Deer Creek, Ishi Wilderness:
May 2-4, 2012
Yes, I am enthralled by the story of Ishi, the Last Stone
Age Indian of North America and the area in which he lived. I admit it,
and they say that is the first step. I have flown to California 12 times
previously for "Ishi related" trips, but most of them involved going
to the Ishi Wilderness in northern California in the foothills of the Cascade
Along the way, I have some wonderful and thrilling
experiences, and met some people I am proud to call my friends.
I have all of the trips documented on my website, and I
love to go back and review them now and again because it brings the trips right
back to me. I have made friends on these trips that have passed on.
Milt Clark and his son, Aaron, were with us on my first trip to the Ishi
Wilderness. Milt died several years ago. I visited Virginia Pope Evans
several times before she passed away.
Here is a summary and link to all of my previous trips:
and Why: The Long Journey to The Ishi Wilderness, 1996
Wilderness, Ancestor Cave, and the McClaskeys, 1997
Graham's Pinery, 1999
2000 and Meeting the Daughter of Ishi's Doctor
2001: Graham's Pinery...Never Again!
California and the Ishi Wilderness, May 2003
Wilderness, Northern California, 2004
Kingsley Cave, 2006
Carmel and The Ishi Wilderness
Glass Mountain, Gold Country, Visit to Saxton Pope's 101 Year Old Daughter, etc.
Tree Village by Helicopter, June, 2010
Moaks and Murder Rock, May, 2011
I drove to the airport early Tuesday morning,
May 1. I hit heavy traffic because it was rush hour, but I had allowed
plenty of time for that. I parked the car at the shuttle, and the van dropped me
at the Delta Airlines gate. I got my luggage checked, made it through the
security screening, and waited at the gate, and soon I was on my way.
I still get very excited about going on this
trip. Part of it is not knowing what is going to happen on the trip, and
part of it is seeing the friends that I have come to care so much for over the
picked me up at the airport and soon we headed for lunch, and then on to a
camping/fishing/hiking store for some supplies that we would need, including
some dehydrated food packages. There would be six of us in total.
From there we went to Mike's house, and spent a chunk of the
afternoon getting ready for the trip and getting our gear in order. Mike
had many of the larger things I needed, such as a sleeping blanket and a
sleeping pad, and all the cooking utensils, so that really helped with what I
had to bring from Minnesota. Mike and Lauri are wonderful hosts, and I really
enjoy spending time with them. Mike has many varied interests, and he's
just taken up neon sign building.
The next morning we were on the way to Chico
bright and early to rendezvous at Richard's new home. We saw his very nice
place, had some introductions of the other folks who would be coming along, and
got all of our gear into Mike's pickup and Andy's SUV, with three folks riding
The road in to the Ishi Wilderness is not an
easy one. The road keeps getting narrower and narrower, and bumpier and
more rutted. I took some video of the road which I'll attach here:
Road to Deer Creek Bridge: http://youtu.be/me8nNApjrtM
consisted of six of us: From the photo, left to right, Michael,
from Gastonia, North Carolina; Andy from Forest Ranch, CA; Rick from Chico, Ca; Mike,
near Sacramento,CA; Richard from Chico, CA; and me, Roger from Cambridge, MN.
When we got to
the parking area by the bridge, everyone unpacked, got their gear ready, and we
headed up the first big hill toward Deer Creek and Graham's Cabin site.
I had been to
this area before, and as a matter of fact, this was the location of my very
first trip into the Ishi Wilderness. But I had forgotten the beauty of it
and its daunting landscape.
trail was well marked for the most part, with an occasional large tree hiding
the path, and we all moved down and up the trail toward our destination.
The ruggedness of this country is hard to put into words. How the Yahi
tribe lived and thrived in these foothills for thousands of years simply amazes
me, but they made use of what was there, and the fish in the stream and the
acorns on the multitude of oak trees became their staple diet. Deer,
rabbit, plant roots, berries, were there for the harvesting if you knew how to
do it, which is where I fall short.
And the poison
oak! I often found myself standing in it or going through it because, first of
all if really is ubiquitous, and secondly, it doesn't all look the same, with
variations in leaf shape and coloring.
And of course, there were plants that looked a little similar to poison oak that
I needlessly avoided.
lava tossed hillsides with the varied flora and fauna is very much foreign to
Minnesota and the upper midwest. The stand of Ponderosa Pine we went
through was bit similar to northern Minnesota in some respects, but the majority
of the topography would not be found anywhere in the state.
We walked on,
some faster, some slower, and met again at Graham's Cabin site, where Elijah
Graham had once had his cabin, and had tried to poison the Indians by mixing
poison with grain. He wrote "POISON" on the bag so no white men would
The cabin has
disappeared, but some of the rock foundation and fences remain, so we looked
around the area for while. There were still some metal cans, nails, etc.
in the area, and the area is now used as a camp site. Richard Burrill, who
knows so much of the history of this area, said that the lumber from the cabin
has been used for firewood over the years, and all the wood now has totally
All of this
group were very respectful of the artifacts in this area so though they may have
been discovered, they were only photographed and documented, and then the
original artifact was returned to its exact site or very close to it.
Soon, we headed
further upstream next to Deer Creek to a more secluded campsite that was on the
site of an old Indian camp. When I go on these trips with such
knowledgeable people, it is just wonderful all of the information that I
pick up. I learned that we were camping on a "midden", which is
a place where the native population lived for a long time, and actually holds a
lot of what would have been considered refuse or garbage. There was ample
evidence of obsidian chlps, and bone chips from meals so long ago, and terrible
evidence of people coming in with shovels and screens and sifting through very
large amounts of soil looking for artifacts.
Mike found an
absolutely beautiful point shortly after we arrived. It was made of basalt, so
it was not very shiny like obsidian would be, but it was so finely carved that
it was done by a master flintknapper. I can only dream of someday being
able to knap a point like this one.
I should point
out at this time that I owe a debt of gratitude to Mike Lawson for being so kind
to carry so much of my gear in. I had a decent size backpack, but with
some back problems, I just can't carry all the weight I could at one time, so he
helped out immensely by carrying more than his share of the load. Kudos to you,
Mike! Andy did more than his share too, and we can thank him for carrying in an
ample amount of wine in which we imbibed in the evening. I consider these trips
celebratory in many ways, and I often think how lucky I am to be able to do
something like this.
We set up camp,
and the campsite was large enough that we could spread out and each have a lot
Here's a quick
It really did
turn out to be a very nice camp site. It was flat, relatively stone free,
and though there was poison
oak all around, we could find patches of open ground. It was a close walk
to Deer Creek for water and washing up, and I love the sound of a rushing stream
when I'm trying to sleep.
The weather was
overcast the first day, and cool, which made hiking nice. We collected some
wood, got a fire started, and got settled in to our temporary home. We had
brought several dehydrated meals along, and Michael Eldredge and Richard had
prepared chicken breasts, so we warmed them on the fire, fixed some dehydrated
meals, and settled in for the evening meal, followed by some wine for most of
The weather was
cool but not cold, and overcast, but it cleared enough in the evening to see the
moon which was almost full, and it cast a gentle light on our little camp site
far away from any signs of population and "civilization".
fitfully, partially due to excitement and partially due to sleeping on a pretty
hard surface with a slippery sleeping bag in limited space. Soon, it was
getting light out, so I got dressed and got up. Andy was already up and
about, and we got the fire going again. It continued to be quite cloudy
and cool, and the warmth from the fire felt comforting.
We ate our
breakfasts independently, with me just eating a couple of low-fat breakfast bars
and a cup of instant coffee.
we were ready to head out towards Iron Mountain. We got our boots and
light gear ready, and Mike grabbed his giant loppers.
We had seen a
relatively open meadow heading up the base of Iron
Mountain so we thought that might be a good way to get at least partially up,
and Richard had an interest in trying to find a site of a camp that would have
been where Ishi was raised in his youth.
a video where he explains more:
We continued to walk up the more
open meadow area until the brush started to get thicker, and soon was
impassable. There did not appear to be a way around it, so there was
discussion as to how to proceed. Andy suggested backtracking, and trying
to get to the top of Iron Mountain. It ended up that there were three who
wanted to try to get to the top of Iron Mountain, and three who were satisfied
in continuing to explore the more open and lower areas. I was in the
Lawson, Rick Nelson, and Andy Mark were the intrepid explorers who wished to try
to climb to the summit, and Richard, Michael Eldredge and I were satisfied to
meander at a less exhausting pace.
We had walkie talkies, so we could
keep in touch, which was very helpful, and we knew we didn't need to worry about
their safety as long as they reported in regularly.
Michael, Richard and I started back
down at a leisurely pace, examining the various trees, foliage, rock formations,
flowers, and whatever we ran across.
Richard had a knee replacement a few
years ago, and it does present some challenges for him, but he did a great job
in seeing what he wanted to see. We did have one troublesome stream to
cross, Iron Creek, so Michael went ahead and did some clearing and arranging of
the large stones to try to make it an easier crossing. It did help, and Richard
got across pretty well and stayed dry.
If you note the picture of me on the
left, that is Iron Mountain in the background which Andy, Mike, and Rick were
climbing at that moment. You can see on the photos how thick the brush is,
much of it being poison oak. They found the large loppers very useful in
getting through some otherwise impenetrable areas.
Eventually, we made it back to the
camp site, the large midden, and more of the areas to explore closer to camp.
Andy reported in on the hour via the
walkie talkie, and we kept in touch as they climbed Iron Mountain.
Eventually, they reached the top, which is a really amazing accomplishment of
which they should all be proud. With a small scope, they could spot one of
the tents at our campsite, and unbelievably, we could see a tiny little line at
the top of the mountain. I figured this would be a good time to test my
new camera with its 15 megapixel size and 10X zoom, and I could actually see
Rick at the top, and Andy beside him when I zoomed in on the picture that I had
taken! This picture is from about two miles away as the crow flies.
are the three that climbed Iron Mountain: Mike, Andy, and Rick. That is Iron
Mountain looming in the background.
It sounded pretty harrowing at times
with loose rook, vertical climbs and thick brush, but all in all, they made
really good time, and were back in camp by late afternoon.
is a picture of the three more senior partners of the group who chose to be a
bit less adventurous and stayed closer to camp. That's me on the left,
Richard Burrill in the middle, and Michael Eldredge on the right.
That night, Michael spent a lot of
time preparing kindling for the fire, and showed us how he can make fire with
primitive tools, mainly a bow. There was a lot of preparation that went
into it, and you can see the results here:
ended up getting a little drizzle and light rain in the later afternoon, but not
enough to have us head to shelter. We prepared some more of the dehydrated
meals for the evening meal, and talked into the evening. We pretty well finished
off our wine that night. The magical fire was kept going and smoldered
most of the night, and the smoke seemed to know right where we were sitting and
came to visit us often during the time at the campfire.
the night a little rain fell, and the humidity increased so that things were a
bit wet in the morning. I noticed the walls of my tent were wet, probably
from my breathing and the moisture not escaping.
morning came, and we started another campfire. Andy and Mike tried a
little fishing, and Mike caught a nice trout which he immediately released.
a leisurely breakfast we headed off to look for some fossils that were deposited
in the Chico Formation, and we found a few that were full of shells. The rocks
were intermixed with large boulders on the shores of Deer Creek, most of which
had been worn smooth by erosion over the millenia. It was a
beautiful location, with many lupine growing in the large rocks.
really in awe of the Ishi Wilderness and how diverse it is, with so much to see,
and so many challenges to see it.
hunting for fossils for a while, we decided it was time to pack up and start the
long and mostly uphill journey back to where we had parked the vehicles.
Everyone got their packs on, made sure the campsite looked like it had before we
had been there, and we headed out. It was then that the heaviest rain of
the trip started, and soon we were drenched. We did manage
to get Richard across the little Iron Creek before the rocks got too
trudged on, and soon, the rain slowly subsided. We saw about a dozen
orange bellied newts on the trail or just next to it.
The rain must have been just enough to make them want to migrate someplace
a while, we finally came to the Ponderosa Pines, so I knew we were getting close
to the end of the trail. We kept going, and soon, the sun shone, and we
started to dry out.
felt great to get back to the vehicle, get my boots and heavy socks off and put
on my regular shoes.
course, we still had the long ride out, but the road had not gotten any muddier
than when we had come in, so we made it out without much trouble, though we
definitely were bounced around.
headed to the Sierra Nevada Brewery and Restaurant for a bite to eat and to
clean up a little, and had a great meal. We got there just before the rush
started, and it was really busy in no time. I had a great meal, and it was
fun to visit with the folks who had just shared the same experience. Andy
didn't join us because he had work waiting for him at home. Soon it was
time to head our separate ways. Mike and I ran into the gift store briefly
while everyone sorted out their gear, and soon, with goodbyes said all around,
Mike and I headed toward his home near Sacramento, a couple hours away.
home, got cleaned up, and chatted a while, and then turned in for the night.
was a quiet day. We went to a few garage sales with some friends of Mike's
after a delicious breakfast at a nearby restaurant, and we got digital copies
made of the pictures we had taken.
evening, we went toward Shingle Springs to have supper with Bob Price, my friend
for all the years I've been going to the Ishi Wilderness. He was unable to make
it this year, but it was great fun seeing him.
Lauri, Mike, Bob
next morning, we went out for breakfast, and soon it was time for me to head to
the airport for my flight home. It was delayed a bit, but I was soon in the
air. After about three hours in flight, we landed, and I got my luggage,
picked up the vehicle, and headed home. It was good to be there, and I had
another bunch of great memories.