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629. Murietta Falls (08/02/08)

Hikers (12): David, Diane, Eric F, George, Helen, Iyad, Nani, Paul, Peter, Sarah, Steve, Tiffany D
Distance: 12 miles
Rating: 5 difficulty, 7 beauty
Park info: Ohlone Regional Wilderness south of Livermore

Write-up by Peter

On my farewell hike before surgery, I said goodbye to everyone thinking I was going to be out of action for a long while. However, it turned out much better than I expected, with a quick recovery. Must be because of all that good beer I drank as part of the rehab program. I had tested it out on The Man's hike last week, with no ill after-effects, so I figured I was ready to take on something harder, namely Murietta Falls, scene of the first ever INCH Level 5 hike.

The falls are named after legendary outlaw Joaquin Murietta, who was the inspiration for the character Zorro. We had done this hike so many times, that it was starting to feel easier, and prior to the hike I tinkered with the idea of downgrading it to a Level 4. Apparently this did not please the Ghost of Murietta …

It was already pretty warm as we met up at Del Valle at 9:00am. Kelly and Scott had invited some newbies, Big and Sujen, to the hike. Hmmmm. This could be interesting …

1, 2, 3, … INCH!

I was sweating like a pig less than half a mile into the hike. This was a lot harder than last time, partially due to the weaker knee and partially due to the warm weather. My backpack felt like it weighed a ton. I basically had no strength to push off on my left knee, so I was hiking on one leg. I was already well behind the rest of the pack and losing ground rapidly. I was not so concerned about this as about the long downhill that would await me on the way back. That would be a killer on my poor knee. But I would worry about that later. For now, my goal was just to make it up this damn hill. Ugh!

About a half-mile below the first gate, I caught up with one of the newbies, Big. He looked like he was really struggling. I asked him if he was OK, and he nodded, but was unable to say much. I did not have a good feeling about this, but kept trudging along. Even going at my snail’s pace, I passed him pretty quickly. A little before the gate, I saw Kelly and Katherine waiting at the side of the trail. I told them that Big was not doing well and advised them to tell him to turn back. If he was struggling this early into the hike, it would not be wise to proceed. But what was my excuse? I kept going, and passed Scott and Sejun a little before the gate. They had also slowed down noticeably.

I had to stop and rest after the gate. I knew of a good resting spot on a tree trunk just before the next switchback. As I sat there panting, I could see David had also stopped a little farther up the trail. This made me feel a lot better. Maybe I was not doing so bad after all. Scott caught up a couple of minutes later and told me Sujen was already blistering up. Just over a mile into the hike and already they were dropping like flies. I’m back, baby!!

Re-energized, I picked up the pace. I managed to keep up with David and Paul for a little ways up to the top of Rocky Ridge (of course, they were not going all out). As expected, I had to go extremely slowly on the downhill to the Gulch, and they were soon out of sight.

Figuring I could not afford to fall further behind, I didn’t stop to rest in the Gulch and began heading up the other side. The knee was starting to feel better and I settled into a good pace. I caught a glimpse of Paul through the switchbacks. I was making good time, but I did not want to overdo it, so I stopped for another rest shortly after the gate. I could see Nani had stopped for a rest a little farther up the trail. Hmmm. Maybe I was not doing so bad after all.

From there, it was on to the falls. As I approached the top of the falls, I could see a clump of INCHers sitting under a shady tree. I threw down my backpack and joined them, elated that I had actually made it. Whoo! It was exactly 30 days since I had gone under the knife, and here I was sitting at the top of Murietta Falls. I never would have imagined that.

It turns out I was not the only one suffering. Nani looked a little green, and Eric said it was the hardest hike he had ever done. Diane, Helen, and Sarah, on the other hand, had barely broken a sweat. Damn women.

As I dug into my massive roast beef sandwich (no wonder my backpack was so heavy), some of the hardcore members trekked down to the bottom of the falls. I attempted it just before I headed out, but found the trail a little too steep and rocky, so I turned back. Hey, this part was optional!

The long downhill back was painful, but not as bad as I had feared. I skidded a couple of times, but no damage done. I kept going one step at a time and before too long I was back in the Gulch, joined shortly thereafter by Nani and Helen. Nani looked like he was suffering pretty good and lay down on the ground to recover. Helen, as usual, was ready to go running up the other side. The only reason she had arrived at the Gulch later than me was because she had done an extra mile loop. Damn women.

OK, time to get this thing over with. I passed Nani on the way up from the Gulch, but, as expected, he cruised past me on the downhill from Rocky Ridge, so I was left to limp back to the parking lot on my lonesome, just hoping that there would be some food left. My worries were for naught, as the INCHers had laid out a great spread. This is the real reason why I came back!

As mentioned earlier, I had thought of lowering it to a Level 4, but after all my suffering and hearing the quotes from the others …

… I decided to keep it as a Level 5. Joaquin would be proud.

p.s. As we left the parking lot, both George’s car and mine showed the temperature to be 91 degrees. It’s good to be back!

Honorable mentions: Scott L. and Sujen made it about two-thirds of the way up the Big Burn before turning back due to Sujen's blister problems. Kelly, Katherine, and Big missed the turn down into the Gulch and hiked a couple of additional miles before turning back.

Sarah's 40th leaf

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