Gorge Scrambling on the North Fork of the American, by Elaine Gorman
I had some trepidation as we began hiking down the Mumford Bar trail, on the way to my first overnite gorge scramble. Gorge scrambling is a combination of hike and float trip. Add a backpack. Plus slippery rocks. Throw in poison oak and possible rattlesnakes. What makes everything worthwhile is a wild canyon devoid of trails and people.
After Delta-Sierra outings leader Paul Plathe gave a short introduction to our group of 8, we hit the trail. On our way to the river, we hiked through an area burned by the American River fire of July 2008). There was quite a bit of blowdown, so dodging poison oak, scratchy brush, and logs became quite a challenge. I am still sporting a huge knot on one shin from kicking a log buried in brush. After 3.8 miles and 3200 feet of elev. loss, we arrived at the river. We checked out the Mumford Bar cabin. The outside was in good repair, but the floor was missing.
After blowing up our air mattresses/rafts, and a quick lunch, we belly-flopped on to our air mattresses/rafts and headed downstream. The water was refreshingly cool after our hot hike into the canyon. Veteran gorge scramblers Russ, Ron, and John expertly navigated the boulders and shallows. Ted was the “king of the river” on his inflatable twin mattress cum throne, and was able to sit up quite royally with his pack wedged behind his back. Newbies Jens and Diggie soon got the hang of ‘scrambling after some instruction by Paul. I just tried to keep up.
We saw several garter snakes, one swam next to us with a small fish in its mouth. Frogs and tadpoles were abundant. Pines clung to the steep canyon walls, defying gravity and wind as best they could. After about 90 min. of floating and rock hopping, we camped on a sand and gravel bar. We had a small campfire for cooking and ambience. Dinners ranged from dehydrated packaged meals, to cheese and crackers. John’s kielbasa-on-a-stick earned him quite a few chuckles. Thankfully, the almost full moon was hidden behind the canyon walls and we had a dark sky for sleeping.
Back on the river by 9 am the next morning, we floated another few hours until we reached the Marrs mine and stamp mill at Italian Bar. The remaining milling equipment was a 3 stamp, stamp mill. The mine extends for a couple hundred feet into the canyon wall. We walked along the old ore cart rails, marveling at the work the miners endured as they dug and blasted through rock and mineral.
We couldn’t delay our hike out of the canyon any longer. The 2.5 mile Italian Bar trail, with almost 2700 feet elev. gain seemed much longer and steeper with our bruises and aching muscles. The vehicles were a welcome sight. Many thanks to Paul for leading such a fun, interesting and wild adventure.