Friday, April 14, 2017

A Death March to Nowhere

This hike might require a bit of explanation, and perhaps some background information. I like to read, mostly nonfiction.  Recently several excellent biographies on the US presidents have been published and after reading several of these I decided to start at George and work my up the list.  Things went well until Martin Van Buren and then I started floundering through the time period of 1840-1860, like most of those presidents did.  Yes, there are contenders for the worst president ever in that time frame, and the biographies aren’t much better.  To relieve my disgust, I will pick up the Inyo National Forest Map book and find more places we have never been to and should go to before we die.  Good luck to us.  The list of places we have never been to is large, very large.

The ridge at the back of the canyon
One place that caught my fancy was named Wormhole Canyon; how can we resist a name like that.  And to make it even better the map showed a trail.  Now realize that the USGS quit updating our maps in the 70’s leaving us with a mess of feet and meters to hamper navigation in the Sierra, and what can graciously be called a whole lot of wishful thinking on some of the trails.  But, it was an area we had never been to and wasn’t likely to be covered with feet of snow, so off we went.

Our only blooming plant of the day
And amazingly enough, it looked like once upon a time there had been a primitive road.  Even though the area was trampled by cows, cowboys don’t usually put in roads so we were speculating on sheep and thought we might confirm our guess by the presence of arborglyphs. 

We started up, straight up, and just when we thought it couldn’t get any steeper, it did.  In fact, it got so steep that the cows put in switchbacks to get the top.  First time we have ever seen that.  We ended up climbing 4000' in three miles.  Ouch.  The top was a ridge separating Wormhole Canyon from Diaz Canyon and we were stumped.  No water, no mine, nothing.  We expected to see a trail leading into Diaz Canyon and the permanent creek there used by the cows.  Nope.  Not unless there used to be a breed of cows that could belay themselves with ropes down into that canyon, the trail wasn't there for cows.  We also checked for arborglyphs, and there were none.  No sign of any mining activity.  We were stumped.  We did see some cut trees, what looked like the letter A in rocks, and a piece of fiberglass nailed to a tree stump.  What on earth was going on here, to cause so much labor to be expanded to nowhere. 

It is steep!

The valley of belaying cows
On the way down I found a large tree that had clearly been sawed down.  Then finally we had a theory for this trail.  It wasn’t put in for mines, or sheep, or cows.  It was put in for trees.  Harvesting trees to feed the mining activity of Cerro Gordo.  Trees for the charcoal kilns to feed the smelters of Cerro Gordo, trees to brace the mine shafts.  We didn’t know this to be true, but it did make sense.  We could see Cerro Gordo in the Inyos opposite us, and we know the kilns are on the east side of Owen’s Lake below us. 

Cerro Gordo is out there in those distant hills

These web articles seem to confirm our theory.  Now we just need to figure out where the flume is.

Charcoal Kilns article

1 comment:

  1. I've been to Cerro Gordo. Interesting area for sure.