This trip, May 2-4, I continued on up the Pioneer Express Trail to Auburn.
I rode by bike further, all the way to Granite Bay staging area (the staging areas are horse trailheads) and stashed it in the long grass. On the way, I stopped off in Folsom for the farmers market and mac & cheese from Samuel Horne’s, then ate at the staging area picnic table. The day was cool and cloudy, at least compared to recent days, so there were far fewer people out on the trail.
I was able to get all the way beyond the head of the reservoir, to the last rapids on the North Fork American River. The lake is coming up rapidly, which depresses me, but a little bit a living river, and everything seems OK again. I slept on the sand above the rapids (too loud below the rapids) and had a great night’s sleep.
Sunday, I hiked up the Pioneer Express Trail / ADT-CA-5 to Auburn staging area, but took several detours to explore other trails and routes. The day was clear and warmer, and there were a ton of people out walking; many, many families; and a fair number of mountain bikers. I returned by what seems to be the official Pioneer Express Trail, which heads west along near but not on the Shirland Canal. This is not the same route that I’d taken previous years for the ADT-CA-5 segment, so I’m not sure if it has changed, or I was off-route, or the routes are simply different. There are variations between the Western States/Pioneer Express Trail, and the American Discover Trail, and maybe this is one of them. Anyway, the trail maintains elevation quite a ways, and then drops precipitously down the Cardiac Hill Trail nearly to the river. This trail does not even come close to National Recreation Trail standards, and it is disappointing the California State Parks would make this the route when other options are available. I’m not sure they get the whole concept of National Recreation Trail.
Returning to the river, I spent the afternoon exploring upstream, following the route of the North Fork Ditch. Most of the ditch is gone, washed away in repeated floods, but there are remnants here and there (see photos). The going along the river is not easy, as it seems like the bedrock as all contrary to the route, but it is doable. I went up for a ways above Knickerbocker Canyon, which comes in from the south. I could see upriver that it is possible to continue at least to the Auburn dam site, so I’ll do that in the future. Knickerbocker has several waterfalls in it, and you can see the lowest from the river level.
I then walked back along the Pioneer Express Trail towards Granite Bay, and camped in a little grove of blue oak on what would be a little island at high water. Though the moon was just past full, the sky was finally clear (first time in my three recent backpack trips) so I did get a good view of stars towards morning. Once I left the Oregon bar area, which was chock full of people, I saw almost no one except a group of horse riders, pretty much of control thundering up the trail, and then back down later in the day. I’ve never seen such a group of inexperienced and unskilled riders going so fast on the trail. Scary! I’ll note that almost all of the riders I see out there on the trail and respectful and skilled, so this was a surprise.
Monday morning I walked some of the North Fork Ditch that is only exposed when the reservoir is low. It is kind of a toss up between the ditch trail, which winds in and out but is nearly level, and the constructed trail which is much shorter but climbs and descends and climbs and descends… Back at Granite Bay staging for lunch, and then the pedal on home to Sacramento.
I had been thinking that this might be my last trip along this route, having finally gotten to Auburn, but I so much enjoyed the living river above the reservoir, that I’m probably heading back on my four day weekend over Memorial Day, and going further upriver to the confluence at least.
Searching for information about the North Fork Ditch on the Internet, I came across Kevin Knauss’ blog. Though his outdoor posts are mixed in with his insurance business posts, you can zero in on the hiking and historical posts by pulling down the ‘Kevin’ menu and selected the subtopics. He is, so far as I’ve found, the best source of information about the Folsom reservoir area.
Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157714239730863