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

Ridge Trail: East Bay 2020-10 (+ SF + ADT)

This month I re-hiked the continuous section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail from Kennedy Grove recreation area in the north (El Sobrante) to Garin park in the south (Hayward), about 73 km (45 miles). Kennedy Grove is less than a mile from the AC Transit 74 bus stop on Castro Ranch Rd (though be warned, only every other bus goes to this destination), then along Hillside Dr (though be warned, the back gate from Hillside is signed as being open all park hours but was locked when I was there, so I had to crawl under the gate). The Ridge Trail leaves the area, parallels and then crosses San Pablo Dam Rd, and then climbs on trail and fire road to Nimitz Way on the crest. Nimitz Way is an old road now only open to hikers and bicyclists, and it can be quite busy when the weather is nice, as it is moderately flat and has great views. The trail then heads south to Inspiration Point on Wildcat Canyon Road in Tilden Park.

Dropping down to cross the road, it climbs again to the ridge crest and continues south to nearly Vollmer Peak, then down to the trailhead near the redwood railway. There is water here. On this hike, I found about half the water sources to be turned off. There is no justifiable reason for this, just lazy park personnel using the pandemic as an excuse to not clean drinking fountains.

Ridge Trail in Huckleberry Preserve

The trail continues south into East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) lands, then Sibley Volcanic and Huckleberry Botanic preserves. The ridgeline is not flat, so the trail repeatedly loses and re-gains elevation. It passes Skyline Gate, which is one of the most popular access points in the east bay, so expect to see crowds of people for several miles though Redwood park. The water here was turned off. The trail loses considerable elevation to cross Redwood Creek, then climbs again into Anthony Chabot park. Passing close to Bort Campground (but not to, the maps are incorrect for the current alignment), the trail follows the creek and then gradually climbs to the ridge north of Chabot before descending to Chabot Staging Area, which is the EBMUD trailhead.

The Ridge Trail then ascends the ridge and then descends again to Cull Canyon recreation area, where there is usually water, but it was off. Following some streets and trail segments, the trail crosses Castro Valley Blvd and goes under I-580 (or you can follow Five Canyons Parkway, which is not a pleasant walk but saves distance and elevation loss).

From the Five Canyons trailhead, the trail climbs steeply to the ridgeline and wander along with good views and a lot of cows. PG&E is doing vegetation clearing in the area and has made a dust bowl of the fire road. They probably won’t fix it when they are done. The trail descends into Palomares Creek, dry this time of year, and then climbs the ridge again to Stonebrae Country Club. A ways south on the ridge, the trail starts its long descent. You can either go out to Dry Creek trailhead at May Rd, or out through Garin Park, which is nice but longer. Regular transit runs along Mission Blvd, a short walk from Dry Creek or longer walk from Garin. This entire section of the trail is dry, which is strange, since it passes five huge water tanks and goes through Stonebrae, which is an island of emerald green fairways on the otherwise dry ridge.

The trail will eventually stay on the ridge to the south and descend into Niles Canyon, instead of going out at Dry Creek, but that segment is not completed yet.

This section of the trail is the second longest of the entire trail, so makes some wonderful hiking. There is one backcountry camp, in Sibley Volcanic, but it is not at a location that makes sense for walking the trail. There are other backcountry camps on the planning horizon, but none under construction.

I took transit to San Francisco, and spent a day there, for the enjoyment and to give my feet a rest. I visited one of my San Francisco favorites, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, swam a bit at Baker Beach, walked Lands End, and of course went to Acme Bread in the Ferry Building.

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

Then I headed back out on the American Discovery Trail section CA-08, from San Francisco to Pleasant Hill. The route includes the ferry ride from the Ferry Building in San Francisco to Oakland Jack London, and then streets from there to UC Berkeley. I skipped the street walking this time to be nice to my feet, took transit, and picked up again at College Ave and Bancroft Way, where the route goes up Strawberry Canyon and the Jackson fire road to the crest. From here is follows the same route as the Bay Area Ridge Trail though Tilden Park, but descends from Inspiration Point to San Pablo Creek. On EBMUD lands, it parallels and then crosses the creek and goes around the east side of Briones Reservoir to Bear Creek Staging Area. Where the water was again turned off. From Bear Creek, the trial climbs to Lafayette Ridge and follows it down to Pleasant Hill Blvd, then up through Acalanes and down through the north end of Walnut Creek to where it meets the Contra Costa Canal trail. The trail along Lafayette Ridge is a roller coaster, up and down over enumerable hills, not a fun hike, but the views and vegetation are great.

ADT Trail on Lafayette Ridge

The ADT heads east southeast from here and up over the shoulder of Mt. Diablo, but my feet had had enough so I walked out the the Pleasant Hill BART station, took the bus to Martinez, had a beer at Del Cielo, and caught the Capitol Corridor home to Sacramento.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716598013768; Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/

Auburn upriver 2020-05

This was my most ambitious bike and hike trip to date. I rode up to Auburn on mostly on Roseville Rd and old Highway 40. Pretty easy until the last stretch from Newcastle up to Auburn, which was steep, at least for me. My bike trip back was via Folsom, mostly downhill, and longer.

I stashed my bike at Auburn Staging Area, the end of the Western States Trail and end of the Tevis Cup equestrian ride and Western States 100 trail run, and the end of American Discovery Trail segment CA-4, which I mostly follows. From Auburn, the trail drops into the North Fork American River canyon and crosses the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge (“no hands bridge”) to the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork. From the confluence, the ADT gradually climbs out of the canyon, using various trails including part of the Foresthill Loop Trail. I deviated somewhat and used the highest trail in the OHV sacrifice area, which being closed to vehicles on Fridays, was actually a much better route. From Drivers Flat, the road descends to Ruck-a-Chucky campground on the Middle Fork. This is also where the Western States Trail rejoins, having diverged at the railroad bridge.

A very wide old road follows the river upstream past several rapids and then Ruck-a-Chucky Falls, a Class IV+ rapid. I assume this must have been a mining road of some sort, who else spends so much money for such a ridiculously wide road? Past there, where a road comes down from above at Ford Bar, the trail continues upstream, with a steep up and then down, and then more close to riverside hiking. About two miles past Ford Bar the trail becomes very little used. With both the trail ride and run cancelled for this year, I expect that low use will continue until next year, the blackberry bushes and grasses taking over. Eventually the trail starts the long climb out of the canyon towards Foresthill. I ran out of energy, and time, in the hot afternoon, and decided not to attempt the whole distance, so headed back down and camped near Ruck-a-Chucky.

Middle Fork American River, late afternoon reflection

Walking back out at Drivers Flat road, I decided to go to the north side of the ridge on the Foresthill Loop Trail. It was quite busy with mountain bikers and some hikers early on, but use faded away with the distance or the heat. I took a side trail which connects to the road down to Clementine Dam. The dam is interesting, the water sheds directly over the face of the dam, by design. Not sure I’ve seen one of those before. Along the road, and the trail which branches off of it and follows the North Fork to the confluence, there were an increasing number of people, in the hundreds, and when I reached the confluence, people in the thousands, all packed together on the edges of the rivers. Ack! I hadn’t intended to hike further, but the felt pressure of people not distancing and not wearing face masks pushed me onward toward Auburn. It was not until late in the day, coming up to Robie Point, that the crowds thinned out.

I camped a bit down into the SRA, under a madrone tree, watched the spectacular sunset, and had a night full of stars.

I think I’ve about reached the limit of these bike and hike trips. The further I have to bike to get close to the backcountry, the less is seems worthwhile to be in the backcountry. With traffic back to nearly normal in the outlying areas of Placer and El Dorado counties, it is not pleasant riding. And I can’t practically carry more than four days worth of food in my daypack (which I’m using instead of regular backpack because it is hard to ride with backpack), even with good weather not requiring any more than the basics. I so wish that transit and trains were available for non-essential travel so I could again get to deeper backcountry spots.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157714467310986

and to Auburn 2020-05

North Fork American River

This trip, May 2-4, I continued on up the Pioneer Express Trail to Auburn.

North Fork American River, morning, above the rapids

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.

Pioneer Express trail and lupine
Pioneer Express Trail and lupine

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

Further upriver 2020-04

Continuing my weekend backpack into the Sierra foothills, I went further upriver this time. Figuring once a year is enough for the hike from home to Folsom, I bicycled this section instead, and left my bike in a BikeLink locker in Folsom. Back across the truss bridge over the river, and up along the parkway bike trail/Pioneer Express Trail. I again found the trail quite busy with people, on the paved and gravel sections as far as Granite Bay. I camped down on the shoreline of Folsom Reservoir, below high water mark, in the sandy area beneath a willow tree, which is almost the only tree species that can survive the fluctuating water level. A mostly cloudy night, only the crescent moon and Venus visible.

Saturday I walked upriver on the Pioneer Express Trail, as I had done last week. The areas around the trailheads were packed with people, especially near Granite Bay and Sterling Pointe staging areas. But away from these places, many fewer people. Mostly the equestrians outnumbered the hikers, and I saw only two mountain bikers on the closed-to-bike trail.

The grasses are starting to brown out, flowers are fewer, and even the poison oak was looking a little wilted. This is going to be a long summer and fire season, I think. The fall rains fueled a lot of grass, but the March rains did not really replenish the soil. Golden brodiaea is more common, and past Mormon Ravine, white fairy bells and the most common. Sticky Monkeyflower is still the most noticeable along the trail, with bright yellow/orange flowers. Where the trail comes close to the North Fork Ditch just past Mormon Ravine, an old homestead area (not sure if it dates to back then, or more recent) has a number of fruit trees, including two oranges on the bank of the ditch, one with young oranges and the other with orange blossoms, and several kinds of other fruit trees I can’t quite recognize.

upriver (up reservoir) past Mormon Ravine

I dropped my pack at Mormon Ravine and walked upriver to milepost 52, which is about a mile short of where the trail climbs out of the canyon to Auburn staging area. At this point, it is still reservoir, but shallow enough to see the bottom, and will a slow but distinct current from the river. I suspect with the warm weather, a lot of snow is melting up high and the reservoir level will be increasing as the spring goes along. Unfortunately – I like rivers, I don’t like reservoirs. Someday the river will flow again.

Once past Avery’s Pond, an old irrigation or settling pond on the ditch, I saw only three hikers and really enjoyed the solitude up to MP 51 (these mileages are measured from Discover Park and end with 55.4 at Auburn staging area). My feet had had enough, so I returned to Mormon Ravine to camp for the night. Mormon Ravine is interesting, a canyon with a fairly small watershed but large flow of water. The reason is that it is fed by South Canal, part of the convoluted plumbing systems owned largely be PG&E, but operated mostly by Placer County Water Agency, that moves water between the Yuba River, Bear River, and American River watershed. The water in Mormon Ravine is probably mostly water extracted from the North Fork above Auburn and pumped up the hill for use in town and the agricultural areas. South Canal also feeds the Newcastle Powerplant, which was not in operation right now.

Pioneer Express Trail about MP 50

Sunday I walked back to Folsom, picked up my bike, and pedaled home to downtown Sacramento. I arrived tired and somewhat footsore, but far less than last trip when I’d walked the entire way. So there will be more combined bicycling and hiking to come.

Note: The Pioneer Express Trail is also the American Discovery Trail, segment ADT-CA-5, so photos are identified by that. It is also the Western States Trail, though these days that name usually refers the the section east of Auburn.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157714072742557