Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Joshua Tree Diaries: 22-26 December 2012, Part II

I awoke to bright pink cotton candy clouds on the northwestern horizon and steely blue ones closer in, a dramatic Christmas Day sunrise. I stayed in bed for a long time, reading and watching the light come up. When my mom and Frank got up, we put away a feast of fruit and oatmeal and eggs and potatoes and spinach salad, and after packing up a bit of lunch, we set out for Black Rock Canyon at the northeast corner of the park. We planned to walk to the top of Warren Peak and then decide on the way down whether to take the roughly three-mile Panorama Loop extension. At the start of the trail, I wasn't convinced this walk would be anything special. But as we continued, the landscape started to take a hold of me. The granite in this section of the park is black and veined with swirling pink, giving lie to the massive heat and pressure put upon the stuff underground so many millions of years ago. Rusty iron and green neon hued lichens spot the surfaces of the rocks, with the occasional yucca or prickly pear improbably bursting forward from cracks here and there.

The Joshua Tree Diaries: 22-26 December 2012, Part I

My mother and stepfather recently came to Los Angeles to visit. After three days in the city, we drove to Joshua Tree, where we rented a house at the edge of Joshua Tree National Park. Arriving on Saturday, we had lunch at Crossroads, settled in to the house, and then drove out to Pioneertown. Wandering down the dusty roads, we stared out at the burning lavender sunset. Once the sky stopped vamping, we realized how cold we were. It was only 5pm, but Pappy & Harriet's was packed. We put our name on a waiting list for a table, ordered a round of drinks, and took a few seats at the edge of the dance floor. The Shadow Mountain Band was checking sound.

Eventually, the guitar player and leader of the band said, "Well, I guess we might as well play a few songs, since we're here and all... ", and they kicked up a swinging rendition of "Hey Good Lookin'". One or two songs later, we were led to a table at the opposite side of the dance floor, right at edge of the stage. We ate fire grilled steak and catfish, drank tequila and beer, and watched kids and old folks and everyone in between dancing to the music. One song the Shadow Mountain Band played has stuck with me since. It's a traditional, and they did it in a rousing bluegrass style with four- or five-part close harmony:

I’m goin’ up on the mountain / And I ain’t coming down til the morning / I’m goin’ up on the mountain / And I ain’t coming down in chains

My spirit lives inside of me / And all I have to do is set it free / My spirit lives inside of me / And all I have to do is set it free

I’m goin’ up to set my my soul free / And I ain’t coming down til the morning / I’m goin’ up to set my my soul free / And I ain’t coming down in chains

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mount Zion, 24 November 2012

Mount Zion
24 November 2012
Loop: Chantry Flat to Sturtevant Trail, Lower Falls Trail to Upper Zion Trail Junction, Winter Creek Trail back to Chantry Flats
8 miles
3,575 feet above sea level with 1,500 feet of elevation gain
3 hours

After doing this lovely walk with a group, I wanted to do it again on my own for time. It was already 72 degrees when I arrived at the trailhead. The air was hot and dry until I crossed the footbridge into the woods. The path was crowded with walkers going to Sturtevant Falls, but once I was on the Lower Falls Trail, I encountered fewer people and had good portions of the route to myself. I needed the solitude and was glad to find it. Clearing the initial jumble of thoughts and impressions out of my head, I concentrated on my form and pace, envisioning my mind connected to the vastness of the sky opening out above me and my body using every muscle to move through space, carefully, steadily, and swiftly. The autumn light filtered through the treetops, the smell of campfire smoke, the occasional rain of falling sycamore leaves, and the rushing streams reassured me that I am at home in the world.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mount Zion, 18 November 2012

Mount Zion
18 November 2012
Loop: Chantry Flat to Sturtevant Trail, Lower Falls Trail to Upper Zion Trail Junction, Winter Creek Trail back to Chantry Flats
8 miles
3,575 feet above sea level with 1,500 feet of elevation gain
About five hours
Olivia Booth, Anne Ellegood, Nick Herman, Kristin Beinner James, Aandrea Stang, Corrina Peipon, and Siggy

The air at Chantry Flat was damp and cool and fresh as can be after Saturday's rain. Our band set out down the Sturtevant Trail only to be overtaken by another, enormous group. Nick wisely urged us over to the side, and we let the whole lot of them pass. After winding down the paved fire road, we reached the green bridge. Crossing the bridge to the Sturtevant Trail feels like passing into another universe. The verdant forest with its community of tiny cabins is so close to the city but offers a kind of beauty and peace that is found nowhere else in the area. We quickly arrived at the junction of the Sturtevant Trail with the spur trail for Sturtevant Falls and both the Upper and Lower Falls Trails. We took the Lower Falls Trail for a lovely view of Sturtevant Falls from above.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mount Baldy, 7 October 2012

Mount San Antonio (Baldy)
7 October 2012
Out and back: Bear Canyon Trail
12 miles
10,064 feet above sea level with 6,000 feet of elevation gain
About eight hours
Corrina Peipon and Ellen Donnelly

When I was walking on Mount San Gorgonio in September, I decided that I want to do all of the summit trails on four local mountians: Wilson, Baldy, San Jacinto, and San Gorgonio. I had already been to the Mount Baldy summit twice, but I had used the same route both times. This time, we took the Bear Canyon Trail. Starting out right in Baldy Village, the trail snakes through a lovely residential area before making a quick rise over several switchbacks. The scenery changes dramatically after Bear Flat: exposure increases as the thick woods give way to low desert shrubs. The walk gets significantly more difficult from there on out, as well. There were a number of times when I looked up and thought that relief might be just around the bend, and each time, I allowed myself to be deceived. I should know by now that it's never possible to see what really lies ahead. After what felt like hours of inching ever upward over rocky, dusty ground, fighting sharp branches with nothing to look at but a dry, featureless canyon, we were finally rewarded with a view back down over the valley. Boulders and pine trees added welcome dimension and scale to the scenery on the trail, and I felt my energy renewed. Though the trail leveled out slightly for a few hundred yards, it wasn't long before we were walking straight up again, often sliding back on loose rubble. But now and then, a bend in the trail would open out to some gorgeous vista, and we pressed on.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mount San Gorgonio, 1-3 September 2012, Part II

We weren't even out of the canyon before I had to stop to remove a couple of layers of clothing. Back on the main trail, the sun was already high, and the air was thick and warm. And so, we walked. With each rest, I examined the map and was humbled. I'd become accustomed to keeping up a three to four mile per hour pace on my walks. Wearing my home on my back, however, I was slowed down to about one and a half miles per hour, and on a good incline, of which there were many, I was resigned to an even slower pace. Jennifer, Peter, and I fell naturally into a pattern of walking on our own and meeting up now and then to rest, replenish our water supplies, and eat a little something. At Saxton Camp, we ran into the worst kind of backcountry dudes, self-styled wilderness survivalists who, upon hearing that we were aiming to summit later in the day, were happy to express their profound doubt at our ability to do so. Jennifer was right to be friendly, but I was put off. "We'll be fine," I spat, and marched away to steam, perched on the root of a huge tree. I would walk miles before I shook their bias and ill will. But leaving Saxton, I felt rested and strong. I was so excited to reach the summit, and I imagined walking back down another side of the mountain, setting up camp, and digging in to a warm supper. But until then, I walked. And walked.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mount San Gorgonio: 1-3 September 2012, Part I

Mount San Gorgonio (Old Greyback)
1-3 September 2012
Shuttle: Momyer Trail to summit, Vivian Creek Trail back to Forest Falls
23 miles
11,500 feet above sea level with 6,060 feet of elevation gain from the Momyer trailhead
Camps: Dobbs and High Creek
Corrina Peipon, Jennifer West, Peter West

With all of the walking I'd been doing, I'd begun to daydream about staying out on the trail overnight. While I'd done a lot of car camping, I had never been backpacking. Rather than borrowing and renting gear to try it out, I'd decided to build a kit from scratch. By the middle of the summer, I was just about ready. I was lucky that the Wests were free on Labor Day weekend and even luckier to get a permit to walk and camp on Mount San Gorgonio. Jennifer and Peter have both been taking backpacking trips since they were kids. I couldn't imagine better people to go on a first backpacking trip with. And while the available campsites weren't ideal (the first day's walk was too short and the second day's was too long), we would make do. I was determined to climb the three highest peaks in the region in succession this summer, and after San Antonio and San Jacinto, Old Greyback was waiting for me. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Will Rogers State Historic Park to Trippet Ranch, 15 July 2012

Will Rogers State Historic Park to Trippet Ranch
Backbone Trail
25 miles: out and back on the Backbone Trail 11.5 each way; 1 mile to and from the trailhead inside WRSHP
Not really any elevation gain or loss to speak of; a few hundred feet, probably
About 7 hours walking and 30 minutes for lunch

So, I was thinking about going to the Grand Canyon later in the year, and when I started reading about walking in and around the canyon, I came across what some call a "classic" walk: rim to rim in a day. The walk is about 23 miles in total with an elevation drop and then gain of about 6,000 feet each way. While some call it classic, others call it crazy. The National Park Service literature warns against attempting it. But trip reports around the internet prove that it's done quite often. In fact, it seems that it's more often run than walked. Anyway, all of this piqued my interest. What would it be like to walk across the Grand Canyon without stopping? What would it be like to walk across the Grand Canyon without stopping, alone?

I mentioned to a friend or two that I'd heard of people walking from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other in a single day and was roundly, vigorously discouraged from attempting it. But my trip was months away; it couldn't hurt to do a little experimenting to test whether I was fit enough for such an adventure. To be safe, I decided to do one walk approximating the distance and another one approximating the elevation gain and loss. Since I often walk in Will Rogers State Historic Park and have also walked a bit near Trippet Ranch in Topanga State Park, it seemed like a nice idea to use the Backbone Trail to link the two, and the distance was just a little bit longer than the 23-mile estimates of the rim to rim grand Canyon walk with very little elevation gain and loss. I chose a convenient Saturday in July and put it on the calendar.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mount San Jacinto, 7 July 2012: Part IV

I remained up there in the blue, blue sky, eating my lunch and looking out into forever for an hour or so. I've come to always eat the same thing on long walks. The salad of red quinoa, black beans, and avocado laced with red onion, lime, and salt is so satisfying. I ate a bunch of raw almonds, too, and some 85% chocolate that was melting from the mid-day sun. I felt high. Facing southwest while I ate my lunch, I saw the peak of Mount Baldy, where I'd been just a week prior. And beyond that, I could see the towers and white domes atop Mount Wilson, the mountain where this whole story began. Closer in, I looked in revery at the casually imposing Mount San Gorgonio, the tallest mountain in southern California. From my spot at 10,834 feet, its 11,503 feet didn't seem all that intimidating, and I couldn't wait to get up there, too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mount San Jacinto, 7 July 2012: Part III

Finally, I reached the divide. I heard it before I saw it. Feeling mildly afraid of my body's response to the last leg of the walk, I was anxious to get to Wellman Divide. I am often shy and sometimes annoyed when there are a lot of folks at a resting place, but when I heard all of the voices up ahead, I was relieved. If I fainted, at least there were people around to help me right away. I set my pack down on the first open rock I spotted in the shady clearing and found the liter Platypus bag I'd filled with an electrolyte drink I'd made. I leaned against the big rock and drank deeply. In any other setting the taste of the lemon, honey, salt, and baking soda concoction would have tasted like a botched lemonade, but right then, it was the most delicious thing I could imagine. I'd been walking at a swift pace for three hours without stopping for more than a few minutes at a time. I'd covered five and a half miles and climbed 3,500 feet to Wellman Divide at 9,720 feet above sea level. I was tired and dizzy, but as I concentrated on my breath, I could feel my body acclimating to the new surroundings.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mount San Jacinto, 7 July 2012: Part II

Back at camp and ravenous, I cooked up some tacos. I made a small fire and read for a while, but I was tired and wanted a good rest in anticipation of the next day's walk. Unfortunately, said anticipation led to insomnia. I read for a long time and then sat awake for most the night just thinking about stuff. I slept a little bit and woke at seven. I'd hoped to be at the trailhead by then. I quickly dressed and got my gear together. To save time, I used my ten-inch iron skillet to cook my whole breakfast at once instead of my six-inch iron skillet to cook my sausage, eggs, and corn bread in stages. Big mistake. My stove is rad, but I now know that it doesn't evenly heat up a ten-inch iron skillet on a cold mountain morning. When everything was finally scrambled together and cooked through, I traded bites with lacing up my boots. I was finally at the trailhead by eight. The lot at Humber Park was mostly full already. As I pulled in, I stared in awe up at the noble face of Lily Rock, what is commonly known as Tahquitz Rock. I greeted a climber who was sorting gear and realized he was getting ready to ascend that thing. Crazy.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mount San Jacinto, 7 July 2012: Part I

Mount San Jacinto
Devil's Slide Trail
16 miles: out and back from Humber Park on the Devil's Slide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, San Jacinto Peak Trail
Around 4,833 feet from about 6,000 feet in Idyllwild to the summit at 10,833
About 6 hours walking and one hour for lunch

I'd made the campsite reservation months in advance. Stone Creek Campground, site number 7. It would be me; Marisa, Jacob, Reed, and Birdy; and Chelsea, Kurt, Mona, and Moxie for four days of mountain sun and breezes, three nights of campfires, and a walk to the summit of Mount San Jacinto, a walk I'd been wanting to take for years. First, the Hartmans dropped out; camping with a toddler and a puppy can't be easy. Then, Kurt decided he'd stay behind with the dogs, and Chelsea begged off for the first night. So, I embraced the change of plans, got a permit for Chelsea and I to walk the Devil's Slide Trail, over-packed the car, and lit out for Idyllwild and my first ever night of camping alone.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mount Baldy, 1 July 2012: Jennifer's Film

When Jennifer and I climbed Mount Baldy on the first of July, she carried her 16mm Bolex camera, to the delight of nearly every other hiker on the trails. She was experimenting with double exposures, and while the final result will be chalked up to a test, I like how the overexposure gives a sense of the bright, hot morning light on the fire road leading up to Baldy Notch.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mount Baldy, 1 July 2012

Mount San Antonio (Mount Baldy)
Loop: Devil's Backbone Trail to summit, Mount Baldy Trail to Manker Flat
13 miles
10,064 feet above sea level with about 4,000 feet elevation gain from Manker Flat outside of Baldy Village
5 1/2 hours walking, about 1 hour at the summit
Corrina Peipon and Jennifer West

Jennifer was waiting for me at Manker Flat when I pulled in around 7:30. On our first Mount Baldy excursion, Jennifer had been enamored of the blooming yuccas and wanted to go back with her camera. I just wanted to do the walk again, to try it with different shoes and to see if I'd make better time. Jennifer carried her (very heavy) 16mm Bolex camera, and I wore New Balance 993s instead of my Zamberlans. I'd just gotten a pair of gaiters. Even though I thought they actually looked super cool, I figured anyone else would probably find them pretty silly. So, I asked Jennifer not to laugh at them, but she did anyway...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mount Wilson, 24 June 2012

Mount Wilson
Chantry Flat Trailhead to Sturtevant Falls Trail, Lower Falls Trail, Gabrielino Trail, Mount Wilson Observatory, Old Toll Road, Upper Winter Creek Trail
13 miles
5,710 feet with 4,000 feet of elevation gain
5 1/2 Hours

I should learn my lesson. All of the trail guides note that the small parking lot at Chantry Flat fills up by 07:00 on weekends. I guess I was feeling optimistic. Or maybe I was just tired and wanted to sleep in for another few minutes. But on a gorgeous Sunday morning, even people who like to sleep until noon sometimes venture out for an early morning walk, and when I arrived a few minutes past 07:30, I tried not to get angry at the woman driving a huge black Escalade who seemed to think that if she just waited there that one of the spots might open up. I almost got out to let her know that all of the car owners were out hiking and wouldn't be back for hours, but she finally eased slowly forward, reluctantly rolling back out of the parking lot and onto the narrow road to look for a pullout large enough to accommodate her enormous vehicle. Luckily, I was able to pass her quickly and slip into a little nook well within the white line. I hooked up my Adventure Pass and almost jogged back up to the trailhead. I was itching to get walking. I was looking forward to the walk's beautiful scenery, but I was also on a schedule: I wanted to get up to the observatory in time to eat a little bit of lunch and then attend a performance by Katie Grinnan that was being staged as part of Knowledges, an exhibition of art installed in and around the observatory. My goal was to get to the observatory by noon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mount Baldy, 27 May 2012: More photographs...

For most of us on the walk, this was our first time on Mount Baldy. Thanks to Chelsea and Jennifer for sharing these pictures.
At the summit, about to make our way back down: Peter West, Chelsea Beck, Corrina Peipon, and Chris James way off in the background, against West Baldy...
The yuccas were in bloom all along the trail, scenting the air with their light fragrance.
Chris and Nick took the Mount Baldy Trail up and met us on the summit, but Chelsea, the Wests and I continued on the fire road up to Baldy Notch so that we could walk across the Devil's Backbone Trail. It was surely worth it.
I think Alex Katz should paint this picture of Chelsea.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer Solstice Sunset Walk to Parker Mesa Overlook

I started out on Los Liones Trail. The sky was deep blue and clear. Now that I have walked this trail a few times, I found my stride right away. The long grasses brushed against my legs. Walking. Breathing. Sweating. At the junction of Los Liones Trail and the fire road leading to Parker Mesa Overlook, I realized that I hadn't seen anyone for a good half an hour; now that the sun was setting, it was likely that I would have the rest of the walk to myself. Up and up and up. The dust rose around me with my steps. There is some plant that grows on many of the trails here that smells like marijuana. Maybe it is marijuana. The sea stretched out to my left, epic blue. Molasses, salt, and dry grass. As I turned the corner into Happy's Meadow, the sun's slanty light illuminated the high, bent yellow grasses. I looked up at a deer staring me down from the next turn in the trail. She let me come closer and then hopped into the brush. But I could see her ears peeking out above her hiding place as I passed. I walked past the junction for Trippett Ranch, and noticed that the whole scene was now awash in pink light. The white yucca blooms glowed in sharp relief against the shady, dark green chaparral, and I could smell the sea. Salt and vanilla. As the sun slid down behind the hills of Topanga, a band of pink and orange light encircled me, and the slopes leaned grey and slate blue in shadow against the gloaming. The white tail of a little brown rabbit disappeared into the terra cotta dirt at the side of the trail while I walked, breathing and sweating. I inadvertently startled another woman on the trail, the first person I'd seen for a couple of miles. She had changed course against the coming dark. I turned off down the hill leading into the riparian cover of Los Liones Trail. Low branches and thick ivy. I thought about stopping to get my headlamp out of my pack. I saw one last view of the ocean flash in front of me as I turned down a sharp switchback, and then it was dark. The picture had changed from color to black and white. Each turn looked like a turn into complete darkness, but then my eyes would adjust. I heard a phone ring in a house far away on the ridge above me, and when I emerged from the cave of tree cover and vines, I was back in the city again, my car waiting there in the parking lot, alone.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Icehouse Canyon, 17 June 2012

Icehouse Canyon
Out and back to Icehouse Saddle
About 7 miles
2,600 feet of elevation gain from trailhead to Icehouse Saddle
(A few of us went another .9 mile up to Timber Mountain at 8,303; nearly 800 feet more in less than a mile!)
About 4 hours walking time, plus a good sit at the saddle, where we ate a little bit of lunch
Corrina, David Jones, Amanda Law, Claude Collins-Stracensky, and The West Family: Jennifer, Peter, Ariel, and Finn

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mount Baldy, 27 May 2012

Mount San Antonio (Mount Baldy)
Loop: Devil's Backbone Trail to summit, Baldy Bowl Trail to Manker Flat
13 miles
10,064 feet above sea level with about 4,000 feet elevation gain from Manker Flat outside of Baldy Village
6 hours walking, about 1 hour at the summit
Corrina Peipon, Chelsea Beck, Chris James, Nick Herman & Siggy, Jennifer & Peter West