Sunday, January 4, 2009

Eagle Peak, San Diego River Gorge (3,226 ft.)

Ricky and me drove in circles all morning around El Cajon Mt. trying to find the trailhead but we could not find a way through the Barona Indian reservation, we tried asking at their information office but those guys were not nice about letting us walk through their backyards and they weren't going to give us any clues on how find our way. We ended up driving in more circles and eventually way off course so we pulled over to ask two ladies out powerwalking if they had any clue how to get up El Cajon Mt. They had no idea and they suggested we try nearby Cedar Creek and Mildred Falls instead and they gave us directions.
Ricky and me were heading out with a backpack full of fruit to last us the day but we'd forgot any water, instead of driving back to some 7-11 we talked to a man outside watering his plants and he let us fill up our bottle with hose water, he told us the hike would be long and pretty and that we’d probably see wild turkeys and mountain lions. A quarter of a way down into the valley Ricky felt like hiking off trail so we scrambled down into a half-dry creek and followed that a ways until it was blocked by poison oak, then we climbed back out and immediately back in a little ways down the creek where it was clear.
We came upon the San Diego River as a little stream full of cattails, we took our shoes off and waded through, banging cattails open and making a snow out of the seeds until we couldn’t breathe, Ricky’s feet sank 6 inches into the mud in every step and he kept yelling that he was stepping on buried frogs. I saw my first white owl in the wild. It swooped once over our heads, completely silent, then disappeared back into the trees. When we could see the river wasn’t going to clear up any, we got out onto the bank and bushwacked through some bush and put our shoes on in a clearing and planned our approach.
Ricky wanted to climb a long line along the top with our silhouettes tramping on the top of the hills, like in a movie he said. So we ended up hiking along a deer trail that followed the very ridge of the hills, leading up to the North Peak like the humps of a great long dinosaur. The first bit of climbing was maybe some 60 degrees steep, but it was all soft gripping dirt and grass so there was no risky technical maneuvers just a nice, complete, loss of leg strength and breath. We stopped in a tiny rock cave to have a small snack of water and oranges and bananas. Here, Ricky began to doubt that he could finish the climb.
I prodded him along the rest of the way, pointing to small flat saddles in between peaks that would be good resting, and at the rise of each peak I insisted over and over we were almost there and so much closer and that it wouldn’t make sense to turn back now seeing how far we’d already come. I tried keeping his mind off his weariness by talking about stupid mistakes I’d made in other climbs before, by painting a picture of how trails often begin as one animal's happenstance path, then other animals just happen to follow it slowly gets dug deeper and wider over time until one day its completely separate from the land around it, and then you have yourself a road. Something I’d read in the opening passages of one of my favorite books "Growth of the Soil" by Knut Hamsun.
Out of nowhere a group of 3 military helicopters flew right over us and they began making runs in close quarters inside the gorge. Ricky said it made the hils feel like Vietnam in the movies, this helped keep his mind off his tiredness too.
There was one last steep get up to the peak and when he saw it Ricky wanted quit again, but I reassured him the feeling of being on top, on top with nothing above you, would make it all worth while. After that he continued tired and silent, but didn’t doubt he would make it to the top anymore.
At the peak we stared around at the valley below were we’d begun our hike, at the houses where our car was parked out on the horizon. We took a long quiet look around, smiled at the airy spot of earth we'd earned, then headed back downhill with our minds on food and rest. We cut straight down the side of the peak, the soft grass and sticky mud in the deer trail made it easy not to slip and we practically skipped our way down. We saw Mildred Falls that we'd overlooked on our way up and decided we'd come again later when it was flowing. Crossing to the other side of the creek via a different route we ran into a ring of death bushes with tiny little thorns and we ended up pulling branches and branches of them out of our legs.
The hike out of the gorge felt ten times longer than the hike in. Ricky's fatigue was killing him, he had a headache and he was getting angry at the fact that after every hill it seemed like the car was just as far away. When we got to the car Ricky fell immediately asleep but then he woke up for a Coke and a gross gas station hot dog drowning in nacho cheese and he was a new person again and he wouldn't shutup all the way home, proud and amazed at what he'd just accomplished.