backpacking up the American River 2020-04

This week, which is spring break from schools, I went on a four day backpack up the American River, walking from home since backpacking is not an essential activity, at least not in the view of the health department.

I walked through town on Capitol Ave and M St, through the Hornet tunnel and over the bridge at Sac State, and onto the parkway trail. This paved trail is called Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, officially, but predating the paved trail and still present in the many places, is the Pioneer Express Trail, which goes from Auburn to Sacramento. The mileage is measured from the same point, Discovery Park, but goes beyond the paved trail end at Beals Point on the shore of Folsom Reservoir, along the north shore of the reservoir, which is the North Fork of the American River, to the head of the reservoir and then climbs up to the Auburn staging area on the southwest side of Auburn, where the Western States Trail ends. Actually, the Western States Trail goes from Virginia City in Nevada to Sacramento, one of the original cross-Sierra mining and supply trails, but it is not called that the entire distance any more. This is also the American Discovery Trail (ADT) segment 5 in California, which goes from Delaware to Point Reyes.

On the dirt trail part, it was uncrowded, but on the paved ‘bike trail’ part, necessary where the dirt trail disappears or I missed the not always well signed parts, it was crowded. Tuesday, the first sunny warm day after several days of rain, and everyone was out on the parkway. I don’t know how I had convinced myself that I would not see many people, and it would be easy to maintain physical distancing, but apparently everyone else had the same idea. The trail is often closer to the river than the paved trail, but other times further away. Flowers are out to some degree, but not abundant. I think the grasses may have such a head start that flowers just won’t be abundant this year.

The first part of the trail is within the American River Parkway Regional Park, and then from Hazel Ave upriver is within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, including Natoma Reservoir. From the truss bridge over the river at Folsom, the trail climbs steeply past Folsom Prison to the dam, and then to Beals Point picnic and camping area, which of course is closed. I noticed particularly in the Folsom area, but other locations where the trail crosses under major roads, that the suburbs are not like downtown/midtown, where there is little traffic and things are very quiet. In the suburbs, life goes on as before, everyone driving everywhere all the time. But finally the trail pulls away from Auburn-Folsom Road and there is some peace and quiet.

The Granite Bay area was packed with mountain bikers, many of them on the Pioneer Express trail, almost all of which is closed to bikes. Two things are apparent: 1) the regulations don’t apply to mountain bikers, and 2) mountain bikers are immune to the virus and can ride in groups. /s (that is the Twitter mark for snark).

Finally, late in the day, I got past the mountain bikers and selected a campsite on a granite outcrop with a great view south over the reservoir, and watched the end of the day. It rained lightly during the night, and I got a little wet, but the next day dawned dark and cloudy, which is perfect weather for keeping mountain bikers at home, so I had the trail upriver to myself except for a few hikers. I shared the trail with one coyote, but otherwise did not see much wildlife in this section (though I did see a lot of deer and turkeys in the lower section).

Snowdrop bush (Styrax redivivus)

The snowdrop bush was in flower, which is great because it is a favorite of mine, and also because it gradually replaces much of the poison oak, with increasing altitude (yes, I’m very allergic to poison oak, and have some spots of it on my legs). I walked as far as milepost 42 (from Discovery Park), which is short of the head of the reservoir and the steep climb to Auburn. My feet were worn out, and going further would not have been wise. My muscles are in decent shape from my daily walks, but feet not yet ready for backpacking.

I headed back towards home, camping once along the way. The fourth day I overdid it, walking 48 km, which is the longest walk with backpack on that I’ve done in about 30 years. Today, two days after the trip, which is when muscle soreness really shows up, I’m feeling it! But I’ll heal and be ready to go out again.

Paintbrush (Castilleja) and reservoir

Though I enjoyed the long walk, my next trip will involve bicycling to Folsom, putting my bike into the BikeLink lockers there, and walking from that point. I don’t need to do the long walk again this season. And then, maybe, bicycling to Beals Point or Granite Bay (on trails that are open to bicycles), stashing my bike, and hiking.

On the less interesting parts of this walk I was listening to a novel Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart, which is an apocalyptic novel set in the Bay Area, written in 1949, and amazingly prescient.

Up the American River is about the only practical direction I can go from home without driving, which I don’t do, or using transit, which I won’t do. I could go west towards the coast ranges or southwest towards the bay area, but both of those directions involve a long way before getting to where I want to be. So the American River, for now!

Photos on Flickr:

My previous trips on this trail are grouped (tagged) as American Discovery Trail:

2 thoughts on “backpacking up the American River 2020-04

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