Thursday, January 28, 2016

Salt Crystals Abound: Day 1 & 2 on the Salton Sea

All the way from Denali to the Salton Sea, grateful for this car!
Perched overlooking the Salton Sea. 

Our trusty "Giant Banana" tandem kayak & kayak sailor 6' sail.

We're having a midday sun break on our second day of paddling around the Salton Sea. We started at Obsidian Butte, a rocky protrusion into the south end of the sea. Yesterday we paddled north on our first leg of a counter-clockwise route that will take us all around the sea, hugging the shoreline as close as possible. Yesterday we were treated to a massive amount of birds, on the shore, in the water & swarming overhead when we got too close for their comfort. I've never before seen the sheer numbers of birds, such that we could hear their wing beats & watch the water ripple beneath the wind that they were creating. Seagulls, white ibis, cormorant, some kind of Guinea hen shorebird, brown & white pelicans! We came upon a number of raised duck blind shelters, which allowed us easy platforms for getting out of the kayak periodically. There's no one else out on the water, aside from the few bird hunters in their blinds. Not a single other boat.

We met a man, Popeye, who lives in Bombay Beach, who was a wealth of nautical information about the lake. He lived in his 20 foot sail boat on the lake the first half of 2014. He knows about the shoreline, where the best places to go ashore & resupply are and he fully appreciated the glory of this body of water. We camped on the dike at the end of B street in Bombay Beach. We got an earlier start this morning (7:20am) and paddled for four hours. We're moving slower today as our bodies adapt to being used in a new way. The abandoned trailer park just south of the park's 14 mile strip is providing a lovely place to rest & stay out of the sun while its at its peak intensity.

Taking a break at the old Niland Boat Launch

One of the many duck blinds on the south end of the Salton Sea
Jim, our friend from Denali paid us a surprise visit in Bombay Beach

Popeye & Reed, on the morning Bombay Beach

Monday, January 25, 2016

Preparing to Kayak the Salton Sea: Desert in Winter

Last night we camped along the Pacific Crest Trail, near where it crosses California Highway 74. People have been telling us that winter isn't the camping season around here and last night we experienced part of the reason why. It was chilly. All night long. I was amazed at how quickly the temperature fell when the sun went behind the mountains. We were warm in shirtsleeves and shorts around 5pm, and then an hour later, we were bundling on extra layers over our pants and fleeces.

Every time I come into contact with PCT, I get excited. I've been dreaming about walking its route for years, probably since I first learned of its existence, maybe when I was in high school in Tallahassee, Florida. I was grateful to get to spend a night 'on trail,' even though we weren't really on trail in the sense of being hikers. We parked our vehicle along the highway, walked 1/4 mile away from the highway and found a spot to make camp. After setting up the tent, we walked back to the car, where we changed into our sleeping clothes and prepared for bed. We walked back to the tent with our sleeping bags and other gear and bedded down. We were asleep within the hour, with occasional stirrings to readjust and put on more clothes. 

This morning we were up early with the sun. We packed up and drove down to the lovely visitor center at Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. It only takes being away from an electrical outlet and running water for one night to appreciate them as amenities in a new way. We quite enjoyed the visitor center. We walked a lovely trail and enjoyed their 43 minute documentary about the area, which included a segment on the Salton Sea.

We're planning to spend this next week on the Salton Sea. We've been preparing today by using the wifi, power and water at the College of the Desert's library. Yesterday we did our shopping at Trader Joes and later this afternoon we will purchase a couple extra gallons of water. We're planning to resupply in a couple of days at Bombay Beach or Salton City, depending on which direction the wind takes us around the lake. Our plan is to circumnavigate the lake, staying as close to the shore as possible. The distance should be about 100 miles, based on research that we (mostly Reed) has been doing. We're excited to get on the water and see how it feels to do an extended kayak trip (previously, we've only been out for overnights).  We're anticipating that we won't have much cell service on the lake, so we'll be eager to get back in contact once our loop around the lake is completed. We continue to be amazed at the generosity and kindness of our friends and family. I want to extend an especially big thanks to our friends in southern California who have sheltered and encouraged us these weeks. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Desert to Pacific Ocean: San Diego Trans County Trail

Salton Sea & petrified tilapia (Photo by Marie Haddad)

Last week, we hiked from the Salton Sea to Torrey Pines State Park. It was predominantly a desert hike, starting at a large inland salt water lake and finishing at the Pacific Ocean, north of the city of San Diego.

There were a number of firsts for us on this hike - hiking in a true desert, backpacking with a group, and backpacking together for more than a week. 

The route is a new one, put together by Brett Richey, who was one of the leaders of the group and a solidly kind person. he and some of his fellow Pacific Crest Trail hiker friends have been walking the route together for a few years now, as a kind of hiker family reunion. Reed and I were fortunate to connect with them via their Facebook group. They agreed to let us jump in with them and thus they put two extra gallons of water at each of three water caches for us. 

West side of the Salton Sea

I had hoped to write more about our journey as we were making it. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to due to my energy level, wifi availability and then a raging El Nino storm, which booted us from the train for two days. When we came from Seattle to southern California, we knew that El Nino would potentially affect us. We were somewhat dismissive, and didn't think that it's rain would be a big change for us, coming from the Pacific Northwest. We were wrong. The rain, which turned to snow and then hail, then sleet and back to snow again was one thing. Quite another was dealing with 50 mile per hour winds as we climbed Oriflame Canyon and crossed the Pacific Crest Trail on Mount Laguna. Darkness fell even earlier than usual due to the storm and we decided that our best option was to pitch our tent in a small hole in a manzanita grove. The storm raged all night long, flattening our tent on top of us when the biggest gusts blasted. Amazingly, we did manage to sleep most of the long night. In the morning, we waited for a let up in the rain and packed up quickly with our frozen fingers and began walking in order to stave off hypothermia. At times, we were pushed backwards by the gusting of the wind.

The SDTCT Route
It was a miserable 6 mile march to the Lake Cuyamaca Restaurant and Store. We stumbled inside, were warmly greeted and cared for by the server working that day. She allowed us the use of the cafe's phone. We phoned a friend, Todd, who graciously offered to drive out to rescue us, which was a 2 hour+ round trip for him, in the middle of his workday. I will long remember his kindness. 

So, we spent two days off trail, waiting for the storm to subside. Two days later, we got back on trail, with two fellow hikers. 
At Lake Cuyamaca Store, mile 83 on the route, about to start hiking again, post El Nino storm (Photo by Marie Haddad)

The second half of the route was even more enjoyable on its second half. Perhaps it was because our bodies had adjusted to the mileage and we had gotten used to being dirtier. In any case, the hiking was wonderful, through beautiful canyons and over ridges. The most physically demanding portion was the cross-country / bushwhack up to the summit of El Cajon Mountain. We summited and thus ended our battle with the thick manzanita and scrub oak just after the sun had set. The way down required weaving through large boulders. Unfortunately, my headlamp battery died as I turned it on, Reed's was weak, and Girl Scout's headlamp had been stolen by a bush somewhere in our cross-country section. We slowly descended to the saddle between El Cajon & El Capitan and pitched our tents at the first decent place, which happened to be immediately in the trail. 
Emergency water cache near summit of El Cajon  (Photo by Girl Scout)
On the 8th day we finally rendezvoused with the rest of the group, and then we were 14 hikers in total. We camped on a fire road in Poway that night, a short walk from the Costco, where we had filled our bellies all afternoon. 

Descending to the headwaters of the San Diego River

Our final two days were spent walking through the Penasquitas Canyon and out the Pacific Ocean.  The route was gorgeous. A real treat that amidst the housing and other civilization of San Diego, the canyon is wild and open. We spent our final night camped as a group in one of its meadows. The next morning we woke to ice in our water bottles and frost over everything. A few hours later, the sun and temperatures had risen enough to be able to plunge our filthy bodies into the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines State Park. All of the miles had been hiked we had gotten to know a new group of hikers. There was accomplishment, yes, and there was also sadness at the reality of parting ways and each person going on to the next thing. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to walk for 9 days with a fantastic group of people. 

After our plunge in the Pacific Ocean

The Beach beneath the cliffs of Torrey Pines Preserve