My adopted cousin Anton dubbed the weekend that – “Jilly Goes to Camp Tillie”, after making the connexion sometime early Saturday morning, while he, my guy roomate Andrew, and I, were hiking up Unal Peak in Kern Valley. We were staying at the Tillie Creek campgrounds, and that’s my old nickname from Texas.
I chuckled. Upon getting home, I would have actually dubbed the weekend “Jillian, 2, River, 0”, because despite taunting it a couple times, the Kern River did NOT succeed in drowning me.
I got the bright idea to go camping in Kern Valley a few weeks ago, because I finally figured out that this is the only spare weekend I’m going to have for a while. Last weekend, I had a peace protest; next weekend, two friends’ combined birthdays, and almost every weekend after that, right up to September, is jam-packed with enough committments, social and volunteer, to keep me in Los Angeles. The problem is that it is beastly hot in most of this state this time of year, and the only really tolerable areas are on the coast. And every campground that took reservations on the coast was already booked, and I don’t like going out into the crowded Central Coast without a pre-planned place to put my tent.
So I looked through my “Foghorn Guide to California Camping”, an invaluable tome in my library, and, with the assistance of the Internet, found out that there was lots of camping and outdoorsy stuff in the Sequoia National Forest, in the Kern Valley, three hours northeast of Los Angeles. So I booked a campground, rounded up the rest of the NerdSquad, and we headed out late Friday for the weekend.
One of the highlights of the trip was river rafting on the Kern river. I haven’t been in ten years, not since I was at one of the Girl Guide camps in BC. Anton hadn’t been since he was in Yugoslavia, years ago. And Andrew hadn’t been at all. So we decided to just stick with the amateur rapids, and signed up for a two-time run of five class two rapids at the lower end of the Upper Kern. A trip so easy that the company encouraged children, and had teenagers as guides on the boats. A trip on a river so low that families were riding the rapids down on inner tubes (which caused our teenaged guide to mutter about idiots without life vests on the river)
I did fine on the first run down, even though I was sitting at the back of the boat, which was a bit more precarious. It was halfway through the second run of the same route, in the biggest rapid of the day, that I fell out of the boat. And then got stuck on a rock. And then, figuring it couldn’t be that bad, pushed myself off the rock so I could ride the rapids back to the boat.
Girl Guides of Canada have taught me a lot of useful skills, and one of those was always, if you fall in water, don’t panic. So I didn’t. I assumed the “California Loungechair” position, and rode down feet first. And aside from getting a few smacks of river to the face, I was fine. I didn’t hit any rocks, I didn’t go under, and I got back to the boat quickly. But I was frightened for a few moments when I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was shaky from adrenaline when I did get back to the boat. The guides on the trip all rode those same rapids in life vests, no boats, and they were barely bumpy water by real river standards, but it was still a bit disturbing at the time. And the other girls on the boat, not to mention the Squad, were all more worried than I was, it turned out. They’d been more scared for me than I’d been for myself. I grinned and thanked them for their concern, and immediately jumped back in the water during a calm patch for swim time.
And then today, I tempted the river again by swimming across it. The Kern River is a fairly fast one, even when it’s as low as it is now, and it involved a lot of energy and a carefully overcalculated diagonal, but I swam across a couple times, landed, came back, and rode the current in between, while the rest of the Squad complained about the cold water from where they were standing waist-deep at the side. And now that I’ve discovered the Kern River, I can’t wait to get an inner tube and a life jacket and go tubing out there. Or go on a serious rafting trip. I had no idea that a) rivers were so much fun and b) there was a clean one so close to Los Angeles.
We also found natural waterslides!! There was a spot to the north where one of the Alder Creek source springs came out over the granite slopes down to the creek. And the natural sliminess of the water on rock, combined with the shape the water had made in the rock, made it a perfectly twisty, bumpy waterslide. And, amazingly, the end had one last bump before a three feet drop into a freezing cold, deep pool. The Hiking Guide had listed “numerous swimming holes and natural granite slides” along the way, but had said nothing about Nature creating a waterslide better than Splashdown Park. This caused me to squeal, launch myself down the slide, and realize that the ultimate cure for the heat-sickness that had been bothering me on the hike in, is to fly into a pool of cold water.
There were a lot of other highlights to the trip, like Saturday morning’s hike to Unal Peak. Which was dazzling and gorgeous and I’ll post photos of the view. But the trip rapidly went from being an end in itself to being just the prologue to another camping trip. This was the scouting trip. We discovered that the national park allows camping anywhere along the river for free, that there’s four or five rafting companies, that there’s mountain bike trails. That there’s swimming and hiking and fishing galore, and that it isn’t as beastly hot as I’d expected. In short, we learned that we have this awesome giant campground, an entire valley of it, three hours from Los Angeles, and that it’s easier to get to than the previously preferred camping destination of the Central Coast.
I’m very happy about this. I get city poisoning every so often, and need a place to go camping every month or so, and the Central Coast is just too crowded within a few hours of Los Angeles. Therefore, I hope to spend a lot of time up in that Valley in the next few months, at least until it gets beastly cold.