The five hour tour that wasn't

A photo from top of Gaviota Peak March 9 during a hike organized by Vandenberg's Outdoor Recreation Office as part of their Single Airman Initiative Program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Karl Sternitzky)

A photo from top of Gaviota Peak March 9 during a hike organized by Vandenberg's Outdoor Recreation Office as part of their Single Airman Initiative Program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Karl Sternitzky)

Senior Airman Karl Sternitzky, 576th Flight Test Squadron, poses at the top of Gaviota Peak March 9 during a hike organized by Vandenberg's Outdoor Recreation Office as part of their Single Airman Initiative Program. (Courtesy photo)

Senior Airman Karl Sternitzky, 576th Flight Test Squadron, poses at the top of Gaviota Peak March 9 during a hike organized by Vandenberg's Outdoor Recreation Office as part of their Single Airman Initiative Program. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As we gathered at the Vandenberg Outdoor Recreation office March 9, the air was brisk and still. The pre-dawn blackness contrasted with the harsh fluorescent lighting of the rendezvous and I realized that forgoing my morning coffee had been a mistake.

Still, it was not my first early Saturday morning in the military, and it definitely wouldn't be my last, and meeting my fellow adventurers for the fist time was a good way to shake the sleep from my eyes and the fog from my mind.

The bus was 45 minutes late, but it arrived and we all shuffled aboard blearily. After some vehicular acrobatics in the cramped parking lot, we left base and proceeded South on Highway 101.

The golden Californian sun had risen and was bathing our bus and its occupants in its awakening light by the time we entered Ventura. It was here that we heard our first whispers that something was amiss. Hushed phrases like "canceled" and "rough seas" floated from the front of the bus for a few tense moments before the thing we all feared was announced.

The coordinator stood to confirm that the boat was canceled, and we wouldn't be having an island adventure after all.

We pushed on to the dock, hoping for the impossible. We saw a group of backpackers laying out their gear in the parking lot; they had that fresh look of those who had not yet spent any time out in the backcountry. They hadn't been denied yet, so why should we?

The trip coordinator made inquiries inside, and we waited for judgment. He came back confirming that they had indeed canceled our ferry because the waves in the channel were too rough. He then offered us a choice, we could either return to base, or find an alternate hike. We agreed on Gaviota Peak, a six-mile hike that ends at the top of a 2,400 foot peak. I had done this climb before and while it was no island adventure, it did offer some excellent views from the top.

So it was settled, after switching bus divers we drove back the way we came. The trailhead for the hike is at the exit for Highway 1, and is easily accessible for any vehicle. There are two possible trails leading to the top, but due to time constraints we had to take the shorter of the two.

As I strapped on my daypack and adjusted my trekking poles for an accent I could tell that the rest of the group was disappointed. A few others in the group had made this trip before and knew that it couldn't compare to the splendor of an island.

I took off up the trail determined to make the best of a bad situation. A short way up the trail there was a fork, the right hand path lead to summit via Trespassers Trail. It wound along a ridge before sloping gently upwards, passed stone outcroppings, a shallow pond, and then a sandstone cave hollowed out by the wind over the last millennia.

According to the other hikers, the left trail is wider and steeper. It switched back on itself as it carved its way up the mountain. On the way up there was a trail that lead to the Gaviota Hot Springs, A small, lukewarm pool that smells of sulfur. Beyond the pool was a trail that wound through the woods; I took this on both the way up and down. It's a little steeper than the normal trail, but it's a shortcut that knocks off a few minutes from the hike.

Even with stopping by the springs to take photos and rest, I was still well ahead of the pack when I made the trek up to reconnect with the main trail. I waited for the group to catch-up then continued towards the summit.

Before long I was at the summit, looking out over an endless expanse of ocean. There were a number of hikers already at the top, some were hydrating or grabbing a quick snack, others were posing for photos, and one was sifting through the summit register box to see who had come before.

After a few moments of rest and sightseeing, it was time to make my way down. The three miles seemed to fly by without much effort and, with just a quick stop by the spring for a moment of reflection; I was back on the bus.

Mountain climbed, mission accomplished.

But still something nags at me, an unfulfilled desire to explore the island chain visible from the top of Gaviota Peak. So with that sense of adventure still burning within I look to the next opportunity to make the trip, ride the waves, and plant my flag on an undeveloped plot of land in the Pacific.