June 2, 2008

Boy Scout Backpacking Weekend

I have car camped and boat camped scores of times in recent years, but I have not been backpack camping since I was about 13 years old and I went with my brother and his college buddies into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, starting with Mt. Washington. In fact, I haven't owned a real backpack in nearly twenty years. But this weekend my 11-year-old son (newly entered into Boy Scouts) and I joined his troop on a trek into the Sunol Regional Wilderness for an overnight campout [google map].

It was only three miles in to the camp site, but the weather was in the high 60s or low 70s, and 2.5 of the 3 miles were on a gravel access road and very easy walking. Now, my 11 year old is maybe 80 pounds, fully clothed and soaking wet, and his pack was 25 to 30 pounds. Here he is, having the scout master help rearrange some things on his pack:

The Sunol Wilderness is only about 20 minutes from downtown San Jose, but once you leave the highway it turns into wilderness pretty quickly. This bridge, where my son took a slanted photo of me, is where you leave the parking lot and hike into the open space.

The road winds along the riverbed (which was nearly dry) for about two miles, and we only saw a few other day hikers on the way in. Along the way there are gates and grates in the roadway to keep cattle from roaming where they shouldn't. We actually passed a group of about 20 cows lying in the shade, watching us without much interest. After turning off the road, the path led uphill (pretty steep) for about another half mile, then struck straight up a steep hill with some switchbacks for the last tenth of a mile. Here, the older boys took the younger kids' packs, which was a great idea I thought.

At one point the path wound through a meadow of tall, dried grasses (for obvious reasons, fires were prohibited), and the view from the campsite over the valley really was something to enjoy. This is just 40 miles from downtown San Francisco, 40 miles from downtown Oakland, and 30 miles from downtown San Jose.

Except for the fact that we were on the direct approach to Oakland Airport on the route from Denver (I've flown it many times), you'd never know we were that close to three of the biggest cities in California. The campsite was one of three in the general area (the others were about 200 yards away), and we shared an untreated water source (we had filters to clean it). The photo above is actually during teardown on Sunday morning, about 8 a.m., only ten minutes or so after the sun came up over the ridge.

The highlight of the trip was having a buck wander nearby, just grazing under some of the oaks. It was pretty large, and it had a velvety rack. I have no experience with bucks--I don't hunt and have no idea how to tell how young or old it was. But it didn't seem too concerned that the boys, particularly my son, approached it. They got within about 15 yards, I'd guess, and it just meandered off a little further. I didn't have my camera (fortunately, one of the scouts did).

Kind of an odd feature along the hike is the "W Tree." See if you can guess why they call it that:
Surprisingly, I am not too sore, though Sunday afternoon these old bones felt pretty exhausted. My son managed the heavy pack and long hike like an old pro, though we both learned a lot about how to pack, how to cook while backpacking, the type of equipment to use, and how wonderful it is to get out into nature and just be together, even if you're not doing anything but listening to the birds and feeling the breeze come up through the grass.
PS: Did I mention I did all this with a broken toe? Don't tell my doctor. She said no soccer for six weeks, but she didn't say no hiking in the wilderness.


Daily Panic said...

I went camping too! But It was not as fun as your trip. I took your recomendation and read the Time Traveler's Wife cover to cover. I loved it.

WriterKat said...

What a cool trip! Granted, I can't imagine doing it - I was complaining on the quarter mile "nature hike" on our Tiger Scout camping trip. Your kid is a trooper, and you on a broken toe.

I love the photos - there is something so beautiful about California, I grew up in New England with the lush green trees and dank forests. But nothing compares to my love of our dry desert terrain and stark contrasts - like you say, being so close to a city, and this in another world. A buck sighting - awesome.

I'm glad you had a good trip. Boy Scouts are so much fun. My 7 y/o just graduated to Cub Scouts on Sunday. We have our first scarf! :-)

Robin S. said...

Good Lord with the broken toe, Pete.

But so wonderful you went. I loved the Girl Scout trips with the Blondster. I bet you're a way better nature Dad than I ever was a nature Mom. I'd win money, betting that!

PJD said...

Wow, dp, I have not yet come close to finishing TTW (too much to do, and I forgot to bring it backpacking).

kat, for some reason my kids have always loved hiking. When #1 Son's Webelos den went on a mile hike in the open space nearby, #2 Son (a Tiger at the time) led the way. Pretty soon I will be the one struggling to keep up, and they will be carrying my extra weight.

robin, I guess I am a bit of a nature dad, though not hardcore in any sense. And don't cry for me too much over the broken toe. It's the pinkie toe, and though it's really swollen it doesn't hurt that much.