Giant Gap

On August 13, 2001, Catherine "Canyon" O'Riley, Chris Schiller and I made the traverse of Giant Gap, entering the canyon at Green Valley and exiting via the Canyon Creek Trail. The photographs and captions below tell some of the story of a fine day on the North Fork American.

At the end of the West Trail in Green Valley, and across the river from the Gold Ring Mine, is a large pool, deep and inviting. Lovers Leap, rising 2400 feet above the river, is in the background. The sunny slopes in the foreground are the serpentine of Green Valley, where the Melones Fault Zone crosses the North Fork American. The faulted contact between the serpentine and the Calaveras Complex metavolcanics of Giant Gap is still well to the west and downstream.

The January 1997 flood event left a pine tree athwart the river. Canyon O'Riley makes the crossing, over the wind-ruffled emerald waters of the North Fork.

Just at the contact between the Melones serpentine and the metavolcanic greenstone of the Calaveras Complex, a serpentine spire guards the entrace to Giant Gap. The canyon has been narrowing into a gorge by degrees. Suddenly, it closes in tighly from both sides, as the massive greenstone is reached. The Pinnacles, across from Lovers Leap in Giant Gap, are partly visible in the background.

The first of the deep pools which one must swim. In the background, the base of the Pinnacle spur.

A little ways below the First Pool, the main mass of the Pinnacle spur comes into view. At the upper left is Eagle Puke Point, where golden eagles roost and regurgitate pellets of fur and bone.

Chris takes a break after crossing one of the pools.

The inimitable Canyon O'Riley more than deserves her nickname, after swimming the eternal emerald gems of Giant Gap.

Canyon swims yet another pool. Chris is a little dot on the rocks a couple hundred feet down.

Finally, after about ten pools, and an endless succession of boulders and cliffs, the last pool of the main part of Giant Gap is passed. We re-packed our gear and prepared for the brush and poison oak of the High Trail to Canyon Creek, another mile and a half down the river.

On the High Trail, making for Canyon Creek. We were glad that the sun was westering and this part of the canyon wall was in shade.

The last deep pool before Canyon Creek is a real sweetheart. That thing is deep. The sunny cliffs of the south wall of Giant Gap are reflected in its surface, except, where ruffled by the anabatic, up-canyon winds, the water reflects more of the sky color. We are one the last little bit of the High Trail, near the foreboding Spot of Great Danger and Dread, which being hardy spirits, we passed with genuinely unstudied nonchalance.

At the base of the Canyon Creek Trail, where the High Trail comes in. Lovers Leap was well to the west of us when we started on the river; now it is well to the east.

We rested near Canyon Creek itself for a bit, then slogged slowly up the steep trail. It had been our firm plan to hurry through Giant Gap and climb up and out to the Gold Run Diggings by six p.m. Fortunately, this plan failed, and we had the benefit of shade the whole way up the trail. We reached Canyon's truck at about 7:30 p.m., with countless repercussions for loved ones who expected to hear from us earlier, but for me at least, it all went very well, and my children, Janet and Greg, danced up the road to greet me with smiles and hugs, when I got home. Janet even said, based upon her personal experience of Giant Gap, that she didn't expect me until eleven. Now there's what I call a daughter!

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