Day 4 to Sespe Hot Springs: Bountiful Flowers and Lizards

I thought I might not have much to say about my final day hiking out, but then I looked at my photos and footage and knew I had a few things to show you. I was able to capture some lizard escorts and river crossings that came out great. See for yourself in this video.

I started the day getting up early after going to bed early. I was up with the sun and did some Qi Gong exercises. Qi is a Chinese concept of energy or vital energy while Gong means cultivation or mastery. So Qi Gong means cultivation and mastery of vital energy. In the video above, I do a couple minute routine where I breathe in and expand and breathe out and contract. It’s a simple process where I breathe in and move out and breathe out and contract in. I’ve written more about it here.

I hit the road pretty early for me at about 7:30. I wanted to get home and see Amy. I’d been texting her via my satellite transponder, but it’s not nearly the same as being there. It didn’t take long for me to get into the spirit of the trail. The shadows were out and the flowers were in full bloom on this spring day. It’s hard to capture the mood of a spring morning, but it was exhilirating!

Check out some of these pics:

Sunrise in my camp on the river.
Long shadows in the early morning.
A nice portrait mode shot of the prolific yellow flowers.
Golden rivers.
Bumblebee heaven!
More winding paths.
Those long claws work well on the rocks.
The lone hiker.
Happy camper.
Ceanothus in bloom with some Douglas Firs in the background.
I don’t know what happened to this little guy.

In the end, I hiked over 30 miles in 4 days. That might not sound like much, but with the river crossings and soggy boots for two days, it felt like just the right amount. I came off the trail invigorated and feeling good. I hope you have a chance to get out and feel some of the power of nature.

Day 3 to Sespe Hot Springs: Rattle Snakes and Horny Toads

I woke up on day three with little rest from the windstorm. I was tired as I walked out of camp, but the rattle snake I’d seen the day before woke me up. The rattler was headed toward the group of four Millenials in the campground, so I wanted to stop it in its track. I zoomed in with my iPhone and captured him relaxing in the grass until I got too close. Then he coiled up and started rattling. I made him retreat to the cactus, but he decided to go down into a deep hole. Quite a few ground squirrels live in the area, so he might have wanted an early lunch.

Here’s a video capture of the snake as he started to coil up. He had at least 11 rattles and was over 4′ long.

I can remember every time I’ve been rattled, it’s something I can’t forget:

  1. 1986 – Kings Canyon National Park when I was scrambling up a rock slide and it rattled right in my face. I couldn’t run away and it slid into the rocks before I did anything.
  2. 1992 – Buckhorn Road above Santa Barbara when I was riding a bike. I stopped and took his picture. I was impressed that he wouldn’t strike a stick that I poked at him. He knew the difference between my flesh and a stick.
  3. 2005 – Colorado Hills Open Space across near my house in Westminster, CO. I killed that rattler since a lot of hikers and dogs were out there. I threw rocks at it until I crushed it to death.
  4. April 21, 2020 – This rattler on the way into camp.
  5. April 22, 2020 – This rattler on the way out of camp.
  6. April 28, 2020 – Another rattler on the trail near Nira Campground. I walked right by it and then it jumped down on the trail in front of Amy rattling both of us. She ran down the trail and it scared her pretty good, but she did hike on.

I don’t like this trend. I hadn’t been rattled in 15 years and now three times in the last week. I hadn’t thought of rattlers in a while until my nephew Corey sent me a pic of a big one he just saw and heard. He said he’s been rattled 7 times in the last few months near Phoenix. I’m not in a competition with him and I hope neither of us see anymore.

After that, I ran into some horny toads and some frogs on an 8 mile hike. I crossed the streams multiple times, but took my boots off to cross in my light camp shoes. After the snake, it was an uneventful day of walking peacefully along the river. I could have spent the night at Willett hot springs, but I decided to have a peaceful night on the water by myself.

I set up camp in front of a lake on the river and sat back and watched the river and wildlife go by. It was very relaxing and I watched a mallard search for food on at least a half an hour. Bats and swifts flew by and ate many insects. Then the frogs came out to serenade me to sleep.

This little horny toad wouldn’t move until I poked him.
Ready to strike.
These succulents sprout flowers after a few years.
I haven’t seen these plants before.
Some interesting shale.
The Sespe River made easy work of carving through this sedimentary rock.

Day 2 To Sespe Hot Springs: Rattle Snakes, Big Horn Sheep and Sleeping Under the Stars

Day 2 started when a young Marine named Conrad walked near my camp while going to get some water. He said he’d been coming here for years and would like me to see his camp. Another solo camper and Eagle Scout named Cooper wanted to see the camp too, so we toured it together. I’d shared Cooper’s fire the night before and he was going to outdoor schools to learn to be a mountain guide. We kept our six foot distance at all times to avoid the coronavirus.

Conrad and his husky showed us around the old camp. The camp used to be used to be a base for hunting and fishing on the road to Sespe Hot Springs. Conrad and his girlfriend, who was exhausted and sleeping, were in the main cabin that had a bunkhouse. He showed us several other cabins, a vault and areas where hunters used to dress game.

Conrad’s husky was on a long leash attached to the cabin. Multiple buildings were still being used in Willet Hot Spring camp and a 2,000 sq ft foundation of a burnt down building was still there.
This stove had seen better days.

After the tour, I tried to pack my backpack and the side of my pack ripped out. I’d torn the backpack climbing through blown down trees on the previous trip and now the whole side panel ripped out. I could have tried to repair it with duct tape, but I just packed it so that nothing would fall out.

My boots weren’t dry from the day before, so I just kept trudging through the river crossings. I had to stop and drain my boots quite a few times with six river crossings in six miles. I just read that six Boy Scouts drowned on this river in 1969. I used my patented three legged down down to drain my boot to little avail.

Pouring water out of my book for the tenth time.

When I got near camp, the trail was overgrown and I walked into an overgrown section that fork. While I was deciding which fork to take, I heard the dreaded rattle of a rattlesnake. Hiking alone has it’s challenges, but getting bit by a poisonous snake is very painful. I did have my satellite texting device, but it could be a $100,000 bill if I had to get evacuated by a helicopter from this remote location. I’ve been rattled before and it’s usually so loud that I’ve know right where it was coming from. This rattle was kind of quiet though and I couldn’t echo locate it since the sound of a creek was almost as loud. I stood there and the rattle persisted.

I turned around to see if the sound was behind me, but the rattle faded. I turned back around and he kept rattling. I held my hiking pole out in front of me to see if I could locate him, but he didn’t rattle any louder. I had sunglasses on and was in the shade, so it was hard to see much detail. I finally located his dark, coiled shape in a path to my right were I wasn’t going. He was ready to strike if I came any closer. I took this picture and backed away.

This guy stopped me in my tracks. Luckily, he saw me first when I was about 10′ away. I’d see him again on my way out of camp.

I made it to camp about 1:00 and started looking for the hot springs. I dropped my pack at the only available campsite that I could find. The campsite had commanding views of the valley, but was rather exposed at the top of the hill. I’d talked to four guys on their way out earlier in the day and they said that the springs were far up the canyon. I went above my camp looking for the springs and couldn’t find them anywhere.

I eventually turned back around and ran into two couples who were staying for the week in the second campsite known as Palm Tree Camp. They were twenty somethings and one guy had long pony tails and the others looked like they might be camping out for quite a while. The leader of the camp was a friendly girl who had a nose ring. She showed me where the springs were and told me how they would be at the springs when the sun went down on the springs.

The sun was glaring down on me when I got in the hot springs. Copious amounts of 135 degree water flowed into the first tub and it was way too hot to lay in. I went to another rock bath where cold water was mixing with the extra-hot water. The pools were being baked by the sun at this time of the day.

The series of hot springs went from steeping hot on top to cold when the cold creek mixed to cool it off. I could only stay a few minutes before I was too hot to stay while the sun beat down. I joined the others in the hot springs once this fell into shade around 6:00.

I knew it wasn’t a good idea to boil in the hot springs in the direct sun for long. The air was probably 85 degrees and the direct sun made it feel like 105F. I only soaked in the 103F water for a few minutes before I was too hot. I went back up to my camp and laid in the shade watching the big horn sheep above camp. I ate some more Easter candy and gazed up at the sheep grazing a few hundred feet above me on steep cliffs.

The Bighorn Sheep used to live in this area until diseases from livestock killed them off around 1900. These sheep were reintroduced in
A Reeses Egg filled my mouth with some delicious sugar while I watched the big horn sheep graze on the cliffs above my camp. The sheep are perfectly camouflaged in the rocks, but it’s easier to see them in the video when they moved.

Late in the afternoon, the wind picked up and I looked for a less exposed campsite. The campsites were few and far between and I didn’t find one good enough to make me want to move. I should have taken a compromised one in a lower spot away from the wind, but I didn’t know there was going to be a major windstorm that night.

My tent is tall and makes a good sail, so I decided to sleep out under the stars that night instead of having my tent get blown down in the middle of the night. The tent also flaps in the wind like crazy, so I thought I’d sleep fine under the stars. I didn’t. After dark, the winds picked up and blew the ancient cottonwoods above my head. Many of the old limbs were dead and I feared one might fall on me.

As I lay there watching the big dipper rotate around the North Star, I could tell the time by its position. To quiet the gusty winds, I listened to Stephen Hawking’s book Brief Answers to Big Questions. The book is a very interesting read and better than his other book A Brief History of Time. Stephen talked about his personal life dealing with ALS and all the cool things he figured out and knew about black holes. I faded in and out all night, but never slept for more than an hour at a time. I wish I would have slept better, but I did the best I could.

I slept under the stars in the clearing on the left. I looked through the half-dead cottonwoods and worried that one of the dead branches might fall on me in the night. On top of that, I worried that the rattlesnake I saw would climb into my sleeping bag with me for some warmth. I should have been worried about the bugs that did crawl in and bit me all over.

Hiking Stats:

Day 2 to Sespe Hot Springs
Length6 Miles
Elevation Gain500′
Elevation Loss500′
NotesSix crossings of the creek kept my feet wet.