Today's SJ Stay Fit long walk has been threatened for a long time. I have heard Eave (really not her real name) and Werdna (not his real name - you probably get this by now, right?) talk about the misery of Sierra Azul and the torture that is Priest Rock since I started the summer SJ Fit program last spring.
It terrified me then.
Coach Luap has talked about doing this walk for a long time, and finally, today was the day. The difference is that I am now a hill-climbing stud and was not afraid. The last couple of days, however, shook my confidence a bit. People whose walking opinions I value kept saying "you'll see." But the trail we were going to take is nicknamed the lollipop trail (since you head out for four miles, circle around on a couple of trails and end up heading back on that same trail for 14 miles total) - how nasty could that be?
Three of us took on the walk: Coach Luap, Uidualc, and myself. The starting line is pleasant and does not give the game away.
The obligatory porta-pottie shot (and this was a particularly nasty one - no chance of anyone lingering tin there).
Shortly after leaving the starting area you start going uphill. For four miles. It's a relentlessly moderate uphill, but I was able to easily keep going the whole way. This guy on the bike would pass me and then a bit later I would pass him. I never saw him stop, but until he reached the top (the same time as us), he never even vaguely risked a speeding ticket.
There were a lot of bikes on this trail. The most impressive though was as we were almost done - a guy towing a trailer with a toddler in it. I would be extremely impressed if he made it all the way to the top.
Needless to say, the views were stunning. It was a wonderful day that got a little warm towards the end.
This was the most muddy spot I could find.
Here is Luap coming up to the top of Priest Rock.
Followed by Uidualc.
There was a little bit of time spent looking at a map, although this was a very uncomplicated walk. See the hill, climb the hill.
Priest Rock is where the stick meets the candy part of the lollipop. At that point you circle around on a couple of trails, mostly going downhill. A lot downhill (which is not a good sign since you know you will eventually have to make up for that). At the halfway point there is this nice little place to water your horse.
And what passes for a majestic waterfall. (It is actually cooler than this makes it look, but in the end, it is just water pouring from a couple of culverts.)
All good things come to an end, and you finally hit the uphill bit, climbing back to the top of Priest Rock. (I've got no idea why it is named this, but it seems wildly inappropriate since by the end of this climb, most people are muttering words not fit for a priest. Or sailor for that matter.)
If you look closely at this picture, you can see someone on the trail. I could tell it was someone with walking sticks, so I assumed it was Uidualc. It turned out to be some guy, probably in his 60s, who was climbing this hill shockingly fast. We talked to him a bit on his way back down - he does this climb every Saturday morning. This conversation was as Luap and I were sitting in the shade of a tree about two thirds of the way up the hill, catching our breath. He was not breathing hard at all.
The shady tree spot with a convenient bit of dirt to rest on.
Once we reached the top, it was four more miles of mostly downhill trail back to the start. The only interesting thing (other than the guy towing a trailer with his bike), was me rescuing a snake from the trail. I hate snakes. They really creep me out. But this one was obviously a bit stressed being in the middle of the trail, and was likely to get run over by a mountain bike wildly careening down the hill.
Oh, and the snake was a tiny baby - maybe three inches long and black with a long orange stripe. I've fished with bigger worms that this thing. I scooped it onto a leaf and set it over in the grass. Before I could get much of a picture, it was gone. (It is that vague black thing in the upper-center of this picture.)
And that's about it. I cannot use the word "fun" to describe this hike. I can use "challenging" and "insane" though. I can also say that a great goal would be to fly up that last hill (seriously, who ever designed that trail needs to study the art of switchbacks) as fast as the first hill. An interesting thing would be to go the opposite way around the lollipop. I suspect this wouldn't be as challenging, but maybe more dangerous with the steep part now going downhill, and the trail filled with sharp rocks ready to gouge you if you slip and fall, which you probably will.
And then there is this interesting bit of Priest Rock lore - last year Werdna hauled a small keg of beer up that hill for a party up there. Werdna is as nimble and athletic looking as an elephant seal, but that dude can do some serious hiking.
I would have loved a beer up there, especially if Werdna carried it for me.
That's it - move along...