1150 San Roque Road, Santa Barbara, CA
13 miles, 6150' of gain. Strenuous for most, especially at the pace we'll be going. Exposed with lots of brush and scrambling.
Advanced hike. Be prepared for all the typical eventualities. Rain or shine. Hike starts at 7:45 sharp, so show up before then. Lurkers and well-conditioned trail dogs more than welcome. You can glean more info from last trip's report:
As I entered the Koishaur Valley the sun was disappearing behind the snow-clad ridge of the mountains. In order to accomplish the ascent of Mount Koishaur by nightfall, my driver, an Ossete, urged on the horses indefatigably, singing zealously the while at the top of his voice.
What a glorious place that valley is! On every hand are inaccessible mountains, steep, yellow slopes scored by water-channels, and reddish rocks draped with green ivy and crowned with clusters of plane-trees. Yonder, at an immense height, is the golden fringe of the snow. Down below rolls the River Aragva, which, after bursting noisily forth from the dark and misty depths of the gorge, with an unnamed stream clasped in its embrace, stretches out like a thread of silver, its waters glistening like a snake with flashing scales.
Arrived at the foot of Mount Koishaur, we stopped at a dukhan. About a score of Georgians and mountaineers were gathered there in a noisy crowd, and, close by, a caravan of camels had halted for the night. I was obliged to hire oxen to drag my cart up that accursed mountain, as it was now autumn and the roads were slippery with ice. Besides, the mountain is about two versts in length.
There was no help for it, so I hired six oxen and a few Ossetes. One of the latter shouldered my portmanteau, and the rest, shouting almost with one voice, proceeded to help the oxen.
Following mine there came another cart, which I was surprised to see four oxen pulling with the greatest ease, notwithstanding that it was loaded to the top. Behind it walked the owner, smoking a little, silver-mounted Kabardian pipe. He was wearing a shaggy Circassian cap and an officer’s overcoat without epaulettes, and he seemed to be about fifty years of age. The swarthiness of his complexion showed that his face had long been acquainted with Transcaucasian suns, and the premature greyness of his moustache was out of keeping with his firm gait and robust appearance. I went up to him and saluted. He silently returned my greeting and emitted an immense cloud of smoke.
“We are fellow-travellers, it appears.”
Again he bowed silently.
“I suppose you are going to Stavropol?”
“Yes, sir, exactly--with Government things.”
“Can you tell me how it is that that heavily-laden cart of yours is being drawn without any difficulty by four oxen, whilst six cattle are scarcely able to move mine, empty though it is, and with all those Ossetes helping?”
He smiled slyly and threw me a meaning glance.
“You have not been in the Caucasus long, I should say?”
“About a year,” I answered.
He smiled a second time.
“Just so, sir,” he answered. “They’re terrible beasts, these Asiatics! You think that all that shouting means that they are helping the oxen? Why, the devil alone can make out what it is they do shout. The oxen understand, though; and if you were to yoke as many as twenty they still wouldn’t budge so long as the Ossetes shouted in that way of theirs.... Awful scoundrels! But what can you make of them? They love extorting money from people who happen to be travelling through here. The rogues have been spoiled! You wait and see: they will get a tip out of you as well as their hire. I know them of old, they can’t get round me!”
“You have been serving here a long time?”
“Yes, I was here under Aleksei Petrovich,” he answered, assuming an air of dignity. “I was a sub-lieutenant when he came to the Line; and I was promoted twice, during his command, on account of actions against the mountaineers.”
“Now I’m in the third battalion of the Line. And you yourself?”
I told him.
With this the conversation ended, and we continued to walk in silence, side by side. On the summit of the mountain we found snow. The sun set, and--as usually is the case in the south--night followed upon the day without any interval of twilight. Thanks, however, to the sheen of the snow, we were able easily to distinguish the road, which still went up the mountain-side, though not so steeply as before. I ordered the Ossetes to put my portmanteau into the cart, and to replace the oxen by horses. Then for the last time I gazed down upon the valley; but the thick mist which had gushed in billows from the gorges veiled it completely, and not a single sound now floated up to our ears from below. The Ossetes surrounded me clamorously and demanded tips; but the staff-captain shouted so menacingly at them that they dispersed in a moment.
“What a people they are!” he said. “They don’t even know the Russian for ‘bread,’ but they have mastered the phrase ‘Officer, give us a tip!’ In my opinion, the very Tartars are better, they are no drunkards, anyhow.”...
We were now within a verst or so of the Station. Around us all was still, so still, indeed, that it was possible to follow the flight of a gnat by the buzzing of its wings. On our left loomed the gorge, deep and black. Behind it and in front of us rose the dark-blue summits of the mountains, all trenched with furrows and covered with layers of snow, and standing out against the pale horizon, which still retained the last reflections of the evening glow. The stars twinkled out in the dark sky, and in some strange way it seemed to me that they were much higher than in our own north country. On both sides of the road bare, black rocks jutted out; here and there shrubs peeped forth from under the snow; but not a single withered leaf stirred, and amid that dead sleep of nature it was cheering to hear the snorting of the three tired post-horses and the irregular tinkling of the Russian bell.
“We will have glorious weather to-morrow,” I said.
The staff-captain answered not a word, but pointed with his finger to a lofty mountain which rose directly opposite us.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Well, what then?”
“Don’t you see how it is smoking?”
True enough, smoke was rising from Mount Gut. Over its sides gentle cloud-currents were creeping, and on the summit rested one cloud of such dense blackness that it appeared like a blot upon the dark sky.
By this time we were able to make out the Post Station and the roofs of the huts surrounding it; the welcoming lights were twinkling before us, when suddenly a damp and chilly wind arose, the gorge rumbled, and a drizzling rain fell. I had scarcely time to throw my felt cloak round me when down came the snow. I looked at the staff-captain with profound respect.
“We shall have to pass the night here,” he said, vexation in his tone. “There’s no crossing the mountains in such a blizzard.--I say, have there been any avalanches on Mount Krestov?” he inquired of the driver.
“No, sir,” the Ossete answered; “but there are a great many threatening to fall--a great many.”
In the meantime we had finished our tea. The horses, which had been put to long before, were freezing in the snow. In the west the moon was growing pale, and was just on the point of plunging into the black clouds which were hanging over the distant summits like the shreds of a torn curtain. We went out of the hut.
Contrary to my fellow-traveller’s prediction, the weather had cleared up, and there was a promise of a calm morning. The dancing choirs of the stars were interwoven in wondrous patterns on the distant horizon, and, one after another, they flickered out as the wan resplendence of the east suffused the dark, lilac vault of heaven, gradually illumining the steep mountain slopes, covered with the virgin snows. To right and left loomed grim and mysterious chasms, and masses of mist, eddying and coiling like snakes, were creeping thither along the furrows of the neighbouring cliffs, as though sentient and fearful of the approach of day.
All was calm in heaven and on earth, calm as within the heart of a man at the moment of morning prayer; only at intervals a cool wind rushed in from the east, lifting the horses’ manes which were covered with hoar-frost. We started off. The five lean jades dragged our wagons with difficulty along the tortuous road up Mount Gut. We ourselves walked behind, placing stones under the wheels whenever the horses were spent. The road seemed to lead into the sky, for, so far as the eye could discern, it still mounted up and up, until finally it was lost in the cloud which, since early evening, had been resting on the summit of Mount Gut, like a kite awaiting its prey. The snow crunched under our feet. The atmosphere grew so rarefied that to breathe was painful; ever and anon the blood rushed to my head, but withal a certain rapturous sensation was diffused throughout my veins and I felt a species of delight at being so high up above the world. A childish feeling, I admit, but, when we retire from the conventions of society and draw close to nature, we involuntarily become as children: each attribute acquired by experience falls away from the soul, which becomes anew such as it was once and will surely be again. He whose lot it has been, as mine has been, to wander over the desolate mountains, long, long to observe their fantastic shapes, greedily to gulp down the life-giving air diffused through their ravines--he, of course, will understand my desire to communicate, to narrate, to sketch those magic pictures.
Well, at length we reached the summit of Mount Gut and, halting, looked around us. Upon the mountain a grey cloud was hanging, and its cold breath threatened the approach of a storm; but in the east everything was so clear and golden that we--that is, the staff-captain and I--forgot all about the cloud... Yes, the staff-captain too; in simple hearts the feeling for the beauty and grandeur of nature is a hundred-fold stronger and more vivid than in us, ecstatic composers of narratives in words and on paper.
“You have grown accustomed, I suppose, to these magnificent pictures!” I said.
“Yes, sir, you can even grow accustomed to the whistling of a bullet, that is to say, accustomed to concealing the involuntary thumping of your heart.”
“I have heard, on the contrary, that many an old warrior actually finds that music agreeable.”
“Of course, if it comes to that, it is agreeable; but only just because the heart beats more violently. Look!” he added, pointing towards the east. “What a country!”
And, indeed, such a panorama I can hardly hope to see elsewhere. Beneath us lay the Koishaur Valley, intersected by the Aragva and another stream as if by two silver threads; a bluish mist was gliding along the valley, fleeing into the neighbouring defiles from the warm rays of the morning. To right and left the mountain crests, towering higher and higher, intersected each other and stretched out, covered with snows and thickets; in the distance were the same mountains, which now, however, had the appearance of two cliffs, one like to the other. And all these snows were burning in the crimson glow so merrily and so brightly that it seemed as though one could live in such a place for ever. The sun was scarcely visible behind the dark-blue mountain, which only a practised eye could distinguish from a thunder-cloud; but above the sun was a blood-red streak to which my companion directed particular attention.
“I told you,” he exclaimed, “that there would be dirty weather to-day! We must make haste, or perhaps it will catch us on Mount Krestov.--Get on!” he shouted to the drivers.
Chains were put under the wheels in place of drags, so that they should not slide, the drivers took the horses by the reins, and the descent began. On the right was a cliff, on the left a precipice, so deep that an entire village of Ossetes at the bottom looked like a swallow’s nest. I shuddered, as the thought occurred to me that often in the depth of night, on that very road, where two wagons could not pass, a courier drives some ten times a year without climbing down from his rickety vehicle. One of our drivers was a Russian peasant from Yaroslavl, the other, an Ossete. The latter took out the leaders in good time and led the shaft-horse by the reins, using every possible precaution--but our heedless compatriot did not even climb down from his box! When I remarked to him that he might put himself out a bit, at least in the interests of my portmanteau, for which I had not the slightest desire to clamber down into the abyss, he answered:
“Eh, master, with the help of Heaven we shall arrive as safe and sound as the others; it’s not our first time, you know.”
And he was right. We might just as easily have failed to arrive at all; but arrive we did, for all that. And if people would only reason a little more they would be convinced that life is not worth taking such a deal of trouble about.
Perhaps, however, you would like to know the conclusion of the story of Bela? In the first place, this is not a novel, but a collection of travelling-notes, and, consequently, I cannot make the staff-captain tell the story sooner than he actually proceeded to tell it. Therefore, you must wait a bit, or, if you like, turn over a few pages. Though I do not advise you to do the latter, because the crossing of Mount Krestov (or, as the erudite Gamba calls it, le mont St. Christophe ) is worthy of your curiosity.
Well, then, we descended Mount Gut into the Chertov Valley... There’s a romantic designation for you! Already you have a vision of the evil spirit’s nest amid the inaccessible cliffs--but you are out of your reckoning there. The name “Chertov” is derived from the word cherta (boundary-line) and not from chort (devil), because, at one time, the valley marked the boundary of Georgia. We found it choked with snow-drifts, which reminded us rather vividly of Saratov, Tambov, and other charming localities of our fatherland.
“Look, there is Krestov!” said the staff-captain, when we had descended into the Chertov Valley, as he pointed out a hill covered with a shroud of snow. Upon the summit stood out the black outline of a stone cross, and past it led an all but imperceptible road which travellers use only when the side-road is obstructed with snow. Our drivers, declaring that no avalanches had yet fallen, spared the horses by conducting us round the mountain. At a turning we met four or five Ossetes, who offered us their services; and, catching hold of the wheels, proceeded, with a shout, to drag and hold up our cart. And, indeed, it is a dangerous road; on the right were masses of snow hanging above us, and ready, it seemed, at the first squall of wind to break off and drop into the ravine; the narrow road was partly covered with snow, which, in many places, gave way under our feet and, in others, was converted into ice by the action of the sun by day and the frosts by night, so that the horses kept falling, and it was with difficulty that we ourselves made our way. On the left yawned a deep chasm, through which rolled a torrent, now hiding beneath a crust of ice, now leaping and foaming over the black rocks. In two hours we were barely able to double Mount Krestov--two versts in two hours! Meanwhile the clouds had descended, hail and snow fell; the wind, bursting into the ravines, howled and whistled like Nightingale the Robber. Soon the stone cross was hidden in the mist, the billows of which, in ever denser and more compact masses, rushed in from the east...
Concerning that stone cross, by the way, there exists the strange, but widespread, tradition that it had been set up by the Emperor Peter the First when travelling through the Caucasus. In the first place, however, the Emperor went no farther than Daghestan; and, in the second place, there is an inscription in large letters on the cross itself, to the effect that it had been erected by order of General Ermolov, and that too in the year 1824. Nevertheless, the tradition has taken such firm root, in spite of the inscription, that really you do not know what to believe; the more so, as it is not the custom to believe inscriptions.
To reach the station Kobi, we still had to descend about five versts, across ice-covered rocks and plashy snow. The horses were exhausted; we were freezing; the snowstorm droned with ever-increasing violence, exactly like the storms of our own northern land, only its wild melodies were sadder and more melancholy.
“O Exile,” I thought, “thou art weeping for thy wide, free steppes! There mayest thou unfold thy cold wings, but here thou art stifled and confined, like an eagle beating his wings, with a shriek, against the grating of his iron cage!”
“A bad look out,” said the staff-captain. “Look! There’s nothing to be seen all round but mist and snow. At any moment we may tumble into an abyss or stick fast in a cleft; and a little lower down, I dare say, the Baidara has risen so high that there is no getting across it. Oh, this Asia, I know it! Like people, like rivers! There’s no trusting them at all!”
The drivers, shouting and cursing, belaboured the horses, which snorted, resisted obstinately, and refused to budge on any account, notwithstanding the eloquence of the whips.
“Your honour,” one of the drivers said to me at length, “you see, we will never reach Kobi to-day. Won’t you give orders to turn to the left while we can? There is something black yonder on the slope--probably huts. Travellers always stop there in bad weather, sir. They say,” he added, pointing to the Ossetes, “that they will lead us there if you will give them a tip.”
“I know that, my friend, I know that without your telling me,” said the staff-captain. “Oh, these beasts! They are delighted to seize any pretext for extorting a tip!”
“You must confess, however,” I said, “that we should be worse off without them.”
“Just so, just so,” he growled to himself. “I know them well--these guides! They scent out by instinct a chance of taking advantage of people. As if it was impossible to find the way without them!”
Accordingly we turned aside to the left, and, somehow or other, after a good deal of trouble, made our way to the wretched shelter, which consisted of two huts built of stone slabs and rubble, surrounded by a wall of the same material. Our ragged hosts received us with alacrity. I learned afterwards that the Government supplies them with money and food upon condition that they put up travelers who are overtaken by storm.
I entered the hut. Its whole furniture consisted of two benches and a table, together with an enormous chest beside the stove. There was not a single ikon to be seen on the wall--a bad sign! The sea-wind burst in through the broken window-pane. I drew a wax candle-end from my portmanteau, lit it, and began to put my things out. My sabre and gun I placed in a corner, my pistols I laid on the table. I spread my felt cloak out on one bench, and the Cossack his on the other. In ten minutes the latter was snoring, but I could not go to sleep--the image of the boy with the white eyes kept hovering before me in the dark.
About an hour passed thus. The moon shone in at the window and its rays played along the earthen floor of the hut. Suddenly a shadow flitted across the bright strip of moonshine which intersected the floor. I raised myself up a little and glanced out of the window. Again somebody ran by it and disappeared--goodness knows where! It seemed impossible for anyone to descend the steep cliff overhanging the shore, but that was the only thing that could have happened. I rose, threw on my tunic, girded on a dagger, and with the utmost quietness went out of the hut. The blind boy was coming towards me. I hid by the fence, and he passed by me with a sure but cautious step. He was carrying a parcel under his arm. He turned towards the harbour and began to descend a steep and narrow path.
“On that day the dumb will cry out and the blind will see,” I said to myself, following him just close enough to keep him in sight.
Meanwhile the moon was becoming overcast by clouds and a mist had risen upon the sea. The lantern alight in the stern of a ship close at hand was scarcely visible through the mist, and by the shore there glimmered the foam of the waves, which every moment threatened to submerge it.
Descending with difficulty, I stole along the steep declivity, and all at once I saw the blind boy come to a standstill and then turn down to the right. He walked so close to the water’s edge that it seemed as if the waves would straightway seize him and carry him off. But, judging by the confidence with which he stepped from rock to rock and avoided the water-channels, this was evidently not the first time that he had made that journey. Finally he stopped, as though listening for something, squatted down upon the ground, and laid the parcel beside him.
Concealing myself behind a projecting rock on the shore, I kept watch on his movements. After a few minutes a white figure made its appearance from the opposite direction. It came up to the blind boy and sat down beside him. At times the wind wafted their conversation to me.
“Well?” said a woman’s voice. “The storm is violent; Yanko will not be here.”
“Yanko is not afraid of the storm!” the other replied.
“The mist is thickening,” rejoined the woman’s voice, sadness in its tone.
“In the mist it is all the easier to slip past the guardships,” was the answer.
“And if he is drowned?”
“Well, what then? On Sunday you won’t have a new ribbon to go to church in.”