Saturday, May 26, 2007

My Front-Range Lobotomy

This morning (being Saturday, May 26, '07) I awoke to a large spatula, gently peeling me up from my bed, and turning me over. I was pounded flatter than hammered dog shit. I didn’t feel this way yesterday before I started my planned overnight fast-packing/camping trip.

The original goal was go into the Middle Range of the San Gabriels, spend the night at West Fork, and then come back over via the Rattlesnake Trail back into Chantry Flats.

The insertion went well. Sweating like a pig, no biggie, normal. Up and over Newcomb’s Pass, east to Newcomb’s Saddle, and then down the Rincon-Red Box Road to where the road crossed the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. I had the whole place all to myself.

At the road/stream crossing, I turned south up the streambed and began to follow it up to the DeVore Campground. Rockhopping up the stream-bed was very straightforward, as the water levels have dropped precipitously in the last two months—almost a foot if not more, leaving fresh boggy mud-beds that any biting fly would be happy to call home. A steady breeze continued the illusion of comfort.

After several bends in the riverbed, I came around the last gap that revealed DeVore. Completely empty, save for a cheap tent that somebody abandoned. I kept moving through the advancing poison oak and bottom foliage to the West Fork CG. Here the streambed was even more exposed. This was not looking too good.

I dropped pack, started a fire, began to boil up water to make dinner, or, as it turned out, a very late lunch. Miso soup, palaak paneer boil-in-bag, and garlic mashed potatoes. The breeze was steady again, which gave me hope for the night. It was 4:30pm.

I ate dinner in robotic silence. Being thrashed doesn’t lend itself to auto-loquacity. In spite of my stupor, I was still keeping an eye on the breeze. It was beginning to drop. When it dropped below a critical point, I had many new biting friends.

Gambling that the bugs wouldn’t come alive this late in the season is one thing. Not carrying a bug-proof tent is invitation to endless mortification of the flesh. I began to repack with increasing haste. A pair of backpackers showed just as I was finishing up. From the looks of it, they had tents. At least I hope they did. Their short-term relationship would be shaped by that element. Smiling and wishing them well, I took my collection of bites at a stiff trot out and up the Rincon/Red Box Rd, looking for the Shangri-La of the Breezy Spot. It was now 6pm.

West Fork is a delightful place from November through April. For humans. From May through September it is a sex-farm and bacchanalia for mosquitoes and biting flies. There are probably some world-class chubby lizards in these parts too. It was not the place for me.

Looking for the Fabled Breezy Spot was fruitless. I went to 4 places along the R-RB Rd looking, but not finding.

About a mile from the top, I heard a crash from the slope below me. And there, for the first time in the San Gabriels, I saw a large California Brown Bear. Bull or sow, no matter. It was a sizeable beast, and appeared to be about 7’ from nose to tail, at about 100yds. It looked at me for a long while. I was cross-winds to it, which was reassuring, given that I had a defrosting chicken thigh in my pack. I suppose that is better than a pork-chop tied to my hat. But not much.

I made Newcomb’s Pass at 7pm. Filling my hand-held bottle, topping off with Gatorade, I decided to bust-ass down the mountain at all due speed. It was clear that I had until 10:00pm before the Chantry Flats gates were locked at the bottom.

With full pack at the end of the day, I was hitting an unexpected power-curve. Who’d a thunk? I was feeling better than I did at 3pm, which highlights the importance of motivation and attitude.

Daylight was completely gone by 8:30pm. There was residual light, but at this point I was completely in the night-vision mode. An early moonrise cast a weak light on the trail, which was highly welcome. Under the tree-cover it became as black as the inside of my head.

I hit the final blacktop at 8:40. Stumping upwards, I made the parking lot just before 9pm. Not bothering to shower or change, I climbed in the car, and smelled like ass all the way home.

This morning I awoke to a large spatula, gently peeling me up from my bed, and turning me over. I was powerless to resist.

Oh yes, the numbers: it worked out to be a 23 mile outing, in about 10-1/2 hours. Love those long, Mediterranean lunches.