Up Mount Diablo or up a creek?

Early spring camping with man's best friend proves difficult

Sometimes, a man needs to take some time out for himself, to get away and think about his life and his place in the world.

When that man has a dog, though, all bets are off.

On a recent weekday afternoon, I left work and headed up Mount Diablo for a one-night camping trip. I've been a camper and backpacker since I was a kid, but on that night, I forgot the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. I grabbed my sleeping bag, some food, a book, my dog, L.C., her food, water, dishes, dog biscuits, a leash, her bed and got ready to leave. She doesn't travel light.

My first mistake was telling L.C. that we were going for a ride in the car. She loves the idea of car rides, but not the reality, and got so excited it was hard for me to get our stuff out the door past her. Eventually, though, I managed to pack my stuff and hers. My dog is a 13-year-old Springer Spaniel, which means a car trip also means lifting her in and out of my SUV. Once inside, she remembered that she hates car rides, and spent the trip up to Mount Diablo whining in my ear.

This was my first trip up the mountain, and I learned that the trip to the top takes as long as the drive to it. I paid for a night ($30!) and wound my way uphill as the late afternoon passed into early evening. The summit was closed, but we were all by ourselves at the Juniper campground, a couple of miles below the peak and still at 3,000 feet.

The first order of business in any trip involving a canine is to let the canine do her own business; after a short walk, I set up camp, which basically meant folding down my seats and rolling out my sleeping bag in back.

While I love camping, it's apparent L.C. does not. We walked around a bit as it got dark, but she gets a little nervous in unfamiliar places and made it clear to me that she wanted to be back in the truck.

That's when I realized my second mistake: batteries. I carry a flashlight in my truck and thought I had replacement batteries in the glove box, but when I checked, they were the wrong size, and rather than wear out my truck battery by leaving the interior light on, we settled in somewhere around 8:30 in the dark.

My third mistake was my sleeping bag. Anyone who heads up Mount Diablo in early spring knows that it gets cold up there after dark, and the wind gusts were strong enough to jostle my truck. My sleeping bag is rated for the mid 30s; what I learned is that rating just means someone won't freeze to death at those temperatures. It was a three-dog night -- meaning it takes at least three dogs to stay warm -- but L.C. had her own bed and had little interest in warming me. I had a chemical hand warmer in my truck, the type you shake to activate, but the problem with those is that they get warm, very warm, in one spot and do nothing anywhere else.

I was just dozing off around 9:30 or so when L.C. made it clear to me that she wasn't done for the night, so I pulled on my sneakers and hoodie and walked her again.

We settled in, this time with me wearing all the clothes I'd brought for warmth and I was dozing again up sometime around midnight when the skies opened up, rain bouncing off my truck's roof hard enough to startle L.C. and start her barking. Once again, we settled down and I actually got some sleep until about 3 a.m. when we heard curious noises outside and something climb onto the roof of my truck. L.C. sat up and I did too as the noise continued onto the hood. I turned on the headlights and found a raccoon looking back at me. L.C. went into protective mode and barked enough to scare both the raccoon and me. It ran off and I waited for the adrenaline to subside.

Once again, we settled down and I experimented with folding the sleeping back into combinations that might actually keep me warm. I suppose I slept for a couple of hours.

Too soon the sun started to come up and L.C. was once again ready to greet the world. Climbing out of the truck, I realized that the whole ordeal was worth the trip. The air was clean and cold, with wisps of fog settled in the hills, illuminated by false dawn, just before the break of day. L.C. wanted to leave, but I convinced her to take a walk while I looked over the many shades of green that covered the hills: the dark lush greens of the trees that covered some hills, the lighter green of the grasses and the delicate green of new leaves, all changing shades as they drifted in and out of the shade of clouds.

On the trip down, I paused to take pictures as L.C. whined. I stopped and got us both a fast food breakfast, mainly to distract her and we headed home just in time for me to drop L.C. off and for me to get ready to head back to work.

I'm looking forward to going back to Mount Diablo for some solo camping when it gets warmer -- much warmer. Anyone interested in dog sitting?

Read this story in Views magazine, available for free on April 25.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Danville
on Apr 8, 2011 at 10:27 am

Great Article. You should have more of these local stories in your columns. We get enough political and crime related stories bombarding us from all directions; this story - by contrast- has the power to make the reader pause and be thankfull for the beautiful natural surroundings in which we live.

Like this comment
Posted by Pedal Power
a resident of Danville
on Apr 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I agree with Mike: please keep these stories coming.

We camped up Mount Diablo many times while the kids were growing up, to take in comets, meteor showers, spring flowers or just because it was there, but is is easy to get out of the habit and stories like these are a great reminder of the resources, (natural and otherwise) that we have right on our door step.

Thank you to Glenn and the Danville Weekly :-)

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