Big day today, big hike, big sun, big heat, big black bear, big black bear feces, big window at top of mountain, big views..... Still bummed that I had to turn around on that last hike, especially after putting in the time and effort to climb so close to the top. Today, I was determined to make it to the top, an even more ambitious goal than the last hike. The trail is the Ventana Canyon trail, going up to what the locals call "The Window", a granite arch that has a flat bottom and sides with an arched top that looks to the south and north at the top of the Catalina Mountains. I left the parking lot at around 8:00am and immediately the trail begins to rise, staying within the canyon drainage and crossing the dry creek bed several times. The intermediate goal was the "Maiden Pools" a spot that has beautiful floral display. The overall goal was 6+ miles to the summit.
After leaving the pools behind, the trail continued to stay within the drainage and thus, having access to water, the plant growth was prolific. Thick grass bordered the trail and at times I could barely see my feet. that, combined with boulders, rocks, matted down dead plants made the area appear to be snake city. I did see a couple of tails sliding away but they were not my feared rattlers. About half way up the trail I passed this large rock with the concave spots, where 100+ years ago, early peoples of the area ground legumes. Kind of cool to think I was walking in their footsteps.
Farther up, the views opened expansively to the south. I had been hiking, slowly as I carefully picked my way through snake country, for 4 hours and had not seen anyone. However, I had come across several large animal feces. I assumed (hoped) they were big horned sheep. Some appeared to be from earlier today. Suddenly, as I rounded a corner I almost ran into....
....this retired forest service range who now volunteers to walk the area's trail, making notes for the office. He asked if I noted the animal feces, which he had counted 9 droppings. Yep, I told him I guessed it was large sheep and he said they were no longer native to the area. Instead he said they were from a black bear and it was in the area. Yikes! I still had a few hundred yards to
go and bid him farewell, finally reaching.....
.....the window. Next to the views from the spine of land at the top of Refugio leading to the satellite array in CA with views to the ocean and valley, this was probably the 2nd best I've seen. Southward and Northward past multiple mountain ranges, awesome. I had climbed 4300' in a little over 6 miles and would finish with 12+ miles, call it a mini half marathon with lots of climbing.
I did not dwell too long at the window, instead thinking it may be a good idea to hustle down the trail and catch the old-timer. I wondered what I would do if I encountered the bear. Yes, my initial instinct would be to turn and run, screaming like a little girl but I knew that would only trigger the pursuit instinct. I had read for bears or mountain lions, take off the pack, swing it around, making yourself appear to be larger than you are and make noise. I quickened my pace and soon caught the ranger. I must say, I really enjoyed the miles I spent as a crotch sniffer, drafting him like Grand Poobah on the wheel of the Rossi tandem. He had walking sticks gliding through the grass and commented that once the stick had taken a direct hit from a Mojave rattler. At this, I drew even closer. He identified all kinds of flora and showed fox, coyote and other animal feces on the trail. Really good guy. Said the environs was ideal for snakes and we had no doubt been observed by dozens but not seen any of them. Yet more reports to come!