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Hitting The Trail for the First Time
October, 2014 - Issue #120
We face big decisions as parents about when our children are old enough to handle certain things. Cell phones. Babysitting. Knives.

My son had been asking for a pocket knife for a while. But we had some trepidations. We weren't worried he would use it to hurt someone else. We were more worried he would hurt himself. He has a history of accidental injury and the scars to prove it.

But we eventually agreed, and soon I started wondering what else he might be old enough to handle.

It was time for the two of us to go backpacking. Head into the woods and do manly stuff together. Read a map. Pitch a tent. Eat some Spam.

So one weekend we struck out for a one-night expedition to Sheep Camp in the Los Padres National Forest, a short jaunt from Mount Pinos. The idea was to give him just enough of a taste of it that he'd want to do it again.

He carried a 15-pound pack, which included our tent and food. Heavy, but manageable.

In his pocket was the new knife. He pulled it out twice in the first half mile. Once to poke a tree trunk and later to carve a stick. That led to a safety briefing about the inherent danger of using a knife while walking over uneven terrain. He put the knife away and carried the stick.

We continued to the top of Mount Pinos and enjoyed the views of the Los Padres backcountry to the west and south and the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada to the north and east.

From there, the trail carried us down long switchbacks, across a saddle and back up the flank of Sawmill Mountain. Drew started to feel the weight on his back. There were some heavy sighs and a few stops to catch his breath. But there was no complaining.

After covering five miles in two-and a half hours, we found Sheep Camp. There were several sites to choose from, each marked with a fire ring. After some trial and error, we settled into a flat spot cordoned off by fallen pine logs that offered protection from the wind.

While I prepped dinner, Drew carved his walking stick. He peeled off the outer layer of bark, sawed off the branch stubs and carved his name into it.

Dinner was chicken-flavored ramen augmented with Teriyaki Spam. It was as bad as it sounds. Worse, while cooking, I stepped on Drew's stick and broke it in half. I apologized fervently and he shrugged it off.

"So one weekend we struck out for a
one-night expedition to Sheep Camp in the Los Padres National Forest, a short jaunt from Mount Pinos. The idea was to give him just enough of a taste of it that he'd WANT TO DO IT AGAIN."
We climbed some rocks along the ridge line near camp and watched the golden sunset fill Lockwood Valley below us with lengthening shadows.

It was getting colder so we got tucked in to our sleeping bags. We were in bed by 8:20 pm.

The wind rolled through the trees above us, sounding like churning surf. The sky slowly faded from light grey to dark grey. We watched for stars to appear between the tops of the pines silhouetted in the darkness. But sleep came faster than the stars, so we missed the full display.

We scrambled out of our sleeping bags before sunrise the next morning and headed back to our rocky perch to await the sun. It rose gradually over the pines, finally warming our backs.

After coffee, cocoa and breakfast we went in search of a replacement walking stick. Every candidate was too dead and brittle so we gave up the hunt.

We broke camp and started retracing our steps from the day before. Now that I knew Drew was old enough to handle backpacking, I faced another big decision.

Where would we hike next?

Hit the Trail
Los Padres National Forest
245-3731


When he's not sleeping under the stars, Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.
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