Saturday, May 30, 2009


In the morning I left my outhouse and followed the road down to the Buck Creek trailhead. It was pretty walking along the road in pine forest with lupine and little yellow flowers blooming everywhere. Some parts of the forest were burned and some were not. There were great views, too.

When I reached the trailhead I had a feeling of triumph. I was going to make it! I took a picture of myself at the trailhead sign in celebration.

Motorcycles had used the Buck Creek trail, too. I followed their tracks as the trail plunged steeply down. I knew from looking at the topo that the trail would rise first and then drop and that is what it did.

Suddenly the tracks just ended at a small stealth camp. I searched to the left for the trail and seemed to find it, but it vanished. So I went back to the camp and searched to the right. That wasn't it, either.

I consulted the topo and identified all the nearby peaks and ridges. But I couldn't figure out where on the trail I was. I realized I needed to backtrack.

I walked a short ways back and saw the trail plunging down into the canyon. Somewhere in the back of my mind I registered that the trail was going north, which was not the right way, but such is the pull of the trail. I plunged down the trail.

I met with the headwaters of the creek. The map said I would pass Buck Creek Spring. I though the headwaters were it, until I reached a real spring. Then I reached a camp site. The maps said I would pass Buck Creek Camp after the spring. It seemed I was on the right track.

Everything was so lovely in this valley. The forest was lush and cool. The creek was burbling happily. It was the prettiest part of the whole journey so far.

I continued down the trail and then the trail suddenly rose steeply out of the canyon. I figured that was to avoid some narrows I could see below. Then the trail seemed to be way too high above the creek to be right. It was leading me away from the canyon completely, off into Hungry Valley.

I consulted the map. Nowhere did the Buck Creek trail ever rise more than a contour line or two away from the creek. Darn those motorcycles carving trails all over the place! I backtracked down to where the trail had risen from the creek and searched for the real trail. I thought I could see something faintly off into the wild roses. I even passed some horse manure. Wow, this trail was certainly abandoned!

I spent considerable effort trying to stay on the trail. Most of the time, all I had to guide me were huge, deep bear prints. I thought I had the trail on one side of the canyon wall, but then I looked across the creek and could see the trail clearly on the other side. I even saw some of the old retaining wall. I made my way with considerable effort across the creek and over to the other side. I climbed up but could not find the trail bed. I traversed the hillside, at times finding the trail only to lose it again.

Again, I could see the trail on the other side, so I crossed the creek again through wild roses and stinging nettles. I swore I would not lose the trail. I would stick to it like glue.

I did the best I could but the trail was nasty and overgrown. I spent most of my effort fighting dead branches and crawling on my hands and knees. At times the trail was so treacherous and barely there that I was frightened I might fall and slip to my doom below.

I stopped at a small side trail to eat and consult the map. Surely any minute now I'd reach the good trail that Tony and I previewed last March.

Eventually even this poor trail seemed to disappear. I decided maybe it would be easier to just go down the creek. Buck Creek trail crosses the creek eventually so I would find the trail. I went down to the creek and began a hellish fight through wild roses, stinging nettles, poison oak, dead brabcgesm slick rocks and lose giant boulders. The fight went on for over 4 hours.

I kept looking for signs of the trail. I kept looking ahead thinking as soon as I get around that corner ahead I'll probably see the trail decending into the creek. I looked up at the steep cliffs above me and kept thinking this just didn't look right. The way down the creek was very difficult. I'm not all that good at hiking in creeks anyway, and this was the hardest I've ever done. I slipped and fell constantly. If my feet got wet the rocks were too slippery to walk on without falling. I fell over backwards a few times. I worried I would conk my head and nobody would ever find my body. I did conk my head on an overhanging rock. Some of the loose boulders weighed over 4 tons and could have easily rolled over and there I would be like that guy who had to cut off his hand. I was frightened and had a gnawing, sinking feeling in my mind that this was not Buck Creek. Where was I?

I kept praying for the trail. Please please be the trail. Eventually the creek widened up and I could walk on sand. I thought I could see human foot prints, too. This cheered me some.

Then there was a confluence of my creek and another, larger creek off to my left. This for sure was not Buck Creek. There was no such confluence on Buck Creek. I looked at the other creek and to follow it would be upstream. This would be obviously the wrong way to go. With big Pyramid Lake nearby all creeks ought to be draining toward it. So I followed the confluence down.

The creek was wider but not deep and I enjoyed crossing it. It was a chance to wash off the poison oak and nettles. My left hand stung sharply from the nettles.

All of a sudden I saw a duck. I'm saved! There was a real trail. I followed it and eventually arrived at a paved road and a metal gate. Attached to the metal gate was a box. I opened the box to look inside and there were angler survey forms for the Piru Creek/Hardluck Crossing area. I stepped out onto the road and looked. Sure enough, I had just come down Piru Creek. How the heck had that happened?

Thank goodness, though. I was going to be okay. Not only was I where I wanted to be, I was even on schedule. I walked over to the creek crossing and laid down in it to wash off. I washed my hair. Then I turned to walk up the road to my bicycle.

I found my bike hidden in the bushes and coasted down to Los Alamos Campground. I payed my $16 and set up camp. I called Tony and he said he'd come meet me in the morning. I decided I was way too sore to ride my bike to Hikertown and the PCT. I had proven it could be done and that was good enough for me.

Later I got out the map and tried to figure out where I had gone wrong. I think at the spot in the early morning where the motorcycle tracks ended and I searched for the trail, I should have backtracked even further. I should have listened to the little voice in the back of my head that said that turning north down that trail was wrong. Because turning north led me to Snowy Creek and there is no trail in Snowy Creek. There is a motorcycle trail that runs through the upper part of Snowy Creek and then veers off over the ridge, as I had begun, and off to the north west. The motorcycles had carved their own little trail, that wasn't on the map, all the way up to the headwaters of Snowy Creek and up to the Buck Creek trailhead. I should have backtracked all the way to the trailhead if that's what it took to find the real Buck Creek Trail.

Anyway, I'm alive. I made it. But I'll never do it again!

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