Cleveland National Forest Day 2: Unavoidably Wet

Large bird soars over San Mateo CanyonAs we were hiking on Friday, we pondered how to make sure we got back to civilization at a decent time on Sunday, given that we would lose an hour due to Daylight Savings. Dave suggested that we “spring forward” on Saturday instead of Sunday, since it wouldn’t really make a difference either way. I thought it was kinda a weird headgame, but I figured it’s all a construct anyway. So, when my alarm went off at 6 am on Saturday, I sprang it forward to 7 am – and then promptly went back to sleep.

We woke up around 9:15 am (Pacific Daylight Time) to the sound of a steady rain falling onto our tent. We laid there for quite some time pondering the situation, wondering about the possibility of waiting out the rain in our tent versus proceeding with our plan despite the weather.

About an hour later it was still raining, so we ate our Pop-Tarts for breakfast inside the tent, and then started making moves to pack up and head out. It rained pretty much the entire time – sometimes harder, sometimes almost not at all. By the time we were almost ready and had only our tent to pack up, the rain seemed to have let up. However, as soon as we started taking up the tent pegs, the rain started coming down harder than it had so far. We folded the tent into a plastic garbage bag, shoved it quickly into my backpack, then put on our packs and started heading back up the trail.

Remember that my boot got wet from its double-dunk in the creek yesterday afternoon, and it never really dried overnight (even though it was under the tent). However, it turned out not to matter a single bit. As we walked along the trail, there was no way to avoid getting wet, even when the water wasn’t falling much from the sky.

The overnight rain had made all of the plants heavy with water, which meant that the trail was even more overgrown than it had been before. Yesterday it was slightly possible to avold some of the overhanging branches. Today, not only did we have to push through every branch along the trail, each one dumped a goodly amount of water on us as we passed. This time I gave Dave the privilege of leading the trail, and almost immediately the whole front of his body was soaked from top to bottom.

We made the first creek crossing pretty quickly, and then had to face the crazy wide crossing. We did okay, though of course I dunked my foot in. Not that it mattered. After another mile or so of hiking, all four of our boots were pretty wet, along with our pant legs, our jackets, and our heads. At least the ticks had been washed out of the grass, leaving us one less thing to worry about.

It was probably around 12:45 pm that we saw the first human beings we had seen since hitting the trail on Friday morning. It was a Boy Scout troop from San Clemente. The troop leader was an outgoing man, asking us all about our trip and where we were from, telling us what their plans were for the weekend, etc. The Boy Scouts themselves, who were probably around 12 years old, all looked wet and miserable. My guess is that they had been hiking for a couple of hours by that point (about 5 miles into the trail), and weren’t too excited about it. Hopefully their trip got better.

Just a bit later, at almost 1 pm on the dot, we reached the trail junction that marked 4.5 miles from the trailhead. That meant we had only hiked about 2 miles so far today. It seemed like it was much slower going than yesterday, even though this part of the trail wasn’t nearly as steep as Sunday’s was expected to be.

Right after the junction there was another creek crossing, and right after we picked our way across the slippery rocks (I think I probably dunked my foot again), we noticed a huge black trash bag on the bank of the creek, which was amazingly rather dry. I said, “We should pick up that bag – not just to be ecologically correct, but also because of self-interest.” In this weather, a large plastic bag could certainly come in handy. At that moment, Dave noticed another one on the other side of the creek, from where we had just come. “Do you want to go back and pick up that one?” he asked. I guess I’m not that environmental. *smile*

The next mile of the hill was up and over a hill then back down again to Fisherman’s Camp. The first 30 minutes or so were miserable – the rain was getting bad again, and being at a higher altitude made us more exposed to the wind. Dave mentioned the possibility, which he had suggested at the beginning of the day, of giving up on our second night of camping and trying to hike all the way back today. I knew there was no way I could physically do that amount of hiking uphill in one day, especially since the weather had caused a lot of fatigue and lack of motivation. However, as we hit the top of the trail and started back down toward the creek, the rain started letting up and we started to see some blue in the sky. We started to have a little more hope for the day.

We made it to Fisherman’s Camp around 2 pm, to find that there was a big group that was starting to set up camp there. We smiled at them and hiked through to the other side of the creek, and then stopped to figure out a plan.

We had realized already that Fisherman’s Camp would be a pretty public area, a suspicion that was now confirmed. From the hill going into Fisherman’s Camp, we could look down into the lovely valley and see all kinds of great flat spots along the creek, that looked like perfect places to camp. We just had to figure out how to get there.

We continued along the trail for just a bit, and found a large rocky area to stop to eat lunch. It was at this point that the sky really broke wide open, and we were bathed in extremely welcome sunshine as we ate our peanut butter and bread, granola bars, and dried fruit.

While we were sitting there, Dave noticed what seemed to be a closed trail that went up to the west, while the main trail was supposed to go to the east. We wondered if that might be our trail to the valley we had seen from the top of the hill. When we were done eating, we started up the trail, but it seemed to simply go up and up, and not down again toward the creek. So we went back down and tried to pick our way along the north side of the creek. Unfortunately it was only a few feet later that we came to a set of large rocks that were impassable. So we went up the closed trail again, this time hiking a bit further, only to confirm that the trail went up and also in the wrong direction. We tried a couple of false trails that seemed to lead west, but they weren’t going to get us anywhere either (at least without a machete). So, we hiked back down to the trail.

We stopped and pondered for a few more minutes, and then decided to cross to the south side of the creek, see if we could hike west a bit further, and then find a good place to cross back to the north side. As we headed off trail to the west on the south side of the creek, a college-aged guy in a sweatshirt came crashing down the trail. I don’t know why he was running, or why he was by himself. We paid him little attention as we headed off in the “wrong” direction (i.e., not along the trail). Apparently he followed us for a minute or so, and then asked if this was the trail. We told him that it wasn’t, pointed him in the right direction, and then continued on our illicit way.

We ended up pushing through some thick-ish brush, of course containing poison oak. Finally we found ourselves in kind of a median in the middle of the creek, but Dave was keeping an eye on the north side of the creek. Finally we got to a spot where it looked like there was a trail that started at the bank and continued off to the west along the north side of the creek – exactly where we wanted to be. “If we can get across the creek right here, we’re money,” he said. I agreed, but there didn’t seem to be any large rocks or logs to assist our crossing. The weather was really starting to look promising, so I suggested, “Maybe we should just walk across.” We wistfully thought of our Tevas hanging out in our bedroom back home, thinking how it would be much nicer to walk through a creek in sandals rather than in heavy boots that were just starting to feel dry again. But, the allure of the trail on the other side was too strong, so we plunged into the creek with our boots and socks on, walked 5 feet across in water that was probably 12″ to 15″ deep, and made it to the other side.

Day 2 campsite, San Mateo CanyonIt was the promised land.

Right after we crossed, we walked no more than 10 feet and found the perfect camping spot. Much longer and wider than the spot the night before, there was a huge sandy flat spot to pitch our tent, as well as two trees just the perfect amount of space from each other to allow us to hang a clothesline to dry out our sleeping bags and some other things. The first thing we did was take off our wet footwear and spread them out on rocks in the sun. We got busy, while the sun was still cooperating, setting up the tent, hanging things out to dry, etc.

Then we found that it was about 3:30 pm and we had absolutely nothing to do. We were pretty exhausted from the previous night (we had kept warm, but the tent was on a slope, so we were sliding all night long, making it hard to sleep) and from the fatiguing wet hike. Our sleeping pads dried in a matter of minutes, so we took them and used them like beach towels to hang out on the sand. It was quite comfortable, and I dozed while Dave read a magazine. Not exactly like an afternoon at La Jolla Shores, but good enough under the circumstances.

However, the sun kept darting in and out of clouds, so it wasn’t consistently warm. Finally around 5:30 pm we decided that we should start dinner before we got chilly and things got too dark. We made “shell pasta surprise” for dinner, and it turned out very yummy. We cleaned everything up and were in the tent for the night by 6:45 pm. It was still pretty light out (considering that by “official” time it was still really 5:45 pm), so we laid in our sleeping bags talking about TV and other random stuff. We probably went to sleep sometime around 8 pm.

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