May 25, 2015
Total distance: 4 miles
Each week the Sierra Hiking Seniors (a group of over one hundred hikers) put out an e-mail announcing two hikes for the following week. I rarely hike with this group, but when I saw that the trailhead of one of the hikes was nearby, I wanted to take advantage of the close proximity and explore the area. The group gathered at the meeting spot down the road from my home—about ten people with seven dogs showed up.
The long trailhead access road was not suited for cars with low clearance, so I brought the truck. Leslie, a woman whom I met for the first time rode with me over the rugged terrain. At times it felt like we were going to tip over and tumble into the canyon. I was stressed out when we reached the trailhead, so Leslie offered to drive back when we were finished hiking. We were hiking out and back on a historic path that gold miners walked in the mid-1800’s: the Savage-Lundy trail in the Sierra National Forest down to Devil’s Gulch on the South Fork of the Merced River.
We headed downhill as a group, and Leslie took off quickly ahead of everyone. The path nestled in the chaparral forest narrowed and each hiker kept their own pace. Rita, another hiker happened to have a similar groove as mine so we stayed together. I had met her twice through mutual friends and was pleased to get to know her a little better as we walked.
We hiked the mountain’s edge climbing over and under downed trees that blocked the way. We walked through the brush and around switchbacks steering clear of poison oak that crept onto the trail. Wildflowers flanked the edge of the path, mostly Clarkia—farewell to spring. Oaks and cedars grew in abundance. Tall pines swayed in the wind, yet no breeze could be felt. Though the area was pretty and the view vast, my mind was on the return drive, the rutted and rocky road. The morning’s drive in was my first experience with that type of terrain.
Boy Scouts carrying full packs squeezed by. They were heading home from a three-night backpacking trip and took the uphill stretch slowly, a two thousand five hundred foot elevation gain. A climb that we would do in the heat of the afternoon.
Rita began talking about how hot it would be on the return trip verbalizing my thoughts. It was supposed to be in the 80’s that afternoon, but the canyon was already warm and we were both damp with perspiration. She was also concerned that she may not have brought enough water for herself and her dog.
The farther into the canyon we dropped, the more often she brought up turning back and heading out. As I swabbed beaded drops of sweat from my brow, Rita asked, “Do you want to do it, Janet?” Quitting the hike didn’t feel right, but the haunting thoughts of the jeep road unnerved me. Traversing it again seemed harder than walking uphill in the heat. I wanted to get the drive over and done with, so I said, “yes, let’s go.” It was the first time I quit a hike without reaching the planned destination.
Rita had ridden to the trailhead with another couple. We sent word to Leslie who was much farther ahead that she could ride back with them. Everyone agreed so Rita and I turned back and headed up the hill. We caught up to two Scout Masters and stopped to talk with them while taking a moment to catch our breath. The sky was becoming overcast and we could finally feel a cooling breeze.
After two miles of uphill hiking, we reached the truck. Rita guided me in turning it around on the narrow road—a three point turn or maybe four or five points—and then we slowly made our way back to civilization. For all of the fretting I did in my mind about the drive, it wasn’t as bad as I built it up to be.
This outing was peppered with firsts, but it was the last time I will quit a hike for the first time. Even though I didn’t make it to Devil’s Gulch, the foothill woodland area with its steep and narrow canyon was a sight to see; and spending the morning with a new friend filled me with joy.