Joshua Tree National Park-Day 2, Colorado Desert, Lost Palms Oasis, 7.6 miles RT, 856 +/-, Plus a Stop at Cholla Cactus Garden, January 14, 2018

Joshua Tree National Park-Day 2, Colorado Desert, Lost Palms Oasis, 7.6 miles RT, 856 +/-, Plus a Stop at Cholla Cactus Garden, January 14, 2018

Of all the times I’ve been to Joshua Tree, this was the first time we drove south through the Pinto Basin all the way to Cottonwood Spring to see the transition from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert. You won’t find Joshua Trees at elevations lower then 3,000 feet, but the Colorado Desert has its own unique beauty. Here’s where you’ll find the spindly ocotillo plant. I’ve always seen them in photos, but never made it down that far to see them in person. Our hike today was a 7.5 mile out and back to Lost Palms Oasis. Lost Palms Oasis has the largest concentration of Fan Palms in the park. Let me tell you this was a BEAUTIFUL hike! Undulating hills, lots of ups and downs on the trail, sandy washes, rocky canyons, plenty of cacti and views of the Salton Sea. We even saw a rainbow along the way. Once you arrive at the oasis, you can either scramble all the way down into the canyon under the palms, or you can enjoy the views from the overlook. If you don’t want to hike in that far, there’s a beautiful oasis right at the trailhead at Cottonwood Spring. This is a hike to do ONLY in the cooler months. They actually remove the trail from the park map in the summer to discourage people from doing it because some have died on this trail. While this was a much more populated trail then the CRH, it was still incredibly enjoyable. If you want to extend your trip, when you pass the junction to the Mastodon Peak loop, it’s about 2 extra miles to the top. We’ll save that one for another day. Before we headed out, we stopped off at the Cottonwood Visitor Center. It just so happened one of the rangers was giving a talk about rattlesnakes. I think I learned more about them today then I ever knew! It’s wonderful that these programs exist to educate people and get them outdoors to enjoy this beautiful world we live in and enjoy it wisely.

I've also included in this post some photos of our visit to the Cholla Cactus Garden.  It's on the way to Cottonwood.  If you're passing through the Pinto Basin on the way to the southern end of the park, I highly recommend taking a walk through the Cholla Cactus garden. You can't miss it. All of a sudden you'll see a patch of cute fuzzy looking cacti. But don't be fooled. These suckers will bite! Just a light brush against them and the spikes will penetrate your skin. They even have a first aid kit at the trail head with antiseptic and bandaids. LOL These little guys are known as the Bigelow Cholla, Jumping Cholla and also Teddybear Cholla. Unless you're a cactus wren or a desert woodrat, enjoy the view from a distance. 

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Joshua Tree National Park-Day 1, California Riding & Hiking Trail: Juniper Flats to Geology Tour Road, 10 miles out & back RT, 594' +/-, January 13, 2018

Joshua Tree National Park-Day 1, California Riding & Hiking Trail:  Juniper Flats to Geology Tour Road, 10 miles out & back RT, 594' +/-, January 13, 2018

We were on part of this trail in November, and I wanted to go back and do more of it. I like this trail because it takes you into the backcountry and away from the more popular attractions in the park. You can really cover a lot of mileage in a short amount of time on this section because it’s mostly flat with only a 594’ gain/loss if you’re doing it as an out and back. Overnight backpackers will do the whole 35 mile trail in about 2 or 3 days. For this section, we parked at Juniper Flats, crossed Keys View Road and starting hiking. We past Ryan Campground and between Ryan and Lost Horse mountains. The trail leads up up from Lost Horse Valley to a pass and down the other side where it becomes more rocky and rugged. We passed the remains of an old prospector camp. There are actually quite a number of these located in the park and not just the ones noted on the map. The trail then took us down the other side of the pass into Queen Valley. We continued across the vast Queen Valley enjoying the immense open space. We’d gotten a late start today, so we gave ourselves a turnaround time since we didn’t have a car shuttle on the other end and would have to hike back the same amount of miles that we hiked in. We were just 1.7 miles short of Geology Tour Road when we had to head back. We still logged in a good 10 mile hike.

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Cucamonga Peak, 8,859', 15 miles RT, 4,646' +/-, January 7, 2018

Cucamonga Peak, 8,859', 15 miles RT, 4,646' +/-, January 7, 2018

This year my husband and I signed up for the 2018 Six Pack of Peaks Challenge.  It’s a series put together by Jeff Hester of SoCalHiker.net of some of the toughest peaks in Southern California to help train for bigger hikes such as Mount Whitney.  We have until September to complete the six required peaks.  Since we’d already climbed several of the peaks last year, I decided we should officially take the challenge.  This hike was also our hike #40 of the 52 Hike Challenge which we started last year.  

Today was our second time up Cucamonga Peak.  The first time was on Thanksgiving day of last year and I was tired and sore for 2 days afterwards.  It was tough on my body and I wasn’t even sure if I’d want to do it today, but we decided to hike to Icehouse Saddle and then decide where to go from there since there are other peaks that branch off from that junction.  Once we arrived at the saddle, it was confirmed we were going to climb Cucamonga again.

We skirted around the mountain through the rugged, narrow section of trail that leads from Icehouse Saddle to the saddle between Big Horn and Cucamonga.  Easy enough.  Then onto the rocky, relentless switchbacks.  The nice part about this section is that you have amazing views down into the canyon and there is nothing but wilderness.  It’s incredibly beautiful and it is completely silent, especially on a day like today when we had no winds.  I’ve only ever experienced that type of silence in the desert.  Up we went until we finally arrived at the marker leading to the peak.  It was actually a lot better this time then the last.  At no point did I feel like quitting. It was a challenging hike, but well worth the effort.  We spent some time at the summit hanging out with the chipmunks who were bumming our pizza, and chatting with other hikers.   After about a 45 minute break, we began our descent.  One thing to remember when hiking any trails that lead back through Icehouse Canyon are the rocks.  There will be plenty of them to negotiate on the way down and your knees and ankles will be feeling it.  On the plus side, the scenery is some of the most beautiful in the area, so you’ll have something to keep your mind off your tired legs.

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Waterman Mountain, 8,037', 7 miles RT, (1,319 +/-), January 1, 2018

Waterman Mountain, 8,037', 7 miles RT, (1,319 +/-), January 1, 2018

Celebrated New Year’s Day by hiking to the top of Waterman Mountain. The Waterman Trail takes you along the edge of the San Gabriel Wilderness and has beautiful views of Bear Creek Canyon and the surrounding mountains. It's a very pretty trail with lots of pine trees and interesting rock formations. Around 8:15 am we heard the roar of the Stealth Bomber and its escorts. They flew right over Angeles National Forest which was really cool to see. At the summit, we had a champagne toast and took a little nap on the boulders in the warm sunshine before taking our time going back. It was nice, relaxing hike and a great start to 2018.

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Mount Baldy, ascend Baldy Bowl/Ski Hut Trail, descend Devil's Backbone, 7.5 miles RT, (4,000 +/-), December 29, 2017

Mount Baldy, ascend Baldy Bowl/Ski Hut Trail,  descend Devil's Backbone, 7.5 miles RT, (4,000 +/-), December 29, 2017

A hike to Mount Baldy on a perfect day was a great way to wrap up the year 2017!  I’d been wanting to hike this mountain again ever since our first summit in November when strong winds prevented me from being able to take as many photos as I would have liked.  This time we could not have asked for more perfect weather!  We did the same route as last time; up the Ski Hut/Baldy Bowl Trail and down the Devil’s Backbone.  We took our time at the summit and savored the views from the Devil’s Backbone.  It’s a challenging hike, but definitely one of the best!  Here are some photos from our journey.
 

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Pacific Crest Trail, 9.7 miles RT, Inspiration Point to Vincent Gap, 1,827' +/-, Christmas Day 2017

Pacific Crest Trail, 9.7 miles RT, Inspiration Point to Vincent Gap, 1,827' +/-, Christmas Day 2017

Our Christmas Day was spent hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail from Inspiration Point to Vincent Gap. The air was calm but crisp and scented with my favorite vanilla Jeffery Pines.  The trek along this stretch of the PCT is mostly evenly graded and under the shade of pine trees until you drop down into Vincent Gap where you’ll lose about 1,000’ of elevation in less then a mile.  If you do this trail, just remember to leave some extra gas in the tank for the climb back up later.  Beautiful pine needles cover much of the path along the way and just before Vincent Gap you’ll pass through a flat section where there’s a pine grove.  As the trail begins to descend the scenery then changes into a scene from Snow White’s forest and you’re suddenly in a fairytale forest of oak trees.  We hiked almost 10 miles round trip stopping at Jackson Flat campground to have lunch.  I can’t think of a better way to have spent our Christmas this year then on the trail in these beautiful mountains!

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Testing out the Winter gear, 2 Miles RT on the Pacific Crest Trail from Grassy Hollow, December 17, 2017

Testing out the Winter gear, 2 Miles RT on the Pacific Crest Trail from Grassy Hollow, December 17, 2017

The plan for today was to hike about 9.7 miles from Inspiration Point to Vincent Gap along the PCT.  The temperature was 25 degrees according to the temp gauge on my car when we arrived, and the winds were blowing at about 30 mph.  This was going to be a good test to see how well we'd fare on the trail during the colder months and see what else we were going to need as far as layers, gear, etc.  When we got out of the car, there was one obvious thing that my husband realized he didn't have... gloves!  I knew he wasn't going to be able to do the hike with those winds whipping around the mountain on his bare hands.  But rather then abort the mission, we drove over to Grassy Hollow where it's a little less exposed.  I gave him my gloves since my fleece has sleeves that cover up most of your hands, and we got on the trail.  I really enjoyed hiking in the crisp mountain air.  My layering system seemed to work pretty good.  The only thing I need to add as far as I can tell right now is a good pair of base layer tights under my hiking pants and a balaclava to cover my face when the wind is kicking up.  After about a mile in, we decided to turn around and save the trail for another day when we were more prepared for the weather.  Besides, I'd been thinking about a nice cup of hot chocolate covered in sprinkles and whipped cream from the Grizzly Cafe.  On the way there, we saw Mountain High Ski Resort was blowing snow.  We stopped to check it out.  Even though this was a short day, we had a lot of fun getting our first taste of winter in our local mountains.

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Echo Mountain to Castle Canyon Trail, Inspiration Point to Sam Merrill Trail. 11 miles RT, 2,867 +/-, December 15, 2017

Echo Mountain to Castle Canyon Trail, Inspiration Point to Sam Merrill Trail. 11 miles RT, 2,867 +/-, December 15, 2017

Another hike through the past up to Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point. Echo Mountain was once home to the Echo Mountain House, a grand resort in its day. Sadly it was burned to the ground along with many of the other structures constructed by Thaddeus Lowe, but you can still hike to the top and see the ruins including parts of the funicular that once brought guests up from Rubio Canyon to the resort. There are interpretive signs that will help you imagine how magnificent this place once was. From Echo Mountain we hiked up the Castle Canyon trail to Inspiration Point. There are viewing tubes here that are strategically placed to view local points of interest looking down on the sprawling city below. From there we also visited the site of Ye Alpine Tavern, another endeavor of Mr. Lowe which is also long gone, but not forgotten. The sites are loving taken care of by volunteers. It was a fun day exploring the mountainside and learning more about its extravagant history.  You can learn more about the history here:  http://www.mtlowe.net/

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Mt. Lowe 5,604', Mt. Disappointment 5,963', San Gabriel Peak 6,161', 6 miles RT, 1,637 +/-, December 10, 2017

Mt. Lowe 5,604', Mt. Disappointment 5,963', San Gabriel Peak 6,161', 6 miles RT, 1,637 +/-, December 10, 2017

With the cooler weather, it was a good day to explore the front range.  We drove up to Eaton Saddle and started the hike up a fireroad and through the Mueller Tunnel.  We took the trail to summit Mount Lowe first.  There’s a lot of fire damage in this area from the 2009 station fire, but it looks like things are coming back nicely.  I’d seen so many photos and read about the history up in this part of the San Gabriels, so it was exciting to finally check it out.  In 1893 there used to be an electric powered railway here that was constructed by the ambitious Thaddeus S. C. Lowe.  The Mount Lowe Railway would take guests back and forth from the Echo Mountain House (also constructed by Lowe), and today you can still hike to the ruins on Echo Mountain.  We are saving that hike for another day.  In addition, Lowe also constructed a tavern, an observatory and the world's largest search light. Lowe planned to extend his railway up to the summit of Mount Lowe, but sadly many of his endeavors were lost due to fires or natural disasters.  Eventually, he ran out of money.  Today you can look through the viewing tubes on the summit that are strategically placed at points of interest such as Mount Baldy and Mount Wilson.  You’ll also see hitching rails where horses were once tied and there’s a sign with more information for anyone who cares to learn about the history of the mountain on which they are standing.  After spending some time reflecting on the summit of Mount Lowe, we hiked back down and took the trail leading to Mount Disappointment and San Gabriel Peak.  Interesting story about Mount Disappointment in case you don’t already know:  In 1894, USGS surveyors climbed to the top of Mount Disappointment after viewing it from the San Fernando Valley.  They thought it was the highest peak in the region only to be “disappointed” when they looked over at San Gabriel peak and discover that the mountain they’d climbed was shorter!  So there you go.  Another point of interest along the route is that you’ll pass by what’s left of a Nike Missile Defense System from LA’s cold war-era.  We took the route up to Mount Disappointment first.  The route travels up a fire road which, as much as I hate hiking fire roads, wasn’t too bad.  The summit has some radio towers, a helipad and great views, so I feel like this peak deserves a better name.  Anywho, after exploring Mt. Disappointment, we headed up to San Gabriel Peak.  The trail is quite steep, but it’s a nice climb to work for your reward of even more great views from the top.  I should also mention from these peaks we could see the billowing smoke plumes off in the distance from the Thomas Fire which as of this writing is still, unfortunately, burning.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this hike.  We’ll soon be hiking Echo Mountain to Inspiration Point so we can take in even more history about our nearby mountain range.

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Dawson Saddle to Mount Hawkins 8,925' and Throop Peak 9,138', 6 miles RT (1,480' +/-) December 3, 2017

Dawson Saddle to Mount Hawkins 8,925' and Throop Peak 9,138', 6 miles RT (1,480' +/-) December 3, 2017

My alarm went off at 4 am, but both of us were tired and needed more sleep.  I got up, fed the cat, gave him some playtime and then went back to bed.  About 6 am I woke up and knew if we didn’t hike we’d spend the day regretting it.  We suited up, grabbed the packs and headed out.  By 10:30 we were at the trailhead for Dawson Saddle, 7,901’.  This was the latest we’d ever started a hike, but at the higher elevation the air was chilly and the winds were about 30 to 35 mph.  I was glad we were starting off in the mid-morning sun.  Dawson Saddle is an absolutely beautiful trail.  It was built by the Boy Scouts in 1982.  My favorite section of this trail is going up over the ridge where the views are incredible on either side.  It’s also nicely graded so even though you’re climbing, you don’t really notice it much.  Soon we arrived at the junction for the PCT where you can take a left to Mount Burnham and Mount Baden-Powell, or you can follow it to the right and summit Throop Peak and Mount Hawkins.  We’d already done Throop over the summer, so our plan was to skip Throop and just stay on the PCT heading over to Mount Hawkins.  As the trail skirted around Throop, you could notice some fire damage.  It was still a very pretty trail and the views continued throughout the trek.  Eventually, we reached the fork where the PCT heads down or you can veer left to reach the rocky summit of Mount Hawkins.  Once at the summit we had nice 360 views all around.  We took a break to enjoy the solitude and crisp mountain air before heading back.  On the return, we passed by the use trail that heads up to Throop .  We decided since we were already here, why not check it out.  The trail was steep and faded in and out in spots, but it was just a short distance to the summit.  Right before the peak, the trail became well defined again and the plaque dedicated to Amos G. Throop became visible.  I think it may have been around 1:30 by this time, so we didn’t hang around for too long before heading back down.  We got back on the Dawson Saddle trail and continued another 1.9 miles before reaching our car.  After bagging two peaks in one day, sushi and sake seemed like a good idea.  It was a perfect ending to a lovely day.  

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Santa Anita Canyon, Chantry Flat, Gabrielino Trail, Sturtevant Falls, Sturtevant Camp, Mount Zion, Winter Creek Trail, 8 miles RT, 2,336 +/-, December 1, 2017

Santa Anita Canyon, Chantry Flat, Gabrielino Trail, Sturtevant Falls, Sturtevant Camp, Mount Zion, Winter Creek Trail, 8 miles RT, 2,336 +/-, December 1, 2017

Today was an epic day full of history!  We arrived at the locked gate at Chantry Flat Road about 10 minutes ‘til 6 just before the sheriff arrived to open it.  We then drove up the windy road to the parking area at Chantry Flats, displayed our Adventure Pass and off we went into the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  This place was beautiful!  I immediately forgot I was only 25 minutes from our house in the city; towering oaks, a village of rustic cabins along a creek and lush, green ivy cascading the canyon walls.  We trekked creekside along the Gabrielino Trail enjoying the scenery before we reached Fiddler’s Crossing where we followed a short spur trail to Sturtevant Falls.  We then backtracked to the Lower Gabrielino trail and traveled onward and upward towards Sturtevant Camp.  The Lower Gabrielino trail took us up above the falls which was pretty cool since I’d never actually been on top of a waterfall before.  But be warned, the trail here is mostly jagged rock cut into the canyon wall, and there was one section in particular where it got a little sketchy due to erosion from the rains.  Besides that section, the rest of the trip is on a lovely, well maintained path.  Next, we headed up towards Spruce Grove camp and picked up the Sturtevant Trail to the historic Sturtevant Camp, established in 1893.  When we arrived, Brad, the host, greeted us welcomingly.  We chatted with him for quite a while and he showed us around the buildings which date back to “The Great Hiking Era”.  He also gave us a little history about the place and showed us inside the Sturtevant Lodge which has a kitchen, a dining hall and a fireplace room with an old piano.  On the walls, you can see photos of Mr. Wilbur Sturtevent himself.  At the turn of the century there were five resorts built here.  Sturtevant Camp is the only one that remains, and it’s still functioning!  You can rent the cabins, but there is no wifi, cell phone service, computers or TV, and your things will have to be brought up by mules from Adam’s Pack Station.  How cool is that!  For more information, you can check out this link:  http://sturtevantcamp.com/  After leaving camp, we got back on the Sturtevant Trail to the Upper Zion trail which took us to the spur for Mount Zion.  In just a short climb we were at the summit looking back at Mount Wilson.  After enjoying the view, we headed down and continued on the Upper Zion trail.  This section didn’t have much shade and the switchbacks were steep.  I was glad we were going down and not up!  Eventually, the trail dropped us back into the cool, shady canyon passing through Hoegee’s camp and onto the Winter Creek Trail before reaching our car parked at Chantry Flats.  We ended our adventure with ice cream from Adam’s Pack Station General store.  I would have loved to have seen the mules, but they were busy working today and making a delivery to Sturtevant Camp.  This was a really great hike with a little bit of everything; beautiful scenery, a waterfall, unique history and even a peak.  We will definitely take this route again through Sturtevant Camp when we hike to Mount Wilson!

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Saddleback Butte State Park, 3,651', 3.75 miles RT, (1,020 +/-), November 26, 2017

Saddleback Butte State Park, 3,651', 3.75 miles RT, (1,020 +/-), November 26, 2017

This past Sunday we drove 90 minutes outside of LA to the Western Mojave desert to Saddleback Butte State Park.  Our destination was a short climb up the 3,651’ Saddleback Butte Peak.  This butte dates back to the Cretaceous period about 70 million years ago.  The hike was a short but sweet 3.7 miles round trip with an elevation +/- of 1,020’.  I think the hardest part of this hike was walking through the desert sand.  Once you start climbing up the butte, the trail fades in and out a bit.  There are also some rock scrambles, but they’re pretty easy making the hike a lot of fun.  In the spring, this area will be covered in wildflowers.  It was a nice relaxing day.  I’m looking forward to seeing this area again in the spring.
 

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Cucamonga Peak, 8,859', 12 miles RT, (4,252' +/-), November 23, 2017

Cucamonga Peak, 8,859', 12 miles RT, (4,252' +/-), November 23, 2017

Hit the trail early Thanksgiving morning to hike Cucamonga Peak.  We started up Icehouse Canyon at 5:30 am.  This was our third time up this trail to Icehouse Saddle which is a gateway to other trails including Cucamonga Peak.  It used to be a challenge, but it’s getting easier every time.  We entered the Cucamonga Wilderness just before the sun came up, and by 8 am we were at Icehouse Saddle.  We stopped for a snack, and it wasn’t long before other hikers arrived.  One of them was heading to the same destination as we were.  He was using the trail to train for other peaks.  After the break, we hopped on the next segment to Cucamonga Peak.  This is where the real hike began.  From here on out we were on much more rugged terrain with narrow sections, steep cliffs and rock scrambles.  It was one of those hikes where you really had to watch your footing.  Next came the switchbacks.  Some sections were all scree and talus.  It was a hard climb and my fear of heights being on a narrow ledge with loose rock and steep drops was starting to kick in.  I had to stop and take breaks to keep my zen.  I could see the peak, but it seemed a million miles away.  Up and up we went moving slowly, but making progress with each careful step.  We were less then half a mile away from the peak when we saw the young hiker we’d met at Icehouse Saddle coming down.  “Almost there.” he said.  “Take short steps and use your poles.”  After a few more switchbacks I spotted the marker for the spur trail leading up to the peak just ahead.  What a relief!  We made our final ascent up a steep but well buffed out section of trail.  Finally I saw the wooden sign, “Cucamonga Peak 8,859’”.  Whew!  That was rough!  The views from the peak were vast and sprawling overlooking the city and all the way out to the San Jacinto and Santa Ana mountain ranges.  We took a long break to rest our tired legs and celebrate Thanksgiving morning with yesterday’s leftover pizza!  On the way down my overactive mind calmed down.  Although I still had to be careful with my footing, I was in a much better headspace.  The hard part was over.  I was able to soak in the incredible views of the remote wilderness and enjoy the trek down this beautiful mountain.  The switchbacks seemed to go a lot faster on the way down, but we still had to negotiate our way through rugged trail back to Icehouse Saddle.  Once at the saddle, we still had about 3 miles to go to get back to the trailhead.  Luckily, the canyon is so pretty, it makes those last miles go quick.  We finished the hike (including our breaks and all my picture taking) in about 8 hours and 50 minutes.  We’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving day on Friday knowing we earned those extra slices of pumpkin pie!

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Mount San Jacinto Peak, 10,834', 11 miles RT via Mountain Station, (2,520' +/-) November 18, 2017

Mount San Jacinto Peak, 10,834', 11 miles RT via Mountain Station, (2,520' +/-) November 18, 2017

Hiking to the peak of Mount San Jacinto via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was an adventure!  We drove from Pasadena to Valley Station and arrived just before 6:30 am.  The ticket counter doesn’t actually open until 7:30, but we wanted to make sure we got our tickets for the 8 am tram up to Mountain Station where we would begin our 11.5 mile hike.  Mount San Jacinto is the second highest peak in Southern California standing at a towering 10,834’ above sea level.  The tram takes you up from the Sonoran desert to the alpine zone so you’re already starting your hike at 8,516’.  The tram was an adventure unto itself.  It seemed more like we were at Disneyland then about to summit a mountain.  It’s a pretty awesome experience even if you aren’t hiking.  At Mountain Station there are shops, restaurants and other activities, but we made a bee-line for the back stairs and ran out the door to get our hiking permits at the Long Valley Ranger Station.  Once that was out of the way we were off into the wilderness.  The first section of trail winds through a beautiful, shaded forest.  The trail is graded fairly easy here and the pine trees and boulder formations are stunning.  Soon we reached Round Valley where there are campgrounds, primitive bathrooms and a water source.  There’s also a beautiful meadow just beyond the great pines.  After passing through the campground, the trail began to steepen.  After some moderate climbing, we arrived at Wellman’s Divide, a ridge with nice views of the San Jacinto Wilderness.  We were now at at 9,700’.  We took a little break here to refuel with a snack and chatted with two solo hikers.  One of them was a professor at Art Center and the other was James, who was 75 years old!  I asked James how many times he’d summited this mountain and he said after the 15th time he’d stop counting!  Amazing!  After the break, we parted ways and began the next segment of trail up to the peak.  From here we climbed upward on what seemed to be an endless switchback.  The altitude was slowing me down considerably, and I could feel my heart beating fast.  It was a tough climb!  One thing I’ve learned from speaking to experienced hikers is to take things slow and steady.  Even though I was probably moving at a glacial pace, I pushed on.  We arrived at the next junction that pointed the way to the peak.  Just .3 miles left to go.  Soon we passed by the emergency shelter just below the peak.  Almost there!  Now the trail headed us straight into an enormous pile of boulders that would take us to the top.  From here on out we were on our own to figure out a way up.  I started climbing, but I wasn’t really sure which was the best route, so I stopped to watch where other hikers were going.  Then I saw James heading up the rocks behind me.  James knew exactly where to go.  He pointed me in the right direction and helped guide me up the boulders.  With my husband following right behind me, I could see the summit sign!  In just a short scramble, we were at the top!  Mission accomplished!  We snapped our summit selfies and found a spot on the rocks to have some well earned lunch.  We met up with the professor once again and of course my new mountaineer friend, James.  It was a great feeling to be up on that mountain, but we knew we had to start heading back down soon to allow enough time to return before sunset.  We bid farewell to our friends and all agreed that perhaps we’d meet again some day on some other mountain.  On the way down, we took our time and I was able to get some great photos.  We arrived back at the Long Valley Ranger Station at about 3:30 pm.  We headed up the steep ramp to the tram station which now seemed harder then the climb to the peak! Both of us were tired and a bit sore, but it was an incredible experience!

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Joshua Tree National Park, November 11 & 12, 2017

Joshua Tree National Park, November 11 & 12, 2017

This past weekend we headed out to Joshua Tree National Park, one of my favorite places to visit.  We arrived early Saturday morning and started the day off with a climb up Ryan Mountain.  This hike is a 3 mile out and back with about 1,000’ elevation gain/loss.  The summit has some really great 360 views of the park.  We could see all the way out to San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from the peak.  It was a very enjoyable hike with a little bit of a workout too.  When we got down from the mountain, the parking lot was full of people.  I knew it was going to be a busy weekend, so to avoid the crowds we drove to Juniper Flats which is the halfway point of the California Riding & Hiking Trail.  The California Riding & Hiking Trail is a 35 mile backcountry trek that traverses the park.  We hopped on and headed in about 3 miles.  If you want to experience the rugged desert and have the trail to yourself this is the way to go.  The only sound I heard besides our own footsteps were the birds and maybe a plane overhead.  As much as we both wanted to keep going, it was time to turn around and head back to our accommodations at the Campbell House, my favorite bed & breakfast in the desert.  We arrived just in time for afternoon coffee and sweets which is served daily in the great room.  Then, after a nice relaxing shower we headed off to the 29 Palms Inn for dinner.  The 29 Palms Inn never disappoints with delicious food and great cocktails.  The rest of the evening we spent enjoying our beautiful room.  The next day I slept in until 6:30 am.  That’s actually pretty late for me, and I admit it was hard not to wake my husband up at 4:30 am and drag him out of bed and off into the desert.  But I resisted the urge and enjoyed the warm, cozy bed until breakfast was served.  After breakfast we checked out and drove up the 62 to Canyon Road which dead ends at the trailhead for the Fortynine Palms Oasis.  The trail climbed up to a ridge and then down into a canyon where we ended up at a magical, green oasis bustling with wildlife.  It was a beautiful thing to see; a wonder of nature.  After the hike, we headed back home.  It’s always so hard to leave the desert.  We had a fantastic weekend.  
 

GPS stats:
Ryan Mtn:  2.9 miles, 5,457’, (1,079’ +/-) 
CA Riding & Hiking Trail + spur trail to Ryan Ranch:  5.7 miles, (312’ +/-)
Fortynine Palms Oasis:  3.2 miles (768’ +/-)
 

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Vasquez Rocks, 4.6 Miles RT, November 5, 2017

Vasquez Rocks, 4.6 Miles RT, November 5, 2017

Sunday was fun day so we paid a visit to Vasquez Rocks, a favorite film location for movie makers and photographers alike. If these rocks look familiar to you, you’ve probably seen them in Blazing Saddles, the Flintstones movie or most notably Star Trek… Remember that horrible (or awesome depending on how you look at it) fight between Captain Kirk and Gorn? We hiked the 4.6 mile loop trail that takes you around the park, past some interesting Native American petroglyphs and onto a section of the PCT. I recommend saving this one one for the cooler months, as the trail is mostly exposed with little to no shade. After our trek around the outskirts of the park, we headed over to the the famous jagged rocks and did a little climbing. You can get some really impressive looking photos even though they’re not really that difficult. It was a fun day.

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Mount San Antonio "Mount Baldy" 10,064', up Baldy Bowl Trail, 4 Miles 4,000' elevation gain, Down Devil's Backbone to Baldy Notch, 7.1 Miles total, November 3, 2017

Mount San Antonio "Mount Baldy" 10,064', up Baldy Bowl Trail, 4 Miles 4,000' elevation gain, Down Devil's Backbone to Baldy Notch, 7.1 Miles total, November 3, 2017

The time had come to hike Mount Baldy.  With the experience we gained over the summer, I knew we were ready, and I wanted to hike this mountain before winter covered it in snow.  We set out early Friday morning and arrived at Manker Flat around 6:30 am.  Around 6:50 am we suited up and started our trek up Falls Road to the Baldy Bowl Trail.  Right away the trail started to climb at a steep grade, but the path was well worn and quite pleasant despite the 1,000’ of elevation we were gaining per mile.  As we got closer to the San Antonio ski hut, about 2.6 miles up, I was really starting to feel the burn.  Still, this was not so bad.  I love a good physical challenge!  We stopped at the ski hut for a snack and took a look inside.  We met a group of hikers there and one of them named Cherry graciously offered to take our photos.  After the short break, we continued on.  The trail dropped us down into the rocky, Baldy Bowl.  Still no trouble here.  It was fairly well marked and mostly easy to follow.  Climbing up out of the bowl, the path led us into a forest of lodgepole pines.  Now the high elevation was starting to kick in.  We were moving slower, but still making good time.  After the forested section, we arrived at the saddle.  The final ascent to the summit lie just ahead, and the hardcore work was about to begin only I had no idea what was in store.  We began our climb up the last difficult mile.  As we got higher up in altitude, 45 mile per hour winds whipped unmercifully around the mountain.  The gales were so strong we had to stop and brace ourselves from being pushed off balance.  I had never experienced anything like that before, and I didn’t know if it was safe to keep going.  The trail here also became extremely steep and rocky.  Some sections were loose and slippery making it difficult to climb.  I thought we may have gone off route, and the wind gusts were not making matters any easier.  Unsure if I wanted to continue, I hiked back down a few feet and leaned against a rock to try and stable myself.  I contemplated whether or not I wanted to go on.  In all honesty I was ready to call it a day and turn back.  I was heartbroken and wanted to cry, but I knew the mountain wasn’t going anywhere and it’s always better to be safe then sorry.  Just at that moment, the same group of hikers that we met at the ski hut appeared.  They were coming up the trail below us.  Had it not been for them, I would not have kept going.  I asked if we could follow them up, and they welcomingly said “The more the merrier.”  Now I knew we were on the right track.  My fears diminished.  We were going to be fine.  It was comforting being in a group of people, especially since I learned that they had climbed this mountain before.  I listened to them talking as I focused on the terrain.  Two of the men in the group were seasoned hikers having summited Mount Whitney and other such great beasts.  Listening to their conversations helped me relax.  They didn’t seem too phased by the winds either, so I knew it was going to be all right.  Slow and steady we climbed.  That last half mile was a challenge!  Wow!  Finally the views of gray rock in front of me turned into the bluest sky I had ever seen.  The summit appeared at 10,064’!  We did it!!  I was ecstatic!  We were on top of the great Mount Baldy looking down at a sea of clouds.  The winds showing no mercy of letting up did not allow us to spend as much time at the top as I would have liked.  But we took in the views, snapped our photos then prepared for the journey down on the Devil’s Backbone.  The Devil’s Backbone is a ridge top trail with spin-chilling views.  The terrain varies from steep drop offs on both sides to cliff-hugging sections with no room for error.  Definitely not a trail for those with a fear of heights, and I had been terrified of it and and obsessing over it for months.  Today I was ready to face my fear.  I knew it was going to be a better option then going back down the steep Baldy Bowl trail we came up.  Once on the infamous Devil’s Backbone with its precipitous drop offs, I was loving it!  The sections I’d been so frightened of were incredible!  I will admit the narrow parts that hugged the mountain were a bit unnerving.  On those sections, I kept focused on moving forward and pushing through without overthinking.  I kept up with the group and didn’t psych myself out.  The winds were still gusting strong as we descended the great mountain.  The views were absolutely breathtaking.  It was quite an adventure!  At approximately 1:30 pm we arrived at Baldy Notch safe and sound!  I felt accomplished!  Lucky for us, the ski lift was running and since the rest of the hike would be going down on a fire road, we saw no shame in hitching a ride.  Both of us were exhausted, but on a major “mountain high” from the day.  Once back to our cars, we bid farewell to our new friends and I thanked them profusely for helping us through.  Mountain conquered, fears faced and new friends made.  It was an incredible journey!

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Waterman Mountain, 8,038' 7 miles RT loop trail (1,287' +/-), October 29, 2017

Waterman Mountain, 8,038' 7 miles RT loop trail (1,287' +/-), October 29, 2017

Today was a nice, easy day hiking up to the peak of Waterman Mountain, about 7 miles round trip. The Waterman Mountain trail is a beautiful trail with fragrant Jeffrey Pines and some really great rock formations.  We did a loop that took us back on a fire road and through the Waterman Mountain Ski Resort which added a little extra mileage to the day.  The trail to the peak is very nicely graded.  I could hardly tell I was gaining elevation as I was hiking.  There is one steep push up to the top, but that’s over in the blink of an eye and you arrive at the summit.  The mountaintop is wide and heavily forested, so you won’t get the 360 degree views like you do on other bare topped mountains, but I think all the fun rock climbing opportunities you get at the top kind of make up for that.  We spent a good while up there just climbing around.  On the way back, we took the fire road which lead us through the Waterman Mountain Ski Resort.  We checked out the snow plows eagerly awaiting the first snowfall, chatted with the caretaker and asked him some questions about the resort, then headed back down.  I think if I did this hike again I’d go back on the Waterman Mountain trail that we came up on.  While I did enjoy visiting the ski area, fire roads are not my favorite and I’d rather be hiking on a trail as opposed to a wide road.  That said, it was a beautiful day and a lovely hike.  We drove back on the 2 through the Angeles Forest and had a late breakfast at DISH in La Canada.  I recommend the seasonal pumpkin pancakes, a DISH bloody mary and of course, a hot cup of coffee!  My favorite!

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Blue Ridge Trail to Pacific Crest Trail to Guffy Campground to Wright Mountain, 15 Miles RT, October 22, 2017

Blue Ridge Trail to Pacific Crest Trail to Guffy Campground to Wright Mountain, 15 Miles RT, October 22, 2017

This weekend we decided to hike up the Blue Ridge Trail in Wrightwood and then follow along the PCT heading towards Guffy Campground to see how far we’d get.  My only real plan was that I wanted to see some Fall color, and the Blue Ridge Trail was the place to see it!  The black oaks within the first mile of the trip were peaking and I spent the first half hour of the trip taking photos and admiring the scenery.  It was a lovely stretch of trail, and when we reached Blue Ridge Campground, we headed east along the Pacific Crest Trail.  I didn’t really have a specific destination in mind, but I did at least want to make it to Guffy.  We followed along the PCT which dropped us onto the Blue Ridge Truck trail for a quick moment and around a reservoir.  For the rest of the hike, this section of the PCT was mostly under the shade of fragrant pines.  There was an exposed area just before we reached Guffy that opened up to great views in all directions of the surrounding area.  From here we could see the towering Pine Mountain and the steep wash of Wright Mountain.  With Wright Mountain being so close in our view, we decided to carry on to the junction with the Acorn Trail.  We crossed the border between the San Bernardino National Forest and Angeles National Forest and in just a hop skip and a jump, we were at the junction.  Here we stopped to chat with some hikers who were headed up the North Backbone trail to Pine Mountain.  Talking to them was so inspiring.  I wish I had it in me to climb something that steep and narrow...  maybe some day.  At this point we weren’t quite ready to turn back, so we continued on to Wright Mountain.  We walked along the Blue Ridge Truck trail for a bit, then decided to go back and head up to the summit.  The last time we climbed Wright Mountain, we were unable to find the official summit marker.  This time, I was determined to find it.  There is no established trail to the peak so just as last time, we had to bushwhack our way through.  I followed my instincts and headed in a different direction this time into a grove of pine trees.  With eyes peeled, we were still not finding the marker.  We almost turned back considering this to be a “trail fail”, when I pulled out my GPS just to see our coordinates on the topo map.  I’m glad I did because it was showing we were only a few yards away from the official peak.  That pile of rocks had to be there!  I looked around and saw what appeared to once have been an old road and I’d remembered reading something online that was very dated that said to “follow the jeep road” to the summit.  Last time I assumed the jeep road was the Blue Ridge Truck trail which does NOT lead to the summit.  However, the road we found was clearly no longer in use, so I assumed it had to be the way.  Sure enough we spotted the rusty old marker and just a few feet away was the carin.  Success!  After patting ourselves on the back, we sat on a log and had some lunch.  Not a single person in sight.  My favorite kind of hike!  After lunch, we headed back the way we came and arrived back down at the trailhead in Big Pines around 2:45 pm.  It was a 15 mile day, respectively.  We headed on over to the Grizzly Cafe for a well earned Grizzly Burger and a hot cup of coffee!

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Devil's Chair 5,332' and Devils Punchbowl 4,745', GPS: 9.2 miles RT, (904' +/-) October 20, 2017

Devil's Chair 5,332' and Devils Punchbowl 4,745', GPS:  9.2 miles RT, (904' +/-) October 20, 2017

I’d been waiting for cooler weather to see the geological oddity known as The Devil’s Punchbowl. I’ve seen this otherworldly looking spectacle many times from high up in the mountains, but this was the first time we got down in it to explore. This hike was super fun! We first trekked out to the Devil’s Chair on a beautiful trail that takes you through the transition zone from desert to subalpine.  You’re surrounded by manzanita, pinon pines, mountain mahogany and basin sagebrush. The final descent to the chair leads you out on a rocky ledge that overlooks the punchbowl. It’s fenced in so you don’t have to worry about falling off which is a definite plus. After enjoying the views from the chair, we hiked back to do the punchbowl loop which dips you down right into it so you can explore all the weird rock formations. It was a 9.2 mile day and perfect weather. Afterwards, we stopped at the Nature Center and checked out some of the snakes, insects, and got to see a scorpion glow in the dark.  They even have two resident owls, Squint and Ruth.  After the hike, we stopped for BBQ and funnel cake at Charlie Brown Farms, a unique roadside attraction and gift shop where you can get anything from Deep Fried Snickers Bars to mouth-watering BBQ (I had the pulled pork with cowboy beans) and all kinds of vintage candy, toys, knick knacks, etc.  Definitely worth checking out if you’re ever up in Pearblossom.  We had a blast!  It was a terrific day!

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