Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Contrite Blog Post: Taking Newbs Backpacking

I'm packing up to move today. I'll be moving into probably my seventh place in Berkeley, but it could be more depending on how you count friends' couches or "the woods." Regardless, hopefully this will be the last move until I graduate (hopefully next year). Other than my having been distracted lately, research is going well. I was busy grading exams, I may have to file a FOIA request, bla bla bla.

The cool stuff: I went to Ventana Wilderness for three days. I took two friends from high school, one who lives in SF, and one who's visiting from Chicago.

Here they are at the trailhead on Hwy 1 near Kirk Creek.

We didn't get to the trailhead until 7PM, so we just did three miles or so to the first campsite. We made a big campfire, which was only the third time I have built one in all of my 10,000+ miles of hiking since 2002. I set them up with lightweight gear (we all used ULA packs), and I mostly had enough lightweight non-cotton clothing to outfit all of us. We ate my homemade energy bars (admittedly not the best batch I've ever made, however), lots of dried fruit, and dehydrated beans and corn-chips. The second day we did 7 or 8 miles through Vincente Flat to the Cone Peak lookout and down to Trail Springs campsite. My friends were exhausted when we got there, so we set up camp and I set out to explore, taking off on the North Coast Ridge Trail, then getting my cross-country fix by following a ridge back to Cone Peak. It turned out pretty gnarly and there were a bunch of small rock-slides when I bailed off the ridge.

The ridge and Cone Peak lookout

The last day I suggested we go out via a loop (the Stone Ridge Trail) to avoid repeating what we'd already done. I'd read something online about this trail being "impassable," but the people who wrote it got through, so that means by definition it's not impassible, so I thought it'd be fun. It very well might have been had I been by myself, but my friends were not amused, which pretty much made me feel like crap. The trail was in horrible shape. It burned a few years ago, and is very overgrown, often with poison oak. Eventually we decided to give up on the trail and bomb straight down to the highway. I likely would have done that early on had I been by myself, but I was worried we'd run into a steep dropoff that would make things worse.

In the end everybody ended up OK. I was in the front, so I was the one that stepped over the rattlesnake (of course I've encountered dozens before, but I can't remember having stepped on or over one stretched out across the trail), and when we dropped off the trail, we very quickly found an old roadbed that led all the way to the highway. And so far no one's face is covered in oozing poison oak sores.

I think this is only the second time I've planned a trip to take friends backpacking. Neither have been completely positive experiences. It's hard to find a balance that suits everyone. I don't build campfires, I don't care what I smell like, and I think cold beans and corn chips taste great a million days in a row. Apparently not everyone agrees. There's definitely something to be said for masochism over sadism. If I take a guidebook route that's overgrown and very difficult, I get annoyed, but if I pick the route myself, I feel an awesome sense of exploration. So I'm sure my friends, who were just following me and not paying much attention to the map, were not really getting a great sense of adventure, and I wasn't getting it either since I was worried that my friends were miserable, might get hurt, or might have their eyes swollen shut with poison oak later in the week.

I like this way more than my friends

View from the Cone Peak Lookout

Vincente Flat Campsite

Where we came out on Hwy 1

The start of the old roadbed we found

So that's it. In the end hopefully it'll be type II fun for everyone involved. I definitely liked the Ventana Wilderness itself; the ocean views and wildflowers are beautiful. Some day maybe I'll string together a 75-ish mile route from end to end.


  1. We probably could have gone an extra day with better fruit bars.

  2. Onion - I bring friends out at least once a year and they always - - and I mean ALWAYS give me shit for one thing or another. Such is life.