I went back to Soda Springs Rd this weekend, this time starting from Foresthill. The road is much better from that direction, and not nearly as bone-jarring. My plan was to hike the trail from Soda Springs Rd down to Palisade Falls, a trail which I had found last week. It was going to be a doozie of a hike.
I left super early from home as usual, as I wanted to start hiking before sunrise. I had no idea how long it would take me to get down to the river, but I knew I had to be down there before 8AM, when the sun would start to hit the waterfall. I estimated it would be about a 2 mile hike and a 2000 ft. elevation loss. That is steep!
As I drove up the road in the dark, I saw my first bear of the year! This made me very excited. It seems that I do not see much in the way of bears and wildlife compared to other people, even though I am out in the wilderness almost every weekend, and usually at hours when wildlife is active too. I don’t know what it is. I have never ever seen a bear in any national park, which is very odd. I saw two bears last year (2011) in Auburn in the spring, but I have not seen any since then. So I was definitely excited to see one today. It was dark, so no pictures were possible. He was along the road, and when he saw me driving up he started lumbering away from me up the road. He kept looking back to see if the firebeast was still coming, and when he saw that it was he would turn and start lumbering away again. Finally he got off the road into the bushes. It was actually very near to where I saw one a few years ago when I hiked to Wabena Falls, and rather near the trailhead where I would be hiking today. (p.s. does anyone out there besides myself and my son Jadon know what a firebeast is?).
I arrived at the trailhead and it was just getting light. I was able to see the entire way down the canyon all the way to the river. You could even hear the river, though it was not flowing strong. I kinda started wondering what I was getting into. It was a long long way down, and steep. Did I mention it looked steep? It seemed like the hike would be on par with the Wabena Falls hike, the craziest hike I have ever done, and that would mean I would be late getting back home, and I needed to be home by 1PM or else. Well, I decided to go for it anyway, and I am sure glad I did.
The trail was not nearly as bad as I anticipated. It was actually a fantastic, well graded trail. Yes you lose 2100 ft. in elevation in about 3 or so miles, but it did not have many steep spots, it just had a steady grade and got the job done. The hike back up was indeed a doozie, and I was worn out by the end of it, but compared to Wabena Falls, it was a cake walk. There was only one really tough spot, and it came near the end where the trail crossed a ravine. There was a steep dropoff where you had to go down, then clamber back up to the trail on the other side. Fortunately there were ropes there to ease the process, but even with ropes it was a bit on the scary side. I made it across the ravine, and continued down to the river.
It took about an hour and 15 minutes to get down, and I arrived at Palisade Falls at about 7:15AM. Perfect timing. I was happy. I noticed some campers down at the bottom of the falls, but it seemed like they were still sleeping. I saw no one moving about, even when I left about an hour later. I think that is a great thing about camping, you can sleep in to your heart’s desire (unless you are a photographer of course). The North Fork American River was flowing at about 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) when I checked it the previous day. It is not a lot of flow, and the waterfall was not roaring by any means, but it was quite nice. Pretty is sometimes nicer than roaring, and 47 ft. high Palisade Falls was certainly pretty. Another nice thing about the low flow is that you can get right down to the river side, for a great perspective from below. This would not have been possible earlier in the summer, and although I did have to get my feet slightly wet, it was certainly worth it to get a shot from down beside the river.
Well it was after 8AM now, and the sun was starting to strike the waterfall just as I had calculated (Photographer’s Ephemeris is such a great tool for doing this). I packed up my things and started the long slow slog back up the mountain. It took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to get back up. I took it slow and steady, drank lots of water, and had quite a few rests, but my legs were dead tired at the end. I am sure glad this was not a Wabena Falls caliber of hike, as I don’t know that I would have made it today if that was the case, but I will definitely be returning on this hike and trail again in the future. It was a great morning on my all time favorite river.