Monday, January 11, 2010

Hiking to Hiawatha and Chuchadas camps

I had a lovely time on the hike this weekend.

We met at Sierra Madre Road and Highway 166. Bryan had a key to the locked gate. We drove in on the dirt road for a very long time, then set up our car shuttle.

Where we parked the cars on either end had no visible sign of a trail that I could see. The entire area had been obliterated in a fire last year, the La Brea fire.

We set off down the hill at around 10 a.m. or so and actually found faint trail tread to follow much of the way. We descended all the way to the bottom of the canyon, from somewhere in the 5000 ft elevation zone down to the 2000 ft zone. It was a long climb through burned limbs and yucca stumps.

At the bottom, there was a camp called Roque. We explored around the area, finding burned trash and camping equipment and the old ice can stoves rusting in a state of advanced decay. After exploring and finding lots of interesting things, we continued along the "trail", which was more like following a line on a GPS than a line on the ground.

We climbed out of the canyon and rolled up and down over the ridges between canyons. We stopped at one nice creek canyon with burned oaks and green meadows. We ate our lunch here. It seemed like there should have been a camp here, it was so nice. At this point our "trail" continued down the creek and did not climb any more hills for the rest of the day.

We went down the creek with no trail in sight. The creek was full of silt. It looked as though during a heavy rain the creek had washed out the entire width of the canyon. The walking was relatively easy, however, because there was hardy any growth to contend with. No poison oak, no getting tangled in brush. We simply walked along seeking the path of least resistance.

Soon we reached Hiawatha Camp. There was an ice can stove and a large pile of rocks marking the spot. It seemed cold and gloomy at Hiawatha. The canyon walls were high and the trees blocked out any of the remaining light. The sky was cloudy but not cold, but it seemed cold in the dark, dank campsite. We rested briefly and continued down the creek.

As we walked down the creek, an old faint dirt road became apparent. We continued to follow the dirt road and as the canyon opened up more, the hiking became very easy. We hiked easily all the way to our hoped-for destination, which was Chuchadas camp.

Chuchadas was a nice place. There were some nice ice can stoves and a fenced in apiary. There were no hives in the apiary, just the electrified barbed wire intended to keep the bears out of the honey.

We camped in a meadowy clearing and had a nice fire. Clouds had covered the sky all day, even rained on us briefly, but after sunset they cleared. The evening was strangely warm. None of us wore jackets all evening. The stars came out and at first there were many, and then the smaller ones seemed to fade away leaving only the bright ones.

There was plenty of water in the creeks the whole way, but the water here at Chuchadas was very silty. I had to use a piece of fabric to keep the sand out of my water bottle but that did nothing for the finer silt. The water was brown and by morning, enough had settled to leave a layer of sand at the bottom of our bottles.

In the morning we made another fire for cooking breakfast. Then we packed up and headed out around 9 a.m. Our original plan was to hike up an old trail to our cars at the other end of the shuttle, but we changed it to try and find a camp that had been marked on an old topo from the 1940s. So we went back up the creek to Hiawatha and then continued up the creek, eventually following the branch where we hoped to find the camp.

Along the way we saw lots of bear prints and a few mountain lion and bobcat prints.

Around lunch time, we did find a camp, but I never heard if it was the one we were looking for. The camp was marked by debris, not an ice can stove. We rested by the creek, which now had nice clear water full of leech larva. We loaded up our water bottles for the steep climb to our cars. We estimated that for every 10 feet of forward progress we would be making 4 feet of elevation gain. This estimate seemed to bear out. It was a difficult climb, sometimes nearly straight up.

As we climbed, we went through burned yucca patches, tangled dead manzanita forests and finally stopped to admire the views from a small knoll with a box of MREs sitting under a bush. I didn't take any of the meals. Beef ravioli didn't sound very appetizing to me.

One last push and we finally reached the road once again. The views were amazing. To the south west we could see the Pacific Ocean glistening in the sun. To the north east the snowy crest of the Sierra Nevada was plainly visible behind the ranges bounding the Carrizo Plain.

We stopped on the way home at the Santa Maria brewery for some of the finest beer I've tasted. The amber is highly recommended. Finally, I returned home after dark a little sore and with blisters on my pinky toes. I was a lovely time. I had never been out in January before, and was amazed how warm it had been. But not so warm that walking in a treeless expanse was unpleasant.

Most of us had packed very light. Even with my very light pack, I still had a few unused items. I didn't need some of my warm layers, although I did use my jacket to sleep in. I didn't need a map since I was following Bryan and his GPS. The extra camera battery was also unnecessary. Otherwise, I had all that I needed and the weight was so light I didn't mind some of the crazy hill climbing we did.

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