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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DON’T SHOOT!

It is early in the season, but this is definitely my find of the year so far. It’ll be tough to top. A stunning 212 ft. high waterfall newly discovered by the Waterfall Madman. Never before documented. Never before seen (well perhaps not that).

By my calculations the sun would be on ridge above the falls at 7AM. It is a six mile hike one way to the waterfall. That meant I have to start my hike 5am, 1.5 hours before sunrise. That meant I would need to get up at 3AM. Oh my goodness.

I started the hike 5 minutes late. Ok no problem. Less than five minutes into it, I hear a big creek ahead. It sounded loud and strong. Please let there be a bridge. Ah nope, no bridge. I had to take off my hiking boots and put on my water shoes. The water was up to my knees but not a problem to cross. Now I was ten minutes late. The entire hike was on logging roads (so I thought) so the going was pretty easy, but I had to take a bit of detour at one point, which was another delay. Now I was 15 minutes late. I was not going to make it on time. The only thing to do now is to start jogging. I don’t like doing this but had no choice. Jogging in the dark is not smart. I was certain I was going to scare up some critters like lions … or bears … or perhaps a skunk. Well, I didn’t. Only a few birds were scared up (or scared me up as I ran past them). I was almost to the falls when I came to the end of the road. No more nice logging road anymore down the last section along the ridge to the falls. This was a lot more difficult, but I still made it by 7AM. However, the sun was already up on the ridge. Earlier than expected. But it did not matter, there was no view of the waterfall. I could hear it. I could not see it. There was supposed to be a nice open view of the falls from the ridge! I did get one glimpse of it but there was a big tree in the way. There was only one thing to do. Go down to the bottom. This was a familiar story.

I ran into poison oak for the first time on the way down. I just wanted a good view of the thing, and finally got a decent one halfway down, though I was hanging onto a rock ledge on the edge of a cliff. It is definitely a spectacular falls. I tried to go further down but there was just too much oak. Didn’t want to deal with that crap again, and I already got a decent shot anyway. So back up the mountain I went. After photographing the falls, I realized I lost my rope and my backpack rain cover somewhere up the mountain. What? There wasn’t much brush on the way down. How did I lose those things? I traced my steps exactly on the way back up, and sure enough, I found them near the top. Laying in poison oak. Terrific.

On the way back, I came across a skunk on the road. It is odd that I would see one during the day instead of earlier when it was dark. It was foraging for food and had no clue I was there at all, but I could not get by it on the road. The only thing I could do is go off the road through the bushes, and I was about to do that but then he finally saw me and took off running. Thankfully running in the other direction, and thankfully not spraying while he went. I was surprised he’d be scared of a human when he has such a potent weapon.

Meanwhile it was a long slow hike back, with no jogging involved. Most of the hike is thru a OHV area.
I found lots of garbage in this area, and picked up so much my backpack started getting very heavy
There was also many gun shells. I didn’t pick those up. So annoying! Why can’t these people carry out their trash. Argh! I didn’t see any OHVs but I started to hear gunshots in the distance. Oh great. Am I going to see them? Yep, you bet. They were right at the creek crossing, and it was loud.
Please don’t shoot me! I just wanted to get past them as quick as possible, and I didn’t even take my boots off. I just splashed through the stream. No big deal, I was only five minutes from the car.
When they saw me (and they did), they didn’t even stop shooting tho they were all wearing ear muffs and I wasn’t. Isn’t it just common courtesy to wait until I passed? It is not like I was doddling. I was booting it past them as fast as I could. Not to mention I picked up all their bloody trash on the road. Show some respect, people.

There were even more of them where my car was parked. What? Are they shooting at my car? It seemed like they were rather too close to it. Anyway, I got in my car, wet boots and all, and drove out of there as fast as I could. I did not get shot, and despite the loud and annoying ending, I had a great morning making this fabulous new discovery.

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THANKS, KING FIRE

The good news is that I was actually able to get to this waterfall. The bad news is that there is no clear view of it.

My initial plan was to go on a 12 mile hike (in the rain) to a couple other new waterfalls, including a big one. However, access to the area was closed because of active logging as a result from the King Fire in 2014. Three years later and the area is still closed to the public. Ridiculous!

However, there were no closed signs on the other side of the road, even though the fire reached on to this side as well. I decided to try Leonardi Falls, a much shorter hike, but potentially more difficult and dangerous. Also, it was snowing, not raining. There was a couple inches of fresh snow on the ground, and it continued to snow all morning. I was happy about that. Snow is much preferable to rain.

I tried this hike a few years ago, before the big fire. I could not make it to the falls at that time because the old road was far too overgrown with thick brush. I was swimming through it. I turned back before I was strangled by the brush. I had always meant to try the hike again with a more determined attitude, but the King Fire intervened.

As I hiked through the old burnt forest this weekend, I found the going much easier. Yet there was still a lot of brush on the road. At first, I thought the brush had not burned, even though all the surrounding trees had burned. As I hiked along, however, and passed the point where I had turned back before, I realized that the brush had indeed burned. This was all new growth. In less than 3 years, all this brush had grown back and it was becoming close to un-navigable already. Yet I continued on, past the point of no return (where I had turned back before), and towards the mysterious waterfall. I just hoped that none of this new growth was poison oak. It was all covered in snow, so I could not tell.

I did not really think I could get too far down the ridge to see the waterfall. In fact, I did not think I would even get a view of it. The ground was extremely saturated and very unstable. I did not want to get anywhere near the edge of a cliff today. But I kept going down and down. Past where I thought I would only be able to go. Down down down. It was not cliffy or dangerous. Finally, the waterfall came into view. I got down to a rock, which was secure and stable on the edge of the cliff (I hoped). I could not go down any further from here. Unfortunately, the trees were obscuring the view of this marvelous 41 ft. high waterfall. If the view was clear, it would be incredible. You can see from the photo that the fire reached all the way down to the falls. If those trees had toppled, then maybe the view would be clear. Or maybe not. There is a lower tier as well, a even bigger drop, and I got down to it also, but the view of that one was even more obscured. Oh well. At least I finally made it to this elusive waterfall. If not for the King Fire, I doubt I could have done it.

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ITCHY

I know most people in California are itchy for spring to come. They are done with the rain. They say we have had far too much rain this winter. It is time for warmth and sun! They are getting their wish now. After just one small-ish storm in March, it has been rather sunny lately and all that snow is starting to melt now – slowly. Truth be told, I am getting rather itchy for spring myself. I have some epic hikes and backpacking planned for this spring when I can get into the high country. It will be an amazing waterfall season this year. I cannot wait to get to them. I am already there in my mind, not my body yet … but alas it will be quite awhile before we can get into the high country this year. Maybe even July. Despite the itchiness, however, I do wish we would get more rain in March. March is still winter. We need rain in winter. After the end of this month, then the snow can melt. That is what I say. I may get my wish about that as well. I do see the possibility now of more storms after next week.

Speaking of itchy … yes I was in the poison oak again this last weekend. A lot of it. I don’t know if I can avoid getting the big bad rash this time. There was no avoiding the stuff. It was all over me in and out.

This hike was somewhat close to my last hike in Shirttail Canyon, indeed I started at the same place, I just went further downstream this time. Last week’s hike was not too bad at all, really. This week’s hike was absolutely killer. There was a heckuva lot of brush, and a heckuva lot of poison oak, and a heckuva lot of very steep terrain and cliff climbing. At first I did not think I’d be able to get down to the river at all. My desired route was blocked by private property. Almost giving up, but decided to try an alternate route, not thinking it would work, but I persevered and after much bush whacking shenanigans, I finally got down to the creek below the falls. I could not find any view closer to it than this one. I could not see around that big rock on the corner. This was the best viewpoint I could find, and not a very great one. With less water flowing, I could cross the creek and get a much better vantage point, but will I ever be back down into this ridiculous canyon again? Not likely. Ah well.

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SURPRISE

In search of a brand new waterfall this weekend, and I found one, but not the one I thought I would find.

There is supposed to be a nice cold storm coming in this weekend, but waking up in the morning, there were not any clouds around. Where is that darn storm? I could have taken the car since the roads are all paved, but it was supposed to snow at very low elevation, so I thought it best to take my SUV in case it started snowing early. It did not snow early. In fact, it was sunny all morning long. Where is that darn storm anyway? Even now, as I write this in the afternoon, it is still sunny.

I wondered about driving on this road (Iowa Hill Rd), thinking it could be closed or very damaged. Its counterpart (Yankee Jims) is closed. As I drove down the road, you can see there were at least a couple big mud slides in the last month, but they have been cleared out now. Damage to the road from erosion is also evident, but it is not overly bad and not dangerous to drive. Once on the other side of the river, however, the road becomes very steep, and very narrow. I hate driving these narrow roads, even more so since the edges are eroded from the February storms. I have only driven up this road once before (and did not drive back down the same way – I went back via Yankee Jims – which obviously I cannot do today). Today I would have to drive back down the same way, and pray like mad that I would not meet another car coming up the hill at one of those very narrow sections. This road really freaks me out.

I arrived at the trailhead and found a nice wide dirt logging road on which to begin my hike. Sweet. It did not last too long. Sooner or later, I would have to exit the road and descend down to the bottom of the canyon. Sooner came sooner than you might think, and off the road I exited. It was very brushy. It was not supposed to be so brushy, according to Google Earth, that is. But indeed, it was very brushy, and I did briefly consider quitting already or at least trying further back up the road. I did not want to bash my way through all that manzanita brush. However, I found a way around it. Once I got around the bad stuff, the going was much easier, and not as brushy. There was poison oak, but it was not bad, and I think I managed to avoid touching any of it. When I got back home later, I still scrubbed down with Tecnu, just in case. Better safe than sorry. I find that 95% of the time if I do this, I will not get a rash. At this time of year, I am in the poison oak a lot.

I continued down to the creek. The very last section was quite steep and slick because the ground was dripping with wetness from some hidden underground spring. I had to use my rope to get down this last part safely, but I got down and found this stunningly gorgeous 28 ft. high waterfall. Fantabulous! But … this was not the waterfall I was expecting to find here. I was looking for a different one, and I was pretty darn sure I was in the right place. Instead, I found this other brand new darling falls. Hey, who’s complaining?  Nevertheless, I do wonder where that other waterfall is. A return trip is going to be required here. But first, I will need to go back to the drawing board.

Anyhow, I climbed back up the mountain through the oak and brush, and made it back to my vehicle in good time. My prayers were answered, and I met no cars coming up that narrow road. It was a beautiful morning, but bring on that snow already.

 

 

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