I sat down with field crew leader and backcountry trip veteran, Doug Morgan, for an inside look into what the backcountry trips are like. Here’s what he had to say.
There was also one time when I was driving with Elihu up on the Sierra Madre road and a golden eagle swooped down and grabbed a rabbit right in front of the truck and it barely could maintain its airspeed as it flew down the hill - it took like 400 feet to get enough lift to be able to take back off again. I thought that eagle was going down. That was pretty cool.
We also saw bobcats twice – and one of them was the biggest I’ve ever seen. On the Santa Ynez trip I saw the biggest bear print I’ve seen in California - it was about a foot long. It was bigger than my boot. Not like Kevin’s boot though. He’s got massive feet. I’ve seen canoes smaller than his feet.
All these places have been on my bucket list for years - the Sisquoc has been on my bucket list ever since I got back to California. I wanted to go in there, but I didn’t think I was going to walk every linear foot of it.
There’s some rock features back in the Sisquoc that rival Yosemite that nobody knows about that are really hard to get to. You know, maybe just a smaller scale and they’re not granite, but they are still the same type of hanging vertical walls. It’s just going to places that are so completely wild - like nobody goes in there.
There were a couple times where not dying was a high point. Coming back with the same amount of body parts is always good, too.
That’s always a good goal - really the number one goal ideally. If someone was interested in volunteering would you tell them anything?
Go. Definitely go. There’s something for everyone on the trips, usually. Actually, the intensity is being ratcheted up on both the Sisquoc and Piru - all those trips are going to require just the right type of people. But I mean, if people are interested and considering it, they’re probably just the right type of person.
But the Santa Ynez is a little more accessible?
Yeah it’s a little more user friendly right now – it’s going to get really tough. It’s going to get so intense that I haven’t really applied myself to figuring out how that’s even going to work yet.
How do you mean? Are you going to get a gym membership to train up for these?
No, and I can barely keep the weight on as it is - even with Boone’s “all-bacon diet” I’ve lost like 12 pounds since we started this. When I get out of the backcountry I eat as much as I can before heading back on the next trip.
You could actually sell it as that.
As a good weight loss program?
It’s a really good weight loss program.
So you just got back from a trip to the Santa Ynez River – how was that?
It was a much tamer trip than past trips – considerably tamer. We were basically car camping each night, but we had the cowboys from Los Padres Outfitters to prepare all of our meals, so we just got to hang out and relax each night after work.
The biggest challenge was just getting in and out. We got like seven inches of rain leading up to this trip, and a lot of the roads were washed out. And then we had to bail early to avoid getting rained on. It’s not the getting wet, it’s the getting out.
We’re getting a better feel for the area though and we know where we can and can’t get with the current road conditions.
You’ve also been doing a lot of trips to Piru - which is a new place this season, how have those been as compared to the Sisquoc trips?
Killer. It’s as hard as or harder than most of the Sisquoc trips. There’s a lot more tamarisk and the area is a lot bigger and the creeks are a lot denser.
But it’s right there on the condor sanctuary and it’s a crazy and wild oasis back there. One day all within 15 minutes we saw a golden eagle flying in and it started getting harassed by a white tailed kite, and as we were watching that go on, a flock of white pelicans flew in headed towards the lake. Then within a moment of that, a condor soared around the edge and then we stood there watching that for about 15 minutes and then a northern harrier came in right below. It was like a birder’s dream.
But again, Piru is hard to get to, the work areas are hard to get to. It’s a minimum of 5 mile walk in, and in most cases it’s like eight to ten miles and it’s like all hills. It’s absolutely beautiful back there though - I would highly recommend it. Don’t go over the potholes trail, though. You climb up a steep mountain and then it plateaus for about 20ft and then it goes straight up another mountain – and it does that about 8 times. It’s just crazy.
How many back country trips have you done at this point?
I think it’s close to two dozen or maybe even three dozen. I don’t even know anymore.
Do you have a favorite memory from any of these trips?
I think the rocket launch – watching the rocket launch up on the Sierra Madre Ridge. Also, watching the full moon rise up out of the notch of Hell’s Gate on the Piru trip – the full moon kind of followed the notch up. That was kinda cool.
Seeing the condors is definitely up there – I’ve seen condors back there twice now. It’s been 50 years since the last time I saw them – that was back before they captured them all.