Ishi Wilderness
in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Northern California
May 11-16, 2006

I find it hard to believe, but it had been 10 years since I started flying to California to go to the Ishi Wilderness. It was 1996, and thatís when I first met Bob Price and Richard Burrill, and I have seen them on every trip Iíve made, which is eight in total! In 1996, it was one of the great adventures of my life, flying to a state Iíd never been to on a solo vacation which I had never taken to meet people I had never met to go on a backpacking trip which I have never done before.

Now, ten years later, here I was, flying out again. Much had changed, but Bob and Richard have been my constant friends over the past ten years, and Iím sure they do not realize how much they have enriched my life.

I had used "frequent flyer miles" for this trip, and the way it worked out, I could fly to California and go "first class", something I had never done before. I was kind of looking forward to that, a little more leg room, a little more comfortable seat. The flight didnít leave until 9:30 p.m. so I had all day to pack and re-pack and take more things that I probably wouldnít need. I prefer early flights.

I got on the plane, and was in seat 2-B, almost up front. I sat down and got settled in, and soon, the fellow seated next to me said, "You look familiar, do I know you?" I looked at him, and there was no instant recognition, and then he said, "My name is Leo Kottke".

I said to him, "Leo! Oh, yes, I know you! I work with the Performing Arts Center in Cambridge, and weíve had you up to perform twice!"

I know there are lot of people who donít know Leo Kottke, but he is one of the great guitarists in the world, and has something like 20 or 30 albums to his credit.

If you go to http://www.leokottke.com you can see the list of his albums. This picture was taken during his last visit to Cambridge last fall.

I must interject at this point that I thought it was just so neat and ironic that Leo Kottke recognized me before I recognized him! How is that for cool!!

The next four hours went by fast! We literally talked the whole time, and talked about music, and my trip to the Ishi Wilderness, and travel, and being 60 and books. He is a very well read person, and so we talked about a lot of different books and authors. He has a very dry sense of humor, and is a bit of an eccentric, which is part of his performance appeal, and I really did enjoy visiting with him. He said he usually travels with about three books to read, and he was a little worried because he only had one. I told him I had the best book on Ishi, by Theodora Kroeber, along with me and it would be my pleasure to give him a copy. He seemed genuinely thankful. I joked with him that he could come along next trip.

Soon, we had landed at the Sacramento airport, and we disembarked and headed to the baggage claim area. Bob was there to meet me, and I had the pleasure of introducing him to Leo, and we all chatted until my bags arrived, and we took off toward Bobís place. It was about 1:30 a.m. Minnesota time, 11:30 p.m. California time.

It was fun visiting and catching up with Bob on the trip to his place, which was about an hour away. We arrived, we hauled in my luggage, and got ready for bed.

The next morning, I woke up early, as is my modus operandi. I got up and tried to be quiet as I started re-packing my "stuff" for backpacking. There was a chance we would be staying close to the vehicles, so I packed a little suitcase to throw in the truck with extra things if we did.

Soon Sara and Bob were up, and then Megan, who had just turned one year old the previous month. She is a real charmer, and is just beginning to walk, so she is very unsteady on her feet. It was good to see Sara again, I hadnít seen her in two years either, when she joined us on the 2004 trip to the Ishi Wilderness. They are such a nice family, and seem very happy, and compliment each other so well.

After packing and getting things ready, we took off, and stopped to buy some food for the trip and then headed to the place where we were meeting the other four members of our camping group.

We got there about three in the afternoon, and after some brief introductions, we headed toward our camping site in three different vehicles. It was a long way in. We were heading to a part of the country that I had not been before, and we started driving on "roads" only if you use the term very loosely. The road kept getting poorer and poorer, and soon it was hard to tell where the road was at times. The pictures I took do not do justice to the rocks and incline and difficulty of driving them. Bobís vehicle handled them amazingly well, and the power that it had to climb over boulders was pretty impressive.

It was past 7:00 p.m. before we arrived at the camp site. Dick Hilton is a professor of geology. He is an experienced camper and explorer, and was a great source of information as to how the land got to be what it is today. Paul Goldsmith is a cinematographer, who has traveled the world to put it on film. Craig Huston is a local man from Chester, California who works at a hydroelectric plant for a lumber company. Richard, the author, and Bob the former park ranger, and I made up the rest of the group.

Richard was the catalyst who brought the diverse group together either through knowing them or through mutual friends, and it was interesting to get to know all of them better.

We set up camp sites, and Bob and I tented together in Bobís orange tent. He had loaned me a sleeping bag and ground pad for the trip so I wouldnít have to haul them from Minnesota.

Although this was called a campground, there we no amenities. There was no water, no toilet facilities of any kind, no level ground that had been prepared for campers. This was a grove of Black Oak trees with some open spaces.

Paul had his own tent, Dick had his truck all set for all aspects of camping, and Craig and Richard camped out under the stars. The moon was full, the sky was clear, the evening was cool but comfortable.

I rose the next morning early, and went for a short walk back down the road we came on. The geography of the area was very hilly but not really mountainous. A lot of the ground was covered with rocks of all sizes, and poison oak was everywhere. There were wildflowers intermittently.

After breakfast and coffee, we planned the day. The first day was to be devoted to finding a place named Kingsley Cave. It was supposed to be about 2 Ĺ miles from our location, accessible only by hiking. We headed off as a group, topgraphic maps in hand. Both Bob and Dick could read a map like it was a picture of the terrain. I have trouble translating lines into actual topography., so left that to the experts. I took pictures.

After a walk mostly downhill, we headed down through even steeper and brushier terrain, and soon, the cave was in sight. It was not a cave in the most traditional sense, it was more of large open cavern, undercut into the mountain. It was an immense chasm, and immediately obvious that it would have been a place where the Yahi or their predecessors would have congregated. It was cool, there was a water supply from small streamlets seeping through the rocks, and there was protection from the elements. The disadvantage was that it was wide open and very easily observable from the hill across the valley.

There were several stones that had been used for grinding, probably for acorns. We took several pictures, and walked around and explored the area. Richard tried to match the terrain to several old photos he had, but with no luck, which meant that the old photos were probably not taken at the cave.

Soon, we headed off and explored the area around the cave. There were smaller caves, and it was quite hilly. We eventually headed back to the trail we had come down earlier. After some discussion, it was decided that four of us would go back to the vehicles and spend another night there, rather than heading deeper down into the valley. Bob and Paul wanted to see a place called "Tabletop Mountain", which was close by, so the two of them headed off to see that area.

Richard had a full knee replacement about 17 months earlier, and it was obvious that it was bothering him and slowing his rate of descent. He could climb hill pretty well, but had more trouble going down a hill.

After a while of ambling back up the trail, we came to our campground again. It was about 5:00 p.m. so we made ourselves at home, and got the evening meal ready. Bob and Paul returned a couple hours later, and reported on Tabletop Mountain. They tried to see the area people wanted to go to the next day, and could see that it looked like it was a passable trail.

The moon shone again, the sky was clear, and it was another beautiful evening. In all my trips to the Ishi Wilderness, I have never encountered rain. I shudder to think what that could do to a camping trip. It would not be pretty. I wondered if the vehicles could even get out if there were substantial rains.

Soon, we all turned in for the night. A healthy breeze blew the sides of tent in and out.

In the morning, after breakfast, there was a discussion between the two best map readers. Dick was more conservative, thinking that the only safe and sure way to reach an area we wanted to get to was a long drive back and long walk in to a place called Papeyís Place. Bob was sure there was a shorter way, though more difficult at times, from cuts that went down to the creek periodically. Dick reluctantly agreed we could give it a try, so we headed out, first in Bobís truck for about a mile, which took about an hour on the difficult terrain, and then on foot.

After hiking a while, and heading down toward the creek far below, Bob suggested he take the walkie talkie and head down to see if he could reach the water. After a number of tries, and circling around to left, we could see him far away, on a hilllside, looking like a tiny figure. Dick, Paul, and Craig also headed down toward the water, based on what Bob could see from his vantage point, and eventually they found their way down.

Richardís knee had been bothering him, and Bob reported back that the terrain was very difficult, and would involve jumping and sliding and difficult climbing. He implied it was probably too difficult for Richard so I decided that maybe he and I should not attempt the trip down. This sounds quite honorable and martyr-like on my part, but I really didnít mind. My feet were sore from the day before, and I am not always comfortable around rapidly moving water due to the fact that I do not swim, so part of me was very comfortable with just exploring the terrain we were at, and slowly heading back toward camp.

I had brought three walkie talkies along for times like this, so that three different groups could talk to each other. Unfortunately, the walkie talkies were not meant for heavy brush, and one of them remains there yet, a gift to the spirits that haunt us each time we go there, and foil our best laid plans. Richard left a pair of sunglasses somehere in the Ishi Wilderness as his unplanned offering. We all left sweat and energy as an offering.

Eventually the group reached the water, all got together and found an exciting mode of crossing the raging creek with a cable and seat and crank. They also found some fossils, some clams and ammonites that Dick was very excited about. They were 70 million years old.

Richard and I did slowly work our way back toward the truck, stopping periodically to rest in the shade, admire the scenery, and discuss his next book, which I help him edit.

After we got the truck, it was 3 in the afternoon, and we decided we might as well walk the additional mile back to camp. Much of it was up some steep hills, but we took our time. It was very warm, but a nice breeze was blowing.

We got back to camp, took off our boots, and sat down and had some water and snacks. Eventually we walked out on a kind of plateau not far from our campsite, and in the distance we could see Bobís white truck parked, just a tiny speck. Richard went and got his binoculars, and eventually we could see four tiny specks heading toward the truck and then the truck heading toward the campsite.

After seeing a little bit of video of that chair crossing the swollen stream, I was glad I had skipped that little part of the dayís adventure.

After we ate, we talked. It was, as I said earlier, a diverse group. Paul and Dick had traveled extensively, one as a cinematographer, one as a geology professor and tour guide, and both of them are fascinating individuals. Craig was very quiet, but Richard said he is very good at the bow and arrow, and has a good knowledge of the area and the story of Ishi.

Picture L to R:  Roger, Paul, Dick, Craig, Richard, Bob. If you click on the picture you should get a larger view.

Soon it was time for bed, and then we would be heading out in the morning. One more adventure lay in store for us.

In the morning we started packing things away. I had put on some beige pants and a white shirt that actually had a pretty nice crease in it so it looked like it had just been pressed. Dick asked me what size waist I had. I said it was about a 33. He said, "Here, I have something for you", and went and got a pair of his jeans. "Next time you come here", he said, "wear these, not those dress pants!" I thought this was rather funny, since the pants I had on were really fraying on the bottom, but I guess if you are a real explorer, jeans are the things to wear!

Then we started our trip out, and we eventually got to junction where we could head out a different, shorter way. Our last major adventure had just begun! While the road we had come in on was awful, this one was even more awful and parts were what I considered impossible! Dick and Paul had gone on earlier, on this road, and Craig and Richard in the small jeep and Bob and I in his truck now headed on the road. It is impossible to describe or to show adequately in pictures what this "road" was like. If you can envision large steps made of boulders, that would be part of it. Loose gravel, so the vehicles would spin, was another problem. If we averaged two miles an hour, I would be surprised, it probably was about a half mile an hour!

Obviously, we eventually made it, but I know Bob was very concerned about his vehicle at many times during the trip, and worried about a flat tire.

We had planned to eat as group in Chico, but by the time we all reconnected at a place called Payneís Creek, everyone was ready to head their separate ways, so Bob and I headed back toward his home.

We got back that night, about five thirty or six. It felt so good to get cleaned up, and be back to visit with Bob and Sara and Megan. I had a large bruise on my left knee from one slip on some loose rock, but other than that, I was basically unscathed, and had amazingly avoided poison oak again.

I packed that night, since I knew we would be leaving early the next morning for the airport. My luggage had exploded in size, it seemed, and it was real challenge getting everything back into the two suitcases. Also, Bob and Sara had generously given me a number of books and snacks, so I had to make room for them also.

In the morning, we had a delicious breakfast, and we headed off to the airport. My flight back was smooth, and on time, and I got my luggage with no problem, got the shuttle to my vehicle with no problem and I was soon on my way home.

What can I say about the trip? I continue to be amazed at what a great big wonderful world this is, and how many kind and interesting people there are. And I also realize that I have a wonderful home and family to come home to, and that old song had it right when it said, "No matter where I wander, no matter where I roam, be it ever so humble, thereís no place like home."

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