Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Backpacking to Carey's Castle

Backpacking, always a different beast then just hiking. When you hike, you have the implicit understanding that at the end of the day, you are going home. When you backpack, you can feel your "house" on your back (your tent, your food, your water, your survival) and it puts you in a different mindset vis a vis the wilderness. I recently put that mindset to the test by going on a backpacking trip to an area around Joshua Tree with a few of my WTC classmates. What adventures did we get into?

We met our backpacking party at Chiriaco Summit, a crazy little desert "town" (if you can call a town a gas station, diner, post office and grotto) which has a long history. Settled in the 30s by the Chiriacos and later the base of operations for General Patton, this place was definitely a trip and worth it just for the drive alone.

We then headed into the desert for our adventure. Now truth be told, I am not a desert guy, I MUCH prefer the mountains and pine trees to the rocks and tumbleweeds but this desert adventure had some cool sights along the way which made it a fun trip.

As with most desert trips, you have to drive off the paved road onto dirt roads that go deep into the desert. After awhile we parked at a turnoff and started unpacking for our adventure.

The plan was to hike 4 miles into the desert, camp and make merry. Spirits were initially high.

However, the day held other plans as the heat and the sandy soil was causing everyone to go slow and not feel so well.

So about a mile in, we decided to set up camp and then do a long day hike to Carey's Castle (more on that in a bit).

After camp was set up, we made our way through the desert canyons and were feeling much better having left most of our weight back at camp. The goal after all (at least for me) is to have fun, and I think I would have a lot more outdoor fun without 30 pounds on my back! So at the start of the trip, my more determined mindset due to having my "house" on my back was lightened considerably when the hike turned into a defacto day hike, which was fine by me!

It was then up to us to navigate through the twists and the turns of the canyons to find the right way.

During my time with the WTC course it was drilled into me about how to navigate using a map, compass and some common sense. When you are traveling in the desert, those skills are really put to the test, especially in canyons as you lose your points of references and it is up to you to keep a sharp eye on the topography. Of course, with the rock structures all around you, you can't be blamed from checking them out rather than the map.

We slogged through sand, we scrambled over rocks, we tried to avoid cacti with some parkour skills

just some general backcountry fun.

Eventually we arrived at Carey's "castle".

This place was a real trip. A miner was mining in the desert and decided to make his home out of several boulders. He was all set up, a bed, shelves, a roof made out a half-ton boulder, you know all the top flight amenities. One of the things you have to realize about the desert out here in SoCal is that there is many a mining site and you will run across deep pits from time to time.

The vistas were amazing from the Castle, the real splendor of the desert opened up even for an embittered anti-desert hiker like myself.

After spending time in the backcountry it was time to get back to the campsite. Soon we were sharing some tasty treats, having interesting conversations and seeing who could stay up the longest (I think 10pm won, we were tuckered hikers after all).

The next day we hiked out and found a USGS marker that often shows up on topo maps.

Its not a summit disk but nothing stopped me from taking a picture of it, no sirree.

Overall, I have to admit I liked this desert hike/backpack. Good company was part of that as were the vistas and the cooler temps of the last part of year. Everything aligned for a good hike and it was!


  1. It's funny how staying up late becomes basically impossible while backpacking. I think 10pm might be my all time record.


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