Mommy was traveling for business, so I decided to ask Sophia if she wanted to go backpacking overnight and sleep in a tent. She jumped at the chance. I even offered to take her other places instead, just to make sure that she truly wanted to go. She said backpacking was what she wanted to do. I was very proud. I poured over Bryan Conant’s excellent Matilija and Dick Smith Wilderness Map and, of course, Craig Carey’s essential Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara and Ventura. I was looking for something with not too much elevation gain/loss, not too much hiking or driving mileage, and a decent campsite with something to see once we were there. Forbush Flat seemed the only choice.
We got a fairly late start as we drove up the road towards Camino Cielo to the same trailhead we used when we went up to Montecito Peak from the top just a couple of months earlier. I helped Sophia pack and I pretty much carried everything except some water and her stuffed animals, deck of cards, and a book. I spent a good portion of the morning trying to figure out how I was going to fit two sleeping bags, two sleeping pads, her clothes and mine, a stove, fuel, water and food for two, and an entire tent into one pack. Somehow I did it. The week before, we stopped at REI to get her a backpack she could grow into. The main feature I wanted in a backpack for her was the sternum strap, which is something that helps tremendously for child hikers. I had also gotten her a headlamp for her birthday.
We got to the trailhead at about 4PM, which is a little late, but with plenty of light to hike the less than two miles down to camp and set up the tent. It was nice that it would be mostly downhill, but, as we drove up Gibraltar Road, I noticed the temperature start to tick up into the 80′s. Shouldering my overstuffed pack, we left our car, crossed the road and entered the wilderness. It was the warmest day of the year so far, but the upper part of the trail had some decent shade. The trail crosses a ravine and starts down the eastern side. The flies were bothersome, so I used some BugX Insect Repellent Towelettes on our clothing and they definitely helped keep the flies away.
Before long, we started encountering some poison oak. Ever since moving to Santa Barbara, I’ve learned to instantly recognize it, especially since the current residence I am renting has it all over the place. Sophia can now recognize it, too, and it freaks her out a little bit. However, on this trail, it mostly grew on one side, so if we were careful, we could easily avoid it, even if it encroached the trail. Still, Sophia was pretty nervous.
We turned another corner and we saw that poison oak was growing about head high (my head) on both sides of the trail. Sophia was reasonably concerned. I had to pick her and her pack up, and try to make me and my overstuffed pack to be as skinny as possible. About 100 feet later, we were past the offending plant.
“I don’t want to go on hikes with poison oak anymore,” she said. I told her I would do my best to choose wider and PO-free trails in the future, but that sometimes we just have to deal with what comes our way. She understood.
About a quarter mile from the camp, I noticed she was starting to lag. She was probably a little tired and her pack was a little heavy. I offered to carry her pack and she was much better after that. We reached the campsite and noticed it had a picnic table, another family as neighbors, and poison oak all over the place. The clearing was large and comfortable. The next occupied campsite was fairly far away and posed no problems.
I set up the tent and we had some dinner next to the fire ring. I had checked with the Los Padres National Forest Campfire Restrictions site, which mentioned that the recent rains allowed for campfires. I printed out the campfire permit and was ready. Sophia, upon seeing the campfire ring, got really excited. After we ate and I was cleaning up, she gathered some firewood.
While there was still some light, we ventured out into the nearby creek area and it was bone dry. I had read that there were some fossils in the area and Sophia was excited to find some. We saw nothing there and I was worried about poison oak, so we headed out north into the open area and I noticed what looked like an uplifted strip of land. That is where the fossils should be.
We hiked over to that side and immediately found fossils in almost every exposed rock. Anything loose had undoubtedly been picked over by previous hikers, but we had a lot of fun finding them embedded all over the place. It was getting dark, but she didn’t want to stop.
“Five more minutes.”
We made our way back to our campsite amid the fading light. We dug out our headlamps and gathered more wood. Sophia accidentally touched some poison oak and I immediately washed her hands with soap and water. I would have to keep and eye on that. (Nothing ever came from it, we were lucky)
I started the fire and taught her some fire safety basics. We burnt some trash that others had left in the ring and kept the fire going for about an hour on twigs and pieces of bark that we found around the campsite. Looking next to Sophia’s feet, I noticed some spiders on the ground. Looking around even more, I saw them crawling everywhere. I noticed one crawling up the log where Sophia was sitting and told her to perhaps move somewhere else.
“Dad, they’re just spiders.”
I was so proud to have a daughter that was willing to get dirty camping, got excited about a campfire, and didn’t get crazy about spiders.
We spent some time with our headlamps watching the spiders, also finding crickets and a large millipede. The fire started to die down and we got ready for bed. The family at the other campsite had quieted down, so we tried to keep it down while we played cards while laying on our sleeping pads in the tent, but we cracked each other up quite a bit. Tired, we turned off the lantern and went to sleep.
With only a “Dad, could you please stop snoring?” we both slept pretty well. In the morning, we woke up and I immediately started packing. I wanted to get up and out before the day got too hot. With only one person really cleaning up, it took some time. When we finally were ready, it was already pretty warm. Sophia stopped to take some pictures, exclaiming that the view was beautiful. I had to admit that it was. When she got too warm (she insisted on wearing her pajamas), I would spray water on her head and clothes.
With gentle words, I coaxed her back up the mountain to Camino Cielo. That, and the promise of an Oreo Shake when we got back to civilization. She was a little fixated on the poison oak part of the trail, but after I had carried her back through it, she relaxed.
We made it back to the car and we both agreed we would go backpacking again, but without the poison oak and without the heat. The spiders were OK, though.
(Note: I later found out the “spiders” were really harvestmen, harmless arachnids that weren’t really spiders.)