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

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

ADT4/5: Foresthill to Folsom, spring 2015

unnamed creek below Foresthill
unnamed creek below Foresthill

This spring I re-hiked the American Discover Trail section 4, Foresthill to Auburn, and part of section 5, Auburn to Folsom. My purpose was to create a GPS track for ADT-4, which I had already tried twice and failed to do. I used my new iPhone 5C to create the track, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to maximize battery life, so it ran out about 2/3 of the way through. So I returned yet again to finish off the last 1/3 to Auburn. I’ve glued the GPS tracks back together using Adze on my Macintosh. Of course any time out on the trail is time well spent, and in re-doing this section, it has come to seem quite familiar and is now a favorite.

The ADT splits from the Western States trail just downstream of Ruck-A-Chucky campground, and then rejoins at the Mountain Quarries Railroad bridge. The ADT goes up on Foresthill ridge and then gradually descends back to the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork American River. Part of the route is along (new) Foresthill Road, part along (old) Foresthill Road, and the trail itself is partly on (old, old) Foresthill Road. The walk along Foresthill Road is quite unpleasant, with traffic whizzing along at 65 mph or more, and even the less trafficked (old) Foresthill Road is not pleasant. I looked for an alternative route to (old) Foresthill Road, but unfortunately there is not one. Several possible trails start off but then veer away. I will explore more in the future to see if there is a bypass for Foresthill Road. If you want a more natural experience, stick with the Western States trail, which descends and crosses the river, possible only at moderate to low water, of course.

I had been calling the river between the confluence and Folsom reservoir the American River, but apparently it is traditional to call this section the North Fork American River, all the way to the junction with the South Fork American River, now under Folsom reservoir.

Continue reading “ADT4/5: Foresthill to Folsom, spring 2015”