We Lost the Trail. Now What?

We’ve done the trail before, he said. It’ll be fun, he said. It’s not a bad trail, he said. That’s what I told my buddies as we found ourselves perched on the south facing slope of a mountain resting in the shade of a scrub oak.

I’d just finished a ten mile hike earlier that morning in another part of town and now I was meeting up with two buddies—Wrong Way and Hard Way (They both earned those trail names)— for an 8am hike somewhere else.

We started our jaunt down the trail, with me running point. I don’t know why, but that’s how we ended up in that formation. It wasn’t until we got to the first fork and I asked which way that I realized why am I running point?

“Have you guys been here before?” I asked

“Duh!” Wrong Way said, “Why do you think we told you we had it all picked out?”

I fell back to the rear of the group and just let them lead the way.

“Around the bend is that broken pipe we use as an indicator,” Wrong Way told Hard Way.

“Yep, I remember,” replied Hard Way

I really thought nothing of it as we began to scramble, thinking we were going to pick up the trail above this small rock formation and we did. And so we continued down the trail, Hard Way running point, Wrong Way in second, and me just picking up the rear, following them, never questioning anything. Hard Way was moving with such bravado and conviction, surely he knew where he was going on this route that Wrong Way told us to go through.

We began to do an awful lot of scrambling, up this trail which I thought was kind of odd, considering I was told it was fairly easy. Fact of the matter is, I really didn’t see any identifiable trail to speak of. None the less, I shut up and continued following the guys, all the while we just bantered and cajoled.

By now, it had been quite some time of scrambling and no real trail in site, so I began to wonder how in the world these guys even found this trail, if I don’t even see it?

“How’d you guys find out about this trail?” I asked

“We found it on the internet, but we passed it the first time we came and ended up going a different way. It wasn’t until we doubled back that we found it,” Wrong Way responded.

So we continued the scramble upward, only stopping occasionally to catch our breath. We were a long way up and still no trail and the ground was just getting softer under our feet. Yuccas, California Sagebrush, the occasional scrub oak and soon manzanita surrounded us and still no identifiable trail I noticed.

I guess Wrong Way must have been wondering about it too, because he finally spoke up.

“Hey guys, I think we lost the trail,” he said

By this time, Wrong Way had fallen to third position with me in second position and Hard Way running point.

“Are you serious?” I replied

“Yeah, I think it’s back that way,” Wrong Way sheepishly responded as he pointed down and to our right. [and this is how Wrong Way got his trail name]

“Well, we’re a long way up now. Check your map and make sure,” I said.

“Yeah, we lost the trail back down there,” he said, pointing back down.

I don’t know why, but I had this weird comical feeling about the whole situation. It was almost a funny dumbfoundedness.

Well, We’re on a south facing slope completely exposed to the sun, what do you guys want to do?” I asked

Neither one of them had an answer

“Alright, lets not get analysis paralysis. We have to move. lets get under the shade of that scrub oak over there and let me take a look at the map.” I continued.

We took refuge in the shade of the tree and I quickly examined the map.

“Yep we definitely missed the turn off and Hard Way over here has us climbing a mountain (That’s how Hard Way got his trail name). The good thing is if we continue on our trajectory we are on point to make our destination. We are literally on a path as the crow flies,” I said. “The crappy thing is, because we are so steep, it’ll be more dangerous going down than it is to continue upward. The good thing is, this map shows the rest of the spur we’re on has the same elevation between contour lines all the way to the top. In other words, we are going to continue on the same angle of climb with no surprise cliff we have to climb. So, we’re going to embrace the suck and continue climbing upward. Hard Way will continue to run point, but we have to stay on the spur. Do not direct us into the draw.”

“What’s wrong with the draws?” Hard Way asked

“That’s where water runs off through, so that’s where you’re going to have the most vegetation growth and I don’t want to be bushwacking my way to the top any more than I already am,” I responded

We strapped our gear up and continued up, with Hard Way in the lead.

About 5 minutes in, we hear the loud shriek come from Hard Way. At first I thought he began a tumble down the mountain.

“Are you okay, what happend, did you fall?” I loudly asked

“Nope, no I’m okay. I just high fived a yucca,” he replied

I damn near lost my lunch when he said that. Only Hard Way and his wit could come up with such a funny way of saying he planted his hand on a yucca. After some laughter we continued up trying to ascend this mountain.

I imagine we had been climbing for about 30 minutes when I looked up and said, “Hey guys we’re almost there. See those birds flying about? That’s where we’re going”

“How do you know?” Hard Way asked

“Because those sparrows don’t take flight over the side of the mountain looking for food. They are very excited the way they’re moving around, darting back and forth in and out of that scrub oak, which means there are people around there. And we know those people aren’t stupid enough to do what we just did, which means they took the easy route up there. Which means we’re almost there,” I replied

It wasn’t another five minutes that I saw my first glimpse of a man made structure.

“There it is guys,” I exclaimed as I pointed to the structure.

After two hours of climbing, we finally made it. We were tired and dirty, but safe.

As we hiked back down the mountain we amused ourselves at how easy it was for everyone else passing us on their way up. It was almost surreal in a way to see others just laughing with their kids enjoying their easy walk up, while  we had gotten off trail and were literally climbing a mountain, busting our butts to get to the same place they were taking their leisure to get to.

All said and done, we had fun, but next time I pick the trail.

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