Father-Son Backpack

April 22-24, 2005

Day 2: Long Canyon to Kitchen Creek

Click on images to see larger versions of pictures.          

Doug on the morning of his tenth birthday enjoying some instant oatmeal. Enjoying is probably too strong a word.  When first offered oatmeal, he declined, preferring hot chocolate and a breakfast bar.  When it was obvious there was no other breakfast choices forthcoming, he reconsidered.  "Just because I eat it out here doesn't mean I have to eat it at home, right?"  That's the camping spirit!

You may have wondered about Doug's military style shirt.  Doug is in my old Civil Air Patrol uniform, a good heavy camping over shirt that I haven't been able to fit into for 30 years.  Glad to see that it's being taken backpacking again.

Morning in Long Canyon.  Chuck, Doug, and PJ having hot chocolate in the morning. 

Is there any thing finer than waking up cold in the wilderness, fumbling with numb fingers to set up the stove and boil water, and waiting in eager anticipation for the earth to rotate?

Note alpenglow on hillside in background.

The boys were new enough to the backpacking experience to think that pumping water was fun, an honor to fight over rather than a tedious task. To their credit, half an hour of pumping didn't dampen their enthusiasm (too much), although the next time there was pumping to be done they didn't volunteer quite so quickly.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, allow me to add this is yet another part of today's backpacking experience I simply didn't have 25 years ago.  Although Colorado and New Mexico, we just drank straight from the stream, au natural.  Not that we probably shouldn't have been boiling or chemically treating the water (the technologies used at the time): my brother Ken got a nasty case of giardia camping in the early 80's.

Backpacking is a lot of work, and I don't just mean hauling everything around on your back mile after mile.  To Doug's long term benefit but short term annoyance, he has a father that makes him do all the personal work: stuffing sleeping bags, sweeping out tents, putting up and breaking down camp.

He's actually used to it by now.  On all those Bigelow Memorial and Labor Day camp outs, the boys are definitely asked to do more help with the packing and unpacking than the majority of their counterparts.  Certainly part of that comes from being older than many of the other children, but their parents are also meaner.

One thing I had forgotten about backpacking was how the scenery constantly changed. Or was it just this trip?  Between the loss in elevation and the movement from mountain to meadow to canyon floor to canyon rim, we were getting substantially different vistas every couple of miles.  Just a mile from our camp on the floor of Long Canyon the trail stays high while the canyon drops away beneath it.  No trees away from the water.

Soon we met our first thru-hikers (that's them to Doug's left coming towards us).  If they are to make it from Mexico to Canada, they have to hike 12 to 20 miles a day.  So in general, they aren't in to stopping and exchanging pleasantries as we pass.  We did learn that we were expected to be resources of information about where we came from, campsite possibilities, and most importantly, availability of water behind us (and ahead of them).

The several miles from Long Canyon to Fred Canyon road and Cibbets Flat were perhaps the least scenic and most boring of the entire trip.  Dry chaparral on top of dusty hills.

It was in this unpromising surrounding that we stopped for lunch.  It was Doug's birthday lunch, and Kristi had packed a single chocolate covered rice crispy treat for this occasion.

There is Lake Morena in the distance, site of the big Pacific Crest Trail season kick off party this weekend, and source of thru-hikers (although the ones we met this morning had started earlier).  We won't be going that far: our car is parked off Interstate 8, which cuts a path between here and there.

Keith's and Doug's packs against a PCT sign at Fred Canyon Road.

It was here that we were passed by the only other hikers we ever saw going our direction, north to sourth, on the trail.  Their car was parked next to ours down at Boulder Oaks, but they wanted to get there tonight whereas we wanted to spend another night out.  So we were moving at a more leisurely pace.

Yet another important change from when Keith backpacked in New Mexico and Colorado 25 years ago: there are a lot more people out there now.  Enough that one really has to consider the implications of "leave nothing but footprints."  This was really driven home last September on Mt. Whitney, which is so impacted, so crowded, that they have a "Pack out your poop" program.  Combine Keith's new found appreciation of leaving nothing behind and the novice backpacker Doug's aversion to learning about trench latrines, and you might understand why Doug and I decided to drop our packs and take a half mile walk down Fred Canyon Road to Cibbets Flat, a semi-developed camp ground.  When I say "semi-developed," I mean that it had pit latrines.

What passes for civilization out here: Cibbets Flat, a campground developed enough to have paved roads trailer pads.  If you want solitude, this place has it.

More importantly (at least at this point in our story), it had latrines.

Keith finds that the middle ground between the alimentary canal and leaving nothing behind in the wilderness is a mile (round trip) excursion off the PCT to the nearest latrine.

If the scenery north of Cibbets Flat was the most lackluster of the trip, then the scenery just south was some of the prettiest.  In Fred Canyon there was water, camping spots, and the first trees we had seen on the trail in some time. (Cibbets Flat doesn't count as it was off trail.)  But we hiked through so fast it flew right by as we played catch up to Chuck and PJ who started hiking when we returned from Cibbets Flat.  Doug wasn't stopping for anything, so I didn't get any pictures.

This is not Fred Canyon, but after exited via a gap and got one of our more expansive views.  This is looking south-southeast, and we got our first sighting of Interstate 8 running roughly east-west.

Fred Canyon is back behind that gap we just passed through on the low point in the ridge.

It was cold, blowing, and quite a steep and long way down should one fall on the exposed slope.  We were also worried a little about rain at this point, although nothing ever fell on us.  I took this same picture a few minutes later, looking directly north with the Lagunas over Doug's left shoulder.  But the mountains that we had come from yesterday weren't there: just a big black thunder cloud dumping rain on the car parked back at Desert View.

We finally caught up to Chuck and PJ at this rock out cropping. Nothing else like it was visible on the ridge.  It must surely have had a name, only I don't know it.

Somewhere along here I saw what must have been the third heavy blanket, left by the side of the trail, and I finally figured out what they were.  Thru hikers weren't the only ones headed north on this trail.  It must be used by illegal aliens as well, avoiding the inspection station on Interstate 8. It was a sobering thought indeed to reconsider my recreational adventure undertaken with the latest high-tech gadgetry in light of the near certainty that others were risking their lives traveling in the other direction with insufficient equipment or water.

By the looks of this picture, instead of saying,"Say cheese!" I might have told Doug to "Look pensive!"

Shortly after the out cropping, we made a right turn and headed west.  The trail crossed Kitchen Creek Road, the first paved road we had seen since parking up at the Lagunas and the way into Cibbets Flats.

Crossing Kitchen Creek Road, the trail enters the Kitchen Creek Canyon.  Here Doug crosses a small tributary.

In retrospect, we should have stopped and pumped from this stream.

Kitchen Creek was the largest creek we had seen, but we would have to be satisfied with just seeing it.  We stayed high on the canyon as the stream dropped further and further away.  Water wasn't our concern, yet, however: it was dinner time and the boys were spent.  We needed a camping spot.

Note people added for scale on river bottom.  They probably parked on Kitchen Creek Road and hiked down.  That was the widest and closest the canyon bottom ever got.

We needed a camping spot, but the canyon was not complying. What looked promising on the topo map turned out to be less so in reality.  We scoured a half mile section of trail, back and forth, searching for level ground for two tents.

Click to expand the picture on the right, then see if you can spot Doug and PJ stopped and waiting.  They're done walking, and are just waiting for their fathers to make a decision.

The decision has been made. We found no place better than option A hiking a half mile further, so turn around and hike back to option A.  I guess retracing your steps is another way you can rack up more miles on the GPS than miles marked on the map or trail side signs.

Option A had one and one half level spots for tents.  We solved this dilema by putting the fathers in the one tent and the boys in the half level tent since the boys were as close as we got to half sized people.

This is the view of the campsite from the trail.  It was a long way down to Kitchen Creek if you rolled out of your tent.

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Text and pictures copyright 2005 by Keith Sherwood.  All rights, writes, and rites reserved.