Sunday, June 28, 2009

Buckeye Camp via Soda Springs Trail

After our wild ride to nowhere, we retreat down Highway 1 to Buckeye Camp via Soda Springs Trail.

The trail is extremely steep, and the afternoon sun is hot as we switchback up the dry, chapparal covered slopes. Far below, the pale ribbon of Highway 1 loops endlessly south.

A hot wind rises upslope, the shrill rasping of cicadas sounds from the edge of the trail.

By the time B and I have gained the final ridge, I feel sick from the heat, blood pounding in my ears.

Then on through a small, shady copse of oaks, and down into the golden bowl that is Buckeye Camp.

The Buckeyes are in full bloom, the intoxicating scent reminiscent of gardenia or magnolia.

I feel like this sign looks - all done in.

But oh joy - the spring is still running and after splashing the icy water over us we are revived enough to enjoy our lunch.

Then back to the car and on to a much anticipated coffee at Rainbow Coffee in Cambria. But Rainbow Coffee has changed hands since our last visit, and the rather puffy looking man behind the counter has no coffee! He then bushes us off by saying it is too late in the day for coffee anyway. I supress the urge to reach across the counter and shake him, and settle for a syrupy chai.

Big Sur: Mill Creek and Buckeye Camp

Torn out of slumber by the chirping of my alarm, for a few minutes I am completely disoriented. Hastily packing whatever I can find in my cupboards I am still a few minutes late to meet M and B.

We head north to Mill Creek in the pearly light of dawn. As we descend to the creek side trail, the first rays of sun illuminate the far golden hills.

Towering redwoods, mossy, fallen logs, lush green ferns. Mill Creek is Big Sur at it's most magical. Or The Shire, as B suggests. We wander for some time, crossing and re-crossing the stream.

After several miles, we climb out of the verdant stream side - up the steep, tawny hillsides. The heat is already oppressive.

Stepping carefully, concerned about snakes, my eye falls on this delicate Mariposa lily. It seems unbelievable that it could flourish in such stony, inhospitable soil.

Back at the car and uncertain of our next destination (the best hikes are usually fairly unstructured) we head up Nacimiento - Fergusson Road, intending to climb Cone Peak. A wrong turn and miles and miles of rough, rocky, dirt road later, we are truly at the end of nowhere. A very long way off, Cone Peak shimmers in the heat. It will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Montecito Peak - Solstice Celebration

Setting out for our Solstice celebration atop Montecito Peak, the evening is warm and slightly humid. As the sun sinks toward the west, a smudge of lavender washes across the pale sky.

As always, the pace is rapid, and by the time we reach the upper trail my breathing is slightly ragged.

This section of the trail is desert-like; rocky and dry. The scent of chamise and dust hangs heavy in the still air; it is almost completely silent except for the scrape and rattle of my shoes on the trail.

Around the high shoulder below the peak, the soft, rumpled hillsides beckon us onward in the fading light.

Not quite fast enough to gain the summit before the sun sets, I am climbing the last, extremely steep section as darkness falls.

Rounding the corner, the sweet, plaintive notes from a harmonica float across on the warm breeze. My heart contracts for a moment with a combination of joy and pain - and then it's laughter, champagne toasts, and an enormous, sherry soaked trifle that has been carried all the way up the mountain in a glass bowl.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gaviota Peak at Dusk

The trail to Gaviota Peak begins in a thickly wooded area - ancient sycamores overhang the cool, dim trail. It soon opens up into fields of golden grass, shimmering in the evening light.

Half of our group splits off on a shortcut, long legs and heavy boots slashing through the grass. Within moments they are gone, up and over the ridge.

The tawny hills stretch almost as far as the eye can see - a faint shadowy line of fog creeping up behind them from the coastline.

The trail climbs more steeply now, through thickets of Toyon and scrub oak. 'Traveler's Joy' (wild clematis) with it's dry, fluffy seed heads flourishes along the side of the trail.  As the sun sinks lower in the west, the encroaching fog bank moves up the valley.

Alone now on the trail in the luminous dusk, the lyrics to an old "Traveling Wilburys" song surface in my mind.

"Well it's all right...... I'm just glad to be here, happy to be alive, at the end of the line. And it don't matter if you're by my side, at the end of the line, I'm satisfied, and it's all right....."

The final ridgeline is reached just after the sun slips over the horizon, and the view opens up to the Pacific Ocean. A cool wind is sweeping strongly across the peak; we retreat down the trail a bit and enjoy biscotti and poetry.

Then down we go, back to the cars. The trail ends too soon - we are dumped abruptly back into the parking lot and the incongruous sight of these signs, freeway traffic roaring by.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Five Fingers - or - The Darwin Awards

Guest Post by M:

After a 3 day weekend of superb hikes in the spring snow and clear air of the Eastern Sierras friend T and I headed home south from Lone Pine hoping to bag another peak on the way through the desert.

We had been fumbling for some time among dirt road exits looking for the one that leads to the trailhead when I picked one at random and suggested we try it. We soon realized that this route was suitable only for off road vehicles and camels and in the gathering unease why we kept going I don’t know other than wishful thinking. But when the track suddenly got even worse we had to face reality and plan an exit strategy for this desert detour. I got out to guide the car back and was thinking this would be a terrific spot to get stuck when indeed the front wheels squealed in alarm, each imprisoned in a rapidly deepening sand trap.

Looming over us the peaks wavered in the dry desert heat, taunting us with their apparent nearness, illusory I’m sure.

After waiting more than an hour the tow truck finally rumbled into view, turned around and started reversing up the sandy slope. The moment when its wheels started spinning was disturbing yet soaked in comedy; I immediately had visions of a second truck sent to rescue the first and the car left as a warning monument to out of towners pushing their luck. Such a rusting testament really would not look out of place amidst all the other debris on the 395 roadside; perhaps it would become a faded landmark in itself. These thoughts were interrupted as the truck went back down and tried again, this time getting close enough to extend a cable and reach the car. Our two tattooed rescuers – a tow truck tag team – soon got the job done; the car weirdly lurching by external force as if by telekinesis back across the road. We got in and surfed a wave of relief all the way to the coast.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Little Lakes Valley

By morning, my head has finally stopped trying to separate itself from my body - so we head north to Little Lakes Valley. Feeling disinclined to shop the evening before, and leaving Lone Pine before the markets opened, we are woefully unprepared for a long day hike. In my pack are a few crackers, a candy bar, and a too-sweet mango Snapple. No water. M has no water either - and there is no tap at the trailhead.

The day is cool, and the hike gains very little altitude over the next 6 or 7 miles, so we decide to forge ahead.

This hike is truly one of the most beautiful in this part of the Sierras. Every vantage point looks like a postcard; the photography here can't even begin to do it justice. We pass Marsh Lake, Box Lake, Chickenfoot Lake, Long Lake - and finally reach the upper Gem Lakes.

Gem Lakes are are almost eerily quiet, completely frozen. There are no other people, the silence is complete. But the sunlight is warm so we pause for a snack - then head back down the trail to the turnoff to Morgan Pass (11, 100 ft)

By the time we begin the ascent to Morgan Pass my trail runners and leggings are soaked from postholing through the snow. Still in the car are my boots, gaiters, crampons, trekking poles and ice axe.

I follow the footsteps M kicks into the snow and concentrate on not looking down. To my surprise we gain the top of the pass fairly easily, and relish the heat radiating off the enormous boulders strewn along the ridgeline.

On the way back to the car M asks if we might qualify for the Darwin Awards for setting off on this hike with no water, no snow gear/clothing and minimal food.

I ponder this for a bit. But honestly, I think the next day's activities have to win that award.