Saturday, June 26, 2010

Manzanita Deathmarch

There's a very remote spot near the headwaters of the North Fork of the American River, right at the start of the Royal Gorge, that Grant and I visited a few years ago. The spot is Heath Falls, and it's quite difficult to get to due to overgrown and unmaintained trails. I went there again last weekend with my dad, who'd wanted to see it ever since hearing about the first visit.

Thinking we'd outsmart the approach that Grant and I took, we parked at a slightly different spot and made our way down into the Gorge. It turns out that Grant and I picked the better parking spot, as we fought with some manzanita in the early parts of the hike. Further down, however, the dark forest floor, piled with deadfall, had some vibrant residents for us to play with.

Baby snowplant

Bigger snowplants

Crunched for time, we pressed downstream where Serena Creek dumps into the North Fork. Not too much longer, the canyon walls got darker, signaling the start of Royal Gorge, and we were greeted with the pervasive sound of rushing and falling water. The reason Grant and I hiked down there was so he could recon the falls for a potential kayak trip down the Gorge. This next photo shows the start of 3 days of largely unportageable Class V+ whitewater, if you're in to that sort of thing.

Heath Falls (that's 50 feet tall, by the way...super wide-angle photo)

Minimal moonscape

Making our way back up through the forest, we found ourselves navigating some larger seas of manzanita than we had on the way down, and it is not the most friendly member of Sierra flora. By a long shot. Stiff, strong, pokey, and scratchy, it grows very densely and is soul-sapping, skin-shredding purgatory. Mind you, this entire portion of the hike was overland, so we didn't really have a trail to follow, and the last 500m to the car took us over an hour. At one point, we were less than 100 feet from a graded dirt road, and it may as well have been miles away, as the mature manzanita was taller than we were and most unforgiving for routefinding purposes. Daylight leaving us, we finally buckled down and forced our way through. Just in case you think I'm exaggerating how awful this stuff is:

D^2 and his legs, posing in front of manzanita

Exceedingly happy to be out of the death shrub, we gathered Ethel at Northstar as her volunteer duties ended and slunk away to an awesome dinner at the lake. A week later, my legs still look like they got caned. It's a special part of the Sierras to visit, but be prepared to pay the price...

Past Detritus