The Sacramento River continues to erode its banks and alter the landscape.
The Lake Siskiyou Trail can’t seem to catch a break. Ever since the Sacramento River bottled up its south channel a few years ago, the inlet area where the river flows into Lake Siskiyou has gone through an annual process of erosion, soil displacement and a general alteration of the landscape. Although it is fascinating to watch the river shape the land around it, the continual changes to the inlet area has had an adverse effect on the trail. Over the last three years more and more of the pathway, as well as the gabions that support seasonal bridges, have washed away into Lake Siskiyou. The winter of 2016/2017 was no different from the previous winters. More and more of the river’s inlet area was washed away as torrential rain and melting snow flooded the Sacramento River, causing it to yet again wash more rock and earth away.
Though I have been to both the northern and southern channels this spring, I had not had a chance to cross the now flowing south channel(it has not flowed for the last two years, since it was blocked up during a flood and beginning the entire erosion process) since I had previously visited with my kids. For Mother’s Day, we decided to head back down to the south channel and let the kids play in the water, explore the wildflower-filled meadows and play in the wood forts that have been constructed at the edge of the forest. This afforded my the opportunity to cross the south channel and go examine exactly what changes occurred there.
What I found was not shocking but it was impressive nonetheless. During the winter the river washed yet more land away and now flows into Lake Siskiyou by means of a seemingly perpetually deepening gully cut into the loose rock and soil of the floodplain. Entrance into the gully is now marked by a beautiful stair-step cataract. Not much of the gully was there last year, having been carved out by this winter’s torrential flows. The trail was washed out in two places. The first spot saw the trail just fade away at the edge of the lake. To pick up the extant trail required crossing a narrow isthmus of land that was only 1.5 feet wide. From there it is possible to pick the trail back up and follow it for about 30 yards before it abruptly ends at the 3 foot high cut bank. Below the unstable ledge the Sacramento River flows vigorously.
This whole area has changed considerably over the last few years. Examine the satellite images to see where the land has been washed away. Pay special attention to the river’s location, the trail and bridges as well as the location of the trees:
These maps highlight the areas that have been washed away:
The following map shows the route of the Lake Siskiyou Trail as well as the areas that have been impacted by flooding. An alternate route for the trail is also suggested:
The yellow line is original rerouted trail circa 2016. The pink segment has been lost. Red marks an alternate route for a new trail. The path avoids the lake and the unstable parts of the inlet.
Unfortunately, rerouting the Lake Siskiyou Trail is likely not to be a permanent solution to the constantly changing conditions at the inlet. Half the original trail has been washed away and the cutbank that has developed on the north channel will make it harder to place the seasonal bridge. Long term, I think the solution will be to extend the trail west along the Sacramento River for another 0.75 miles and then construct permanent foot bridge across the river. This would have several benefits. First, it would make the loop around the lake passable all year, rather than when the seasonal bridges can be placed. This would also lift the constant threat of the trail being washed out. Second, it would open up a new trail experience, one that would highlight one of the prettiest stretches of the Sacramento River. I think folks would hike that section by itself, not just for the sections by the lake. It would also present the opportunity to build a new trailhead along South Fork Road. Extending the trail upstream would also move things that much closer to connecting the Lake Siskiyou Trail to the Sisson-Callahan Trail. This would close one of the missing segments of my proposed Headwaters Loop. This proposal is due to get its own article soon.
For further discussion of the changed conditions at the inlet, scroll through the enlarged images and see how the trail has been washed away: