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:

Photos on Flickr: (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:

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:

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:

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:

Auburn to Folsom backpack 2017-03

AmericanRiver_bottom-of-trailI’ve been away from my personal blog for eight months, in part because I’m now doing an additional blog for Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (STAR), and in part I’ve just been busy with life. A backpack seems like a good time to start again, since many of my posts are about backpacking, and backpacking season is coming on.

I took light rail and the Placer County Transit light rail to Auburn bus up to the transit center/train station, and then walked to the trailhead. Picking a different route to the trailhead from the one I normally use, I realized that Auburn Alehouse is on the way, so had to stop in for a beer. This is one of three breweries in Auburn, but the other two are not on the way anywhere, so will require a separate trip. From the Auburn Staging Area, where the Western States trail ends, I headed down the trail westward. Though the Pioneer Express Trail has had many different routes over the years, it seems as though it has settled into following the Shirland Canal and then down the Cardiac Bypass trail to the Pioneer Express Gate (174).

A short ways below the tail reaches the river. I reservoir full pool, the river ends here, but with the reservoir low it flows for several miles down as far a Mormon Ravine. The huge gravel bar here, deposited at full pool, has been cut through by the recent high water. The river is a beautiful blue green, though I’m sure it was sediment laden during the warm rain runoff this winter.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies mating

Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies were everywhere, in fact almost the only butterfly I saw. Though the caterpillars feed only on pipevine, the adult nectar on almost anything in bloom, and the Blue Dicks were the most common flower along the trail. Though the green growth is lush, the bulk of the flowers have yet to come on. Other flowers were Forget-Me-Not (possibly), lupine, poppy, painbrush, iris, wallflower, and of course shrubs of which buckbrush Ceanothus was the most common. Redbud was brilliant where it grows, but not widespead.

I camped at an old homesite where a long abandoned road comes down, one of the few good flat spots along the trail. The apple tree there was in bloom, though most of it is now dead. A bit further down I ate an orange, very tart, and I wonder if that is just the taste of oranges back in the old days before they were bred to be sweet, and bland.

There were a passle of people near Mormon Ravine and Rattlesnake Bar, running clubs and runners, three backpackers, and several families. But the rest of the trail was mostly empty.

Poison oak is already growing into the trail, this will be a good year for it, so I’m glad I did this section early.

When I got to the Folsom truss bridge, the parkway trail was signed as closed, and I realized that 26 miles on the trail had left my feet pretty sore (I’ve neither been backpacking nor hiking much, just bicycling and walking), and I was unlikely to finish the 28 miles back home, so I walked to Folsom light rail and went home.

With the deep snows in the high Sierra, I imagine I’ll be backpacking and hiking a lot more in the Sierra foothills and the coast ranges this year, maybe not getting into the high country until late July.

This trail, in addition to being called the Pioneer Express Trail, is part of the American Discovery Trail (ADT) segment 5, Auburn to Sacramento. For other ADT trips, search American Discovery Trail.

Photos on Flickr:


ADT5: Auburn to Sacramento 2014-02

Dudleya among moss
Dudleya among moss

I backpacked the American Discovery Trail segment from Auburn to Sacramento this week. This is my second time on this segment (ADT: Auburn to Sacramento 2012-05), and the reasons I went again were to see the American River North Fork while the draw-down of Folsom Reservoir exposed more of it, and to create a GPS track of the trip.

I took the Amtrak train to Auburn, then walked to the trailhead at Auburn Staging Area, and then down into the canyon to sleep. I took a few wrong turns in the dark, but quickly realized and corrected (and I have corrected the GPS track). Not far into the canyon, I noticed the sound of the river much stronger than I remembered it. The night was cloudy, then cleared to brilliant stars, and at dawn there was a light drizzle. I headed down the Cardiac Bypass Trail, which is better signed that it was two years ago. These signs are unusually clear for a state parks-managed area, so I presume they were designed, paid for and installed by a volunteer organization.

Continue reading “ADT5: Auburn to Sacramento 2014-02”

ADT5: Auburn to Sacramento 2012-05

Pioneer Express Trail above Folsom Reservoir
Pioneer Express Trail above Folsom Reservoir

Last May I hiked from Auburn to Sacramento on the American Discovery Trail (ADT – flakey website). I did not post on the trip, and unfortunately did not even have my journal with me, but I did at least take photos. I want to reconstruct the hike because it is part of my long-term goal to walk the entire California section of the ADT.

I took the Capitol Corridor Amtrak train up to Auburn (only one trip a day, not very convenient, but workable), then walked to the trailhead at the Auburn staging area which is the western terminus of the Western States Trail. I dropped down just a short way into the canyon to spend the night, and then continued downstream along the ADT, which is also called the Pioneer Express Trail, and then of course the American River Parkway from Folsom to Sacramento.

Continue reading “ADT5: Auburn to Sacramento 2012-05”