"Off Trail", to those who may be wondering, simply means that these were trails that they had found and followed themselves. It did not inherently mean cutting through virgin wilderness or climbing granite faced cliffs with no direction, just that there are no maintained trails. More physical of course, but also less likely to meet other people and more likely to see things few others saw.
Our meeting place was at the cabin of The Commissioner, the leader of our hike. Besides The Outdoorsman and myself, we had his future son-in-law with us, The Brit. There we linked up with the rest of the team, 6 other men all around the same age we are (late forties to early sixties) and our "assistant" guide The Ghost, a young man in his early twenties who two weeks earlier had come off completing 4/5's of the 2500 mile Pacific Crest Trail (he skipped the Sierras portion due to snow but would return to finish that part). Interestingly - and apparently for the first time - this particular hike was all men (a couple of female hikers from our Whitney trip had intended to come but met with physical injuries just before the hike).
After the inevitable awkward male introductions and pack checks, we were off for an hour drive to the trailhead.
To be completely transparent, I was a little concerned about this hike going in, most in my conditioning. I had really done well on the Whitney hike with elevation but in 2023 had missed the June and July training hikes of the previous year - the June hike due to going to Greece and training with the head of my sword school, the July hike due to starting a new job. I had been working out and walking that whole time, but I still had a certain mistrust of myself.
Exiting the van at Courtright Reservoir, we were met with rain - not excessive, but definitely present. Rain would come to be one of the defining factors of the hike, with rain being present in some form almost every day of the hike. The other was mosquitoes - not just plentiful, but overly so. We had been warned; I was still not ready for the swarms that greeted one.
The descent to Post Corral Creek was not a terrible hike. The rain stopped soon enough and we were able to shed our raincoats (I brought one this year). The scenery was similar to that from Whitney and Hetchy Hetchy: pines, water, blue sky.
As is usual at the start of these things, we tended to stick to who we knew. We three were a small group (until The Outdoorsman and The Brit both outstripped me; they are taller and fast hikers and I am shorter and slow), another three who knew each other from previous hikes, someone who lived near The Commissioner, and an outlier who had been on a previous hike separate from any of us.
Our goal was Post Corral Creek, the starting point for the loop that we could complete to go to Goddard and back. It was a 7.5 mile hike, but The Commissioner was completely sure we would easily make it by evening. He was right; it only took about 4 hours to cover the distance.
Thanks to the Winter rains and snow this last Winter, streams and green meadows were abundant.
By the time we arrived, set up camp, and had dinner, the sun was already sinking in the sky. It was a gentle break-in to what likely was going to be a grueling four days before we came back to this site.