Monday, July 15, 2013

"Astronauts of field work"

June 14th through the 16th, Caitlin Elam, Nico the field dog and I camped at McIver's Cabin for two nights. I was pretty excited about this trip because the three of us would be car camping!

Nice hiking boots Nico


My last trip into the Wilderness was a three day backpacking trip which was pretty crazy but amazing. This time I was going to live the life of luxury in the field. I packed the truck with all of my fancy camping gear; two chairs, a table, a Jepson manual, a stove, pots and pans, an ice chest full of delicious bounty and much more.

On the last trip with Travis, a Jeep drove by us on the PCT/4x4 road. Since that trip he has tried to convince me that I could get the field truck down that rugged road. Therefore, I was going to attempt another go at it. Thankfully Caitlin has had a lot of off-roading experience, from 10 years of field work on her belt.

When we reached the Wilderness we drove up Horse Canyon Road and parked the truck near the microwave tower. We ate lunch, then walked down a portion of the 4x4 road to get a feel for its terrain.
As we were preparing our lunch, Caitlin opened the ice chest and quickly noticed the delicacies in it. She then said, "you brought protein shakes too. We're like astronauts of field work."

After lunch we both agreed that the road could be conquered. Caitlin was a great help navigating us down the steep rocky road. When we reached the top of the plateau, the 4x4 road flattened out and it was smooth sailing from there. We were greeted by a thicket of healthy beaming Fremontadendron californica. It was breathtaking!

Blue skies and yellow flowers!
It was an amazing site to see all of the flannelbush in bloom. I have never seen so many in my life. As we drove down the road we stopped to check out a population of Pinus jeffreyi recruitment. The little trees looked super stressed-out due to the drought. I really hope they make it.

Caitlin, Nico and Big Mama Jeffrey Pine with its little ones
At the end of the road we reached McIver's Cabin and set up camp. I was a little in shock because two weeks ago there was a little puddle of water in McIver's spring and this time there was none. Also, the spring had been visited by cattle, there were signs of cow patties in the spring. Two weeks ago there was not a single signs of cattle at the spring. I could not believe how fast things change out there. We walked up a slope to get a view of the vista and the sun-set.

 We made it to the cabin!
Our sweet campsite

Day 2

The next day Caitlin, Nico and I rolled out of camp and headed into the Wilderness to collect plants. We ascended a peak and had one of the most amazing views of the high Sierra, Domeland Wilderness and Owen's Peak. We decided we would visit pockets of exposed soil, rock outcrops, forested drainages and climb a large rocky outcrop. As we were hiking though the wilderness it was very apparent that the peak bloom was over. A lot of the plants were completely finished and the grasshoppers and deer clearly were eating away the vegetation. I was a little saddened to find this out because the last time I was out in the wilderness, it was doing so well. However, I must face the fact, that the peak bloom is over. On a positive note, there was not a single sign of grazing in the heart of the Wilderness.

Caitlin leading the way to Boulder Canyon
We reached an interesting rock outcrop that looked to be seasonally wet. There was Selaginella on the soil and we stumbled upon a lot of obsidian "chips" at this site. I'm pretty sure this site was of some significance for Native Americans. We did find a nice population of  Lotus crassifolius, which as its common name implies, big deer vetch, was clearly mowed down by deer.

Evidence of Native peoples
Selaginella covered ground. Dry Seep
Lotus crassifolius, the brightest foliage of them all
After exploring the Selaginella soil site we ventured over to the forested section of the wilderness and this was where things got a little weird. We found a large hole, with water in it, which was clearly dug by a human, but it was pretty creepy (our original thought was, Big Foot did it). Then we ventured down the wash a little more and found more of these holes. These holes had cold spring water in them. Then we found old shovels and a log trough. We took tons of pictures of the artifacts and collected a Carex at this location.
Old shovel artifact
Pine trough, for mining or cattle?
Row, row, row, your boat
We explored the drainage to its end, then decided to explore it as it forked to the north. Not much was happening botanically. I did observe those pesky perennials which continued to tease me, not yet flowering, barely budding, and needing more time. We collected the few things we found. Some were repeats for me, but hey I was willing to take anything at that point. We explored a large rock outcrop which had a Malvacious shrub growing all over it. From that point we decided to call it a day and head back to camp. Our day was nearing its end and we found our way back to the Pacific Crest Trail.

We had an amazing pasta dinner, which Chul designed for us. It was delicious! Also, it was exactly what we needed to replenish our burned calories. Unfortunately, this time of year, there are fire restrictions in the entire Sequoia National Forest boundaries, due to the danger of extreme fire conditions. This meant that we had a campfire-less night and oh boy, it got so cold at night! Thankfully our sleeping bags served us well.

Day 3

I originally wanted to explore the southern section of the Wilderness near McIver's cabin. My plans were thwarted when Caitlin and I had a serious discussion about our dismal finds. We decided we should check the highest point in the Wilderness, Skinner Peak, to see what the conditions were like there. We packed up camp and drove over to the turnout where the PCT almost meets Horse Canyon Road. Once at the turnout, we geared up and headed south along the PCT towards Skinner Peak. 

Along the PCT looking northwest
Along the PCT looking east towards Horse Canyon (road)
There was not much happening along this section of the PCT. All of the plants were crispy and past due. We did make a couple of collections, but I feel like I was 2-3 weeks too late. We hiked and hiked and hiked. And finally when we reached a point where we decided to eat (way past lunch time) we found a magnificent Hesperoyucca in bloom. 

Hesperoyucca flowers
Caitlin and the Candle
I was feeling a little funny after lunch. A headache started to form and I was a little sluggish. I thought it was strange to feel so weird, especially since the hike along the PCT was not difficult, but it was pretty warm. It was actually more than warm, it was hot. Nico was always seeking shade at any possible opportunity he could get. A little piece of me sympathized with Nico. I too wanted to curl up under a pinyon pine and take a nap until the heat passed. Unfortunately, we had to get back to our city life and purchase a car wash in Ridgecrest.

Seriously jealous of the nicely clean bathed truck
This was seriously one fun trip! Nico and Caitlin were great company and field assistants...except Nico did have him moments, but so did I. The plants were not very productive, but now I have a better understanding for how the Kiavah Wilderness works. I will forever cherish the laughs, the unique anthropogenic finds, the few plants, "camp-fire" chats, Nico's narcissism, hardcore 4x4'ing, friendly PCT hikers and dirt mustaches.

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