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I arrived at the Arroyo Seco Campground around 8a, paid my $10 day use fee (Federal Lands Pass no good here), and parked in the uppermost lot for the Arroyo Seco TH. Most visitors to the area are here to visit the gorge section of Arroyo Seco, with inviting pools and an enjoyable river descent that can be navigated for about three miles from where Willow Creek joins Arroyo Seco to the campground. I followed Arroyo Seco Rd (nice and wide, recently graded, but not open to public vehicles) for about 2mi to reach the start of the Marble Peak Trail that crosses Arroyo Seco on a sturdy bridge before heading west to follow Willow Creek upstream. Expecting ticks, I tucked my pants into my socks and headed up the trail, finding poison oak regularly along the trail for the next 5+ miles as I made my way up-canyon. There are two trail junctions, two main campsites (Willow Creek and Tassajara) and 14 creek crossings (none difficult). The hike up to the saddle was really quite pleasant, despite the constant high-stepping and dancing around the poison oak. It was early in the day, I was limber and fresh and it bothered me only marginally. The ticks were a bigger concern, but the dozen or so I flicked off seemed par for the course. Shortly before reaching the saddle, I found the first evidence of the Soberanes Fire, hillsides that had been burned back but were displaying a profusion of wildflowers. It was nearly 11:30a by the time I reached the saddle, a three hour effort. Now the real fun begins.
I turned left and started into the brush. Along with the charred branches one expects after a fire, there was quite a bit of new growth, too. It was a bit heavy and discouraging to start, but by staying to the right of the crest I soon found easier travel. It started off well enough that I thought I might reach the summit in two hours, but it would end up taking three. Most of the extra time was due to the need to follow the fire line which took me off the main ridge in two significant drops. These went down to side canyons with modest creeks flowing. Poison oak reappeared in these wetter locations and combined with the steepness of the slopes, made for some tricky navigation. The summit of Cats Eye itself had not burned, making the last quarter mile something of a moderate bushwhack (some well-placed breaks in the brush made it not too bad). It appears there is an old roadbed (or firebreak), not shown on any maps I could find, that once went along the ridge. Portions of it can be seen in the satellite views, but for the most part, nature has reclaimed her land and trying to follow it was of little help. It was 2:15p by the time I reached the summit with sprawling views of rugged, chaparral-covered hills in all directions - rough country, indeed. Medium-sized, brown flies turned out to be nasty little things, biting me several times while I was trying to rest at the summit. This new distraction had me waving my hands constantly to ward them off my skin and shirt. Better to keep moving, I figured in the end.
The return became an entirely different experience. The day had started out overcast and quite pleasant for hiking, but the sun came out to warm the landscape by the time I had reached the saddle before noon. The two quarts of Gatorade that I carried were looking inadequate as I started back from the summit, slowing from dehydration, the warm sun and then something completely unexpected - cramping. My legs were beginning to protest, at first just mildly, but eventually with enough rigor to force me to take breaks, regularly and sometimes extended, waiting for the pains to subside. The flies would gather, like vultures knowing the end is near, attacking at any opportunity. It didn't take long for the pain to return once I started moving again. What was this about? Clearly I'm not in the same shape I was even a few years back, and I think this is my body's way of reminding me that these tough outings may not the smartest thing to be doing at 57yrs of age. The two climbs up out of those side canyons to get around the ridge portion that hadn't burned were the hardest parts of the day, but the cramping didn't reside after I'd finished with them. With the trail in sight, I had to still stop several times over the easier terrain. I wondered if someone walking the trail spotted me lying there, what they might make of it? That was unlikely to happen however, as this is a little-used trail, especially mid-week. I would see no evidence that anyone else had been on any portion of it all day.
It was after 5:30p by the time I returned to the saddle and the trail. I was hoping it would go more smoothly now, and it did, but the cramping never really went away. Any time I had to high-step over the poison oak, my feet or legs would cramp immediately. I took to ignoring the minor bit of PO and would save the extra leg motions for the more serious encroachments. I got water out of Willow Creek, a welcome respite after depleting my Gatorade resources. I gave up worrying about the ticks and stopped checking my clothing for them - just bending down to do so would cause more cramps. I would pay for this later when I picked a few ticks out of the back of my neck and another on my adam's apple. Stopping to empty debris out of my boots was impossible since I couldn't reach them without severe cramping. On the scale of things, this was a minor inconvenience, though. It was 7:30p by the time I reached the bridge over Arroyo Seco marking the end of the poison oak and tick dangers. It had grown colder with the setting sun, not unwelcome, and I was happy to find sufficient light to get me back to the parking lot by 8:30p. I stripped off my clothes and checked for ticks in the headlamps of the Jeep, showered and put on some fresh clothes, no easy feats with the cramping. Getting into the car, applying brakes and gas, brought new experiences in pain.
This was supposed to be the first of a seven-day roadtrip, but I decided I was in no condition to sleep in the Jeep - who knows how many ticks lay lurking in the clothes I had stripped off, or if there were any still on me undetected. I figured driving two hours to home and getting my wife to help with a more thorough check was the better option. Thank God she loves me. I slept terribly that night as the cramps were a recurring issue most of the night. All this for chasing an obscure, unnamed P1K. You'd think I could find better uses of my time...
This page last updated: Thu Jan 10 08:51:51 2019
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