Leaders: Martin Feather, Cristy Bird
When Alan Coles informed me of the need to dayhike Caliente the l-o-n-g way, I remembered the previous time I'd done that, and suggested to him that a two-day backpack might be the preferable way to do the peak. Alan (undaunted by the thought of a 26-mile hike starting at 5:00am) decided to offer both options and let the participants have their choice. The result: 17 out of 20 'typical' HPSers picked the dayhike.
Thus it was that at 7:40am, only David Eisenberg, Cristy Bird and I shouldered our backpacks and began following the footsteps of the long-departed dayhikers. The weight of our weekend's worth of water made the ascent up the ridge somewhat strenuous, but not interminable (unlike the dirt road thereafter). As we ambled along the undulating road, the cool breeze kept our breaks brief. We decided that a good strategy for selecting our campsite would be to hike until we met the dayhikers on their return, since this should, we estimated, place us between 3 and 6 miles from the peak. Sure enough, when we met them they were approximately 4 miles back from the summit. This, coupled with news of more muddy road ahead, made the nearest level and not too damp ground seem a most appealing campsite, so we set up our tents, happy with our rate of progress in getting that far. Camp established, we dayhiked from there to the peak - the forecast of rain for Sunday had motivated us to try for the peak on Saturday if at all possible. We enjoyed a scenic stroll (sticky mud notwithstanding), with surrounding ridges casting elongated shadows. Even the breeze diminished to almost nothing. After signing the register and enjoying the views to the edges of the outer beyond, we turned around and headed back. By just after sunset we were at camp, our snug sleeping bags, and dinner. Evening brought calm, the stars peeking through wispy layers of cloud. Why would anyone want to dayhike back to their cars when they could spend an evening like this out in the quiet solitude of the wild?
The answer came in the middle of the night, when the forecasted storm arrived. Wind (LOTS of wind), rain and snow. Dawn revealed several inches of the stuff all over everything. Fortunately, the storm appeared to have ended, although being inside the middle of a cloud didn't exactly seem ideal. At least it wasn't freezing. We packed up fairly rapidly, and were off before 8am, our vacated tent spaces the only bare spots in an otherwise Christmas card like landscape.
Snow rather than rain was actually a good thing, as miles of walking along that dirt road would have been awful in the mud. So for once I'm glad the snow level was several thousand feet below that predicted. Occasional animal tracks in the powdery snow crossed the road. Visibility fluctuated as clouds formed and dissipated, rose and sank. Finally, they cleared as we got to the end of the road portion and the end of the snow. The ridge was muddy. Very muddy. With sliding slipping steps we slithered slowly down. Finally, we made it to the somewhat drier ground of the easement trail, our boots caked with mud. By 1:30pm or so we were back at the cars, mission accomplished.
My thanks to Cristy and David for coping with the varied conditions so well! I'm sure that the 17 dayhikers must be so disappointed that they missed this experience.