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Skyline To Sea Trail

Day 1 of 3

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Friday, July 31st
Castle Rock State Park to Waterman Gap
9.6 miles
1310 vertical feet (ascent)

By the time we arrived at Castle Rock State Park at 2:15pm, Joe had already been there for over an hour. We prepared our packs and readied ourselves for the first part of the journey.

We had planned to start hiking before 1pm, leaving plenty of time to arrive at Waterman Gap before 8:30 sunset. Unfortunately, our lack of proper planning left us starting the hike at 2:50pm. This put us under a lot of pressure to arrive soon enough before sunset to set up camp and cook dinner. Joe had already seen a couple people start the same trip we were attempting almost 2 hours before we did, so we were just a bit worried.

Joe takes a moment before strapping on the device of torture again

The hike starts out along the Saratoga Gap Trail toward Goat Rock. The trail immediately enters the forest; in fact, most of the trail is shaded. The temperature was very moderate the whole hike -- high 70's I'd say.

I don't recall taking this fork, but we ended up on the Ridge Trail toward Goat Rock instead of the Saratoga Gap Trail toward Castle Rock Falls. Both forks will eventually take you to the same place in about the same time and distance. However, the Saratoga Gap Trail (left fork) gives more expansive views. On the other hand, the Saratoga Gap Trail has some exposed areas which may be dangerous to hikers with large packs on, as was the case with us.

The view from the Ridge Trail

My full pack, with water and food, was 48 pounds at the start of the trip (10 pounds of which was liquid). This is approximately 28% of my body weight. Joe's pack was comparable in weight, and Jean's was comparable as a percentage of her body weight. =) If you ever carry 28% of your body weight on your back, you will understand the position we put our bodies in when we rested. It takes great effort to take the pack off and put it back on. So, to rest our weary shoulders, we would, as Joe would say, "assume the position" -- standing, hands on knees, body bent over at the waist, pack almost parallel to the ground. It was a great relief to assume the position, but I must admit you will not find any pictures of it on my web site!

At Goat Rock, we passed by a group of kids who apparently had gone out on a rock climbing field trip. We continued on the trail, past the "naked" trees, eventually coming to a creek crossing. Unfortunately, there was no bridge -- there was just a plank going to the other side. Well, technically, there was a bridge -- it just wasn't crossing the chasm. Inexplicably, it was resting comfortably on the other side, lying on the ground. In any case, we crossed and continued onto Castle Rock Trail Camp.

We refueled our bodies with food and water. The site also has water and a vault toilet (this is really a euphemism for a shit hole -- a semi-permanent out-house which may or may not have tiny sheets of toilet paper).

Just as we were leaving, a group of backpackers came by from another trail. We chatted for a few minutes. Apparently one of them had a backpack which had been stolen a few days ago. We told them where we were going, and they said we would have no problem getting there before sundown. Those would be the last people we saw until the Waterman Gap Trail Camp.

We continued along the Saratoga Gap Trail, and then left onto Travertine Springs Trail. At some point around this time, Jean turned on the afterburners, leaving Joe and me in her wake. Every time the road turned steep, her arms would start pumping and she'd race up the hill with quick, short steps. It would prompt cursing from Joe and me as we failed to keep pace. But it was probably a good thing, since we were really racing the sun.

Most of the trail is shaded, but a portion of the Travertine Springs Trail is unshaded and very narrow. There are places where the "trail" is no more than a foot wide, with prickly plants on both sides, depositing their little devices of pain on our socks. But we fought through and eventually made it to the Saratoga Toll Road, and then the Beckhuis Road Trail to the Skyline To The Sea Trail. (I'm not sure on the spelling of the Beckhuis Road Trail, as the spelling on the map and trail post were different)

The Skyline To The Sea Trail begins at Saratoga Gap, and roughly follows Highway 9 down to Waterman Gap. We joined it at a point approximately 4 miles from Saratoga Gap, leaving a little over 2 miles to the Waterman Gap Trail Camp. As we walked just a hundred feet below a windy road with cars speeding along at 40-50 mph , we passed at least 2 cars which had, some years earlier it appeared, failed to navigate a turn and tumbled over the edge, a hundred feet below the trail. That made us just a little edgy and hoped that our camp would be fairly distant from the highway itself.

The trail went up and down, up and down. None of it was very steep, but it was somewhat demoralizing because we were never sure how much more uphill there was. The day's hike would drop us approximately 1600 feet overall. But that 1600 foot descent was accomplished by ascending 1310 feet and descending 2910 feet. 1310 feet may not sound like a lot, but with 28% of your body weight on your back, every ascent (and descent) is magnified.

We made it to the Waterman Gap Trail Camp at 7:30pm. We put our packs down and talked to a ranger who'd driven there. He told us we could pick any of the 6 campsites, and that there were supposed to be a total of 15 campers there that night. He was wrong. There were the people Joe had seen, already camped at site 2. And there was us. We didn't see anyone else show up at that night.

Jean suddenly noticed she was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. She battled them while Joe and I ran around looking at the camp sites. We took camp 5 because it was large and somewhat far from the road (and the other campers). The downside was that it was a bit of a hike back to the water, garbage, and vault toilet at the front of the camp. After setting up our tents and refilling our water bottles, we started to cook in the dark. Well, it wasn't completely dark. There was still some light in the sky, the moon as bright, and our flashlights were working...for the moment.

Dinner for me consisted of a freeze-dried dinner with roasted almonds (thanks, Joe) and honey mustard nibblers added for taste and texture. Joe also had a freeze-dried dinner, and Jean made rice and added a miso soup package for flavoring. It was actually quite good. I'll have to try making rice next time -- it meets my criteria of not having any water content (gotta work on lightening the load!).

My flashlight's batteries began to fade at the same time Joe's did. Fortunately, Jean's candle lantern didn't have the same problem. Next time I'll have to make sure my batteries are fully charged.

At night we could hear the noise of cars on Highway 9 in the distance, but it wasn't enough to keep us awake. Unfortunately, the heat was. The temperature inside my tent was a balmy 61 degrees (with the rain fly on), and I was sweating inside my down sleeping bag. The next night I promised myself I wouldn't wear my long pants to sleep.

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