Patchology: Saddleback Butte

As the Summer turns to fall, the shores turn chill and the hillsides to tinder, the eyes of the camper (and Scoutmaster) turn toward the desert. October through March is prime camping time in California’s arid regions. Days are comfortable, nights are chilly but not arctic, and enough animals are active during the day to make hiking more than a long walk.

One of my favorite places in the desert is Saddleback Butte State Park, a modest, Joshua Tree-girt peak located in the heart of a triangle between Palmdale, Victorville, and Edwards Air Force Base. The campsites are mostly primitive, but there are toilets and showers, making extended stays possible.

I have been twice, and only on the last trip – in early 2020 – was I in the kind of shape to take on the crest of the Butte. It’s about a 1,200′ rise in about 4 miles, but the altitude is enough to tucker someone in poor shape, and the last 100 feet is a scramble not far from some fairly sheer cliffs. Summiting this modest promontory was more satisfying that I had imagined it would be, and vistas from Palmdale to east to Victorville and Edwards south to the ridges behind Wrigtwood on a bright and clear day were a huge payoff. I only regret not having taking better pictures.

I rewarded myself and my scouts with the above patch, purchased from the park gift shop in a trailer at the north end of the park, just as I had watched my predecessor do on our last trip.

This will go on a brag rag of some sort, either a blanket or a shirt. Either way, it is a favorite. I hope to go back soon: the campground is a delight and worth the drive.

On the Trail Again

It’s fire season, so I am avoiding all back-country camping for a few months. That said, we have Scouts and Scouters who need to break in backpack gear and get used to our packs.

So we took some of our Scouts out on a shakedown hike to Sycamore Falls in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It was warm, a couple of our number did not bring enough water, and it was more strenuous wearing masks, but it was a lot of fun and a real confidence-builder for a Troop that has made car camping a habit over the last few years.

I can’t wait to head into the back country in a few months…

Early Morning, BSA Golf Classic

I swore my retirement would not be about golf, but here I am, not four weeks in, on a golf course at 8am Monday morning.

In my defense, I am here for a fundraiser for our local council of the Boy Scouts of America, and I am not playing, just carrying drinks and snacks to the foursomes as they work their way around the course.

I am more of a hiker than a differ, but on a day like this, with the temperature a modest 73F and a light breeze blowing off the Pacific onto the Spanish Hills, I see the appeal of the game.

Bucket List #489: Short-Term Camp Administrator

I am now officially overqualified to plan and lead a camp-out.

Seriously, though, attending National Camping School not only prepares me to run or oversee huge multi-day events like camporees, it also better equips me to plan and manage complex outdoor activities for our Troop.

I am chuffed as heck. This was a big bucket list item for me.

Urban Hiking

People say to me “urban hiking isn’t real hiking. After all, what is there to see aside from cars, lawns, office buildings, panhandlers, and pavement?”

The answer: everything great about a city is revealed when you approach it with the eyes of a hiker, a seeker, an explorer. 

The landscape is layered, and the eyes see the layers they seek. Look one way, and  you see a city of art. Look another, and you see a city of food. Peer at a city through the spectacles of the fourth dimension, and you see a city of history. Focus on the faces, and you see the souls that form the living contours of the city’s geography.

Walk a city, and you have the time to see all of those layers, individually and together. Hike a city, and you become a part of it all, and it invites you in to become a part of the story. 

Achievement Unlocked: Scouter of the Year

It takes a village to form and run a Sea Scout Ship, and I have been privileged over the past two years to work with a village full of heroes. A team of yachtsmen, Coast Guard Auxiliarists, and Navy NCOs who all make me realize how little I know about the sea have made it all possible. It was great to see fellow scouters Marie Edson, Liz Conner, and Jon Conner also recognized for helping bring this program back to Ventura County.

Note the Eagle Scout photobomb…

Keeping an Eye Out

View through the loophole in the south tower, Fort Lockwood.

Squatting in the tower at Fort Lockwood, I was pleased to see that we had clear fields of fire to the south. We knew if the threat was going to come from anywhere that it would not be the sheer cliffs to our backs as much as the broad valley to our front.

Or so we thought.

The firing of rifles came from the hillside to our right rear. Arrows flew behind us. The thunk of flying tomahawks landing in something solid and organic came from our left. And all the while, the blacksmith kept at work next to the gates, pounding copper into…bowls.

At last came the greatest threat of all. One of my scouts popped his head up the ladder of the tower, and, breaking my frontier daydream, asked, “hey Mr. Wolf: got any more of those Sqwincher electrolyte packets?”

Returning down the ladder, the sound of the blacksmith and the tomahawks grow louder, but the sound of .22 rifles and flying arrows faded. I didn’t mind. It was another day at Summer Camp, but it was so much more.

The Air Over There

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As I sit under a pop-up panting in the summer heat of at the arid but alpine Lockwood Valley, I console myself with the thought that all too many of my summers past have been spent in pressurized aluminum tubes with a view something like the above, hurtling around Asia for work, weathering turbulence, thunderstorms, and tourists.

I will always be grateful to have had those times in my life, but I am just as grateful to have given up planes, taxis, hotels, and and endless parade of conference rooms for this modest view of pine trees, tents, squirrelly Scouts, and gruff Scouters. 

A breeze picks up, blowing tent flaps, kicking up dust, and offering a brief respite from the heat. A jet passes far overhead. I breathe deep, and smile. 

It’s Good to be a Swimmer

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As you read this, I am undergoing my BSA Swim Test, designed to determine whether I will be allowed to swim, frolic, tread water, or float in water over my head.

The chit above, given to me two years ago during my Troop’s last sojourn at summer camp, is a matter of distinct pride. Everyone at camp gets a chit. A blank chit is the mark of a “non-swimmer.” You’ll be allowed to get your feet wet, maybe, and only with a buddy. A chit with the top half filled in red is a “beginner,” allowing one to wade into the water up to about their chest. A chit with both the red and blue filled out marks a “swimmer,” basically allowing you in the pool without restriction.

I have taken and passed the BSA swim test twice during my adult life. The first time was in 2018, when I weighed about 325 lbs. It was easier than I had expected, and I realize now that I can attribute that ease to approximately 110 lbs. of buoyant fatty tissue that behaved as a natural full-body life jacket.

The second time I passed I weighed 216 lbs, it it was brutal. Aside from the fact that it was a mountain-spring-fed pool at an altitude of 5,400 feet above sea level, my body-integrated buoyancy was gone, and so was my insulation. And as difficult as it was to haul my body 200 yards through chilled water, the full-minute float was an unaccustomed effort. Between the cold, the altitude, and the extra exertion just to keep myself above water, it was the most exhausting workout I had experienced in a year of hard physical training.

Needless to say, I was pretty chuffed about passing that time, especially given that the last 50 yards I was carrying on a conversation with the waterfront director who was testing me. G-d bless Carlos – he is a force of nature.

For now, once more into the pool, dear friends…

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