In 1969 I was to spend a week in July at the YMCA camp, Camp Lake Valley. This was the third year I'd been to the camp, which generally consisted of the normal activities of canoeing, archery, swimming, hiking and the like. It's the hiking part that this report covers.
It was intended to be just a short over-night trip, more for the novelty of packing a sleeping bag and spending the night outdoors than any serious sort of hike. The idea was to hike to our overnight camping spot, spend the night, eat a breakfast of food that would be there for us, and hike back to the main compound. Easy.
What follows is an accounting of the trip that was written by me on the same day (in 1969) that I returned after being away that week. While I was never tempted to change the text, it is worth remembering that it was written by somebody still in elementary school. So, please cut the kid some slack.
I've added additional comments (some 36 years later).
Tuesday afternoon thirty boys with counselors left for Huysink Lake for an overnight. We dropped our sleeping bags off at the boat dock for the boats to take down to the end of the lake. Then we started out by foot around the lake. When we got there, most of the sleeping bags were there and another load was coming. After the sleeping bags all came, we followed a creek bed until we came to a dirt road. We followed that road and it went around a mountain to Huysink. One the way we caught a rubber boa snake. Several people fainted from exhaustion. We got to Huysink at about 11:00 at night. As soon as we got there, we just fell asleep.
I remember that we didn't get off until later than planned, which accounts for arriving so very late at night. More surprising, we were not given enough canteens for water (although we did have a few), nor did we carry any food with us (the counselors carried some). Nobody had real backpacks. As I recall, some of the boys were simply carrying their rolled sleeping bags as they might carry a dog. Mine was rolled in a bag that had two shoulder straps. Not the best, but it worked.
The next morning, before breakfast, we saw a weasel up on top of a cliff. A CIT climbed up to get a better look at it. After he got within three feet of it, it ran into a hole. For breakfast, we had dehydrated eggs mixed in with Bisquick Mix. They were pretty good.
A CIT is a Counselor in Training. Frankly, it's not clear what sort of training they were undergoing considering that the counselors doing the training were not particularly skilled (as you'll see). Nice touch about the weasel.
After breakfast, we split into three groups. One group to go to Cisco Buttes, one group was going to Lock Leven Lakes, and the rest of the people were just going to stay at Huysink and swim. I chose the one that was going to Lock Leven Lakes. There were ten people in the group, including three counselors.
When we first started out, we climbed up on a cliff so we could see all around. After we started down the cliff, we came to some snow. Then, after we slid around in it for about fifteen minutes, we went on our way again. On the way hiking through some manzanita Jim found some manzanita he thought would look good in his living room so he carried it. After we crossed a lot of boulders and walked across a lot of trees, we came to a path that we thought would go to the lakes so we followed it until we came to Four Horse Flat where two trails meet.
It should now be clear that the counselors didn't have the best map reading skills.
We found out we were on the wrong course, but to go back it would have to be all uphill, so we decided to keep on going down. That was a dumb mistake. We followed a path that went along Little Granite Creek. Then we lost the path, so we had to start jumping the rocks along the creek. We thought we could jump along in the creek until we came to the American River, but cliffs were on both sides and we couldn't jump along any more. So towards the end of the creek, we had to climb straight up a cliff and straight down almost.
We didn't want to go back up hill, so we kept going down? I have no explanation for our decision making process except that we (the kids) should not have had a vote in it. The mention of the cliffs would seem to be an exaggeration, but I do remember that we had to climb up out of the river bed one rock ledge at a time. Really, the canyon had become too steep (and the boulders that we had to climb down were getting larger) to stay with the water, and we had to climb up. I also remember coming across millions of Lady Bugs. The rocks were completely orange with them. Amazing.
On the way down, we had to slide through loose rock and shale. Since I was the second one down, lots of rocks came whizzing by me. One of them hit me on the back and knocked the wind out of me for about ten minutes. One guy got hit in the head and another one got hit in the arm. It almost got broken. One of the counselors made a splint out of a stick and tied it with a scarf.
I don't believe the ten minutes. I do remember just standing up along the slope of shale and seeing a bowling-ball size rock coming towards me seconds before hitting me solid. I probably gasped for a minute, or so, without being able to breath. Must have felt like ten minutes. I'm not sure what "almost broken" means, but he was yelling enough that the splint seemed a good idea. Shrug. We had no idea.
During that time going up the cliff, Jim had to either throw away his manzanita or get killed. So he threw it away.
We'll ignore the "or get killed" part. It does seem surprising that Jim carried that manzanita for as long as he did.
After we got down from the cliff we came to a waterfall. It looked about twenty five feet. One of the boys started slipping on the wet rocks and he would have gone over the waterfall if it hadn't been for a tree. We finally got to the American River. We had to wade across it about five times to keep on the shore.
Really, this waterfall was like a (very much) smaller version of Niagara. It was a classic sheet of water. We somehow had in mind that we needed to be on the south side of the river and kept trying to cross the water to get over there. At one point, one of the counselors was inching out across a very narrow ledge in the cliff before reason took over. He was very lucky as it was a long way down to the rocks. We (thankfully) gave up on that stupid idea (not to worry, we had plenty more stupid ideas). Just down from the waterfall, we did cross the American River by a process of floating and kicking and pushing off against the rocks.
When it started getting dark, we made camp. We made a big fire that was right next to the water on a cliff that was about eight feet high. Since we didn't have any food, we couldn't very well make dinner, so we just lay down and tried to go to sleep even though we didn't have our sleeping bags. Hardly any of the people had coats, including me (and we were still wet). During the night, we had to keep getting up and get more wood.
It's amazing that anybody even had matches to start a fire. It was pretty cold trying to sleep on a cold rock.
Right after we built the camp fire, two counselors went off to find Mumford Bar. They thought it might be a liquor bar, but it turned out to be an old shack that was used for fishing. On the way they saw smoke, so they yelled out. Then they walked up to the fire and found it was a spot fire caused by lightning. So they told the fire fighters about our trouble and the fire fighters said they would send a helicopter with twenty food rations in the morning. The counselors spent the night sleeping on the path.
They thought Mumford Bar was some sort of liquor bar? I guess I should at least give them credit for doing something productive.
During this time at the camp fire, I was about the only one awake. One of the boys was sleeping too close to the fire and so his sweatshirt and t-shirt caught on fire. He started hitting himself and rolling around on the rocks, then he just rolled into the water off the cliff. So I started yelling, "Jim, Jim, a guy fell in the water." So Jim got in the water and pulled him out.
I don't remember him receiving any burns, or at least there was nothing too serious. The poor guy was completely soaked, though, and we had no way to keep him warm. Or rather, we were just too ignorant to know any better. In the morning we seriously considered making floats by using our jeans (by tying them off at the ends). The idea was to float down the American River until we came to---what? It seemed like a reasonable (!) idea. Luckily, we never put it to use.
In "Lord of the Flies" the kids became monsters. In our own tiny version, we became a most amiable group in which everybody's ideas were good, and we were up for anything. Float down the river until we came to something? OK.
When morning came, we waved at lots of planes. Finally, when we were sitting out on the rocks, the helicopter came. We all ran out of the way so he could land, but one of the boys had fallen asleep. The helicopter came within three feet of his head. Finally the counselor yanked him away.
Really, the kid just stayed there curled up on the rock while a helicopter was landing. A deep sleeper, I guess. I'm skeptical about that 3 feet...
After it landed, the driver came out and gave us the food. The rations contained fruit cake, pound cake, spaghetti, and other things like that. Then the driver told us how to use the can opener. I still have mine. After the helicopter flew away, the two counselors came back and ate with us. We were pretty happy when the food came. A note on one of the boxes said, "Wait a day for help." So we just slept out on the rocks waiting. It never came.
Those C-rations were really fun. We all shared what we found in the boxes and had fun with our little (P38) can openers. The food was quite good at first, then as we became less hungry, the food was less good, but we ate everything.
During that afternoon, when everybody was washing their clothes or going swimming, two of the counselors started throwing rocks at something. I thought they were trying to break logs for the fire so I walked over there and they were killing a rattlesnake. They chopped off its head and its tail and threw everything in the river except its rattlers. It had six rattles.
Since no help came, we had to spend another night there. The next morning, after we had eaten the last of our food, we hiked out. On the way, we came to a shack and we rested there for about twenty minutes. Then we hiked on.
Initially, the trail was hard to find, but eventually we came to a fairly distinct trail that had been used by pack-horses.
Then we came to Mumford’s Bar. There we met two people on motorcycles and two people on horses. They told us to go to a trail that went to a road that went to Foresthill. They gave us a box of Cheez-it and some sourdough French bread.
Those Cheez-its were really, really good.
After we started hiking up that trail, we ran out of water in our canteens, so we were pretty thirsty. The trail was almost straight up. Some of the people felt pretty sick since they had been throwing up at night. When we finally came to some water, everybody ran towards it and slipped and got all wet.
The water was a small waterfall at the side of the trail. Beautiful spot. I felt sorry for those that were sick; they were in pretty bad shape. No, the trail was not "straight up" but, it was steep.
After we drank our fill, we hiked on until we came to the road. We followed that road until we came to a main dirt road. There we were supposed to meet the sheriff. We had to wait about a half hour before he finally came.
I don't remember how these arrangements were made (there may even have been a phone of some kind at the road, which was something of a parking point for logging and hunters)
When he did come, he took us to Foresthill where we each had a candy bar. Then another sheriff came and took us to Auburn County Jail. We ate dinner there. We had sandwiches, Kool-Aid and tea. The cooks that fixed the sandwiches were prisoners.
I was pretty impressed by this. Eating baloney sandwiches and Kool-Aid in a prison with real prisoners. Great!
Then some people from the Y.M.C.A. came and took us to camp. A little ways before we got there, we all got out and marched into camp. During this time, the Friendship Campfire was going on. We marched into camp singing “Colonel Bogey's March”. When we got there everybody came rushing towards us. Lots of the people had cried because they thought we were dead.
Often during our hike out of the American River canyon to the Foresthill road we hummed or whistled (it's not easy to whistle when you're panting) the tune. We got pretty good at it. It really does work to keep your spirits up. A couple of my cabin-mates thought we'd never come back. Unbelievably, they had been told nothing about where we were. Of course, the camp leaders didn't know, either. Turns out all the others back at the Y-camp probably had their week ruined more than ours.
We hiked forty-five miles in all.
Well, youthful self, it might have felt like 45 miles, but the tracing on the map (above) is an even 20 miles.
Amazingly, for all the many, many opportunities for seriously bad things to happen, nobody was hurt and nobody complained.
Granite Canyon is marked (below). Just above it is where the waterfall is. The steep side above the river near this spot is what we had to climb up, and then down. We spent the first night near this spot, and then spent the second night just down the river at the bend (near the left label).
The short article (below) out of the Sacramento Bee was the only news on the event. None of the parents were told that we were missing. The article is noteworthy for being wrong on most every important fact. Nice that the Sheriff (and his two deputies) led us out on foot (and in good condition)...
Lost Youths Are Rescued From Forest
EMIGRANT GAP, Placer Co. – Ten
Sacramento area youths were led out of the rugged Mumford Bar area
on the North Fork of the American River southeast of here today
after having been lost a day.