Adventures in hiking…

Archive for August, 2012

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park – Arroyo Seco and Airplane Monument Loop

Turkey Vulture in Cuyamaca State Park

Trail Identifier: Monument Trail, Arroyo Seco Trail

Type of trail: Out and back or loop, sand, decomposed granite, rocks.

Distance as hiked: 7 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-3,900 ft., Top of trail 5,000-ft.

Temps: 80-90 degrees

Difficulty: moderate (heat)

Click to access CuyamacaWebLayout09301010.pdf

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a “local” favorite of mine.  Located approximately 45 minutes east of San Diego it is part of the Cleveland National Forest.    Sadly, the 2003 Cedar Fire burned more than 95% of this area.  I’ve hiked a significant number of the trails and the destruction is slowly fading as the native chaparral species recover.  Reforestation efforts are helping and young conifers are slowly making a comeback.

This might be a flower from the dreaded Poodle Plant.

    We would start our hike on the Monument Trail near the Sweetwater River Bridge.  The parking area across from the trailhead  is a popular area for equestrians.  Many of the trails in this area are shared use for hikers-bikers-horses.   We tend to go later in the day on these shared trails as many people go early in the morning before it gets hot.  Much of the trail is exposed, so be prepared.  There are still many oaks and sycamore trees as you skirt the creek.    During this hike, part of the trail was being encroached by some thickets.  You have to push some of the brush back to make your way to the airplane monument.   I love history and this monument was from a military DeHaviland biplane that crashed in 1922.  Be careful around this engine, it was infested with bees.  I was actually stung on my neck and my wife got one in her hair.  We hightailed it out of there; thankfully they are not Africanized bees.

All that remains of a DeHaviland DH4B biplane that crashed on Dec. 7, 1922. Both crewmembers perished.

On this hike, I would also see the dreaded “Poodle-Dog Bush”, a deceptively poisonous flora that tends to appear after wildfires.   The trail meanders through a wooded area with tall grasses all around.  It is mostly single-track but merges with a fire road near a horse camp.

On the return leg, we descended down a dusty track and the view opened up to a valley below.  A steady breeze felt refreshing.      We came across the state bird, actually a male and female.  California quail.  They were unusually docile and not spooked by our presence.  We also came a bit too close to a skunk family.   They crossed about twenty feet in front of me.  I stopped and gave them plenty of room.    There is evidence of abundant small wildlife in this area.


This is a nice hike in an area diverse with wildlife.  Best hiked from Sep-May as it gets hot!

Volcan Mountain – Julian

Looking into the Anza-Borrego Desert from Volcan Mountain

Type of trail: Out and back.

Composition: sand, decomposed granite, scree.

Distance as hiked: 6.0 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-4,000ft., Top of summit-  5,300 ft.

Temps: 75-82 deg

Difficulty: Moderate; strenuous when hot!

Looking for a shorter hike on this hot day in San Diego, we found ourselves driving to Julian.   Volcan Mountain seemed like a fairly easy trek and the hiking guidebook mentioned that the trail was easy to follow.  It also promised decent breezes over the rolling hills north of the little tourist town. Julian is a now known as a quaint mountain town with its’ apple pies and small shops.  The town is located on/near the site where a former slave in 1869 panned for gold.  The area is surrounded by abandoned gold mines.   In 2003, it was almost wiped out by one of the largest fires in California.   The views of Anza-Borrego Desert and coastal San Diego County are often amazing.

Rolling hills, nice breezes around Julian

From North San Diego County, we decided to take a longer route on the 76 as it wound around Palomar Mountain and Lake Henshaw.   This area has some scenic drives as the terrain changes from rocky chaparral, rolling hills to sub-alpine.  Much of the land around here has been set aside as national forest and public use.  It’s so nice to drive 45 minutes or so and escape the megalopolis of San Diego.   We made our way south to the Main St. intersection in Julian.  It was late morning and the tourists were everywhere. Ugh, I find tourist traps annoying, but it’s a living for the townspeople.  We turned left on Main and within 2-3 minutes were winding our way through  an area with farms and ranches.  We parked along the road with the sign that marked the Volcan Mtn trailhead.

Apple groves surrounded this area. The main part of this trail is actually a fire road.  I prefer a nice single track trail, but this one had an option to take a hiker’s only trail as a spur.  We decided to take the road up and the trail back down.  The temps were already into the 80’s as we began a steady 1,500 ft. climb through mixed chaparral.   For the first 1/2 mile it was all sun, but eventually we came upon big oaks which provided a great place to catch our breath.  This was also the spot where the Five Oaks Trail began, a spur which roughly parallels the fire road but provides scenic views along the  southern facing ridge-line ,with views into Julian.  The road was rutted and washed out in some areas.  There is ample shade the middle half of this trail. 1.2 miles into the hike, you intersect the top part of the Five Oaks Trail and things really open up into rolling hills with expansive views to the west and south.  You can see part of Cuyamaca State Park and in the winter, I imagine you can see the coast.   The views to the west are limited in the summer due to the haze.  The breeze from the ocean  started wafting up the hills.  The effect was like a swamp cooler.  We saw many varieties of oak, hence the side trail name.   The road widens and the last mile is less strenuous  while  transitioning from chaparral to conifers and cedars, eventually leading to wide open grassy meadows bordered by oak trees.  We passed a historical marker indicating this was the remnants of a cabin that was used as a potential site for the large telescope that is in the Palomar Observatory.  So much history in these hills.  Nearby to the east, Anza-Borrego Desert and my favorite, the Pacific Crest Trail.

From the Volcan ridge, Anza-Borrego lies to the east.

As we reached the summit, the road looped around.  I noticed a fenced in area with a tower and plaque.

Plaque on the history of the beacon at Volcan Mtn.

While we enjoy getting out on the trail, I enjoy the history.  I never knew they used a light beacon system to help guide the airborne postal carriers from the last century.  This area, part of the San Dieguito River Park includes a segment of the  55 mile Coast-to-Crest Trail, which stretches from the coast to the PCT.

The postal beacon tower, built in the 1920’s.

We would have lunch under the shade of an oak whose branches touched the ground.  It was at least 10 degrees cooler under this old tree.  We noticed two other couples walking by and started down the mountain.  After a mile or so, we took a left on the marked Five Oaks Trail, a nice single track with great views of the south ridge and Ramona.

View from Five Oaks Trail.

It was still very warm, but going downhill was easy on this single track trail.  The switchbacks meandered through the forest and the terrain gradually started changing to the coastal desert that is so familiar to those who live in San Diego.  We heard a siren and hoped that there were no brush fires around here.  One thing that a hiker fears is a swift moving wildfire.   As we made our way around the ridge, we saw a Cal Fire truck  about 200 yds from the road where we parked.

I think she wants to ride in the firetruck.

We emerged on the original fire road and within 10 minutes ran into three firemen going up the hill.  We asked the second fireman what was going on and he said someone needed medical assistance.  That’s a fairly common occurrence on trails in SoCal.  Lots of people are unprepared for the heat and physical challenge of the terrain.  Many don’t bring enough water or hike in flip-flops.  Hopefully, they would be ok.  I felt bad for the firemen who were trudging up the mountain in their full gear.  As we neared the bottom, we passed two other dudes.  They wore dark clothing, no hats and no water.   Yes, they will probably require medical assistance too.   Apparently, common sense isn’t as common as it used to be.

Appalachian Trail – 100 Mile Wilderness – The Last Day

Sunrise on Rainbow Lake.

The weather for this trip was mostly awesome.  Sunny, clear skies, temperature in the 70’s.  I imagined how much harder this would have been if it had been raining.  The bogs would have become swamps, instead of rock hopping across streams, we would have been fording.  We began our 8th day earlier than usual on the shores of Rainbow Lake.  With 7 miles to Abol Bridge, we were ready to finish this marathon.

Making our breakfast, we would hop out on a rock and eat on Rainbow Lake.  The water was like glass, the air still.  The sun had not yet climbed over the trees. The quiet enveloped us and the solitude was remarkable.

All I want is a cheeseburger.

Packing up, we hit the trail by 6:30 or so.  Only one more “hill” to climb and one more lean-to.   While the trail wasn’t as difficult as the first 50 miles, it wasn’t a walk in the park either.  As we walked, our talk turned to food again – our favorite fast-foods and desserts.  We both agreed that cheeseburgers were from angels and that we were going to get one after we emerged from this moss encrusted forest.  The miles clicked by slowly on my GPS, each 1/10 of a mile taking forever.  It probably wasn’t a good idea watching the mileage on my Garmin, kinda like watching water boil in a pot.

Truly an unforgiving trail.

We would climb to Rainbow Ledges, a slow steady incline that threatened to sap our last energy reserves.  This would be the 12th mountain, maybe the 13th in one week.  After a false summit, we would reach the plateau, a collection of granite slabs with blueberry bushes everywhere.  They weren’t quite ready to eat,  so we just admired the view of Katahdin.   We pressed on and the trail seemed to turn into a rock garden.

Rainbow Ledges, Mt. Katahdin hiding in the distance.

As we crossed one of the last brooks, we arrived at the Hurd Stream Lean-To.  This would be one of the first lean-to’s if you were a So-Bo on the A.T.  It was in fairly rough shape and looked small and uncomfortable.  I just can’t get into the spirit of the lean-to’s.

As we continued on, we realized that we were within a few miles of Abol Bridge.  We picked up the pace and took one more break on a big boulder in the middle of the trail.  A So-Bo approached and said “You know, there is ice cold Coke and ice cream at Abol Bridge”.  We all laughed because  we probably looked pretty bad with our muddy, sweat soaked clothes and gaunt faces.   We had one last snack and were determined to finish the last leg.  About two miles from the end, something in me snapped and all I thought about was a cheeseburger.  I ran past Joe who had been in the lead for 99% of this hike singing the praises of Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise”   You know the tune.  The look on Joe’s face was one of confusion and humor.  Now, I was walking twice as fast as he, sometimes running as my pack and I were one.  I would stay in the lead until the end.

Still thinking about food and in a daze, I looked up and saw some people who I recognized heading southbound, but it didn’t click who they were.  It was Joe’s family who hiked 5 minutes down the A.T. to meet us.  We were happy to see them and enjoyed seeing someone we actually knew.  We walked to the last sign before exiting the wilderness and took our last pics.

Mission complete, it felt weird to emerge into civilization.  In the past week, we had walked for approximately 95-100 hours, taken over 250,000 steps, endured approximately 30,000 ft. of elevation change, crossed countless brooks and streams, walked across several miles of logs and planks, and  hopped thousands of boulders.  We never fell into a stream, into a bog, or down a hill.  We came close but were blessed with an accident-free adventure.

Mission Complete. Last sign in the wilderness near Abol Bridge.

Oh yes, within a few hours I would have my cheeseburger.  Sadly, my stomach had shrunk and I couldn’t even finish it.

My gear: Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 Backpack – Emerald/Anthracite A nice lightweight backpack that is tough as nails.  A waterproof cover can be purchased separately.

Appalachian Trail – 100 Mile Wilderness – Day 7

Nahmakanta Lake between Wadleigh Stream Lean-To and Nesuntabunt Mtn.

At the Wadleigh Stream Lean-To.  As dawn broke the next morning, we were still in our sleeping bags and heard footsteps outside the tent on several occasions.  By the time we rolled out, most of the lean to occupants were gone.  Then we realized that we had placed our tent on the path between the shelter and the brook.  Oh well, it seemed like a good spot last night.    Getting our usual late start, we filtered a few liters from the brook and were on the trail at a decent pace.  Climbing Nesuntabut Mtn,  we would reach a false summit which had some amazing views of Katahdin.  We met a young So-Bo thru-hiker  who was taking a break and taking a smoke.   Later, I would laugh to myself about this young smoker.  Such a dichotomy, long distance hiking and smoking.  I wondered if part of his journey was trying to quit.  Hmmm.  Twenty minutes later we ran into a mother and daughter taking a break on an outcropping.  The mom shared their story of hiking up Katahdin with the intent on hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness southbound.   After 15 miles, the wilderness had taken its’ toll on the mom.  Her legs must have had scratches over every inch.  She said that they were going to bail out at White’s Landing, another 20 miles to the south.  That was a good thing, because the trail definitely gets harder the farther south you go.  Yep, this trail was not for the fainthearted.   We wished them well and made the final 300 ft. to the summit.

The last few hundred feet of Nesuntabunt Mtn summit.

We would skirt Pollywog Stream and eventually, we would parallel Rainbow Stream to began a gradual climb into the forest.  The humidity was high, and I think we were losing more water than we could take in.  We would end up drinking about 5 liters of water today.

Rainbow Stream at times was a rushing torrent through narrow crevices and multiple cascades.  It was one of the fastest flowing streams of the entire trip.  Taking a break, we observed several young people frolicking downstream.  Tempting, but we owed the taskmaster about 5 more miles today.  After  a while, I found myself daydreaming and ended up in a meadow.   I noticed a hiker setting up his tent and saw the Rainbow Stream Lean-To below.  There were several northbound section hikers who were trying to make Rainbow Springs Campground a few miles away.  Thunderstorms were all around us, but other than a few sprinkles, no rain.  A Southbounder warned us about the bogs ahead.  Lovely, more bogs.  Actually, it could have been much worse – if it had been raining, we would have been sloshing through the bogs instead of hopping from rock to rock and root to root.

We took a break and dipped our feet in the stream.  Trying to keep my feet out of the dirt, I almost fell in.  This became a busy lean-to as a couple of more So-Bo’s would stop in.  It was around 4 p.m. and most hikers would be settling in for the day.  Not us, we still had a good 4 or 5 hours to go.  A bridge, made up of several logs made for a precarious crossing.  The thunder would continue, and we actually hoped for some rain.  Lightning struck within a mile or so, the crack was sharp and loud.  I imagined there was one less tree in the forest.  As we made our way around the various lakes and ponds, the trail would be within yards of the bank.  Mostly boggy at this point, it would slow our progress.  The gnats and mosquitoes were relentless, but we pressed on.

I forgot to mention on Day 6 that Joe stumbled upon the remnants of another hiker’s expensive carbon fiber trekking pole, half buried in a mud bog.  Joe would go on to explain that he almost ended up doing the splits into the same muddy crossing.  My $25 poles were holding up just fine and kept me from falling down dozens of times.  I will never hike without poles again.

We would stop at Rainbow Springs Campground and it started raining lightly.  Joe broke out his rainfly and we ate under it.  When I went down to the lake to refill our water, I saw a pipe sticking out from the ground with water draining into the lake.  I thought that it was odd and put my hand under the water flow.  It was ice-cold.  Man, this was the first spring we stumbled on and the water was the best of the entire trip.  We dumped some of our old water out and filled up with this heavenly liquid.  It was so humid out here and the water so cold that condensation built up on our water containers.

The campground area was noisy with the sound of hikers enjoying themselves.  We still needed to log a few more miles to make it out by mid-morning, so we packed up and headed north.   The light began to fade on our last night in the wilderness.  As darkness fell, our eyes would slowly get used to the low light and were able to hike without headlamps for quite a while after sunset.  Joe would begin his search for a primo campsite in the blackness of the Appalachian  Trail.

We would find an established site on the shore of Rainbow Lake.  It was tough to find a spot large enough without roots or rocks, but that’s what the pads were for.   The mice would scurry around the campsite and the loons would croon us to sleep in a humid, windless night.  I was excited and yet sad that this would be our last night on the A.T.  We would be rudely awaked around 0300 when the haunting calls of the loons turned into the mating call of the loons.  It was not a soothing sound.  But today would bring cheeseburgers…..

My gear: Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 Backpack – Emerald/Anthracite  A lightweight pack that is super-tough.  A waterproof cover can be purchased separately.

Appalachian Trail – 100 Mile Wilderness – Day 6

Campsite near Cooper Brook

A little advice for bloggers who write about their hikes.  Don’t wait too long to write your thoughts down after you’ve completed the hike.  While I had the intent on keeping a journal during my hike through Maine, I was so tired at the end of the day that I would just crash.   The best I could do was jot down approximately where we were.  Funny thing about aging, the short-term memory goes first and by the time you’re really old the ancient memories come back clear as a bell.  So, maybe I should just write about this trip in 25 years.

It was nice to have a bridge for a brook crossing.

Part of our experience in the section hike of the A.T. was the camping.   Many thru-hikers stay in the lean-to’s and say that it adds to the overall adventure.   While we didn’t avoid contact with other hikers, we preferred to camp in a tent as it offered protection from the bugs and rain.  (It’s still kind of weird to sleep next to strangers in a lean-to)  Since we would hike into the night to make our mileage, finding a suitable site was difficult.  Joe had  the uncanny ability to find decent campsites next to a stream or lake in total darkness.  Falling to sleep with the sound of rushing water is either peaceful or makes you go pee.  For me, I don’t think that I had enough water left in me at the end of the day as I lost most of it in sweat, so it was just peaceful.

This privy actually had a modern European design.

As we broke camp and sent out my daily OK signal on the SPOT messenger, (SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger – Orange) we looked forward to 15 mile days on easy terrain.  Actually, there isn’t much easy terrain in the Maine wilderness – it’s just not as brutal.  The bogs and roots were still prevalent and the occasional up/down would add some variety.  At this point,  approximately 60-70 miles into the 100 Mile Wilderness, the trail is never far from a lake or stream.  We carried a little less water and noticed an increase in the humidity and bug population.   In the summer up here, bug repellant doesn’t last long as you sweat it off within minutes of applying it.  We did learn a valuable lesson on one type of repellant.  Permethrin is a great bug deterrent when applied to clothing and hats.  I treated most of my clothes, including socks and my hat.  The bugs would bounce off the treated clothing, so most of the week I would wear long pants and a long sleeve breathable shirt.  Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce

A boat long since abandoned….

Hoping always to see a moose, we would continue to see their evidence on the trail.  The little moose doodles were almost always on the trail, a reminder of who this path really belonged to.  Most of the animals we would encounter or hear were birds and chipmunks.  Around the lakes, the loons would make their haunting calls.  The chipmunks almost seemed annoyed that we were invading their territory and chatter loudly.   I began to imagine that whenever I was having a hard time on the trail, the chipmunks would be laughing at me with their annoying little voices. Little Boardman Mountain was a pleasant summit that provided some decent views of Crawford Pond  and the Jo-Mary Lakes.  We’ve been using Gu and Stinger energy gels to get us over these hills.  They really have made a difference.

Mt. Katahdin from Jo-Mary Lake.

The lakes and brooks brought great opportunities to cool our aching feet.  Yep, take off the shoes and wiggle your toes in the sandy bottom of a cool, clear lake or dip them in a rushing brook.   We would repeat this cooling process a couple of times  and take another 35,000 steps today.

The loons are calling.

Next morning,  getting our usual late start we filtered a few liters from the brook and were on the trail at a decent pace.  Eventually, we would parallel Rainbow Stream and began a gradual climb into the forest.  The humidity was high, and I think we were losing more water than we could take in.  We would end up drinking about 5 liters of water today.  I ended up getting a lot of use from my water filtration system: Sawyer Products Complete Water Filtration System  This thing is bulletproof and great for two or more campers.

Rainbow Stream

Rainbow Stream at times was a rushing torrent through narrow crevices and multiple cascades.  It was one of the fastest flowing streams of the entire trip.  Taking a break, we observed several young people frolicking downstream.  Tempting, but we owed the taskmaster about 5 more miles today.  After  a while, I found myself daydreaming and ended up in an area that opened up.  I noticed a hiker setting up his tent and saw the Rainbow Stream Lean-To below.  There were several northbound section hikers who were trying to make Rainbow Springs Campground a few miles away.  Thunderstorms were all around us, but other than a few sprinkles, no rain.  A Southbounder warned us about the bogs ahead.  Lovely, more bogs.  Actually, it could have been much worse – if it had been raining, we would have been sloshing through the bogs instead of hopping from rock to rock and root to root.

Ugh, this is going to slow us down.

We took a break and dipped our feet in the stream.  Trying to keep my feet out of the dirt, I almost fell in.  This was a busy lean-to as a couple of more So-Bo’s would stop in.  It was around 4 p.m. and most hikers would be settling in for the day.  Not us, we still had a good 5 or 6 hours to go.  A bridge made up of several logs made for a precarious crossing.  The thunder would continue, and we actually hoped for some rain.  Lightning struck within a mile or so, the crack was sharp and loud.  I imagined there was one less tree in the forest.  As we made our way around the various lakes and ponds, the trail would be within yards of the water.  Mostly boggy at this point, it would slow our progress.  The gnats and mosquitoes were relentless, but we pressed on.

I used this backpack for the AT hike in Maine:  Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 Backpack – Emerald/Anthracite  Also got a custom fit waterproof cover made for the Deuter.  Well worth it; more stylish than a trash bag.

Appalachian Trail – The 100 Mile Wilderness – Day 5

Either way, these are tough miles.

Other than the occasional pitter-patter of tiny mice feet, the night sleeping under the lean-to was uneventful.  My food bag was hanging from a rope and I hoped that the critters had not eaten through the bag.   Mice are great at climbing and one of the only deterrents is to hang a can or piece of PVC on the rope above the bag.  Somehow the mice can’t pass the obstacle.  With 40+ miles to go, it would be awful to have my provisions eaten by a rodent.  Thankfully, my food bag was intact.

The other occupant in the lean-to was a middle-aged guy who was a southbound thru-hiker.  His journey started at Mt. Katahdin in Maine and had over 2,000 miles to go.  He gave us some good tips on the trail ahead of us, told us about his broken trekking pole in one of the most severe mud bogs.  The reason there were no tent sites available was because of the 12 or so teenage girls spread out across 3 tents.  They must have been girl scouts, because I couldn’t imagine your average teen hiking through this wilderness.  Turns out, they were doing a partial hike of this area.

Miles and miles of trees and moss.

We shared our filtered water with the southbound thru-hiker, and hit the trail ready for a long mileage day.  Expecting less elevation change, we hoped to make up some mileage over the next few days.  The forest swallowed us up as we began to make good time.   While the past couple of days had occasional breathtaking views from the mountaintops, today would be the typical green tunnel of the A.T.  Numerous brook crossings and bogs would make the otherwise mundane trek more challenging.

This is a pond?

One thing I haven’t mentioned was that in Maine the way they name their bodies of water is different from many other places.  Maybe, this is a New England thing.  You see, they use brooks and streams for what I normally would see as a stream, creek or river.  A brook up here can range from a little trickle to a 40 ft. raging torrent.  Streams are even bigger.  Even stranger are the ponds and lakes.  Up here, the ponds can range from an acre or so to hundreds of acres.  Lakes can be the size of, well you get the idea.  It’s a different way of thinking up here.

We would spend one night in a lean-to like this.

Our pace continued to pick up as our usual .8-1.2 mph  uphill crawl increased to about 2.5 mph.  We would pass a couple of shelters and had our lunch on a flat section of the trail.  Often, we would just dump our packs and have our meals right in the middle of the A.T.  I don’t think anyone ever walked through while we were eating on the path.   After lunch, we came upon a sign that said “Sandy Beach”  Our thoughts turned to a cool bath and an opportunity to rinse out our sweaty clothes.  I won’t go into detail about how one smells after 5 days on the trail, but your olfactory senses are somewhat improved after you’ve been removed from civilization for a while.   Granted, we would take anti-bacterial  wipe “baths” each night, but there’s nothing like a real bath or shower.

The sandy beach was a strip about 5-10 ft wide on a large pond.  The water was clear and the waves lapped the shoreline.  We shed most of our clothes (except for skivvies) in case those girl scouts showed up, and I broke out the biodegradable soap and we had our first “real” bath of the week.  The water was cool but not cold unless we went deep. We also took the opportunity to wash the clothes on our back.  Using the same soap, we scrubbed them down, trying to remove a couple of days of trail grime and salt from our garments.   We hung our clothes to dry on bushes along the shore with the hope that the warm mid-day sun would dry them out.

The “skivvy bush” a non-native flora in the Maine wilderness.

While we would have enjoyed some more time swimming, the goal for today was mileage.   Feeling refreshed, we pressed on, had dinner on the trail and logged over 15 miles before finding a sweet campsite by a stream.  Joe had a good ability to find sites in the dark.   Making camp, I was finally able to get a decent fire going.

A nice fire…

In fact, the fire was almost too good.  The kindling and pine straw crackled and popped like a bowl of rice crispies.  Joe had to pour some water on the outside of the campfire to keep the pine straw from lighting.  The main reason for a fire here wasn’t really to stay warm, but it did keep most of the bugs away.  Moths would be the exception, and I think Maine has 90% of the moth population in the U.S.  Eventually, we would settle in for a great night’s sleep next to the babbling brook.

Hikes With Johnny – A Not So Dry Coastal Hike

Running with the Snowy Plovers

Day hiking in Southern California has been a rewarding experience.  The diversity of the terrain  and environment is hard to match within the continental U.S.   As my wife can attest to, hiking with Johnny is usually an “adventure”.   Today, we would escape the dry, arid trails of inland San Diego or Riverside County and venture out to the coast.  Looking for a stretch of mostly unobstructed shoreline, I found the beach on Camp Pendleton an easy choice.  We tend to frequent the beaches on Camp Del Mar since I’m retired military and there are few restrictions when compared to the public beaches in SD county.  Our goal today was to do a 10 mile out and back along the shore.  As we made our way through the throngs of people clustered around the main beach, we probably appeared a bit out-of-place.  With our running shoes and backpacks, we looked fairly nerdy.   It was a nice day for the beach, low 70’s,  with a decent breeze. We broke out from the crowds after a few hundred yards .

We’ve been up this way in the past and enjoyed the serenity of the coastal bird sanctuary that the Marine Corps has established.  We came upon the tidal channel that fed a fairly large lagoon.  The lagoon and the marshy areas inland are typically off-limits due to the nesting areas of the Snowy Plover and other ocean birds.  We removed our running shoes to ford the channel around 150 ft. from the surf.  The tide was fairly low and there was very little current.  Water was up to our shins and we easily crossed the 20 ft. channel.

We continued north at a steady pace.  While walking in sand isn’t easy, it was easier than our usual 2,000-3,000 ft. climb.  The number and types of coastal birds were impressive.  Hundreds of snowy plovers, seagulls, storks, whimbrels, pelicans and more were busy – usually in search of food.  A plover chick no more than 4-6 weeks old was venturing out from its’ nest.  I tried to get closer for a pic, but it was fairly quick as it scuttled away.

After an hour or so, we would break out our beach towels and have lunch near the surf.  Beaches in southern California are obviously very different from the east and Gulf coast.  Lack of humidity, cold water, not to mention the abundance of wildlife.   We enjoyed the surroundings and took it all in.  For several miles in each direction, the beach was all ours.

My new beach towel.

After lunch, we would log a couple more miles heading north and reached a point just south of the Las Pulgas exit.  The sandstone cliffs rose above the beach, their weathered faces were like sentinels facing the ocean.

Sandstone cliffs near Camp DelMar.

Found these around 100 yds. from the surf.

As is typical with us, the first leg of our hike is casual – stopping for pics and exploring.  The return leg is usually downhill and faster.  There was no downhill today, but we picked up the pace and jogged for about 30 minutes.  As we approached the channel, I noticed a difference in the surf.  It was much closer now.  When the channel came into view, it became apparent that the tide had changed.  In the course of the last 4-5 hrs, the transition between low and high tide had occurred.  The 20ft. channel was now 150 ft., deeper, with a stiff inbound current.  I assessed our crossing options and chose an area toward the lagoon where it was wider.  We removed our shoes, and placed our electronics inside Ziploc bags.

As we started across, the swift current immediately pushed against us.  The depth slowly increased and by the time it was to our knees, it was becoming hard to stand.  We held our packs over our heads.  My wife was concerned and I encouraged her to face the current and lock arms with me. Soon, the water was up to our waist and my thoughts turned to what we would do if we got washed into the lagoon.  I told my wife if that happened, to let go of the backpack and let the current take us into the lagoon where it became shallow and calm.

As my wife prayed for us to make it across safely, I focused on where my next step would be.   10 feet away I saw an area where the water from the lagoon was pushing against the inbound tide.  Hopefully, the force of the current would be less there.  Suddenly, the bottom dropped and we were up to our shoulders.  Now, I was concerned and prepared to let the current take us in.  Miraculously, the current subsided and we waded the last 10 yards as the water lapped against our necks.

As we emerged from the channel, we laughed and I apologized for not taking into account the ocean tides.  My wife, mentioned something like “it’s always an adventure with you…”  We walked barefoot the last mile or so to the beach, tired from today’s trek.

Snowy Plover chick.

Lessons Learned:

1.  When hiking along coastal areas, plan to get wet and look up the tidal tables in case you have to cross inlets or channels.  In our case, if it would have been any deeper, we would have been washed into the lagoon.  If you are not a good swimmer, don’t cross.

2. Tidal changes around channels can be very dangerous.  An outbound current could have been drastically different for us, due to the possibility of riptides.  We happened to cross right at high tide

3.  Waterproof your equipment in your pack.  Have a few gallon baggies available.  Most backpacks will float.  If you cross with your pack on, unbuckle the sternum and waist straps so that you can roll out of the pack if necessary.

4.  James 5:16 – …”The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.  My wife knew exactly what to do in a time of trouble.  God loves each of us so much.  You are the apple of His eye my friend.

Now, back to the mountains.

Appalachian Trail – The 100 Mile Wilderness – Day 4

By the fourth day, it felt like I was getting my “trail legs”.  That means I wasn’t stumbling as much and hopped along from root to root, rock to rock, log to log, you get the picture.   The Appalachian Trail as it passes through the Maine Wilderness is an unforgiving collection of bogs, roots, rocks and streams.  There were times, no – hours of walking on tree roots.  I haven’t figured out why those roots aren’t underground in Maine.  By now, you can see my obsession with tree roots.  Of all the terrain obstacles, roots are the worst.   They trip you and make you calculate each step to avoid rolling down a hill.  As we made our way through a ganglion of wooded tendrils, I wondered how many times we would step on, over and around them.   Altogether, we would take about 250,000 steps on this hike.  Each day 35,000+ steps.  Now, after a few hours of walking we would have to stop, take off our shoes and let our feet cool off.  This practice would enable us to hike longer and farther.  The feet are amazing appendages.  I learned from the Marines just how important it is to take care of the feet.  Keep them dry, take care of the blisters and keep them clean.

On this day, we would trek up 5 mountains, over 7,000 ft. of elevation gain.  The white blazes on the trees would be replaced by the occasional rock cairn or blazes painted on the rocks.  At times, the granite was a collection of sharp stalagmite looking projections that would poke into our shoes.  A fall here would definitely leave a mark.

We’re going over yonder….

The green tunnel of the lower forests would become a green gauntlet on the mountains.  There were so many conifers up here, each one competing for the soil.  At times, we could only see 10 feet or so off the path.  The bugs were starting to get really annoying up here too.  So, July is a pretty good time to hike up here as far as weather, but the pests are still abundant.  When we reached the point where we were out of gas, we would have lunch.   Today’s hike was much like yesterday and I was looking forward to getting these hills behind me.  The climbs seemed longer and harder.  Switchbacks are not very common on this section of the trail, so when you looked up, you would see a relentless, steep path.  On one ascent, I heard someone whistling a pretty good rendition of the Star Wars theme.  As I peeked around the next boulder, the young hiker who was on his way down said, “I thought you might need some encouragement”.    You run into funny people on the trail.

There’s a trail up there.

On the fourth mountain, we would take a break at the Sydney Tappan Campsite, a rare, flat spot with grass.  It had one of the classic privies, or in my neck of the woods an outhouse.  Joe made it a point to use these civilized structures while I preferred the Yogi Bear method.

The Maine Appalachian Trail Club has a sense of humor.  This sign was on the privy. Wicked, funny.

The chipmunks around the lean-to’s and campsites seemed especially adept at stealing food.  I was on the lookout for them as they stealthily scampered around my pack.   I fussed at them, threw a few pebbles as they chattered back at me.  After a nice break, we began our last ascent of the day to White Cap Mountain.  We were hoping to get some decent views at the top.

View from top of White Cap Mountain at sunset. Looking north.

At the top, we dropped our packs and found a large, lichen-covered boulder facing west to catch the sunset.  The air was cool as we took in the scenery.  We retraced our path, pointing out each of the 8 mountains we had climbed.  The contrast of the landscape made the colors of the sky even more brilliant.  We acknowledged the creation of this vista did not randomly occur.   The Lord’s majesty was  all around us.  After plenty of pics, we saddled up and began the steep climb down.

White Cap Mountain sunset.

The northbound descent from White Cap was interesting with plenty of stone steps.  The knees take a beating when you have hundreds of these steps, but it is better than an uneven trail.  As darkness surrounded us, we began to search for a campsite, but as usual – there were none.  We continued on for a couple of miles and stumbled into the Logan Brook Lean-To around 10 p.m.  It was so dark that it seemed to suck the light from our headlamps.   An unknown voice from the shelter said something about all the sites for tents were taken.  We were so tired that we unpacked and rolled out our pads and sleeping bags in the lean-to.  These structures will hold at least 6 people, so we joined the one other occupant and settled in for an uneasy nights’ sleep.  Uneasy because it is a bit weird to sleep in the same structure with strangers. Fortunately, it was unlikely that serial killers would venture out this far into the wilderness, so as I drifted off my thoughts went to the other lean-to occupants – the mice.  I did not want to share my sleeping bag with these vermin.


I used this lightweight for my hike on the AT:  Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 Backpack – Emerald/Anthracite It holds up well and there is even a custom waterproof cover for it.