The MoFo is quite the delight. Parts of it remind me very much of the Klamath River, with its deep, green currents and grassy banks, and it stays a mostly stable and doable temperature throughout the peak season. It offers many swimming holes if you can brave the steep slopes! But my favorite part of this river: Murderer’s Bar. Yeah… totally love it despite its formidable name. No, it’s not some super sketch bar with the guarantee of being shanked and raped, it’s a gorgeous waterfall and a boulder sieve of death (it’s still pretty). The rapid earned its name during the Gold Rush, when a group of men claimed the falls as their gold stake and were brutally murdered by local Indians. The Indians took their clothing, decapitated their bodies, burning parts and throwing bits down the falls, and left two sacks of gold… untouched. Totally cray cray, right? But… it’s still pretty. The falls are runnable at the right flow, and I swear the rapid looks different every time I see it (it must be incredibly flow variable).
Anyways… it’s a great hike. The Quarry Trail is a very easy trail thanks to State Parks clearing it wide enough for a truck to drive down it. This trail is a part of the Western States Trail, and is very popular amongst various athletes; however, no one ever seems to ever take the hike… just for how pretty it is. There’s a lot to it! The hardest part would be the uphill portion to Hawver Cave… but I’m sorry if you’re a puss, it’s not that bad. Round trip, it’s about 5-6 miles (7 if you like to boulder and crawl around the falls… but I won’t tell you how to actually get to it). And bring water if you’re going during the summer. The dirt is DRY and it gets HOT.
About two thirds of the way down the trail, you run into Hawver Cave. What a site! The cave was once heavily mined but has since been gated off. a railroad once ran here to Auburn, but only remnants of its tracks exist. The train ran across the well known No Hands Bridge to the city of Auburn before joining up with other railroads to deliver its goods. As you reach the top of the hill and round the corner, you’re met with an icy blast of air that pours from the mouth of the cave. Crystal clear water flows through a drainage pipe… supposedly there are underground lakes the size of several football fields inside. I dunno. Some day I will though. Recently, fossils have been found, making the cave of particular interest to preservationists, and rumor has it that some day soon the cave will open to the public for tours.
Past Hawver, the trail opens up to the “cliffs.” An appropriate warning sign tells you to stay the hell away from this area. It’s pretty slick. But if you feel the need to be retarded like me, be careful and watch your footing. I once spent the better portion of two hours stranded and stuck on a narrow pinnacle of these unstable cliffs. They’re not particularly high, but if you fell, you’d be pretty effed up. Just sayin.
Immediately after this is one of my favorite parts of the trail: the orchid meadow. At the right time of year, there’s a bajillion wild orchids growing near a little creek. The temperature drops a few degrees, the bees are all up in your grill but not angry, it smells lovely… and the orchids have some crazy genetics! There’s pink and white and purple and mosaic… I have a field day. BUT… I went at the wrong time of the year…
There was only a single wild orchid. One. That’s it. Earlier in the summer, there’s hundreds!
If you’re clever… you’ll figure out how to get to the falls. But be careful. It’s not an easy hike. If you’re not clever, you won’t figure it out and you’ll just enjoy the view, which is totally fine. But I definitely love to explore the falls and crawl around and enjoy the most epic swimming hole ever because there’s a million drunk people on the opposite side that are totally mind-blown as to how you got to that side and they get super frustrated.
So the falls…
There’s something spiritual in that beast. When times got tough in months past, I’d spend hours just waiting and watching, thinking and contemplating answers, as close to Murderer’s Bar as I could be. I believe the river always answered back. Perhaps it’s the fact that it has claimed lives, perhaps it’s simply its massive size compared to my smallness, regardless, it’s a beautiful place. Quartz rocks stick in dumb contrast against the metamorphic black stone, forced directly into cracks. You know there’s gold there. At the flows I hiked, many of the deadly sieves that compose the boulder garden below the falls are exposed, allowing access to crawl through. Yeah… I can see how you’d die swimming that at higher flows (but now I know where to swim!). Undercut boulders, sieves, logs, slaloms, all sorts of hazards make it a worthwhile Class V.
But if you keep going up the trail, past the dilapidated shack, past the creek, you’ll start heading uphill. You’ll eventually see a marker for the Western States Trail. Immediately to the left is a massive boulder, and if you have any part of adventurer in you, you’ll be naturally drawn to that boulder by instinct. Don’t ignore that instinct or you’ll miss the best view of the hike. As you approach the rock, the river grows quiet, drowned by insulating earth. But as you crest it: you hear it, and finally see it the entire Middle Fork American (well, not the ENTIRE MoFo cause it’s really big but a lot of it… duuuur)