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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

California's Ishi Wilderness

Ishi Wilderness trails run through stream-carved canyons, past stunning vistas, back to gold rush days.

by: Stan White

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Little Known Fact:?The Ishi Wilderness was named in honor of the last member of the Yahi Yana tribe, which had been wiped out by white settlers.

After negotiating the paved and dirt road from Chico, we headed into Deer Creek Canyon.

We started off hiking through a fire zone, for much of the canyon was charred during the summer of 1990. The aroma of California bay trees, freed by flame and sun, permeated the air along the path. There were volcanic cliffs and lava pillar formations, and Deer Creek wound through the lush canyon floor below. The trail passed beneath a massive face of knobby lava and between two towering lava monuments.

We descended to the creek and looked for a suitable campsite. Because of the dearth of flat ground, the Forest Service doesn't enforce the rule requiring camping 100 feet from water and trails. A further complication is the veritable jungle on the canyon floor; clearings are scarce except high on dry ridges. We found a spot off-trail that had been kept brush-free by winter high water. There was enough horizontal space for sleeping, fine sitting rocks, plenty of driftwood, and a waterfall sonata.

The day is different in canyon country. Direct sun leaves the canyon floor by late afternoon, yet darkness doesn't fall for hours. Rays retreat up south-facing walls until ridge tops are scarlet from the sunset. Then night envelops the abyss. The history of the Ishi Wilderness Area was recently commemorated by an award-winning documentary film, "Ishi ~ The Last Yahi." The Yahi Yana tribe occupied the Ishi's canyons for 3,000 years. Ishi was the last member to emerge from the area in 1911; the rest of his people had been displaced (often killed) by the flood of California-bound settlers. His remaining few years were spent in San Francisco with anthropologists, who recorded the only firsthand knowledge of the Yahi Yana.

The Yahi home exterminated by civilization is now protected from civilization. In 1984, the 41,000-acre area that Ishi once roamed was designated as the Ishi Wilderness.

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Reader Rating: -


gene allspaugh
Mar 08, 2011

hiking into ishi wilderness on the deer creek side has been rewarding to me for the last forty years. I haven't been down their this year yet, but I've rarely been detered from going in their on the main trail, either by poor trail maintenance or weather, that is , as long as you stay out of there in the Winter.

Scott Nedved
Jan 23, 2010

We have been hiking Ishi for the past 4 years, it has some super
rock formations and canyons. But we have noticed that the trails
have not been maintained and are slowly disappearing. This year we dropped a car off at mill creek and drove down to deer creek
with the intent to take the maintained trails (as indicated in red on the map we bought from the forest service). As per the map we went in at deer creek hiked to the Deep hole tie trail
from there climbed 1,200 ft out of the canyon where we hit the Moak trail, we followed the Moak along the ridge to a trail called 2E07 which was suppose to take us to the Lassen trail.
Well as per the forest service map and our several GPS units we
reached the area where the supposed 2E07 trail was to split from the Moak! Guess what the Moak trail disappeared into 4 to 6 ft high buck brush and the 2E07 trail was No where to be found. By this time it was 3:30 in the after noon so we set up camp on the ridge and searched the brush for 3 hours there is no
sign of any trail. We spent the night and decided to turn around and go back out the 7 miles we came in. We got to the car and headed back towards mill creek. We stopped at the Moak trail head and found the sign board with nothing on it, we walked the trail approx. 50 ft. where it disappeared into the buck brush.(Humm maintained trail) We continued to the Lassen trail head and looked at the sign board which has the same map we bought from the forest service and that 2E07 trail was shown
as a proposed trail. So the forest service is selling a map that shows maintained trails in (Red) and there map on the lassen sign board says proposed!! Also trees that have fallen on both the deer creek and mill creek trails are still there after 3 years so we had to break trail around this.

I have been trying to find out what rules are as to maintaining these trails? Something seems very wrong as it takes several years for buck brush to grow 4 to 6 ft, high.

Although Ishi has some spectacular views and rock formations
its not going to be seen by anyone if something doesn't start happening to the trails.

We would like to here from other hikers regarding there views on the condition of the trails.

Burney Backpackers

Scott Nedved
Apr 24, 2009

The Ishi trails are not being maintained and are
disappearing!!! The Moak trail disappears into the 4 to 6 ft high buck bush. Trees that have fallen on the mill creek and deer creek trails are still there after 3 years!Why is this happening ?? There are funds for the wilderness
so what is it being used for??


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