Sunday, November 08, 2009

Don Victor Trail

This weekend Trailhacker and I went with some friends to Don Victor Valley, DVV for short. Our objective was to do some trail maintenance as volunteers for the Forest Service. It sounds so official, but really, it was a bunch of friends hiking in the wilderness with loppers and saws trying to cut open the trail.

The reason our friends want to keep this remote trail open is because it is a possible connector trail on the proposed Condor Trail route. The Condor Trail is their idea for a route to take through the Los Padres National Forest. It would be more than 300 miles long and would be extremely rugged and remote.

When thinking of how one might thru-hike this trail, the question of resupply comes up. How would it be done with no nearby towns? One idea is to put bear-proof lockers at places accessible to cars. Hikers would have to put their resupply parcels in the lockers before setting out.

A trail like this would be an amazing adventure. Sure the Appalacian and Pacific Crest Trails are longer, but this trail would be so much more remote and rugged. It would probably take 3 times as long to hike these 300 miles as any 300 miles on the PCT. When I hiked the PCT I followed human footprints. On the Condor Trail you would follow bear and lion prints.

On Saturday, Trailhacker and I got up really early so that we could meet the others on the side of Highway 33 at a locked gate on a fire road at 7AM. Bryan had the key so we unlocked the gate and proceeded down the road to Potrero Seco, a primitive camping area. I wondered how anyone ever camps there if the road is locked. I guess they have to hike in. Apparently there is a trail to follow.

We left our daintier trucks and loaded up into the more rugged ones to proceed down the four-wheel-drive road to DVV. That road also had a lock that we had to unlock. Part way down, we called in to the forest service to let them know we were going to work.

When we reached the bottom of the canyon, we had to cross some creeks and gullies in the four-wheel drive trucks. It was a little bit difficult. We had to struggle over some of them. There were willow trees growing in the road and we had to drive over them, pushing them over as we went. On the way back, the trees had popped back up again as if we had never been through. Sometimes we couldn't even see the road and had to get out and search for it.

When we reached a creek crossing we felt we could not ford, we parked the trucks, put on our packs and started walking. We walked about a half mile to the actual Don Victor trail which was marked with a sign. The sign said it was 5 miles to Madulce, a camp site we hoped to reach by the evening. It was somewhere between 9 and 10AM when we started. I figured 5 miles? That's it? No problem. I couldn't have been more wrong.

We headed up the trail, clipping Yerba santa along the way. Soon we reached a junction of two creek canyons. The correct way to go was up the smaller canyon to the left. It was not well-marked. In fact, the trail so far had been pretty easy to follow, but non-existent in some places, especially at the beginning where the sign was and here where the junction was. Someone had flagged it in the past, which helped.

We took the left junction and spent the rest of the day searching for trail, marking it with tape and trying to cut it open again. There were lots of willows, Yerba santa, poison oak, wild roses and other plants choking the trail. The roses were the worst. They tore at my skin and clothing.

For hours we cut and searched. Sometimes we could not find the trail and ended up in the creek. Sometimes the trail could not be found and sometimes it was clear it had been washed away.

The whole area had been burned in fires the last few years. But still it was pretty. Down in the creek the trees were coming back. Being fall, there was warmth in the sun and coolness in the shade and the sun went behind the canyon walls early so that we never were too hot to work.

The creek was mostly dry, but there were a few places with water. At one place, the water was flowing and we considered making camp. Some of us thought since there were still a few hours of daylight left we ought to try to make it to Madulce. So we continued. But eventually, we turned back and went back to the place with the flowing water to camp.

After my summer of 30 mile days on the PCT hiking on a trail where we could not achieve 5 miles in one day was pretty amazing. We were all so exhausted, too. We cooked dinner as the light was fading and shared a communal salad. Once the sun went down, Tony and I went to sleep in our tent. We tried to find a flat spot, but it was really quite slanted. I kept ending up with only a few inches of space as Tony slid into me and I slid into the wall. I have to say, his blow-up thermarest, which slid under me eventually, is very comfy compared to my K-mart blue pad, but I prefer my blue pad.

Both Tony and I carried very light packs. Tony had purchased a new ultralight pack and tent this summer. The pack was a Golite and the tent was the Six Moons Lunar Duo. The Lunar Duo is spacious and seems very sturdy. We probably could have gone without a tent at all, but we wanted the extra warmth. The night started pretty cold with wind and cool clouds moving in. Eventually it cleared, and in our protected site under oak trees, it was very warm. I actually pushed my quilt off my torso I was too warm.

I tried out the ULA Relay pack I bought last spring at the PCT Kick-off. I love this pack. It fits me just right. ULA makes great packs. They shape them in such a way that they fit really well. The Relay is no longer made. It is very small, probably made for climbers as an approach pack. I was able to pack it with my quilt, the tent pegs, ground sheet and small tent poles (the tent uses trekking poles for the main supports), my cook kit, rain gear, two jackets, an extra shirt, food, water and my hygiene stuff and I still had room for more. The pack was small and light enough that I wore it while cutting the brush and tossing branches. I could not tell the pack was there.

Tony and I both remarked later how nice it is to go light. We are able to carry tools to work the trail and all our gear without hardship. It is so much easier to work and hike at the same time without having to take off our packs or struggle with the weight. We were never uncomfortable. We had more stuff than we actually needed. We are planning now to make special gear for trips like this. Without carrying so much weight on the basics, we have weight to spare on tools or other special gear. We want to make some kevlar chaps so that we can walk through wild roses without so much pain.

This was my first trip into the wilderness since coming home from the PCT. It feels so much like coming home when I go out to the wilderness. I slept well despite the slipping and sliding in the tent. I thought the trip was at least one night too short. We really needed three days: one day to get where we got, another day to reach Madulce and return to our camp, and one more day to return to our cars.

It really surprised me how different hiking in the Los Padres is to hiking the PCT. Five miles in one day. If anyone attempted the Condor Trail, they'd have to be prepared for five mile days. They'd have to carry loppers for insurance to get through. They'd have to be comfortable searching for trail and walking cross-country when the trail could not be found. They'd have to be okay with following bears and not seeing another human being for weeks. It would be an awesome experience.

On the way home as we drove along Highway 33, we saw lots of vehicles parked, their owners enjoying local trails and wilderness visits, and we also saw various homesteads. Trailhacker mentioned how it would be nice to have a little piece of land and a camper and if a fire came through, just drive the camper to safety. No worry about your house burning down. I agreed, and said that it would be nice to live like that because there is so much more to life than chasing a career. There are so many trails to explore and so much wilderness to enjoy. Some things are more important than working.

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