An Explorer’s Notes From The Field

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Dearest blog readers, friends, family –

I do apologize for the lack of verbiage lately, but it seems that working on the Explorer, Trees, Winter Sports, and Pioneer badges requires me to actually be outside doing stuff, rather than inside hunched over a warm laptop. In fact, I’ve been so busy doing stuff that I just wrapped up requirement #1: 

Go on five all-day exploration trips under proper leadership, using three or more different types of transportation.

PARTY ON, WAYNE! PARTY ON, GARTH!

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First, there was the Malibu Creek Death March, followed by a taste-testing of Joshua Tree National Park. Then, because I am a complete sucker for massive boulders, undulating vistas, and cacti attacks, I enjoyed a backpacking trip to the elusive Carey’s Castle in J Tree. There’s a more thorough write-up over at ModernHiker, but in summary, I learned that: a) two gallons of water is very heavy, b) cholla cacti posses an amazing vertical jump, and c) backpacking in the desert (minus a + b) is one of my favorite things in the universe.

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On the complete other end of the hiking spectrum, Trip #4 was an all-day slosh along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to the famed Bridge to Nowhere. The only other time I attempted this hike was on July 17th, 2011, a date that shall live in infamy. It was the day after my birthday, and not only was I living with a massive, skull-crushing headache and a stomach-turning state of constant nausea thanks to all of the gifted mint juleps imbibed the night before, but I was also a complete moron and wore my Vibram FiveFingers instead of real boots, thinking they’d be better for the numerous river crossings, and developed the gnarliest blisters I’ve seen in my entire life. There were blisters on top of blisters, cozied up next to other blisters, tucked under blisters. I think* I cried a little on the hike out.

*definitely

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(That is not the Bridge To Nowhere – it’s just a regular Bridge To Somewhere, gleefully devoid of partying teenagers, bungee cords, and loud music, all benchmarks of the actual Bridge To Nowhere.)

So basically, the first time I did this hike, it was ten miles of hungover, blistery hell, but man – it was pretty. So when my co-Scout Brooke suggested we head there last weekend, I thought it was a great chance to create some new memories. It was a gorgeous day – bluebird sky, gentle breeze, perfect temperatures, and fairly low water levels made for easy hiking. As the morning wore on, we both slowly moved into near-hangry territory and figured we’d have lunch at the bridge, but when we arrived it was a disgusting display of loud music, obnoxious people, and man-made eyesores – not quite the serene destination we had in mind. So on Brooke’s suggestion, we headed back down the trail a bit to a small plateau overlooking the canyon and munched while watching countless bighorn sheep scale the sheer walls. Pretty damn perfect.

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To round out my quintuplet of adventure, I just returned from yet another Joshua Tree backpacking trip, this time in the southern portion of the park near Cottonwood Spring. Our goal was to hike in a few miles, set up camp, then scramble up a gully and pick our way to the summit of Eagle Mountain. The only problem was that it was approximately one millionty degrees outside and once in the chute, we were all moving at a bedraggled, sloth-like pace, taking frequent water, rest, and shade breaks. I had a few moments early on where I felt overcome by the heat and while an apple, a slosh of water on my head, and a refreshed bandanna revived me, we eventually called it quits down (well…up) the road, lest someone come down with a case of The Heat Exhaustion, The Heat Stroke, or The Death.

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Our new goal was to bust our buns back to camp, squirrel away in the shade, drink all of our liquids, and eat all of our food. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I still had ice in my Platypii, that my wine was still cold, and that there were no cactus spines embedded in my legs. Success!

Once we ate through our supplies, we all tucked in and I spent my first-ever night truly under the stars, sans tent (see terrible iPhone photo above). Despite my fears of waking up with a tarantula on my face, a scorpion under my butt, and a rattler curled over my belly, I slept pretty well, occasionally waking to an ever-shifting twinkling sky.

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RANDOM LIST OF THINGS I LEARNED WHILST EXPLORING:

Water weighs about 2 pounds per liter, and you need an effing lot of it to backpack in the desert. Always explain to fellow hikees that when you suggested they bring 3 liters of water, it was per person, not per couple. A long-sleeved linen shirt is a girl’s best friend in the desert. If freezing your Nalgenes, Platypii or other vessels, only fill them halfway or the expanding liquid will distort and possibly burst the container. Storing your wine in your pack between two half-frozen Platypii makes for a mighty refreshing happy hour. Dehydrated meals don’t hold a candle to real food on the trail. Blow back into your hydration reservoir tube when done drinking on a searingly hot day to ensure that your next sip of water won’t be boiling hot. If there’s no chance of precipitation and it’s not buggy, you don’t need a tent. Nothing beats coffee on a giant boulder, overlooking a gorgeous desert landscape. In the desert, you can bury your poops much closer to the surface, so they’ll decompose more quickly. On a similar note, pooping in the desert can be quite relaxing if you find something nice to look at. There’s always room in your pack for playing cards. Sunblock is your boyfriend. On a one-night backpacking trip, leave your deodorant, toothbrush, and toothpaste in the car. The batteries in your electronic key fob might die in the searing desert heat, leaving you unable to enter your car while running late for work the morning after a trip, so maybe don’t leave your electronic key fob in your raging inferno of a car trunk. Swedish Fish are still the best hiking snack ever.

 

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2 comments

  1. we made some fine memories at Bridge To Nowhere. I enjoyed our lunch spot. Maybe we should’ve bungee jumped to all those Bastille Remixes.#humansareawesome :-$

  2. First time I slept under the stars was on my vision quest (yeaaaaah…) in a canyon we weren’t allowed to know the name of. I felt so exposed that I woke up every two or three hours—not to mention it was like 30 degrees.

    But the stars. I woke up with a HNNNGG thinking I might be in mid-attack by a carnivorous animal, and then I’d realize that the sky had totally changed since the last time I looked at it. And then I’d breathe deeply and watch meteors streak across the sky until I fell back asleep.

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