Adventures in hiking…

Archive for March, 2014

Kidnapped on the Trail – Part II


Warning:  This blog contains a brief section of violence.  If this bothers you, skip this episode and read one of my more lighthearted stories.  This is the second piece of a two-part story. 

…. They shoved us through the brush, making sure that we were out of sight from the trail.  Near a creek bed, they pushed us down and took our packs.  These guys were probably “coyotes” who deal in human trafficking.

They took everything of value from us – cell phones, wallets.  One of them, a short dumpy slug – found the 550 para-cord in my backpack and used it to bind our hands behind our backs and to the trunk of a large manzanita bush.  We were beyond scared and prayed for deliverance knowing that when “el jefe” returned, we would be on our way south of the border to be held for ransom, or worse.  Dusk was coming quickly as I made eye contact with my wife and gave her a wink.

I was able to make out some of the conversation.  My knowledge of spanish is limited, even more limited when it is Mexican slang.  I did hear one of them say “cinco horas”.  We had “five hours” for something.  Three of them departed and left one to guard us.  He had some type of semi-auto pistol, couldn’t make out if it was a 9mm but he tucked it into his trousers and sat on a mound of grass about 20 ft. away.  It was decision time.


I whispered to my wife that we’ll ok and the thug immediately shined his flashlight and yelled “cayete!” meaning shut up!   He lit a small campfire to his left, enough to keep him warm as the coolness of this December night set in.  Darkness came and I started feeling around behind my back.  I didn’t have much mobility, but enough to feel the chunks of granite at the base of the manzanita.  I found a sharp sliver of rock and slowly started to rub the rope across the surface.  My eyes adjusted  a bit to the darkness and a waning half-moon rose to our north-east.  I estimated it was around 9-9:30. Within 30 minutes or so, I had cut through a strand and gradually worked my way out of the rope.    It must have been another hour or so and I could hear our kidnapper snoring.  I leaned over and whispered to my wife that I was free and that it would soon be time to act.  I untied her and told her to stay put.

Three months earlier I had applied for and received my concealed carry permit.  In California and particularly in San Diego County, you previously needed a “reason” to carry concealed.  The 9th District Federal Court of Appeals ruled that law-abiding residents need only to show a desire for self-defense rather than proving they were confronted with a “clear and present danger.”  As a result, in a state of over 38 million, the number of law-abiding citizens with permits doubled to 120,000 within a short time.


Crawling, I felt for any twigs that would snap and awaken him.  It seemed like it took forever, inching my way over, now several feet away.  I got into a prone position, chambered a round into my 32 cal semi-auto and released the slide.     The campfire had him illuminated perfectly.  I yelled at him twice “Ponga sus manos o usted es muerto!”  My spanish was pretty bad and I probably told him to clap his hands or die.  I meant to say put your hands up or you’re dead.

Instead, he reached for his weapon, and I placed 3 shots, center mass.  A groan and he slumped over, almost landing in the fire.  I retrieved his gun, held mine to his head while I checked for a pulse and remember a ringing in my ear.  No pulse, I dragged him behind a bush and put out the fire.

You see, our kidnappers did a poor job of frisking me.  I had dust gaiters on over my hiking pants.  Under those,  an ankle holster with a small pistol.

We retrieved our packs and made our way to the trail.  The moon provided just enough light to make out the path, so we quietly made our way back to the gate at the trailhead.  My jeep was gone,  probably on the way to Mexico.

We walked along the road towards town planning to flag someone down.  When a single vehicle approached, we hid, not knowing if it was our kidnappers.  Within 15-20 minutes, we observed a couple of vehicles pulling trailers coming from the OHV area.  We took a chance and flagged them down.  Fortunately, they were some guys from Santee out for some fun with their dirt bikes.  We told them that we needed to contact the police and they had us jump in their crew cab and high tailed it out of there.

As soon as they got a phone signal, they called 911 and were instructed to head to the Border Patrol checkpoint on I-8 about 10 minutes away.  We gave the 911 dispatcher my vehicle description and my cell phone number, hoping that they could start tracking it down by the cellular signal.

Reaching the checkpoint, we went over our ordeal with the agents.  We had survived our encounter with the coyotes.

Note to my readers:  The previous blog Kidnapped on the Trail was partially fiction.  We actually did hike this trail.  Our encounter with “coyotes” was fiction.  While I believe in the right of citizens to protect themselves in accordance with the 2nd Amendment,  this is not a blog or statement condoning the use of guns or violence.  Sadly, human trafficking/slavery is a serious problem in America and throughout the world.

Kidnapped on the Trail

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…. He found the 550 para-cord in my backpack and used it to bind our hands behind our backs and to the trunk of a large manzanita bush.  We were beyond scared and prayed for deliverance knowing that when “el jefe” returned, we would be on our way south of the border to be held for ransom, or worse.  Dusk was coming quickly as I made eye contact with my wife and gave her a wink.

The Espinosa Trail is a well-known trek for locals in the greater San Diego area.  The goal is normally Corte Madera Mountain, a distinct rock formation on a plateau in the southern Cleveland National Forest.  I actually found the hike in our local guidebook while looking for something closer to home.  Normally, we would head north toward the San Bernardino Mountains.  Today would be a bit different with views of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.


View from the Espinosa Trail looking north.

We loaded up our packs with the typical days’ fare of 2-3 liters of water, a lunch and some extra snacks.  With the microclimate in this area the temperatures can vary 40-50 degrees within 60 miles, so we took our layers of clothing.

Making our way out on the I-8 freeway, we passed El Cajon and a handful of smaller communities in eastern SD county.  Zipping by the exit for Mt. Laguna, we noticed a Border Patrol checkpoint on the eastbound side.  The exit to the Corte Madera Mtn trailhead came up and we headed south toward the small town of Campo.  It’s well-known for the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  The southern terminus of the PCT is very close to the Mexican-U.S. border.  We turned down another road with a gravel washboard for a surface.  It bounced the heck out of us until we came up on a military installation (Navy SEAL training base) behind a barb-wired topped fence.  Of special note, we were behind a Border Patrol SUV.  Hmm, that is interesting, but we are near the border.  We also noticed that this road led to an Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) recreation area and noticed quite a few trucks pulling Jeeps and hauling dirt bikes.  The road changed to a mostly one-lane black top as we drove the 4 miles to the trailhead.


The trailhead wasn’t labeled, but the gate to the private road was noted in the trail guidebook.  There was a USDA placard describing how this area is subject to closure due to the mating season of the raptors.   Like many trails, this one was diverse.  Beginning as a dirt road, we exited at a handmade trail sign sitting on top of a trash can.  “Espinosa Trail”, yes that’s the way.  Starting our 1,800 ft. climb we emerged into a nondescript area of chaparral and scrub.  Apparently, the Espinosa Creek was nearby, but there was no evidence of water.  We could see a fire tower in the distance, one of the last remaining ones in the county.  Emerging on a jeep trail, we took a right and proceeded up a winding dirt road to the next trail junction.  Noticed our second set of hikers today, but this would be a fairly uncrowded trail.  To the north was Hill 4588, as the Forest Service calls it on their maps.  Topped with Coulter pines, it was our first objective.  The trail narrowed and began a steep ascent.  Scrambling over rocks, this became the hardest part of the hike.  My wife – as nimble as a billy-goat going uphill,  steadily traversed the path.  I huffed and puffed while taking an occasional drink from my hydration pack.


The cleft of a rock…

The view from Hill 4588 was nice as we could see for miles in every direction.  The trail was full of those senseless up-downs (SUDS) and we finally leveled out on a plateau.  Now, we could see the cliff, a notable 300 ft. drop into the canyon below.  We stopped, found a trail log and had our late lunch.  The view was amazing.  So this was Corte Madera!  The Pacific to the west, Mexico to the south and the rest of Cleveland National Forest to our north.  It was getting late as the days were getting short.  I estimated that we had less than two hours of daylight left.  We set a decent pace as our hiking poles helped us to skirt down the hill, the sun setting quickly behind the mountain.  We entered the last leg near the jeep road and I was looking forward to a hot shower to knock of the trail dust.

They came out of the bushes to our right and shouted something unrecognizable in spanish.  There were four of them, two with guns drawn.  Shocked, we dropped our hiking poles and raised our hands.  In broken english one of them pointed to the woods and said something like “go to there”. They herded us off the path about 50 yards or so into the woods.


Next – Kidnapped on the Trail – Part II – Time for a Decision

I recommend these hiking poles.  They are lightweight and fairly sturdy.  Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue

We use this Nikon camera forour treks: Nikon D3300 DX-format DSLR Kit w/ 18-55mm DX VR II & 55-200mm DX VR II Zoom Lenses and Case

Grand Canyon – South Kaibab Trail


Near Mather Point, South Rim

A winter hiking trip to the Grand Canyon has been on my bucket list for some time.  If you can hit it during mild weather, this year-round national park offers some beautiful scenery with fewer people than summer.

Last year on a return trip from visiting family back east, we carved out a couple of days to stop by here.  However, temperatures around 0 deg F near Williams, Az. knocked out the hope of hiking as the water froze the RV pump.

This year we hit it at the right time.  A winter storm had passed through before Christmas  which we ran into while eastbound.  During this visit, the temps were forecast to be in the 50’s during the day and high teens at night at our campground.  Trailer village, one of the commercially run sites within the park was fairly empty and ended up being a nice place to stay.

The visitor center of Grand Canyon National Park is a busy place, but we needed to find out the trail conditions for our hike the next day.  We planned for the South Kaibab, which was open and other than some ice near the top, showed good conditions.

The shuttle service along the South Rim is an awesome way to get around.  We made our way to Mather Point to watch the sunset and walked along the Rim Trail.  This is where most of the tourists hang out.  It was a leisurely walk with amazing views.  We talked about our hike the next day and noticed some lenticular clouds along the North Rim.


Lenticular clouds along the North Rim

We’ve come to learn about cloud types and this type meant one thing – wind is coming.   Oh well, as long as it wasn’t like the hurricane force winds we encountered in Anza-Borrego last spring.

As the sun went down, the temperature dropped dramatically.  A stiff breeze brought the wind chill to around freezing.  We made our way back to a warm RV and made a nice pot of coffee.  Oh well, so much for roughing it.

By morning, the winds were gusty but overall a decent weather day.    We made our way to the shuttle and missed it.  While waiting for the next one, the sun made its way up, creeping over the trees and creating a sliver of sunlight.  We stood in the light and amazingly it was a few degrees warmer.


Off the shuttle. Where are the people?

Catching the shuttle to the South Kaibab is fairly easy; they don’t allow cars there in the winter.  As we exited the warmth of the bus at the trailhead, it became obvious why we were the only ones that got off.  The wind was gusting 35-40mph and it was chilly.   We bundled up, found the trailhead and started down.  It starts out at 7,200 ft. and gets a bit of snow.  The dust swirled from every direction and we put our bandanas on to keep it out of our mouths and noses.  Within a few minutes, the only exposed skin was the area between our sunglasses and bandanas.


Trying not to get blown off the trail.

There was spotty ice on the trail and we slowly made our way down.  The wind was buffeting my wife as we descended.  I hoped for a respite from the wind and within 5 minutes, we reached a protected area of the trail and adjusted our packs and clothing.  The wind and subfreezing temps were going to make this a challenging hike.  I estimated that it would warm as we went down and the winds should hopefully let up some.

The switchbacks near the top are frequent and fairly steep, but this is a well maintained and frequently traveled trail.  Soon, we would be passed by a small pack mule train.  While on the John Muir Trail last year, we saw over a dozen mule trains and it was usually easy to step aside and let them by.  Today, we backed up against the wall and the mules passed inches away.  The riders were friendly as they guided their train down a steep stair step that had been carved out of the canyon.


We just can’t get away from the pack-trains.

We made our way down to Ooh-Ah Point which was appropriately named.


Not that you could tell, but that sign reads “Ooh-Aah Point”

The next stop was Cedar Ridge and this one had a composting toilet-nice!    We started seeing more people and got back on the trail because it was still fairly cold here.  The wind never really let up on this hike.

The colors are really amazing in this area.  As the sun moves across the horizon, the canyon walls seem to change various hues.   We also noticed how short the daylight was and determined that while we could probably handle the physical part of a hike to the river below, we would run out of light.  The thought of trudging up as the temps dropped helped us to decide to stop at Skeleton Point.  Some trail riders came up as we were taking a break and they looked tired.  Must have been a rough night down there and the wind was taking its toll on them.


As I glanced up the return path, dust devils were sporadically dancing across the trail and off the cliffs.  The hike back up was different in that it was 3 miles of uphill.  This would be a tough one in the summer as the elevation change is roughly 700 ft. per mile.  No water on this trail, so bring enough for an all day hike.  Just because it was cool doesn’t mean you need less.  We went through just over 2 liters each.


The wind never really let up on this hike.  Admittedly, it was the windiest, dustiest hike we’ve been on.  Still, it was awesome and is worth the visit.  Next time, we may do Bright Angel and go all the way across.


Dressed like a bandito on the South Kaibab Trail.