I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR

On November 12, 1987, my best friend at the time and I boarded a boat and sailed across the waters from Victoria to Vancouver British Columbia, arriving at BC Place stadium sometime in the afternoon. Where are you now, Jim? I was 19. We had no tickets. For $100 each, we found a scalper and bought a couple. At that time, $100 was a lot of money for a concert. They were floor seats. We got into the stadium and got up close to the stage. We had a great position, very close to the stage. We were excited! We waited for the event in great anticipation. It was our first time seeing our favorite band U2, on the Joshua Tree tour. The first opening band played, I have no recollection who they were. The second opening band (again, no recollection) started to play. I cannot remember the exact timing, if it was during the second band or after they played and before U2 came on stage (probably the latter), but at that time you could all of a sudden sense a sudden change and tension in the crowd. This tension grew by the minute. All of sudden, within seconds, the crowd rushed to the stage, and we were crushed. I soon lost my friend in the madness, and did not see him again until after the concert. I could not breathe. I could not go forward, backwards, or sideways. I was trapped. Everyone was trying to get up closer to the stage. This was before U2 even came on stage! I had to get out of there. For those that wanted out, the crowd was lifting people up high and pushing them hand over hand to the front. These were mostly girls, but not all. It was my only way out of there. I convinced the guys beside me to lift me up and the crowd lifted me to the front. I could finally breathe again. I got over to the side and much further back, away from the frenzy, and I enjoyed a terrific show from one of my all time favorite bands, and not the last one. I don’t really remember any songs they played, mostly all I remember is the frenzy of the crowd, though I do remember they ended with “40”.

Little did I know that my future brother-in-law Sean would be at his first U2 concert two days later in the Bay area. I beat him by two days. Now 30 years later, Sean, my wife Tara (who was too young to see them on the Joshua Tree tour but nonetheless has seen them a number of times – including with me when she was 7 months pregnant with our firstborn), and I return to see U2 again on the Joshua Tree anniversary tour in the Bay area (and for about the same price as those scalped tickets in 1987). At first, we thought we had good seats, further back but looking directly at the stage. When we got there, however, we found that there was a huge housing structure right in the middle of the field. We could only see half the stage, and would not be able to see the band at all during the first five songs (actually, much more than that). This structure apparently was requested by the band at the last minute. Thankfully, they were offering everyone in this seating area new tickets. They turned out to be excellent seats, we were right at the side and very close to the stage. They couldn’t have been better seats, really. We had a great time and it was a great concert. Many of the songs were incredibly powerful, most notably Bullet The Blue Sky. Some songs, though, were just meh (are they getting too old for this?). One thing for certain is that I am too old for this. We did not get home until 2:45AM, a couple hours sleep, and then I had to get up for work in the morning. Ugh. Where is my coffee!?!?

Anyway, I thought you might like that story. It has nothing to do with waterfalls. I did dream once that I flew with Bono and the band in a helicopter to New York Canyon Falls where they wanted to make a video for their song, New York. But sadly, that never came to reality.

Since we are reminiscing, here is an old photo of Upper Heath Falls from last year. I was excited to finally get to this 40 ft. high falls last year and get a good photo of it. However, I still haven’t found what I am looking for with regard to the lower Heath Falls. I do not have a good photo of it at high flow, or some of the other ones in this general area. As I mentioned in my previous post, I tried to get down to it last week, but came across too much snow, still up to 8 feet of snow in this canyon! I was unable to get to Heath Falls at high flow. It is not too late, however, to try again later this spring. I just may do that.

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TOO MUCH SNOW!

This is the lower two tiers of Lower West New York Canyon Falls, 62 and 73 ft. high respectively. When I did this hike a couple weeks ago, there was 2-3 feet of snow on the ground (sometimes less) at the 6600 ft. level on Foresthill Rd. It was quite easy walking through the snow at this location.

This weekend I did another hike, same elevation, but off of I-80 (before the Donner Summit). There was 6-8 feet of snow on the ground!!! These two locations are very close, yet so much more snow at I-80, I could not believe it! I was expecting a fairly easy hike down to the river, and losing the snow completely before I got down to 6000 ft. I’m not complaining about all the snow, but this day I could not even get close to where I wanted.

I realized right away before starting that I would need my snowshoes for this hike, as I was sinking in at the trailhead. So that was no big deal, and the snowshoe hike started off very pleasantly. It was easy going, but I was a bit tired as I climbed up to the 6900 ft. level. There were a lot of holes I needed to be careful of, and dropoffs into deep tree wells. I would not want to fall into one of them, I might never get out. The snow was quite slippery on these steep areas, and easy to slide, and sliding down a steep embankment into a tree well was not something I wanted to do.

As I descended into Palisade Canyon, the scenery opened up into beauty. Magnificent wide open landscape. Devil’s Peak looms over the canyon, with snow on top, and light fluffy clouds over it. That mountain is *not* named appropriately. I followed fresh bear tracks through the snow down into the canyon, and I saw that Mr. Bear seemed to have trouble in one section as he climbed up an embankment, and the snow broke under his weight.

The snow was *not* disappearing as I descended, indeed the going became more and more difficult. Under the snow, I could not find the trail for the life of me. Sometimes I was on it (I guessed), sometimes I was way off base. I was hiking through a brushy forest, surely there was no trail through this area. There were numerous streams to cross, and these were very difficult, not because they had great flow, but because they were in steep areas, and the only way across them was on snow bridges, which I was extremely leery of and praying furiously that they would not break under my weight as I crossed on them. In one instance as I was crossing such a snow bridge (this one was not over a creek), I heard a thundering crash as the snow collapsed beneath my feet. I did not break through the snow, but it sure scared the heck out of me. It was loud! I should have turned back by then, but I kept going, thinking it would become easier as I descended and found the trail proper. Nope. By 5800 ft. elevation, there was still very much snow, and eventually I came to a spot that was not passable, or it would have been a huge effort to pass it, and by this time I was done for. It took five hours to hike six miles. It was well past time to head back up the mountain. I ate my lunch and rested, then reluctantly headed back up. Along the way, I found fresh tracks from a coyote, who had been walking in my snowshoe tracks that I made on the way down. I guess I just missed him. It took another five hours back to the car. I was beat.

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THE LAST ONE

The main reason I made the big descent down the mountain was not to see New York Canyon Falls. Does this surprise you? New York Canyon Falls was really just a bonus waterfall to see on this hike. Well, that might be exaggerating things a little bit. Of course I desired to see New York Canyon Falls at peak flow.

However, I really really wanted to see the lower falls on West New York Canyon Creek. This is the one and last waterfall in the New York Canyon area that I had not seen yet. You cannot get to this waterfall from above, i.e. from Chert Knoll. My brother- in-law and I glimpsed it on our trip to New York Canyon Falls. However, we were high on the other side of the creek, and could not get down to see it. For 11 years I have been wondering how to see this waterfall.

After getting down that mountain, I was so close. But I was so tired! Just getting down the mountain was extremely tiring, and I still had to climb back up!

From the viewpoint of New York Canyon Falls, it was still a pretty big descent down to the one on West New York Canyon Creek. I really did not think I had the energy for it. I would have settled for just a long distance view of it, but there were far too many trees in the way to see anything on the creek. I had to go down. When would I ever be back here again? Never.

It was actually much easier to get down than I thought it would be. I made the short journey over towards West New York Canyon Creek.

I came to a glorious rocky overlook where I could see up into the canyon. The waterfall on West New York Canyon is stunning! It is a magnificent 217 foot high tiered cascade. To get the full view, I had to get right to the end of the rocky outlook. The drop down from here to the pool at the bottom of the falls is scary huge. Here I am standing on the very edge. It was the only way to see all 217 feet of this beautiful waterfall. Up above me, I could see the very top of New York Canyon Falls. Wow.

This hike will probably be my number one top hike of 2017. I don’t see how I can top this. Indeed, it will make up for every strike out I have or may not have in the future of this year. If I forget that, be sure to remind me.

But it is also the toughest hike of the year, and like I said, probably the toughest I’ve ever done. I still have to hike back up this mountain!

Well, no time like the present. I packed up my gear, my very heavy gear, and started the ascent.

It started raining! It was not supposed to rain until the afternoon. This normally would not bother me, except that I did not bring my rain gear. I did not think I would need it! And on top of this, now those loose rocks are all wet and slippery. This is not good. By the time I got to the top, the rain had finally stopped, but by then I was cold and wet because I was not wearing rain gear.

I actually felt pretty good on the ascent. I made sure I stopped plenty of times, and drank water and ate food. I did not bonk, unlike at Wabena Falls or on my previous hikes in New York Canyon. I credit it to being in better shape, and also eating and resting more as I hiked up the mountain.

When I got back to the car I saw that I had a tick embedded in my leg. Ugh! The first tick bite I had in years. Thankfully I had bought this nifty tick removal device from REI. It came right out. Hopefully it doesn’t get any worse. I just read an article the other day that not only can ticks give you lyme disease, but now they can give you a different disease that is even worse. Lovely.

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PEAK!

Getting to New York Canyon Falls in the spring at peak snow melt flow? Impossible you say! On a day hike no less? Most certainly impossible you say! Well the Waterfall Madman thinks differently. I first discovered this potential route a couple years ago but I did not have a chance to try it out last year. It would require three important things: one, a cloudy day, and not raining. Two, Foresthill Rd road needs to be open at least to Beacroft . And three, of course the river needs to be at a peak flow, which means early to mid April in most years (but not this year).

But wait! All this is exactly what we had this weekend. The forecast on Saturday was for mostly cloudy conditions all day. I called the Ranger office and they said Foresthill Road was plowed to Beacroft. And to top it off, we have peak snow melt this week thanks to the very warm weather. I changed my original hiking plans and decided to head back into New York Canyon one more time.

Two weeks ago, remember, I tried to backpack to New York Canyon. Unfortunately, the trail is now so overgrown it is completely impassable. At that time, there was so much snow that I could not even drive to Mumford Bar. I said that it will be at least a month or more before you can drive to Beacroft. And here we are two weeks later, and there is no snow left at all! There was no snow at Mumford Bar, and no snow at Beacroft. I could not believe it. That much snow had melted in just two weeks! So I was actually able to drive past Beacroft, almost all the way to Tadpole. This saved me 900 feet of hiking, which was huge. Even though I was ready to hike from Beacroft, if I had to I do not think that I would have made it all the way. This was one of the toughest hikes, if not the toughest, of my life. It is on the scale of the Wabena Falls hike, and I think based on elevation gain, that it is tougher than that one. Total elevation gain for this hike: 3200 feet.

I started my hike at about 6200 feet elevation. There was snow on the ground, about 2 to 3 feet, and I was hiking in the snow. I was unsure if I needed to take my snowshoes or not. The snow was hard packed, but I still had to gain 300 feet to the top of the hill. Would I need them? I decided to leave them in the car. I was not sinking in more than 1 or 2 inches, so I think I made the right decision. However, on top of the hill the snow was a lot softer, and snowshoes would have been helpful and made the hike much easier. Nonetheless, I managed without them, and I only sank through the snow once. As I was walking along, and with my foot already in mid air, I saw a big hole and thought I better not step in it, too late, I put my foot down and promptly sank through the snow one and a half feet. Well, no permanent damage done and I continued on.

On the other side of the mountain, we start off with a slow and fairly easy descent of 1000 feet. I lost the snow somewhere along the way. At this point, you see New York Canyon Falls for the first time. It is from a long distance away. I did bring my big heavy lens, which of course I did not want to bring on such a tough hike, but I figured I would need it. I took photos of the waterfall from up here with the big lens since I did not know if I would be able to get any closer or not.

From this spot, it is another 1700 feet to the bottom, and it is not for wusses. Honestly, when I found this potential route, I did not think, in fact I was pretty sure that I would not be able to get to the bottom from here. When you look at Google Earth, it looks steep, severely steep, crazy steep, stupid steep, cliffy steep. But it is worth a try, right?

I started the descent. Man, this looks steep! I figured I would just go down as far as I could, certain that it would not be far. I kept going down. And going down. And going down. And going down. You can see the North Fork American River below, and Snow Mountain on the other side rising high above; the views are spectacular. Far far up the canyon, I could see what looked like a waterfall. I’m not sure, but it may have been Wabena Falls. On the way down, there were a few spots that were especially steep, and the rocks were very loose and shifty so I had to be extremely careful. I did not need the rope, however, until the very last section at the bottom. I used it here, but only for safety, I probably did not even need it there.

Finally down, I made the somewhat much easier traverse over towards the waterfall. I say somewhat, because it was a bit brushy at the bottom, but once I got past the brush, it was easy.

Oh glory!

I came into view of New York Canyon Falls. What utter magnificence! From down here, the lower cascade of the falls is blocked by Chert Knoll as you can see. There is no view from this side which is not blocked. Even from the top of the mountain, the lower cascade is blocked from view. Nevertheless, you can still see the top 300 feet of the waterfall, the main drop of the falls, and it is absolutely amazing.

This is close to peak snow melt. I actually made it to New York Canyon Falls at peak flow after all these years! This was one of my major goals since first seeing this waterfall 11 years ago. On Thursday, the flow on the North Fork American River reached 5290 cfs. This was the maximum it reached. On Friday, it was 4900 cfs. When I got here on Saturday morning, it was a bit less. Essentially, it was about double the flow that I saw it in April 2006, when I backpacked here with my brother-in-law. Incredible!

I rested, and took many photos, thoroughly enjoying the moment.

But wait! There is more…

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SHAME SHAME SHAME

This photo is Wabena Creek Falls from Jun 2009.

I do not have many good photos of the waterfalls in the North Fork American Canyon, and I was attempting to rectify that situation this weekend with a  solo backpacking trip down there. It was going to be epic.

The idea was to hike the Mumford Bar trail down to the river and follow the American River trail up to New York Creek. I did this trip with my brother-in-law 11 years ago. It was fantastic. We had no problems with the trail whatsoever. It was in excellent shape. Now? Not so much. It was epic, all right. It was an epic fail.

I could not drive all the way to Mumford Bar. The road was plowed to about 1 mile from the trailhead. Why did they not continue just a bit further? Ugh. Since there is no place to park along the road, I actually had to drive back almost a full mile before I could find a spot to park for the weekend. That means I had to hike 2 miles to Mumford, then 10 miles to New York from there. No problem. I was all ready for this.

From my previous backpacking trip last Fall, I learned a couple important things: Number one, I was too fat. At that time, I was a bit overweight, and that makes hiking with a full pack very difficult. I determined that I needed to lose at least 10 pounds before my next trip. I lost 12 pounds (to 183). I worked extremely hard over the winter to lose this weight, and I felt I was in great shape. For you young people, you might think losing 12 pounds is no big deal. Easy smeasy. Well, sorry to say you have a lot to learn. I was like that when I was younger. I could eat like a horse (or two) and never gain a pound. Now, I can easily gain 10 pounds in less than 2 weeks if I lose focus and go on any sort of binge (such as going to my mom’s house at Christmas break). Then it takes six months to lose that 10 pounds again. So anyway, I am extremely pleased I was able to lose 12 pounds over the winter. I am determined not to gain it back this summer. The second thing is this: I needed to lose at least 10 pounds of pack weight. I cut my pack weight by 14 pounds. (to 31 – I’m not sure exactly, but it was around this amount). The major thing was that my camera and tripod were far too heavy. That was 7 pounds right there. I bought a new lighter camera and tripod (but still both good quality – I want to be able to take good photos). I cut down on weight on some other things as well. I was surprised how light my pack was. This was going to be an awesome trip.

There was snow on the road, and it was very hard packed. I can see why it takes them so long to plow roads in the spring. It is tough sledding! I guarantee it will be more than a month until the snow is melted on this road to Mumford and Beacroft (and Sailor will be later than that). Why don’t they just plow the roads all throughout the winter? This is how normal northern states (and countries – such as Canada) do it. It would be so much easier to keep roads plowed throughout the winter, then they would only be closed for a day or two after storms. I’m thinking Tioga Pass, Glacier Point, and the major highways that are closed in the winter, but also Foresthill Rd. It would be so much better and awesome, but I suppose it is a money issue more than anything else.

Anyhow, I got to Mumford Bar trailhead and headed down the trail. The snow now was much softer. I was afraid I’d be sinking right through on my return trip back in a couple days. That was the least of my worries, however. There were downed trees and branches everywhere on the trail. I assumed this was from the fire three years ago, the American Fire. Absolutely nothing had been cleared. This is a major trail. It was awful. As I got further down, I lost the snow, and the trail got a bit better except for the occasional obstacle I had to negotiate. Until the bottom.

The fire did not reach the bottom at the river, but the trail was absolutely horrendous. Over growth of prickly brush dominated the entire trail, with a stream running down the middle of it. There was no trail, in actuality. I had to go straight through this brush? This seemed impossible, but I gave it a go. My pants got all torn up. My legs got all torn up. I somehow got through this mess and to Mumford Bar. Breathe, Madman, breathe.

So now what would the rest of the trail be like? I imagined it would be somewhat overgrown, but not nearly to the extent it was. It started out all right. An unnamed stream flowed down beside Mumford Bar at torrent pace. I had to wade across it. If this small unnamed stream had such tremendous flow, how would I cross Tadpole Creek ahead? Again, I did not need to worry about such things. The trail started off all right. There was some overgrowth, a lot of poison oak, but I had a good feeling. Really, I just wanted to make it to Beacroft. Then I could go back up the Beacroft Trail. I  had no desire whatsoever to return up the Mumford Bar trail, which was so awful. The trail disappeared from time to time with overgrowth, and I had my doubts, then I found it again. But before I got to within 1.5 miles of Beacroft, it was gone forever. No trail. Incredible brush. Incredible poison oak. Completely impassable. There was no going on from here. I could not even get to Beacroft. I had to go back to Mumford Bar. Epic fail.

From what I learned later, the Beacroft Trail is even worse. If I had tried going up that trail, I would have been in even more dire straits. Shame shame shame on the Forest Service for letting these major and awesome trails go to pot. In only 10 years they have gone from excellent to impassable. This is unforgivable in my opinion.

 

I got back to Mumford Bar and rested and ate my lunch. It was incredibly difficult and tiring thus far. I was certain I touched the poison oak quite a bit and was in for a horrible rash in the near future (thankfully, it was just a small rash). I still had a very difficult climb (2700 ft.) and six miles back to the car. Not to mention the awful brushiness and fallen trees to get through. I could have camped at Mumford Bar, but I did not feel like it. It is not really a very interesting spot, you cannot even get down to the river here. So I rested, then climbed out of the canyon without taking a single photo. It was a long and tough climb. It took me four hours to hike that six miles. On the drive home, I called my wife and asked her to order some pizza for me, so it was waiting for me when I got home. I have a great wife.

 

 

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