Cave with no name.
We gathered at a remote parking area off Big Pine Road. Wasting no time because of the arctic winds sweeping the area, we quickly made the introductions, hosted on our backpacks and headed into the bush…but wait, a pair of sweatpants caught my eye in the back of my car. Thinking they may be needed to supplement the cold weather cycling tights I already was wearing, I asked Ryan to grab my keys from my pack. Ryan was also nice enough to insert the sweats into my pack and rezipped it. By now, Mark C and two others were bushwhacking their way up a steep climb but Ryan and I eventually caught on.
Approach to grove of cedar trees
We soon began a long walk across the face of a slope before coming upon the first of the day’s many sights. A large crevasse of unknown name so we called it the unnamed cave. Pretty neat with ice formations but we barely paused because the next feature was fairly close, a thick grove of cedars. Pushing through the thicket, again on a fairly steep slope, revealed Mark C’s boots had lost some traction and so he fell frequently. Soon, someone yelled they found a pair of sweatpants and thus it was revealed the contents of my pack were spilling out. I quickly rezipped everything and made a mental note not to again entrust the important job of pack zipping to Ryan. We pushed on to Airplane Rock, a distinctive outcropping of rock that extends above Long Valley (I think that’s the name). We stayed well away from the edge, respecting the slick conditions.
Ryan carefully works his way down the 'trail'.
Somewhere, we made a brief stop for a snack before heading down a gully and avoiding getting our feet wet. We were required to cross a stream and while we found a few boulders to walk across, Ryan, spotting a large tree lain across the stream, chose the path less traveled. Scooting across the tree worked ok until the tree branches thickened and the going became very difficult but eventually he emerged, no worse for the wear. So far, the route had been fantastic with tough climbs, seat scorching slides down steep hills, scaling of kind of steep rock faces, working around massive rock formations to reach the top of a ridge, everything I had grown to expect from one of Mark C’s off-trail hikes. We were relieved to find ourselves on a real trail that led to “21 Horse Cave”, a real cave and not just a cavern. It got very dark towards the back and we were afraid of stumbling over a sleeping Griz so we declined to explore the very back of the cave.
At the Airplane Rock Overlook.
The final stop was the “Cave with Two Falls”, another fantastic area. We decided to go off trail once again and were soon skidding down an embankment short of a creek. Ryan, displaying amazing fearlessness (or craziness) opted to try sliding across a petrified log to gain the final bottom of our route but slid off and somehow landed on his feet rather than his head. Soon we had reached the parking area having completed a long oval of a route of around 4-5 miles and 3.5 hours of hiking. Doesn’t sound like much but Mark’s routes require you to use every muscle in your body and it’s a great workout.