metavolcanic rock of the Calaveras Complex, the same rock which makes the North Fork so very steep and dramatically beautiful in nearby Giant Gap. This tunnel leads from the main hydraulic pit in the Gold Run Diggings to Canyon Creek. It is directly adjacent to the Canyon Creek Trail and is quite a point of interest, and an historic site in its own right. Unlike many other drain tunnels, this particular tunnel shows virtually no evidence of any cave-ins or rockfalls over the 120 years since hydraulic mining was ended by court order at Gold Run. In fact, the only sign of any rock fall at all is at the very end of the tunnel where it opens into Canyon Creek; a few blocks of rock have peeled away.

Nevertheless, the Abandoned Mines Program people appear to have set their sights on the big tunnel at Canyon Creek. I strongly oppose any action by the BLM/Abandoned Mines Program at this tunnel; I oppose a gate, I oppose even a sign. I left messages and emails with Deane Swickard and others at the Folsom office last Friday, expressing my concerns. I also left a message with the Deputy State Director of the BLM in California, at his office in Sacramento.

It seems to me that an Environmental Impact Statment should be required for construction of a grate at this historic site, within the Wild & Scenic River corridor.

At this point I do not know any particulars of the planned action. There is a mechanism to appeal BLM decisions. This Abandoned Mines Program seems like a good thing, but here, at the Canyon Creek tunnel, it doesn't make any sense. At nearby Dutch Flat, they sicced the Environmental Protection Agency on a drain tunnel at the Polar Star Mine, and you have never seen such a boondoggle, such a travesty of environmental "clean-up" as was performed there. It cost a ton of money, and historic ground sluices were buried under debris from their road, and the whole area kind of wrecked and ravaged.


Russell Towle

Thunderstorm in Wildcat Canyon
[North Fork Trails blogpost, July 1, 2004:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2004/07/thunderstorm-in-wildcat-canyon.html ]
Wednesday morning I met Ron Gould & Catherine O'Riley for an expedition to the Walker Mine, in Wildcat Canyon (see the USGS 7.5 minute "Royal Gorge" quadrangle). Tuesday, I had been laying slabs of sandstone in mortar, to make a path, and had heard the constant rumbling of thunder to the east; and at sunset, the lovely smell of fresh rain wafted down from the high country.

The forecast was for more of the same, but, inasmuch as Wildcat Canyon is fully ten miles from the Sierra crest, and a few sprinkles on a warm day could scarcely hurt, I made no storm preparations beyond packing a long-sleeved shirt. Instead, I took focus on baking some soy sauce and garlic tofu, and buying crackers and cherries and sports drinks.

Thus equipped, I felt ready to enter the wilds of Wildcat Canyon. To get there, we drove to Auburn, and up the Foresthill-Soda Springs road for many miles, past the Mumford Bar, Beacroft, and Sailor Flat trails, past Robinson Flat (which is often labeled "Robertson Flat" on the old maps), at about 7000' elevation, and then, in a couple of miles, we reached the unmarked trail to Sailor Meadow and the Walker Mine.

Except, it was now marked. A single new white Rav 4 was parked across the road from where a large boulder of andesite had been spray-painted with an arrow between the letters "S" and "M." This was especially strange, as Ron had just visited Sailor Meadow last Sunday; there was no spray-painted boulder, then. We saddled up and hit the trail, finding another painted boulder just up the hill.

Smalls trees and bushes were flagged with orange surveyor's tape all along the way; the flagging was new, since Sunday. And, quite often, cairns of boulders had been made to further mark the trail. To our utter horror, the spray-painted arrows marked many larger boulders along the trail, as well.

This is not a hard trail to follow. It is a little vague in a few places, but since its unvarying scheme is to follow the ridge dividing Sailor Canyon from Wildcat Canyon, one cannot go far astray. There is no point in flagging this trail, no need for cairns or ducks, and it is an out-and-out crime to paint large yellow arrows on boulders.

Click to enlarge
Fresh footprints of at least two hikers pointed down the trail, ahead of us. Were these the very culprits? The paint seemed dry. We wondered, and as we wondered, Catherine and Ron stripped every last bit of flagging from the bushes and trees, and kicked down every cairn. I happen to know it's a bit of a religion with Catherine, to knock down ducks and cairns. Now she could exercise her faith with a holy vengeance.

There is a very thick section of andesitic mudflow (Mehrten Formation) at the heads of both Sailor and Wildcat canyons. For the first thousand feet of descent, we were in the mudflow, but as we approached the long leveling of the ridge which marks the vicinity of Sailor Meadow, out of view to the west, we entered the older rhyolite ash of the Valley Springs Formation, none of it directly exposed, only revealing itself as small white angular boulders, here and there.

Where the ridge levels, around 5400' elevation, there is a long narrow pond just below the trail on the west. The most-used trail to Sailor Meadow forks away west just before one reaches the pond, and we saw the flagging continue towards the Meadow, on this route.

We, however, stayed on the trail to the Walker Mine, and saw no more fresh flagging, nor any paint, nor any new cairns, as we continued north along the ridge. There is quite a fine old-growth forest in this general area; Sailor Meadow is famous for it, but the forest extends far beyond the meadow itself, occupying a broad bench on the east side of Sailor Canyon, with a smaller bench on the Wildcat Canyon side of the ridge. These quasi-level surfaces are fully in the volcanic ash layer, and in places, beneath the ash, are old river gravels. And in those gravels is gold. So there are various mines and prospects having to do with these old river channels, in both canyons.

Beneath the rhyolite ash and the river gravels is the bedrock, here, the Middle Jurassic Sailor Canyon Formation, made of beds of sandstone and slaty stuff, much derived from volcanic source material, which beds or strata are tilted up on edge, not to a pure vertical orientation, but near to that, having rotated about 75 degrees east. The strata strike slightly west of north, and, on the north side of the North Fork, cross Big Granite, Little Granite, and Big Valley canyons, reaching the South Yuba just east of Cisco Grove.

Fossil ammonites are sometimes found in Sailor Canyon fm. rocks. These sea organisms are much like a chambered nautilus. The one fossil I saw during our hike, tho, resembled a clam.

Both Terry Davis and Gene Markley had told me that the Walker Mine Trail continues past the mine to the North Fork American, a little ways west of Wildcat Canyon. Ron and Catherine and I hoped to reach the river, but this would mean a climb of nearly 3400' on the way out, so, without really saying so, we were planning to let events dictate our course: would we be exhausted by lopping, before ever nearing the river? Would the trail be easy to find and follow, or hard? Would the day be hot, or cool?

Catherine and I had been down to where the Walker Mine Trail plunges down the east side of the ridge a few years ago, but none of us had ever been down to the mine itself. We found the trail much larger than we had expected, badly overgrown in many places, yes, but showing signs of having been well-lopped maybe ten or fifteen years ago, and lightly lopped within the past few years.

By "well-lopped" I mean many things. First, one never cuts obtruding branches at all close to the traveled way of the trail, if one can help it; lean over and stretch your arms out and cut the branches several feet away. Second, get the cut brush off the trail, and if possible, well off the trail where it can't be seen. Try to get the cut ends pointing away from the trail, too.

Of course, on really bad brush—and we saw some of that-there are too many branches to cut in one pass; they make complicated, imbricated masses; often all one can reasonably do is take out some of the worst branches, and not worry too much about cutting these several feet from the path. These initial cuts often open the way for the deeper cuts which are still necessary. Multiple lopping expeditions are called for.

And finally, do not be fooled by small conifers. Let them live, and they will utterly consume the trail. They will soon get too large to lop, and cutting tree trunks with a handsaw is so very much harder than lopping small trees. If a small conifer is within a foot of the traveled footbed, have no mercy. It is actually better yet to take out every small conifer within reach. This is often impossible in practice, as there are hundreds of them, thousands, tens of thousands—you get the idea.

Well. We had started under clear skies, and soon had seen some wispy fluffy little white cumulus clouds materialize over the high country, and we watched these clouds grow and grow until they covered the sky, and thunder began muttering and rumbling at distance. We were thankful to be in the shadows of the swelling clouds, while lopping our way slowly down the trail.

The clouds only thickened and darkened, while the thunder grew louder. In fact, it rapidly grew so amazingly dark, I would have thought sunset was at hand; yet it was just after one in the afternoon.

Rather nice views open up across the North Fork canyon to Snow Mountain, from this part of the trail. One also sees well into Wildcat Canyon, to a series of high waterfalls on the east side, and to the head of the canyon. One can see the strata of the Sailor Canyon fm. as it sweeps up the south face of Snow, and see the contact between it and the next metamorphic rock unit to the east, the "pyroclastic member" of the Tuttle Lake fm.

This contact between the two formations follows up Wildcat Creek itself, although it often seems to fall just a mite up the east wall of the canyon. Supposedly, the contact is "conformable," that is, the pyroclastics to the east (pyroclastics: "fire broken" rocks, volcanic, eruptive rocks, such as mudflows, and ash beds; *not* lava flows per se) were deposited directly upon the Sailor Canyon fm. sediments to the west, in an uninterrupted continuation of the sedimentary sequence. Originally the Tuttle Lake rocks sat on top of the Sailor Canyon rocks; now they lie to the east. They are but slightly younger.

There was far too much brush for us to take on, and retain any chance of reaching the North Fork. The trail was very well-defined, despite being often buried beneath brush. It much reminds me of the Wabena Trail, a couple miles farther east. Most of the bushes were Huckleberry Oak, with a good amount of Green Manzanita, many live oaks, and many small White Firs and Douglas Firs. Bay Laurel became common, too, as we dropped below 5000'.

I forged ahead, while the others lopped, and reached the little flat near the main portal of the mine. This around 4400' in elevation. I explored down the side trail into a ravine where the main tunnel is located, with its ore-cart tracks, and where cliffs of meta-sandstone (?) with a very blocky, hackly texture rise quite steeply. Then I returned to my pack. I snacked, and explored to the east, and found the continuation of the main trail, down to the North Fork, and also another side trail, holding a level line east to a cabin site.

Returning again to my pack, surprised not to hear Ron and Catherine, I called out and heard an oddly distant answering shout. How could they still be so high above me?

Then it began to hail, very lightly. I moved under the shelter of a Canyon Live Oak, and dug out my long-sleeved shirt. I heard both Ron and Catherine shouting up above, but could not make out what was up. The hail ranged up to half an inch in diameter, and often bounced off the ground. It gradually turned to rain. Lightning was flashing in the clouds above, and some seemed to be hitting the summit ridge of Snow. The thunder grew much more intense, and, just as Ron finally appeared, the rain began to fall more heavily. He went off to see the tunnel; I waited for Catherine at the small flat, where bits of mining equipment are strewn about. A fire-ring is there, too.

When she finally arrived, we followed Ron, and found him crouched beside the hackly sheer cliff, which, just barely, kept the rain off, since it had some slight overhangs above. We all crowded into the dry spot. Thunder was crashing constantly, and lightning flashed closer, and closer, and it began, not just to rain, but to pour.

It was quite exciting. I was already pretty soaked, but the temperature was not cold, and it was really rather nice to have this little shred of shelter, and a view of a rousingly good thunderstorm. There were lightning strikes within two thousand feet, and the thunder that followed was extraordinary, deafening crackling, staccato bursts, set into a matrix of deep booms. What seemed to be a single strike could trigger thunder which lasted five or ten seconds; of course, the vast cliffy south face of Snow must have been echoing the thunder back upon us, but still, it seemed strangely long-drawn-out.

It was wonderful.

Once in a while, the rain would let up, and we would explore. Once we visited the cabin site to the east. Another time, we followed the main trail down to its crossing of the ravine, at about 4200' elevation.

We had to give up on reaching the river, for the trail continued badly overgrown, and now every bush and every tree was laden with rain, and to hike, or to lop, was to get soaked.

We had worked hard, too, and worried that one last descent of nearly a thousand feet, would transform an acceptably strenuous hike of the first order, into a nightmare thing, a staggering and demented and unending climb beneath an uncaring moon.

So, another day.

The storm lasted about an hour. We sorted ourselves out and started up the trail. Now every uncut branch shed its loads of rain, and we were all pretty wet, especially in the legs and shoe areas, as we climbed.

The trail is often somewhat steep, but really not that bad. We reached the level ridge near the narrow pond, and took a long rest, exploring the ancient forest into Wildcat Canyon a short distance. What appears to be a well-formed glacial moraine is near the trail here; all of its boulders look to be andesite, from the Mehrten fm. Also, we found an old sign post, which had once been set into a pile of boulders next to the trail, perhaps, even, a claim marker: it was made of a piece of old, fire-charred Incense Cedar, and had the initials "M" and "W" carved into it.

Did the "W" stand for "Walker"? It was below the "M" so it is hard to make the letters stand for "Walker Mine."

Continuing up the trail, we found that the orange flagging had been replaced, in the four hours or so since we had walked down. This meant that the party ahead of us, in the brand-new Rav 4, were indeed responsible for the flagging, and, one couldn't help but suspect, for the spray paint as well.

This would be confirmed if the Rav 4 was gone when we reached the top of the trail. The rain had washed away any clear footprints, but their ghosts remained, and they seemed to point up the trail, rather than down.

Ron and Catherine went back to work and removed another fifty to one hundred lengths of flagging. It was infuriating. We each nurtured our own little fantasies about the sort of beetle-brained, why, less than beetle-brained idiots who would perpetrate this. One theory is that some kind of 4th-of-July party is planned for Sailor Meadow.

We reached the top around 7:30 p.m., and found the Rav 4 gone, as we expected. This thing was so new it still had dealer plates: I think they may have read "Maita Chevrolet" or Maita something (Toyota?).

They should be made to remove all the rest of the flagging and scrub the paint from the boulders.

Such was another fine day in the North Fork canyon.

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