A fantastic weekend in the desert for a C.I.T.O. Event
As we drove away, I grabbed the conversational ball and jumped right in, telling fisnjack my "fire story," but it turned out he had his own "fire story" to tell. As usual, the conversation continued non-stop as the miles ticked off. Before making the steep descent to the desert where the highway winds through a canyon of tumbled boulders, we made a stop at the Acorn Casino where a vehicle pulled up right next to us.
It was Jahoadi, of Jahoadi & John. She had been evacuated from her home on the hill above Steele Canyon High School and, like me, decided to attend the Event to take a break from the stress of the week's events. Fisnjack thought the two of us would like to catch up with what had happened, so he suggested I ride with her. Jahoadi and I swapped "fire stories" for the rest of the drive to the Event location, stopping only once to take a few pictures of the beautiful sunrise along S2, northwest of Ocotillo.
Many RVs and trailers were already parked at SKILLET's place. We found a spot near the back to unload our camping gear. My Geocaching friends greeted me warmly and we exchanged fire stories. A book could be written with each person there capable of writing an interesting, unique, sometimes-harrowing chapter.
We took off for the site of the C.I.T.O. Event. Since I was wearing my Chaco sandals, the only comfortable footwear I have since my heel is still hurting, five months after injuring it, I walked near the roadway, avoiding the cholla cactus and other hazards, collecting the recyclable cans and bottles, something Princess Toadstool and I always did when we cached together.
Our group walked a mile to the turn-around place and headed back west to the parking area. Along the way, Jahoadi spotted a little sidewinder rattlesnake.
A while later someone pointed out this unusual desert mushroom.
It was a really beautiful morning, without the wind CTYankee9 and I experienced on my last visit to the desert a few weeks ago.
SKILLET took some group pictures in front of the pile of trash and then I took my own picture of the pile, one that was much smaller than those from the previous C.I.T.O. Events.
After that, everyone split up and went in different directions. Fisnjack, Jahoadi, and I drove back to the camping area to regroup and decide where to go next. Fisnjack needed the caches along the Old Kane Spring Road, and I needed a couple of new ones along there, so we headed that way, running into another group just finishing up the caches after driving the other direction.
Overcast skies moderated the temperature from the usual 100 degree plus. The clouds obscured an enormous plume of smoke from the fire burning near Palomar mountain in North County.
After finding a number of caches, we made our way back to SKILLET's place to get the last card for the "Poker Run." I almost had a Full House . . . but almost doesn't count . . . As the food for the chili and desert contests was being set out on the long tables, I visited with several cachers, meeting one man who was a brand new cacher.
One time during my socializing, I glanced towards the east and saw what looked like the flames of a fire, something fresh in my mind after the events of the week. After looking more closely, I realized it was the full-moon peeking a very red face through the high overcast.
Finally, it was time to set up my tent, something I accomplished amidst fisnjack's teasing as he counted off the minutes it took me to finish the task. Since I had not used the tent for more than a year, I think I did okay, but if the wind had been blowing, or if it had been raining, I might have accepted his help, instead of accepting the teasing . . .
Sunday, October 28, 2007
I slept well, emerging from my Black Diamond tent before dawn. Fisnjack got my coffee water boiling on an antique camping stove that has been in his family for more than 50 years. As I drank my coffee, I visited with the new cacher I met the previous night, shortwing. Since Jahoadi drove home the night before, there was room in the truck for another person, and fisnjack was generous to extend an invitation to shortwing so he could go to "The Basilisk" with us. This cache had been on our list of caches to do for several months, and was the reason for the ladder on the top of fisnjack's vehicle.
In Fish Creek Wash, we stopped for several caches shortwing and Chuck B needed as we made our way to the parking area for "The Basilisk."
This is where I truly wish I could write like Stephen King or Tom Wolfe so I could impart to my reader the total experience of entering that narrow passageway through towering walls of sandstone. I was not the oldest member of the group, or the youngest, but I was sure the slowest. If not for CTYankee9's kindness and generosity, to coax and cajole and finally pull me up to the top, I would not have been able to sign the logbook and trade for a small purple dinosaur as a memento of the most-difficult cache I have ever found.
Not far from where we parked the vehicles in the shade of the sandstone walls, the slot canyon is blocked by a couple of large, round boulders. A few weeks ago, when I was in this slot canyon at dusk with CTYankee9, SEPTICTANKHANK, and fisnjack, this is the place I stopped while the rest of the group went further ahead to find out how ill-prepared we were to make the climb that evening.
With difficulty, I might have been able to find the toe- and finger-holds enabling me to get over the obstacle, but since fisnjack had gone ahead of me, carrying his 16' ladder. I said, "Could I use the ladder here?" "Sure." he replied. He maneuvered its eight-foot length around, clanking it against the narrow walls and handing it down to me . Taking three steps up the ladder to get to the top of that big boulder was a piece of cake . . . too bad the rest of the climb could not have been accomplished so easily . . .
The slot canyon curved around, widening in spots, then narrowing to a slickrock chimney. CTYankee9 made it up the chimney on his own and positioned himself to hold the top of the ladder as the rest of us made the climb.
After that climb, the canyon opened up only briefly before the last steep slot presented itself.
This chimney was much too narrow to accomomdate the ladder, so all of us were on our own to find finger- and toe-holds. CTYankee9 and fisnjack, who doesn't have any fingers on his left hand, made it up the slot. At the top they looked down at me and offered encouragement.
I hesitated, but only for a little while and soon was close enough to CTYankee9 to reach the end of a rope fisnjack brought. Wrapping it around the palm of my hands gave me the security to proceed up where finger-holds were non-existent. But then I got stuck. Not literally, but I couldn't go up any further. One foot had a toe-hold, but I couldn't move my other foot up past it in the narrow slot. After struggling for a while, I lost the one toe-hold I had. I had my shoulder and hip wedged in the slot, so I wasn't in danger of falling, but I had no way to move up and make verticle progress . . .
Finally, I asked CTYankee9 and fisnjack if they could pull me up. They positioned themselves and I extended my arms over my head. They slowly pulled me up the last six feet of the slot. At the top I struggled to get out onto level ground. My upper body strength was sapped, as was the strength of my thigh muscles. Finally, with awkward movements, I made it. Wheeeuu! I'm sure glad that wasn't being filmed by someone's cellphone camera . . .
I stood up to watch as Chuck B made his attempt in the slot. He made it in just a couple of minutes, with only a little bit of help from CTYankee9.
Now that we were all on the top, all of us, except for fisnjack, who needed to sit and rest for a while, started towards the container. Only Chuck B had a GPSr because the rest of us left our packs, cameras, and GPSrs down below the last narrow pitch. With his directions, we got to the APR (Artificial Pile of Rocks) and opened the container. I wrote a bit about my experience in the logbook and then looked through the paltry selection of swag in the container, finally choosing a little purple dinosaur, for which I traded a carabiner. I really wanted some sort of memento from the most difficult cache I have ever found.
I left the logbook for the others to sign. It didn't seem right to sign the book for anyone else since, after such an effort, I figured each person would want to write about their own the experience.
Without my camera to take pictures, I didn't take much time on the top, although I surveyed the relatively flat, open terrain and wished there was an overland route back to the wash below. Perhaps if we had had our packs, and water, we would have made an exploratory walk, but without them, or any food, or water, we turned around made our way back to the slot. CTYankee9 answered my question, "How are we going to get back down?" with "Gravity is your friend."
He was right. With the help of the rope, and directions from fisnjack who could see my feet, when I couldn't, I found toe-holds and made it down . . . finally.
Near the bottom I took a celebratory picture of fisnjack, Chuck B, shortwing, and CTYankee9.
W9JIM, who has been caching since 2001, and who owns some caches on my "Historic Cache" list, along with shortwing, made it up to the cache, and back, in 30 minutes. Our group spent nearly three hours in that slot canyon. I don't know why I was such a failure in my attempt to get good footholds and make faster vertical progress, but I probably should have put on my hiking boots, instead of making the hike in my trusty Chaco sandals . . .
After achieving our goal, CTYankee9 wanted to head back. I was energized and still ready to look for more caches . . . but, it was time to face the reality of my situation back in San Diego. I knew my place had not burned, but there was no phone, and no power, and repairs were not expected to be completed for two weeks. My car was so full of stuff, it was not good transportation. I couldn't drive it around and park it just anywhere with all my stuff in, and on, it.
I didn't know exactly what to do . . .
Reality was weighing me down, but then fisnjack spotted this rock formation in the wash, and we got out to place a new cache he called "Wedding Cake." That little diversion was fun. We saw other interesting rock formations after that, and before getting back to camp, we made a couple more stops for shortwing to get some caches fisnjack and I found on our earlier trip.
Finally, we got back to the camping spot and packed up the truck before starting the long drive back up the 78 to Scissors Crossing and the San Felipe Road and ultimately to the 79. That road, which goes past the trailhead to the westernmost Santa Isabel caches, is where we started seeing the results of the Witch Fire. The 78 was open through Ramona, and although fisnjack wanted to stop for dinner to support a local business that had missed out on income for nearly an entire week, the place we chose was closed, probably because the entire town was still under a "boil water" order.
We saw the remnants of homes and businesses that were burned to the ground, literally. The depth of the ashes around the stone wall and fireplace of one house was so shallow, it was unbelievable. It is hard to imagine the temperature of a fire that reduces a home, its structure, and all its contents, to nothing . . .
The weekend Event planned by SKILLET was a great success. I am grateful to him for not cancelling because of the disruption caused by all the fires. Of course I am grateful to fisnjack for being such a good friend and for doing all the driving. And, I am extremely grateful to CTYankee9 for his patience and generosity extended in order to get me up that last narrow pitch to the top of the slot canyon so I could sign the log for "The Basilisk." Although I made it, I sure didn't do it without lots and lots of help. It doesn't feel like a real "Found it" . . .