Overnight Getaway: Backpacking The Lower Yuba Trail

Photos and writing by Adam Broderick

I took all the following photographs with my iPhone. I was naked when I took one of them. And one video. My phone lives in a protective housing called a LifeProof case. It’s waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, basically everything proof. If you haven’t used a LifeProof case, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the quality of footage taken with one.

town of washington california

To start things off on a high note, I drove a half-hour west in the wrong direction. By the time I reached my “destination” it was 11:00 p.m. and a damp fog had set on the Lower Yuba River. I put “destination” in quotes because I didn’t really know where I would be sleeping. I had more or less dropped a finger on a map in the general vicinity of an area I’d heard had “good camping along the river, and it’ll be warm down low”.

The air temp couldn’t have been below 50, and the smell of a wet lawn beneath my feet rejuvenated the senses. I had been day-dreaming of summer camping and backpacking lately, so with two days off work I loaded a bag and drove down out of the hills in search of warm weather. That night I didn’t bother pitching a tent. The moisture in the air would lead to a wet shelter in the morning, and sleeping in the back of the station wagon seemed much more practical.

The next morning we set off on the South Yuba Trail from the bridge at Poorman’s Creek, and we were lost within two minutes. Someone had mined for gold over winter and completely covered the start of the trail, so it took a few minutes navigating the brush (and lightly panicking as I brushed ticks off my arms and neck) to find the path we came for. So far we had been lost on the drive in, and lost within the first minutes of the hike. This was not the best prelude to an adventure.

But things picked up from here on out, and our walk rewarded us time and time again with beautiful views of the river we paralleled, hillside pools and moss-rock waterfalls, and rolling hills topped with infinite pines. The only sounds I heard for two days (besides Rowdy sounding off, of course) were echoes of wind through the canyon, birds and insects coordinating among themselves, and water slowly clearing its way through stones. Nothing more, nothing less. This was the perfect escape. Not that I have anything to escape from, but if someone wanted to escape I would recommend this location as a noteworthy contestant.

lower yuba trail
Dry up high and lush in the brush. The Lower Yuba Trail takes you through various micro-climates.

On a side note, on the drive in I passed (twice) signs that warned drivers not to pick up hitch-hikers. There must be a prison somewhere nearby. So, if any prisoners happen to be on ‘good-behavior’ and are reading this right now while simultaneously planning an escape, I suggest you head toward the river. There you should find solace, waterside camping, good fishing, and possibly even a young man skinny dipping with his dog. **Please do not approach the young man or his dog. Enjoy your new freedom and let them enjoy theirs.

Here’s a video of Rowdy enjoying his freedom. If you listen close you can hear me panting louder than him. The water was ridiculously cold, so we just had a short dip.

lower yuba river camping
Looked like a good place to drop trow.

I freakin’ love my Osprey backpack. It’s large enough for a month-long solo trek or I can strap it down small enough for an overnight, and it’s got all the pockets, bells and whistles I could ask for in a backpacking backpack.

Shortly after our quick bath I found one or two-day-new mountain lion scat on the trail. The next few hours of the day went something like this: Me walking along somewhat paranoid that a cat was stalking us. Me speaking louder than necessary to Rowdy and even encouraging him to run ahead at times, especially around blind corners. Then I found fresh (green, even!) cat poop on the trail and the nerves really set in…

Why didn’t I have a gun?
Why have I never had a gun?
After hitch-hiking around Alaska and walking the woods of Colorado alone I should have a gun by now. Where’s my pocket knife? There it is! Hold on to that puppy. Be ready in case something lunges off that big rock and lands on your back. It’s a good thing I’ve got this big pack on. But would it help shield me from sharp cat claws or just slow me down, assuming I even get the chance to run? It’s a good thing I’ve got the dog. A cougar would for sure go for the dog before me. Or would it not settle with just one? And say Rowdy did distract him. Could I resist jumping in to break up the fight? Ah, it feels good to at least have this knife. But a gun would be much more reassuring. This knife’s hardly three inches long. A corkscrew would serve me better. Would I wear the gun on my hip or keep it in my brain (top pocket of my backpack)? On my hip it might be a nuisance trying to hike, especially uphill, but above my head it may be too difficult to grab in an emergency. Especially with hands this sweaty. Don’t grip the knife so hard you can’t open it in a hurry! Geez, you’ll never get it open in time if you’re panicking this much just thinking about it.

We never saw a mountain lion. But we did see this awesome waterfall and Rowdy took another awesome bath.

yuba waterfalls

By the time we finally reached Missouri Flat it was two in the afternoon. And it was definitely flat. But that was about all. The beach here wasn’t nearly as cool as the last one where we dipped, and the gnats were getting to me while I stood around looking for anything to catch my eye. This was the campsite I chose, but it wasn’t living up to standards. (It’s tough to research a new campsite from your phone after work while driving in the dark!) Seven miles in and plenty of daylight left, but what to do now? Start walking the same direction and hope we reach the next landmark by dusk? The last time of day I want to be out in cat country is dusk. That’s huntin’ time. The map said 5.8 miles and we’d be exhausted by the time we got to camp. Then we’d have to do almost 13 back out the next day, and my legs weren’t up for that. Neither were our food rations. But what about that lovely beach we found on the way in? That was about three miles into our hike, so it must only be four miles back. And if we ran the flats and downs and walked the ups, we could make it before the canyon walls robbed the beach of sunlight. Bam! That was it. The decision had been made. We started running.

Then we stopped running. And we walked for about a mile. But then we ran again, and did this on and off as often as I could justify. Lo and behold, it was all worth it in the end – we reached the beach with a half-hour of daylight to spare. I sat on my cushioned sleeping pad and stretched my legs, sand between my toes and a tired dog splashing at my feet with whatever energy he had left to muster.

I envy that my dog can find joy and resourcefulness in most anything around him, no matter where he may (or may not) roam. A pine cone on the back porch or a stick on the Yuba River, a back window in my Subaru or a snow-covered mountainside. It’s all the same to him. Yet I feel cooped up after a week at work, even though I get to run on the beach every morning. Rowdy’s stoked in rain, sleet or snow, yet a shitty winter has me on an early hunt for warm weather.

Quick! Here’s another cool picture to keep you interested while I blab on…

camping on the lower yuba river
Shooting into the sun is difficult. My iPhone does it remarkably well.

Although I complain about the urge to escape, that becomes natural wherever you reside. Routine gets boring no matter how exciting something is to begin with. It’s good to have outlets, and often you don’t have to search far to find them. This particular outing, we searched for exactly ten minutes. Well, I searched for ten minutes. Rowdy sniffed around the store after hours while I frantically studied a map under a dim lamp, then snapped a quick pic with my phone to save myself ten bucks on the cost of that trail map. Given the opportunity I would have begun this particular trip much more prepared. First of all, I would have brought a National Geographic topo map. Sometimes a spontaneous getaway is all you need to replenish the spirits, and in many cases you don’t have to go far or plan much.

lower yuba river trail

Although I do suggest taking more than a photo of a map saved to your phone. This way when you get lost you don’t have to guess or kick yourself for not being zoomed out another half-inch, thus making it tougher on yourself to locate landmarks during a dark drive.

msr fuel bottle tahoe

Here’s one thing you should always bring with you: plenty of fuel. My camp stove has seen its better day and I forgot to grab my buddy’s super-awesome MSR Dragonfly when I left town in a hurry, so I was forced to boil my drinking water very slowly. Boiling water, usually seen as a relatively mindless task, takes a helluva lot of patience and mind control when attempted with my stove. Expect constant pumping of pumps, opening and closing of valves, and continual reigniting of flames and tempers alike. Thankfully on this day, I was able to go through these shenanigans in a spectacular location. In fact, I’m usually in pretty sweet locations when I bust out my stove. Occasionally at truck stops or parking lots, but most often in the wilderness and hopefully with a good view. Perhaps that’s what slows the effort to replace my current POS.

When we were all settled in, we had a fire. Aww…isn’t that adorable? Yep, it sure was. You should have seen us there, all tired and cute as buttons. Luckily for you I didn’t take any self-portraits. Instead I’ll just leave you with this cool picture of fire. Because fire is always cool.

campfire on the yuba river

1 thought on “Overnight Getaway: Backpacking The Lower Yuba Trail”

  1. Awesome pictures. Always a fun area to go backpacking! There’s been plenty of mountain lion activity in that area in the past, however, so being armed just in case would be a good plan for future trips (solo trips especially). As for a holster option that works well for backpacking, check out the Safepacker holster: http://www.thewilderness.com/?p=catalog&parent=171&pg=1

    It looks pretty inconspicuous, and it can be looped around the waist strap of your backpack. I have an Osprey backpack as well and this holster has worked great. Comfortable and quick, easy access.

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