The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 8: Ishi’s Wilderness, part 2

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Native Americans lived undiscovered here into the twentieth century. Listen next, to part two of Ishi's Wilderness, on the Wildebeat.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number eight.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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I discovered a mysterious wilderness in the eastern foothills of the Sacramento River Valley in California: The Ishi Wilderness, in the Lassen National Forest. Forest service literature says that the wilderness was named for the last survivor, of the Yahi indian tribe, who inhabited the area for thousands of years.

This lower elevation wilderness contains environments ranging from high, arid grasslands and rocky cliffs, dense pineries on plateaus, to lush, riparian drainages and stream cut canyons; thick with vegetation and teeming with life.

In early June, the weather was still cool and damp. That made it a good time to be there. Normally this area would be too hot for most of us by then.

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Deer Creek is the most remote trailhead in the Ishi. That would put me squarely into the homeland of the Yahi Indians. So with only time for a quick overnight, I threw my backpack in my car, and set out to explore.

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The pavement ended on the Cohasset Road about 30 miles beyond Chico. That's about sixteen miles from the southern edge of the wilderness. I wouldn't recommend this drive if you have a typical low-clearance car. It's steep, rutted, rocky, narrow, and really bumpy in places -- really slow going!

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I found a small parking lot at the trailhead, large enough for three or four cars. The trailhead is right at the edge of the wilderness. You can see the wilderness boundary sign from the parking lot.

The trail climbs a couple of hundred feet on the northern canyon wall. For the first third of a mile I walked through forest. There was some poison oak, but it was easy to avoid.

Then I came out on an open area and hiked between a lava pinnacle and the aggregate lava cliffs. In that higher, rocky area, lizards scurried away from me frequently. At one point, I saw a snake move away from me with a half-swallowed lizard.

[Field recorded voice]

I've descended quite a bit more, and now about a mile and a half from the trailhead, I've come to a big open meadow. Deer creek is on the opposite side of the meadow, south of me. It almost looks like it might have been cleared of trees in the past. It's late in the afternoon, but I hope I can get a little farther-in before I set up camp.

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I only hiked a little farther that day. I ran into a thick patch of poison oak I couldn't see the far end of, I hadn't seen any good campsites, and it was getting late. So I turned back, to camp at the meadow. Near Deer Creek, I found a frequently-used site with a fire ring, under the shade of a large oak tree.

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The creek is really quite large -- in other parts of California they'd call this a river.

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The next morning, I awoke to the roar of Deer Creek. During breakfast I saw an eagle chasing a smaller bird, flying low over the creek. I was determined to go back and find a way through that poison oak.

It turned out the poison oak patch wasn't the challenge I feared. And I carefully walked through it, pushing it out of the way with sticks.

[Field recorded voice]

The trail climbed the canyon wall, and got up into some grassland. I probably climbed three to four hundred feet above the elevation of the creek before I found the junction.

Northeast, off into the interior of the wilderness, I can see Iron Mountain, at thirty-two hundred seventy four feet it says here on the map. There's a large drainage basin between me and the mountain. Looking west, I can see the tall cliffs on either side of Deer Creek -- they're very impressive.

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About two miles north of that junction is Deep Hole Camp. Two miles downstream along Deer Creek are the ruins of Merle Apperson's ranch, the white man who first found Ishi. But I didn't get that far in either direction.

It's hard for me to imagine living off the land here. I certainly don't recognize anything good to eat. When you get away from the creek, the place is so steep, dry and scrubby, that it looks pretty inhospitible.

On my hike back, and out to the car, I discovered another mystery. In a camp site near the poison oak patch, I found a hidden cache of stuff that didn't belong there: An old mountain bike, some live shotgun rounds, clothes, boots, and plastic garbage bags full of who-knows-what. I took pictures and a GPS way-point, and without unnecessary delay, continued hiking to the trailhead. Later, I reported this to the Forest Service.

My discovery illustrates the difficulty government agencies have in trying to protect wilderness areas. Those people who visit these areas, without respect for the rare and special nature of them, vandalize a treasure that belongs to all of us.

I learned for myself that the Ishi Wilderness is wild, rugged, and rarely visited. I had the luxuries of bringing my own food, and modern gear. So I find it all the more impressive when I imagine what it must have been like for Ishi and the Yahi to live here off the land.

You can find out more about the Ishi Wilderness, and see pictures from my trip on our web site.

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Next time - Backpack Gear Test reviews backcountry cookbooks.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Future editions of The Wildebeat depend on your contributions, both for funding and for content. Please see our website for details.

This has been The Wildebeat, program number eight. Thank you for listening.

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