The title of this post is wrong: We intended to go and see the Sill Hill Waterfall. We never made it there.
On May 22, I went with Robert (timeless hiking partner dating back to 1985) and Devin (who wants to learn how to safely hike and backpack).
I still use Jerry Schad’s book “Afoot and Afield in San Diego County” copyright 1986, which is now tattered and in some cases outdated. The trees and bushes he sometimes references are no longer there, and even roads and paths have come and gone. I found a Google books version here (see page 228, 229) and it shows the pages relevant to this hike. You need to buy the book for further information.
Robert and I were at Sill Hill once before a long time ago, perhaps in the mid 1990ies. I remember the way there a stroll through clean forest floor, over meadows, surrounded by tall trees. Then I went back in November 2004. The fires of 2003 had burned all the brush and there was nothing but tree trunks and forest floor, with the seedlings of poison oak sprouting out of the ground all over the place. You simply had to avoid the green stuff, and you were fine.
When we got to the place on the trail where you leave the fire road, jump what’s left of the barbed wire fence, and start through the forest down to the meadow, we faced a surprise. The woods were impenetrable. We ended up changing our plans entirely, and did the Middle Peak circle hike instead, an 8.25 mile round trip, shown below from my Garmin record.
At the very leftmost point you can see at the arrow where we were going to head down into the forest, leaving the fire road.
We quickly found ourselves surrounded by a green waist to head high ranky shrub with white flowers. For you botanists and naturists, that was a very inadequate description. I have no idea what the stuff is. Furthermore, one more mistake: I had brought a camera, and during the entire trip I never took it out once. This makes for a boring blog entry. I could have taken a picture of the stuff and people could have helped me identify what it was we were dealing with.
Long story short: The fires of 2003 cleared everything living off the forest floor, leaving room for this stuff to grow wild, so wild, that you can no longer walk through the forest and reach the meadow without bushwhacking. There was no way. Further, and I didn’t explain that to my hiking partners, since we were all in shorts, the poison oak beyond the meadow, during the descent to the water fall, would have been huge now and within the green thickets practically invisible. A truly treacherous thought.
So we decided to turn around and do something else, which resulted in the circle hike of Middle Peak.
But while we were stepping out of the brush in single file, Devin, the novice being last, all of a sudden yelled “there is a snake.” Both Robert and I had presumably just stepped over it. Even with Devin pointing directly at it, we didn’t see it right away. But there it was, a large, completely coiled rattle snake, sitting under a sapling right where we had stepped over it, our boots four inches next to it. We could easily have stepped on it.
Furtunately it was cold and the snake was lethargic. I poked it with my hiking pole and it groggily slithered away.
- There was no way we expected a rattle snake in this lush, moist and cold forest thicket.
- The two “experienced veterans” both practically stepped on the thing without even knowing it was there, and the “novice” alerted us to it.
- Had it been a warm day, with the snake on the alert, we could have easily been bitten.
- Walking in thickets in Southern California is treacherous. You can’t see your feet.
We proceeded on the fire road hike around the peak, for a total of 8.25 miles. We were freezing. A storm came in, and just as we got back to the car it started to rain. We sat down slighly moist and headed for Julian and then down the mountain. On the way, it hailed and there was lightning. The next day we found out that a tornado had derailed a train in Riverside with 30 ton rail cars. Here is an article.
Devin thought we would have been alright in the storm. We two “veterans” laughed at him. Robert suggested the following experiment via email the next day:
Devin should take advantage of the cool windy weather over the next couple days to do an experiment. Put on a normal set of pants and maybe long sleeve shirt, drench himself with a garden hose, drink a tall glass of ice cold water, and see how he feels after standing outside in a windy corner of the yard for 15 or 20 minutes.
He got to see first hand some surprises in weather, but he ought to safely experience first hand how quickly you can become chilled with a bit of wind and rain.
All in all, it was a successful hike.