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

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