With temperatures hitting the low nineties in Escondido, I decided to take a cool walk on the beach toward Flat Rock. Torrey Pines State Park remains closed as of July 18th but the parking lot is open and the lifeguards are manning the towers. The weather was perfect, just right air temp for hiking barefoot in the shallow surf, the skies clear, and the water warm enough for a comfortable swim though I don’t have an exact measurement to give you.
I was shocked at the crowd, or rather lack of it. See https://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/05/17/1102/ for my earlier experience. On the north side of the river, there was a decent crowd with people practicing some sketchy social distancing. But past the first lifeguard tower on the south side, the distance grew to about a hundred feet of social distance, and once past the last lifeguard tower, the beach was as empty as I have seen it on a summer day. Not much of a surf so no boarders to be seen.
The beach is none the worse for lack of a crowd. I saw several surf-feeding corbinas, small stingrays, and sand sharks lurking in the shallows. I watched a corbina catch by a fisherman working the shore with five poles. The shorebirds seem happy (what you can’t read the facial expressions of a shorebird?) Seagulls never do mind people, but some of the other birds are a little more skittish. An osprey patrolled overhead from his nest in the honeycomb cliff tops. Brown Pelicans dive-bombed for fish. I didn’t quite capture a water-breaking impact but nevertheless, I think dive-bombing makes for a dramatic picture. I was lucky enough to snap a small seal porpoising into the air and now that I’ve seen it, I wonder why the porpoises don’t seal?
The activities down on Black’s Beach are interesting as always but I won’t comment any further on that other than to report that naked social distancing is a real thing. I’m sure my like count would jump from my four likes to substantially more if I captured and shared some of those photo-ops on social media. I’m equally as sure my providers might register a few short and final dislikes as well.
Since my abortive first backpack to the Ansel Adams wilderness in early June, attempts are being made to reopen the backcountry, the state, and the country. A month ago, the 3.5-mile road to the trailhead was closed and its parking lot empty. This time, arriving at 7 on Thursday morning in July, we barely scored parking spots for our cars at the packed Agnes Meadows trailhead parking lot.
I for one am glad I didn’t have to hike the 1000 foot elevation gain over the 3.5-mile at 9000-foot elevation road a second time but this time with my forty-pound pack. I had renewed appreciation for the June hike up the road as I was driving my car trying to squeeze by others on the narrow winding street. Since I only day hiked the trail on the first outing leaving my friends to their backpacking adventure, I trekked up the empty road by myself on the way out stopping in the middle of the pavement at my leisure to take pictures of wildflowers, wildlife, and scenery or simply just catch my breath. Not one car or bus.
This time, on the drive out, the line to get on the road at the pay booth entrance near Minaret Overlook was a mile long. I do not think I exaggerate the distance. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to get outside in the wilderness on a beautiful 4th of July day, but that long of a wait and only to discover that you might not be able to park anyway would just suck the joy out of the experience.
On the first trip, I was able to get a hotel room, but restaurants only offered carryout or drive-through service. Bars and basically anything with a hint of a gathering was closed. This time, the hotel didn’t offer breakfast or coffee and the amenities were handed to me in a plastic bag when I checked in. The restaurants and even bars are open again under the weird rule that I’m only mildly comfortable with, you don’t have to wear a mask at your table but you have to wear it everywhere else. Of course, it’s the same everywhere in California. Outside is better than inside. Open is better closed. Distance is better than closeness. If you have to be indoors, good air circulation preferably with filtering would seem to be the option of last resort. It seems oddly weird to watch people sit indoors with a bunch of other people in the midst of the pandemic while hikers pull their masks up over their noses as you pass on the trail.
The forecast for this trip was abundant sunshine with overnight lows in the upper 30s and lower 40s. So, sans the threat of daytime rain and overnight temperatures in the teens, I ventured into the wilderness with my forty-pound backpack, which is eight pounds more than the recommended maximum of 20% of body weight. I could have gone a little bit lighter on the clothes but not much. When I packed for this trip, I ditched my rain jacket for an emergency poncho knowing the forecast for intense sunlight, so I saved weight there. I don’t own a lightweight jacket so I compensated by carrying a couple of long-sleeve shirts. I could possibly lose a little weight there. I definitely should have left the crampons behind since we never had to negotiate any ice packs. I took two camera bodies instead of one so I didn’t have to change lenses every time I shifted from a closeup to a scenery shot. The camera body is light, the wide-angle and telephoto lenses are heavy. I took a lightweight fold-out chair which was really nice to have but not necessary. Camera equipment is heavy but when your mission is to take the best possible pictures, good equipment is not something you want to leave behind. I should have carried a first-aid kit, but didn’t. I really liked having my life straw, a water bottle with a built-in filter that I used to fill up at a stream whenever I needed to instead of stopping to put together a filtration unit. If there is a next time, I will work harder to get the weight down.
The things that worry me the most are not the expected problems of high altitude and fatigue but the structural pains such as a sharp pain in the knee and excessive hip pain especially on the downhills under the straining weight of the pack. But all-in-all, this old body protested but did not crumble.
For the record, the trip was three days and two nights long. We hiked ten miles to Thousand Islands Lake on the Riverside Trail doing some back and forth once we arrived to pile on extra mileage. We hiked two-plus miles to Garnet lake reaching the highest elevation of 10,400 feet. Both lakes are at 9,800 feet in elevation. And then the seven-plus miles back to Agnes Meadows.
On the success of the mission from a photographic point of view, I will leave that to your judgment. We didn’t get any clouds, which as long as they don’t obscure the subject matter of interest, add significantly to the drama of the composition. We didn’t time the night pictures very well. If we had woken up at three-thirty instead of two-thirty, we might have had a full moon over the mountain and its reflection in the water. Then again, the incredible glow of the full moon presents all kinds of challenges for night photography. For one, it rules out capturing the Milky Way as a backdrop to the mountains. All-in-all, I’m very happy with my pics, at least until I see the other guys. The fun thing about traveling with a purpose, in this case attempting to take great photos of incredibly scenic backcountry, is that you end doing odd things that you wouldn’t otherwise do, like get up at two-thirty in the morning for shots of the night sky and then again at five to take pictures of the mountains in the sunrise. Or walking up and down the same shoreline over and over or climbing high up on the rocks looking for that perfect composition. It’s great traveling with experts because they have a great sense of composition and great command of the technology. If they allow it, I will share their links here.
On the success of the mission from a nature point of view, I would claim a resounding victory. You can find beauty and intrigue in the large and the small and everything in between. Aside from the mosquitos, which can be a complete nightmare if you don’t bring repellent and even some mesh, the beauty of the water and the mountains is amazing and a picture can only begin to give you the feel of the immensity. The wildflowers are in full display. Mountain wildflowers tend to be smaller than their lower elevation equivalents. You have to look harder, but if you take the time to look, they are everywhere and of surprising variety. The insects are also everywhere too busy flitting from flower to flower and buzzing about doing whatever it is that they do. Be sure to check out the proboscis on that fly/bee insect in the photo. I was lucky enough to get a shot of one at work on the long narrow tubes of purplish flower. Regrettably, the one interesting mushroom I found growing under a pine tree, which resembled a hot-cross bun, didn’t turn out.
On the success of the mission from a spiritual point of view, perhaps the most important aspect of the trip, three days really isn’t long enough to truly disconnect but only to feel a vague uneasiness that those things, coffee, alcohol, and connection to people and news, aren’t there and to notice that your world goes on even inside your little nature bubble. Or is the bubble the other way around? I did leave a little something of myself behind, buried under a couple of inches of dirt and covered with rocks. Hey. Don’t laugh. Making do without modern amenities is part of the spiritual experience.
I don’t know on what other criteria you would judge a trip, but I would judge it a success. The thing that made me go back to Ansel Adams was my abortive first attempt. The things that will keep me going back is the wind whistling through the pines, a curious yet afraid marmot, and the raw beauty of a peak towering glacier-covered three-thousand feet beyond a lake full of jumping trout. The thing that will keep me from going back is the body. I’m not sure it’s up to it anymore.
I went to Lake Hodges North Shore, an area that I’ve hiked numerous times before so I am pretty familiar with the trails. After hiking the road for about a mile to the boat ramp parking from the east side, I decided on a new trail at the southeast corner of the lot. I figure it would parallel the main trail and probably join back in so I could do a loop returning on the main trail. I started hiking the trail and then it unexpectedly turned south and headed up the hill instead of staying east. Normally, I would think a spur trail would lead to a street or something but there are no streets in that direction, only lake. It looked like the trail led to an overlook and view of Hodges I have never seen before.
I had my turnback timer set for half an hour so I could keep my end of the day hike to an hour or so to finished before sunset. My turnback timer expired, but I was only a few minutes from the top so I continued. When I summited, I stopped there for some pics but the trail led on. I got the thought that maybe the trail doubles back around the hill and along the shoreline, but it could just as easily have dead-ended. I saw plenty of tire tracks and footprints, too many I think for an obscure out and back trail, but I hadn’t seen another person from the time I set foot on the trail. The sun was already dipping behind clouds over the hills to the west but I took the gamble and the gamble paid off. The trail looped back around the hilltop following the shoreline. I found the trail exit at the southeast corner of the parking lot just beyond the large boat ramp. I started the hike with expectations of dullness and ended up with a little adventure. It’s an unexpected pleasure to find something different in each outing.
Note: Pictures from the particular hike described look rather blue including the feature image. I did not use a blue filter, rather I took indoor pictures the night before and set the white balance to neon lighting. I forgot to turn it back, so in a few of the exposures, you are viewing a neon lit world.