Saturday, August 31, 2013

San Cayetano Mountain, mas caliente 08/29/13

Sometimes things just turn out a bit differently than planned. That does not necessarily mean that the act was not worth the doing. In this case the prevailing conditions won, leaving me to revisit today's effort at some later date, yet the day was still worth it. 

San Cayetano
I began my day at sunrise on Grand Ave west of Fillmore and the Sespe. I made my way through a couple climbing miles of avocado and citrus orchards, a smell that drew forth memories of childhood lemon fights in the orchards above the Santa Paula cemetery one block from my childhood home.  Eventually I ran out of orchard and the steep stuff took off for real. Next stop, the ridge.

A look toward Santa Paula from the ridge.
There is an old jeep track that zig-zags up the super steep south facing slope of the ridge that hosts San Cayetano Mountain and it's sister, Santa Paula Peak. This is a long and somewhat circuitous track that would have taken me well outside the more direct approach of just climbing straight up the damn thing. With the application of a considerable amount of brute force I managed to ascend to the ridge by connecting a series of loose and rocky game trails. This 1,900' climb which edged up a sixty degree slope was without a doubt the toughest climb I've done in the last couple months. All sun, no shade, bear trails, brush, steep as f@#*!...situation normal. This is a difficult way to achieve the ridge.
Fillmore, and a view back down the slope I climbed to the ridge.
Aside from trying to identify what route might work best for me to approach this peak I hadn't given any other aspect of this climb much consideration. For instance, I did not anticipate the amazing view into the Lower Sespe that greeted me as I topped out on the narrow ridge top. The view north had been worth the walk regardless of how the rest of the day went. 

Click it bigger. Like it, you will.
The lonely and rusting Topatopa Fire Lookout from just about due south.
The smaller numbers were concerning. Wearing the watch artificially skews the thermometer so I strap it to my pack for more accuracy. It's generally been proven pretty spot on.
I turned left (W) and started climbing a brushy animal track up a series of small summits leading persistently upward toward the summit which was now plainly in view. Through the heat shimmers I saw a pair of condors circling high above the peak. Forward progression became increasingly brushier until I was either physically bashing through or crawling on hands and knees beneath the stuff (see 1:00 min vid below). By the time I was within a 1/3rd of a mile of the top I had hit two distinct walls, one of brush and the other of heat. I'd been hard at work in 100+degree temps for well over an hour and had gone through nearly half my total water for the day in that brief time. I needed to quit. The brush was an absurdly prohibitive wall and in just shorts and polo shirt I was by this point thoroughly shredded (Next day at work Irma the cafeteria checkout lady said "What Happen!?! Kitties been scratching you?"). Time to make the smart call. I'd best save the rest of this for some other day.
CA Condors circling high above the peak.
A view east toward Hopper and Oat Mtns.

Time to call it.
Where I quit. Yes, that is or was the best route up the spine of the ridge.
The summit from where I quit.

I turned tail and fled back down the spine of the ridge. I was running really hot now, no breeze, no reprieve. Before I had even jumped off the ridge to descend that monstrous slope I was feeling that sickeningly hot tingle under my scalp, the tachycardia and the sense of auric waves of heat radiating off me. I was running on the edge of a big hot shutdown. I needed to get off this mountain now.

There was still 300 yards of rocky slope and open terrain between me and the uppermost tiers of the avocado orchard when I felt myself "slip".  My sight narrowed to a blazing tunnel and I literally blipped out for a couple seconds. When I came to I was about to eat total shit down the steep slope. Reflexes and a trekking pole saved me but I was getting a bit worried now. This was not any good at all. I was overheated and not going to get better without shade. I made the trees and collapsed on dirt and leaves, panting and rolling. I tore off my shirt and felt waves of heat roll off my body. It was only 95F in the shade of these wonderful broad leafed trees. I put another liter of water in my body and about 20 minutes later my heart rate had slowed to under 100 and even better, I was still making saliva and had resumed making sweat. I saddled up and made my way down to a water tank I'd noted during the morning. Here I completed the cool down in a blessed shower. After that I strolled out through a canyon of old oaks and avocado groves. Some distance from the truck a fox casually trotted across my path, a floppy squirrel dangling from it's jaws.

And thank god, right?
Meanwhile, back at the truck...
I'm ready for Round 2. Just need cooperative weather.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

American Ranch, Carrizo rustica, and a night at El Saucito

This is either my sixth or seventh visit to the Carrizo since the beginning of the year, I'm really diggin' on the place. There's just too much stuff out there to see and do and explore. 

Coming off an overnight in the San Emigdios and energetic runs out to two different rock art sites, all I wanted was a shower and some sleep. Instead of heading for home I turned Northwest and shifted my plans toward the Plain. I wasn't really sure where I was going to spend the evening but I resolved to make the evening memorable. Mission accomplished.

Hitting the Carrizo at around five pm gave me some daylight to spend driving around, time I made good use of. It was during this time and on a the western edge of the Plain that I spotted a small herd of pronghorn antelope. I was pretty surprised to see them and had figured that they were one of those species that is exceedingly rare and difficult to spot. Maybe they are, and I just got lucky.

At sunset I found myself parked near the Godwin Visitors Center trying to figure out what I'd need with me for an evening in an abandoned ranch house. Sleeping pad, cold pizza in foil, candles, cameras gear, San Peligrino and a mylar emergency blanket had me good to go. I threw the kit together and got on my bike and started pedaling into the fading sunset. At dusk I startled a bull elk from around a hundred feet away and as I continued the ride he faded into the darkness. After I'd lost him he started bugling and carried on for a bit.

Arriving at a 100 year old abandoned ranch house in the full dark of a moonless night is not something I have a habit of doing. A gentle breeze whispered through the cottonwoods, skittering leaves here and there, rattling corrugated sheeting on the nearby barn. An overarching silence filling the remaining gaps in the the night. I rolled up to the front door, laid down my bike, dug out the headlamp and clomped up the stairs. I turned the handle and flung the door inward on silent hinges, stood there on the stoop flashing my light around the living room. A wash of warm and stuffy air sighed out from the house and I wasn't sure why I had to nudge myself to stretch a foot across the threshold. I had similar difficulty taking my first step up the narrow and creaking staircase to the second floor.

On my pass through the upper level I started opening windows and letting the mild breeze move through the house. Again I was impressed with the silence of this place. I dropped my gear upstairs and went down to complete my walk thru, cruised right through the kitchen to a side room with a big closet. I spooked two bats out of the closet. They flew a few laps through the ground floor of the house before realizing that the front door was open. I stepped back into the kitchen in time to catch a fluttering silhouette fly into the night. In that glance toward the door I had registered a slight noise beneath and to my right. At some primal precognitive level I was understanding that whisper of a noise as reptilian. Don't ask me how but I was moving away from that noise before I had even got a light on it. Only then did I realize that the noise I had heard was the sound of a rattlesnake coiling for a strike and that I'd easily been in range. After kicking out the pit viper (see below) the rest of the house didn't seem so scary. I lit a good cigar and watched the sky for a time before enjoying a very pleasant night. I have to say that the only discordant noise I heard all night was the crinkling of the e-blanket, world's lightest sleeping bag.

The following day I rose and enjoyed the sunrise with a banana then rode over to another ranch site called American Ranch. I encountered a herd of tule elk on the ride there. There are a number of old buildings and decaying trailers here. Ancient farm machinery and warped water tanks decorate an area uphill of the ranch. Further up from the ranch is the spring site shown in the photo heading this post. The rest of the day is best told in photos.
 As always, you can click any image to enlarge it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tule Elk and Pronghorn Antelope, Carrizo Plain 08/10/13

Tule Elk on the Plain.
The other day was exceptionally good for wildlife on the Carrizo, and I feel pretty fortunate to have seen all this stuff in less than 24 hours. Even more fortunate to have the lenses needed to bring you these shots. Unfortunately I was too slow to grab a shot of the great horned owl I spooked at Traver Ranch, but they can't all be winners. Was a big owl though, probably the biggest owl I've seen that wasn't a Snowy. And I had another encounter, one of a reptilian nature, from the previous evening which I'll share in the next post. As for the elk and the antelope, I only got these shots because I was cycling around quite a bit, and sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
Tule elk, same herd.
Pronghorn Antelope, Carrizo Plain

I spotted this coyote discreetly shadowing the elk herd.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kings Canyon and Grant Grove

Roughing it in Kings.
 I've taken a couple weeks to concentrate on things other than rock art and brush and poison oak and yucca wounds, all of which are fun and exciting but not to be found in the Sierras. I've had a lot of life-related business lately and this year hasn't been a good one for vacations. For instance, that blood clot I had at the beginning of the year killed a trip to Breckenridge. Another snafu wrecked a trip to Maui and yet another problem led to the cancellation of an April trip to Paris. I need time off. Yes, I am whining, and you would be too if you'd had to bail on those three trips. Sheesh. Ruth and I are booking a real trip now but in the near term I needed a few days of R&R, and for that I go to the Canyon. Everything about this getaway was rejuvinative and restorative but as with most of these things, it didn't last long enough. Oh, and I turned 41 while there.

We spent four full days up in Kings relaxing, biking, swimming, hiking and horseback riding. The weather was great while we were there, typical afternoon thundershower activity with average temps in the high 70's. It's such a dry year that there were very few bugs, however the flip side of that coin was that the USFS wouldn't allow me to burn any of the mass of firewood I brought. They'd already had a couple fires in the canyon this summer so they dropped the hammer. The folks at the Cedar Grove store aren't happy about it. They told me the store sells about $3-4,000 worth of firewood every month and they've got whole cases of SMOREs kits they can't move. High drama. Here's a few photos from the weekend

The always remarkable Roaring River Falls, after a rainstorm.

The Kings River upstream of Zumwalt Meadows.
The Kings River at Roads End.
Mist Falls. It's kind of a shame to visit Kings and not add this easy 9 mile round trip hike to your agenda. It ins't just the falls that make the day, these opening miles of the JMT take you through post-card perfect Sierra forests next to the rushing Kings. Every portion of this hike is spectacularly beautiful. 

A sunny spot just above Mist Falls.

The junction of the Kings River and Bubbs Creek which heads east toward Kearsarge.
This chunk of rock is incredibly massive. Judging it's size against that of my house, I have to guess it's size at 4-5,000 square feet of displaced air. This rock can be seen 150' off the trail to Mist Falls.
Ruth and the ass end of Bud. I would recommend the packing outfit at Cedar Grove. They do everything from one hour rides to multi-day drop-offs deep in the backcountry. They were great guys with good horses, and Bill the collie made us feel very welcome.
Cedar Grove Overlook
Trigger, Bud, and Dirk. Dirk is a former Pro Rodeo bronc rider/rodeo clown, and currently works as a ferrier/packer on his sixth season here in Kings. He owns property and some horses on the Snake in southwest Idaho. He did not appear to be suffering from job stress.

Kings River at sunset.
Bench rock mortars. I found these near the grave of two of Kings Canyon's early white explorers, Abram Agnew (1820-1900) and Jesse Agnew (1863-1931). Presumably Jesse is Abram's son. This site can be found near the Zumwalt Meadows parking area.

The Giant Sequoias of Grant Grove. No trip to Kings is complete without a walk among these jaw-dropping titans. Most of the large trees here pre-date Christ. They are the heaviest organisms on earth.

Ruthie, spanning the interior of the above tree.
The General Grant. Epic.

Staring down the inside of a fallen giant sequoia. Take a trip to Kings. It's like Yosemite but with none of the crowds, an ideal escape.