Playa Los Colomitos

Playa Los Colomitos

“Always on Vacay”

Last month, we vacationed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a long weekend. Southwest Airlines just introduced flights from LAX to PVR and they were pretty reasonably priced. It was a great time to travel there because it was still considered off-peak season. We stayed in the Hotel Zone not far from the airport at the Hacienda Buenaventura Hotel. It was all-inclusive and was close to a bus stop, where we caught the bus into downtown. One of the places we wanted to venture to while in Puerto Vallarta was the hidden Colomitos Beach. It is only accessible by water taxi or by hiking through the jungle. Obviously, we chose the second option.

The public bus took us from outside our hotel to the downtown area (Centro/Malecon) and was less than 50 cents each person, each way. Once we got to the end of the line, we exited the bus and looked for the orange and white bus that was to take us to Boca de Tomatlán. I found a helpful website that explained the different bus routes around the area. We were lucky enough to get on this bus at the first stop because it quickly filled up to capacity (and beyond) by the time we reached Boca. The bus ride was scenic as it climbed up a winding road leaving town.

Once we arrived at Boca de Tomatlán, we got off the bus and walked down a hill. From there, we saw a beautiful bay with lots of panga boats. This area is a small fishing village with the Horcones River ending it’s trip down from the mountains. Compared to the ocean, the river water was much cooler but still felt refreshing after the hot bus ride.

We were greeted by many water taxi drivers asking if we wanted a ride. Instead, we asked them for directions on where to catch the trail to Colomitos. They advised us to walk towards the river and look for a bridge that crossed it. After that, they said to just follow along the other side of the land towards the ocean and look for a turn off to the left before reaching the end.

After crossing the river, we followed the trail towards the ocean. At times, it was a little difficult to follow because it went through or alongside what looked like people’s properties. Whenever we felt like we were off track, we saw an arrow on a rock or a small sign pointing us in the right direction. There was even a precarious looking suspension bridge we had to cross at one point.

On that day, it was particularly humid, which made the mile-long hike through the jungle feel tougher than usual. Luckily, we packed enough water to last. The only wildlife we spotted during our trek was an iguana, who quickly scurried up a tree when he saw us. The hike had a few switchbacks and hills but once we were towards the end, we rounded the corner and were rewarded with our first view of Colomitos beach. After that, it was all downhill to paradise.

For being such a secluded beach with limited access, there were quite a few people. There was also a guy selling beers and hailing water taxis. The water was warm and inviting. We even brought snorkeling equipment but unfortunately, the visibility was low that day. After enjoying Colomitos, we opted to take a water taxi back to Boca. They stopped by about every 5 minutes or so and were easy to flag down. After getting back to Boca, we got some ice cream and walked back up to the bus stop. We weren’t sure how late the bus ran but it came after waiting about 20 minutes. It was perfect timing because it had started to rain at that point. The ride back down the mountain was a little intense on a packed bus in the pouring rain.

Once we got back into town, the rain had not let up one bit and the streets were starting to flood. Lucky for us, the bus stop was a couple blocks away from Los Muertos Brewing. It was the perfect place to grab a slice of pizza and a pint while enjoying the rain.

Malibu Rock Pool & MASH Site

Malibu Rock Pool & MASH Site

Summertime in Southern California usually means hotter weather, lack of water sources and less hiking. Recently, we went on an adventure to find the Malibu Rock Pool. It sounded like a fun swimming hole not far from home. I made the mistake of following directions from Hike Speak, which were a bit confusing and made it seem like you had to head towards the MASH site to get to it.

We parked on Mulholland Highway and started on the Grassland Trail through Malibu Creek State Park. There is a parking lot that is inside the park, but you have to pay $12 for day use. Parking on Mulholland saved us some money while also gaining 0.8 miles of hiking. The trail starts off fairly flat for the first portion and then reaches a fork. The options on the right and the left go a little out of the way but also have a more gradual descent. The middle trail goes straight down and is more direct bit is fairly steep. We opted for the right option.

At the bottom of the hill, the trail hits Crags Road. Here’s where the directions got a little confusing. They said to make a right, just before reaching the bridge that crosses Malibu Creek. The trail on the right actually led us to Century Lake/Dam and the MASH site, which was about 1.5 miles from this junction. The trail is easy to follow with some shade but not a whole lot. It’s mostly flat with little elevation gain.

The MASH site still has a few old vehicles that were used when the show was filmed there between 1972 and 1983.  Twentieth Century Fox owned this area where they operated a movie ranch before donating the land to the Malibu Creek State Park.

After looking at the vehicles and signage, we headed back the direction we came. Once we reached the bridge again, we decided to turn right and cross the bridge. This led us to the Rock Pool which was much appreciated after hiking 3 miles round trip in 90 degree heat. There were several people there but it didn’t feel overly crowded. There were some adventurous teens jumping from boulders into the water, which is not allowed and could get you a ticket if a ranger is around. After soaking in the water long enough to cool off, we headed back to the car and enjoyed some cold water with the AC on full blast. This hike is great during summertime and if you’re just going to the Rock Pool, the hike is less than a mile from Mulholland Highway.

Malibu Rock Pool

Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail

Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail

To say that this hike was challenging would be an understatement. When researching the trail, we decided that it would be doable as a shuttle hike in two days. We’d leave one car at the Piedra Blanca trailhead and another at Reyes Creek trailhead, where we’d start the hike. After reading reviews of the hike, it seemed like hiking from Reyes to Piedra would be “easier” in that it wouldn’t gain 3,000 feet within the first few miles. Most of the online sources we read put the total mileage between 16 and 18 miles. In reality, those were all wrong and the total mileage from start to finish ended up being about 21 miles.

We arrived at the Reyes Creek trailhead around 8:30am ready to do some serious hiking. We were greeted by a sign that said the trail was closed between Upper Reyes Camp to Pine Mountain Lodge Camp. The notice was dated July 2016 so we figured it was old and had read on the forest service website that the trail was open. In the first 2.5 miles, the trail ascended gradually until it reached the top of a saddle. The views from the top were amazing! At this point, the trail went down for about 1/2 a mile into Upper Reyes camp, which was nice and cool under the trees.

The trail had plenty of shady spots, which were much appreciated during water breaks. Being that we both brought our LifeStraw water bottles, we didn’t have to carry much water. There was ample water flowing in the creek and numerous creek crossings to fill up at. Leaving Upper Reyes camp, the trail ascended consistently for 1.5 miles. before descending into Beartrap camp. We decided to stop for lunch in this spacious camp with ample shade.

Beartrap Camp

After refueling, we continued along. Our goal was to make it to Haddock Camp or Three Mile Camp to spend the night. We encountered a forest service volunteer with 3 horses along the way who was clearing brush from parts of the trail. She told us the trail was closed but we showed her the print out from the forest service website showing that it was OPEN. She told us she cleared the rock slide just above Twin Forks camp about a week ago. When we asked about the condition of the rest of the trail, she said she was unsure but we were welcome to proceed at our own risk. We decided to carry on since we had already made it this far and didn’t want to turn back if we didn’t have to. After this point, there was a lot of bushwhacking to be done, which slowed us down a little. Luckily, we were both wearing pants which helped to avoid scratches from the overgrown thorny bushes. The trail was still easily visible to follow despite nature taking over. There were a few downed trees on the trail but still passable. 

The next part was probably one of the most unnerving parts of the hike. There was a portion of the trail covered in snow with a long drop below. We had our trekking poles but crossing this portion had to be done extra carefully to ensure stable footing. The trail was fairly skinny in this stretch as well, which made it even more risky. After making it safely across, we both hoped not to encounter any more segments like this one. The trail went right through the burn area from the Pine Fire last summer. It was such a drastic change from being surrounded by tall, green trees and then suddenly walking through a forest of charred stumps.

Once we rounded the corner to Haddock, we were greeting with more greenery and a large patch of snow on a hill near camp. It was about 8 miles to Haddock and with all the bushwhacking and cautious footing that had to be done, it took us about 8 hours of hiking. 

There were about 4 fire pits and we had our pick of any of the sites since there was no one else around. We chose a spot in the corner since the wind had picked up a little and this sheltered us a little. There was lot of good firewood scattered throughout camp and we had a fire started in no time. There was no trash or evidence of humans anywhere along the trail but there was broken glass and rusty cans in some of the fire pits. Why anyone would haul glass that far back is beyond me.

The temperature dropped into the low 40s at night but we stayed toasty in our sleeping bags. In the morning, there was a light layer of frost on our backpacks. Since it was quite chilly, it took us a little longer than normal to get moving and ready to leave. Before heading out, we discovered the carcass of a young buck. All that remained were bones so we knew it wasn’t eaten super recently. It was still quite the shock to find this since it was about 100 feet from where we had our tent. Along the trail, we had noticed numerous mountain lion tracks. Most of them were heading in the opposite direction but it still made us aware that we were definitely in mountain lion country.

After leaving camp, we encountered a few more sketchy portions of the trail. No more snow to cross but there were slippery leaves and loose rocks. This definitely slowed us down a bit but it’s better to take our time than to fall off a steep ledge. Three mile camp was about 2 miles from Haddock. What it is 3 miles from, no one knows. This was another nicely shaded spot and we crossed paths with a hiker and his dog. About 2 miles past Three Mile Camp is Pine Mountain Lodge Camp, where we stopped for lunch. We saw another hiker’s backpack propped up against a tree but no one in sight.

Tired smiles of accomplishment at Piedra Blanca

From Pine Mountain Lodge, the trail steadily descends all the way back to Piedra Blanca. Some portions were pretty steep so it was important to watch every step. This portion of the hike didn’t have as much shade as the first day, which made the trek seem more drawn out than before. As we got closer, the sight of the Piedra Blanca rock formation came into view. The trail actually goes up and through the rocks at the end. We made it back to the trailhead parking lot around 5:00pm, which meant we had put in another 8 hour day of hiking. All in all, it was a tough hike but we’re both glad that we made it back safely and were able to overcome any obstacles that got in our way.

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island

Recently, we took a trip out to Santa Cruz island for the weekend. We took the Island Packers boat from Ventura Harbor on a Saturday morning. It left around 9:00am and took about an hour to get to the island. We opted to head to Prisoners Harbor, instead of the crowded Scorpion Anchorage, so we could camp in a more secluded spot with a view. There is a backcountry campsite about 4 miles from Prisoners Harbor. There are only 4 campsites at Del Norte Campground for $15/night and reservations are required prior to arrival. We snagged the last available campsite when we made our reservations online.

Arriving at Prisoners Harbor

The day we left, there was a heavy drizzle. We started to second guess the clothes we packed but both of us had a windbreaker, in addition to a warm jacket, to keep us dry. There is no potable water at Prisoners Harbor or along the trail to Del Norte so we brought about 2.5 gallons of water. When we docked at Prisoners Harbor, the ranger remarked that we may see a bald eagle while we’re there. As if on cue, a bald eagle soared above and swooped down to catch a fish. Unfortunately, he did not catch the fish but it was still a cool sight to see.

The ranger offered a guided hike to Pelican Harbor through the land owned by the Nature Conservancy. This area is not open to the public so we decided to tag along. The Nature Conservancy owns about 75% of the island while the National Park Service owns the remaining 25%. The hike was fairly easy, with a few muddy areas and narrow portions of the trail along the way.

Since the group we hiked with included all ages, it took about an hour and a half to go 1 mile. The ranger pointed out some plants that were native to the island, along with some wildlife, such as the island scrub-jay. At the halfway point, the ranger mentioned that if anyone wanted to head back down, they could do so on their own. We chose this option, since the hike was taking longer than anticipated, and made it down in 15 minutes.

 

The hike to Del Norte Campground starts along the Navy road and begins with a steady ascent. I’d say the first half of the hike was mostly uphill, with a few flat areas. The second half of the hike was a mixture of switchbacks and up/down hills. It took us approximately two hours to get to camp. Once there, we were rewarded with an awesome view.

There was only one campsite occupied when we arrived so we had a few choices. We went for the campsite under an oak tree. Each campsite had at least one food saver box to keep food and other scented items safe from the island foxes and ravens. The campsites also had a picnic table and tent pad. Since it was Super Bowl weekend, it was requested that I find a way to make some backpacking nachos for dinner. I was able to make this happen thanks to finding some instant refried beans and queso blanco individual packets at my local neighborhood store. They were a hit and will definitely be repeated on another backpacking adventure.

The next morning, there was heavy fog and mist. We set off on the trail around 10am and planned to be back at Prisoners Harbor in time for lunch. We decided to take the Navy road all the way back, instead of the Del Norte trail. We knew that the Navy road would be mostly downhill, which was definitely appreciated after the hike to camp. It was so foggy, we were barely able to see the tops of hills around us and couldn’t see the ocean at all. There was a heavy mist the majority of the hike back and included some very muddy areas along the dirt road. All in all, it was a great hike and we made it back to Prisoners with plenty of time to relax before the boat arrived at 3.

The Island Packers boat arrived early, which gave us some extra time to try and see some whales. We were lucky enough to see a gray whale mother with her baby and a few adult whales as well. One of the Island Packers people told us that the mother must have had her baby too soon, before she could reach the lagoon in Mexico. This caused her to have to travel with the baby in colder waters, which is not very common. The whales gave us a treat by showing off their tails and spouting quite a bit. What a special end to a great weekend!

Gray whale spout!
North Fork Matilija Trail

North Fork Matilija Trail

Last weekend, we planned a short overnight backpacking adventure on the North Fork Matilija Trail, just outside of Ojai, CA. Thanks to recent rain, we knew that Matilija Creek would be flowing and full of water.

The trailhead is at the end of  Matilija Road, off the 33, and shares the same starting point as the Murrieta Trail. It was the first sunny day we had seen in awhile and it was apparent that everyone else had the same idea of enjoying the beautiful weather. When we got to the dirt parking lot I had read about, we discovered that the recent rainstorm had flooded it, limiting its parking options. We were lucky enough to find parking along the street and made sure to not leave any valuables in the car. The trailhead parking area is known for vehicle break-ins unfortunately.

The first part of the trail is on a paved road that is on private property. It’s important to stay on the road during this portion to avoid any issues with the landowners. At the end of the paved road, it turns to a dirt road where you will be greeted by your first creek crossing. I counted a total of ten creek crossings (each way) during our hike and was glad that I brought my trekking poles. About a year ago, Costco sold some collapsible carbon fiber trekking poles by Cascade Mountain for less than $30. So far, they’ve held up quite well and are appreciated on every hike I bring them on. 

This trip was the first time we were able to use our new Kelty Redwing 50L packs. I bought them for Christmas after reading all the positive reviews. They have lots of pockets and compartments and are roomy enough to carry everything we need for our backpacking trips. Since we’re still using our bulky old Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads, we strapped them on the outside of our packs, which was easy to do with this pack. They also feature PerfectFIT™ Suspension that allows you to adjust your pack to each load you carry. After using them for 2 backpacking trips, I’m happy to report that they were extremely comfortable and I did not experience any soreness in my back or shoulders.

The trail was mainly flat and easy to follow. There was also ample amounts of shade throughout the entire hike. About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach Matilija Camp. This area is large enough to accommodate larger groups and is apparently a popular destination with local Boy Scouts. We continued on past camp towards our stop for the night, Middle Matilija Camp. The hike to camp is about 4 miles each way. We took our time on the trail and all the creek crossings and got to camp in about 2 hours. My parents actually hiked with us most of the way and turned around to head home before we got to camp. This seems to be a popular day hike but less popular for backpacking, as we did not see anyone past Matilija Camp.

There were no signs for Middle Matilija Camp but we found an open area shaded by a few Oak trees where we decided to settle in. The creek was right down the trail from camp and provided a relaxing soundtrack to our evening. We packed enough drinking water but decided to fetch some water from the creek to boil for coffee and cooking. The water was fairly murky but tasted fine after boiling, minus the last sip that was full of dirt. I also brought along my LifeStraw water bottle, which allowed me to fill it from the creek and drink the filtered water through the straw.

 

We brought our REI Flex Lite chairs to relax at camp after our hike. They may be a little heavy for those extreme backpackers who count every ounce but at 1lb 10oz, they were worth it. We were the only people camping that night in Middle Matilija Camp. The only critter we saw was a young Woodpecker who eventually found his way into his home through a small hole in the trunk of one of the Oak trees.

The weather that night wasn’t too bad and was somewhere in the high 30s/low 40s. In the morning on our hike back, we saw frost along the trail less than a mile from camp. We didn’t see too many groups hiking in while we were heading out. Since we were close to Ojai, we decided to check out Ojai Valley Brewery in downtown, which just opened up a few days prior. They are a nanobrewery that focuses on “different and uniquely local” beers, including one that uses local chaparral herbs. All in all, it was a nice, easy backpacking trip and our new packs passed the test. I’m looking forward to many more backpacking trips this year!

 

 

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees Everywhere!

 

Our tent island

Since our sleeping bags passed the test at Rose Valley, we knew they’d keep us plenty warm in Joshua Tree. We didn’t have any camping reservations, since most of the campgrounds are first come, first served. We figured that since we were heading out there on a Thursday morning, the day of my birthday,  we wouldn’t have a problem finding a spot. Wrong! This was the Thursday before New Year’s and everyone else had the same idea. Unfortunately, my birthday falls right in between Christmas and New Year’s. The ranger told us that most of the campgrounds, including Jumbo Rocks where we wanted to stay, had been full all week. Our only option was to camp in the BLM land outside the park. Although not as picturesque as camping inside the park would have been, we pretty much had our pick of any “spot” out there with views of the snow covered San Bernardino mountains and no neighbors within 500 feet.  No hookups or glamping amenities out there but none of that was needed since we were tent camping. The weather forecast predicted rain so we created our own island for our tent by doing donuts around camp.

Skull Rock

Even though we were outside the park, we were about 10-15 minutes from the North Entrance. We had the America the Beautiful Pass, which gave us free entry into the park, as well as numerous other National Parks throughout the country. We ventured into the park both days that we were there and went on a few hikes. We visited the infamous Skull Rock, which isn’t much of a hike since it’s located right off the main road. The rock formations were a sight to see and fun to climb on.

Further into the park, we visited the Chollas Cactus Garden. It was amazing how many of these there were and how big they could get. Most of the other cholla cacti spotted in other parts of the park were small and sparse. Some of the ones in the garden were over 8 feet tall!

 

Cholla Cactus Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last hike in the park was to the Forty nine Palms Oasis. Although it is only 3 miles round trip, it has 350 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead has separate access off the main road away from a ranger station and, technically, outside the park. The trail is uphill for the first half and then descends into the oasis. Unfortunately, there was no water in the oasis when we went but the scenery was still pretty awesome. We did this hike right around sunset and made it out before dark. We were surprised to see people continuing to hike in so late in the day and questioned their ability to get in and out in time. All in all, it was a great trip to Joshua Tree National Park and I hope to go back and camp inside the park (with a little better planning).

Forty-nine Palms Oasis

 

Rose Valley Campground

Rose Valley Campground

Site #6 with quails in the background

In preparation for our upcoming camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park, we wanted to test out our new sleeping bags to make sure they’d be warm enough. For Christmas, I got an REI Serrana, which has a comfort rating of 25 degrees F and a lower limit of 13 degrees F. My boyfriend got a Kelty Cosmic Down 20, which has a comfort rating of 30 degrees F and a lower limit of 19 degrees F. We decided to go camping above Ojai at Rose Valley campground. The weather report showed lows in the mid 30s, which seemed doable.

When we got to the campground, we had our choice of almost any spot. Last time we camped there, it was the night before opening day of hunting season and the place was packed. We chose spot #6, which was nicely located in the shade near the creek. There were a few dozen quails scurrying about, which was a treat to see. There was only one other camper set up but they were nowhere in sight and never came back to their camp.

We had plans to hike to Chief Peak, which can be accessed by Nordhoff Ridge Road. Up until 12/15, you can obtain a permit from the ranger station to get a code to open the gate and drive up Nordhoff Ridge Road. Unfortunately, we were two days too late and had to hike all the way up from camp. The hike is rated as strenuous and this was no joke. Rose Valley Campground is about 3,450 ft and Chief Peak is 5,580. The guidebook we followed said it was about 4.4 miles each way, which meant an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet. We didn’t make it all the way to Chief Peak, but did make it to a really awesome viewpoint with 360 views of the Topa Topa Mountains, six of the Channel Islands, Lake Casitas, Ojai and everything in between.  It was a perfect spot to stop for lunch and a well deserved beer. We figured that we went about 3.5 miles and gained about 1,500 feet in elevation.

The view from the top!

Back at camp, we set up our tent and got situated. We could feel the temperature dropping and layered up for what felt like was going to be a cold night. As we sat around the campfire, we got an idea to leave a water bottle out overnight to see how cold it got. The sleeping bags passed the cold temperature test, but we also had a blanket on top for extra warmth. In the morning, we were shocked to see everything covered in frost. The water bottle that was left outside was frozen SOLID. The layer of frost made it look like it had lightly snowed overnight. We definitely weren’t expecting frost but were more than prepared for the cold. I don’t think I’d like to camp in actual snow but this was a good experience overall. We should be well prepared for camping in the cold at Joshua Tree next week, which might even be warmer than Rose Valley!

1st Backpacking Adventure

1st Backpacking Adventure

For our first backpacking trip, we decided to venture into the Sespe Wilderness, located just north of Ojai, CA. Our originally planned destination was Sespe Hot Springs, which is roughly about 15 miles one way. As you can imagine, that was a pretty optimistic goal to achieve as first-timers. Let’s start with packing and what we learned NOT to do after this experience.

IMG_4372For starters, we didn’t have our awesome REI Half Dome Plus tent yet and packed a regular dome tent. I think the tent and poles alone weighed around 10lbs. We split this weight between both backpacks and put the poles in one pack and the tent in the other. For food, we decided that we’d bring precooked chicken pasta, a foot-long sandwich and a can of soup. Thinking back on all this now, I really question what made us think that this was a good idea. We also packed plenty of water, iodine tablets to treat creek water, and high energy snacks. My favorite recipe is from The Yummy Life for homemade KIND bars. The one I’ve made and enjoyed the most is the KIND bar copycat version of the chocolate, nuts and sea salt bar. Check out the recipe here. The night before, we loaded up our packs and took a walk around the neighborhood to test for comfort. I think mine weighed around 40lbs and my boyfriend’s was around 50lbs. Those weights seemed fine to us both after a brisk walk around the block but we learned the hard way the next day that we packed way too much.

We got to the Piedra Blanca Trailhead around 7:30am on a Saturday morning in March with a hopeful

mindset that we’d get to Sespe Hot Springs by late afternoon. We used an Adventure Pass to park at the trailhead. For only $30 for a year, it grants you access to free parking at trailheads and camping in the back country. They can be purchased at a variety of places, including REI, Big 5 and even gas stations. The first few miles of the hike were fairly flat with a few creek crossings and little shade.

Not much shade here!
Not much shade here!

After passing Bear Creek Campground, which is about 4 miles in,  there were more hills to climb and lots of creek crossings, which grew more difficult as we started feeling the weight of our packs. For about half of these creek crossings, I opted to take off my shoes and wade across. Shortly after doing so, we noticed a group that was behind us take a shortcut that kept them dry. I made sure to make a mental note for the way back.

The area around Bear Creek had lots of shade by the creek and was a good place to stop for lunch. At some points along the trail, there were long stretches with no shade and, what seemed to be, a never ending incline with switchbacks. Along the way, we didn’t see too many people and noticed lots of places that would be ideal to camp. We continued pushing ourselves further, despite how sore we were or the numerous blisters forming. At about 8 miles in, we saw a metal sign with an arrow pointing in the direction we were hiking that said “Willett—> 1 mile.” As we were both feeling pretty beat, this seemed doable before stopping for the night.

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Our gated meadow

IMG_4350It was a little difficult to find Willett Campground since the signs were not very helpful. A small sign directed us to cross the creek but showed no further directions from there. Luckily there were some people not far from us who pointed us in the right direction. We passed two old cabins, one of which is used on a first come, first served basis. We talked to the couple who was staying in the cabin and they were kind enough to give us a tour. It has 2 bunk bed frames, a few pots and pans and miscellaneous items, including a sign to show when the cabin is occupied.

After passing the cabins, we came to a meadow that was enclosed inside a fence and seemed like a perfect spot to settle for the night. We set up camp in the middle of the meadow and relaxed for a bit before making the trek up to the hot springs. The hot springs tub was less than a mile from camp up a very narrow and very steep trail. The water is contained in a rubber tub that is about 8 feet wide. After hiking almost 10 miles, the hot springs felt pretty dang good! We chatted with two guys who were already in the tub and upon telling them that our original goal for our first backpacking trip was Sespe Hot Springs, they replied, “What made you think you could do that?” We had a good laugh and agreed that it was a pretty far fetched goal to have as first-timers. After soaking for about an hour, we got our cue to leave as a group of boy scouts came marching loudly up the hill.

Starting the campfire
Starting the campfire

There was plenty of wood around to start a campfire for the night. All you need is a California Campfire Permit, which you can print at home before camping here. There was already a fire ring made out of stones in our campsite. As it began to get dark, our campsite was filled with a loud orchestra of crickets and toads. We walked over to the spring near the cabins to fill our water bottles and were surprised to see how many toads there were. The ground was literally covered with them and and we had to be careful not to step on them.

Waking up the next morning, we felt sore all over. The thought of putting our packs back on and hiking nearly 10 miles back out made us cringe. The bright side was that we ate the pasta and canned soup for dinner so the packs would be that much lighter. The sun was beating down on us the entire hike back and our pace was definitely slower than the day before. We took lots of breaks and made sure to stay hydrated. As soon as we caught sight of the parking lot, we walked a little faster because we knew the end was near. We made it to the car with smiles on our faces knowing that we had just hiked almost 20 miles round trip. The sense of accomplishment was worth the pain and we both knew this wouldn’t be our last backpacking adventure.

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We did it!

 

avantlink_confirmation

Intro to Backpacking

Intro to Backpacking

Vintage Camp Trails backpack
Vintage Camp Trails backpack

I never thought I would ever enjoy backpacking. If someone asked me a few years ago if I wanted to go backpacking, I’d tell them, “No thanks.” The whole idea of going camping deep in the wilderness while carrying your tent, sleeping bag, food and other necessities on your back just didn’t appeal to me.

My dad's trusty Kelty backpack
My dad’s trusty Kelty backpack

Don’t get me wrong, I love camping. My parents have taken me camping (real tent camping) since I was old enough to walk.  I’m not sure what exactly sparked our interest but my boyfriend had his uncle’s old backpacking pack lying around. He was going to sell it at a yard sale but decided to keep it after all, even though I laughed and told him he’s had it for years and hasn’t used it once.  In addition to my boyfriend’s uncle’s old Camp Trails backpack, we also were given my dad’s old Kelty backpack to use. Both have external aluminum frames with lots of space and pockets.

After both acquiring backpacks to use, we sought to find sleeping bags. My mom had an old down sleeping bag she used back in the 70s when she’d go camping in the Rockies. If she survived with it back then in freezing temperatures, I figured I would be just fine using it here in Southern California. My boyfriend also lucked out with a free sleeping bag, but in a less conventional way. On his way to work one morning, he saw a sleeping bag on the side of the freeway. Of course he pulled over to check it out and discovered that it was practically new. It was a Kelty sleeping bag and only had a minor tear, most likely from its fall from the back of a truck. With the help of some Tenacious Tape, it was as good as new.

REI Half Dome Plus 2 Tent =$25
REI Half Dome Plus 2 Tent =$25

Being an avid Craigslist browser, my boyfriend found an REI Half Dome Plus 2 Tent for $25. It had a small tear near one of the windows (easily fixable) and was in good condition otherwise. I believe when they were sold in stores, they retailed around $150, so this was a steal for us. After setting it up for the first time, in less than 2 minutes, we were amazed. We were used to tent camping which usually involved setting up tents with numerous poles and stakes. Even the so-called “instant” tents that advertised setup in under 60 seconds typically took closer to 5 minutes after hammering in all the stakes. This tent only had 2 poles and 4 stakes with an optional rain fly.

New Keen boots= $50
New Keen boots= $50

The most we spent on backpacking gear was on our hiking boots, which still wasn’t too much. We both found pairs at an REI Garage Sale. I scored a brand new pair of Keen boots for $50. They were returned to REI but never worn. My boyfriend also got a pair of Keen boots, but his were only $20 because they were slightly used. No use spending big bucks on boots for backpacking until you figured out whether you like it or not.  Other supplies we acquired for free from people we knew included a backpacking stove and some Thermarest self-inflating mats. We learned that it definitely helps to ask around because you never know what people have lying around and aren’t using.