Archive for February, 2012

I had my first car camp outing with the Sierra Club last weekend in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  I met the leader and the assistant leader and six other WBC students in Blair Valley at the pit toilets on Saturday morning and from there we caravanned to our camp spot which was near the trailhead to Granite Mountain, our task for Sunday.  The weather was cool.  San Diego was receiving some rain, while the desert had partly cloudy skies with extremely high winds, 30-60mph!  We set up our tents and made sure the stakes were well secured into the ground.  Some of us even put heavy jugs of water and gear into the tents so that they wouldn’t fly away!  After setting up camp, we drove over to Oriflamme Canyon for our day hike.  We started out on a mostly flat trail until we reached the canyon, which was dotted with bare sycamore trees.

Oriflamme Canyon

I’m sure this canyon is beautiful in the fall.  We had our lunch break near the stream.

Lunch break

Dan, the leader, then gave us an introduction to the use of topo maps.  There was so much information to cover that I wish I could take a semester course on land navigation!  At least we got the basics down.  After our outdoor lesson we bushwacked our way up a mountain, which was very steep.  I don’t know what the elevation gain was because I was saving my GPS batteries for Sunday.  Dan is a fast and strong hiker leaving the rest of the group in the dust.  The winds were quite strong along the ridge and the assistant leader, Greg, had reservations about going to the top.  Dan and Greg discussed and decided it best not to go all the way to the top and instead to get as far as we could.  We had amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valley, though.

Desert view

Our hike was mostly cross country and I fell several times, with a few graceful saves.  Yes, I received bruises and cuts from the harsh desert terrain.  Watch out for those cacti!  We finally made it back to our cars and returned to camp for gear reviews and how to pack a backpack.  After our lectures we started prepping for dinner.  Unfortunately we couldn’t have a fire because of the strong winds.  And of course I was freezing.  The group had decided on a potluck dinner of burritos.  I’m not a big fan of burritos so I decided to bring my own dinner, which was a quinoa salad.  After dinner I told the leader that despite it being so early, 7:15 p.m., I was going under the covers in my tent because I couldn’t stand the cold anymore.  Once in my sleeping bag it took about half an hour to warm up.  Now, I was glad I was warm otherwise I would have been miserable.  And of course none of us got 7-8 hours of sleep because of the loud and strong winds.  A few of us had to get up during the middle of the night to put the stakes back into the ground.  Our goal for Sunday morning was to get up at 6:00 a.m. and hit the trail at 6:30 a.m.  I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m.  After laying in my sleeping bag for another 30 minutes I finally got up and started breaking camp.  It was a cool morning with beautiful shades of pink in the clouds.

Early morning in the desert

After clearing everything away I had my breakfast and rested before we were to start.  I noticed that by 7:00 a.m. the other campers were just staring to break camp.  Greg came over to me and told me that because of the strong winds and cold we might not summit Granite Mountain.  He thought I would be disappointed, but in fact I was rather glad they took the weather into consideration.  If we did summit the mountain we would be back to the cars by dark and a lot of us had to get up early the next morning for work.  Oh well, I’ll save Granite for another weekend.  Anyway, we started hiking through the canyon which was beautiful with the dry waterfalls.

Against the rocks

The trail wasn’t as steep as Saturday’s hike, but there were some tough sections.  As we gained in elevation we came across huge boulders and we had to do some scrambling.  Because of my short legs I had to be assisted a few times.  Oh, and the poles were a nuisance going up the rocks.  But they did help coming down the steep sections.  We got to Fake Peak #1 (there are a few), and decided to have lunch there.  The views were amazing!

Harsh terrain


Looking down into Blair Valley

I especially liked seeing the storm clouds sitting over the Laguna Mountains.  After a nice leisurely lunch break we headed back to the trailhead.  We got back to our cars around 1:30 p.m.  It was nice to know that everything had been packed away.  We said our good-byes and then drove back to the city.  With the car camp, one can bring anything, but with the upcoming backpacking trips, it’s a whole different story.

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I am not a football fan, nor am I interested in the commercials that run during the Super Bowl.  My flickr friend Hans and I decided it would be best to go on a hike in Anza Borrego State Park as traffic would be low on that day.  Hans suggested going to Whale Peak, which I had never been to before, but he had been there a few years ago.  We met in Carmel Valley around 9 a.m. and carpooled to the trailhead which is in Blair Valley in the state park.  There are many different routes to the peak, ranging from four to 13 miles roundtrip.  Hans picked a route which would take 8-9 miles.  We arrived to the Pictographs Trail dirt lot a little before 11 a.m.  The weather was perfect, about 65 degrees with a clear blue sky and a few trails of wispy clouds.  We took the Pictograph Trail so that Hans could show me the red-and yellow-painted designs on the boulder left by the Kumeyaay Indians.  After a brief visit we backtracked and proceeded towards Smugglers Canyon.

In Smugglers Canyon

As we gained elevation, I couldn’t help but notice the boulders getting bigger, hence Hans and I becoming smaller.

The size of humanity

At one point, Hans suggested we do some bushwhacking.  We climbed out of the canyon and eventually stopped among some granite boulders for a lunch break.  After refueling we continued on.

Desert terrain

I was amazed by the area covered with pinyon pine, juniper, scrub oak, and manzanita trees.  It was like an elfin forest.  I ignorantly thought these desert peaks were devoid of trees, but I was mistaken.  Nearing the peak, we scrambled up a slope and made it to the summit.  On such a clear day we were rewarded with awesome views of the desert and various mountain ranges.

Looking east towards the Salton Sea from the summit plateau

And I could see Granite Mountain, my next challenge for the car camp outing this coming weekend.  Hans and I rested for a while, soaked in the views, and took several pictures.

Taking photos

After our solitary time on the peak, we returned to the trailhead.  Again, I was enthralled by the size of nature.  Our route to the peak was 8.70 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 2,2226 ft.  Overall, I was quite happy to have spent Super Bowl Sunday in the desert.

Desert forest

Nearing the end of our hike

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Textbook for Sierra Club's Wilderness Basics Course

One of my resolutions for 2012 is to get back into backpacking, which I did a lot of during my graduate school days in Indiana.  If I want to upgrade my hiking trips this year, then I need to get out my dusty backpack and refine my backcountry skills.  The Sierra Club offers a 10-week course, the Wilderness Basics Course, for those interested in hiking, camping, and backpacking.  Once a week some 200 outdoors enthusiasts meet for a few hours and through lectures, slides, videos, presentations, and demonstrations learn about fitness, nutrition, sanitation, first aid, gear, navigation, trip preparation, animals, weather, and much more.  A car camp, desert backpack, navigation trip, and a snow camp are planned for students of varying levels.  So far I’m enjoying the class and looking forward to the trips.  I’ve never camped in the snow before so it will be a challenge.

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