closing my gap in the Western States Trail 2013-05

Middle Fork American River at Maine Bar
Middle Fork American River at Maine Bar

This short overnight backpack trip closed the gap in my hike of the Western States Trail last July. On that trip, I’d come out to Hwy 49 and didn’t know which way to go, so skipped the last section into Auburn.

Lea dropped me off at Maidu trailhead, and I walked down to the river at the dam site, then went upriver along use trails until I connected to the Western States Trail (WST) on the railroad grade, and then across the 1912 Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, also called the no-hands bridge. I only went part way up the trail west of Hwy 49, then crossed to the Quarry trail, which may or may not be the WST. I have to say the trail signing in Auburn State Recreation Area is some of the worst I’ve seen, often giving wrong destinations, wrong mileages, and wrong directions, and signs for the WST point every which way. I realized that the routes for the Tevis Cup (equestrian) and Western States (run) events change over time, but the named trail should not keep changing. At any rate, I followed the railroad grade upriver along the Middle Fork American River.

campsite at Maine Bar, Middle Fork American River
campsite at Maine Bar, Middle Fork American River

The grade ends at the lower quarries, which were the original limestone mines, but the road continues upriver for some distance. Steep trails come down from the south, including Browns Bar and Maine Bar. I camped at the junction with Maine Bar, where a grassy meadow has a picnic table under spreading oaks. The next morning I walked upriver to the Poverty Bar crossing, and then a short ways up the American Canyon Trail to the junction of American Canyon and Hoboken Canyon. American Canyon is one tributary that I’m pretty sure is year-round, while the others may not be. I then returned downriver and went out at Robie Point. This is not the formal end of the trail, which is a bit further west at the Auburn Staging Area, but again, the signs were not clear and I saw not point in wandering around.

Common flowers include grapes, three varieties of Brodiaea, fairy lanterns, blue-eyed mary, monkeyflower, fleabane, and a mustard family flower growing on rock that I have not been able to identify. I saw two California newts. The pipeline swallowtail caterpillars and the resulting black and blue butterflies were becoming common, as well as small blue butterflies.

I really like being here on the Middle Fork. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I’m thinking about doing last year’s trip again, but taking more time. I did it in just over three days, but I think it deserves at least five. Of course some sections are boring walks on logging and mining roads, but the parts that are wild and natural are very much so.

This area is also accessible most of the year, and I have forgotten that, not doing any backpacking from last fall until this weekend. The confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork is about 600 feet, certainly doable in winter. It is not until Deadwood that the trail climbs over 4000 feet. Auburn is accessible by public transportation, both Placer County Transit and Amtrak, which is a key factor for me as a car-free person.

From this point on, for the rest of the backpacking season, my mind will be partially out there in the backcountry, all the time, both when my body is, and when it isn’t. I’m planning on doing a similar backpack trip the first weekend in June, following up the Nevada City dance with a backpack in the South Yuba River canyon.

photo set on Flickr

7 thoughts on “closing my gap in the Western States Trail 2013-05

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