Walking through Southern California has presented a more diverse ecosystem than I was expecting and what is ever present is the mark wildfires have left on the landscape. From day one you know they were present, charred remains hiding under lush new vegetation, and it makes me wonder when did a fire last touch this soil?
As we walked northward around mile 270 just out of Big Bear we experienced our first pine forest, magnificent tall trees, majestic, shading us as we walked. It was like a dreamland, not having to wear sunscreen or guzzling water from the heat, these pines cooled our hike and I fell in love with this forest. But as with everyday, the more you walk, the more miles you cover, you cross many ecosystems and watersheds (dry as they may be) and often times you turn a corner or saddle onto a new mountain ridge to find a completely new landscape. On this day around mile 280 I walked through my first standing dead landscape, an entire pine forest of charred remains.
Not only that but as I rounded that corner a dry hot wind hit me and I started to realize the importance of fire awareness here in Southern California. Those dry hot winds something I’ve been experiencing everyday for the past two weeks; they start up in the afternoon and die down around 8:00pm, are they the same ones crews fear of spreading these fires?
It hasn’t gotten easier for me walk through burned areas and most show signs of life as the understory comes back to life with green vegetation, of which I’d love to learn more about the succession in these areas. Coming from Alaska I’m no stranger to wildfire and after talking with friends up there they all talk of wanting rain for a fear of what a dry hot summer could bring. I wonder what will be happening north of here as we walk, will we need to bypass more closed sections of trail because of burned or unstable landscapes? I know many hikers last year had to detour around fires in Oregon and Washington, what will this year bring?
Wildfire is not something I take lightly and Phil tried to give me the trail name ‘Smokey’ (Smokey the Bear) on day four of our hike as I caboshed his plans for making a fire in a very dry section of desert with light winds near where I planned to set up my tent. We had hiked into a desert valley, still 8 miles from water and running low ourselves. We found a great campsite with a old stone fire ring and Phil announced he would be having a fire that night I quickly retorted ‘Really, do you think that’s a good idea?’ To which he responded, ‘Okay, Smokey! That should be your trail name.’ That name wasn’t going to stick, however Phil now dawns the trail name ‘Fire Whistler’. A name given to him while we enjoyed a campfire with other hikers in a designated safe area for a campfire. Phil is an incredible fire master and he got the name because he looks like he’s whistling when blows on the embers to get the fire roaring.
As I walked down through that burned area the landscape once again changed and became that beautiful forest of tall pines which I so thankfully slept in peace beneath that night. Looking up into the sky from the warmth of my sleeping bag I thought how incredibly blessed I am to be experiencing such beauty.