Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hiking in the San Rafael Wilderness

I often hike alone but have taken steps over the last few years to get some hiking buddies so I am not just chattering to myself out there. A couple of my friends decided to go backpacking in the San Rafael Wilderness (near Santa Barbara) and I went with; what adventures did we get into?

As any outdoors person knows, the key to a good adventure is a good breakfast, and you couldn't have asked for a better/weirder breakfast than the one had at Cold Spring Tavern.

This place is consistently ranked as romantic for some reason. Perhaps it is the deer heads on the wall or the three lights in the whole place. No matter what, they were open at 8am, served us a good breakfast and gave us many weird memories for years to come.If you are in the Santa Barbara area, you owe it to yourself to see this place.

Who was "us"? Well it was Karl, Jaime, Mike and myself.

a good hiking crew that one could ask for!

We were headed for Manzana Narrows which is 7 miles and 1,000 feet in elevation away from the trailhead. Let me tell you, you feel every one of those miles and every one of those feet gained (and lost since several sections of the trail are roller coaster-like) because this area of California is hot. Hot heaping heat and even though it was in the 80s, there is very little shade and carrying 30+ pound packs will start to take their toll on ya.

There was some shade on the terrain (it wasn't all a desert) and the trail itself was an interesting mix of scree


and grasslands

Where there was shade on the trail, I stopped. Where there were campgrounds along the way, I stopped. I freely admit that this was a tough one. This was an "earn every half mile" for me, I am in decent hiking shape but not that great backpacking shape (there is a difference) and between the heat and my stamina I was making a little bit better than a mile an hour. In a true testament to my friends' dispositions, there were not complaints about my struggles, no hiking a mile ahead or anything. Everyone stuck together, tried to be in the best cheer possible and I feel fortunate we were together.

The downside to hiking with people is that most have their own concept of adventure, pace, enjoyment, which may or ma not mesh with your own so when you find people who mesh well with your outdoor frame of mind, hold on to em! (they are rarer than you think).

Finally, slowly, plodding-ly, I staggered, shuffled, two-stepped my way into camp. Ahhh camp.

Looks peaceful eh? Well that peace was soon shattered by tens of persistent gnats. Non-biting gnats but gnats nonetheless. Gnats that wanted to see what was going on in your mouth (is there a party going on in there?) gnats who wanted to claim your forehead for Spain and gnats that were practicing for a circus clown car. What, you don't believe me?

Eventually the gnats settled down, allowing us to eat our cold dinners (cold since there was a SEVERE fire restriction in place, not even gas stoves allowed) in peace and playing some crazy cards games. We even played a card game that I invented so all those Poker Stars better watch out!

The next morning, the reason for the hiking season became clear as we decided to bushwhack up a mountain.

We quickly got off trail

and started bushwhacking over stream-beds, through thickets of trees, trying to plot out the best way to the summit without actually seeing the summit, going up 35 degree slopes. You name it, we did it...except gain the summit.

As we got further up the mountain the foliage got thicker and thicker and becoming neigh unassailable.

Everywhere we looked the same foliage issue reared its head. We probed but gullies and more brush blocked our way. We decided to bag on peakbagging for the day. It was the right decision, we might have been able to gain the summit by literally losing our shirts from the tree branches and potentially taking twice the time we allocated to gain the summit, putting the rest of the day at risk.

We still had a bit of time remaining and made our way to a highpoint across from the bushwhacked mountain which opened up amazing views of the really wild-wilds of the wilderness.

Then it was back to camp, breaking down camp and hitting the trail back to the car. Going downhill was MUCH easier than uphill, especially with a lighter pack (due to all the food being IN me rather than being ON my back). Plus, there was some killer views on the way down.

Overall, whew, what a trip! Exhausted physically, badgered endlessly by nature and a so-so card player but what a great time. When can we go again?


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