We had a fantastic long weekend backpacking and camping in Los Padres National Forest! Our first hike was an easy one to the top of Mt. Pinos and back. We wore our heavy packs to continue our training for Mt. Whitney. Afterwards, we headed to the McGill Campground. I was really excited to get to camping! I’d been at this campground a few times before, but never stayed. It was just lovely! The camp hosts are very hospitable and they keep the place in tip top shape. Almost all of the campground is shaded by towering pine trees. If you prefer, you can camp at one of the more exposed sites on the outer edge that offer sweeping views. We almost took one of those, but since it was windy we opted to stay a little farther in. We hung a hammock and enjoyed a lazy afternoon. In the evening we made dinner (just freeze dried meals using the Jetboil stove) and then took a romantic stroll along the Exploration Trail. The Exploration Trail is a paved nature trail leading to some benches where you can sit and enjoy the view. It was a very relaxing evening. Once the sunset, the moon rose and lit up the entire sky. It was magical. I really don’t think I’ve ever seen a full moon as beautiful as the one we saw from this forest. It was amazing and so bright, we didn’t even need our headlamps. When it was time to sleep, the only sounds we heard was the wind howling through the trees. Since it was a Sunday night, there was hardly any trace of human beings around. Just the way I like it! I woke up a few times from the wind during the night and each time, I saw the moon in a different spot as it circled our tent throughout the night. It was about 5:30 am when I woke up and stepped outside to catch a little bit of sunrise. It was so quiet and peaceful and the sky was full of different colors. I wanted to enjoy a little more sleep, so I got back in the tent and didn’t get up again until about 7:30. Once we were awake, we made a fire, had breakfast and relaxed some more before heading up to the Nordic Base and hiking to Mt. Pinos again. This time we went a little further and took the Vincent Tumamait trail down to the bottom of the switchbacks, At that point we decided it was time to head back. I really just wanted to do a good climb with my heavy backpack on to get in some more training for Mt. Whitney before heading home. It really was a wonderful weekend. I especially didn’t want to leave the camp. We will definitely be staying here again sometime in the future. It’s such a beautiful place.Read More
Our first hike of 2019 was to Mount Hillyer. I love this hike. There’s so much going on. Lots of great rock formations and change of scenery along the way. It was 39 degrees at Chilao where we picked up the Silver Moccasin Trail with wind gusts up to 50 mph expected at the summit. We had a great hike up. The breezy day was refreshing and there’s not much exposure on this trail with all the boulders, so we were protected from the wind for most of the route. There was a downed tree on the switchbacks of the Silver Moccasin trail. I’m not sure if it was caused by the winds, but luckily it was easy to maneuver over. As we continued our journey upward, the winds became stronger. My core was warm with all my layers, but for some dumb reason I didn’t wear a bottom base layer under my hiking pants. I don’t know where my head was this morning. I knew there would be a wind chill, and I’m usually the one who is over prepared with too much gear. When we reached the gusty summit, I could feel the tops of my legs getting numb. We hauled butt pretty quickly down off the exposed mountain top. I haven’t felt that numb feeling set in since Pennsylvania when I would spend the entire day at the barn riding and taking care of my horses in temperatures below zero some days! Once out of the big gusts, my legs warmed up and we continued our descent. About 1:30 pm, we heard a loud roar in the sky. As we looked up we saw two B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers flying overhead. They were probably headed back to base after the Rose Parade. Last year we got to see one of them from the top of Waterman Mountain. I didn’t think we’d get to see that this year, but we actually got to see two of them! It was a great way to begin the New Year!Read More
My husband and I did a sunset hike on Mt. Lowe this past Sunday. We drove up to Eaton Saddle, followed the Mt. Lowe Fire Road through the Mueller Tunnel to Markham Saddle and then picked up the trail to the Mt. Lowe summit. I really like this area a lot. There’s never very many people and you get some great views of the rugged San Gabriels. The hike to the summit is a short one, but it was perfect for a day when we didn’t have time to do a long hike. The views are pretty great too. As the sun began to sink behind the Santa Monica Mountains to the west, we started to make our way back down the mountain. We reached Markham Saddle just 10 minutes before the sunset then stopped to enjoy the show as the light faded from orange, to pink and finally inky black. It was a little spooky coming back through the Mueller Tunnel in the dark, but the city below us lit up in a romantic, sparkling glow of lights. It was a great way to wrap up the weekend!Read More
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.Read More
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’ +/-Read More
I’m always looking to escape weekend crowds and find new trails to explore. This Sunday our hike was to the top of Mount Pacifico in the northern part of Angeles National Forest. We planned to start the hike at Mill Creek and follow the PCT which runs through this area. It looked like the trek would be around 12 to 14 miles depending on whether or not we did an out and back on the PCT or did a loop. The day was going to be hot, but I figured since we were heading up to a higher elevation, it might not be so bad on the ascent. If it got too hot, we would descend and save it for another time. The trail was very beautiful. There were many wildflowers and so much ceanothus (California lilac) which made for a very pleasant fragrance along the way. There was lots of wildlife activity too; squirrels, chipmunks, songbirds, bees, insects and butterflies. As we climbed higher, we started to see beautiful, tall pine trees. Much of the area was burned in the 2009 Station Fire, and we could see the effects of that as we hiked this route. But the area looks as though it’s been recovering nicely. Eventually, we reached a junction where we left the PCT and headed southeast to a jeep road that took us up to the summit. There are outstanding views of the surrounding mountain ranges along the way making the road more interesting. After about a mile or so we reached the summit. Mount Pacifico Campground is also here. There are picnic tables, a fire ring and vault toilets. That’s quite a luxury to have up on a summit! There are also a lot of very interesting rock formations to explore. There wasn’t anyone here today, so we took a good long rest and relaxed and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Soon it was time to head back and get ready for the heat as we descended to a lower elevation. We opted to come back the way we came on the PCT for a more scenic and enjoyable route. Both of us had been keeping well hydrated throughout the trip and we had no problems with it being so warm. We were even gifted with an occasional breeze as we hiked back down the mountain. I found this trail to be very nicely graded so although it was long, it was very pleasant. A very enjoyable hike!Read More
What an incredible day in Angeles National Forest! I was hoping to get to see more snow before the winter was over, and today I got my wish! I woke up at 5 am and we headed up Angeles Crest Highway just after the sunrise. I didn’t want to leave too early not knowing what the driving conditions would be like. As we got higher up in elevation, we started to see the snow. The roads still had a very light covering, but the driving was fine and there was no ice. It was beautiful just driving along the highway. Our destination was Waterman Mountain. This trail is one of my favorites in the summer and seeing it for the first time in winter was a treat! The pine trees were heavy with snow and icicles. The forest was incredibly serene and peaceful. The only sounds we heard were the birds singing and the ice melting off the majestic pine trees. The air was fresh and the sky was crystal clear. It was a bluebird day for sure. Today was also the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to photograph snow. When I lived in Pennsylvania, I hadn’t gotten into photography yet. Also, I was just so used to having snow in winter, that I really didn’t think much of it. Well that sure changes when you don’t get to see it anymore. I could not have asked for a more perfect day.
The plan for today was to hike about 9.7 miles from Inspiration Point to Vincent Gap along the PCT. The temperature was 25 degrees according to the temp gauge on my car when we arrived, and the winds were blowing at about 30 mph. This was going to be a good test to see how well we'd fare on the trail during the colder months and see what else we were going to need as far as layers, gear, etc. When we got out of the car, there was one obvious thing that my husband realized he didn't have... gloves! I knew he wasn't going to be able to do the hike with those winds whipping around the mountain on his bare hands. But rather then abort the mission, we drove over to Grassy Hollow where it's a little less exposed. I gave him my gloves since my fleece has sleeves that cover up most of your hands, and we got on the trail. I really enjoyed hiking in the crisp mountain air. My layering system seemed to work pretty good. The only thing I need to add as far as I can tell right now is a good pair of base layer tights under my hiking pants and a balaclava to cover my face when the wind is kicking up. After about a mile in, we decided to turn around and save the trail for another day when we were more prepared for the weather. Besides, I'd been thinking about a nice cup of hot chocolate covered in sprinkles and whipped cream from the Grizzly Cafe. On the way there, we saw Mountain High Ski Resort was blowing snow. We stopped to check it out. Even though this was a short day, we had a lot of fun getting our first taste of winter in our local mountains.Read More
Angeles National Forest is practically in my backyard. I’ve visited a few times in the past, but it wasn’t until recently when I discovered the work of David Horner, a Santa Monica based photographer who specializes in wild butterfly photography (solardarkroom.com) that my interest was piqued. His California Butterfly Project (over 10 years in the making) includes over 100 species that he photographed in the wild from sea level to 10,000 ft. from the border to Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada. I took notice that many of his sightings were located right here in the Angeles National Forest. About two years ago, I started a butterfly garden, Since then I’ve become somewhat of a butterfly enthusiast mostly observing them in my backyard and on my visits to local public gardens. When I saw the number of different butterfly species we have here in California on David’s website, I was inspired to revisit Angeles NF not only in the hopes of viewing butterflies in their natural habitats, but also to take advantage of the multitude of hiking trails. Years ago when I lived in Pennsylvania, I did quite a bit of hiking on solitary trails surrounded by nothing but the birds, the trees, the wildlife and peace and quiet. But now that I’ve been living in a big city, I didn’t really think too much about what else was available here aside from the overly populated locations such as runyon canyon or hiking up to the Hollywood sign. This past weekend I recruited my husband as my hiking partner (since you should never hike alone) and we ventured into Angeles NF. The drive alone up the winding roads offers such spectacular views. I’d planned ahead and decided our destination would be to hike from Charlton Flats to the top of Vetter Mountain. As we climbed up the trail, I was able to see first hand some of the damage done by the 2009 Station Fire which burned more than 161,000 acres. I also noticed lots of poodle dog bush which is a plant that causes skin irritation similar to poison oak if touched. Much of this was located within the burn area perimeter and as I later learned, it’s usually found in nearly all habitats that have been burned. Winding up the mountain, the trail was nothing less then spectacular with breathtaking views and wildflowers. We detoured off the main path to do an out and back trek along the Silver Moccasin trail which traversed upward and down through oak-lined canyons and high ridges. One day I’d like to take that trial a little further, as I didn’t want to get too side tracked since our goal was to reach the top of Vetter Mountain. After getting back on the main trail, we continued our journey until we reached the top of the fire lookout at Vetter Mountain. There we shared friendly conversation with forest rangers who were happy to answer our questions about the location. These people stand guard daily over our beautiful forest with nothing but a small shelter. The actual lookout tower was burned in the Station Fire. I have to give them credit for being up there all day watching out for us with the wind and colder temperatures on the 5,903 ft. sumit. We then climbed to the top of what remains of the old lookout and stood for a moment to enjoy the 360 degree view of the San Gabriel Mountains. With mission accomplished, it was time to head back. Round trip with our Silver Moccasin detour we did about a 7 mile, 2.5 hour hike. My hope for the day was to possibly photograph at least one wild butterfly. My wish was granted by a little common branded skipper who I saw fluttering along the trail as we got closer to where we started at Charlton Flats. It was a great morning and I will definitely be visiting Angeles NF more frequently to take advantage to all that it has to to offer including butterfly sightings and more hiking adventures.Read More