This is going to be long but here goes. The first 3 days and nights are more or less done. I'll keep editing until I've got it all in there.
Warning: I'm going to be blunt when addressing or reporting how I felt at the time, but understand that what was going through my head wasn't necessarily reasonable but more just a result of building up over time and several days of disappointments and unforeseen hardships. After a few days in a real (warm) bed, I harbor no angst toward any member of our expedition.
This was quite an experience for me. It is, by far the longest camping/backpacking trip I've been on. In fact, probably a full 3 times as long. I'm happy to say there were no casualties and that despite the length of the trip, my bag was probably actually lighter than some of the other trips I've been on.... I've also discovered that gallon sized gatorade bottles are perfectly reliable water containers for a backpacking trip. Their main down side is that they don't collapse when empty, but for as cheap as they are, it's hard to beat them. Plus you can start your trip off with a gallon or 2 of gatorade instead of plain old water.
Anyhow, without further ado, here's the day by day report:
2009 May 23
The week before we left for the trip, Jason and I made a fatal change of plans. We looked at our route and our maps and decided, hey, I think we have enough time to take this alternate route and spend more time in the mountains! So, with that decision behind us, we arrived at about 9:30am at the head of Trail 50. Really we were at the edge of private ranch land that stood between the only road around there and the real head of the trail. Luckily the rancher had a large sign and gate up allowing us to cross by foot or hoof as it were.
We lamented our late start, but figured we'd be good to go still and trucked onward. Near the far edge of the private property, we lost the trail. We ended up climbing a barbed wire fence to get back onto national forest land and then shortly thereafter we found the trail again. The walking was easy so far, but the more we got into real mountains, the steeper things became.
As we climbed into the mountains, James fell further and further behind. Within a mile, maybe 2 it was pretty clear that the altitude was handing him his ass. We slowed down and took more breaks and he was thankfully smart enough to take his own breaks when he needed them and not push himself past what he could handle.
Moreover, the grade of the trail was rough for all of us, not just James. At some point in the hike (maybe when we stopped for lunch?) we redistributed the weight amongst us so James was carrying less.
We found a good spring about 2.5 mi. in and loaded up with some more water there. The water was frigid and it took a good long time for the iodine to dissolve giving us a good long break. (Since we decided to get water out with a collapsible bucket and then iodize it and then filter it to remove the iodine flavor, we had to sit and wait for the iodine to work.)
At this point it was becoming obvious we probably had to change our plans. We were supposed to hike between 7 and 8 miles the first day and try and make it up to San Mateo Pk. and the cabin up there. There was no way we were going to make it.
As the day wore on, James was more and more sure he was getting altitude sickness. All told, there was probably between 3 and 4 thousand feet of up and down during that first day and most of it was up. As I recall we went up more than 2k feet, then down 7 or 8 hundred, then back up 6 hundred or so. Then add to that some other misc. ups and downs. Something like that. By the afternoon we had given up all hope of reaching the cabin and were just looking for a flat spot for out tent-bound comrades.
Given how disappointing it was to fall so short of our goal and have the crap kicked out of me so thoroughly on the first day, this was rather frustrating. Half the reason I brought a hammock in the first place was so that I didn't have to worry about this very thing. In that area, it's a hell of a lot easier to find a place for a hammock than it is to find flat level ground large enough for a tent.
We all fell down at the bottom of the next accent where there was kinda sorta flat ground while Dustin (our faithful pack mule) trudged forward and upward in search for a better spot. He found such a beast on top of a shoulder between 2 mountains. Oh! and at some point we passed Nave Spring shortly before the kinda sorta flat ground. The meager amount of water we found there was some nasty stuff. We left it there and moved on.
We grudgingly re-shouldered our bags and climbed up to where Dustin was and set up camp. We had made it between 4 and 5 miles. There was a pretty cool rock outcropping that had rock on basically 3 of 4 sides of a small flat area. We decided that would work well for a spot to build a fire.
There were some very nice views up there, but it left us fairly exposed to the elements as well. Dustin and I were quite cold that night around 2 or 3am. I ended up putting my clothes bag under me as insulation instead of a pillow so at least part of my back was warm for the night. Aside from temperature the hammock was fairly comfortable.
Well, aside from that and the fact that Dustin and I had our hammocks strung up too close together between 3 trees. I gave him a good People's Elbow and I got a solid punch to the head while rolling around in sleeping bags. I woke up at least once laying more in the bug netting than the hammock bottom itself.... oops.
2009 May 24
We hadn't necessarily been planning on making fires in the mornings. We figured we'd make better time and such if we just ate cold breakfasts. Turns out we had a fire almost every morning we were out there, if for no other reason than Dustin and I were cold.
James had a rough night and slept in past noon trying to recover from the altitude sickness. It was up in the air as to whether we were going to go back the way we came in or push on and do a loop, coming out where we had originally planned to come in on Trail 45. Either way we decided we were going to stay a full day at that camp regardless.
At some point in the afternoon, after James woke up, it started to rain. We all started to make sure our tents/hammocks and bags were going to stay dry. Jason and I were dealing somewhat with the hammocks because I noticed that, while it looked like a good idea to drape both hammock tarps over each other (to create a tarped area between the hammocks) what was really happening was the rain was going over 1 tarp and under the next and dripping inside Dustin's hammock. I shoved his sleeping bag into his backpack (since that was staying dry) and we tried to string another line to lift the center of the tarps up and prevent the dripping.
It didn't really work, but the sleeping bags and clothes stayed dry. Then, we got hit by a delightfully strong hailstorm. We had no recourse but to hope the hammocks and backpacks under them stayed dry and we all went diving into the tent to hide. We had to use our "outdoor" voices, as they say, in order to hear ourselves at all. It was pretty impressive. Despite the possibility that everything we had was going to be soaked through, we all had a good time watching this beastly storm drop all around us. It hailed enough that parts of the area looked like it had snowed.
Oh, and did I mention that when it very first started raining, we were trying to keep the fire going? We started burning good large wood to hopefully keep it hot enough to keep going.... Ha! No chance. That was the main event of the day I think. The dinner fire was pretty difficult to start up but we eventually managed and spent quite awhile drying packs and gear at the fire.
Speaking of, Dustin was borrowing my old hiking boots for this adventure. It was this day that they got their first little bit of melting didn't they? I don't remember.
Let's see. We hung our food up in bear bags most nights because there was plenty of bear shit on the trail during that first day's hiking in particular. We let the bags down in the morning and later on discovered that there was a shit-ton of ants all over our bags, so we had to deal with them as well.
Dustin thoroughly established his opinion of bow saws during the day here as well. That is to say "why use a saw when you can throw big rocks at the logs instead?" This eventually established his nickname of "Hulk".
Aside from it just being cool, the major boon the hailstorm brought us was good drinking water! I almost forgot to mention that earlier in the day Jason and I had hiked w/o bags back to Nave Spring to re-evaluate whether or not we should/could get water from there. We were going to need something before too long. After a second inspection we decided once again that it wasn't worth it.... Then mana from heaven! Turns out that the hammock tarps weren't rigged that well for keeping rain off, but they were rigged excellently to gather a couple gallons of water and ice for us! The water problem had solved itself.
As a last note for the day, I wasn't looking forward to being cold again so, despite critisizm from the others, I spent the night curled up with a nice hot rock I had picked from dinner fire. I wrapped it in a wash cloth I had up there. The cloth was a little small, so I added the previous day's used socks to the wrap to prevent melting my sleeping bag. It was amazing for the first bit. I put it on top of my long johns while I was getting changed into sleeping clothes so I stepped into cozy warm clothes, then I put it in the foot of my mummy bag. Sliding cold feet up to that for the first part of the night was brilliant.
Unfortunately, by 3-4am when it's the coldest, the rock, and I had cooled. Oh! I think I tried to use my empty backpack as a sleeping pad that night too... It worked ok as insulation, but it wasn't very comfortable and wasn't really long enough either. I had my back & shoulders on the backpack, my hips and ass on my bag of clothes, and a warm rock in the bottom of my sleeping bag.... in the end, it was warmer than the previous night, but not really warm enough to make me happy...and definitely not comfortable. You do what you have to I guess.
2009 May 25
We woke up late on day 3 (which became the norm) and ate food. James was feeling somewhat better by now and we decided to press on and do the loop instead of going back the way we came. At some point by now Jason climbed a small nearby hill and managed to get cell phone reception and update Heather as to our new plan. We packed up our camp and headed out toward San Mateo Pk. and the cabin that was listed on the map as open for camping. It was only a couple miles from where we had previously camped, but alas, it was not meant to be. We didn't see the cabin on day 3.
We did, however, become acquainted with the Skunk Hole and Skunk Water. We didn't have tons of water with us and we were uncertain of what was before us so we headed off toward San Mateo Spring with the resolve that, regardless of what was there, we really needed to get water there. If we found a better source later on, we could dump it out, but we needed water just in case.
It didn't take us too long to get to the Spring, but we had a late start and we weren't really sure how hard the hike from the Spring to the cabin was going to be so we decided to say screw it and camp at the fairly nice area around the spring. Ok, this time, by spring, I mean some pipes leading into a trailside trough. A nasty leave and shit filled puddle in a metal tub. This was as bad as Nave Spring pretty much. But lo! what is that? It's a concrete walled hole in the ground with a metal hatch! And the pipes feeding the trough come from there!
We thought perhaps, perhaps the water would at least be deeper under yawn hatch and thus a little less .... filled with shit... Well, we were at least half right. The water was deeper. A good foot deep in places probably. And by foot I mean the height of one's foot while wearing hiking boots, as we'll learn a little later on here.
The water is fairly clear on account of it being in a concrete box with large rocks filling the bottom (i.e. not much dirt or mud to muck it up). However, holy crap is that shit just wrong! Thus the skunk hole was discovered and named. It was either that or dehydration in the middle of nowhere, so... what can I say? We manned up. We iodized and filtered us some skunk water (and added vitamin C which neutralizes the iodine and gets rid of that part of the flavor at least).
The walls of the skunk whole had green roots and nasty algae growing on them. It was full of various water bugs. It was dark and completely fucking stagnant. And!..... to top it off, the water level was far too low for us to reach the water with our collapsible water bucket. Fuck. In order for us to fully enjoy the flavor of skunk ass in our water.....we had to say goodbye to the daylight and fresh air and fucking crawl down into the skunk hole, balancing precariously on the loose rocks and dip that fucking bucket.
Our torment did not end there! Oh no! The bucket likes to float as it turns out, so we had to reach in the frigid water with our hands to hold the bucket down. It resisted as if it too knew the peril that lies within! It no more wanted to bath in that fetid water than you or I. Alas, the bucket was drowned in the skunk hole over and over, each time the bucket and bucketeer emerging from the skunk whole weeping and gasping for life granting fresh air.
And then, it happened. On Dustin's maiden voyage into darkness... he slipped. We now know for sure that the water is, like I said, about "a foot" deep. We had so many gallons to filter in serial out of there, it just wasn't worth trying to make it to the cabin. Figured we'd take our time with the iodizing and filtering and just camp there. It was a nice spot. Wood nearby, flat.
Night 3's adventure in staying warm involved an even larger rock out of the fire to take to bed (this time wrapped in my other T-shirt). I also decided to use my backpack's rain cover as insulation by filling it up with pine needles. This worked well, but it wasn't quite long enough. I also screwed it up by trying a new random idea that popped into my head: I wanted to see if it was plausible to hang my backpacking back under the hammock lengthwise to keep it up off the ground and away from any running water that may drip my way.
Have I mentioned that it rained for at least a little bit every single day?
Well, the cord I used to tie up the pack was annoying and in an odd spot all night. Night 3 was not terrible, but still not good. Still not as warm as I wanted either. Damn.
2009 May 26
On Day 4 we reached Day 1's goal. Hot damn! It was a short easy hike up to the cabin, but we again didn't leave camp until after noon or something. While doing breakfast and packing camp up, a deer came to visit. It watched us for a bit and then circled around us and watched from the other side. It was probably after the skunk water, but we guarded our skunk water jealously!
Jason had made a previous quick hike up to the cabin sans backpack so we knew where we were going and also that our previously pessimistic cabin predictions were unfounded. It was a real cabin with 4 walls and a roof that didn't leak. Windows with shutters and the whole 9 yards! The inside of the cabin had 2 sets of bunk beds with mattresses and a wood burning stove. We were gonna be sleeping good tonight!
This was by far one of the best and most amusing days out there. After being cold for a few nights, this cabin was a dream come true. Walking up to it, it had an old fallen down corral with a horse trough and such and there used to be log fencing, but it was mostly toppled over. The cabin itself though looked to be in good condition. It even had rain gutters that ran into pipes and filled a tank for water.... Now if only there weren't a couple dead bloated rats skinny dipping in the tank. Ah well, we had enough skunk water to go round, we didn't need to dip into plague water.
The cabin had signs on it proclaiming death and pestilence on anyone who vandalized the cabin, but no STAY OUT signs and moreover, it wasn't locked. Therefore we proclaimed the cabin free game. I don't remember the order of events here, but the other primary structure on top of San Mateo Peak was the fire lookout tower. Jason and I both decided to brave the tower while the others wussed out. The only really questionable part of the tower was the very first ladder in the set. It was no longer attached to the tower and had merely been leaned up against the frame in a different spot sometime after it had broken off. It was just wedged in there it seemed. No welding or bolting on. It was also put up there at too steep of an angle. It was manageable though (clearly). It didn't even wiggle a little bit while going up and down it.
The view while standing at the top of a fire lookout on top of a 10,000+ ft peak is amazing. There's nothing you can't see from up there. You can look out past the edges of the San Mateo mountain range on all sides. Jason has many many pictures from up there. Hopefully he can work them into a 360 degree panoramic.
Before exploring the tower, though, I had more urgent matters to attend to: The Rat (errrm....Out) House. I decided to take it for a test drive to see what we were dealing with. In a phrase, it was not an upgrade to shitting outside behind a tree. The floor and seat were covered in rat shit. It was everywhere. So, I couldn't actually touch anything and ended up just squatting over the whole praying a rat didn't come crawling out and bite my nuts. Not worth repeating. This did explain our relief later at not finding much of any evidence of mice or rats in the cabin. They were already content with the shack they lived in...
Now, on to the cabin itself. There was a stamp in the foundation that dated it back to 1945 I think (or maybe it was 1948?) Either way WWII era. This became later evident when we looked closer at the horse trough. Under the latest coat of paint, it had "Rocket Ammunition" printed on it. It was an old army surplus ammo container converted into generic tank. It turns out San Mateo spring as well as at least 1 other spring were also made with said ammo boxes. At any rate, one of our very first orders of operation was to open the shutters and windows and air the place out. After that, the next was to clean out the stove. Some clever asshole lit the fire in the oven portion of the stove instead of in the box meant for it. Some people's kids.
Now, we had found a few moths while doing this. It was enough to take notice and think: man quite a few moths in here! We thought this only because we had not yet discovered Moth'Ra. Along 1 wall and part of another was a long high shelf. Most of what the shelf had on it at the time was 6, maybe 7, 5 gallon food service jugs. Each jug was in a cardboard box that provided it's handle, etc. Since arrival we were somewhat curious as to what was in those boxes. While Jason was exploring the stove (making sure the flue worked and lighting a fire), I opted to check it out.
Being a man, I am not, as a rule, scared of moths. I am apparently quite put off by a hundred moths however. Particularly when they come flooding out of the box I just tried to pick up and flutter up over my hands and arms and into my face. I don't think the box even made it off the shelf before I jumped back. After Jason had the fire going and reported success with flue controls, I suggested we go ahead and leave the burners off of the stove and....close the flue. We promptly filled the room with smoke (leaving the windows open). A surprising number of moths were actually smoked out that way. After a quick inspection of several bags on the top of one of the bunks (they contained mattress pads...ha! As if they were any better than the mattresses themselves), we decided to start throwing pretty much every thing not nailed down in the cabin outside. Moths every-fucking-where.
James and I developed a brilliantly fun strategy for removing the moth boxes (officially the village of Moth'Ra). He took his hiking pole and slid the box off the shelf toward the door. I likewise took my hiking stick and, before the box hit the ground, batted it out the door. GOOD TIMES. Moth explosions. Next we removed the mattresses themselves. Under every mattress were more moths, most dead, but not all. So many bloody moths. It was crazy.
Now, being that it was a day, it started to sprinkle a little bit, because a day without rain is like day during which we were not present. We had found a very large (16x40 was it?) rain fly in the cabin, so I took that and covered up all the stuff we had thrown outside, except Moth'Ra. The light rain stopped and while we had the time, we uncovered everything and beat out all the mattresses and all the carpets. I guess we must have gotten the rain fly folded up and put in it's bag at that point too, because none of that was in the way later on that day.
While we had everything outside, we also decided to go ahead and sweep out the cobwebs, dust, and moth corpses. Unfortunately, we didn't have a broom on hand. What we did find outside, however, was a ....Paint Brush! Combining it's awesome power with a stick and wire we created a broom the likes of which the world has never seen! (Insert maniacal laughter here.) It got the job done eventually.
The cabin lacked a broom, however, to Dustin's delight, it did have an axe. It wasn't a terribly sharp axe, but it was a lot sharper than a rock. He had quite a good time chopping up anything and everything that was brought within arms reach of him.
I should mention that so far during this trip if we actually found large wood that needed splitting to burn well, we made good use of my rail road spike knife and rocks to hammer it in. For anyone who's unaware, my father in law used to make knives with his own forge and anvil out of rail road spikes. My wife gifted me one such knife. It's very functional and being that it's a rail road spike, meant to take a beating. So, we'd take my knife and hammer it into a log we wanted split. Once the log started to split, we'd take a triangular shaped rock of some sort and hammer that in next to it until it finished splitting. The only real problem with this whole plan was that sometimes the knife went all the way through the log and hit the rocky dirt underneath. It'll take a grinder to resharpen the poor thing.
Great, so now we had wood, a clean(er) cabin, and mattresses and carpets beaten out. Now about those mattresses. 3 of the 4 were identical. The 4th one was noticeably older than the others, but none of them had holes or mold or such. Throughout the day and evening, Dustin needed some convincing that these things should be slept on. Despite the dirt and moth corpses and such, he was set on sleeping on the floor rather than on one of those things. Part of the problem was the top bunk of one of the sets of bed just had spring wire under the mattress, no wood. It was very questionable whether or not that would hold anyone up there. Luckily, later that night we found the plywood pieces that were supposed to have been up there. The other problem was that the 3 newer mattresses still had tags on them that dated them back to 1975. These beasts had been up on that mountain top for more than 30 years! Eventually he gave in.
Before long, it started to rain again. You see, not only was it a day, it was an even numbered day. Apparently someone high up in our celestial sphere declared this code for days that it fucking hails on us. The hail and hard rain started coming down. Again this wasn't a real problem though because we had a cabin to sit in, and moreover, it provided us with more water to collect that didn't come from the dreaded skunk hole.
So, we went out and setup my tarp between some portions of the remaining log fence to funnel some water into our collapsible bucket. Then we went out and set up Dustin's tarp in a collapsed log building with no roof. It probably used to be there for the horses. The walls were mostly still up though, so it made it really easy to spread out the tarp and collect a lot of water. We later drained this tarp into one of the 5 gallon jugs. To be clear, the moths didn't make it into the jug itself, just into the cardboard (which I took off) around the jug. So, water was once again taken care of for us.
With wood, water, and sleeping taken care of, we could leisurely explore the rest of the cabin's contents and see what other entertainment there was to be had. Of note, some helpful person left us some ancient tea bags! A nice gesture, however, after being left up there for who knows how long with no one for company but moths and mice...we left them there for the next group to come by. There were some empty booze bottles that were acting as candle holders. There were various pans and tea kettles and the like, but there were only 2 items that were really useful left in the cabin: a deck of cards(!) and there were 2 thin (1/2 inch thick at the most) foam pads that were under one of the mattresses. These pads did absolutely nothing for the mattress itself.... Certainly didn't pad it more than the mattress did all by itself...
I'm not sure why those pads were there, but I was cold every night I had been out there so far and I didn't fancy spending the rest of my trip cold. The next morning the pads left with me. In an awkward turn of events though, that night I was too hot to sleep! Given Dustin and I's track record, I immediately called dibs on a top bunk as soon as I saw the inside of the cabin. I wasn't going to take any chances that night, oh no!
Turns out that wood burning stove works great. There ended up being a 25 - 30 degree temperature difference between the floor and the top bunk where I was. So, while James and Jason were sitting pretty down stairs, Dustin and I were at almost 90 degrees! That night, we had to open the door to cool the place off a bit. Ha, there's irony for you.
Before sleeping, we lit some candles and played cards. I don't remember what game we ended up playing. What I primarily remember is the Return of Moth'Ra. The remaining moths in the cabin resorted to guerrilla warfare to reclaim their home land. On more than one occasion our candles were dive-bombed by large moths. At least twice a moth manged to put out the candle flame without injuring itself!
2009 May 27
- cowboy trail spring
- trail 61
- twentyfive yard spring
- Trail? What fucking trail?
- 5 or 6 deer
- No, seriously, what fucking trail?
- adding trail markings
- James and Jason were getting more than a little annoying
- we're late, we're late, we're late for a very important date!
- 1600 foot decent of doom
- It's getting dark, jason takes a spill, Dustin has no light
- camp 1: Swedish steel for the win
- camp 2: cow & deer shit for the loose
- Fuckin' bear shook my tree/Dustin spoons with bears.