ADT 2-3 Squaw to Foresthill 2021-05

Last week I re-hiked two more segments of the American Discovery Trail (ADT), 2 and 3, from Squaw Valley to Foresthill.

I started out early from the trailhead at the bridge over the Truckee River just south of Squaw Valley Road on Highway 89 (River Road). The trail immediately climbs away from the river, heading towards the ridge between Squaw Valley and Bear Creek. There are numerous trails in the area, but some junctions are signed (Western States Trail) and some are just more obvious. The trail then descends towards Squaw Village (all of these Squaw name are going to be changed, but I don’t know what to, yet; maybe Olympic since the post office name is already Olympic Valley). If you want to keep to the ADT or Western States alignment, you have to either keep a close eye on the track or on the waypoints. I wasn’t keeping a close watch, however, and ended up turning uphill where the trail turned downhill, following an older Western States sign higher up on the slope of the valley. I ended up on a ski area road that climbs to the top of KT-22, far from the current trail route. From there, I dropped to Squaw Saddle, where the original Western States trail alignment crossed over from Squaw Valley to the Five Lake drainage. So I missed going over the top past Emigrant Monument and down the Whiskey Creek drainage, and can’t report on the snow conditions up there, but from what I could see and what I experienced other places, I don’t think the remaining snow patches are deep or uncrossable.

granite & sierra juniper on Squaw Saddle

From Squaw Saddle, a very old and now very vague trail heads down and connects with the Squaw Saddle Trail, which then connects with the PCT, which then connects with the Whiskey Creek Camp Trail. Whiskey Creek is moderately deep, and I crossed on a rock hop, though not easily. In general, creeks higher up are flowing well, but flowing like they would ‘normally’ be four or five weeks later in the season. The soil is moist, there are many snowbanks, but most are small and not deep, and some flowers are out and some just coming on. Again, like much later in the season. The perpendicular ridges of very deep snow that show up some years are not there this year, thankfully.

The original Western States Trail did not go along Tevis Cup Trail and then Tevis ridge (Foresthill Divide) where the current ride and foot race go, but through Picayune Valley, and this is the officially named Western States and the ADT route. There are a number of trees down from Whiskey Creek Trail through Picayune Valley, some new this year and some have been there several years. All are fairly easy to bypass or climb over. I spent time just enjoying Picayune, as I always do. At the crossing of the Middle Fork of the American River, it was too deep to rock-hop, but I waded across with no big problem. The snowmelt creeks are much smaller in the morning, increasing in size throughout the day, so if you need to cross a major creek or river, morning is the time.

red star onion

The trail exits the Granite Chief Wilderness at Talbot Campground, and it is a long slog along a boring road to French Meadows and Lewis Campground, the next piped water source. The trail along the reservoir north side has not been maintained in years, and is deep in winter debris (the stuff that falls out of trees mostly during the winter but sometimes during wind storms), not really pleasant to walk. Where the trail goes into the brushfield from an old burn, it becomes impassable in spots, tight thickets of whitethorn. At least at this time of year the whitethorn is a little flexible with moisture, but later in the year when it dries out it will extract a lot of blood in trade for passage. I finally bailed out and followed a logging road out to Mosquito Ridge Road, and then back to the trail at the ridge top. This section is flagged, but the flagging is often right in the middle of a whitethorn patch. Until it is maintained, I think this section of the ADT must be considered closed.

The ADT rejoins the Western States on Red Star Ridge, and drops into Duncan Canyon. Some trees down on this section, easy to bypass for hikers but not equestrians. I waded Duncan Stream rather than trying to find a rock hop. The climb out to Robinson Flat is long but the bedrock areas have interesting displays of flowers. At Robinson, the meadow pump was locked up, but there is flowing water at the lower edge of the meadow. The campground was also closed, for hazard tree removal. Almost every tree is going to be removed. In a sense, this is inevitable, as most red firs develop middle age rot and start dropping branches and trunks. A few red firs seem to make it through this stage and become very large and very old, but few.

A group of runners on the Western States Trail assembled at Robinson Flat in the morning, and the first part of my walk was with that huge group, but they took a different route than the ADT, and I did not see them the rest of the day. I really enjoy the upper part of the walk along Barney Cavanaugh Ridge, with views out over the canyons, but as the trail descends it ends up in the forest on wide logging roads and is much less interesting. The road crosses Deep Canyon Creek, a certain water source, and a number of other creeks that have water only in the spring. The ADT and Western States Trail turns down Last Chance Ridge, and a new (not sure how new) trail avoids most of the road on the ridge, going on the north slope, initially on new trail and then following an old mining ditch. After rejoining the road, look for a grassy meadow and pond to the left hand side of the road, where a water pipe provide cold spring water. The road reaches the end of the ridge near Pacific Slab Mine, a much newer mine than the long gone Last Chance area mines, and drops steeply down to the Middle Fork American River and across a suspension bridge.

suspension bridge, Middle Fork American River

The climb out of this canyon is significant, about 1500 feet, but the sun was low and it was not too bad. The trail wanders the ridge and then joins the Deadwood Ridge Road where there is a hand pump for water. I thought I would camp there, but the mosquitos, the tiny oak mosquitos were thick and it was too warm to hide out in my sleeping bag, so I packed up and headed down into the next canyon, to El Dorado Stream. It was dark by now, and I was not sure my headlamp would last the three miles or so, but it did, barely. There is ample flat camping area on the west side of the bridge. Few mosquitos and much cooler air, and a good night’s sleep. I explored around quite a bit in the morning. There are feral cherry trees here, though only a few were ripe yet.

The climb out of the canyon to Michigan Bluff is 1600 feet, but much more gradual than the earlier climb out. From Michigan Bluff where there is piped water at the corner, the trail follows logging roads westward before eventually turning back into a trail and dropping down to cross Volcano Stream. From there, up again to Foresthill Road and then along the road to town.

I had originally intended to re-hike segment 4, from Foresthill to Auburn, but my feet were worn out and I decided to call it done. So I had a beer at the Mountain Club and then hitch-hiked back toward home.

I am not sure whether I will do all the ADT California segments this year. I’ve done 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. Segment 9 awaits the reopening of the Coastal Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore, closed by the Woodward fire last year. Segment 6 is a bike ride, which awaits a coolish day with gentle winds, Sacramento to Antioch, though I guess could do the reverse, with the wind. Segment 1 just awaits planning it into my summer. Someday I intend to walk the trail from Virginia City, Nevada, to Point Reyes, 382 miles, but that is at least three weeks and requires a wet year in the fall, so there is still water available, and after the snow melts, and not midsummer when the Sierra Foothills and east side of Mt Diablo is sweltering. Not this year, maybe next.

I have used two new books to identify flowers and shrubs along this trip. They are Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California (2017), and Trees and Shrubs of Nevada and Placer Counties, California (2014), both published by the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Neither of these is in the Sacramento library system, but there are copies available through Link+ interlibrary loan. I decide to purchase copies, which are only available from CNPS: https://store.cnps.org/collections/books/products/wildflowers-of-nevada-and-placer-counties-california-second-edition and https://store.cnps.org/collections/books/products/trees-and-shrubs-of-nevada-and-placer-counties-california. No plant books are perfect, and I still consult other guides on occasion, but these are the best I’ve found. They are not really ‘field guides’, though, too heavy to be taking on a backpack trip, and not available electronically.

I realize, now that I have better plant books, that I have mis-named some of the flowers and shrubs from my earlier trips. Oh well. Not likely I will have time to go back and make corrections. Even with the new guides, there is one flower on this trip I was not able to identify.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719428415935

Earlier ADT posts: https://allisondan.wordpress.com/category/backpacking-hiking/american-discovery-trail/

ADT-CA-2 route on GaiaGPS: https://www.gaiagps.com/public/xzSo6obIdpFa1Vh9WiVBRnFr/

ADT-CA-3 route on GaiaGPS: https://www.gaiagps.com/public/SFAZkkyMe2mANJGirpbbERoo/

Note that the ADT waypoints, which I do use on my trips, I am not making available in my ADT folder. If you want these, you will have to purchase them from the American Discovery Trail Society.

ADT-CA-8 2021-05

It is dry out there! Poison oak is turning fall colors, at least two months early, California Bay Laurel trees (non-deciduous) are losing a lot of leaves, live oak leaves are browning around the edges, almost all flowers except poppies, monkeyflower, and non-natives are past, the grass is crispy. Except for canyons and seep areas where there is still some moisture left, and things look more like spring. The photo below is ironic, fog over the ridges creating fog capture droplets, as every place else is dry, dry, dry.

fog along Skyview Trail, also ADT

The next segment of the American Discovery Trail. As always, access by transit, in this case Capitol Corridor to Martinez, and County Connection 316 to Pleasant Hill BART station, and then a short walk back to the Contra Costa Canal Trail where I left off the last trip (ADT-CA-7 2021-05). I arrived early afternoon, intending on not hiking far that day, but sometimes the feet get to moving, and I went all the way to San Pablo Creek area.

I grabbed water at Larkey Park, the last source before Bear Creek Staging Area in Briones Regional Park. The Lafayette Ridge Trail in Briones Regional Park is one of my favorites, for the views, not the trail itself which is a fire road and utility road that humps up over every hill and then descends, again and again. But what views!

I continued through the EBMUD East Bay watershed to San Pablo Creek, which is the next source of water. The creek is somewhat unnatural, in that it carries some Mokelumne River water through the plumbing system of EBMUD.

The next day up the Inspiration Trail to Inspiration Point, and then south along the Skyview Trail in Tilden Regional Park. The ADT has been rerouted here, north of the earlier way, and I missed the turn for that. The ADT and Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail are coincident from Walnut Creek to Inspiration Point, and some though not all of the trail has new ADT and MCCT trail markers. Where the ADT markers are missing, the MCCT markers guide the way. The ridge in Tilden had fog blowing across it all morning long, giving a completely different feel to the trip.

The trail then descends Strawberrry Canyon through the UC Berkeley campus. I had tea at the corner of Bancroft and College, where the ADT becomes an urban trail. In keeping with the urban nature, I rented a Bay Wheels bikeshare to ride College and Broadway into Oakland. Making the best of that, I stopped for beer at Temescal Brewing and again at the Modern Times taproom before continuing around Lake Merced and to Jack London Square. The ferry to San Francisco, which is officially part of the ADT, does not run at all on weekends under the pandemic schedule, so I could not complete the trail to San Francisco and the bridge.

I’ll pick up this section when the weekend ferry is running again, or be there on a weekday. I’m also awaiting the reopening of the Coastal Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore so that I can complete segment 9 to the ocean. It was closed by the Woodward Fire in August 2020.

And home on the Capitol Corridor from Oakland Jack London.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719323240500

ADT collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157637788624964/

Other ADT blog posts: https://allisondan.wordpress.com/category/backpacking-hiking/american-discovery-trail/

ADT-CA-7 2021-05

Last weekend I did segment 7 of the American Discovery Trail from Antioch to Walnut Creek. I’ve done parts of this trip a number of times (Berkeley to Clayton backpack, and others), but the only whole trip I’ve done was in 2014 (ADT7: Antioch to Walnut Creek 2014-01).

As always, my access was by train and transit. Capitol Corridor from Sacramento to Martinez, then San Joaquins from Martinez to Antioch. The schedule doesn’t really work, but it gave me plenty of time in Martinez to walk over to El Cielo Brewing to have a beer. On the way back, Pleasant Hill BART to Richmond BART, and then Capitol Corridor back to Sacramento. It is a short 0.3 mile walk from the ADT to Pleasant Hill BART. The walk from the Antioch Amtrak station to the trail is longer, about 3 miles, but if I’d used BART instead to Antioch, it would have been a shorter 2.5 miles.

The segment starts on the far shore of the Contra Loma Reservoir. No idea why, it should start at where it the ADT leaves the Contra Costa Canal Trail/Delta De Anza Trail and heads south into Antioch Community Park. The trail then winds up into the hills of Black Diamond Mines preserve, using ranch/fire roads. It climbs way up, with good views. I camped on the ridge, and didn’t sleep much at all for the howling wind all night. The trail then descends to the Somersville townsite, one of the early mining towns, and then climbs again to high ridges with fewer views, and then a long descent into the town of Clayton. Clayton has a coffee shop, a convenience store, a few restaurants, and a nice park. The is the old part of Clayton, a real town, not the new part of Clayton which is just an exurb of Concord.

hills and oaks of Black Diamond Mines preserve

From Clayton the trail along a wash and across the fan heads into Mitchell Canyon and then begins the long climb to Mount Diablo. The Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail, which is mostly coincident with the ADT, deviates here to go up Donner Creek, east of Mitchell Canyon, and then rejoins past Deer Flat. The trail up Mitchell is gradual until it heads up steeply through switchbacks to reach Deer Flat. Deer Flat once had developed water, but not in years, and Mitchell Canyon had only a trickle for a short distance. The route then circles to the east before climbing very steeply up to Prospectors Gap. There is a spring off the trail, on Donner Creek, but I forgot to look to see if it had water this year. The plumes of clematis seeds decorate much of the other vegetation all the way up the trail. The trail/road then heads around the east and south side of Mount Diablo. The official ADT route did not formerly go to the top of the peak, but apparently it now does, but I skipped it for being late in the day and very windy.

clematis seed plumes

From the peak, or where the ADT meets the road to the peak, the Summit Trail and ADT route heads down the south slope of Mount Diablo, zig-zagging close to and then away from the road. The park has turned off nearly all water sources, even in the campgrounds, and the only sources I could find were hidden away from the public. This is a reasonable response to the drought, I guess, but sure makes it hard on long distance hikers.

During the night the fog came in heavy, and in the morning all the isolated trees had circles of wet ground around them, water that is captured from the fog and then drops to the ground. It either doesn’t happen in forested areas, or if it does, is not as obvious, but for isolated trees in the woodlands, it must really make a difference.

fog droplets on grey pine needles

The next day I followed the route out Wall Point Road through the park, and then regional park, and then city park, then the edge of Walnut Creek, all the way to Heather Farm Park. There is a lot of cattle grazing on these lands, useful to keep the vegetation down that would carry fire, but really there wasn’t much left to eat, and I think the cows should be off by now in a dry year. There were also a lot of people out hiking and bicycling! This is a popular trail for people in the Walnut Creek area, and perhaps beyond. The park is the first place with water available in quite some miles.

ADT segment 7 ends at the bottom of Heather Farm where the trail meets the Contra Costa Canal Trail. Segment 8 heads west along the canal. I think the break point of the two segments should actually be where the Contra Costa Canal Trail crosses the Iron Horse Trail. At that point, it is 0.3 miles north to Pleasant Hill BART station with BART and buses, or about 2 miles south to Walnut Creek BART station with BART and more buses. I realize many people dayhiking on the ADT just drive to trailheads, but the long distance hikers need transit access points and stores for resupply. I went to Pleasant Hill BART, took BART to Richmond, and home on the Capitol Corridor.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719235713289

ADT collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157637788624964/

Other ADT blog posts: https://allisondan.wordpress.com/category/backpacking-hiking/american-discovery-trail/

I have been working on creating routes, traced on the trails in GaiaGPS, for the California segments. I am not making any claim that these always reflect the current route, nor match on-the-ground signing, but you may find them useful. I just purchased the 2018-04 version of the ADT California tracks and waypoints, and will be checking them against these routes over time.

ADT-CA-1: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/9ceb43ee-2915-420d-9c80-57de46102477/

ADT-CA-2: not completed

ADT-CA-3: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/2a7cbb45-1031-4df1-a5a8-d8a3dd6c4212/

ADT-CA-4: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/e75135ac-d79b-4762-b6fc-da5a6a994acd/

ADT-CA-5: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/b38deb6c-f511-4874-bc29-e4ef55801258/

ADT-CA-6: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/010f9b3f-6613-428b-997f-b589790b396a/

ADT-CA-7: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/9d43af35-dc9b-4ca4-99e0-acb7a81e9897/

ADT-CA-8: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/effe8e4b-2e40-412d-92b2-74cc387d9846/

ADT-CA-9: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/25b7ca99-66fe-42d0-acd6-f40e545b7a9e/

oaks in Black Diamond

Sacramento to Tahoe 2020-06

Yep another backpack trip that I failed to document at the time. A friend asking me about my ‘big trip’ last summer reminded me that I’d not posted.

I backpacked from Sacramento to Tahoe City, along the Pioneer Express and Western States trails, which are also American Discovery Trail segments 5 and 4, and the Tevis Cup trail which, though it is used for the Western States Run, is actually not the Western States Trail.

Leaving from my home in downtown Sacramento, I walked to Folsom and camped at Beals Point Campground, which of course was closed for the pandemic. As a backpacker, I love closed campgrounds. The day was hot and I was not in great shape, so that long walk (51 km) left me quite tired and sore.

Then up into the foothills along the Pioneer Express Trail. I walked to Robie Point, a ways past Auburn Staging Area, and camped there. Light to moderate rain in the afternoon, with thunderstorms, none of this in the forecast. It looked like the thunderstorms would continue into the evening, but I got only light rain. About 39 km.

The next day, down the Western States Trail to the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork of the American River, they up along the trail to Drivers Flat. I realized at this point I was behind my intended schedule, so rather than descending into the canyon to Ruck-A-Chucky and the trail, I walked along Foresthill Road. That was a mistake! Cars are so fucking loud, and with the almost continuous stream of traffic on the road (where are all these people going, and in such a hurry?), I was deafened by the time I reached Foresthill. I will never make that mistake again. Now back on the Western States Trail, I walked out of Foresthill and to Volcano Stream where I camped for the night on a small flat area right beside the creek, with walls from some old mining operation. The vegetation along the creek and the feeling of the area are so different from the environment before and after the creek, and it gets dark early down in the canyon. About 40 km.

view east of the Middle Fork American River basin

The next day I continued east, through Michigan Bluff, down through El Dorado Canyon, steeply up to the ridge, past the town site of Deadwood, and then down to the North Fork of the Middle Fork American River, across a suspension bridge, and up to the town site of Last Chance. Both of these canyons with bridges and beautiful creek settings one of my favorite areas of the entire hike, but being behind schedule, I pushed on. I picked up water at small piped water at the meadow near Last Chance, a water source I’d not found before. Then past Deep Creek, another water source, up Barney Cavanaugh Ridge with great views in all directions, through Robinson Flat camping area, winding down into Duncan Canyon and up to the ridge, where I camped. About 58 km. This is not only the longest of my days, but the hardest, with the descent into and climb out of the two canyons. But it is worth every minute. At this point, my muscles were getting in shape but my feet were not happy. What I had poorly planned as a five day backpack trip was already on day four and I was, so to speak, in the middle of nowhere and far from my destination.

The Western States and Tevis Cup trails diverge here, with the Western States dropping down to French Meadows Reservoir and then to the Granite Chief Wilderness at Talbot Campground. But I’d never been on what I’m going to all the Tevis Ridge Trail, and is the route of both the trail run and endurance ride (at least in most years), which gradually climbs the Foresthill Divide to the saddle where the Tevis Cup Trail comes out of the wilderness. The ridge has great views, but no water. Fortunately there were snow banks to keep me hydrated. I continued into the wilderness and camped at the granite buttress overlooking the Middle Fork American River. 23 km along the ridge (see track below) and another 5 km to campsite, so a relatively short day of about 28 kim.

That night the temperatures, which had been gradually dropping through the week, plummeted to well below zero, and the wind increased to a howling 40 mph plus. It was hard to stay warm, and impossible to sleep. The next day I hiked up over the crest and out through Squaw Valley, mostly following roads down through the ski area rather than the Western States Trail along the side of the valley. I caught the TART bus into Truckee, hung out there, and spent the night. I found a nice place to camp away from town and close to the river. It still has a lot of freeway noise, just like every other place in Truckee. Though I love Truckee, I do not like sleeping there, as the sound of Interstate 80 is pervasive everywhere in town. Next morning, home on the California Zephyr. About 12 km.

My total distance for the hike was about 230 km (141 miles), over 5-1/2 days. The distance is not out of my range, but whew, was I exhausted and footsore. This is probably the most ambitious backpack trip I’ve done in the last few years.

Tevis Ridge Trail on GaiaGPS: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/track/858d0078738409d7e3297bbcecd8656d/

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719175365860 (relatively few photos because I was so busy hiking, and had previously hiked these trails except for Tevis Ridge)

Pioneer Express 2021-04

This backpack was a continuation of my previous trip on the Western States Trail.

I took the train to Auburn. It is less expensive to take the bus, but, well, I love trains. I camped out near Robie Point, and in the morning headed to Auburn Staging Area, the end of the Western States Trail and beginning of the Pioneer Express Trail. While having breakfast, I talked to three women who were in training to ride… not the Western States (Tevis Cup), but the PCT. All the way! While many people backpack the PCT, which is a major physical accomplishment, I don’t think many ride it. Perhaps not quite as much of a physical accomplishment, but a logistically challenging trip. Keeping yourself and your horse happy and healthy for that distance requires planning, and training, and that’s what they were doing.

The Pioneer Express Trail drops toward the canyon but then contours a long ways above the Shirland Canal, before dropping precipitously down the Cardiac Trail to the Oregon Bar trailhead and then down a closed road to the American River at Oregon Bar. I can’t understand how a National Recreation Trail was routed along the very steep and heavily eroded Cardiac Trail. The designation is federal, but maintenance is the responsibility of the land management agency, in this case, California State Parks. So I’m not sure where to point the finger.

American River at Oregon Bar

The trail then follows the north side of the American River all the way to Folsom. The first section, above the river but with views down on it, and very occasional access points, is one of my favorites, when Folsom Reservoir is down and the river is flowing. At high pool, it comes up to Oregon Bar, but at the moment the river is flowing all the way to just past Mormon Ravine. I love free flowing rivers! I have never been big on the idea of living forever, or coming back reincarnated, but the one reason I’d really like to is to see the rivers flowing free again, as they are meant to be. Of course in those future times people probably won’t be traveling, except by foot, so I’d likely see only part of one river system, but I’d be happy.

I did a little bit of trail work on this trip, pulling up young brooms, and cutting older brooms. The brooms are nonnative invasives from Europe, and they both push out native plants and close off trails. There are at least two species along the trail, but there may be more. One grows huge, but isn’t long-lived, so the stiff grey brown dead ones stand along the trail. But in their short life they produce abundant seeds for the next generation of plants. Unless I pull them up first! The brooms are widespread from the eastern part of the Pioneer Express up through the Foresthill-Auburn section of the Western States Trail, so this is a project that I can make only a small dent in, but even a short stretch of trail free of broom makes me happy. I don’t cut poison oak, though it needs cutting. I’m no longer willing to face the horrible cases of poison oak reaction I get when I cut and pull poison oak (to really reduce poison oak, it must be pulled out by the roots; cutting it just causes it to produce more stems next year).

From Mormon Ravine westward, the views are of the Folsom Reservoir puddle and the drawdown wasteland above it, so not interesting views, but close up along the trail there are a lot of flowers along with native trees and shrubs.

I walked out to the truss bridge over the American River at Folsom, had tea at Reset: Cafe, and then took light rail home.

I was, up until this trip, trying to make the Pioneer Express Trail and American Discovery Trail (ADT) fit together as one coincident route, but they aren’t. They deviate at some critical locations, including the descent to Oregon Bar, where the ADT follows a much more rational alignment, yes, with some road segments, but none of the horribly eroded trail. It will be a significant project to separate out the routes and associated waypoints again, but when I get that accomplished, I’ll post links. I use GaiaGPS.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157718893077858

Colfax & Western States Trail 2020-04

This last week I did a road walk and backpack trip on the Western States Trail from Foresthill to Auburn.

California Zephyr train to Colfax in the mid-day, then started my walk to Foresthill by following Canyon Drive and then Yankee Jim’s Road. The road starts out paved but eventually turns to dirt. Being a weekday, there was very little traffic on the road, so the walk was enjoyable. It follows along Bunch Canyon, which deepens quickly as it approaches the North Fork of the American River. There are very few crossings of the North Fork, Ponderosa Way downstream, Iowa Hill Road upstream, and Soda Springs far upstream. I’ve walked the Iowa Hill road and bridge before, so wanted to try a new route, and this one is quite a bit shorter to Foresthill. Of course after dropping to the river and crossing at the bridge, where there were some river runners and a few swimmers/sunbathers, the road climbs sharply up the east side via Shirttail Canyon.

Where the road sort of tops out at a placer or hydraulic mining area, I stopped for the day, and camped with a night of good stars. The mining area has only two species, manzanita and Ponderosa pine, nothing else can live on the impoverished earth, as the soil has been washed away. The whole complex community of life in a normal forest environment is missing, including the fungus, bacteria and invertebrates. That is why these areas take so long to heal, well more than a hundred years after they were first decimated, the damage looks recent. Gold mining trashed California, and I don’t know why we celebrate that history.

The road continues to climb at a more gradual rate into Foresthill. I had tea at Mega Cafe, and then headed down into the Middle Fork American River canyon.

The Western States Trail and the American Discovery Trail segment 4 are coincident here, with WS Trail signing being frequent and ADT signing showing up occasionally. The trail drops steeply on old roads through mining areas, and then slackens as it becomes a real trail, heading downslope towards the river but not reaching it until miles later. There are several creeks that cross the trail, most of them seasonal but a few probably year-round except in fall of dry years (of which this is likely one). A few old mining roads come down to the trail from the area west of Foresthill, and at Dardanelles Road there is a nice bench and deck, a strange amenity for out here in the woods. The trail approaching this point is on an old steel pipe, part of a water system that gathered water, probably for a placer or hydraulic mining operation. There was quite a bit of water development in this area, but it has become harder to see as the forest has returned.

Two roads connect the trail to the river. Both are signed Fords Bar, but since they are more than a half mile away from each other, probably only one should have that name. At both locations there are sandy/rocky beaches and composting toilets for river runners. The trail then more closely follows the river, to just above Ruck-A-Chucky Falls, where a short spur road leads down to another beach and composting toilet. This is where I camped for the night.

The route is then on a road climbing well above the river to bypass the narrow canyon that contains the falls and a number of smaller rapids, then drops back down to the campground which again has a beach. The falls seems to have a constructed portage, as it is the mostly un-runable section, but I’ve not been down to river level to see what it looks like. The official route goes up to Francisco’s, an old homesite, but you can also just continue on the road through the campground.

Ruck-A-Chucky Falls, Middle Fork American River

The signed Western States Trail then climbs up a road, recently improved (though I wish it hadn’t been) to Drivers Flat. At one time the WS Trail dropped down to cross the river and continue on the old Mountain Quarries road on the south side of the river. It is not clear to me whether this route has been officially dropped from the Tevis Cup trail ride and Western States Endurance Run, or whether it is still used, but at any rate the signing goes back up to Foresthill Divide.

From here the route unfortunately uses the Foresthill Loop southern leg as it goes westward. For poor planning, I was there on a Saturday, and weekend days are infested with mountain bikers. Of the mountain bikers, about 50% are polite, about 40% are quite otherwise, and about 10% are dangerous jerks. I don’t know what it is about mountain biking that so attracts the arrogant entitled, but they are are the bane of hikers. One mountain biker threatened to run me down and screamed epithets are me because I hesitated looking for a place to step off the trail without poison oak. I have come to strongly believe that hikers and mountain bikers cannot share trails, they must be separated. Sadly, the WS Trail route used to be hiker and equestrian only before it was turned into a mountain bikers playground in 2000. I took the northern side of the loop, which is not the WS Trail, but has fewer mountain bikers in the morning.

Eventually, the WS Trail route leaves the loop and continues on trails that are open to but not congested with mountain bikers. This trail leads down to the confluence of the North Fork and Middle Fork American Rivers. Even with the water still very cold, this area was packed with people out enjoying the weekend, and parked along the roadway for quite some distance.

The route stays on the north side of the American River, but it is worth walking across the Hwy 49 bridge and then the Mountain Quarries bridge for the views, and then back to the main route. This climbs very gradually away from the river on the Mountain Quarries railroad grade, but then leaves it and climbs more steeply to Robie Point. It then drops and contours around to the Auburn Staging Area, which is the end of the Western States Trail, and the ADT segment 5, and the end point of the ride and race. There is a skate park near the staging area, and it is fun to watch young people on skateboards, kick scooters, roller blades, and even a bicycle.

I camped out not far from the trailhead, then in the morning walked to Auburn Station and caught the Capitol Corridor train back home to Sacramento.

It was my intention to continue west on the ADT-5 and Pioneer Express Trails, but my feet were worn out, so I deferred that to my next trip.

ADT-CA-4 route on GaiaGPS

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157718860683176

South Fork American River 2021-03

Last week I completed a backpack trip from the east end of the South Fork American River Trail at Greenwood Creek trailhead to Folsom. The new section for me was the eastern part, about 13 km.

I started out with a dayhike with my friend Steffani and dog, which is how I got to a place that is definitely not transit accessible. When she headed home, I walked a short ways to camp, then explored around. I had thought the trail right next to the river was the main trail, but it is not, the main trail stays up higher on the hillsides. I walked to Greenwood Creek, down along the river, and back to my campsite.

The next morning I did more walking to warm up from a night colder than I was expecting. The meadow/old pasture a short ways in from the Magnolia Ranch trailhead was full of early morning birds, including man pairs of mountain bluebirds which I rarely see, maybe using the nest boxes. The canyon was filled with fog in the morning, which gradually burned off.

Hastings Creek is the first water, quite a large creek for such dry country, with a fancy bridge. From there the trail climbs and descends heading west and southwest. I saw almost no one until close to the Cronan Ranch road (not open to the public but used by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians), where there were suddenly a lot of people out enjoying the day, almost a crowd. A few of the grassy areas had a lot of flowers, but most did not, with the best abundance on shallow rocky soils (maybe with some serpentinitic influence. The river is visible below in many places. The main trail never dips down to it, but side trails reach it at a few points. I used the Norton Ravine access trail and spent some while on the sandy beach.

South Fork American River near Norton Ravine

The trail passes through a section of chaparral, that had very few flowers this time of year, but a rare plants sign indicates there is more here than meets the eye. The chaparral, which often forms on drier south-facing slopes, is so very different from the rest of the trail. Chemise is the most common plant, manzanita probably next.

From the side trail to Satan’s Cesspool, where I had been before, the trail continues to climb through grassy hillsides and oak groves before reaching a saddle with broken down picnic tables. The trail then roller coasters through semi-chaparral, and then enters Pine Hill Preserve, host to four rare plants and four endemic and rare plants, though I’m not sure if all these are present in this section or south of the river in the main preserve area.

The trail descends to Skunk Hollow raft take out, and ends there. A walk across the (new) Salmon Falls bridge and along the road a short ways leads to the Salmon Falls raft take out, and the start of the Sweetwater trail.

Folsom reservoir (I refuse to call reservoirs lakes) is down quite a bit, 396.2 feet elevation on Friday, so the (old) Salmon Falls 1925 bridge is exposed, and the river flowing beneath it, and I walked out to it. Along with a lot of other people – it was quite a popular destination. Though the water level was much lower in 1997 and 2015, I did not see it then, so this was a first for me. It also exposed the Natoma Ditch, alongside the river, that I’d also like to explore. In 2015 Salmon Falls itself was apparently exposed, downstream from the old bridge, but it takes a lower water level, and I’m not sure how low. The water is currently rising, slowly, so I imagine now is the time. It will drop again in the fall, perhaps to a near record low, if the drought pattern that is setting up continues. The best information about the Salmon Falls area, and in fact the entire Folsom Lake SRA, seems to be Kevin Knauss, https://insuremekevin.com/blog-post-history/hidden-history-beneath-folsom-lake/. You’ll have to poke around a bit to find his blog posts, or just buy the book!

Though I am aware that low reservoirs means water restrictions later in the year, I am so pleased to see a free-flowing river where there is normally stagnant reservoir water. Nature heals, if allowed.

I camped near a water source just beyond Sweetwater Creek. Saturday I continued west on the Browns Ravine trail, which has mileage markers from 17 near the Old Salmon Falls staging area, down to 3.5. West of 3.5 they are missing, and the trail is not as obvious across the dike, through the picnic area, and on towards Folsom Lake Crossing, where it exits to the intersection at two barely visible places. I think there is a plan to improve this section, and maybe rename it the June Cash trail.

From there I followed the Johnny Cash trail/bike path down into Folsom, had iced tea at Reset: Cafe, and then headed home on light rail. Sutter Street in Folsom is quite busy on Saturdays, with a farmers market in the morning and two blocks of the street closed to cars, for people to wander and enjoy.

My hiking distance was about 64 km. The three sections are available in my GaiaGPS account:

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157718503035829

Ridge Trail by Transit

For the last three and a half years I’ve been hiking the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which encircles the bay area on the ridges high above the bay, except where it crosses at the Golden Gate, and the delta near Martinez. Of the completed trail (390 miles / 628 km), I have walked 92% of it, and have also walked some of the gaps in the trail which will eventually measure about 550 miles (990 km), so I have not even come close to the whole route, but with my hike two weeks ago on Almond Ranch have reached a point of completion that I’d like to write about.

And I did almost all of it by transit!

The Bay Area is relatively rich in transit, and many trail segments have transit access close to or even at the trailheads. Of course my tolerance for walking to the trailhead from the nearest transit stop is probably greater than most people’s, but a commitment to transit instead of driving makes for a wonderful accomplishment, and for me an enjoyable planning activity. I have been car-free for nine years, and car-lite for five before that. My life is one of walking, bicycling, transit and trains. The most important decision I’ve made in my entire life was to become car-free, and the word free is appropriate. One cannot truly be free if one is attached to a car. So I encourage everyone else to become car-lite, or car-free. The earth will thank you. The natural areas you love to visit, including the Bay Area Ridge Trail, will thank you. Your city or town will thank you.

Matt Davis Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail), Mt Tamalpais State Park

Trip Planning

I use both Google Maps and Transit app to plan my trips. Of course I take the Capitol Corridor train from my home in Sacramento, usually transferring to BART and/or the bus as I get closer. Google Maps is good for overall planning, as it shows multiple options if they exist. Google also allows you to save or send the planned route, for future reference on a different device. When I’m actually traveling, though, I use the Transit app (iOS and Android) as it contains real-time information for most of the transit agencies, rather than the scheduled times shown by Google Maps. It shows only up to three options, so sometimes misses an appropriate routing that Google would show.

Pandemic note: All of the transit agencies have cut back some of their services during the pandemic, ranging from minor cuts to cutting entire routes. Routes may have less frequent service, or longer gaps mid-day, or a shorter span of service (from start to end on each day), or run less frequently on weekends, or not at all. Do not rely on information that may be out of date, including mine, but check for the specific date you are planning on traveling. If the level of service seems unacceptable, try different times of day or different days of the week (weekdays/weekends). For some transit agencies, Google is updated to current schedules almost immediately, but for some agencies there may be a delay of several days or up to two weeks, so if a change has happened recently for the transit agency you are planning to use, it may be worth calling to check. Transit app, so far as I have experienced, is brought up to date within a day.

If you are traveling on any of the Bay Area transit providers (except Capitol Corridor), Clipper Card is the way to go. You can load value on the card, and can set it up to autoload more value when you get low. It is contactless and very convenient, and eliminates the need to figure out how to purchase tickets for each agency or trip.

For the trail itself, I use GaiaGPS iOS app on my iPhone. I have entered the trail segments, often by tracing on trail routes while looking at the Ridge Trail pdf maps. The web browser version is the place for planning trips and tracing routes, but the iOS version fits in my pocket. The council also has used OuterSpatial, a phone app, and recently developed a partnership with AllTrails.

I freely admit that your trip including transit will take longer than if you drove, sometimes a little longer, sometimes a lot longer. The further out you are, the less frequent the bus is likely to be, with up to 75 minute headways, gaps during the mid-day, and less or no weekend service. So part of the planning process is seeing if the transit schedule matches your schedule. How much time do you have? Do you have a choice about days of the week, or time of day?

If you bicycle the gap between the transit stop and the trailhead, of course that will be much quicker, but sometimes there are pretty steep hills, and unless you have an old beater bike, leaving your bike locked at the trailhead all day (or longer) may not be smart. But I have done that a few times, for some of the longer walks. Of course if you have a mountain bike and those skills, most segments of the trail are open to mountain bikes, and you can just continue right onto the trail. With the exception of Muni Metro, all trains and buses have some bicycle capacity.

I have also hitchhiked a few times. Saratoga Gap, where the Ridge Trail crosses Hwy 9 on the peninsula, is not accessible by transit, so I hitchhiked down to Saratoga at the south end of one hike, and then back up to the gap to continue my hike south. I also hitchhiked from the summit on Hwy 29 back to Calistoga, after completing the Oat Hill Mine, Palisades, and Mt. St. Helena spur trails. I realize that most people will not be comfortable hitchhiking (and you probably would not get a ride during the pandemic anyway), so making use of Meetup may be your solution for these segments.

The Meetup group Bay Area Ridge Trail (RT) & More, offers group hikes along various sections of the Ridge Trail and other nearby trails. You can often arrange to catch a ride with a participant, if you plan ahead of time, getting to the trailhead for hikes without transit access. The council itself offers guided hikes from time to time, day and overnight, including some segments that are not yet accessible to the public. Check https://ridgetrail.org/events/ for details. Of course there are many fewer group activities during the pandemic, but I imagine both sources will ramp back up as the pandemic fades.

The council’s trail maps, at https://ridgetrail.org/trail-maps/, and the book Bay Area Ridge Trail: The Official Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, and Equestrians, by Elizabeth Byers and Jean Rusmore (https://www.wildernesspress.com/product.php?productid=16685; also Amazon Kindle book https://www.amazon.com/Bay-Area-Ridge-Trail-Equestrians-ebook/dp/B07WXPPWMS/), are of course valuable planning tools.

sunset and smoke, Loma Alta Preserve, Marin County

Trip Examples

The council’s Backpacking Trip: Presidio to Mt. Tamalpais (https://ridgetrail.org/backpacking-trip-presidio-to-mt-tamalpais/), can be accessed by transit. Arguello Gate is accessible from Muni 1 on California, 0.3 mile walk, or Muni 38/38R on Geary, 0.6 mile walk. The south end of Golden Gate Bridge is accessible by Golden Gate Transit 30, 70, or 101 buses. The. North end of the bridge is NOT accessible by transit, except by walking the 1.8 miles across the bridge. Pantoll Ranger Station, the north end of this trip, is accessible by Marin Stage 61 bus. Some corrections to the book text: Haypress Campground is not free, it is $5/night, reservations at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/10067346. Site 3 at Pantoll Campground is $7/night for backpackers.

Access to both Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Santa Teresa County Park is also by transit, using VTA 83 bus stop on McKean Road near Almaden Road. Walking south 0.4 miles is the Mockingbird Trailhead entrance to Almaden Quicksilver County Park, and thence 16.3 miles (26.3 km) of Ridge Trail through the park and Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve to Lexington Reservoir. Walking north 0.3 miles to Alamitos Creek trailhead, that follows Alamitos Creek and Calero Creek, and into Santa Teresa County Park, 6.3 miles (10.2 km) to Coyote Peak. 

A short 0.2 mile walk from the AC Transit 99 bus stop on Mission Blvd in Hayward to the Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park leads onto the long Chabot to Garin segment of the Ridge Trail. This 10.6 mile segment to Five Canyons Parkway, is also the southern-most of a continuous 48.4 mile Ridge Trail to Kennedy Grove Regional Park in El Sobrante. Notes: You can also go through Garin Regional Park, but the walk to or from Mission Blvd bus stop is much longer. The Dry Creek section will become a side trail once the next segment to Niles Canyon is completed, perhaps in 2021.

And of course the council’s Berryessa BART Transit to Trails Adventures (https://ridgetrail.org/bart-transit-to-trails-adventures/), not only starts at the Berryessa BART station, but passes the VTA Penitencia Creek Light Rail Station as well. It provides access to Alum Rock Park, with a short but safe no-trail section of road, and Sierra Vista Open Space.

Bay Area Ridge Trail, Huckberry Preserve, Alameda County

Resources

GaiaGPS: my Bay Area Ridge Trail tracks and routes, including waypoints for the major transit access points, at https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/folder/ced071b9-a8d3-45b3-9c28-570b755ef065/. I do not claim that my tracks and routes are completely accurate, or that they are fully up-to-date, but I do update it as often as I can, and refine the routes I’ve traced as soon as new trails show up in Open Street Maps, which is the underlying geographic database for GaiaGPS. You do not need to have a GaiaGPS account to view this information in a web browser, but do for iOS/Android, but to change map layers or manipulate data for your own use, you do need an account.

My photo collection for the Ridge Trail is on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.

Previous blog posts on my Ridge Trail trips are accessible at https://allisondan.wordpress.com/tag/bay-area-ridge-trail/. Not all my trips, mind you, I missed posting on some, particularly the shorter day hikes.

Ridge Trail: Big Rock to Pantoll 2020-09

I finally got to the Lucas Valley and Loma Alta sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in September, and re-hiked from White Hill to San Francisco, on a five day backpack trip in September (yes, posting this late because I’d forgotten to earlier).

As usual, this was transit accessible section: Capitol Corridor to Richmond, AC Transit 72M to west Richmond, Golden Gate Transit 40 to San Rafael, and Marin Transit 245 to the intersection of Lucas Valley Road and Gallinas Road. The a longer walk than most trips along Lucas Valley Road, 3.4 miles (5.5 km), most with a wide shoulder or parallel residential streets, but some unpleasant along narrow shoulders. It would have been a longer walk, but some women playing tennis recommended that I head up Luiz Fire Road to the ridge, much better than continuing along Lucas Valley Road.

Finally on trail (fire road) again, the steep climb opened up great views to the south and east. At the top of the ridge, I turned west to meet with the end of the Ridge Trail as it comes up from Big Rock. I had always assumed that Big Rock was on top of Big Rock Ridge, but in fact it is in the low gap where Lucas Valley Road goes from Lucas Valley to Nicasio Valley. Of course as always, there are great views from the ridge. The end/start of the ridge trail is further west along the ridge, and the Big Rock Trail (as called the Lucas Valley Trail) heads downhill towards Big Rock, sometimes on fire roads and sometimes on single track.

bay laurel and rock, Loma Alta Trail

Crossing Lucas Valley Road in a tunnel, the trail ascends Loma Alta Fire Road through private ranch lands, and then into the Loma Alta Preserve, where is descends to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. I had forgotten, after a summer of backpacking in the Sierra, how damp and foggy the coast ranges can be, a different world.

From this point to San Francisco, I’ve hiked the Ridge Trail in the past, Ridge Trail: White Hill to Pantoll 2017-10 and ADT9: San Francisco to Point Reyes 2013-11, but it is a favorite section, so I did it again. People are outside much more than usual as a result of the pandemic, and the trails were crowded through Samuel Taylor State Park, the Matt Davis Trail north of Pantoll Station, and around Tennessee Valley. I camped at the Pantoll campground, which has a lower cost backpacker site, and again at Haypress campground near Tennessee Valley. On the other hand, I saw almost no one on the Bolinas Ridge section.

After some time in San Francisco, I took San Francisco Bay Ferry to Oakland, and Capitol Corridor train back home to Sacramento.

This hike was approximately 46.4 miles (74.7 km) from the start to the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is the official zero point of the trail, though of course I also walked the bridge and into San Francisco.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716600491713; Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.

Ridge Trail: Almond Ranch 2020-12

On December 5 I completed the Almond Ranch section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. This section, which is on a newly acquired property managed by John Muir Land Trust (JMLT) fills a gap between the Mount Wanda trail within John Muir National Historic Site and Sky Ranch which were previously protect by the trust, and which now forms a large protected area along Franklin Ridge.

My access was by Capitol Corridor train from Sacramento to Martinez, then walking along streets of Martinez to the trailhead in John Muir NHS. There is a bus stop very close to the trailhead, but on weekends the bus only runs every 785 minutes, so it was much easier to walk the 2.1 miles (3.4 km) than wait for the bus. The trailhead for Mount Wanda can be accessed from Alhambra Ave just south of Hwy 4, or through the NHS when it is open. There is also a back-gate access to the trail, but as an exit only, you can’t re-enter the NHS, which takes you under Hwy 4 and connects to the trailhead.

The Mount Wanda trail is a fire road that climbs to the ridge top, opening up good views in all directions, then dips a bit and climbs to the Mount Wanda/Almond Ranch fence and gate. Almond Ranch was opened in October. Rather than following the fire road, a new trail diverges off the ridge top and contours around hillsides to regain the fire road/trail in Sky Ranch. Most of Almond Ranch is open grasslands, but the off the ridge and down in the draws there are oaks, California Bay Laurel, and other species that like more moisture and less wind. Where the new trail meets Sky Ranch, there is a row of huge concrete pipe segments, the purpose of which mystifies me. These are the sort of pipes usually used for sewer lines in cities, so what are they doing here?

Almond Ranch trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail) and oak

With this gap closure, the Bay Area Ridge Trail is now continuous from Benecia, across the Martinez-Benicia bridge, through Martinez, to Nejedly Staging Area, and up through the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, to John Muir NHS, along Franklin Ridge and then down to Ferndale Road, a distance of 10.2 miles (16.4 km). There follows a gap of 1.7 miles (2.8 km), which can be walked by following Ferndale and Alhambra Valley roads for 2.5 miles (4 km). The trail then climbs out of Alhambra Valley over East Bay Municipal Utility District lands, through Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve, and down to Conestoga Way. There is then a 1.8 mile (2.9 km) gap along surface streets to the next segment of the Ridge Trail in Kennedy Grove.

Almond Ranch will also be part of the yet incomplete Carquinez Strait Loop Trail. With this Almond Ranch gap closure, the Dutra Ranch Trail (also called Contra Costa Feeder Trail #1) becomes a side trail of the Ridge Trail.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157717423100027; and Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.