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:
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.
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.
I can remember every time I’ve been rattled, it’s something I can’t forget:
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.
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.
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.
April 21, 2020 – This rattler on the way into camp.
April 22, 2020 – This rattler on the way out of camp.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 last wrote to you about being in a snow, wind and rain storm in the mountains above Santa Barbara. That storm turned out to be a string of storms that lasted until the day I hit the trail again on Monday, April 20th, 2020. I got to the trailhead and talked to a woman about the hike and she warned me that “There’s a lot of water out there!”. She told me how the river was deeper than her waist and how she teabagged half of her pack in the deep Sespe river.
It didn’t take long to see what she was talking about because I had to cross multiple creeks within the first half mile. My waterproof boots were soon leaking after barely dipping my foot in a creek. When I came to another creek crossing where the water was about two feet deep, I had to make a decision. I could have taken my boots off and worn my camp shoes across, but I figured that would take too much time. There were many more crossings, so I bit the bullet and walked across with my boots on.
As I trudged across the knee-deep water, my size 14 boots filled with water and my feet were nicely chilled. I got out and leaned on a rock and lifted one foot over my knee to create a three legged down dog pose. The water poured down my leg and off my knee. I moved my foot around and squeezed more water out of the lining of my boot that was super-absorbent. The weight of my boot doubled with all of the excess water from less than a pound to over two pounds. Over nine miles, this extra weight would make a huge difference.
I should have checked the map before I jumped in the creek, because the next four miles didn’t have a creek crossing. I felt like Frankenstein walking around in lead boots. I stopped and took my boots off and squeezed my soggy socks out, but they were far from dry.
I entered the Sespe Wilderness – the largest wilderness area next to a major metropolitan area – Los Angeles. The Sespe Wilderness covers 219,000 acres in the Topa Topa mountains and most of the area south of the river was part of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary that was established in 1947. I was hoping to see one of these endangered, majestic vultures plying the air, but none appeared.
Wilderness Areas are designated by Congress and no roads can go through a Wilderness Area. Wilderness is defined as, “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” and “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” About 11 million acres or 4.5% of America is designated Wilderness.
After the cool river/creek crossings, I was walking in sage brush and green meadows. It was partly cloudy and only 75 degrees that day – possibly the last cool day of the season. The next day and for the foreseeable future, the temp would be in the upper 80s. I had to go now to avoid the 90 and 100 degree days that would soon be coming.
Besides feeling like Frankenstein hiking in lead boots, the next few miles went by well. I had to cross the creek five more times. Each time I got out, I’d feel the fresh water in my boots. I eventually took off my socks and my feet seemed to work fine without the extra cushion and sogginess of the socks.
Lizards were perched on rocks every few yards on the trail. I saw well over one hundred as the miles wore on. The funniest ones would walk on the trail in front of me. They would scurry at twice my speed ahead of me and stop to seemingly wait for me. As my shadow approached them, they would scurry farther down the trail. This repeated over and over as they escorted me down the trail for a hundred yards at a time. Finally, they would drop off the trail and into the scrub. Then another would jump on the trail and lead me to the promised land.
I took a few breaks and ate a lot of half-price Easter candy on the trail. My favorite was a foot-long, Nerd Rope. I ate the whole thing in one mouthful. For dinner, I had some delicious Three Cheese Mac and Cheese. I decided to hike up the hill for an all-natural dinner in the hot tub.