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TR- North Fork American River

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TR- North Fork American River

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Jun 10, 2011 9:14 am

North Fork American River
June 8-9, 2011

Lingering snow in the Sierra had me scratching my head to find a place to hike. This winter I had hoped to revisit the North Fork of the American River, wild and scenic corridor, to see what the disastrous fire a few years back had done. So I decided to do this unfinished business.
The river can be accessed from Foresthill Ridge by several trails: Italian Bar, Humbug Bar, Mumford Bar, Beacroft and Sailor Flat in addition to an 8-mile trail that extends from Mumford Bar to Sailor Flat. I discovered this area over 10 years ago. It offers year-round access but is little used because of the tough elevation drops and gains. A few years ago a devastating fire swept Foresthill Ridge and burned much of the slope down to the river. Unfortunately, the trails quickly grow over if not used and are vulnerable to post-fire erosion on the extremely steep hillsides. I doubt if a handful of people have dropped into the canyon since the fire. The Forest Service is overwhelmed simply clearing roads and the little used trails are low priority.

I drove up intending to go in Mumford Bar trail and walking up to Sailor Flat, a route that I had done several times in the past. Well, I drove right past the trailhead when I noticed the Beacroft Trail sign 5 miles down the road. Change of plans- I decided to descend on the Beacroft Trail as it would shorten the mileage giving me more time to explore the mouth of Royal Gorge. I had come up this very steep trail 10 years earlier and it was difficult to find then. As I descended the first 1,000 feet through the ghostly burned trunks of trees, I mostly found the trail. At a flat seep area the trail ended and all my hunting for it was in vein. I continued descending hoping to eventually bump into the trail. I was out of the burn area, back into thick brush and hideously steep slopes, carefully taking one step at a time, hanging off branches, hugging spindly tree trunks for a rest. As the slope became a cliff I detoured into a dry creek bed choked with debris. This was becoming one of the most difficult descents I ever made! I was breathing hard even as I was going downhill. I never intersected the trail. I kept thinking that at least when I reached the river there would be a good trail. The slope eased, but my route became a thicket of poison oak. The steep descent and lifting my legs over debris and logs took their toll on my legs- thighs burned, legs quivered, arms ached as I reached the river. There was no sign of the river trail. I now realized that simply getting out of here would be a major chore so I headed downstream instead, because the Mumford Bar trail was the most distinct trail before the fire and had the best hopes of being found for ascending. Amazingly and thankfully there were no mosquitoes. But miles of bushwhacking and wading side creeks were ahead of me. I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. The fire had burned spots at the river, fallen logs were everywhere. Game trails now went here and there. I occasionally found the original trail under thickly invading brush and poison oak. This certainly will test my so-far immunity to poison oak! About half a mile from Mumford Bar a trail became visible. I was very relieved when I spotted the trappers cabin and set up camp. It had taken over 7 hours to go 5 miles, all downhill and my poor body was beat. The late afternoon was pleasant as I reclined and read and watched two deer amble around. After dinner I continued reading in the tent as a few tiny baby skeets clung to the netting of the tent door. Other odd winged things walked all over the tent and I was thankful for a barrier between me and all these creepy crawlies.

I slept well and awoke at 5:30 AM, cooked breakfast, packed up and headed up the trail. My “downhill muscles” were shot and going uphill for 2,600 feet actually felt good. The Mumford Bar Trail was much better, although numerous logs have fallen over the trail, and patches of severely burned hillside made me sad. Unfortunately horses cannot get through now so the trail will get little use. The trail was less steep than Beacroft, more open forest (at least used to be forest) and not nearly as overgrown. Near the top I walked over snow patches with fresh bear tracks and came to the trailhead campground. I startled a fellow cooking breakfast. He graciously offered me a camp chair, tea and to drive me the 5 miles back to my car. I accepted the tea, but walking the road would be a relief after all the bushwhacking and a ride to my car would be too much like “cheating. I hoped that flat road walking would loosen up my sore muscles. I reached my car a bit after noon and drove home. It is always the drive home that sets the stiffness. I could barely get out of the car! I cannot say that this was a pleasant trip, but it sure was a work-out. Without trails, this area is essentially inaccessible and it is sad to see these historical trails being lost. I had hiked Kibbie Ridge the year after that fire, and in comparison, the fire on Foresthill Ridge did not seem as devastating. The bottom of the canyon at the river is only mildly affected.

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Beacroft trail – burned area rim of canyon

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River- not as high flowing as I had expected- not at peak melt yet

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Side Stream

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Camp at Mumford Bar

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Mumford Bar trail

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Flowers

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Foresthill Road at 5,200 feet elevation



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Re: TR- North Fork American River

Postby SSSdave » Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:36 am

Thought about that trail during this month's several thread requests for places to backpack into below the snows. But with that fire and other doubts since trails there have always been little used, left that off my suggestions.

What a gruesome descent. Two decades ago made a similar steep Tarzan descent into the Kaweah canyon in Sequoia NP, but above poison oak elevations, and would rate such as one of the worst of my backcountry experiences. Something I have been wise to avoid since even though I still get into brushy areas often each year . Really steep plus really brushy = VERY BAD. At that time as soon as I reached a trail, then the first big creek, I was quick to jump in to get off all the pollen dust, dry leaf debris, spider webs, scratches, jabs, ending with a change of clothes since they were full of that dust. With the PO would have had to turn around in the same situation regardless of how ugly climbing out would have been.

Am all packed up to explore a remote area into a 6k to 5k elevation canyon this weekend in the Tuolumne basin where there is likely to be at least some brush. Will do my best to avoid getting into the worst of it. Hope to see some big whitewater hydrolics.
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Re: TR- North Fork American River

Postby maverick » Fri Jun 10, 2011 11:04 am

Thanks WD for the TR.
Haven't been up to that area in ages, but did enjoy the Beacroft, Sailor Flat, and
the American River Trail.
Tadpole and New York Creek were some pretty difficult fords, and most trails have
anywhere from 2500 to 3000 ft descents to the river, so this is another reason these
trails don't get a lot of usage.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: TR- North Fork American River

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Fri Jun 10, 2011 2:22 pm

Thanks for the TR. I was looking at this area on a map just a few weeks ago as a possible day-trip for some secluded fishing. (I live two minutes from the Foresthill Bridge.) Nice to see a TR close to my neighborhood.
Wonder is rock and water and the life that lives in-between.
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Re: TR- North Fork American River

Postby quentinc » Fri Jun 10, 2011 2:43 pm

Good thing you're immune to poison oak! Sounds like that descent would probably have put a lot of people (including me) in the hospital.
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Re: TR- North Fork American River

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Jun 10, 2011 8:42 pm

The trip was only half hell. Were mosquitoes and heat more intense it would have been total hell. Fortunately recent rains made it all nearly dustless so I did not feel too gritty when I reached bottom. Oh, I forgot to mention the nettles! Just another added attraction. I just figured the stats- Day 1: 4.5 miles, -3170 feet + 385 ft, 7 hours. Day 2: 8 miles, +3232 feet, -400 ft, 5 hours. The steepest part of the descent was a 700 foot loss in 0.23 miles over nearly smooth slopes- fortunately wet enough to kick a small step in. No poison oak yet, but I am still toddling around like a 90-year old. Goes to show that bicycling in flat Sacramento is no match to serious downhill descending. Hey, maybe I am just getting old.
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Re: TR- North Fork American River

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Fri Jun 10, 2011 8:49 pm

Hey, maybe I am just getting old.


Lies. All lies. :D

WD, I'm curious, do you ever day hike in the Auburn Rec area, specifically Stagecoach trail? Just wondering if we've crossed paths before.

Oh, and those beautiful flowers are Shooting Stars (if you didn't know).
Wonder is rock and water and the life that lives in-between.
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Re: TR- North Fork American River

Postby oldranger » Sat Jun 11, 2011 7:03 am

WD

Grandmas rock! :thumbsup:

Mike
Mike

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!
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Re: TR- North Fork American River

Postby Ikan Mas » Sat Jun 11, 2011 7:09 am

Thanks for the report and the insight. That there is still some snow at 5200 feet is very telling.
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