Monday, September 27, 2010

Scout Backpack Trip: Devil's Slide

Earlier this month, Ethan and I embarked on a tasty little backpacking trip with 34 of our closest friends from Troop 648.  The 3-day/2-night trip consisted of driving up to Idyllwild on Friday, hiking up Devil's Slide on Saturday, and hiking down on Sunday after an overnighter near Skunk Cabbage Meadows.  Of course, I insisted on riding the F800GS up while Etho carpooled up with one of the Troop drivers. Yahoo!

I'd dropped Ethan and his gear off with the group leaving San Diego at 6pm, but I didn't hit the road on the bike until 7pm.  Leaving town on a Friday evening heading through Riverside to Hemet is always a bad idea, but it's even worse when there's an accident (for no obvious reason) on the I-15 freeway between Fallbrook and Temecula.  Luckily I could lane split close to the front, but was dismayed to see a full-dress Harley smashed up against a guardrail.

Turning east on Hwy 79, I headed into the desert on a familiar route to Idyllwild - Aguanga, Anza, Mountain Center.  By the time I really got cruising though, it was pitch black.  Been a long time since I'd ridden at night, so I thought this was good practice (and incentive to put on some aux. lights one of these days!).

Our first night was to be at Idyllwild Park in town, to keep things simple.  I was astonished to be the 2nd vehicle in camp - everyone else got caught in traffic and all stopped for a Dairy Queen through Hemet.

Once everyone was in camp about 45 minutes later, the tents were set up pretty quickly and all were in bed by about 10:30pm.

The Troop tradition on campouts is to serve a "Cracker Barrel" snack to tide everyone over - cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers never tasted so good!

The next morning, once everyone got up and had some muffins & coffee (juice/water for the boys), we fell into a rhythm of taking down the tents and then divvying up the 2-person Troop tents for backpacking.  I was going to bunk with a fellow named Chris (whose son is a good friend of Ethan's), so I took my share, got everything sorted and threw my pack into a truck for transport.  Did I mention yet that my pack was *wicked heavy*?  More on that later...

Crew #2 on the morn of departure from Humber Park.
We had a bit of an auspicious start trying to get everyone to Humber Park, the starting point of the trail.  Seems all the cats that knew how to drive there left in one group.  So the other 4 vehicles and I lagged behind and ultimately I asked a lady walking down the road for directions.  To my surprise, she asked for a ride down to the end of the road - about 3/4 mile - in exchange.  Sure, says I, and she hopped on the F8!  LOL.

Because we were such a large group, we divided into 3 "crews" and left in 20-minute intervals.  I'd hiked the Devil's Slide trail with Rod Baine and River back in '96 or '97, but the steepness of the trail and elevation gain was still very trying.

Etho and I had done a "shakedown" hike up Black Mtn near our house with the rest of the Troop, but our packs weren't completely loaded then.  Now they were and we were laboring...  I'd bought some Leki trekking poles so my aging knees might be spared, but Ethan immediately claimed them for his own.  I called dibs on the way down!

1996: A younger me and my pal who is now in "doggie heaven"
1996: Best friend Rod and I - start or finish? (I can't tell)
"Window Rock" - nice pic Etho!
The switchbacks up both afforded spectacular views and were butt-kicking.  One of the leaders had said we were gaining 1600' in about 2 miles.  That's pretty steep if you're counting!  Our crew started about 11am and by about 3:30-4:00 hit Saddle Junction.  I was very impressed with Ethan's strong performance - what a trooper!  We planned to camp Saturday night near Skunk Cabbage Meadow.  There were reliable opinions of water that we could filter up there and it was big enough in area that a group our size could set up camp and have 200 yards or so between crews (one of the principles of Leave No Trace).

At the sign we should have turned at!
Hiking down from Saddle Junction, we followed another crew that unfortunately took a wrong turn.  I had just turned to our crew leader an remarked we were off course when a hiker coming up the trail confirmed that we were heading away from Skunk Cabbage Meadow.  So... back up the trail we went!  At a junction we passed earlier, pointing to Taquitz Meadow, we headed down another finger trail and downhill - losing precious altitude!  Still...  the trail through the meadows was gorgeous compared the the scree field we had climbed up earlier in the day.

About 3/4 of a mile in, around a nob hill, and down further into the meadows, we stopped and a couple of us fanned out to located a suitable campsite and water source.  Eureka!  A flat area above Reeds Meadow beckoned, with a tiny brook several hundred feet further down in between two hills as further evidence of a good camp.

Awesome meadows await
Despite being tired, the boys and adults set about erecting their tents quickly, and filtering the first of many batches of water from the brook.  Everyone had to do it at least once, but some boys took to it like, well... fish, so they did the lion's share!  Since we arrived so late into camp, it seemed like we only had about an hour to hang out in camp before the sun started to go down, dropping the temperature dramatically.  It was only forecast to get into the high '40's deep at night and I'm confident it did.

Our campfire!
We were boiling water like mad to get everyone's dry food "cooked", and then most of the camps seemed to hunker down and talk amongst themselves as the night grew longer.  One of our ASM's, Anne Daniells was kind enough to bring over a tin can "campfire" filled with cardboard and wax.  Doesn't seem like much, but it really sparked up the ambiance of our camp!

My tent mate turned in a bit earlier than I, but eventually I crawled into the tent through a half-open doorway - the zipper was broken so it would only conveniently open about halfway w/o a lot of noise and workin' it.  Eventually I got settled in and fell fast asleep pretty quickly.  It had been a tough slog - I'd packed too heavy and actually took on a couple of things from Ethan's pack - but all's well that ends well.

The "kitchen"
The next morning (Sunday), the camps woke somewhat slowly but once we got going everything broke down and packed up quickly, departing around 10am.  We were once again the 2nd crew to leave, and willed ourselves uphill back to Saddle Junction for a quick break before heading further downhill.

It got hot fast as the sun crested the trees and bore down on us.  I took my trekking poles back from Etho, which I credit for helping my aging knees on the way down Devil's Slide trail.  Again, Ethan would be very strong on the way down, marching forward and this time keeping pace with one of the 16-year old boys and the adult among us in the best shape.  Yeah, I was lagging in the middle or talking with our "sweepers."  ;-)

I had left my riding suit and helmet in the 3rd crew leader's truck, so once we arrived at the trail head again I had to wait about 45 minutes to retrieve them before hopping on the F8GS back to San Diego.  It was again getting later on in the day, but I still avoided Hemet and went back through Anza - hurrah for Dairy Queen there! - through Temecula and onward south on Hwy 15 backtracing my steps of a couple days prior.  The traffic was moving along nicely and a couple of times I jetted forward to keep up with some executive barnstormer in a BMW or crazy person doing triple-digits.  Bike felt nice and stable at about 105mph.  ;-)

As for Ethan?  Despite protests in the beginning and the reluctance at the start of the trail, he had a great time with his friends and just being out in the woods.  I think he was glad I was along, but not more glad than I was to be a part of his life in this way.  Go Troop 648 - Onward to the beach camp in a few weeks!