Red Box to Valley Forge Trail Camp, Gabrielino Trail, 6 Miles RT, 4,868' Max Elevation, 1,276' +/-, September 23, 2018

Red Box to Valley Forge Trail Camp, Gabrielino Trail, 6 Miles RT, 4,868' Max Elevation, 1,276' +/-, September 23, 2018

Today we hiked the Gabrielino Trail East from Red Box to Valley Forge Trail Camp with the option to continue on to West Fork and Devore Trail Camps if we felt up to it. With the cool morning temperatures and the trail covered in falling leaves from the towering oaks that surrounded us, it was finally starting to feel like fall. The first part of the trail descended the steep stone steps from the Red Box picnic area then continued down some exposed switchbacks. It wasn’t long until we were in the cool shade of the oaks following the trail along the South Fork of the San Gabriel River. The stream was dry at this time of year, but that didn’t stop the gnats from bothering us. Luckily, we were prepared and always have our bug nets with us which prevented the pesky insects from flying into our eyes.

On our route we passed by some cabins and the ruins of an old, stone chimney. After about two miles, we reached the junction for the Valley Forge Trail Camp that was marked with a sign at the spur. We descended the spur to the camp to check it out and see if it was a place we’d like to stay as a future backpacking trip. The camp was lovely with plenty of shade, fire rings, picnic tables and primitive bathrooms. We set up at one of the picnic tables and decided to stay a while. I made friends with a Steller’s Jay who invited himself to our breakfast table. It was a very nice day and we were thoroughly enjoying the peace and quiet! This hike along this section of the Gabrielino Trail reminded me a bit of Santa Anita Canyon sans the crowds. We will definitely be coming back when the weather cools down a bit more to hike the longer routes to West Fork and Devore Trail Camps, and perhaps enjoy an overnight stay.

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Car Camping Table Mountain Campground, Wrightwood, CA September 15 & 16, 2018

Car Camping Table Mountain Campground, Wrightwood, CA September 15 & 16, 2018

This weekend was our first overnight camping adventure! We decided to start at an established campground with all the amenities (water, fire ring, picnic table, bathrooms) so we chose Table Mountain in Wrightwood. This is a beautiful campground that sits on top of the mountain at an elevation of 7,000’. There are great views from the camp, but it can get windy at night so we reserved a campsite ahead of time that had some protection from the wind. We had wanted to get to camp earlier in the day and do some hiking, but I underestimated the amount of time we’d be stuck in traffic on the way there. Usually, when we make the drive to Wrightwood, we leave very early in the morning before the freeways have time to get jammed. It was around 4 pm when we arrived which gave us just enough time to set up camp, build a fire and make dinner before the sun set. Once we were settled in, we sat by the fire relaxing and roasting marshmallows for making s’mores. It was a beautiful night with perfect weather. The forest was so peaceful with only the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. Our new tent and sleeping bags served us well. Around 2:30 am my husband and I both woke up and went outside to look up at the stars. It’s not often we get to see so many of them since we live in the city. In the morning (I think it was sometime after 6:30 am) I awoke to the sound of chickadees chirping outside our tent. We were so relaxed that we ended up just hanging around camp all morning in our sleeping clothes, cooking breakfast and drinking coffee. There was no rush to go anywhere or do anything besides sit in the warm morning sun enjoying the peace and quiet. I got a kick out of watching the birds take turns diving into my cooking pan to get the pancake crumbs leftover from breakfast.

Originally, when we got all our gear I really thought we would be using it mostly for backpacking overnights. But now that we’ve done car camping, I can absolutely see us doing this more often. It’s a great way to spend the weekend when you just want to get away, detox from the stress of everyday life and unplug from the electronics that we are unfortunately forced to be glued to all week long at our jobs. We’re already making plans for the next overnight adventure, and I can hardly wait!

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Backpacking to Little Jimmy Campground and Mount Islip, 8 Miles RT, Max Elevation 8,287', 1,781 +/-, September 9, 2018

Backpacking to Little Jimmy Campground and Mount Islip, 8 Miles RT, Max Elevation 8,287',  1,781 +/-, September 9, 2018

We had a great day backpacking to Little Jimmy Campground and the top of Mount Islip. We started the hike from Islip Saddle on the PCT. This time the gear in my backpack didn’t feel as overwhelming. I’m learning how to better adjust the pack which makes it more comfortable. After the first steep section of trail which passed through rabbit brush covered in nectaring insects, we climbed upward through lush pine trees which offered us plenty of shade. We’d hiked this trail last year, and I’d almost forgotten how beautiful it was. Along the route, we passed a few boy scout troops heading down from Little Jimmy. I was certain with the weekend crowd heading out, we’d find a spot to set up our tent and have breakfast. As we got closer, the smell of coffee lingered in the air. I was glad we’d soon be enjoying a cup of our own.

After finding a spot setting up the tent was easy. They make it pretty simple these days. I’m sure we’ll make mistakes here and there, but that’s why we’re doing practice drills.

After breakfast and with less gear, we set off to hike to the top of Mount Islip. My backpack seemed feather light without the tent, sleeping bag, etc. We cruised on up the trail like it was nothing. Just before reaching the high point, the old fire lookout ruins came into view. Mount Islip has such a beautiful peak and there was hardly a soul on it. We explored the ruins, enjoyed the views and I snapped a ridiculous amount of photos before descending.

Once arriving back at camp, we had a snack then hiked to Little Jimmy Spring to fill up our water. The spring water tasted cool and refreshing. We brought some back with us to make one last cup of coffee before packing up our gear and heading back.

One thing I’d noticed while still at camp was that there was a smoke smell in the air that didn’t seem like it was coming from the camp. As we descended the mountain, the smoke became more apparent. I hiked up to a high point next to the trail with a view looking down towards Crystal Lake. The canyon was filled with smoke. We were less than half a mile from Islip Saddle and we could see cars coming and going on Angeles Crest Highway. We were concerned, but not alarmed. Cars were being diverted out of the Crystal Lake area onto the normally closed section of Highway 39. When we arrived back at the trailhead, another hiker asked us if we had seen the fire. Apparently a brush fire had broken out in San Gabriel Canyon above Azusa near Highway 39, but it must have happened just after we left the peak. I hope everyone was evacuated safely.

Happy to be back safe and sound, we called it a day and headed home. We had a wonderful time and will be back again when we can spend the night at Little Jimmy Camp.

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Backpacking Test Run to Blue Ridge, Wrightwood, CA, 7 miles RT, 8,116' Max Elevation, 1,404' +/-, September 2, 2018

Backpacking Test Run to Blue Ridge, Wrightwood, CA, 7 miles RT, 8,116' Max Elevation, 1,404' +/-, September 2, 2018

I had my mind made up about wanting to transition from day hiking to backpacking. Once I get my mind set on something, I obsess over it until it happens. After spending a couple of weeks doing research, I felt confident enough to head over to REI and make the investment. We spent the following day setting up camp in the living room and practicing packing our backpacks. Sunday morning (also my birthday), we headed out with all our new gear to Wrightwood to hike the Blue Ridge Trail. The Blue Ridge trail was a perfect trail to get a feel for the new packs with the additional weight we’d be carrying on a backpacking trip. I picked this trail because it’s well maintained, it’s not too steep and there is no scree which makes it a great place for a worry free trial run. There’s also a bit of altitude (over 8,000’ at the ridge) and about 1,000’ of gain in two miles. Both of us carried over 20% of our bodyweight which slowed us down from our normal day hiking pace. But backpacking, to me, is a different mindset. It’s not about rushing to bag a peak or hiking to be at a certain place by a certain time. This is a quote from one of my hiking books that could not sum up how I feel about backpacking any better:

“Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy.” - Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

I believe backpacking is going to take us on exciting new journeys into the wilderness and offer us amazing experiences that will make our lives even richer. In a few weeks, we’ll be setting up camp for the first time to enjoy our first overnight in the forest. I’m really excited about all of this and looking forward to many adventures to come!

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Exploring Mt. Akawie (aka Buckhorn Peak) 7,283' Max Elevation, 3.5 miles RT, 768 +/-, August 26, 2018

Exploring Mt. Akawie (aka Buckhorn Peak) 7,283' Max Elevation, 3.5 miles RT, 768 +/-, August 26, 2018

For my upcoming birthday I asked my husband for a Jetboil cooking system. It would be the first item in a long list of backpacking gear that we’re going to need to make the crossover from day hikers to backpackers. Since I’d been looking for an excuse to make the short hike up the little bump called Mt. Akawie (aka Buckhorn Peak if you’re using a Tom Harrison map), we headed up to the mountain to test the new cooking system and spend a quiet morning together.

We hit the trail just after 6 am. After a very short distance we took the path leading up to the peak. There appeared to be a number of fire roads around to explore, but we were ready to get cooking and I couldn’t wait for a hot cup of coffee. The Jetboil system did not disappoint! For breakfast I’d packed a couple of Eggo waffles (my favorite) and brought along a freeze dried breakfast scramble from Mountain House. Overall, it was pretty good. I definitely could live on this stuff for a couple of days in the backcountry. After eating, we got comfortable on one of the large, flat bounders looking towards Waterman Mountain and Twin Peaks and napped for a short while. After a peaceful rest and stomachs full of interesting freeze dried food, we packed up our gear and did some exploring around the mountain both on and off-trail. An unmaintained road/trail took us northeast around the bump and offered views looking towards Pleasant View Ridge. We also saw a lot of deer; mostly doe and one with a young fawn. The road/trail eventually disappeared and we made a scramble up the east side of the mountain before heading back the way we came. It was around 11 am when we got back to the car. We thanked Mount Akawie for the hospitality and headed home to enjoy what was left of our weekend.

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Mt. Whitney Trail to Lone Pine Lake, 5.8 miles RT, 10,032' Max elevation, 1,824' +/-, August 20, 2018

Mt. Whitney Trail to Lone Pine Lake, 5.8 miles RT, 10,032' Max elevation, 1,824' +/-, August 20, 2018

We only had two short days to spend in the Eastern Sierra, so on the second day after having hiked to Kearsarge Pass the day before, we decided upon something shorter since we’d be heading back to Los Angeles on this day.  I knew the hike to Lone Pine Lake on the Mount Whitney Trail was only about 5.8 miles round trip, and although I am not always keen on hiking busy trails (this one probably being the most popular trail in all of California) I decided to suck it up and give it a go. 

On Saturday the day we arrived, we actually drove up to the Whitney Portal just to check it out.  I have to admit I was pretty starstruck knowing that every year about 30,000 people try for the summit of the tallest peak in the lower 48.  Just for fun, we weighed our backpacks at the weigh station, and my day pack weighed in at 15 pounds.  

On this Monday morning as we began the hike to Lone Pine Lake, the first section of the Mount Whitney Trail reminded me very much of a typical Southern California hiking trail.  The grade was steady and not too strenuous as we ascended through pine trees, passed by wildflowers, a grazing doe and crossed over a few streams.  We were surrounded by the towering walls of majestic granite cliffs that opened up to views down into the Owens Valley, Alabama Hills and White Mountains off in the distance.  At about 2.8 miles we reached the junction for Lone Pine Lake and followed the trail to the shores of the lake’s stunningly beautiful cobalt blue waters.  After spending some time exploring the lake, we hiked a little further on the Mount Whitney Trail to the posted sign for the permit only Mount Whitney Zone even though we knew we would not be going any further today.  As we looked longingly up trail towards Outpost Camp, several groups of hikers passed us crossing over into the zone with their permits hanging from their backpacks like little battle flags.  I could not help feeling a bit jealous wishing I were one of them, but also knowing I would not want to attempt hiking Mount Whitney in just one day.  On this trail, my husband and I made a pact that we would start collecting the gear and learning how to backpack.  It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a while now, but seeing this mountain in person for the first time seemed to inspire us to get the ball rolling.  Perhaps someday we too would be one of the many hikers who journey to the top of this peak, but for today we would just take it all in before it was time to head back home leaving the Sierra until next time.

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Onion Valley to Kearsarge Pass, 11 miles RT, Max elevation 11,835', 2,972' +/- August 19, 2018

Onion Valley to Kearsarge Pass, 11 miles RT, Max elevation 11,835', 2,972' +/- August 19, 2018

The trek from Onion Valley to the top of Kearsarge Pass was a spectacular day hike! The Kearsarge Pass Trail heads west from the trailhead at Onion Valley entering the John Muir Wilderness at approximately .7 miles. On this 11 mile round trip journey, we passed through foxtail pine forests, crossed over boulder fields, hiked alongside waterfalls and aquamarine colored lakes filled with golden trout. A final rigorous high altitude ascent up a barren, rocky slope lead us to Kearsarge Pass where the trail crests the Sierra at an altitude of 11,835 breathtaking feet! We were rewarded with the most sublime views I have ever seen; the glaciated Sierra peaks, sparkling turquoise pools of water and views into Kings Canyon National Park. Here are some photos with captions below each to describe our incredible journey.

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Winston Ridge & Winston Peak, 5 Miles RT, 1,358 +/-, 7,618' max elevation, August 12, 2018

Winston Ridge & Winston Peak,  5 Miles RT, 1,358 +/-, 7,618' max elevation, August 12, 2018

We watched the sunrise from Cloudburst Summit as we geared up and got ready to hike to Winston Ridge and Winston Peak. We’d been to Winston Peak a few times before, but we had climbed it from the north side. This time our plan was to hike to Winston Ridge first (which we had not done) and then tackle the steep ascent up the use trail on the south side of the mountain to Winston Peak. We began the hike by descending the fire road and heading northwest on the PCT. When we reached a small saddle with Bump 6903 we had a choice to climb up and over the bump or hike around it to the left or to the right. From the research I’d done it seemed taking the use trail to the left was going to be our best option. The trail was quite rugged with soft dirt and loose rock that would give way if you weren’t careful. We had a number of downed trees to negotiate as well. There was one rather large tree that was particularly challenging. (I will talk more about that later.) This rugged section of trail tested our agility for sure, but it was definitely a lot of fun. When we reached another saddle, we continued northwest to reach the high point on the ridge. The hike along the ridge was undulating and lovely with views of Squaw Canyon to the south and Pleasant View ridge on the opposite side. We could also see the transition zone from forest to desert. We hiked past the high point on the ridge and came to a rock formation that reminded me of the back of a stegosaurus sticking out of the ground. I examined it looking for a way to get around it, but it looked a little sketchy, so I opted not to continue any further. We took a long break on the ridge and chatted about how nice it was to be the only ones here. For such a fun hike I was surprised it didn’t have more people on it. But being I like my solitude, I was not complaining. I explored some of the interesting rock formations and checked out the views in all directions while my husband made some contacts on his HAM radio. Before continuing the journey, we signed the summit register which was tucked away in some rocks marked by a rock cairn. We then started heading back enjoying the views and the scenery along the ridge. As we got closer to the saddle, I had a good perspective of that very large downed tree I’d mentioned earlier. We had climbed over it on the way to the ridge and it looked awfully menacing from this angle. When we reached the downed tree, my husband went over first (as we had done on the way to the ridge) so I could hand him my backpack making it easier for me to maneuver up and over. The footing here was loose, and we had to be extra careful. We continued along the slippery slope and at one point we diverted slightly off trail after negotiating another downed tree. We could see the saddle and Winston Peak right in front of us and were able to correct ourselves right away. Once back at the junction with the PCT, we had the choice of hiking back the way we came, or we could make the steep ascent up the south side of Winston Peak on a use trail. We decided to take on the challenge! The climb showed no mercy, but it sure was fun! The ground wasn’t nearly as slippery as what we’d experienced on the way to the ridge. I turned around to look back a few times to take in the wonderful views of Winston Ridge and snap some photos. This was also a good excuse to catch my breath. The climb seemed to go on and on, but I could see the top and I knew we’d be there in no time. Once at the top of Winston Peak, we gave each other a high five. We both felt pretty accomplished! I wandered around the summit for a while climbing about the rock formations and keeping an eye out for a summit register. I never did find one. We then descended down the north side of the mountain and back to Cloudburst Summit. I had actually wanted to include the short hike to Mount Akawie (aka Buckhorn Peak) on this trip, but both of us decided what we really wanted was a bacon cheeseburger and some fries! It was well earned after this climb!

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Kratka Ridge 7,515' and Peak 7160, 2.4 miles RT, 948 +/-, August 5, 2018

Kratka Ridge 7,515' and Peak 7160, 2.4 miles RT, 948 +/-, August 5, 2018

Kratka Ridge has been on my radar to hike for quite some time. We made a plan this weekend to go check it out and when mapping out the route, I added nearby Peak 7160 to the plan. The whole hike was only a little over two miles, but in that short distance we were offered amazing views, a fun, steep climb and plenty of solitude. We arrived at the trailhead at the Vista Picnic Area around 6:30 am. The route wasted no time ascending quickly and offering great views. As we continued there were sections where the ground was soft and the footing was loose making the going more challenging. It wasn’t long before we reached the ruins of an old, wooden ski lift that had been in operation from the 1950s up until 2001. Now its deteriorating structure sits abandoned with single seat ski lift chairs hanging from the cables. We spent some time exploring the structure and tried to imagine what it had been like when it was up and running. We sat inside the old ruins looking down the mountain towards the rickety lift chairs enjoying each other’s company and the quiet of the morning until it was time to continue up to the high point on Kratka ridge. Behind the ski lift I discovered what looked to be a use trail that would require some scrambling up rocks and tree roots to reach the top. I continued to explore the area looking for the best way up and just a little further past the wooden structure I found another use trail on the side of the slope that would also take us to the top. The trail was narrow and a bit loose, but I felt comfortable enough to negotiate it to reach the high point from this route. At the top of Kratka Ridge we were rewarded with some of the most excellent views of Bear Creek Canyon and the San Gabriel Wilderness I have ever seen. I could identify Mount Williamson, Waterman Mountain, Twin Peaks and many of the other surrounding mountains from the viewpoint. After we were done taking it all in, we found another faint trail which followed the wilderness boundary. I figured it would take us back to the scramble behind the lift and sure enough it did. We then began our descent down the mountain being extra careful on the slippery sections. As we descended I could see Peak 7160 right in front of us. There wasn’t much of an established way up, so we started heading towards its high point. The ascent was steep, but the footing was fine. Along the way I found a heart that someone had made out of pine cones. When we reached the summit, I found another one made out of stones. So cute! From Peak 7160 we had a great view looking back over at Kratka ridge and down into the canyon. It was a lovely day. Although it was short, this hike is definitely a favorite!

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Mount Williamson 8,214', 5 miles RT, 1,552 +/-, July 29, 2018

Mount Williamson 8,214', 5 miles RT, 1,552 +/-, July 29, 2018

The best time for hiking during the hot summer months is EARLY! I like to be on the trail either before sunrise or shortly after so I can enjoy my time on the trail before the day heats up. This is also the time of year when I like to stick to the high country or look for higher elevation hikes which are usually a bit cooler than those at the lower altitudes. Mount Williamson was the perfect hike for today; a short 5 miles from the Islip Saddle trailhead with a little bit of an elevation gain and a fun climb. The early morning sunlight was brilliant as we headed up the trail which starts off on the PCT. It wasn’t long before views of Mount Islip opened up to the south on the opposite side of the Angeles Crest Highway. The hike to Mount Williamson is a fun one. We did this last year in September and I really enjoyed it. The climb is mostly steady until you get closer to the top where you leave the PCT and the trail to Mt. Williamson becomes quite steep and rugged. Once at the top we had wonderful 360 degree views. It was only us on the summit so we took our time, had some snacks and after orienting my map, I spread it out and secured it with some rocks so I could use it to identify some of the surrounding features of the area. Many of the surrounding peaks were visible including Mount Lewis, Mount Baden-Powell, Throop Peak, Mount Hawkins and Twin Peaks to name a few. To the north I could see all the way out to the Mojave Desert and to the southwest I had a nice view of Williamson Rock, which was once popular with rock climbers until the area was closed off to protect the mountain yellow-legged frog. It was barley 9 am and already I could feel the sun starting to heat up the day, so we headed back enjoying our time on the trail and the sweet, vanilla fragrance of the Jeffery pines along the way.

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Mt. Pinos 8,831' & Sawmill Mountain 8,819', Los Padres National Forest, 8 miles RT, 1,437' +/-, July 15, 2018

Mt. Pinos 8,831' & Sawmill Mountain 8,819', Los Padres National Forest, 8 miles RT, 1,437' +/-, July 15, 2018

We headed into the local mountains on Sunday for a nice easy day of hiking in the Los Padres National Forest.  We did a short 8 mile hike to Mt. Pinos and Sawmill Mountain.  We did these peaks in May of this year and at that time we also added Grouse Mountain which completed the 3-2-1 challenge.  (Check out  mymountainchamber.com for info. on the challenge.) .  It's a lovely area to explore.  This time around the weather was much warmer then the last when it was cool and cloudy.  I got to see some butterflies and the highlight of my day, a horned lizard.  He blended in so well with his surroundings that I could barely see hime when looking through my camera lens.  After reaching Sawmill Mountain and taking in the views from there, we decided to head back before the day got too hot.  This was a nice hike to ease us back into it after an incredible 3 days spent in the Eastern Sierra.

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Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Methuselah Walk, 4.5 miles RT, 10,183' max elevation, 1,000' +/-, July 11, 2018

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Methuselah Walk, 4.5 miles RT, 10,183' max elevation, 1,000' +/-, July 11, 2018

On Wednesday morning we drove up to the White Mountains/Big Pine area to spend a day exploring the land of the ancients at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest where a 4.5 mile hike journeys through the oldest living trees in the world. This is a high altitude hike starting out at over 10,000’ feet where the gnarled and twisted trees that look like something out of a Tim Burton movie cling to steep, arid, rocky slopes. The trees thrive in this severe environment and usually survive for over 2,000 years. Incredible! The trail makes its way down a canyon and into a grove of the ancient trees. As you hike down the south facing slope, you’ll note a dramatic transition where there is a wider variety of plants including sagebrush and mountain mahogany. Eventually you will enter the Methuselah Grove. This is where Edmund Schulman in 1957 discovered the Methuselah Tree which is over 4,600 years old. How amazing is that?!

Methuselah’s exact location is not disclosed to keep the tree protected from vandalism, but if you ask the rangers they’ll tell you that the best place to hide something is right in plain sight so you will walk right by the Methuselah Tree along the trek, but you may never figure out exactly which one he is. After the hike we stopped into the Schulman Grove Visitor Center to get some souvenirs and check out the interpretive exhibits. Ranger Dave gave us an informative talk about the Ancient Bristlecone Pines and I am pretty sure I learned more about trees in that 30 minute chat then I ever did when I was in school! I highly recommend stopping in if you want to learn more about these magnificent ancient trees.

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Cottonwood Lakes, 14 miles RT, Max elevation 11,384', 1,660 +/-, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra Trip, July 10, 2018

Cottonwood Lakes, 14 miles RT, Max elevation 11,384', 1,660 +/-, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra Trip, July 10, 2018

I woke up at 4:30 am excited to get started on our new adventure. We had a hearty breakfast and soon were on our way up Horseshoe Meadow Road to the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead at 10,000’. I took my compass bearings, geared up and we were on our way by about 7 am. The trail enters the Golden Trout Wilderness and starts off on a leisurely stroll through the big pine trees. As we went along we started to gently descend. We followed along side a beautiful creek and made a few water crossings. The mosquitos were out in full force, so I was sure to break out the bug spray before becoming their early morning breakfast. We passed by lush green meadows dotted with wildflowers, corn lily and incredible views of large granite cliffs. Soon we entered the John Muir Wilderness. There was another creek crossing and more lovely meadows to enjoy before we came to the switchbacks. As we began to ascend our pace was slower than usual due to the high altitude. I did not mind stopping to take a few breaks so I could enjoy the views from above and take my photos. As we approached the top of the switchbacks, we could see some peaks coming into view. We passed a junction for Muir Lake and started to see the playful marmots poking their heads out waiting to see if we were going to give them hand out. The trail gently meandered through the meadow with a flowing stream and had incredible views of Cirque Peak and Mount Langley. It wasn’t long before the Cottonwood Lakes came into view. They were stunningly beautiful. We took a moment and sat in the shade to take a break, have a snack and enjoy the scenery, peace and quiet. We made our way to lake #3 and followed along its shore to a short climb up some switchbacks. On the other side we reached lakes 4 and 5. We felt a light breeze and could see the summer storm clouds rolling in closer, but I didn’t hear any thunder. We thought it was a good time to start heading back. We had quite a ways to go before reaching the end of our journey. As we made our way down the switchbacks we enjoyed another marvelous view of lake #3 from above. We passed a man with his two sons who were fishing, but he said they hadn’t had any luck. As we made our way back to the trailhead, I could feel some light precipitation. The cool raindrops on my skin felt refreshing after a long day and the smell of summer rain mixed with the pine was intoxicating. We got back to the trailhead around 3:30 pm and clocked about 14 miles. It was my first time hiking for that long at such a high altitude and I was both tired and exhilarated at the same time. It was an incredible experience. The Eastern Sierra has so much to offer. I have fallen in love.

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Alabama Hills, Georges Fire, Horseshoe Meadow, Mobius Arch, Eastern Sierra, July 9, 2018

Alabama Hills, Georges Fire, Horseshoe Meadow, Mobius Arch, Eastern Sierra, July 9, 2018

Our original plan for our trip was to hike the Mount Whitney Trail to Lone Pine Lake, but I learned the night before a fire which was caused by lightening strike had closed Whitney Portal Road at Hogsback and there was no access to the Whitney Portal Trailhead.  Upon arrival, we stopped at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center to talk to the rangers, pick up some additional maps and decide on our best "plan b" options which we gathered the night before.  I had several ideas in mind, of them being a nice, long day hike to Cottonwood Lakes which was then recommended to us by the rangers.  So Cottonwood Lakes it was!  We already had the maps for that, so I picked up a visitor's guide and a whole slew of other maps for future trips and we were on our way to do a little sight-seeing before the next day's trek.  Our first stop was the Alabama Hills where the rock outcrops frame incredible views of Mount Whitney.  From here we could see the Georges Fire burning, and the smoke was pluming towards the north so the air quality seemed to be okay at our location.  I took some photos and then we headed off to check out the trailhead for where we'd be hiking the next day.  From Whitney Portal Road before the closure, we turned onto Horseshoe Meadow Road which is an adventure unto itself.  The paved road switchbacks up the mountain 6,000 feet from Lone Pine's desert floor, all the way to an elevation of 10,000 feet with its terminus at Horseshoe Meadow.  We drove around to scope out the area, make note of where our trailhead would be and then stopped off at the day use area to have a picnic lunch before heading back to check into our hotel.  It was later in the afternoon by now and we could see the gray clouds forming and hear the soft sound of rolling thunder off in the distance.  The threat of storms are very common in summer.  If there's one thing I know about mountains at this high an elevation, they make their own weather so you have to be prepared for anything and know when to descend.  It was very peaceful up there as we listened to the soft booms that were farther off in the distance.  I pulled the maps out of the car to check out the terrain so we could get an idea of what to expect along our destination the next day.  Later that evening after stopping in Lone Pine for a bite to eat, we head back to the Alabama Hills for a quick little stroll to Mobius Arch, a natural arch that is formed in the rock formations.  A lot of people like to take photos through the arch because it frames Lone Pine Peak quite nicely.  I didn't make take the classic shot at the arch since there was another photographer there who had his equipment set up and I didn't want to disturb him.  Instead I walked just around the side of Mobius and found Lathe Arch and took my shot there.  As the sun was setting we could see the embers from the fire burning.  It was a lovely sunset, but we needed to get back to the hotel so we would be well rested for our hike to Cottonwood Lakes the next day.

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Red Rock Canyon State Park, On our way to the Eastern Sierra, July 9, 2018

Red Rock Canyon State Park, On our way to the Eastern Sierra, July 9, 2018

Red Rock Canyon State Park is a nice place to stop along Highway 14 if you're headed up to the Easter Sierra.  There are a few hiking trails here that meander through the dramatic Red Cliffs.  If you're into geology, this is a place you'll want to stop!  I wish we could have explored the area, but it was over 100 degrees.  It was a nice, scenic place to stop, get out of the car and stretch our legs before heading up the 395.  There are also some vault toilets here as well. 

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Eaton Saddle to Muir Peak 4,688', 9.5 miles RT, 1,358 +/-, July 4, 2018

Eaton Saddle to Muir Peak 4,688', 9.5 miles RT, 1,358 +/-,  July 4, 2018

Today we started out with a plan to do “just a short hike”.  Well, by now I should know that it rarely ever works out that way.  We didn’t feel like driving too far so we decided to stick closer to home and take a ride up to Eaton Saddle.  We hiked up the Mount Lowe Road, through the Mueller Tunnel (which I think is absolutely amazing) and reached Markham Saddle.  At that point we had several options to climb the peaks that we’d done before; Mt. Lowe, Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak or we could continue on the Mount Lowe Road.  I pulled out the map to see where it would take us.  It looked to be a little over four miles to reach the Mount Lowe Trail Camp and Inspiration Point (which we’d also been to before, but never from this direction).  We decided to give it a go.  What a great route!  I’m so glad we did it.  This area has so much history.  Not only was this a very low stress, no cliff hugging ledges kind of hike, but it also had a lot of butterflies.  After reaching Inspiration Point, we continued along the fire road past the crowd of people until we reached the junction to summit Muir Peak.  I knew we’d have the peak all to ourselves along with the views to boot.  My husband and I hung out up there for a while.  I chased around the Chalcedon Checkerspot butterflies trying to get some photos while my husband talked on his HAM radio.  There was a lot of California Buckwheat up on this peak, hence all the butterflies.  I even got one to sit on my finger.  The surrounding views were terrific; Pasadena and the city below, Mount Wilson, Occidental Peak, Mount Harvard, San Gabriel Peak, and Mount Lowe to name a few.  After we were done enjoying having the place to ourselves, we started heading back.  By this time it was getting pretty warm and much of the morning shade we had earlier was almost gone.  Thankfully, we always come prepared with plenty of water and there was a nice, refreshing breeze every now and then to help keep us cool.  As we hiked back, the road was buzzing with butterfly activity.  There were plenty of Blues, Swallowtails, Chalcedon Checkerspots, Hairstreaks and I was also able to find and photograph the elusive Great Basin wood-nymph.  As always, it was another great day to be in the mountains!

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Grizzly Flat Trailhead, 2N79, Hoyt Mountain, 4.32 miles RT, 3,904' Max Elevation, 912' +/-, July 1, 2018

Grizzly Flat Trailhead, 2N79, Hoyt Mountain, 4.32 miles RT, 3,904' Max Elevation, 912' +/-, July 1, 2018

Today we did a short hike in the front range from the Grizzly Flat Trailhead past the locked gate along 2N79.  2N79 splits off and you can continue northwest to Grizzly Flat or you can follow it north and then east as it makes a turn towards Hoyt Mountain.  The later was our destination.  We’ve hiked this trail many times before because it’s a hot spot for several different species of butterflies.  This was the first time we followed it all the way to Hoyt Mountain.  The trail continues to climb until it reaches a saddle after just a little over two miles.  Here there’s a split to continue on a rugged use trail up to the summit of Hoyt, or you can continue onto the very overgrown Telephone Trail which descends to Clear Creek.  We climbed up on the use trail about halfway to the false summit and decided it was too overgrown and steep to continue.  I was actually more interested in going back down to photograph all the Chalcedon Checkerspots that I saw at the base of the mountain.  I photographed Chalcedon Checkerspots near this area last year, but this year there were so many that they were practically landing on me as I took my photos!  It was about 9 am and the sun was really starting to warm things up.  We decided to descend before it got too hot and finish up the hike with a visit to DISH in LaCanda for some hot coffee, eggs, bacon and my favorite... pancakes!

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McGill Trail, Los Padres National Forest, 7.8 Miles RT 1,588 +/-, June 24, 2018

McGill Trail, Los Padres National Forest, 7.8 Miles RT 1,588 +/-, June 24, 2018

This Sunday we hiked the McGill Trail to McGill Campground in Los Padres National Forest.  We started out at the north trailhead just off Cuddy Valley Road.  The trail climbs a little over 1,500 feet in 3.5 miles at a moderate grade.  As soon as we started up, I immediately began to see Coronis Fritillary, Speyeria coronis butterflies.  There were tons of these bright orange beauties fluttering along the sides of the trail!  There were also many different species of Blues, the tiny thumbnail butterflies that most people probably walk right by without even noticing.  It was a warm morning, and I tried to catch a few shots along the trail without zapping my energy by spending too much time in the hot sun.  It’s very easy to get caught up trying to get that perfect butterfly shot and forget the sun is blasting down on you.  Plus we still had a lot of mileage to cover to reach our destination.  We wanted to make it up to the campground before my husband’s HAM radio club would be wrapping up their field day weekend at 11 am.  As we got higher in elevation, the wind picked up and helped keep us cool.  I believe it was around 10:30 am when we made it to the campground.  We said our hellos to the radio club and then took a nice, long relaxing break at one of the picnic tables before heading back the way we came.  The McGill trail is a beautiful trail.  It’s also popular with mountain bikers, and on this day we passed maybe a handful of riders who were very courteous of us and let us know how many others would be coming along the trail.  This was our second visit to the Los Padres National Forest.  It’s a very lovely area that we will continue to explore and I really enjoyed this trail.

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Waterman Mountain West Ridge, Winston Peak, Map and Compass Navigation Practice, June 17, 2018

Waterman Mountain West Ridge, Winston Peak, Map and Compass Navigation Practice, June 17, 2018

This weekend we had a fun field day practicing our basic navigation skills with a good o’le map and compass. We recently had taken a class at REI and wanted to practice what we learned in the field. We decided to hike to the West Ridge of Waterman Mountain. This would give us a chance to do some minor cross country route finding on an unestablished trail. We started the hike at Angeles Crest mile marker 54.10. We followed the road to a fork in the trail and headed southeast. The trail is wide at first and easy to follow. Eventually, we came to a junction with a watercourse and a very faint use trail that would fade in and out as we made the steep climb up to the wilderness boundary on the ridge. It was a nice challenge and we completed the task successfully! After making our way carefully down the slope and back to the parking area, we decided to drive to the nearby Winston Peak and climb to it’s high point where we could see the surrounding mountains and use them as landmarks to practice triangulation. The hike up to Winston Peak is steep, but short. From the top we could see Will Thrall, Pallet Mountain, Mount Baden-Powell and Cucamonga Peak to name a few. It was a great spot to put these basic navigation skills to good use. In this day of modern technology, we have so many fancy electronic gadgets readily at our disposal. But it’s always good to go back to basics and also an extremely valuable skill to have. It was another fun day in the mountains!

Waterman Mountain West Ridge, 4 miles, 1,125’ +/-

Winston Peak, 2 miles, 495’ +/-

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Boy Scout Trail from Jackson Lake to 3N26 to the PCT, Jackson Flat and Jackson Lake Trail. 10 miles RT, 7,532' max elevation. 1,585' +/-, June 10, 2018

Boy Scout Trail from Jackson Lake to 3N26 to the PCT, Jackson Flat and Jackson Lake Trail. 10 miles RT, 7,532' max elevation. 1,585' +/-,  June 10, 2018

Today was a good day to brush up on our navigation skills and search for butterflies. The whole reason I started hiking to begin with was because I wanted to be able to photograph butterflies in the wild and not just the ones in my garden. So we did a leisurely loop hike from Jackson Lake to the Boy Scout Trail, then 3N26 to the PCT and returned along the Jackson Lake Trail. I had seen a lot of butterflies around some of these areas last year and wanted to see what was currently flying. The lupine was blooming and I saw many Boisduval's blues. There were also plenty of swallowtails, both pale and western tiger nectaring on the western wallflower at the Jackson Flat Campground. I also saw Pacific Azures. In addition to my search for butterflies, it was also a nice day to pull out the map, practice navigation and acquaint ourselves with the surrounding terrain. It’s been exactly one year since we started hiking and the more I hike, the more I realize how important it is to really know your paper map along with a compass and not just your electronics. Not to mention, having these skills opens you up to a world of other places to explore and not just the more popular routes. It was a day well spent.

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