Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pioneer Trail, Emigrant Gap

Above: the snow melt from this winter's huge snow fall is evident in this picture of the massive waterfall, two miles into the hike. Amazing to see, particularly at this time of year..

We had a great time up near Grouse Ridge and Nevada City today, hiking the Pioneer Trail, a trail my son had found near Lake Spaulding. Our hike was a family affair this time out--my two sons and our dog accompanied me on the hike, and it was a fun day.

The trail starts out at a smallish trailhead, just over South Yuba River Bridge. The trail sign is merely a sticker on a metal post, but the trailhead itself is evident, so you should have no problem identifying it as your destination.

Below:Lighten your daypack: don't bring your gold prospecting tools; this area's been claimed already.

The trailhead itself sits at the side of the South Yuba River, which is a river I now regard with new respect; the recent snow melt has resulted in a impressive flow of roiling water, careening along, and as soon as you emerge from your car, all you hear is a roar of the water on its way down the hill.

The trail itself is a pretty easy trail as far as things can go. The surface is well maintained, with few dramatic elevation gains, and it follows along the side of the river for most of the time. The entire trail is 25 miles long, but since we were having a family hike and not a forced march, we limited the mileage to five miles total, which took us past this disturbing sign:

We eventually figured out that the water 'discharge' would not come from above us at a random place or interval, but rather from this impressive waterfall, two miles into the hike:

The waterfall, while human controlled via a dam at the top, was very impressive, with thousands of gallons churning down the hill into the river. We had no idea it was there, so it was a huge surprise and it made for a perfect lunch spot for us all. We gazed in wonder at the aquatic power in front of us.

The scarey sign, therefore, seemed rather to be warning people to stay off the boulders at the river's edge (about 30 feet below us) rather than warning people to stay off the trail itself.

Below: The deluge of snow melt had overflowed the river banks, as you can see from the picture below. The trail, however, was about 30 feet above the banks, so as long as you stayed away from the edge, you were fine.

The trail was mostly a single track in good shape and with a variety of surfaces--mostly loam but also with frequent granite chips.

Here and there, the trail had metamorphosed into a stream bed, and, because of the wet winter and recent snows, the creeks crossing the trail required some rock hopping here and there, but nothing too hard. Hiking poles can help balance you in those river crossing situations.

We walked mainly through forest, but we regularly had spectacular views of the river, churning below us, and periodically, we'd find ourselves walking through a spectacular foot hill meadow, walking past a verdant pasture, surrounded by a circle of pines.

As I walked along with my family and our dog, I was astounded at how lucky I am to be able to do this. My two wonderful sons were having a great time, enjoying outside activity in a wondrous natural environment. We are all healthy enough to hike, and we all enjoy hiking as a way to spend the day. We have the resources to get ourselves there and to enjoy it all. We live close enough for day hikes in this wonderful resource to be possible. Finally, we were fortunate to have perfect hiking weather.

We truly are amazingly fortunate. Hope you get the chance to explore the trail too.

Trail stats:

  • Trail info: The Pioneer Trail, built in a series of volunteer efforts from the 1980's to the mid 1990's, is 25 miles long one way. There are several trailheads along the way, however. We joined at the Lang Crossing trailhead, of CA 20, on the Emigrant Gap exit on 80.

  • Driving: Easy--just up 80--Emigrant Gap/CA 20 exit (#161). Drive right on CA 20; look for Bowman Lakes Road. Trailhead is a few minutes past the Lake Spaulding sign. About 90 mins from home.

  • Trail: mixture of duff, dirt, loam, and granite stones/rocks.

  • Parking lot is small--can fit about 6 cars, but not that heavily used, so should be ok. No facilities.

  • Weather: beautiful--70s, sunshine, breezy. No snow at 5000 feet in early June, which surprised me considering we're in a record snow year.

  • Traffic on trail: very little. We passed one other person--a trailrunner and her two dogs. We saw two other hikers at the trailhead, but didn't see them again.

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