The destination was the outlet of the great North Bloomfield Tunnel that dumped gold bearing sediment from Malakoff Diggins into Mercury laden sluice flumes. We had seen the sign at the head of Humbug Trail indicating the trail was closed because of a damaged bridge. A little bridge doesn’t stop hikers on a mission…usually. But this one did.
Humbug Trail offers waterfalls
Within the steep ravine cut by Humbug creek, there was no safe, easy or time efficient way to navigate around the ten foot section of rotten boards that constituted a bridge. All was not lost because we decided to spend some time exploring the fantastic waterfalls of Humbug creek a quarter mile up from our stopping point.
Nice hike at Malakoff Diggins
To be honest, I figured the Humbug Trail at Malakoff Diggins State Park would be a south facing sun drenched path with little shade and even less to recommend it other than the history. I was wrong. The Humbug trail is grand, even if we only hiked three-fourths down. The path is fairly level and wide in most parts. It can get steep but nothing to strenuous.
Following an underground drainage tunnel
Humbug Trail, originally developed for the construction of the 7,874′ underground drain tunnel for the North Bloomfield Gravel and Mining Company’s hydraulic gold mining operation, is both historically and environmentally interesting. Along the way you can see the excavation shafts that they drilled down to excavate the tunnel. Most are now filled with water that occasionally flows down the hillside to Humbug Creek. Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Slugs, frogs, tadpoles
We came across banana slugs, frogs and huge tadpoles in the tunnel shaft ponds. My photos and placement on the map are the ones we found. We came across four of the seven that are said to have been excavated. It’s possible we missed some and there may be more beyond where we were stopped by the bridge. The locations on the map are approximate as I used the GPS coordinates captured on my iPhone when I took the pictures.
Hidden waterfalls are accessible
Even though you travel along Humbug Creek for most of the hike, there are few places to easily access the cool rushing waters unless you want to brave thickets of poison oak. However, as if planned by nature, it is a short walk over to the spectacular waterfalls. I was surprised that in June of a dry year how much water was pouring through the “water park” like sculpted tunnels of the rock.
Slippery when dry
You can easily cool your feet in the first pool you come to and have a nice lunch. If you are brave you can explore a little more but the polished steep bed rock around the waterfalls calls for caution. At one point while trying to get that special picture of the water cascading through the crevices, I felt my body slowly sliding down the rock face with nothing to grasp. Fortunately, my son was above me and pulled me up to safer ground. It’s entirely possible that with good spring water flows from Humbug it would be too wet to safely lounge pool side. With the low summer flows, the short mile hike down to the waterfalls is a great treat.
Just for fun we walked through Hiller Tunnel
After exploring Humbug we hiked around the Malakoff Diggins loop trail in the pit. It is a scenic and easy hike but it can get hot. On our previous trip last year we got lost on the north east side of pit. While the trail is fairly well marked with guideposts, there was one tricky spot where logic doesn’t call for the decision to stay to the north. The field constructed arrow of rocks and wood informed us that we weren’t the only ones that took the turn path.
I’ll be back
My next task is to lobby the State Parks Department to replace the crumbling bridge on Humbug Trail. If a repair appropriation hasn’t started, maybe I’ll have to begin a fundraising campaign. The Humbug Trail is such a gem that I want to finish it and hike all the way down to the South Yuba River.
The first video of the Hiller Tunnel was taken on the last hike in 2013, the second one was in the Spring of 2012.
click on thumbnails to enlarge