Four weeks have passed since our initial hike. Work, responsibilities, and the 200 miles that separate us make scheduling difficult. But shortly after 10AM we are back at the park-and-ride where we last met. We station one car at our end point on 17A and travel together to Lakes Road. A hot dog stand beckons from one side of the parking lot and we stop for some pre-hike fortitude! The man there mentions that a group is hiking ahead of us. He also cautions us it is a rough hike and an older man (around 60 is his guess–is he thinking we are younger or giving us an age appropriate warning??) fell last year and needed to be medevacked out. Hmmmm…..
Today’s hike heads south to our destination. The terrain is moderately hilly to start, then levels off a bit. Pumpkin sized rocks litter the trail and require a sharp eye to avoid stubbing a toe-or worse. It is sunny, clear T-shirt weather and we work up a light sweat. A sign for Wildcat Shelter directs us off the main trail. I am eager to see my first shelter. The three-sided lean-to nestled in the springtime lush is approximately 12’ by 10’ and three feet off the ground. Two cords, adorned with empty tuna cans to repel mice, provide space to hang backpacks. I’ve read stories of the multitude of unwelcome visitors and the sketchy success of the tuna can plan. I wondered if the tales were true and now here is the visible proof. Cool.
A group of ten Asian hikers are lunching at the shelter. Their curiosity and excitement are easily observed despite language differences. The shelter has a ‘privy’ nearby (a welcome sight in the woods) and a water source-which consists of a tiny, muddy brook. Is this what we would sterilize and drink if we needed to refill?? And it is now May, with the spring melt still running before the summer heat slows the flow. The Asian group packs up to leave, but one man offers to let us try an interesting tiny folding seat he was using. It is remarkably comfortable.
Soon, two Irish men arrive at the shelter and we listen to their tales about snakes and bears. Apparently there is a rattlesnake den further south on the trail in New Jersey, and bears are present but scarce after a hunting season. Information gathered at this one stop makes me realize our learning curve is almost as steep as the hills ahead of us!
We move on to Cat Rocks-the next ‘bump’ in the road. An alternate path goes around the challenging climb, but Lynn bounds up the steep smooth face of the biggest boulder I’ve ever seen. I walk a few steps down the path, then watch the pleasure blossom on her face and dare myself to follow. Soon I wonder if I made the right choice as I watch Lynn climb hand over hand and squeeze through a crack. This is new for me. I don’t know if I can do it, but her look of belief and words of encouragement tell me she thinks I can, and she patiently waits until I do! Eventually, the trail opens to long narrow boulders and an expansive view. Is this where the man fell? Despite using the butt-slide technique to get down steep areas, I am proud of myself for taking on the challenge. More boulders, more shimmying through crevices between boulders, and lots more butt-sliding follows. A hiker on the alternate route below shouts, “There is a path around.” as he watches me struggle, but it’s a bit too late for that. Gazing over the sides reveals a drop that would certainly require a medevac for rescue! We finally finish the Cat and I am relieved to return to the rocky trail. Lynn quips: “It’s like climbing along an elephant’s back.” Her delight is palpable.
We continue to the 17A junction and walk briefly along the road to get to our car. Next stop: The Creamery. Two people on the hike recommended its great ice cream! We order ice cream floats to celebrate today’s efforts. We hiked four hours, including a 30 minute break at the shelter, and a slow climb up and down boulders. Tonight we are going to stay at a motel in Central Valley so we can hike again tomorrow. Lights out by 9:30! Total miles today: 3.6. Total miles so far 7.6. Only 92.4 more to goal! We may not be the fastest hikers, but the satisfaction gained from our efforts is enough to pull us back for more.