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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Mount Baden-Powell & Vincent's Cabin, GPS: 7.08 miles RT, 9,406' (2,907' +/-), October 15, 2017

Mount Baden-Powell & Vincent's Cabin,  GPS:  7.08 miles RT, 9,406' (2,907' +/-), October 15, 2017

This was our second time hiking up Mount Baden-Powell from Vincent Gap.  It’s a challenging 7.08 mile roundtrip hike with an elevation +/- of 2,907’ according to my GPS.  I was really excited to try this one again.  The first time we did it in July it seemed a lot harder and longer.  I also wasn’t used to being up on high mountains with precipitous drop offs.  I remember the first time I looked over the side of this one I nearly had a heart attack.  Now that we’ve gained more experience, the hike to the summit was easier, went faster (41 switchbacks and yes… I was counting them as we hiked) and I’m now able to enjoy myself at 9,406’!  I felt very accomplished!  I was able to go right up to the Wally Waldron tree, the 1,000+ year old limber pine that clings to the side of the slope, without my stomach doing flip flops.  

Aside from the steep ascent and the hard work you need to do on this trail, the journey to the peak is quite enjoyable and scenic.  There are great views the entire way and it doesn’t have many rocky or sketchy sections.  

The summit of Mount Baden-Powell can also be approached from Islip Saddle and Dawson Saddle.  It’s a much longer hike, although not as steep as the more traditional ascent from Vincent Gap.  I think I’d like to try the longer approach sometime.  

On the way down we past a couple of thru-hikers who had already come 18 miles and were just reaching the 1 mile marker up to the summit of Baden-Powell.  Both of them were carrying 45 pound packs and were on their way to Little Jimmy Camp.  We stopped and chatted with them for a while.  It’s people like that who make you humble and also inspire you.  They said they’d only been hiking now for 3 years, so maybe someday we’ll be able to do the same.  

After we got back down the mountain, it was still pretty early so we decided to hike the Mine Gulch trail to check out Vincent’s Cabin.  The cabin once belonged to Charles “Tom” Vincent who also discovered the Big Horn Mine that I described in our hike from last Sunday.  He built the cabin himself and lived in it for many years.  Some of his pots and pans and things are still there.  It’s definitely worth the quick 1.36 mile side trip to view the cabin if you have enough steam left after Baden-Powell.
 

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Big Horn Mine, 4 miles RT (997 +/-), October 8, 2017

Big Horn Mine, 4 miles RT (997 +/-), October 8, 2017

Big Horn Mine has been on my list of hikes to do, and Sunday was the perfect day to do it.  We arrived at the trailhead at Vincent’s Gap plenty early.  It was still dark and since this was a short 4 mile hike, I wanted to be able to enjoy the scenery and take some photos along the route.  We waited until about 6:30 when dawn began to turn black skies to blue and began our trek.  Some people parked on the opposite side of the parking lot fired up a grill and started cooking breakfast.  The delicious smell of bacon in the air made my stomach grumble, but we had a mine to explore.

This hike starts out on an old wagon road that winds around Mount Baden-Powell.  The last time I was here we had hiked up to the top of that mountain which stands at 9,406’.  Today we were on the lower slopes, and I took some lovely photos of the moon up over the ridge.  After about 200 yards in, we came to a split with two signs:  Mine Gulch left and Big Horn Mine right.  I later learned that taking the Mine Gulch trail would have taken us to Vincent’s Cabin.  I’d like to check that out someday.

I should note a short bit of history about the mine:  Big Horn Mine was discovered by Charles “Tom” Vincent in 1895.  He lived in the log cabin that you can still visit today.  The mine was profitable from 1903 to 1906.  Eventually, it was tapped out and abandoned.  

The trail to the mine is pretty easy as you wind along the mountain on the wagon road enjoying views from some of the tallest peaks in the range.  However, as you get further along, the trail begins to narrow and sections become steep and rocky with loose gravel.  Some areas were so narrow that there was only room to place one foot.  Rather then give myself time to think about the plunging descent to my side, I chose to focus on moving forward and getting to our destination.  In just a few moments the trail widened again, and soon the mine came into view just as the golden rays of morning sunshine were coming up over the San Gabriels.  

Just one more sketchy scramble to get through to get up to the structure and we had arrived!  No other hikers in sight yet, so we enjoyed exploring the outer structure and the views of the surrounding mountains.  We did not go inside the mine.  While you can crawl through some boards to get inside, it is not advised because the mine is deteriorating and subject to collapse.  

After we were done exploring, we headed back the way we came.  We veered off the main trail to do some quick exploring on a use trail that led us to what looked like the remains of another structure.  Not sure what that was, but we eventually made our way back to the main trail and back to trailhead.  As per usual, we stopped by the Grizzly Cafe for some delicious coffee and breakfast.  Great hike today with a lot of history!
 

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Icehouse Canyon, Cucamonga Wilderness, Icehouse Saddle, Kelly Camp, Ontario Peak GPS: 13.34 Miles RT, 8,696' (4,554' +/-), October 6, 2017

Icehouse Canyon, Cucamonga Wilderness, Icehouse Saddle, Kelly Camp, Ontario Peak GPS:  13.34 Miles RT, 8,696' (4,554' +/-), October 6, 2017

What a beautiful day to be in the mountains!  My husband and I took the day off to hike Icehouse Canyon though the Cucamonga Wilderness to Icehouse Saddle and this time our final destination would be Ontario Peak - 13.34 miles roundtrip.  We hit the trail at 5:30 am with only the light from our headlamps to guide us.  This was the first time we ever hiked for a significant amount of time in complete darkness.  I loved it!  The forest was so peaceful.  The only sounds we heard were the occasional chirp of a bird, the rustling of a forest creature and the rush of the flowing creek below us in the canyon.  

It was still dark when we reached Cucamonga Wilderness, but as soon as the sun came up we were treated to the vibrant colors of Fall.  We continued onward through the rocky canyon and then on to the switchbacks and finally Icehouse Saddle.  The trek to the saddle seemed easier for me this time.  Maybe I’m getting stronger. 

At the saddle the wind kicked up.  We took a quick 5 minute snack break and decided just to push forward onto the Ontario Peak trail to Kelly Camp.  We had a long day ahead of us, and I didn’t want to make too many stops to be sure we had enough time to complete our journey.  The trail to Kelly Camp was a nice stretch of trail winding through the fragrant pines.  We did, however, have to hop over a few downed trees on the way, but nothing too difficult.  When we arrived at Kelly Camp, we stopped to watch two foraging deer and took a short rest before continuing up to the ridge.  Kelly Camp is a backcountry campground named after John Kelly,  who established the camp in 1905 as a mining prospect.  It was then turned into a trail resort in 1922.  Today, all that remains are some foundations.  After leaving Kelly Camp and the shade of the pines, we entered a matchstick forest.  This area was burned during a fire in 1980 and left a forest of dead trees.  It didn’t seem long before we got to the ridge, where we had spectacular views in all directions.  These views stayed with us all the way to the peak.  On one side, our sprawling city and the other, the San Gabriel mountain ranges and all the major peaks.  

As we hiked along the ridge we had to be careful of false summits.  There were a few points where it looked like we were approaching the peak, but we were not.  We kept following along the ridge until finally the real Ontario Peak came into view.  We climbed up a series of switchbacks and topped out at 8,694’.  Success!  We took off our packs, snapped our summit selfies and soaked in the views before chowing down on some much earned grub.  With not a soul in sight, we had the whole mountain top to ourselves!  This sure beats sitting behind a desk!

Now it was time for us to begin our descent.  Having completed the mission, I could take my time and focus on taking some great pictures.  However, going down still presented us with the challenge of negotiating all the rocks we had climbed up to get here once we got back to the canyon.  After we past the wilderness boundary and reached canopy of shaded oak and bigleaf maple trees, I was in awe of all the beautiful colors!  We had missed all of this on the way up because we were walking in the pitch black dark.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  I snapped my photos and by 3 pm we were back at the trailhead.  It was an awesome journey! 
 

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Monrovia Canyon Falls, GPS: 2,595', 4.1 Miles RT, (1,010' +/-), October 1, 2017

Monrovia Canyon Falls, GPS:  2,595', 4.1 Miles RT, (1,010' +/-), October 1, 2017

Started our hike today on the Bill Cull Trail to Monrovia Canyon Falls.  We got there before dawn, so we parked on Canyon Blvd. and walked to the Bill Cull Trailhead.  The gate to the parking doesn’t open up until 7am on weekends, but the pedestrian gate is open to early hikers.  We needed to be back early today, so this was the perfect hike.  It is also our hike number 18 of the 52 Hike Challenge .

The Bill Cull trail eventually meets up with the Nature Trail and from here it is a short trek through a lush riparian canyon.  The trail meanders easily through towering old oak trees, maple, sycamore and elder.  It’s very pretty and smooth.  A great place to bring your pup.  

When we reached the falls, nobody else was there yet so we were able to have them all to ourselves for a little while before more hikers started to arrive.

This is a great hike if you’re pressed for time but still want to get out there and take in some nature.

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Mount Williamson, 8,225' (8,214’ official USGS) (1,565’ +/-) 4.23 miles RT, September 24, 2017

Mount Williamson, 8,225' (8,214’ official USGS) (1,565’ +/-) 4.23 miles RT, September 24, 2017

The push to the summit of Mount Williamson is a rugged climb up a slippery slope. The payoff is the 360 degree views on the barren peak where you can see everything from the mojave desert to the San Andreas rift zone. It was a chilly morning.  My car’s external temp gauge was reading 31 degrees as we drove through Angeles to get to the trailhead at Islip Saddle. The summit was cold and breezy but refreshing. It was fun to bundle up and hike! Great morning to climb a mountain!  Here are some photos I took along the journey.

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Sandstone Peak 3,111' and the Mishe Mokwa Trail 8.3 miles RT, September 10, 2017

Sandstone Peak 3,111' and the Mishe Mokwa Trail 8.3 miles RT, September 10, 2017

Sandstone Peak is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains at 3,111’.  We got to the trailhead before 6 am and had planned to do the Mishe Mokwa 6.1 mile loop and then summit Sandstone Peak.  But since the sun was rising and it was just so pretty, we decided to hop on the 3 mile out and back trail leading up to the peak, summit and then come back down to enjoy the Mishe Mokwa loop, another 6 miles, respectively.  

Along the trail to the peak, the views were nothing less then stunning.  The warm winds were blowing off the ocean and the sea air was filled with the scent of coastal sage.  No one else was on the trail yet and we were able to enjoy a peaceful sunrise over a picturesque view of endless mountains.

As we continued onward and upward, we eventually came upon a set of steps with a sign pointing to Sandstone Peak.  Before the steps, we saw a series of steep use trails leading to the same destination.  We took a look at them and opted for the steps.  After the steps ended, we had an easy scramble to the top of the first mountain where there is a cell tower.  From here, we could see the actual peak off in the distance noted by a plaque dedicated to W. Herbert Allen.  Allen was a donor of land to Boy Scout camps and also Camp Circle X nearby.  From this point we were on our own to find use trails and make a challenging scramble to the peak.  I had to put my camera in my pack because I needed use of my hands to finish the climb so I didn’t get many photos during this part of the hike.  Once we made it up, we signed the register located under the plaque and started the very steep ascent down.  I have no shame in admitting that I did the butt slide most of the way down, as I picked the steepest, but most direct way to get back.  

Once down we could have hopped on the Backbone Trail and then picked up the Mishe Mokwa Trail, but we wanted to do it “by the book” and complete the whole thing start to finish.  We went back to where we came from and started it from the beginning adding extra mileage to our journey.

Being that it’s the end of summer, I knew the day would soon be heating up.  But since we’d gotten there so early, we still had some time to enjoy our hike without the blazing sun.  Much of this trek is exposed and you’ll need a lot of extra water to stay hydrated.  The trail was challenging, but there was a lot of different scenery to keep us busy.  At one point it dropped us down into a riparian grove which was a completely different environment then what we had experienced so far.  Had it not been summer, there would have been a flowing stream here.  In this grove near the appropriately titled Split Rock (which is exactly that), there’s also a solitary picnic table.  It was a welcoming place to take a break and fuel up with a sandwich before continuing on to complete the loop.  

In retrospect, I’m really glad we decided to summit first.  By the time we completed the loop, it was hot!  It was sometime after 11 am and on our way down to the parking lot, we saw a good number of sweaty hikers just making their way up.  I’m not sure how they could do it in the heat.  My best advice would be if you are going to attempt this trail in the summer, suck it up and do it EARLY!  You can always take a nap later, which is exactly what we did!  It’s totally worth it!

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Acorn Trail, PCT, Wright Mountain, 9.1 miles RT, 8,505', (2,227' +/-), September 3, 2017

Acorn Trail, PCT, Wright Mountain, 9.1 miles RT, 8,505', (2,227' +/-), September 3, 2017

This Sunday we left the unbearable heatwave looming over Los Angeles and headed to the higher altitude of the mountains in Wrightwood to hike the Acorn Trail and summit Wright Mountain. The Acorn Trail is a 2.1 mile trek with a 1,500’ elevation gain that leads to the junction of the PCT.  It starts off on private property at the end of Acorn Drive in Wrightwood, so you’ll need to park your car before the private property sign (there’s a turn out just before the sign that fits two cars) and hike about 3/4 miles up the steep Acorn Drive.  It’s a nice way to warm up those muscles and prep for the steady climb you’re about to take on.  Once you get to the proper trail, it climbs steeply through a shaded forest of oak and pine.  Some spots of the trail can be a bit precipitous, but no worries.  Take your time and keep on trekking.  At 2.1 miles you’ll reach a junction with the PCT.  Turn left (head east) and follow it, but keep you eyes peeled for the use trail leading up to the summit of Wright Mountain.  We missed this trail the first time because my original directions told me to hop on the Blue Ridge Truck Trail which parallels the PCT.  The truck trail does not lead to the summit, but it still has some outstanding views of Pine Mountain, Mount San Antonio and the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.  After we’d been walking for awhile with no indication that we’d be going up anytime soon, I pulled out the handy Tom Harrison map.  It showed that the truck trail would soon end, and at that point we could just hop back on the PCT and head back west to where we came from.  We were in no hurry, so we enjoyed the views and extra mileage.  On the way back, we found our destination.  Sure enough there was a use trail splitting off and leading to the summit of Wright Mountain.  This ‘trail’ (if you could call it that) is not maintained.  We had to bushwhack our way up through overgrown chaparral to get to the top which was actually a lot of fun.  This is definitely not a trail to do in shorts!  Just after we reached the top, the wind started kicking up and storm clouds started rolling in.  We took in our views and began our descent.  A light sprinkle began to fall and the forest became peaceful and still with only the sound and fragrance of fresh summer rain.  We could not have timed it any better...  Just as we got back to the car, the sky opened up and it poured!  There's nothing quite as refreshing as a good mountain rain!  It was a lovely day and as per our usual routine, we rewarded ourselves with a hearty lunch at the Grizzly Cafe in Wrightwood.
 

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Icehouse Canyon, Cucamonga Wilderness, Icehouse Saddle, Timber Mountain, 8,303' (3,325 +/-), 9.03 miles RT, August 27, 2017

Icehouse Canyon, Cucamonga Wilderness, Icehouse Saddle, Timber Mountain, 8,303' (3,325 +/-), 9.03 miles RT, August 27, 2017

Our destination today was to hike Icehouse Canyon through the Cucamonga Wilderness to Icehouse Saddle and then summit Timber Mountain via the Three Tee’s Trail.  Icehouse Canyon has quite a bit of history.  In the 1800s, there was an icehouse here that serviced Los Angeles.  The ice was brought down from the mountains by mules and sold door to door.  There was also a resort here that was built in 1880.  You can find more info. on all of this by searching it on Google.  It’s very interesting and really makes you appreciate the area in which you are hiking.  

Icehouse Canyon is a popular destination among Angelenos, so in order to beat the crowds, I was out of bed by 3:30 am, on the road and at the Old Baldy Ranger Station to collect our wilderness permits just after 5:30 am.  We arrived at the trailhead in the dark, but soon dawn broke and the sun rose to turn pitch black skies to moody blue.  As we began our ascent on the rocky terrain of the trail, we could hear the running creek off to our right.  It followed us through the canyon until we we reached the beautiful Cucamonga Wilderness where the trail opened up to towering trees.

Much of this trail is walking on rock and uneven terrain, so you have to pay attention here.  Then once you hit the switchbacks, get ready to party even harder!  It’s a slow burn all the way to the saddle but I guarantee the scenery will make you forget about your fatigued leg muscles.

The saddle is a junction for a number of different hikes.  Knowing the weather was going to heat up, we had already planned to summit Timber Mountain and be back down before it got too hot.

We took a short snack break at the saddle and then headed straight up the Three Tee’s Trail to summit Timber Mountain.  It was a short one mile climb, but that was no easy trek.  Once at the peak were were rewarded with the most beautiful mountain top covered in a forest of trees and huge, fallen pinecones.  I now understand why it’s called Timber.  We had a little lunch (sandwiches taste so good at over 8,000’), and took in the scenery until it was time to head back.  

With the cardio work out of the way, I could now enjoy myself by taking photos of… EVERYTHING.  Every which way I turned, it was a picture perfect landscape.  Coming back was definitely another challenge.  All those rocks we climbed up on had to be negotiated carefully on the way back down.  I could feel my quads working hard.  It was definitely something you had to pay attention to.  When we arrived back in the canyon, the sunlight peaked through the shady canopy of trees to create magical hues of green and gold.  Coupled with the sound of rushing water, I had to keep stopping and standing there saying, “Wow.  Oh Wow!  This is so pretty!”  

We passed quite a few people on the way back down, but not nearly as many as I had originally anticipated.  I guess not everyone likes getting up at 3:00 in the morning to beat the heat.  Personally, I would not have it any other way.  
 

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Throop Peak, 9,138' (1,249' +/-), 4.5 miles RT, August 20, 2017

Throop Peak, 9,138' (1,249' +/-), 4.5 miles RT, August 20, 2017

Throop Peak was a short but sweet 4.5 mile RT trek to the summit and back with the option to hop on the PCT and summit Mount Hawkins as well.  Throop Peak is named after Amos G. Throop who was the founder of Throop University which is now Cal Tech.  Funny things you learn at 9,137 feet!  The trail starts off at Dawson Saddle which is the highest point on the Angeles Crest Highway at an elevation of 7,901’.  There are actually two trailheads here -- the old route and the newer more “official” route which was built by the boy scouts in 1982.  The newer route is located just east of the Dawson Saddle parking area where Angeles Crest makes a southward turn.  We came in from the Wrightwood side since they finally opened up Angeles Crest to make it passable since it had been closed since June because of a sinkhole.  The first steep, bare switchback of the Dawson Saddle trail is on the south side of Angeles Crest.  You can’t miss it.  Once you make your way up these first few switchbacks, you’ll quickly be covered in the shade of Jeffery, sugar and lodgepole pines pretty much the whole route.  We walked across a beautiful ridge and from there we could see views the Devil’s Punchbowl as well as the Antelope Valley.  At about the 2 mile mark, you’ll see a sign for the PCT.  Head to the right going away from Mt. Baden-Powell.  Shortly after this, you’ll see a fork in the trail.  Stick to the right.  This is a use trail that’s going to take you to the summit of Throop Peak.  When we hiked it was marked with a cairn.   The trail will fade in and out and be covered in brush at some places, but it wasn’t hard to follow.  The last .3 miles to the summit are steep!  Luckily, you will arrive in no time - it goes fast.  When we arrived at the top, we chatted a bit with an older gent who looked like he was in his 60s or 70s.  He walked up that trail like it was nothing!  Then it was just the two of us alone to enjoy the views.  We took our photos and selfies and soaked up the scenery for a bit.  From here you can see the ridge going to Mount Hawkins.  We thought about heading down the southwest side and hopping on the PCT to catch that one as well, but our actual goal today (which I haven’t mentioned yet) was to make the breakfast cut off time at the Grizzly Cafe in Wrightwood.  We arrived at the peak of Throop just before 9 am which was a bit later then I would have liked.  (Being a photographer, I spend a lot of time on the trail taking photos and that tends to slow things down quite a bit.)  So we decided to head back down and try to make it in time for pancakes!  Mission accomplished!  We walked into Grizzly Cafe at 10:45.  Of course later we found out the breakfast cut off was actually 11:30 am and we would have had more time, but that was okay.  We had great morning on the mountain topped off with pancakes and lots of coffee!

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Mount Islip, 8,250' (1,690' +/-) 7 miles RT, August 13, 2017

Mount Islip, 8,250' (1,690' +/-) 7 miles RT, August 13, 2017

I’m really beginning to enjoy these higher elevation hikes, and the trek to Mt. Islip had just the right amount of work to do in order to enjoy the views once you reach the peak.  We started this hike from Islip Saddle on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)/Silver Moccasin Trail on the south side of Angeles Crest Highway 2.  It was about 6:30 am and the air was crisp with a cool breeze -- just perfect for hiking.  The trail starts off climbing up steep switchbacks and you’re immediately submerged in a beautiful landscape of white yarrow, golden rabbitbrush and a view of the great pines that will soon be providing you with shade for most of the hike.  At this hour, the sun was still coming up over the mountain as we trekked along, and I was able to get some beautiful photographs of its golden rays peeking through the trees.  As we approached the Little Jimmy Campground, the trail leveled out and we began to smell the fine aroma of campfire and coffee mixed with pine and forest making this hike even more pleasurable.  At the campground, we stopped for a snack and sat for a bit to take in the beauty of the forest before continuing on.  I should note here that there is a spur trail that leads to Little Jimmy Spring, so you actually have to walk through the campground and past the outhouses to find the Mt. Islip Trail that will lead to the peak.  Once on this trail, we began to climb again and we started to see some of the damage done by the 2002 Curve fire.  As we continued higher and higher with the trail hugging the slope, we came around a bend that suddenly opened up to even more spectacular views then the ones we had been enjoying the entire way up.  Finally, as we reached the summit, we saw what remains of an old, stone fire lookout.  On the peak, you will also find a register box where you can sign your name to make it official that you’ve climbed another mountain.  We spent some time up on the summit enjoying the 360 degree views and had our lunch before returning the way we came.  It was a very pleasurable hike today!

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Grizzly Flat, Angeles National Forest, August 12, 2017

Grizzly Flat, Angeles National Forest, August 12, 2017

I was curious about what would be flying at the closest “butterfly hot spot” to my home, so I took a quick trek up to Angeles National Forest and hopped on the trail.  It was HOT (which I knew it would be), but continued on.  The California Buckwheat is turning brown now and the landscape is looking as it should be for this time of year.  I saw some activity, but not nearly as much as the last time I’d been here.  I was happy when I came across a California Sister who fluttered around me then perched high up on a leaf to pose for some photos before flying away.  I continued my trek just a little higher up the hillside, then stopped in some shade to listen to the quiet before turning around.  On my way back down I spotted several Mormon Metalmarks nectaring on the Buckwheat.  These guys sure are characters. They seem to pivot around in all directions as if they’re making sure you get their best angle.  It was a short but sweet day for butterfly watching.
 

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Solstice Canyon: Rising Sun Trail to Solstice Canyon Falls to Sostomo Trail to Deer Valley Loop to Solstice Canyon Trail, gain 1,100 ft. Approx. 7 miles RT, August 6, 2017

Solstice Canyon: Rising Sun Trail to Solstice Canyon Falls to Sostomo Trail to Deer Valley Loop to Solstice Canyon Trail, gain 1,100 ft. Approx. 7 miles RT, August 6, 2017

So far our summer hikes have been at the higher elevations where it’s usually cooler.  But this weekend we opted to head towards Malibu and explore Solstice Canyon.  I knew this was a popular spot with some of the trails being on exposed hills, so we got there early before the crowds and the heat.

We arrived just before 7 am and there was still plenty of parking.  Our options were to head straight to the falls via the Solstice Canyon Trail, an easy walk down a paved fire road, or to head up the stairs to the right and take the Rising Sun Trail which climbs upward on more rugged terrain.  We opted for the later.  Just a few feet in we were already getting some nice views of the pacific.  The morning light was gorgeous and it reflected a beautiful golden hue on the summer wildflowers along the trail.  It was still early in the morning, but the exposed hills had us working up a good sweat.  As we reached the crest, the first view of what remains of Tropical Terrace mansion became visible down in the canyon. This mansion was built in the 1950s, but it burned down in 1982 in a wildfire. As we began to descend down into the canyon towards the ruins, we could hear the waterfall and the vegetation became noticeably greener.  

We spent some time exploring Tropical Terrace and the small but very pretty Solstice Canyon waterfall.  Afterwards, we walked south along the paved Solstice Canyon trail for a quick minute to pick up the Sostomo Trail.  The Sostomo Trail took us straight up on a less maintained more difficult trail to some very pretty views of the whole canyon and the pacific ocean.  We passed the ruins of a few more cabins along the way, dropped down in the the canyon and rock hopped over the creek a few times and eventually reached the junction of the Deer Valley Loop.  The Deer Valley Loop took us up even higher where we were able to get a birdseye view of Point Dume.  There were some parts of the loop that leveled off and opened up to meadows full of golden wildflowers and also beautiful Oaks.  This area was covered in white butterflies.  I believe they were Cabbage Whites, but they kept us company almost our entire time on these two trails.  I should note some of the other butterflies I saw here which were Swallowtails, Skippers and Marine Blues.  

After finishing the loop, we met back up with the Sostomo Trail and headed back the way we came.  It was about 10:30 am and now the crowds were starting to arrive.  We passed a few sweaty hikers who asked us if the climb was worth it.  It was actually pretty hot by this time, so a few of them decided to turn back.  

Once back down, we finished the hike on the Solstice Canyon Trail. (I actually don’t have any photos from this part of the hike because when I was downloading the images, some of the files got corrupted.  Not sure what happened there, but thankfully the rest of the photos were fine.)  

Overall, I really enjoyed this hike and the change of scenery.  I would definitely like to come back and do this one in the spring when everything is green, as I’m sure it would be full of different species of butterflies and the hills would be even prettier.
 

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Descanso Gardens, Oak Woodland, August 5, 2017

Descanso Gardens, Oak Woodland, August 5, 2017

These days I’m finding myself being drawn more to the native California landscape.  Since I’m from the east coast where gardens are much different, and because I also love the look of the English style cottage garden, I was constantly trying to replicate some smaller version of that at home.  But but this year I switched gears.  I started to incorporate native plants,  spend more time learning about them and introduce them into my garden.  The Oak Woodland and California Native Garden at Descanso have a completely different kind of beauty and I am seeing it through different eyes.  I recommend taking a walk through them and I guarantee you will fall in love with our California landscape.  
 

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