View Full Version : Hell Hole - The Starfire

10-25-2007, 04:48 AM
My first clue should have been when I drove by French Meadow Reservoir on Mosquito Ridge Road, the groves of pines, by the dam, were charred like crispy marshmallows, but at the time, my attention was focused on the devastation the forest fire had caused.

French Meadow and Hell Hole Reservoir lie far removed from the rest of the world and are beautiful beyond imagination. The reservoirs are located in an out-of-the-way region in the Eldorado National Forest approximately 60 miles east of Auburn and rest within close proximity of one another. Their out-of-the-way location helps decrease the crowds and boat congestion.

Hell Hole Reservoir is a prime angling destination for kokanee salmon, mackinaw, rainbow and brown trout. While 5 to 8 pounders are pretty common, 10 pounders arenít unheard of. The Department of Fish and Game annually plants 2,000 browns, 10,000 fingerling rainbow trout and 35,000 fingerling kokanee salmon, which provide easy prey for the lakeís predatory mackinaw and browns. The reservoirís water is cold, and clear which drives the fish deep and easily spooks them when you try to sneak up on them.

I heard the winds can really howl at Hell Hole, so I was anxious to reach to the reservoir and launch my kayak before the winds became too knarly to paddle. At full water level capacity, Hell Hole Reservoir has approximately ten miles of shoreline to explore. The reservoir is located in a gorgeous wilderness setting at the bottom of a deep gorge, on the Rubican River, at 5200í feet elevation. Its magnificent boulder-lined shoreline is a paradise for adventurous kayak anglers who donít mind a long, slow drive to get there, but thatís only half of the dilemma. The dirt access roads on the way to the reservoir are not well marked and itís easy lose your bearings.

By the time I finally arrived at Hell Hole, the winds were already playing havoc with anything that wasnít tied down. I made the call to give Hell Hole a try the following day. On the way back down, it occurred to me I hadnít seen another person or vehicle. My gas gauge indicated my tank was a little over a quarter of a tank full, which was cutting it pretty close to the nearest gas station I past by, in the small town of Foresthill, which I guessed was about 45 miles away.

When I finally made it to French Meadows Reservoir, there was a wooden barricade across Mosquito Ridge Road, with a sign that read, ďRoad closed due to recent forest fire reigniting.Ē The most important factor to remember about a wildfire is fire usually travels uphill much faster than downhill. The steeper the slope, the faster the fire travels. I had a sickening feeling in my gut of being trapped on top of a mountain in a forest fire.

At first I thought about going back up to Hell Hole Reservoir and paddling out on the lake; jumping into the water; and flipping my kayak over on top of me to protect myself from the burning embers, and smoke, if the fire came that far, but that idea didnít appeal to me. Luckily, I purchased a Forest Service map which showed all of the forest service back roads on the mountain, so I decided to turn around and try to find another way back down. My second main concern was running out of gas.

None of the roads were marked, and every road I took petered out to a dead end. I eyeballed my gas gauge like I was watching an hourglass, filled with fine sand that runs through the neck into the other bulb, similar to when you run out of time playing the word game Boggle, but in my case, I equated it to measuring the time I had until I ran out of gas and was left stranded up on the mountain.

Once a fire starts, it can travel at a rate of up to 14.29 miles per hour, so I knew I could forget about out running it, if I ran out of gas and got trapped. As I weighed my options I decided to head back down the way I originally came.

I rolled down my window to try to smell smoke. Even though it was hotter than blazes, I turned my air conditioner off because I heard it uses up more gas. Cell phone reception didnít work in this remote area, so I knew I couldnít alert the forest service that I was up on the mountain.

Images of an unstoppable wall of fire whipping into a frenzy across the road, as I rounded a bend popped into my mind, as I moved aside the barricade, and crept my way down off the mountain. The steep grade allowed me to coast in an attempt to save gas. Reminiscences of fires I saw on television that destroyed everything in its path had a tight grip on my emotions. I didnít want to die in a forest fire. As I rounded every bend, I anticipated encountering a massive wall of inferno blaze engulfing me.

My anxiety grew worse when the low gas level light turned on. Being consumed by encroaching flames was making me so nervous I had a death grip on my steering wheel. That last hour off of the mountain seemed like an eternity. I never saw a single puff of smoke, a burning ember, a plane or a fire engine. After the experience to Hell Hole, I made a promise to myself, I would always check the forest service prior to ever traveling to a destination for a forest fire. http://www.calfires.com/ http://www.nifc.gov/

Approximately 19,000 acres of woodland on the western side of French Meadows Reservoir was burned by the 2002 Starfire.

10-25-2007, 07:56 AM
Sky, remember, only you can prevent forest fires.

Thanks for the journal entry.


10-25-2007, 04:02 PM
Sky, remember, only you can prevent forest fires.

Thanks for the journal entry.


That is true One_Leg! :wink: We all need to do our part.



10-26-2007, 06:57 AM
Thanks for the read.