Adventures in hiking…

Archive for February, 2012

Off the trail, into the wilderness


When the sun goes down in the backcountry of the high Sierras, the surroundings take on a different aura.   I’ve heard that the best colors often occur before sunrise and after sunset.    It is contrast, which seems to affect the detail in what we see.  The dark land in comparison to the various hues in the sky gives you this wow factor.  This sunset left an imprint on my mind.

This second campsite was more exposed and open.  We were located above the lake on a granite slab.  There were few trees at this level, but enough wood to make a decent fire.  Dinner tonight was MRE’s, those meals-ready-to-eat that the Marines love so.    My beef stew was palatable, but the truth be told I could have eaten pine needles.  Something about being outside and walking all day just made me hungry.

As the darkness enveloped us, the waxing moon lit up the sky as it rose from behind the granite monolith across the lake.  Occasionally, the clouds and moon played hide and seek.  I’m not ashamed to tell you that three manly men sat in awe of this amazing vista as it unfolded.   Even after just a few days, the remoteness began to have an affect on me.  The farther we ventured into the wilderness, the more I appreciated this creation of our heavenly father.

The one thing that made this trip painful and took away from the awesomeness was that I had one of the nastiest colds ever.  The week before this trip, I went to the VmWorld Convention in Vegas with over 25,000 people.  On that trip, my coworker had a severe cold and I felt bad for him.  Now, I blamed him for my misery.  On the first day, the beginnings of the cold were barely noticeable.  By bedtime on this third day, my throat was so sore and closed like a gauntlet to the point where I could hardly swallow.  Already 15-20 miles from the nearest road, I would just have to endure.  Another thing that became apparent was that when one drinks over a gallon of water in a day, one must get rid of an amount somewhat equal to that gallon.   I probably could have extinguished several campfires that night.  There is no quiet way to exit a tent, the zippers are really loud.  My poor tentmates.  Morning would come quickly after a tough nights sleep.

After breakfast and warmth of a morning fire, we broke camp and restored it to its’ pristine setting, leaving just the rocks around the fire.  We looked at the map and chose our path to the next lake and beyond.  We headed off and started picking our way around the cliffs and canyons.   The elevation changes were frequent and challenged me to keep pushing.  The air was thin and my breathing was shallow and fast as I worked to bring in enough oxygen.    On the edge of feeling altitude sickness,  I would lose sight of the guys and would rush to catch up.  Beginning to think that this off trail hiking sucked, we made it to a granite slab which made the previous two hours of trekking worthwhile.

Yosemite and the Sierras in general offer vistas that are often indescribable.  Well, maybe John Muir described it best: “God never made an ugly landscape. All that sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.”   The awesomeness extended for miles and miles.   The Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir to the north is a part of Yosemite that relatively few people see.  The lake below us made for another photo op.


After some excellent photos, we discovered that there was no path down to the lake below.  We would have to work our way down the rocky outcroppings, around the bear scat and through crevasses to drop down five hundred feet.  At first, this task did not appear possible.  We couldn’t turn back because the trail we needed picked up on the other side of the lake.  After what seemed like an eternity of scampering down the rocks, the terrain flattened out and we were near the lake.  The mosquitos returned, often drilling through our clothing in several spots at the same time.  These skeeters must have come from Jurassic Park.  If I could only invent mosquito proof clothing…. We broke out the bug repellent and ate our lunch, which ended up tasting a bit like the 3M insecticide.

The lake was beautiful, like liquid glass.  We soon spotted the trail and began our descent through a forest and numerous switchbacks to the Tuolumne River valley.     Across the valley where the river flowed was the Tuolumne Peak, which would tower over us.  The scene from LOTR where Frodo, Sam and Golum were climbing the cliff face in Mordor came to mind.

Near the Tuolumne Pass (J.Pulk)

Next:  Above 10,000 ft

Water, Water Everywhere

Day 2 of our trip began early.  It was early for us at least.  Many thru-hikers start before the sun comes up, but there was no need for that kind of nonsense.  A few ibuprofen at bedtime helped to lessen the pain that was expected this morning.  In no rush to break camp, we explored the area around the lake on our own.  I’m not sure if the lake we were at had a name, but according to the maps it was one of the Ten Lakes.  Because of the altitude, the mosquitos weren’t as bad up here and I was thankful.  I felt like a kid again, scrambling over rocks and exploring the stream for critters.   The lake was like a huge mirror, reflecting the granite walls and trees.  We had it all to ourselves.  Aaron started fishing and within an hour had a nice trout that we would eat for breakfast.  At this altitude and higher, fish would be hard to come by.   Next to water and shelter, food is a priority.  Since we would only be hiking 8-10 miles per day, we had plenty  of food for the estimated 3,000 calories that we would be burning each day.

We packed up and started following the stream that fed this lake because we figured it would lead to another lake.  It was slow going as we scrambled over rocks and around fallen trees.  It was at this point that I realized how top heavy my pack was.  Since it was an ultralight pack, it was fairly narrow but expandable a the top.  It was inevitable you know…

The stream crossing looked easy.  Easy until I leaned past the tipping point.  In slow motion I fell backward into the water catching myself before going all the way in.  I laughed at myself and hoped that there weren’t too many more streams to cross.  A bit more bouldering and bushwhacking brought us to the next lake.   It was a warm sunny day, perfect for drying out my wet socks on the rocks.  I felt like a lizard sunning itself as I dipped my feet into the cold water.  It wasn’t icy cold, but my feet started to go numb after a few minutes. I was content to just dip them like tea bags into the crystal clear lake.  Other than wanting my beautiful wife to witness this awesomeness with me, I was far removed from the cares of the rat race.

As Joe made his way around and up the walls of the cliffs surrounding the lake for a better view,  Aaron tried his hand at fishing again.  He seemed to be full of patience as he would cast and reel, cast and reel.  No more fishies today Aaron.   We had what would be our standard lunch – tuna, pita bread and an apple.  In the afternoon we started our way around this lake to check out the mini-glacier on the other side of the lake.  It was over 100 ft. tall, 40 ft thick and begging to be climbed. Parts of the Sierras got over 50 ft. of snow the previous winter.  Not having an ice axe, I slowly made my way up most of the way and slid down using my boots as skis.   Most guys never really grow up.  God just made us this way, goofy and sometimes reckless.  However, as I’ve gotten older I do take less risks.  Today, I didn’t go all the way to the top of the snow pack.

We continued on using the map to find the next lake where we would make camp.  It took us through meadows crisscrossed with streams and creeks.  We saw a chicken like bird with its young hatchlings.  Following the water, we reasoned that it would lead to the next lake.  It is interesting how they were all connected somehow.  We made our way around a pond which was fed by another stream.   So much water up here.  Climbing up, we saw the next body of water and the largest lake yet.  It was surrounded by sheer cliffs and steep banks.  We found a relatively flat area with a nice view of the lake.  The trees thinned out a bit up here at 9,600 ft.  This was the highest altitude permissible for campfires in Yosemite. Fires are prohibited above 9,600 ft because of the impact on the relatively small amount of trees.  We all went exploring again around the lake.  Returning to the campsite, I unrolled my sleeping pad laid on my back, looked up into the bluest skies ever and took a catnap. What a surreal place this was.  Surreal? Nah, this enchanting place is an awesome example of the Lord’s majesty.


Next: Day 3, off the trail – into the wilderness

Nature’s Sleep Machine

What’s your definition of backcountry hiking?  To some, it might mean hiking far enough to where you don’t hear the traffic on the roads.  To others, it may mean carrying your tent with you and camping out for days on end.   Mary and I have spent many hours day hiking in and around the mountains of southern California. While we may be miles from the nearest road or civilization, I don’t think of it as backcountry.   I was never a Boy Scout, having only made it to Cub Scouts or maybe a Webelo and only camped out once or twice.  So much for being a scout in the suburbs of D.C.   Even  as a naval aircrewman I learned about land survival and spent a few nights in the woods. So, I’m still a rookie with this backcountry stuff.

Being a newbie, I ensured that I had plenty of clean clothes, a poncho for rain, etc.   After all, I might need this stuff.   Looking back, I could have knocked off about 25% of the weight in my pack. Ten pounds my feet told me.  By the fifth day, I would lose ten pounds of body mass.

By the end of the first day, our final descent into the Ten Lakes area was fast as we looked forward to resting and eating a hot meal.  Looking for a campsite near the water became our mission.  Finding an area with enough flat space for our tent was important.   We located  a spot that had previously been used and started our chores.  Since I had the water filter, I made my way down the hill  to the lake.   The stream that fed it was gurgling over slabs of rock with cool, fresh water.  Tempted to just drink straight from the stream, I began the task of filtering our drinking and cooking water.  This amazing piece of technology protected us from the harmful bacteria, including giardia and cryptosporidium,  protozoans that once ingested cause intestinal infections that can only be treated with antibiotics.  Without filtered or treated water, our  journey could be cut short.

Hiking/camping in a small group is great for teamwork.  Joe putting up our shelter, Aaron building the fire, and me collecting water – we all had our tasks.  It took several trips down to refill our water supply and the climb up the steep hillside took the wind out of my sails.  I was ready for dinner and the sleep that eluded me the night before.  Dinner that first night was Ramien noodles and dessert was probably an energy bar.

Our campsite, was at least the minimum 100 ft. from the water source but since we were on a hill the lake seemed much closer.  The sound of the water rushing over the rocks was amplified as we settled in for the night.  As the light faded and the darkness enveloped us, we heard limbs cracking and shuffling on the other side of the tent.  We were wondering if we would see our first bear.  Shining our headlamps toward the sound, we spotted the first of many deer.  I would later learn that the deer are drawn to the salt that was prevalent in our urine.  Not wanting to get lost, one doesn’t stray far from the campsite for #1.  I know, gross but that’s nature for you. Since this was a national park, man was not a threat to the creatures here.  Their curious nature would bring them right into our camp.

After dinner, we sat around the fire, reflected on our day and discussed our plans for the next day.  Joe played around with his camera, set his exposure for about 5 seconds and took this pic of me drawing my name with a headlamp:

photo by J.Pulk

We hit the sack and the sound of the babbling brook reminded me of the gallon of water that I drank during the day.    Thankfully, I was sleeping next to one of the doors.  Sometime during the night, the walls of the tent lit up with an eerie glow.  Who was coming into our campsite with a torch?  As my tentmates were sound asleep, I unzipped the tent and ventured out to see who was there.  I discovered the fire had come back to life.   I smothered it with water and dirt, spreading the ashes around.  Back to tent and into my cozy sleeping bag.   The sound of the stream became nature’s sleep machine.

Next: Water, water everywhere.

I Can Do This

It was around 1130 when we arrived at the Ten Lakes trailhead.  I psyched myself up for the trail, thinking about the miles spent on many day hikes.  After all, this was just another day hike with 40+ pounds on my back.  To the Marines who were my hiking partners for the week, their exuberance for  the adventure that lay ahead was evident.  I admire and respect the men and women of our military who put their lives on the line in the name of freedom.  In my civilian job at Camp Pendleton, I have the honor of serving with them.   Their vigor is both encouraging and infectious.  Their attitude on the trail is no less confident.

The bullets below provide some background.  These factors individually are no big deal.  Together, they shaped my experience on the first day of this backcountry trip.

  • 50 yrs old, I carry about 25 lbs of extra weight (fat) on my small frame
  • My pack weighs 40+ pounds
  • The air is thin at high altitudes
  • I slept about 2 or 3 hrs the night before
  • My legs are short…

Ok, so the last one isn’t a big factor it just meant that I  have to take more steps than the average person.  Together, these things turned what was to be a good workout into a marathon for me. The next 6 or 7 hours would present itself to be one of my greatest physical challenges ever.  As the track distance on my GPS increased, the incline seemed constant.  At the end of the day, the elevation increase was only 1,400 ft but it sure seemed like more. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath as my lungs seemed to have the capacity of an infant.  I couldn’t suck in enough air to keep a constant pace.  Always bringing up the rear, my hiking partners would wait up for me to catch up and often start walking again before I stopped panting.   Like the wagon trains of old, hiking in groups is only as fast as the slowest member.  I remembered thinking that my hydration pack was a great investment.  With the constant huffing and puffing in this arid climate, I was sure that I was losing a lot of moisture. Well, between that and the sweat.  I wasn’t about to let two youngsters half my age show me up.

We passed a group of young men who were wearing Air Force t-shirts.  It increased my morale to think that we were moving up faster than them.  After a few miles, we leveled out in the forest with the tall lodgepole and Jeffrey pines all around.  That’s when we realized that Yosemite contains about 50% of the worlds mosquito population.  Ok, obviously that’s exaggerating, but they were relentless.  Because of the amount of snow and subsequent melt in 2011 there was plenty of water which provided the perfect incubation for their offspring.  The military grade bug repellent helped quite a bit.  However, I learned that those pests can penetrate clothing like its not even there.  My UnderArmour shirt was no match for those bloodsuckers.  Our only defense was to pick up the pace to pass through the gauntlet of blood sucking marauders.  To take a break was to invite a swarm.

At some point, we broke out of the infestation and began a series of switchbacks that tested my endurance.  Switchbacks are those zig-zags that make a trail go higher in a shorter distance.  They are an indicator that you are gaining altitude a bit faster.  My stride became shorter and my calves and glutes were burning.   I remember thinking, “what if I get a cramp?” There was no where to make camp and turning around was out of the question.  Have you ever prayed when you were in a bind?  I certainly did, and remember that while the pain didn’t go away, I was able to think about other things.  We passed a few day hikers and remember thinking how light their load was.

After 5 or so hours, we broke out of the forest and leveled out on what appeared to be a plateau.  I found myself saying the first of many “Wows” of the week.

Leveling out at 9,600 ft.

We followed the relatively flat trail a bit and were rewarded with a view of the Grand Canyon of Yosemite.  The Tuolumne River curves its way around into the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir, one of the primary sources of water for San Francisco.  The granite peaks surrounding the valley were timeless and beautiful.  We rounded a bend and when I went to take another sip from my hydration pack, I got air.  Crud!   I drank almost a gallon of water on the ascent.  The lakes below seemed inviting, with the promise of fresh, cool water but were still almost an hour away.  I asked Aaron to reach in my side pocket of my pack to give me my “emergency water”, 16 ounces in an old Camelbak bottle.  The switchbacks down to the lakes were steep and hard on the knees.  I broke out my hiking poles to lessen the impact.  The sun was going down quicker now, so we picked up the pace.  We needed to find a campsite before it got dark.

Down, down into the Ten Lakes area. photo-J.Pulk

Down, down into the Ten Lakes area

Hiking downhill, while easier on the lungs actually seemed to be harder on the body.  The full weight of body and pack were concentrated on the joints in your knees and ankles, as well as the hundreds of small bones that make up your feet.  We descended into the valley that would become our home for the evening.  As we approached the first lake, the coolness of the air seemed to wick the heat from us.  We passed a couple of occupied campsites and looked for a site that was suitable.

Next:  Nature’s Sleep Machine

High Sierra Adventure

“Old Guys Rule” photo by J.Pulk


The evening ended late and the morning came early.  It was hard to sleep thinking about the week ahead.  At 2:30 a.m., I found myself driving up the I-15.  Traffic was light which was a good thing because after I saw the sign for Fallbrook, the fog was immediately on me and akin to sticking your head into a bag of cotton balls.   The WalMart 18 wheeler that suddenly came out of the fog was too close for comfort.  I slowed down, turned on the fog lights and prayed for a safe drive.   We met at Joe’s house near Winchester and filled the back of his VW wagon with our gear.  Now I have an idea what it is like to stuff a sausage.  It seemed like we had a lot of food, but you can never have too much, right?  The previous night, a fairly large fire had broken out about 50 miles north of Temecula near Riverside, very close to the 15 freeway.  We were concerned that we would have to make a huge detour, which would add even more time to a planned 18 hour day.  Fortunately, the fire had already burned near the freeway and the northbound lanes were open.  We planned on entering Yosemite through the Tioga Pass Rd. with our goal to hike 7-10 miles past the Cathedral Lakes before nightfall.   Making our way up the 395 , the sun arose in the Mojave with an amazing spectrum of colors, followed by the gateway to the eastern Sierras.  Whoever came up with the word majestic to describe mountains was spot on.  They rise on either side of the highway like sentinels guarding the valleys below.

The drive up was uneventful.  We entered the Tioga gate to the park,  pulled into the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger Station and discovered that we arrived on one of the busiest weekends of the year.  I’ll put my lesson learned in early for this blog: Don’t go to Yosemite around Labor Day.  The line to get the required backcountry permit grew quickly.  We found out that we couldn’t get our preferred or alternate trail because the rangers limit the number of hikers on each trail to minimize the damage and allow time for nature to recover.

We did receive a permit to hike the Ten Lakes trail, and it was explained that not many people venture up that way and that fishing was good with awesome views.  When the ranger asked who was signing for the permit, I told the guys ” Papa John has this one fellas.”    We rented our mandatory bear cans, (bear cans, not beer cans) and received the exciting brief from the ranger on pooping in the woods as well as being good stewards of the pristine wilderness.   The ranger reminded me of the dude with glasses from Ghost Busters.  As we carried our bear cans back to the car, we saw a sight that scared us.  A guy was changing his clothes in the parking lot behind his car, naked as a jaybird.  That wasn’t the worst of it;  I think this guy missed the lesson on pooping in the woods, because he had the streak of Montezuma’s Revenge down the backside of his legs.  That sight stuck with me more than the worst scene from any horror movie that I’ve ever seen. It reminded me that my 1st Aid kit had about 10 Immodium tablets.   The ranger’s lesson on pooping in the woods was invaluable.

We found the parking area for the trailhead and began packing our food into the bear cans.  They sure seemed big until you had to stuff 5 days of food into them.  The Marines showed me how to “field strip” the meals ready to eat (MRE) to shrink their size and I chuckled when I saw the mini toilet paper and Chic-lets gum.  I kept them both.  The bear can was cumbersome and I crammed it in my pack along with the rest of what would become my life for the week into my German-made ultralight pack.  The old saying about cramming 10 lbs of “stuff” into a 5 lb sack was very real now.  My pack was so tall that I wouldn’t be able to wear my wide brimmed Aussie hat. Instead, I wore my “Old Guys Rule” cap which would symbolize the trek that lay ahead.   We put the excess food into the bear lockers and ensured that there was no trace of food or smell-good stuff in the car, as bears do not respect private property.

Black bear cans in our first camp

We crossed the Tioga Road and made it to the trailhead.  I reset my GPS, excited to finally be here.  The altitude was 8,300 ft and we had 7-8 miles with about 1,300 ft. of elevation gain.  I told my friends – “Let’s do this”

Next blog: I can do this….

Backcountry or bust. Can I do this?

Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir, Oct 2010

We humans are funny creatures.  Circumstances being what they are,  I believe that we are all given the choice to live the way we choose from a sovereign God who loves and wants the best for us. Many of us have opportunities to do things that we think are out of reach or beyond our abilities. With this in mind,  I will try to articulate how I pushed my physical limits at the end of August 2011.

As a novice day hiker, I  had been thinking about what it would be like to hike and camp off the beaten path.  Car camping, while enjoyable to some people, just can’t be the same as roughing it miles away from  civilization.  One of my privileges is to work with our nation’s finest warriors at Camp Pendleton.  So, when a couple of Marines asked me if I wanted to go on a 5 day backpacking trip into Yosemite, I thought – yeah, right.   With the extra 20 lbs of midsection that I’ve been carrying,  I could never do that – let alone carry a 30-40 lb. pack.  So, I gave them a lame excuse and said no thanks.  After hearing them talk about it a bit more, it started to eat at me.

Mary and I visited Yosemite in Oct 2010, did day hikes for 5 days, and logged 30 miles.  On the hike down into  the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, my knee hurt so bad from an old injury that afterwards we had to go to a drug store in town and buy a brace.  One of the only things that kept me going on that hike was that we were being passed by children and older people.  A litte stubbornness goes a long way.   I also discovered that Ibuprofen is a wondrous drug for swollen joints and achy muscles.  The descent down the Four Mile Trail was undoubtedly the  second most painful walk ever.  At the end of the day, the toenails on both my big toes were black and blue from hiking shoes that were too small.  I learned how to walk like a crab downhill.  However painful the long day hikes were, that week spent with Mary was an experience that will never be forgotten.   When your eyes see views that are beautiful beyond description, they get written permanently on the brain.  When you do this with your soulmate, it amplifies the event and makes it much more memorable.  I fell in love with Yosemite, as this place was truly a testament of the creator.  How awesome is His majesty.

After that trip, I started daydreaming about the place that John Muir helped make famous years ago.  The pristine granite peaks and endless blue skies tantalized me to the point where one day when I heard the two Marines talking about the trip, I just blurted out to them – “Ok, I’ll go.”   What was I thinking?  I didn’t have much gear for a backcountry trip.  Day hiking is pretty easy as far as equipment goes.  A decent pair of trail shoes or boots, daypack, hydration and you are good to go.  I had less than two months to get ready.

The trip to REI turned out to be one of my most expensive shopping trips ever.  Getting fitted for a backpack, picking out sleeping bag, sleeping pad, waterproof storage bags…. I just love this store.  It’s an outdoor enthusiasts Valhalla, kinda like a techie’s Fry’s.   The trip was rapidly approaching and we started to discuss our routes.  How many miles could we do per day?  Where should we camp?  Will there be enough water?  Man, lots of planning sure goes into these trips.

Next….. Johnny and the Marines go for broke.

Into Hellhole Canyon

One of the neat things about living in southern California is that you can drive 15-20 minutes in any direction and the climate changes.  From cool, Pacific coastal breezes to arid dry desert, all so close.

Hellhole Canyon is one of those places not far from home that reminds you what this area would be like without man’s influence.  Located about 30 miles from the coast near  Escondido and Valley Center, it can get as hot as its’ namesake describes.

Full of chaparral and sage scrub, the riparian environment has burned twice in the last 10 years.  It is amazingly tolerant to fires and the  oak trees are survivors.  The live oaks and willows that line Hell Creek make it seem like an oasis in the middle of a harsh, dry canyon.

I like to read about the history of places that we hike.  Surrounded by various Indian reservations, I can only imagine what it was like before the settlers came. Water for the nearby city of Escondido came through here via a wooden log flume and ditches from the San Luis Rey River.  Since replaced with a metal pipe, it diverts water around this land preserve.

This was a challenging 8 mile hike, even in November.  We made it to the summit of Rodriguez Mountain and could see well into Valley Center and the La Jolla reservation.  The various casinos on the surrounding indian reservations stood out as gaudy structures in the rugged and rocky  landscape.   On the trail it was challenging at times since we traveled beyond the most frequented path.  For some reason, never satisfied with the normal routes I tend to push us to our limits.  The trail map isn’t of much use when you venture off the beaten path.   Erosion had washed out parts of the trail and sometimes the crevices were 6-8 feet deep.  Straddling them was quite the adventure, as I imagined them being created by an earthquake. This area has quite a bit of wildlife for such a sparse landscape.  Mary, usually in the front came up on this fellow.

He didn’t really pay us much attention.

The tarantula that she stumbled upon, kept making his way across the trail and didn’t seem too threatened by us.    Not long before, we spooked some deer who must have been sleeping under some bushes.  The buck bolted up in the air no more than 6 ft. away.   Awhile later, we observed the buck and his harem of 2-3 does making their way down the mountain.   Lots of birds, no rattlesnakes today.

A year later, I would later revisit this place with a friend who almost passed out from heat stress, due to the extreme temps.  A good place to visit (in the wintertime) if you want to get a feel for the desert, that is close to North County, San Diego.

Lessons Learned: 1. You can’t carry too much water on a day hike.  2. Be prepared for wildlife encounters and give them their space.  3.  Tarantulas will not eat you.

Bushwhacking, it’s not for everyone.

According to the hiking book “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of San Diego”, The Kelly Ditch Trail seemed like an interesting day hike. With scenic views of the area near Julian, the southern end of the trail begins near Lake Cuyamaca.  A 10-11 mile round trip jaunt through the forest seemed like a great way to spend a Saturday.

Like most places we hike, there is ample history.  The Kelly Ditch was built over 100 years ago to divert runoff from the nearby peaks into the somewhat manmade lake.  The trail guide said that the trailhead was across the road from the dam, so we checked with the local ranger to confirm before walking down the road.  It wasn’t well marked, and that should have been an omen.   Not really believing in omens, I found the narrow path and started our way.

The 2003 fire hit this area and devastated most of the conifers.  Some of the oaks faired better and are recovering, but the brush came back with a vengeance.  At first there was an occasional fallen tree and weeds that encroached the trail, then it became a foliage tunnel. The final straw was a jumble of lumber so twisted that turned a leisurely hike into an adventure in bushwhacking.

The southern end of Kelly Ditch Trail

After a mile of intense battles with the brush, we took a lunch break and turned around.  Hmm, what is that crawling on my shirt? I hate ticks!

We picked our way out, made it back to the car and drove up to Julian where the northern end of the Kelly Ditch begins in Heise County Park.  This part of the trail was interesting because of what we would discover.  Within five minutes of the trailhead, we heard rustling in the bushes and  about 100 yards out, something darted out and crossed the trail.  A few minutes later, we discovered that this area was full of wild turkeys.

Rio Grande Turkeys in Heise County Park

Apparently, Fish and Game released about 300 of these critters about 20 years ago in this area.  In 2001, the last time they were counted, they numbered 20,000.  How do you count wild turkeys?  We encountered many turkeys over the next few hours.  One curious gobbler was walking in front of us on the fire road.  He kept his distance and amused us for about 30 minutes as he continued down the road with us.  The trail ascended about 700-800 ft. and we turned around after several miles. We crossed Witch Creek and noticed that bees really like hanging around water.   They were swarming in the mud and around the water as it gurgled past.  Later, I would read that the bees would ingest and carry the water back to the colony where they would spray it near the queen and fan her with their wings.  God truly made these creatures with some amazing instincts.  Maybe that’s how man came up with the idea of swamp coolers.

So, even after the debacle on the southern end of Kelly Ditch, we salvaged a pretty decent hike by venturing into Julian and completing about 6 more miles.   Upon returning home, we did our usual routine after hiking through brush which is to wash thoroughly to rinse off any poison oak/ivy before the nasty oils did their work.  To my horror, I had several ticks that had firmly embedded themselves into my midsection.  According to my trusty sidekick and wife, I momentarily freaked out and said something about lyme disease.  I gathered my wits and mary plucked them out with sharp tweezers.  Ticks inject their victims with a type of anesthetic and anticoagulant before they burrow their nasty little mouths into one’s skin.  They are the most disgusting insects ever, and I took great pleasure flushing them away.

Lessons Learned:  1.  Wear light clothing if you are bushwhacking; the ticks show up easier.  2. Take the time to observe nature; what I learned about bees was so cool.  3. I have tickaphobia.   4.  Wild turkeys can run very fast.