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Nature Index
(My hiking and camping adventures in Northern California.)

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stanilaus National Forest: Kennedy Meadows to Kennedy Lake

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Andrew Thomas Kennedy's Cabin

I had been meaning to get to Stanislaus National Forest for some time, having bought a map of the forest more than a year before this hike. What finally precipitated my first visit was the Mother Lode Fair in Sonora. I drove down for the fair and camped at an RV park just outside of Columbia, then headed east on CA 108 into the Stanislaus National Forest the next morning.

My original plan had been to do a moderate hike (Camp and Bear Lakes) and an easy hike (Burst Rock and Powell Lake) in Pinecrest Lake area, both of which were rated a 9 for scenic value in California Hiking. But the hundreds of wilderness fires that had smoked me out of the Central Valley were reaching up into the mountains as far as the turnoff for Pinecrest Lake. So I drove past, and stopped shortly after at the Strawberry Inn for breakfast.

Oddly enough, there are two towns named Strawberry in California, both with lovely and historic inns. The other one I have seen many times, on US 50 in El Dorado County. The restaurant at this one, Restaurant-by-the-River lives up to its name. The dining area has plate glass windows with a lovely view out on the South Fork Stanislaus River. I had a delicious open-faced omelette with sausage, red onion, and feta cheese, served up by an alluring young waitress with a European accent named Svetlana. It was all quite charming and looking at the hazy, but still bluish skies, I was feeling more optimistic about my originally planned hikes.

I drove back, but as I got close to the turnoff, the smoke was getting noticeably worse, both by sight and smell. So I just turned around and decided to head farther east and farther up into the Sierra to try and get away from that smoke. I had also originally considered a hike to Kennedy Lake, so I checked the map to see where the trailhead was, and then decided to do that one.

I made one quick stop on the way, for the Donnell Lake Vista. There just off the highway is a parking lot and an easy paved path out to an overlook over a large lake in a steep canyon that I will probably never be able to visit. It is legendary for it inaccessibility. A few people who live in the area have fishing boats tied up and can take a steep hike down to them, but there's no point in going down there without a boat or kayak, as there is no shore. Besides the dramatic canyon walls, there is a hanging valley waterfall, just like those that made Yosemite Valley so famous. It was a tantalizing view (marred by the haze, and impossible to photograph except in a panorama) and then back on the highway.

20080627 Full Register
The Over Full Register for Donnell Lake Vista

The trailhead is near Kennedy Meadows, an extremely popular area. I saw a series of forest service campgrounds as I approached the large trailhead parking area. As I parked, there were people camped a very short distance directly in front of me.

I started off down the trail. A sign indicated "Wilderness 1 1/2 Miles" and then I immediately reached the road I had driven in on. I went farther down it, and saw private cabins off to the right by the Middle Fork Stanislaus River. Then follows an area with signs everywhere indicating it is for day use only, and no camping or overnight parking is permitted. But it looks like there were spots meant for parking--a flat area off the road, with a row of large boulders a little more than a car length away from the road. I wondered if I could have parked their just to shorten the hike a little, but nobody else was parked there.

Thinking I was past the camping area, I was disappointed to come upon an RV campground, which I believe is on land that is still privately owned. I crossed a bridge with "1955" on it and saw more RVs and a sign nailed to a tree advertising pump service.

Next up was the Kennedy Meadows resort area, and I was really dismayed. There was a large building with a store and restaurant, many cabins, RVs, trailers, one of those huge dumpsters they use at construction sites, and all kinds of equipment. It looked like they had just brought in everything and dumped it everywhere, without consideration for the surroundings at all.

In researching it later at home, I found the old lodge their burnt down in the fall of 2007. There had been a lodge there since the 1880s, with the previous one also burning down in 1941. I assume the mess is just during the rebuilding time, and it won't stay like that, although it still won't be wilderness.

Wandering through the ugly mess, I finally found a gate to a dirt road towards the southeast that said cars and bicycles were not permitted beyond that point. Since the map just showed the road ending and becoming trail, I headed that way, but there were no trail signs. I passed another camping area with tents, and an area where sprinklers were running, as I climbed up the road to go around a large granite knob between me and the river.

There was a large tank on the right, and then another gate, just beyond which was a trail sign, with a footpath heading off to the left. Unfortunately, all that it indicated was that the footpath was Night Cap Trail. That meant nothing to me.

Soon I entered Kennedy Meadows, a gorgeous area. Next to the river is a large meadow with grasses and wildflowers. Across the river rises a ridge, but the real drama is to the east, where a huge, rounded granite half-dome is backed by snow splotched peaks. The only thing marring it is the wide and dusty road.

It was a beautiful scene, but soon I returned to campgrounds! Moreover, in the campground just past the meadow, there were cars or trucks parked next to every tent, and 4 plastic outhouses like you would find at a construction site.

Just past this there are two signs for the Emigrant Wilderness--one with a map and information, the other simply the official boundary marker. From here on I was happy not to see another car, truck, or RV. But it's still not a trail on which you are going to feel remote from civilization.

Rather than a footpath, the trial continues on at the width of a road from here, although too rough for cars. The hike started to get interesting as I crossed a steel bridge over raging waters. Once over the steel bridge, there is another trail that comes up to join the one I was on, with no indication of where it is came from, but just a sign indicating the trail was up and to the left. It's a steep climb here on a ledge that must have been blasted out of the cliff. A long ways down off the edge of it were rushing white waters, and farther up, excellent waterfalls. I had left my neutral density filter and Gorillapod in the car, as I didn't think I'd have time to stop for long exposures on such a long hike, and I had no indication from the hike description that there would be waterfalls. I definitely regretted not having them.

20080627_6310

A second bridge crosses the water right below another waterfall. I wondered at the high sides on the bridge--tall posts with metal wire strung between them. It seemed like overkill. On reading a description of the trail when I got home, I learned why. Apparently it is for the safety of people on horseback. Fall off your horse, and you could fall right over a regularly sized railing.

Just across this bridge was a pulley with a large braided metal ropes that had snapped clean off, and later on some sizable pieces of rusted machinery. These, and the road itself, such as it is, are the remnants of the Sierra and San Francisco company's efforts to construct the dam for Relief Reservoir in 1909. The trail must have been designed for pack animals, and it is still heavily used for that. I saw evidence of that on the trail long before I encountered horses, as there were plenty of droppings, both fresh and stale.

Also just across this bridge the trail appeared to me, on the way down, to branch off in two directions. But I didn't notice it when climbing up, and took the left path without noticing the other. This area is rougher still, with some switchbacks, and climbs to a signed junction, straight ahead going on towards Relief Reservoir, and to the left, and noticeably climbing, in comparison to the flat trail headed the other way, for Kennedy Lake. The sign was the first indication I had on the trail that I was actually going to Kennedy Lake. Starting up, I could see a building on the Relief Reservoir trail that indicated it was the PG&E Relief Station at 7000 feet.

The steep climb continued from here. I was not prepared for this. I can't find any precise data on this trail, but from using the information I can find, I'd estimate that it's 1.5 miles with negligible elevation gain (some minor ups and downs) to the Emigrant Wilderness boundary, then 1.1 miles with about 700 feet of climbing to the junction I just described, and another 800 feet of net elevation gain (with ups and downs, meaning you're doing more climbing that than) the rest of 3.8 miles of trail (it's still a ways to the lake after that), with much of that in the first mile. California Hiking says it is only 1,200 feet of climbing, but Kennedy Meadows is between 6,200 and 6,400 feet and Kennedy Lake is just over 7800 feet (7801 on my topographic map, 7805 on a website), so that figure has to be off by close to a third.

Anyhow, it's nothing extreme for climbing, but it is mostly concentrated in one section, so that part was tiring, and combined with the length of the trail, you can understand why it was listed as a 2-day backpacking trip, rather than a day hike, as I did it. Most of the people I saw on the trail were backpackers or on horseback.

As I said, as I left the junction, I began climbing and had a fabulous view of the area I had left behind before turning away from the cliff to hike past a pond, which is still marked on my topographic map (at home, on the computer--I didn't have one with me, which would have made things easier) despite being quite small. Soon the trail comes out on a ledge again, with views of a lovely granite area scoured by Kennedy Creek.

20080627 Snow Plant
Snow Plant

I was thinking the trail should be down along the creek, but soon after rock hopping across a stream I descended to a bridge across it. Ultimately the trail heads to the source of much of that water, but since the water doesn't always take the easiest grade downstream, the trail sometimes has to depart it to get around obstacles, but it keeps coming back to it.

Climbing up after this third and final bridge, I passed another junction with Night Cap Trail before encountering horses for the first time on the trail, a man on horseback leading four horses roped together, and an another horse that was following behind on its own. As is the rule, I stepped off the trail to yield to the horses. I imagine on the weekend you might have to do that a lot on this trail. I saw several more people on horseback, sometimes leading pack horses, over the rest of the hike.

20080627 Riderless Horse
Riderless Horse

Around this point the steady climbing ended, and the trail become one of alternating ups and downs for a while, before evening out. I came upon a small meadow with shriveled irises, then continued on through light forest, often within earshot of the creek, and with occasional glimpses of meadow and the high mountains on either side.

20080627 Woolly Mule Ears
Woolly Mule Ears

This even section of light forest was long, but it was easy hiking. Eventually I came out of the forest onto the top edge of a meadow--a magnificent and enormous meadow dramatically set off by soaring snow-spotted peaks. And there was a barbed wire fence: the trail followed the top edge of the meadow as it gently sloped down to Kennedy Creek, but most of the meadow was fenced off. Walking farther, I saw llamas grazing in the meadow on the other side of the fence, and tents set up near the river.

I came to a closed gate with no signs on it of any kind. If I was supposed to pass through it, I would expect a sign telling me to close the gate afterwards. If I was not supposed to go through it, I would expect "PRIVATE PROPERTY" or "NO TRESPASSING" signs. Property owners in scenic areas usually have these plastered everywhere.

I went ahead and proceeded through the gate and out onto the vast meadow of Hollywood Basin. The water drizzles down the meadow all over the place to the creek and so the meadow was very boggy, and I had to pick my way across it, trying not to sink too deeply in mud, although my right boot did go under at one point. There were many light green, almost cyan, shrubs here, and plenty of irises too (western blue flags). I see a lot of irises hiking on the coast, but I don't recall seeing them like this in the high Sierra before.

20080627 Western Blue Flag
Western Blue Flag

Just before an old cabin, Andrew Thomas Kennedy's old cabin, I would read later on, the trail split. I figured the fork to the left was for people going to check out the cabin, while to the right looked like the way to go. I took that fork, and before long, the trail petered out. I could hear voices of people on the other side of the creek, but I didn't call out to them to ask where to go because I was afraid I might be on trespassing on private property after having passed through that gate. I was at the point of giving up and turning back, when I realized I should at least check out the other fork before the cabin.

I took that, and it took me quite a bit farther, but the trail was growing less distinct as I had to keep finding ways to get around or over the water and mud. A herd of cows was up ahead, and upslope from them was a family of 4 with two dogs. The father had a fishing pole, so I figured they likely came from the lake, and so I left the trail, such as it was, that I was following to head towards them. This led me to skirt around the herd, rather than pass through it.

20080627 Hollywood Basin
Hollywood Basin

I asked about Kennedy Lake and the father pointed and told me I was just about to it. In studying the map when I got home, the trail doesn't actually go to the lake. It just goes a ways into the meadow downstream of the lake, and then you just have to find whatever way you can to best cross the meadow. It might be a problem earlier in the year when their is more runoff, but was easy enough at that time. Close to the lake there were some large bushes, and a red-winged black bird flew out of one and started flying around up above me, making a lot of noise. At first I wondered why it just didn't fly away from me, but then I figured it was likely protecting a nest and trying to tell me to go away.

20080627 Kennedy Lake
Kennedy Lake Up Ahead

20080627 Kennedy Lake
Kennedy Lake

The shore that you first come upon is just boggy meadow, and there's no really clear outlet to the lake. It just gradually narrows until it is a creek To get to good shoreline, you have to go to the end of the lake, where there are rocks and upslope a ways a lovely grouping of aspens. That's where I stopped, but farther around was a fisherman. I believe to get to camping sites you have to go completely around the lake and downstream a ways.

It took me 4 hours to get to the lake, so I didn't have long to enjoy it, as I didn't want to have to drive over mountain passes at night. I had originally hoped to go swimming, but I couldn't even keep my feet in the water very long as it was so cold. I stayed for half an hour, then started the long hike back. California Hiking puts the distance at 7.4 miles one way. I'm not sure if that's to the end of the trail, or to the lake. According to my Topo! software, it's about 3/4 of a mile from the end of the trail to a decent spot to stop on the lake. Anyhow, it's about 15 miles round trip, give or take a little.

On the way back several red-winged blackbirds harassed me as I crossed the meadow. In the lightly forested area, I turned on the speed, since only this and the initial part of the hike are areas you can really make good time. When I came to the junction with Night Cap Trail, I considered taking it, as I like variety, and I know from having seen the junction sign near the beginning that it would lead me back to the same place. But not knowing what would be involved and needing to make good time, I decided to just go back the way I came. On reading about it when I got home, I made the right choice. It goes quite a bit higher, and is apparently a faint trail. It was used as an alternate route to drive cattle up to the meadow (from what I can tell, a family owns grazing rights on the land, but not the land itself), particularly one year when a bridge was out.

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When I got all the way back to the waterfalls, I did stop to attempt long exposures, but I couldn't get them very long without my neutral density filter. They were in direct sunlight when I hiked out, and they were in direct sunlight on my way back.

Back down in Kennedy Meadows, a California Conservation Corps van and a pickup drove past me on the dirt road, kicking up lots of dust in my face. A guy gave me an apologetic look out of the passenger side window of the pickup.

Finally I made it back to my car around 6 p.m., 8 hours and 10 minutes after I set out: 4 hours out, 1/2 hour at the lake, 3 hours and 40 minutes back. I believe that is the longest day hike I've ever undertaken on my own.

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Sonora Pass Highway

For speed, I should have driven home by going back the way I came, but I really wanted to see Sonora Pass, which is just beyond Kennedy Meadows on CA 108. It was, indeed, a spectacular drive--along with the Shoreline Highway (CA 1), probably the most beautiful road that I have driven (I've been a passenger on some spectacular roads in Montana and in Norway, but I didn't drive). But on the other side of the pass, it was a long ways to go to get back to Sacramento. There's nothing to make your legs stiff like a 15-mile hike followed by a 4 1/2 hour drive.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Santa Cruz Mountains: Butano State Park

The long awaited occasion of this adventure was my first backpacking trip. I bought a tent less than a year before, and started camping regularly for the first time in my life, only just car camping. I had bought a backpackers' pack a few weeks earlier, but hadn't yet put it to the test. Finally, I found a good way to ease into the backpacking experience--the hike-in environmental campgrounds at California State Parks. I didn't know they existed until I hiked past one at Van Damme State Park--they are just listed by a symbol on the park's web page, a tent with an "e" under it.

Several nuisances got to me at the drive-in campsites at state parks--people running generators, several families gathered together to party, and people driving into the campgrounds late at night. The most popular drive-in campgrounds are also usually booked solid for Saturday nights in summer, while most of the environmental campsites are first-come, first-served, and from what I have seen so far, don't fill up entirely. Finally, they're cheaper. In this case, a drive-in campsite would have cost me $25, plus to even get one I would have had to reserve in advance, paying another $7.50, while the hike-in site was only $10 for the night. But unlike camping in the wilderness, I would have access to a pit toilet stocked with toilet paper, there would be other campers around in case I had problems, and a ranger would have a record of where I was.

I had a couple of bad omens about this trip on my way to the park. I stopped downtown in Sacramento to eat breakfast at Jim Denny's, and got a parking ticket. I had purposefully taken quarters to plug the meter, but just spaced out when I went into the restaurant. I also locked my keys in my car in Pescadero. I stopped for lunch and to check my map. I put the keys on the passenger seat, found the map and studied it, opened the door, locked it, got out, and just as I closed it thought, "my keys!" So I had to call AAA, and sit there on the one street in town and watch the man come out of the repair shop, hop in his truck, drive 1/2 block to my car, and look for me. I had an instinctive superstitious reaction to wonder what was going to go terribly wrong with my hike after that kind of a start to my trip, but I quickly put that thought out of my head.

At the entrance the ranger clarified that I meant Trail Camp, which requires a 5-mile hike to get to, and not the walk-in campsites in the main campground. I did mean Trail Camp, but the funny thing is that I had been telling my friends at work that week that I would be hiking in just 2 miles. But even with a fully loaded pack on my back, I was sure 5 miles each way would be manageable.

As you drive in from the coastal grasslands outside of the park, things suddenly change, and it seems as though you've been transported to someplace far away as you quickly enter a dark redwood forest with a cool stream running alongside the road. I parked at an off-road area just near the junction of the main road and a fire road, near the trailhead for Mill Ox Trail, which is what I started out on.

This trail took me across the stream and up the canyon wall at a fairly steep ascent for a person fully loaded with backpacking gear for the first time in his life. I paced myself, and occasionally stopped to adjust my straps.

After a very short distance on Mill Ox Trail, I turned east onto Jackson Flats Trail. The parking area was just below 400 feet in elevation. The junction with Jackson Flats Trail is a little higher than 400 feet. With modest ups and downs, the trail climbs to about 800 feet at the next junction over a course of about 2 miles, maybe a little more. There weren't many redwoods along this trail, but it was a nice forest with a some wildflowers, particularly monkey flowers. I didn't take pictures of them though. I hadn't thought of it beforehand, but it's not so easy to get down on the ground and take macro shots of wildflowers and mushrooms (as I usually do on a hike) with a fully loaded pack on your back, and it's even more difficult to get up again when you do.

The junction where I left Jackson Flats Trail took me onto the appropriately named Canyon Trail, which curves around the canyon wall. Everywhere a seasonal creek has cut back into the the side of the canyon, the trail follows the contour back as well, dips down to cross the creek bed, and then rises up on the other side and moves back towards the main canyon.

Canyon Trail is quite varied for habitat. Some parts are exposed and dry, and feature chaparral--mainly manzanita and scrub oak. Other parts are shaded and damp, and lush with ferns and heavy forest. It keeps alternating.

From around 800 feet of elevation at the junction with Jackson Flats Trail, Canyon Trail climbs to around 1300 feet at the junction with Indian Trail and the .5 mile spur to Trail Camp (I'm not sure if that .5 miles is included in the total 2.75 mile length of Canyon Trail or not, but I suspect it is). But there's more climbing than just 500 feet, because of the ups and downs.

The final .5 miles climbs to just over 1400 feet and an old road, off of which are the 7 campsites for Trail Camp. The first sign I came across was for campsites 7 and 8, but it turns out there is no camp 5. I think a large tree may have fallen where it used to be.

The ranger told me that two groups had been ahead of me going to Trail Camp, but there was nobody around that I could see or hear. I hiked past the pit toilet and trash cans up to the sign for campsites 1 and 2, which was also signed for Chimney Tree Trail, a trail not marked on my map. I presume Chimney Tree is an old-growth redwood tree. I started along that trail but didn't see any campsites, and soon turned around as I was entirely exhausted, and didn't need to do any more hiking with my backpack on.

I chose campsite 3. The campsites are all nicely secluded off short spurs from the road, and include rough-hewn picnic tables and benches made form large logs, although the table had collapsed at my site. I pitched my tent, arranged everything as I wanted, rested a while, and then headed out again, this time carrying nothing but my camera.

I headed up the road to the junction with Butano Fire Road, and took a short climb westward up to over 1600 feet to Ray Linder Memorial Trail, a 1-mile loop trail through forest with redwoods and Douglas firs. I saw a couple of slugs on the trail, and tried to get some good shots, but with frustrating results because it was so dark in the shady forest. I finally broke out my Gorillapod to get longer exposures, but wasn't too successful with that approach either, as my model was ducking his head under some leaves.

20080608 Banana Slug
Banana Slug

20080608 Thing on the Trail
? on Ray Linder Trail

The trail does some climbing and dropping before returning to the fire road, just a ways down from where I had started out on it. I headed back to camp, but then decided to go out on Butano Fire Road one more time, this time to the east.

Once again I climbed to over 1600 feet, this time on a broad and smooth dirt road that was in better condition than some I've driven to trailheads on. I climbed past some graffiti, and caught glimpses of the valley below before arriving at my destination, an abandoned landing field. I was expecting it to be paved, but it wasn't. There's no information in the park brochure that would indicate why it is there, but it's clearly marked on the map. There were plenty of bicycle tracks around, as bicycles are allowed on the fire roads. You could get all the way to Trail Camp via bicycle.

Then it was back to camp again. I fell asleep pretty early, before having my usual fitful sleep while camping. As soon as it started to get light out, I stopped trying to force myself to sleep longer, and got up and got ready for my day. I was all packed up and ready to start back to my car by 6:30. Everybody else in camp was still asleep.

I went down to the last junction I had come from, and this time turned onto Indian Trail, rather than Canyon Trail, as I had come. I noticed that someone had left messages all over the post of the sign, warning of a wasps nest near a pond, and of the difficulty of one of the trails.

Just a short hike downhill from the junction I crossed a creek at a lovely spot--the canyon walls were steep enough that fallen trees came all the way down and were littered across the creek, in large piles at points. Following the usual pattern, once crossing the creek, it was uphill.

20080608 Monkey Flower
On Indian Trail

Soon the creek was far below, although not so much because the trail I was on was climbing, as that the creek was dropping. Indian Trail only runs .9 miles until it hits a fire road along a ridge, Olmo Fire Road. On this portion of the hike, I could see the valley of the park to the right (north), and the next valley south on the left, and a fire road on top of the next ridge to the south. I was finally out in sunshine, the first I had seen that morning.

When building roads for automobiles they don't worry so much about ups and downs as they do when constructing foot trails, so I soon found myself hoping to find my next junction before having to make another uphill climb. It was hidden until I came right up to it, but just at the start of a big ascent was the sign for Doe Ridge Trail.

This trail of just 1.6 miles was one of the nicest parts of my hike. It gently sloped down, making for easy hiking, and kept moving deeper into better redwood forest as I went along. It culminated in an area at the end of the descent with some fantastic old specimens and stumps just before a short rise and the junction with Goat Hill Trail.

I took Goat Hill Trail down and quickly hit the junction with the trail to the main campground. I could have turned off here and quickly been back to my car, but I wanted to go a longer route so that I could hike Little Butano Creek Trail, which looked to be the loveliest trail in the park. So I kept going south until I hit a fire road, on which I turned right (east).

Once passing some sort of utility building for the park that was humming and was accompanied by a big black tank, the fire road was as lovely as a road can be, gently sloping down and curving gracefully, while over-towered by many redwoods, and with ferns dripping down off the banks on either side. But I was quite a ways up off the canyon floor, where Little Butano Creek had to run, so I knew there would be some more elevation changes.

Soon enough the road dropped steeply--steeply enough that I slipped at one point--down to a bridge that crosses the creek. On the other side (north) was a sign for the Little Butano Creek Trail, and odd sign that resembled a simple headstone. Instead of getting to stroll along the creekside as it gently descends towards the park entrance, I immediately started up, and then back down to the creek, and then back up. There was going to be a good bit of climbing. It is gorgeous scenery though, a steep canyon covered in ferns with the creek running through the middle and the redwoods rising high above and casting everything in deep, dark coolness.

Then at one point as I rounded a curve, I felt a sting and heard a buzz--I'm not sure which was first, or if they were simultaneous. Some flying insect (I never saw it) stung me right on the jaw. There was a small, sharp pain. I was worried about swelling, as the last time I had been stung by a bee, 20 years earlier, my whole forearm had swollen up and turned red.

That would prove to be the least of my worries. I soon grew lightheaded, and my heart started to race. Then itching began far from the sting--on the tops of my feet. It was so irritating that I wanted to rip off my shoes and scratch away. Soon everywhere else started itching. My ear drums started throbbing, and they too started to itch. But what most scared me is when I started having trouble breathing. I'm used to having my heart race and to panting heavily when doing a lot of climbing on the trail, but now I was wheezing and coughing.

I went slowly and took breaks. At one point I stopped, took off my pack, and dug out my first aid guide. It described my symptoms as anaphylactic shock (I believe now it was just an anaphylactic response, shock would have been more severe, but that's what the first aid guide said it was), but had no advice on what to do, other than seek medical attention. I was only about a mile from the end of the trail and my car, but I hadn't seen or heard anyone since the campers near me quieted down near midnight the night before. I just kept on slowly. It didn't seem as though I were in any immediate danger of collapse, but I did find myself wishing that I had my ID on me, in case it were needed.

The last part of the trail was flat and easy, following the course of the stream. Also quite lovely, I'm sure, but I was too busy concentrating on my pacing and heart rate to notice. A couple came into view here, and from their appearance I guessed they hadn't wandered far from their car. Figuring I had made it back, I didn't appeal to them, but just said hello. They didn't seem to notice anything amiss about me.

At the car I dumped my pack and lied down on the backseat of my car. My breathing and heart rate calmed, and I didn't feel lightheaded. But when I heard an insect buzzing, I decided it was time to go. I wasn't yet ready for round two.

My original plan had been to check the drive-in campgrounds bathrooms for pay showers, then use my entrance fee for the park to get into the state beaches up CA 1 on my way back home. But I decided to head straight back to Sacramento possibly stopping for medical attention if needed.

Sitting in the car not exerting myself at all, I didn't have much problem with my breathing, heart rate, or lightheadedness, although initially I was itching, and scratching, all over on the way back, and I saw red welts break out all over my thighs. But things calmed down. I even stopped to take a picture of a sign, although the lightheadness I experienced standing up made me regret that.

20080608 Apple Jack's
Worth the Stop?

As I got closer to Sacramento, however, I felt better and better, and finally ended up going home, rather than to a clinic. All of the systemic reactions had subsided, but the local results of the sting were just starting to develop. My swelling occurred, not only at the point of the sting on my jaw, but on the lower part of my throat and upper part of my chest, culminating about 36 hours after the sting, and then subsiding after that (with me treating it externally with cortisone cream and internally with antihistamines). I had never heard of such a thing as anaphylaxis, but in discussing it with people at work on Monday, I found everybody else knew of it--they had either experienced it, or knew someone (or heard of someone) who had.

That was the big adventure of my first backpacking trip. The fact that things went wrong doesn't surprise me at all, but the way in which they did I couldn't have anticipated: my first parking ticket in 15 years, my first time ever locking my keys in the car, my first ever anaphylactic reaction. I was worried about running out of water, critters trying to get into my tent after my food, or back pain from carrying that fully-loaded backpack so far. I'm not a superstitious person, and I know there was no connection between my absentmindedness with the parking meter and my keys, and the terrible allergic reaction to the insect sting, but even so I was driving very cautiously on the way home, thinking that a car wreck would be just the thing to complete the weekend for me.

I'd like to see what the park brochure describes as the "park's star attraction, the purple calypso orchid," which blooms February to April. But I'm not sure I'll be back to Butano State Park. It's very nice, and I won't hold my misadventures against it, but coming from Sacramento, it's a pain to get to it through the freeway maze of the East Bay and South Bay, and there are so many other places I have yet to explore.

About Me

My Photo

I love to learn about, visit, photograph, research, and write about everything that is interesting, unique, and historical about Northern California, and wherever else I should be fortunate enough to find myself.  I've spent many years scouring the roadside in my little car for interesting subjects and walking down hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada and along the coast to get to know the wonder that is Northern California.  I share most of this via photos on Flickr, and as much as time permits me to on my blog, the NorCal Explorer.  Fine art prints of my photos are for sale on Imagekind.