on the Mountain
I stood at the trailhead in the rain and wind and almost changed my
I didn't have rain gear, and there might not be enough visibility at the
top to survey and photograph the Logwood addition for the Wildlands 2000 project. But, the rain was stopping; I'd
driven all that way, and I figured I could always turn back if things got
A short way up the trail the sun started to break through for a few moments at a time. Before reaching the power lines, I was so warm I had to pull off the sweater.
The ridge line was covered in lush, brilliant green from the recent rains, and along the trail were tiny violet flowers. Too small and delicate to compete very well in the higher meadow grass, they had made a niche for themselves along the old roadway. The trail occasionally abandoned the exposed ridge for small stands of oaks and a few moments of shelter from the wind.
An hour up the trail, I walked out on to a rocky outcropping. The wind had whipped the ocean surface like a huge silver-gray meringue. A couple of hundred feet below me two deer paused, looked up and watched me until I moved away.
An hour and forty minutes from the highway to Timber Top. Had it not been for the driving wind, it would have taken much longer. Even though I was sweating on the long, steep climb, the gusting wind kept me from getting overheated. Feeling constantly cool, the only stops I needed were to admire the unrestricted, panoramic view. At times I stumbled forward directly into the wind, and at times it pushed me along so hard that I felt I was bounding along on the moon.
The Coast Ridge Road was deserted. I walked north, always looking over toward Logwood Creek, usually through a curtain of beautiful old madrones. At one point I found an abandoned road going east and down toward the creek. I walked it for a few hundred yards until I was convinced it was totally impassable. The large fallen tree across the road, plus young madrones growing up in the roadway convinced me. Still, I can't help wondering how far the road leads, perhaps down to the creek and beyond. I won't be satisfied until I follow that old road to its end.
Well past the gate and into the area of private inholdings, homes, etc, it was time to turn around. As I walked back south towards Cold Springs Camp, the wind howling through the trees was so loud that I turned around often, thinking a truck was coming up the road. The ponderosa pines were leaning over so far, I was concerned about falling branches or whole trees. The emptiness of the road and the wild howling of the wind gave an eerie, surreal quality to the five mile walk to Cold Springs.
I was going to break for lunch at Cold Springs Camp, but since the wind was coming out of the south, the camp was totally exposed and so cold I couldn't leave my gloves off long enough to eat. So, I refilled my water bottle from the green tank and started back.
I hadn't managed to spot the De Angulo trail on the way south, but I was watching for it heading back. I was anxious to start down. The wind was getting stronger, and the temperature was dropping. If the trend continued, hypothermia could have become a problem.
I managed to spot the southern branch of the De Angulo trail, the one that follows the old fire break. It was a treacherous decent, bordering on hideous, very steep with a trail bed of loose rock and gravel. Safe footing required concentration. Even below the gravel and rock section, the trail required care. The piles of leaves, now freshly wet from the rain, made the trail slippery, and in places the trail had broken away leaving it scarcely the width of a single boot. In spite of poor footing, the dark stillness of the woods was a welcome change.
The thick cloud cover moving south had been breaking up over the Big Sur ridge line during the course of the day, creating intermittent patches of sunlight and much needed warmth. When the sunny patches arrived at a view point, I stopped and took advantage, scanning the deep wooded canyons plunging to the sea.
The trail alternated between deep woods and open hillside meadows. At one point, just before the trail turned back into the woods, I stopped to enjoy the view. The cloud cover was now big cumulus piles rushing by. I watched the shadows of the clouds on the ocean, like lines of ghostly, gray, giant amoeba marching southward across a silver mirror sea. Sunlight streamed through the clouds in fan-like rays, alternating light and shadow. I might have stood there the rest of the afternoon, but the moments of sunshine coupled with lulls in the wind ended suddenly with gusts that almost knocked me off my feet.
The trail was not always clear, and at times I took a wrong turn, once descending what looked like a trail down a steep canyon, ending at a tiny waterfall and requiring a climb back that often required hand holds.
Further down in a steep, wooded section, fallen trees blocked the trail, necessitating some scrambling. A bit further along, the trail was overgrown with tall stringy bushes covered in yellow flowers. At times the trail was all but invisible under the foliage. Had it not been for the blue tape tied in trees along the way, I'm sure I would have wandered around until sunset, perhaps descending through someone's property or down the middle of a creek.
I was almost seven and a half hours into the hike before I saw other humans, a young couple coming up the trail, just a short ways above the intersection with the dirt road.
On the last two miles of the way down, I experienced hail, rain and even snow. And that was about where I ran into two dogs, who walked up as if they knew me and took it upon themselves to escort me the rest of the way, almost to the highway. It was almost as if I were somehow expected.
Alone on the ridge for an entire day with the sights and sounds of that incredible wind, with those huge, ghostly shapes in the sky and on the water, with an entire season of weather compressed into a single day, I had the definite feeling that it was all staged somehow for me alone. This may seem like the delusions of a megalomaniac, but when you think about the paradoxical nature of life, being at once an individual and a single strand in the great web of life, it is reasonable. In this great planetary unity the individual is both an insignificant player and the play's sole audience.
These moments when the universe presents the individual with some panoramic message, some great inner and outer truth, are not all that rare. They happen every day, but down the mountain, in our daily lives, we are too busy answering the phone, fixing a meal, watching TV, going to work, or debating with our peers to notice. The universe may be screaming its wisdom at us, but we seldom have the time to stop and listen. Alone on a stormy Big Sur ridge line, there are no buffers, no filters to keep the wonder out. The writings of John Muir, who spent his share of hours alone on the mountain, are full of these allusions, and they are there, simply waiting, for any of us.
What did my experience mean. It may not even need to have a meaning. Perhaps it only serves to fill me with the joy of life and the certainty that I'm intimately connected to a benign, beautiful and boundless unity, a great sea of living awareness. In itself, that is enough.
|The author high on a Big Sur mountainside, searching for clues to the eternal mystery of the universe. Further ruminations on the subject can be found in his book Cosmic Coastal Chronicles.|