It had been many years since my backpack & I were close friends. This time we traded the hostels for the stars. Below is a short video synopsis of the enjoyment, the struggle & the true pleasure of getting away from it all for just two days.
And now the photographs & depth to explain why that video made our trip look like a cake walk... a cake still baking the oven.
The photo above was the very first one I snapped on this whole trip. There weren't any trailhead pics or waving bye to the cars. Everyone had a thirst to get away from anything that had to do with cars. Then around four miles, four hot open miles & three rivers crossings we made it to what became known as the Oasis.
A swimming hole like none I had experience, a welcomed early relief to the heat of the day. Too early for lunch, it was almost a shame to leave I thought as we slung our packs on our backs and headed back out onto the ridge that traverses above the Sespe River. After passing mile 4.5 & leaving behind the 20 or so boy scouts that we had been exchanging the trail with, our journey changed in a great way.
The trail had left the cool recesses of the river bed once again, just after our most difficult & off trail river crossing to wind up over countless ridges. Gaining elevation up a trail radiating heat from thousand year old rivers beds, only to walk atop a mesa of twisted head high chaparral. Eventually loosing elevation slowly on the other side of these ridge tops, all with the merciless mid day sun. While descending each time we could see in the distance our next section of barren trail laid out before us, climbing the next ridge & with almost 100% dropping down to the same sight on the other side.
Winding down one of these ridges we came upon what could at the time be appropriately named Oasis #2, planted firmly below an outstanding thirty foot tall sheer rock face to cool our backs. Lunch time ensued & energy was restored with good conversation & many shared meals among the many of us. I reflected much on the struggle of the journey, but in all reality this was an outstanding trail that offered both new experiences & wilderness challenges. Starting small with the most outstanding show of wild flowers I had ever seen.
All throughout the miles we walked you could see reds, yellows, and greens of all shades popping through the rough terrain. Secondly, coming and going in the two day we safely encountered the most rattlesnakes I had experienced. Some stretched out on the trail, others coiled up with a slight rattle to warn.
Moving on through the countless 'U' shaped draws, up the trail then down, up the trail then down, the whole time observing our next oppressively hot ridge three quarters of a mile off in the distance with growing disdain & a growing love for the expanses of the Sespe Wilderness.
The trail showed signs of a fire at one time & was littered with large bushes that had grown in these bent over cone shapes (shown below). Many lined the trail closely like below seen in the upper right, they came to be a symbol of our journey through the Sespe Wilderness, though bent & worn out, they were battling on.
Along the way the Sespe River became a welcome friend when the trail crossed close or even better yet, forded across it. If my memory serves me correctly we crossed the river six times on the way to our camp. The picture shown below was taken within the banks of the river & directly shows how much the proximity of water matters for life in this area; hot, dry and arid on the trail ridges & lush green tree shaded sections along the banks. This being the longest undammed river in southern California we were only spending a short eight and half miles on it (one way).
Pulling into the last downhill portion of the trail we could see a few of our faster travels retrieving water from the creek & we decided Ten Sycamore Flat was our camp for the night. Reaching a trail sign pointing towards the Red Reef Trail, our camp was a mere quarter mile into the meadow, a fire ring on the far side of the trail & a large sandy area for our many tents.
Much relaxation ensued, but a need for water before the darkness was also a growing matter. With a large party this was a task to be seen... well, by no one, and it was wonderful. Hanging out on the rocks in the middle of the river with the cool wind blowing, sterilizing cold natural water to replenish our tired bodies. By the time Georgette & I returned from the river a fire was roaring & the first signs of dehydrated dinners were starting to show.
Little over an hour passed and the stars began to unfold before us. While some retired to their tents to rest up for the expected journey back to the cars the next day others crowded around the telescope my new friend Derrick brought on the trail. Focusing in on an almost full bright moon, craters shown deep and ominous filling the whole lense piece.
Retiring to a chorus of frogs and crickets we all slept sound & far warmer than anyone expected. The next morning I woke a bit before 5:30am. Not wanting to let yesterdays efforts of walking to such an isolated region, I grabbed my camera & headed out to capture the sunrise from all parts of the large basin that was Ten Sycamore Flat. To my surprise Georgette was even awake for thirty minutes to take a few photos in the open meadow, but heading back for some more rest as the sun would not show for another hour on our tents.
The hour and a half I spent taking photos & walking about the two acre size basin that morning made every moment of the hike to that point worth it. Sitting quietly for twenty minutes periods I let nature show herself to me. Most impressively, I turned to see a coyote bounding through the meadow in 5 foot leaps, straight into a thicket of bushes, releasing a flurry of pheasants that were hiding within its recesses. I starred intently to see if there was success, but I never caught sight of the sly furry creature again.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, still not cresting out into our basin, the hills above our camp became alive with a morning glow that set off the meadow in a stunning fashion. I saw life beginning to stir at camp and soon smoke was rising in the distance.
I spent another few minutes taking in the beauty around me, another moment to snap this self portrait & I was off, knowing very well what the day was to hold... hot, open hiking.
“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” - Ansel Adams
All packed up, our troop headed back out to the main trail at the Red Reef Trail crossing & started optimistically back up over the ridges that I had cursed so badly in the mid-day heat not 24 hours earlier. Finding this section much less challenging in the morning time, the heat was still a factor to behold even before noon.
Each water crossing became a slow cool down, dunking all clothing to help our bodies under the weight of our packs. Most minds wandered thinking of the Oasis that lay ahead a bit past the half way mark... I know I was. Focusing on the positives & all the animals we had seen on this trip, two turtles, many fish, coyote breakfast attempt, hundreds of lizards, several rattlesnakes & a bright contingent of humming birds I attempted to stay mentally focused.
After an hour break at the Oasis & a cool dip in the river we all felt it was time to press on through the final 4 miles of our hike. This being one of the most open portions & the heat growing with the mid afternoon time frame. Each hikers mentality on this stretch was every man for them self until the parking lot. With radio contact between us all, it was a slow trudge the last few hours of the hike with many check in moments. Georgette only jokingly admitted that evening over fish tacos with the group that she considered throwing herself off the side of the cliff to save the energy.
Though some of the writing may seem heavy with the angst of adventure, the true spirit of getting away from the city & trying all new things was alive in us all. Many were just starting out in our backpacking experiences & this trip was a solid testament to what elements of nature really change from "day hike" to "backpacking" style missions. Smiling now & each time I have reflected on these two days... I guess they weren't so bad. But seriously, we already have two more trips in the works.