July 2 (1978, 1982, 1986, 2002, 2003, 2005)
Amping up Public Trails Activism ~
Giant Gap in Reverse Traverse

7/2/78 morning. a lone grosbeak sings. it is the weekend of the dutch flat parade and art show.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

7/2/82 Friday evening. Another mostly cloudy day, breezy and cool. I sit and listen to Borodin & Rimsky-Korsakov...

Yesterday Sue and I went to the Yuba Gap area in search of petroglyphs. We'd received directions from Bob DeFosset, but couldn't find them in the time allotted. Sue needed to get home. We did however enjoy ourselves, exploring many glacially rounded outcrops of granite, seeing many fine junipers.

I stopped by Dana's this morning and talked her into going up there...

July 2, 1986 [...]

Now that the nesting season is largely past the blue jays are quite noisy, beginning at dawn.


Still no word from Kevin Clarke of BLM about the upcoming meeting at Lovers Leap.”

Date: Tue, 2 Jul 2002 10:26:38 -0800

To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: more on Gold Run

Hi all,

A few people here near Gold Run and Dutch Flat met a year or so ago and talked about the trails situation—including Jim Ricker, Bill Newsom, and Bob & Judy Suter of Gold Run. We named our quite informal group "North Fork Trails." The Suters like riding their horses in the Gold Run Diggings and elsewhere. In response to my post about the BLM tunnel grating project, Judy sent me this message:

>Casa Loma and Iron Point, just to show the spectacular scenery that we need
>to preserve. I didn't have time to video the Diggings which I also wanted to
>do. I wanted to show the tunnels, the cabin, the piles of quartz south of
>the cabin, the lakes, the petrified wood, and the trail heads.
>All were impressed and very interested in taking an active role in
>supporting our goals and would like to ride and hike our trails. Rex
>Bloomfield was there but missed the presentation. His wife however, wants to
>come up and ride the trails. They are an active group and it was a positive
>move to network with them. Makes me think that it is time to form our NFTA
>to get the community involved and fight things like the tunnel closure etc.
>I gave each member present your name, address, phone number, and website
>addresses for more pictures, as well as ours. Richard informed me that your
>website is linked to their website. Told them you would be glad to lead a
>hike at any time. Hope that's OK.
>15 members of MVTA have been taking a GPS class funded by MVTA. Placer Co
>asked them to do this and find and record any and all trails between Colfax
>and Roseville. We need to do this up here as well. The Towle RR would be
>another very important right of way for hikers and riders, also having much
>historical significance.
>Maybe we should go the historical route and see if we can have the Diggings
>designated as an historical monument. The mining trail from Last Chance to
>Michigan Bluff became an historical trail in 1992.
>MVTA gave me two copies of two booklets they published: "California's
>Recreational Use Statute & Landowner Liability" and "Uniting Neighbors
>Through Trails". If you don't have a copy of these, come by and I will give
>you the extra set.
>Happy Trails,


Russell Towle

Date: Wed, 2 Jul 2003 08:51:56 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Traverse of Giant Gap

Hi all,

Yesterday Ron Gould and I made it all the way through Giant Gap "in reverse," from west to east, going in by way of Canyon Creek, following the high old trails wherever possible, and climbing out by way of the Green Valley Trail. It was an epic adventure with epic exertions.

The narrowest, steepest-walled gorge on the North Fork American is called Giant Gap. Projecting into this gorge is the 2400-foot cliff called Lovers Leap, and across the canyon to the south is its sister-cliff, a spur ridge studded with pinnacles I call The Pinnacles, or the Pinnacle Ridge.

Pinnacle Ridge, south rib of Giant Gap
One of the great adventures on the North Fork is to hike and swim down through Giant Gap, starting up in Green Valley, and climbing out of the canyon down at Canyon Creek, or perhaps on the Pickering Bar Trail. There is a long succession of deep, cliff-bound pools in Giant Gap. At river level there is usually no way to hike past such pools, one must swim. Usually this "gorge scramble" is made in late July or in August, when the river water is warmest.

However, there are remnants of a high trail through Giant Gap, from Green Valley to Canyon Creek. These trail remnants stand two or three hundred feet above river level. They really make one almost-continuous trail, which has some significant gaps, and which seems to hark back to the late 1890s and early 1900s, to what was called the Giant Gap Survey. This was a scheme to divert the water of the North Fork into a ditch (a ways above Euchre Bar) and carry the ditch right through Green Valley and the Gap and on down the canyon, eventually, near Auburn, to be led into large pipes and conveyed to San Francisco.

A blasted ledge section of the survey "trail" above the river

In many places the Giant Gap Survey blasted ledges from cliffs and spurs of rock. Presumably these blasted sections were carefully surveyed and are on the exact line of the proposed ditch. Between the blasted sections are connecting trails, which vary widely in how well they maintain the almost-level line of the Survey.

Looking down from the portal of West Tunnel into Tunnel Gully
Last winter and spring quite a few expeditions were made into Giant Gap, most from the west, a few from the east, in order to explore and map out these high old trails. It became clearer and clearer that almost all these trails related to the Giant Gap Survey. Directly below Lovers Leap to the south, a sheer-walled gully plunges into the North Fork, with a mysterious tunnel in the cliffs on the gully's east side. This gully barred further progress to the east, although a precarious sequence of wet ledges looked as though they might permit one to at least enter the gully. Flanking Tunnel Gully on the west was a flat-topped rock spur I call Terrace Top, in reference to one or more old camping terraces.

Another tunnel penetrates a giant rock-blade farther east. I call these two tunnels the West Tunnel (at Tunnel Gully) and the East Tunnel. The East Tunnel is "blind" and does not completely penetrate its rock-blade.

On May 12, Ron and I had made one final exploration, from Green Valley going west, and Ron actually reached Tunnel Gully (I had to stay back with my dog, at a little cliff along the way). He found that the West Tunnel does go all the way through its rock-blade.

There are many gaps in the Giant Gap Survey Trail, and in the heart of Giant Gap, some rock-climbing is required to close a few of these gaps. Ron and I fully expected to make the complete traverse of the Gap soon after May 12, but a knee injury kept him off the trails for a while, and I didn't want to make the long and somewhat dangerous hike alone. Yesterday, at last, we took it on. It all went rather well. We took many breaks and our lazy langorous pace added up to about seven hours from the head of the Canyon Creek Trail (9:30 a.m.) through to Green Valley (5:00 p.m.).

It is still by no means easy even to find and follow some of the old trail sections. The first mile east from Canyon Creek is fairly good. We are convinced that the Giant Gap Survey worked from Canyon Creek going east, and from Green Valley going west, possibly using two crews simultaneously. A massive spur ridge springs off Moody Ridge west of Lovers Leap; I call it Big West Spur; it has some significant pinnacle-like rock masses along its crest, and the river makes an angular U-bend around its base. There is one short section of line-of-Survey trail on the west side of this spur, but then cliffs force the trail higher, and for the next mile east into the Gap, the trail bucks high and sinks low without much if any regard to the Survey. As one approaches Terrace Top it does level out along what may be the line-of-Survey. Then West Tunnel fixes the true line at Tunnel Gully, although it is hard to judge if the trail west of Terrace Top is at the exact level as this strange tunnel.

Strange, because it opens on the face of a sheer cliff, without any obvious sequence of ledges or anything of the sort by which to reach the thing.

After a short break on Terrace Top, we were eager to close this last little gap in our explorations, and enter Tunnel Gully itself. Two ledges switch back down a sheer cliff, exposing one to a fall onto bare rock of sixty to eighty feet, perhaps. Early in the spring these ledges were always wet and we didn't dare the challenge. Yesterday they were dry, and with a nothing-will-stop-us attitude, we made quick tho cautious work of the descent. The gully itself is floored with bare rock and steepens rapidly into a near-vertical plunge, right below the tunnel, and some two hundred feet above the North Fork.

I should say that the North Fork has subsided greatly since our last visit in May. It is so lovely and clear right now, with enough flow to generate white water in many places in Giant Gap, but probably too little flow to take a kayak through. One enjoys many many varied views of the river and canyon and gorge and cliffs and pinnacles from the Survey trail(s).

West Tunnel
We had no trouble descending the gully to some ledges, right below the tunnel, which allowed a safe descent on the east side, to a passage out of the gully. We rushed east a few dozen yards until a blasted-out ledge appeared above us on the cliffs. Leaving our packs in the shade of an overhang, we climbed to the ledge and followed it past a "blank" section, with some easy rock-climbing required, to the east portal of West Tunnel.

This cute tunnel is about sixty or eighty feet long, eight feet high, six feet wide at the base, around four at the top, and has a perfectly flat floor. A good-sized bat was fluttering around inside. We could look right through to the cliffs of Terrace Top, to the west.

After taking many photographs, and finding a couple of artifacts from the Survey—a short piece of 4X4 and a steel wedge used to split the rock—we returned to our packs and the welcome shade of the overhang, and had lunch. It was about 2:30 p.m. We had seen bear scat at many points along the Survey and the system of connecting trails, and some was right above us on the blasted ledge. However, the ledge showed many gaps, and we chose to just follow along below, on what clearly had been the ad hoc trail used by the Survey crews themselves. As is typical, this particular connecting trail sometimes shows signs of heavy use, such as dry-laid stone retaining walls.

Our course from the West Tunnel east into Green Valley was much as described in my message of May 13. The worst part is the giant Avalanche Gully, very steep and bare and smooth rock making a broad, gently-concave cliff. With care this may be crossed reasonably safely. Just beyond to the east is the extraordinary Giant Overhang section of the Survey, where an almost-tunnel was somehow blasted into the rock. From there one can see into the west end of Green Valley, still a mile east, and it is comforting to know that no real rock-climbing remains.

So far we have not succeeded in holding the line of the Survey over this section, just west of Green Valley. In places, ledges were blasted from cliffs and spurs, but the usual connecting trails are either overgrown or have eroded away. Perhaps some concerted exploration and clearing-of-brush could restore reasonable passage along the Survey. Ron and I dropped down to river level just east of the Gate Post, a spire of serpentine which seems to mark the entrance to Giant Gap, and we boulder-hopped a long ways, with much annoyance from too-flourishing vegetation, gray willows and the native California Grape vines and poison oak, etc., but at long last winning through to the great and deep pool at the base of the West Trail in Green Valley.

Here we swam in the still-cool crystal water of the North Fork, rested once again long and well, and then made the long slow slog, climbing about 2,200 feet over, perhaps, three miles, to the head of the trail.

Arriving at my cabin, nearby, my kids asked, "How was the hike?" to which Ron replied, "Brutal." It was 7:30 p.m. It had been an extremely strenuous hike. We are a little proud to have accomplished what has only very rarely ever been done, the traverse of Giant Gap on the high trails and ledges of the Giant Gap Survey.

When the Survey crews were at work, at least as late as 1901, they would have had little wooden catwalks spanning some of the "blank" sections, where a gap in the blasted ledges often forces one down off the line-of-Survey. Their connecting trails would have been more open and easily followed. It is possible that, for a few years, anyhow, a fair number of people used the Survey to traverse Giant Gap. I doubt if that number exceeded, say, twenty. Doubtless many people have walked some portion of the line-of-Survey and its associated trails since then, but very few have gone all the way through.

That legendary and incredible explorer of our local canyons, Gene Markley, never made this traverse, and only heard of it having been done once, and that by one Jack Rankin, an intrepid hiker and climber, in the 1960s. It is definitely quite difficult and a little dangerous.

It was another great great day on the North Fork.


Russell Towle

Panorama looking west through Giant Gap in late day light, July 2, 2005

No comments:

Post a Comment