It's no secret that Josh and I are planning a Pacific Crest Trail through hike next year. That being said, there are areas in the Mojave section of the PCT that you need to hike at night, in order to avoid crippling heat and aid in water rationing. We figured we'd get the kinks out of our night hiking gear and style by doing a trip in the Mission Trails Regional Park.
We parked across from the locked entrance on Mission Gorge Road and ducked under the gate. Heading down the fire road toward the river crossing Josh adjusted his gear and I adjusted my FEAR! I didn't realize I would be quite so on edge hiking in the dark!
We walked along the creek and listened to the sounds of the frogs and river creatures.
We leveled out at the river and started our climb out of the canyon, sweating from the balmy air. We surveyed the canyon walls with our headlamps, half hoping and fearing the reflection of animal eyes peering at us from the darkness. In our scanning, we spotted our first creature, a Tarantula cruising along the side of the dirt road.
Once the road topped out we came to our first trail junction where we headed for the Fortuna Saddle. We walked through dense brush waiving our hands and trekking poles in front of us to catch the spider webs before they blanketed our face. I was following Josh pretty close as I figured it would deter something from eating us. My close proximity lead me to run into the back of him when he stopped short.
"What happened?" I said
"I saw something" he whispered, "I think it was a rat."
We stood still scanning the brush...nothing. Josh inched forward ever so slightly and there was a loud rustling in the brush. We watched as a rat, so large it could be categorized as a "Rodent of Unusual Size" as described in the movie The Princess Bride, ran up a log that was crossing the trail and off into the darkness.
Finally the trail opened up and we picked up the pace. I gave Josh a little more room, which proved beneficial as he again stopped short to avoid the web of an Orb weaver. We gawked at her size! She was as big as a half dollar and her web as big as a pizza! We shimmied around her and continued on.
From the start of our hike my headlamp was catching reflections on the ground. It looked like tiny diamonds strewn through the brush and sand, sparkling red, blue and green.
I chalked it up to pieces of quartz or broken glass, maybe some damaged reflectors but soon abandoned this theory as it was not centralized in any one location, but throughout the entire hike.
Finally I stopped to investigate and was amazed to discover the diamond like reflections were from the eyes of thousands of Wolf Spiders crawling around!
We headed down a steep grade that was obviously a mountain bike path and spotted a couple black widows in their paper like webs stretching between the rocks. We avoided them successfully and dropped down into another canyon where we met with another series of fire roads.
Turning up a fire road lined with crackling power lines, we listened to what I think was a Barn Owl screeching in the distance. I suppose it could have been a Great Horned Owl, but I think a Barn Owl is probably more likely in the grassy area we were traveling. Maybe she will luck out and catch that gigantic rat.
We climbed the road to the base of the Fortuna Saddle when we were startled by a lone Coyote cackling in the distance. Her call was immediately responded to with an explosion of cackling howls and yelps originating further north. We stopped and felt the hair on our necks stand up as we listened to the conversation between what I presumed was the scout and the main pack. Were they talking about us? Josh and I didn't want to stick around to find out. We listened as the scout headed north toward the pack and we turned tail and backtracked.
Unfortunately, our route out was in the direction of the calls, so we paid extra attention to our surroundings.
Our extra attention gave us another opportunity to observe an ebony tarantula cruising up the trail.
I love these guys!
The stink bugs out and about were almost as abundant as the Wolf Spiders. I stopped to say hello to this guy and he responded by lifting his butt in the air ready to stink on me.
We made it to the truck and headed toward home, stopping off at a very busy In-N-Out for a low carb double double. All in all, it was a successful first night hike. I am happy to have experience the hustle and bustle that goes on under the cover of darkness!
I can't wait to do it again!
There are some discrepancies between the GPS and Google Earth but we did about 5 miles. Here is the track log and an overlay of our hike on the Mission Trails Map.
On to the next!