During our adventure in Pinnacles, we had four kids who needed entertaining and were too small to go along on the rock climbing adventure with the men. So the four women along on the trip decided to take them on a nice, easy, hike to some interesting caves. What could go wrong?
About a mile from the parking lot that had the trailhead, we were diverted to the side of the road. We were told the parking lot was full, but there was a trail to the parking lot. So we parked, took out everyone, sunscreened up the troops, and headed down the trail.
As we head down the path, we quickly realized a few things
- The boys had plenty of energy. They happily went down the path racing along, picking up sticks and enjoying the view.
- My god-daughter was the easiest, riding along in the frame backpack, enjoying the view and sleeping along the way.
- My daughter, well… she was the issue. We wanted her to walk at least until lunch, so she would get her energy out. However, she did not have the sense of urgency that the rest of us had. She was content to meander along the path, and stop to pick up every rock, stick or flower that caught her sight. Normally, I might be OK with this, but we had a group we were trying to keep up with. And we quickly, and often fell behind. I tried racing games, I tried, leaving her behind and seeing if she’d catch up, I tried carrying her a little and then getting her to walk. Nothing worked. When the entire group was far ahead, and I was just assuming (and hoping) my son was with them, I gave up. I took out the Ergo I brought “in case of emergency”, and akwardly got her on my back. Then took my full backpack, and carried in on my front, then rushed down the path to catch up with the rest.
Soon, we reached the Bear Gulch Day Use area, so we found the picnic tables, and took a well earned lunch break. Afterward, we went to find the restrooms and water spigots, and figure out was was next on our agenda. R had wanted to do a longer hike, but noticing how long the 1 mile hike to the area had been, reset her expectations. However, now full of energy from lunch, we thought the boys might be able to do more hiking. R said that there was a short 1.2 mile loop that would take us through some caves. We thought that the boys could do it and the kids would like it. My friend E offered to wear my daughter, so we strapped her screaming and protesting on (sure, now you want to walk), as we headed down the trailhead.
As we headed down the path, my daughter was crying when looking at me, so E and R took off at a faster pace with the babies on the backs to get out of sight. K and I stayed back pushing along the boys who took a sudden interest in finding sticks that would make good swords and or awesome sounds when hitting things. Everything was all fun and games until we came to a fork in a road. Now this was a problem. We had no trail maps. And apparently we were now so far behind that when we called ahead on the paths, E and R were out of earshot. We were seriously concerned until someone came along behind us. Thankfully, they had a trail map, and let us know that the left path was a short hike that lead to some caves, while the right path was a long 8 mile hike. *Sigh of relief*. We went up the path and a short way up, we found R waiting for us. She said there was a split up ahead and she was there to let us know where to go up the right path. We pushed the boys along and followed along until we came to a steep staircase along side a cliff. We had been told a women carrying a little girl with pigtails on her back had headed up that way. Guess we had to climb the one way staircase of doom. At the top we saw a lake, and at the lake was E and my daughter happily playing by the water. The boys took off for the water and we settled down for a nice break.
While the kids played by the water, the adults talked and realized that we had passed the caves, and gone further down the trail. So once the kids were rested, we headed back down the staircase of doom, and came to a sign that denoted the entrance to the higher caves. R said this was where we should enter. A couple came out and saw us, then said “These caves are small and dark in places, it’s not a good idea with little kids”. After they walked away, R said “I’ve done them before, I don’t know what they are talking about it, we will be fine.” So in went 4 adults, 4 kids (2 in backpacks) with 2 small flashlights and a cellphone flashlight app.
Very shortly in, we realized it was much lower, and darker than R had mentioned. Too late, we realized that the cave was not a great place to be in without headlights. But everyone followed the arrows, because the path was too small and closed in to turn around. Then at some point, as found ourselves in a small uphill point with no clear path forward. We were lost…in a cave…with little ones. Inside my heart races, I was in a bit of a panic. What had we gotten ourselves into. My son innocently asked, “Why have we stopped”. C was crying but his mom K said “Don’t worry we are on a fun adventure”. I could tell there was slight panic in her voice as well, but she was keeping it down for her son. I tried to calm my inner panic as we tried to figure out what to do. R handed me my goddaughter, then climbed ahead with a flashlight to figure out the best path. She found a small hole for us to climb down.
At this point, I gained complete focus. I realized we had no were to go but forward, so our concern was to keep the kids safe and get out as quickly and safely as possible. E figured out a system with my daughter so she stayed close to her head when going through low places. K carried her son as we went forward. My son walked between me and K. R was behind carrying my goddaughter in her hand and the backpack in another. I only remember parts. At one point, we were forced to sit in a stream and scoot down a small hole. Another point, I had to actually hand my son my phone and trust him to hold it so I could see the path because I needed two hands to get through. Towards the end, there were a number of tight spots. E saw light, and took my son ahead. I stayed behind to help R with the backpack and my goddaughter. There were a few spots where R had to pass me my goddaughter, then pass me the backpack, then climb through. More than once we relied on the kindness of other hikers who provided the light for us. We came out the way we came in some how, not sure how we got turned around but glad to get out to a familiar spot. We probably were in the caves a total of 20 minutes, but it felt much longer.
Once we were out, we started hiking down the path until we came to a spot to rest. The kids were hungry and whiny, so I took out some snacks for them to eat. When we stopped, R noticed a sign that said “lower caves”. R said “Oh…I think those were the caves I went through…”
The kids ate a bit while we discussed the final plans. R said there was a shuttle from the Bear Gulch Area that would take us and the kids back to the campground. But she mentioned that the last shuttle was at 4:45. It was 4:10. At that realization, we made the kids give us back the half finished snack, and took of at a break neck speed down the mountain. By now my son was tired, but when I told him that he would have to walk an additional mile if we didn’t make the shuttle, he found the energy to keep pace.
About halfway down, E, R and my god daughter split off looking for the men who were rock climbing nearby. K, her son C, me and my kids continued our race down the mountain and managed to get to the Bear Gulch Parking Lot by 4:35. Yeah! We get down to shuttle area, and found a small issue. The rangers mentioned that there were a lot of people waiting for the shuttle, so they were only giving out tickets to drivers, so they could go get the car and pick up everyone else. They wanted K to stay with the kids, and have me go get the car and come back. Problem, I was not parked at a proper parking lot. After some arguing and explaining, they agreed the shuttle would drop me off by my car seeing that we had children with us. However, when the shuttle came, there were some spare seats, so we were given first priority. K came on, and we put all 3 kids on our lap. And as a plus, they still dropped us off by our car, so we could drive back to the campground and not have to worry about picking up the cars later.
Once back in the campground, K and I enjoyed some wine as a reward as the kids played quietly (all totally tired out at this point), laughing about our adventure now that it was behind us.