Zachi’s favorite reading material
In an old board clad room in a cabin built in 1876, my comrades and I prepared for a grand adventure. A coffee stained topo map, faded with age, was stapled onto the wall. Early morning light filtered through cracked and warped glass and made it just possible to follow the historic thin dotted trail with my calloused finger . As the faded line reached the end of the finger ridge I saw multiple shovel and pick symbols for mines. By the concentration of elevation lines I could tell it was steep. The alignment hung to this knife like ridge as it plunged over 2000ft straight down to Goodyears Bar.
For a mountain cyclists, this was the equivalent of a treasure map. Joe, a Forest City resident, whose 92 year old face was as wrinkled as the bound map he handed me, had causally passes this across to me like yesterdays paper. Brightly colored with the different geologic formations which lay beneath the ground, the map was littered with branching representations of existing underground mines. But more important, this four foot wide ancient artifact, a 3 3/4 topo, still showcased all the mule trails that created a commercial web of connectivity between mines and communities.
Fellow adventures in Forest City, my community
2 years later, on this spring morning, 2002, my friends and I would brave the unforgiving wildness and trace this faded route on our bikes. The goal was simple, to rediscover ways to traverse great spans of space from town to town in the ways people did for generations, in the forests, with the smells of moist mountain missery and sounds of tree filtered wind.
Incredible view from top of Ruby Bluffs
Many brush choked dirt roads branching randomly and frequently made navigation challenging. By lunch we had made it Ruby Bluffs, a strange balded bluff with striking cliffs, 100s of feet tall, which fell away to the tops of towering pines below. From a prominent point we gazed down across the Rock Creek drainage to the far Mexican Mine Ridge. Even from this distance, the descending knife ridge looked like a menacing tail of a sleeping dragon. Mid point on the tail, a light green wart rose from a open area. It was hard to understand what we were seeing with the turquoise color and bold shape. Our excitement grew.
Ruby Mine in its glory in the 1800s
An hour later we descended radically down a mile long graveled road at speeds unreasonably fast for an exploratory. None of us wanted to ease off into the chasing plume of dust, and a broad 180 degree turn swept us too wide like a water skier tethered to arc of disaster. Unable to rein in our arc, we were only saved by an small offshoot road which we plunged down skidding to a stop. Huge semi sized snow blowers with gaping augured mouths greeted us along with other mining equipment from the Ruby Mine. After a short map consult we found a small path following a power line North to a foot bridge to the Brown Bear Mine. Although there was no one around, the three story elevator shaft frame lofted plumes of silent dirt into the air. This meant, three miles away, 5ft twin fans mounted on the closed portal doors of the Ruby Mine, were operating to provide fresh air to the workers. Just beyond was the road.
We finally found the last turn to the Mexican Ridge, the twin track dirt road twisted between looming oaks and encroaching brush. Along the way, we noticed a huge irregular gaping pit 40 x 100ft. The lazy sides were 15ft deep and we paused only briefly before we launched into it like a skate boarder in a pool. The surface was still too soft for speed, and our push back out tempered our fire.
Monster Trees at the top of Mexican Mine Ridge
The last segment again narrowed after a fork that branched right to Slug Canyon. Our track was gutted by erosion and it soon twisted sharply uphill and we had to gear down. The brushy open areas fell behind and we entered a thicker forest. We topped several short hills and as we came up to the last rise, darker shapes to the sides caught our attention. They were monster trees. In all the years of exploring the Sierras, I had not encountered any old trees before. Instead I had seen many historic photos showing barren landscapes stretching for miles without a single tree, stripped clean for fuel, building or mine shoring. Stretching out my arms, my 6ft wing span was dwarfed. We leap froged our spans around the tree more than four times. WOW.
We lost track of the count of these lurking giants as we reached the end. The old road petered out in a round quiet clearing. A narrow four foot path left the far side and we lowered our seats in anticipation. Right off, the trail pitches exceeded 30%, and challenged the braking capacity of our calipers. Popping up over the occasional small log was much more difficult at this pitch. Then the trail got serious and the pitch increased to 50%. The deep pine needles wadded up and the brakes had to be burped to relieve the bulging growths. This sudden acceleration was barely contained before the next needed wheel burp. Another bend revealed a steeper 200ft segment and this exceeded capacity and the front tires began to slip. Willie went down, a mere foot in front of me and I pitched left to avoid his surfing bike and body and caught a 3″ fir tree with my bar ends square but giving to my body enough to reduce the pain and also stop my flight.
Massive waterfalls along Rock Creek’s descent
A dramatic run out at the bottom propelled us into a huge clearing. Little shards of green flakes littered the ground but provided a smooth transition as we rolled uphill into the shade of a four story outcrop of Serpentine. At the top, looking north, Grizzly Peak confronted us with four hundred foot stone columns that towered above the North Fork of the Yuba River. I hunkered down and peered over the edge to see 120% pitches of scree disappear into woods 600ft down. Another short break and were off, down a more relaxed but intense series of rises and drops.
Early pioneers Borg and Zachi
Occasional piles of mining timber, moss covered and rotting, waited beside the trail, apparently forgotten. At the bottom of a saddle, on one side, was an old trail with piles of timber and debris scatted from an collapsed structure. The old hard rock mine, played out, was abandoned and left for more responsible people to clean up apparently. On the other side, a low growling thunder crept from the depths of Rock Creek. A faint mist leaked up through the oaks from the narrow gorge 600ft below. We would explore Jug Waterfalls on another adventure.
Past FTA President Jeff Brooks building bridge approaches on the N Yuba Trail at the bottom where Mexican Mine Trail will intersect
The 18″ foot path was expertly laid through a tangled sprawl of outcrops and oak. Technical falling off switchbacks challenged us as well as following the faint signature that remained of the route. Our group would pause at each challenge, for entertainment or aid. We counted over 40 switchbacks by the time we finally made it down to an active ditch on the back side of Goodyears Bar. The trail from there, which tapers down the side slope on the south side of ridge, was difficult to find but we made it out along side the bridge at the road.
Post adventure story telling around the campfire in Forest City
There were grins and bruises. A swim in the river and a long ride back up Mountain House Road ended that day. But the experience captured my imagination and that of my friends. We would spend the next four years hiking this ridge, probing, exploring, laughing and bleeding as we began to lay the bread crumbs of what will be the new Mexican Mine Trail. There are many half forgotten sacred places scattered about the rich and diverse forests of the Sierras. I am honored to share this one with you.