U.S.D.A. Identifier: Cedar Springs Trail-4E13
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks.
Distance as hiked: 6 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,400ft., Top of trail- 6,800ft.
The Mountain Fire in the summer of 2013 devasted a large area of the southern San Bernardino Mountains. Located near Mountain Center and Idyllwild, Ca. the fire eventually spread to over 25,000 acres and burned in steep, difficult terrain. I don’t know of any deaths, but unfortunately homes were destroyed. Some info and pics here: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=81677
The fire affected an approximate 10 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail and a half-dozen trails throughout the San Jacinto Forest area. PCT hikers in 2014 and again in 2015 will have to detour onto Hwy 74 before getting back on the trail near Idyllwild. It also destroyed one of our favorite trails – Spitler Peak.
We would find a trail just south of the burn perimeter named Cedar Springs Trail. It’s located off of Hwy 74, about two miles from the junction with Hwy 371 and four miles south of Lake Hemet. There is a trail marker along the highway and a paved road takes you up and over a ridge several miles to the trailhead. The trail is located on private land, named Camp Scherman – a 700 acre camp owned by the Girl Scouts of Orange County. The pavement ends about 100 yards past the trailhead and parking is very limited, you basically have to angle your vehicle on the inclined hill.
The path starts out on a fire road and makes its way into a wooded area through a gate. There are several gates on this hike; not sure why but suspect there are horses or maybe some free range cattle. We paralleled a dry creek bed and the trail becomes a rocky, rutted path that appears to be a dry creek. The oak trees are the dominant tree and offer nice shade. We came up to a picnic area consisting of two tables near a meadow. To the right, the trees and shrubs are concentrated in a riparian area. We noticed a ribbon of a stream about 25 yards off-trail. Ahead was an ominous sign that made us giggle.
Up until this point, it was a leisurely walkabout along a fire road and a riparian path through the woods. Now, we would hit some switchbacks and begin a gradual climb. The views usually get better when you have switchbacks. If nothing else, the perspective changes. The hillside was covered with young yucca plants and skeletons of the old ones. It’s an interesting plant and can live for many years. I suspect the average life of this variety is less than ten years. Some species live to be over a hundred.
We rounded a switchback and were confronted with a mixed breed Rottweiler off-leash who was barking angrily at us. I got in front of my wife and held out my poles in case he charged. Three women were about 50 ft. behind and his owner tried to get him to stop advancing and barking at us, but he wasn’t very obedient. Eventually, she got him under control and we passed. I love animals, but some breeds are a bit intimidating on the trail. I reigned in my frustration over the incident and hiked on.
As we hit a summit and intersection with the PCT, we also saw some other signs which were disappointing.
Oh well, we will just hang a right and go south on the PCT for a bit.
The wind picked up as we trekked south and eventually we found an area sheltered from the wind looking down into the desert.
As we enjoyed the solitude and had our lunch with some hot tea, I noticed someone passing about 30 ft. behind us moving fairly quickly. I don’t believe he saw us because we were down behind some rocks. After lunch, we hit the trail for our return trip. Within a few minutes, we ran into the guy who passed us. He looked a bit frazzled and stressed. He had a distinct British accent and mentioned that he had been lost for several hours just south of here and was supposed to meet his wife at a restaurant nearby. I assured him that he was on the PCT heading back in the right direction. This gentleman was out alone, no map, no backpack, a GPS with a dead battery and a 20 oz. bottle of juice. We made sure he was ok and followed behind him. He was moving quickly and eventually disappeared.
Our descent was uneventful as I reflected back on another enjoyable day on the trail. While the beautiful Sierras are the ultimate eye-candy, the short hikes on the PCT near our home are a good prescription for the office cubicle doldrums.
– When hiking alone, pack the 10 hiking essentials and always let someone know where you are hiking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Essentials
– When day hiking, I carry a little extra water and snacks in case we run into a lost hiker.
– If you get lost, take a break, calm down and try to get reoriented.
– If you are hopelessly lost, do not get off the path. Stay put, eventually you will be found.
Gear we use:
…. He found the 550 para-cord in my backpack and used it to bind our hands behind our backs and to the trunk of a large manzanita bush. We were beyond scared and prayed for deliverance knowing that when “el jefe” returned, we would be on our way south of the border to be held for ransom, or worse. Dusk was coming quickly as I made eye contact with my wife and gave her a wink.
The Espinosa Trail is a well-known trek for locals in the greater San Diego area. The goal is normally Corte Madera Mountain, a distinct rock formation on a plateau in the southern Cleveland National Forest. I actually found the hike in our local guidebook while looking for something closer to home. Normally, we would head north toward the San Bernardino Mountains. Today would be a bit different with views of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
We loaded up our packs with the typical days’ fare of 2-3 liters of water, a lunch and some extra snacks. With the microclimate in this area the temperatures can vary 40-50 degrees within 60 miles, so we took our layers of clothing.
Making our way out on the I-8 freeway, we passed El Cajon and a handful of smaller communities in eastern SD county. Zipping by the exit for Mt. Laguna, we noticed a Border Patrol checkpoint on the eastbound side. The exit to the Corte Madera Mtn trailhead came up and we headed south toward the small town of Campo. It’s well-known for the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The southern terminus of the PCT is very close to the Mexican-U.S. border. We turned down another road with a gravel washboard for a surface. It bounced the heck out of us until we came up on a military installation (Navy SEAL training base) behind a barb-wired topped fence. Of special note, we were behind a Border Patrol SUV. Hmm, that is interesting, but we are near the border. We also noticed that this road led to an Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) recreation area and noticed quite a few trucks pulling Jeeps and hauling dirt bikes. The road changed to a mostly one-lane black top as we drove the 4 miles to the trailhead.
The trailhead wasn’t labeled, but the gate to the private road was noted in the trail guidebook. There was a USDA placard describing how this area is subject to closure due to the mating season of the raptors. Like many trails, this one was diverse. Beginning as a dirt road, we exited at a handmade trail sign sitting on top of a trash can. “Espinosa Trail”, yes that’s the way. Starting our 1,800 ft. climb we emerged into a nondescript area of chaparral and scrub. Apparently, the Espinosa Creek was nearby, but there was no evidence of water. We could see a fire tower in the distance, one of the last remaining ones in the county. Emerging on a jeep trail, we took a right and proceeded up a winding dirt road to the next trail junction. Noticed our second set of hikers today, but this would be a fairly uncrowded trail. To the north was Hill 4588, as the Forest Service calls it on their maps. Topped with Coulter pines, it was our first objective. The trail narrowed and began a steep ascent. Scrambling over rocks, this became the hardest part of the hike. My wife – as nimble as a billy-goat going uphill, steadily traversed the path. I huffed and puffed while taking an occasional drink from my hydration pack.
The view from Hill 4588 was nice as we could see for miles in every direction. The trail was full of those senseless up-downs (SUDS) and we finally leveled out on a plateau. Now, we could see the cliff, a notable 300 ft. drop into the canyon below. We stopped, found a trail log and had our late lunch. The view was amazing. So this was Corte Madera! The Pacific to the west, Mexico to the south and the rest of Cleveland National Forest to our north. It was getting late as the days were getting short. I estimated that we had less than two hours of daylight left. We set a decent pace as our hiking poles helped us to skirt down the hill, the sun setting quickly behind the mountain. We entered the last leg near the jeep road and I was looking forward to a hot shower to knock of the trail dust.
They came out of the bushes to our right and shouted something unrecognizable in spanish. There were four of them, two with guns drawn. Shocked, we dropped our hiking poles and raised our hands. In broken english one of them pointed to the woods and said something like “go to there”. They herded us off the path about 50 yards or so into the woods.
I recommend these hiking poles. They are lightweight and fairly sturdy. Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue
We use this Nikon camera forour treks: Nikon D3300 DX-format DSLR Kit w/ 18-55mm DX VR II & 55-200mm DX VR II Zoom Lenses and Case
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Icehouse Canyon
Type of trail: As hiked – a modified loop
Distance as hiked: 7.5 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,400 ft., Top of trail-7,234 ft.
Temps: 75-85 degrees
Trail Composition: dirt, rock, scree
Fees: Day use fee or Adventure Pass
Due to recent fire in San Jacinto area, we ventured back to the Mt. Baldy area. We haven’t been there since last summer and there are tons of trails to explore. Today, we picked Icehouse Canyon. My blogging buddy “Hiking Angeles Forest” knows this area well and has written extensively on the San Gabriels.
Be sure to pick up your permit at the Visitor Center in Baldy Village. The volunteer on duty was friendly and we were on our way in minutes. The trailhead is approximately 1.5 miles up the road with a well marked sign on the right. The parking lot for the trail is large, mainly because this is a busy trail. Too busy for my liking, but it is a summer weekend and there is water near the trail.
The path is well marked as you navigate your way around boulders. Going up, a canyon wall is on the left and there are old cabins along the trail next to a creek. This creek appears to run year-round with several nice cascades. We would take the Chapman Trail on the left around the one mile mark. Most of the people were continuing on Icehouse Canyon. Actually most of the lowlanders were hanging around the creek. The Chapman trail was less crowded and provided decent solitude – even for a Saturday afternoon.
We stopped for lunch at Cedar Glen Camp, a relatively flat area with – you guessed it – cedars. It was a bit buggy for this late July day, the gnats were annoying, but at least they weren’t mosquitos. After lunch, we began a gradual climb, emerged from the woods and entered an area of chaparral. You could see where parts of the area burned and the new growth appeared to be between 7-10 years old.
The trail broke out as we hiked through talus and slides. We trekked along a cliff with drop offs that were 500 ft. or more. If you are afraid of heights, this is not the trail for you. Heck, if you are afraid of heights, you probably shouldn’t be hiking. It was exciting and the views to the west were great.
Hitting the junction to Icehouse Canyon Saddle, we took a right and began a quick descent. I can imagine that this would be a fun climb in the winter and envisioned what it was like to snowshoe up here. Haven’t done that yet, but we are planning to try out some snowshoe day hikes this winter. The Chapman trail would actually be sketchy in the winter unless you had some crampons and an ice axe.
The path from the Chapman Trail junction down would wind its’ way along a mostly dry creek and would criss-cross the canyon several times. We were keeping our eye on a helicopter that was flying circles about 3-4 miles to our west toward Mt. Baldy. Soon, we saw smoke near the helicopter’s path. We picked up the pace a bit just in case. We still had two miles to go. I took the opportunity to discuss how we would handle a fire if it breached the hill. Canyons are not the best place to be in a fire as they tend to concentrate the flames. I pointed out areas of scree and talus on the slopes to the east where there was less fuel. Not ideal, but our choices would be limited. We could also soak our neckerchiefs with water and place them over our mouths/noses if needed.
After 20-30 minutes, the smoke diminished so whatever it was appeared to be under control. Hike with us and you are assured to have an adventure. Nearing the trailhead, we laughed at the sign warning the fishermen.
All in all, Icehouse Canyon – Chapman Trail is a nice hike. Best done during the week or late on the weekend. It was good to review some wilderness skills like wildfire procedures. I’ve learned so much by reading other blogs and resources on the Internet. If you are old fashioned like me and enjoy the feel of a book, then The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Revised and Updated: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills by Rick Curtis is an excellent resource. Enjoy your hike friends, and take someone with you to enjoy the beauty of this great land.
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Marion Mountain Trail-2E14
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks, pine straw
Distance as hiked: 12.5 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,400ft., Top of trail-10,834ft.
The last time we hiked Marion Mountain Trail was in April/May of 2012. Snow covered a good portion of the trail above 8,000 ft, and we only made it to the junction. It is known as one of the shortest and steepest routes to the summit of San Jacinto.
We took my brother on this hike as a warm up for the JMT at the end of the month. this is a challenging trail with difficult terrain. You must keep a sharp eye out for the path as it gets tricky.
Less than half a mile into today’s hike, I came within a foot of a Pacific rattler, who warned me in the nick of time. My hiking pole was inches away from his tail. I backed away slowly to allow this 4-5 foot adult make his way up the slope. Close encounters with rattlers gets the adrenaline going. The color and pattern of this one blended in perfectly with the trail. While I’ve had over a dozen encounters with rattlers in my few years of hiking, this was the closest. Our altitude was approx. 6,700 ft. In my observation, snakes are rarely seen above 8,000 ft. in the San Bernardino Mountains. It made me more cautious the rest of the day and I also took the time to brief my hiking partners on how we would handle a poisonous snake bite situation.
After snapping a few photos of this viper, we focused on our journey to the summit. The trail wastes no time in elevation gain as it climbs out at over 900 ft. per mile. The short switchbacks and rocky, sandy trail makes for a calf and quad burning extravaganza.
Due to the lack of snowfall last winter, the vernal streams are fewer and water flows much less. The first significant stream was around 9,300-9,400 ft., and probably feeds into the tiny San Jacinto River. The temps stayed in the 80’s for much of this trek and we were using up our water faster than predicted. There were a couple of other streams where a someone with a pump could extract some water.
Sometimes, I question why we do these tough hikes. Marion Mtn is one of the hardest ones around. It’s really mind over matter because it isn’t always fun. It does build confidence in the sense that once you put your mind to something, you can conquer it. Besides, if you always hiked on flat terrain it would be boring.
We took many breaks today due to the heat and intensity of the trail. We started feeling the possible symptoms of mild acute mountain sickness (AMS) around 9,000 ft. To compensate, a motrin and increased fluid intake helped, as well as slowing the ascent. Symptoms may include nausea, light-headedness and a mild headache. We kept an eye on this and agreed to head back down if the symptoms did not go away. AMS is nothing to play around with and is important to recognize it as it can lead to a more serious condition. You can read about it here: http://www.altitude.org/altitude_sickness.php
We took a lunch break at the junction of the PCT/Marion Mtn/Seven Pines trails. From the junction, you enter a heavily wooded area for 1/2 mile and begin a steady climb that is exposed to afternoon sun. The trail is rocky with occasional shade under some conifers. We continued on to Little Round Valley campground. It is a nice area with private campsites less than a mile to the summit. The nearby vernal stream was pretty much dry, so I recommend you top off at the stream about 700-800 yds before camp on the ascent.
We broke out into a clearing with signs that pointed us to the summit and points to the tram, Wellman’s Divide, Deer Springs Trail and Humber Park. The views to several 10,000+ peaks and the desert below are beautiful.
No hike to San Jacinto is complete without stopping by the summit cabin. The last 200 ft. to the summit are spent scrambling up boulders and around the flora. At the top, we saw several others – not too bad. Sometimes, you can run in to 30 or 40 people crowded around the sign. It was 5:30 by then, so that might have something to do with it.
We started down by 6 p.m. knowing that it was going to be a close call on darkness. I have to admit, this trail is no easier going down since you have to pick your way around the rocks and scree. We burned through our food and snacks due to the extra effort going up. Now, we were on auto pilot.
As darkness approached, we broke out the headlamps and realized we would be hiking for at least another hour. The forest and moonless night made for a slow descent as we picked our way over the obstacles. My headlamp needed the batteries replaced, but I kept going. I did have spare batteries, but just didn’t want to stop. After a week of night hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness last year, this wasn’t too bad. My hiking partners weren’t digging it though. Actually, I was tired and ready for it to end too.
If you’ve hiked this trail, you know how hard it is to follow – especially at night. As Mary discovered, the scorpions come out at night here. While I was struggling to see the trail ahead, she was seeing every crawling critter on the path. Oh well, at least the scorpions are small.
After 1 1/2 hrs, we finally reached the parking area and were dog-tired. We were still committed to the post-hike celebratory meal of In-N-Out with “animal style fries”. Well, if you live out here – you know what that is.
This hike is a great workup for a Mt. Whitney type trip. We used it as a warmup for the JMT. Even though the trail humbled us, we came away confident with a few lessons learned.
1. Take more water than you think you need or have the ability to filter some. For me that’s 1 liter for every 3 miles. Your mileage may vary. I carry a backup 24 oz. Camelbak bottle and needed it on this hike.
2. Take extra food and snacks. While we had enough, it wasn’t enough if we had gotten lost and needed to spend the night. Keep some of those nuclear proof classic Clif Bars in your emergency pack.
3. Hiking at night is slow going, especially in tough terrain. Scree isn’t as obvious and a rolled ankle 3 miles from the trailhead is a bad thing.
We use trekking poles when hiking. This is a good set that is reasonably priced: Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue Unless you are a pro, don’t spend your money on the carbon fiber poles.
It’s funny how much time you waste piddling around the campsite. By the time we loaded up, it was almost 9 a.m. We had a 7 mile descent ahead. Other than the difficulty of carrying a full load uphill, going down is harder. You tend to slip more and your toes feel like they’re coming out the front of your shoe. The talus was steep and the trail angled, which caused us to compensate by putting more weight on the uphill foot. It was slow going but we were ready to finish this. The focus required to maintain footing was intense. When you think about every step on this terrain being calculated, your brain gets a real workout too.
The volunteer trail crews have done an amazing job out here. On a previous scouting hike of Momyer Creek Trail, I counted no less than 10 blow-downs blocking the trail. By Memorial Day, they had cleared them all. Sometimes, I will make a note on the position of a trail issue and report it back to the ranger station on the way out. The hiking community is tight-knit and are good stewards of the trail. By noon, the exposed areas on the trail were heating up. It was a blessing to go in and out of the forest as the temps would drop 5-10 degrees in the shade.
Toward the end, we started to run into day-hikers and people who seemed to be out for a stroll. As we neared Mill Creek, we heard groups of people and lots of kids. We passed a family heading uphill, their daughter asking us “where the river was?” “River? Oh, you mean Alger Creek, it’s 3.7 miles that-a-way.” I doubt they made it that far as they towed an elderly woman who was inching along. They also had their sodas and snacks in a clear trash bag. Please don’t take me wrong, I don’t mean to make fun of them, it’s the contrast between a few days away from society and being thrust into an urban picnic. We came across another family and after we told them about our 27 mile hike, the daughter asked to take our picture. Of course, we agreed. Wow, we were puffed up now!
We entered Mill Creek Wash and the atmosphere was that of a park, with people gathered around the creek, umbrellas, blankets and picnic supplies. It was too much for us – as in culture shock too much. Civilization smacked us right in the face. What we saw as a simple wash with a creek running through it became a beach front resort to the people of metro San Bernardino.
After getting back to the car, we laughed for a long time about what we just witnessed. Imagine, going into the backcountry for a few days without having time to acclimate to society. We still giggle about it. In the end, our trip to Gorgonio was hard, but great practice for the JMT. Time spent together as a couple was primo. Taking the bear canisters gave Mary an idea what it was like to pack everything (including trash) in a can. One more hike up San Jacinto and we will be ready for one of the best treks in the country.
The scene at Mill Creek showed us one thing – people love to get out and away from the city. Imagine how much more fun it is to venture a few miles out. I encourage you to go higher and farther. Amazing times await you…
Day hiking is definitely a good way to warm up for section hiking. Just like car camping is a good way to warm up for wilderness camping. At least that’s how we approach it.
The first day up Momyer Creek Trail was a challenge. With 3,000 ft. of elevation gain and difficult terrain, we were ready for a quiet night. Our first task after getting camp set up was to get water for dinner and the next day’s trek. I’ve had a Sawyer 2-bag water filtration system for a few years now and it is dependable, albeit a bit bulky for two people. It does require an adequate water source and doesn’t work well in small puddles. The gravity feed from the dirty bag to the clean bag through the filter is slow and takes awhile to filter 6-7 liters.
Dinner consisted of dehydrated meals. Mountain House makes some decent ones that are fairly palatable. We use the portable Pocket Rocket stove with propane-butane fuel. Also found a MSR knockoff stove to use as a backup.
We settled in for the night into our tent as the temperature dropped quickly. After a full day of hiking, it’s amazing how fast you can go to sleep. The first night takes some getting used to, kinda of like sleeping in a strange room or hotel. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. At first, the sound of the helicopter was distant as we heard it pass through nearby canyons. Suddenly, the sound of the blades were overhead, followed by a bright searchlight. I was like, what the heck? I unzipped the door to the tent to see what was going on when the searchlight illuminated me like a Sci-Fi movie where the spaceship beams you up. The pilot announced through his speaker that they were looking for a lost hiker. I shook my head no, and the pilot proceeded a couple of hundred yards uphill where he lit up the camp were the boy scouts were. This continued for about 10 more minutes and then it was gone. That was midnight. The rest of the evening was uneventful. We never did find out who was lost.
Morning was brisk and breakfast consisted of crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon. Crystallized eggs, sounds yucky huh? Actually it is one of the best inventions in a long time when it comes to freeze-dried type food. I don’t know how they do it, but when mixed with water and cooked in a skillet, it is exactly like scrambled eggs. Well, they are eggs. The pre-cooked bacon was also near normal taste and texture. Overall, a tasty breakfast with hot tea. Maybe coffee next time.
Today, we would hike from our base camp at 8,400 ft. to the summit at 11,500. I had Mary drop her main pack and carry a Camelbak hydration pack that I use for mountain biking. I dumped most of the stuff out of my backpack and used it to carry our days’ supplies. We hit the trail and continued through a sub-alpine forest before emerging on the edge of a meadow. Another small stream a mile away provided the last water until our return leg. Crossing above Plummer’s Meadow, we would see the first of many awesome views that day. The switchbacks up to Dollar Lake Saddle junction were steady and steep. This portion of the trail gained about 700 ft. per mile.
At the junction, we ran into a group of boy scouts trying to melt some snow. They had quite the quandary as they did not bring adequate water with them for the summit. It takes a lot of fuel to melt snow and in the end, I believe they failed to make the top that day. Planning, especially water – is everything on this mountain.
As we continued, the elevation ticked off, 9,000, 10,000… No altitude sickness today. It helped that we camped above 8,000 ft. last night to get acclimated. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is nothing to mess with. It could begin with a persistent headache, nausea or dizziness and can affect the healthiest of people. Don’t confuse it with a hangover because the symptoms are the same! For a mild case, often hydrating and a couple of ibuprofen help. For persistent or worse symptoms, the only cure is to descend.
We could see Mt. Baldy on one of the switchbacks and the views only got better. We passed through the last trail camp and the tree-line was around 10,700. Up the next switchback, Mt. San Jacinto came into view. The closest of the Three Sisters, its’ majestic peak stands out as a sentinel to the sprawling desert below. Streaks of snow remain at her higher elevations. The trail intersected with Vivian Creek Trail, the shortest-steepest route to the summit. We began to see more people as the trails converged on the summit like freeway ramps.
There are several false summits along the way. Unless you’ve been there before, each view to a taller hill appears to be the top. It’s only when you see people nestled in the boulders like eagles on their nests do you realize you are there. We would take our pics, write in the journal, text our families and have lunch right there – only feet away from people you’ve never met before. The summit had a celebratory atmosphere to it, with everyone smiling and quietly chatting.
You could see for miles or as far as the L.A. smog would let you see to the west. It actually wasn’t that bad today. Big Bear Lake to the north, the high desert to the east and the Peninsular Mountain chain farther south. By the time we left, there were over 100 people up there. Oh well, it is Memorial Day weekend.
The six-mile trip down was pleasant as we would run in to a few more people making their way up to camp at the top. We did not see anyone else after two miles. The constant downhill was harder on the feet and we took a “foot break” at Dollar Lake Saddle. There was a cool breeze as we aired out our socks. The pounding takes a toll on your arches and toes.
By the time we got to camp, we had logged 12 miles and were ready to eat dinner and crash. After filling up our reservoirs at the creek, we had a spicy Mountain House chili meal. It was actually pretty good and one bag was enough for two people. Well, one hungry dude could probably eat the whole thing. After cleaning up, we nestled into the tent around 8:00 with the intent to relax and read a bit. By 8:30 we were in la-la land.
I would be awakened some time later by a bright light next to my head on the outside of the tent. “What is that?” Mary was like – “huh?” I said “that light, what is it?” The flashlight in my backpack pocket must be on I thought. I unzipped the tent and stepped out into the chilly night air. The full moon in all its’ glory had crested the ridge and lit up our tent like the spotlight from the rescue chopper. We laughed and went back to bed.
The wind picked up a bit that night and made a soothing sound as it passed through the conifers on the exposed ridges. Soothing, but a bit eerie as the pitch would vary. Our campsite was on a downhill slope and not affected by the wind. Eventually, we would drift off only to be awakened by the woodland birds at dawn. Most were pleasant to listen to, except for the woodpecker.
Next: Mount San Gorgonio – A Three Day Journey – Day 3: Talus Is Hard To Walk On.
As part of our workup to a section hike of the John Muir Trail this summer, Mary and I decided to do a 3 day practice hike to the summit of Mt San Gorgonio via the Momyer Creek Trail. The tallest of the Three Sisters (San Antonio, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio) it stands out at 11,503 ft. Southern California isn’t necessarily known for its’ majestic mountains, but these peaks are often used to warm up for longer backcountry trips into the Sierras, especially Mt. Whitney.
It’s always good to check in with the rangers to get the latest on trail conditions. Also, get an update on the water flows at the creeks and streams. The office is often staffed with volunteers who are a wealth of knowledge. Having obtained the backcountry permit several weeks prior at the Mill Creek Ranger station, we arrived at the Momyer Creek Trail parking area around 0900 on what we expected to be a busy Memorial Day weekend. Altitude at the trailhead is approx. 5,450 ft.
This was Mary’s first time out with her new Gregory 60 liter pack, complete with a few days worth of food in a bear canister. While the canisters are not mandatory here, I suggested it to get used to our next backcountry on the JMT where they are required. She has the BearVault 500, and I picked up the Garcia canister. Both are highly rated, and I’ve rented the Garcia type in Yosemite. They are cumbersome and take up a lot of space in the pack, but we just dealt with it. My wife is an amazing hiking partner. She really kicks it on the trail and doesn’t complain a bit.
We began our trek by crossing the Mill Creek Wash, which has two sections of the creek that are fairly easy to cross. The terrain gradually changes from the rocky, sandy wash to a single track laced with chaparral. We passed through several wooded areas before breaking out into the open. You want to hit this section of the trail early because it does get hot by midmorning during spring and summer.
The trail begins a gradual climb (around 400-500ft. per mile) with a few switchbacks and moves in and out of deciduous forests. The acorns from the oak trees are among the largest I’ve ever seen. Due to the weight of our packs, we would stop every mile or two for a break.
The first water source on Momyer is Alger Creek, about 3.8 miles up. We climbed to 7,300 ft. before dropping into the canyon at Alger Creek Camp at 7,000 ft. Prior to the creek, I noticed a brightly colored snake on the switchback below. Knowing that it wasn’t a rattler and not poisonous, I slowly approached it. It didn’t budge, so I gently coaxed it with my trekking pole and it slithered away. Come to find out, it was a California King Snake. The water flow was decent with several cascades nearby. We dropped our packs, pulled our lunches out and enjoyed a break at one of the cascades. Taking our shoes off, we dipped them into the stream and laughed at how cold it was. We would also spend some time doing our couples devotion. It was time well spent.
We noticed a Boy Scout troop pass by. We would see them many more times throughout the weekend. We packed up and began a steep climb out of Alger to the next checkpoint – Dobbs Camp junction. We passed through an area of many fallen trees and a 500 yd. gauntlet of thorn bushes. Long pants are advisable through here.
The trail changed from dirt to decomposed granite and became even more narrow as it passed through areas of talus and scree. We encountered a volunteer trail crew pushing blow-downs off the trail. The trail crew leader politely asked for our permit and I obliged. Once he knew we were frequent hikers, he tried to recruit us. We are thinking about doing some type of volunteer work for the Forest Service, but trail maintenance is tough. 🙂 The one bit of bad news they provided was that the large Boy Scout troop was heading to the camp we were shooting for. Man, I wasn’t looking forward to camping near a bunch of kids, but knew that we could find another site in the forest. It was slow going as we passed Dobbs Camp junction but the views of Little San Gorgonio and Mill Creek Canyon were getting better. Momyer isn’t the most scenic of the trails around here, but is definitely less crowded.
We crossed another trickle of a stream before crossing a larger stream near our destination. It ended up being 300-400 yards before our site. As we neared Saxton Camp, I saw a clearing in the woods downhill. We bushwhacked to the area and found a semi-level location. There were some smaller widow-makers nearby, but the weather forecast was looking good, so it was a risk I was willing to take. We pitched our tent and set up for the night after hiking 6-7 hours. It was a long 7 miles today.
Next: Mount San Gorgonio- A Three Day Journey – Day 2: Lost Hiker!
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Vivian Creek Trail, 1E08
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks, pine straw
Distance as hiked: 10.8 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,500ft., Top of trail-9,200ft.
Temps: 60-70 degrees
Did a spur of the moment hike back to San Gorgonio on a day off. A couple of weeks ago we did the Lost Creek Trail and discovered the solitude of a little used trail that intersects a few others prior to the summit of San Gorgonio. According to the San Gorgonio Wilderness website www.swga.org, the Vivian Creek Trail is the second busiest after the South Fork Trail. On this weekday, I would come across 8-10 others and several more in the Halfway Camp.
Pass through the little hamlet of Forest Falls and the road ends at a picnic area, which was still closed – perhaps to state budget cuts or an ongoing renovation. You will need an Adventure Pass to park in the large parking lot on the left. From there you can follow Mill Creek Wash east along the bank and you will see the trail sign come up on your right. Otherwise, you can follow the paved road in the picnic area east and you will come to the same trail sign.
The trail begins on an access or fire road for approximately .5-.7 miles and turns to the left where you are looking at Mill Creek Wash. The wash is approximately 300 yards wide, full of boulders with Mill Creek running on the north side. Today, the creek was barely two feet wide. On the far side of the wash, there is another trail marker where you quickly gain elevation on steep, rocky switchbacks. The gnats were annoying and continued to sporadically pester me for another mile. Around 7,000 ft., they thinned out and the hike became more pleasant as the view opened up to Mill Creek Canyon and points farther south.
This trail is one of the shortest (and steepest) routes to the summit of San Gorgonio. Today, I would do 5.5 miles of the roughly 9 mile hump to the summit. Not yet a speed hiker, I enjoy the eye candy (the wilderness views) and took a steady pace with stops to snap pics. Overall, the trail is single track and in good shape due to its’ frequent use. It traverses a rocky wash with lots of shade from various conifers. There are exposed areas with chaparral as well. I crossed several areas with decent water flow, each several miles apart. As always, recommend a filter to ward off the giardia and cryptosporidium. Man, that last bug sounds nasty, doesn’t it? I’ll talk about hydration in a future blog.
I stopped at the spur to Halfway Camp and had lunch on a boulder. No one in the camp yet, but people usually start settling in late afternoon. I wonder if the feds have a mandatory check in time for these camps? 🙂 The trail breaks in and out of small flats with dry creek areas. A mix of chaparral and deciduous trees slowly starts changing into mostly conifers. The landscape in this area varies immensely between 6,000-8,000 ft.
About two hours into the hike, I heard a rock slide that sounded like it was to my east, but the way sounds bounce off the canyon, wasn’t sure. Within 30 minutes, a helicopter was flying around near Mill Creek but I never did find out what happened. Not long after this trip, several guys from north county San Diego got lost off of Fish Creek Trail for a couple of days. Seems that these “experienced” hikers got turned around after they traversed a snow-covered gully. I will not make fun of them, it could happen to anyone, right? Next time bring a map or GPS fellas.
After hitting 9,000 ft. and reaching High Camp, I decided to take a break and head back down. Most of the time, I’ll take my shoes/socks off to air out before turning around. On longer treks, it’s a good idea to do it a couple of times each day. I’ve managed to avoid blisters with this regimen. Gorgonio Peak is certainly do-able in one day via this trail with an early start for a determined hiker. Still some patches of snow above 7,000 ft. in early May.
On the way down, I met a couple doing a 2 or 3 day trip to the peak. You meet the nicest people on the trail. Most are laid back and enjoy sharing their experiences with you. I ended up jogging for three or more miles until I hit the rocky part of the trail near Mill Creek Canyon. It was a good workout as my knees reminded me that I was no longer 18 years old.
This is a good trail if you are practicing for a High Sierra trip, as the elevation change and trail conditions are similar.
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Lost Creek Trail, 1E09
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.
Distance as hiked: 8.8 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,300ft., Top of trail-8,200ft.
Temps: 60-70 degrees
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Today, we would venture out farther from home and drive the 90+ miles to check out the trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness (SGW). While a day hike to San Gorgonio Mountain is possible, it would be a very long day for us and is better attempted as an overnighter. All trails in the SGW require the perfunctory wilderness permit, which can be obtained by stopping by in person at one of several ranger stations, via fax or by snail mail. Follow the swa.org link above for permit directions. I’ve become a bit of a purist and believe trail permits are government out of control, but I am a rule follower.
We stopped in after noon to obtain our permit at Mill Creek Ranger station. While inside, Mary met an old friend and insisted that I take their picture.
From Mill Creek, follow SR38 to the South Fork Campground. Parking for the trailhead is across the road from the campground and is co-located with the Santa Ana River Trail. It is fairly well-marked and breaks off at a marker in the campground. The trail wastes no time gaining elevation over switchbacks that gain 400-500 ft. The trail joins a fire road for a mile and changes to a wide creek bed laden with rocks before narrowing into a rutted single track. Evidence of recent equestrians is scattered along the trail.
This is one of the most interesting and diverse trails that we’ve been on in the San Bernardino National Forest. We traversed areas with deciduous trees, rounded a corner and saw cactus on the verge of blooming. As we crossed the top of a meadow, we saw an area of seasonal springs. There were a few blow-downs and widow-makers throughout the hike. At times, the trail became narrow with sheer drop-offs into the Santa Ana River canyon below. Overall, the climb was gradual with few switchbacks and limited scree to slip on. Pine straw does cover sections of the trail and is a bit slippery. On a side-note, the PCT skirts many of the trails in the San Bernardino Forest and is located less than 10 miles east of this trail.
For the first couple of miles, Sugarloaf Peak to the north is the prominent land mass and the perspective changes as you pass through 7,000 ft. Eventually, the path takes a 180 and you head in an easterly direction with views of snow-covered peaks to the southwest. For this area in southern California, I believe the best altitude for hiking is between 6-8,000 ft. The temps are usually mild and the sub-alpine surroundings offer respite from the sun. This trail is especially appealing due to the solitude. We would run into only one other couple all day.
We stopped at Grinnell Campground, an open area with awesome views to the south-southwest. It was peaceful and we enjoyed our hot tea. When hiking 8-10 miles, it’s a good idea to cool your jets by removing shoes and socks to allow for some air to dry out those puppies.
Our descent was quick with minimal stops for photos. Rounding a switchback, we did see this in the distance and like most hikers is one thing you don’t ever want to see. Notice the smoke was blowing in our direction.
A fire in the backcountry is a scary thing. Fortunately, this one was far enough away and we were only a couple of miles from the trailhead. Cal-Fire had it contained within a few days. If you hike frequently in this region, you know how much fuel is on the ground. Fires can be swift and devastating. It’s a good idea to talk about an escape plan and how you would deal with a fire when out on the trail. Trail maps and/or knowledge of the local terrain is invaluable and can make the difference between life or death in a forest fire scenario.
Well enough of the gloom and doom. We lived to see another beautiful day in southern California and have discovered an amazing array of trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area. This will serve as our practice area for our section hike of the JMT this summer. My parting advice this week:
– Take trail maps, GPS and discuss escape route options. These Tom Harrison maps are the best: San Gorgonio Wilderness Map (2015) (Tom Harrison Maps Waterproof and Tear Resistant)
– In fire situations, avoid canyons and ravines as fires often ravage these areas.
– Consider a GPS locator for emergency situations. I use a SPOT GPS Messenger. SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger – Orange While there is no guarantee that it works 100% of the time, it operates consistently if used properly. There are other higher quality GPS locators out there.
– On day hikes, take extra water and snacks – just in case. This week, several more novice hikers got lost in SoCal. Fortunately, all were found quickly. None of them had water or food for their unplanned overnighters.
Use common sense out on the trail and enjoy the outdoors wherever you are. Consider stocking up on a couple of pieces of survival gear including: Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel Camping Mirror – Personal Use, Emergency Signaling or this whistle: UST JetScream Whistle
We are coming up on three years since we’ve started day hiking in Southern California. What originally started as a way to get in better shape has morphed into a love of the outdoors and appreciation for an awesome creation.
It is a blessing to live in an area surrounded by “hike-able” terrain. Between San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, there are hundreds of trails to choose from. From coastal strolls to desert jaunts and a trek into the mountains, we just about have it all out here. No doubt, we live in one of the wackiest and most heavily taxed states in the union. A couple of reasons people tolerate the craziness out here is the abundance of outdoor activities and the ability to get away from it all.
The Peninsular Range of mountains in southern California runs north-south. From the San Jacinto’s to Baja California, they provide fantastic ocean and desert views. The trails encompassing the Laguna Mountains in the south are sub-alpine with areas of chaparral. They are often arid, with stiff, cold desert winds in the winter and hot, dry breezes in the summer. The famous Pacific Crest Trail winds its’ way through the Peninsular Range from Campo down by the Mexican border to Mount San Jacinto in the north. We’ve hiked a good bit of the PCT through here, 10 miles at a time. I’ve even thought about becoming a trail angel to the PCT thru-hikers one year.
The wildlife on the trails down here is sometimes sparse, but encounters are more frequent in the early morning hours and before dusk. Deer are abundant as are wild turkeys and a host of reptiles. Once the temps hit the 70’s, we occasionally run across two types of serpents – the Pacific and Diamondback rattlers. Often sunning across or along the trail, they usually slither away, but sometimes need a little encouragement from a hiking pole. Rarely will we find one coiled and ready to strike, but it has happened. Woodpeckers are the most common woodland bird and the California Quail is the ground dweller that we most often see – and hear. Red tail hawks frequently ride the afternoon drafts in their search for prey. Huge white owls are an occasional sight in the deserts after the sun goes down. We have yet to encounter a big cat on the trail, but we have seen a young mountain lion while driving out of San Jacinto. Skunks, bobcats and a host of vermin travel the same trails that the humans do.
Hiking season is year round with summer hikes around 8-9,000 ft. and winter hikes at lower altitudes. On one trip, we passed through a 106 deg desert climate and finished out at the snow-covered summit with temps in the 60’s. Wind is usually a factor and its effects are significant wind chills and increased dehydration. It’s usually the reason we layer our clothing too. Often, we are peeling layers off and putting them back on to stay comfortable. We have been blessed with amazing weather but usually check the forecast before heading out.
Our favorite trails are up in the San Jacinto area, the granite peaks provide majestic views, the Jeffrey pines provide ample shade for the rest breaks that you’ll need as you climb the 2-3000 ft. elevation changes, with the average hike above 6,000 ft. If you seek solitude, hit the trail later in the day and you will run across few bipeds on your hike. Bring a headlamp, and you will be rewarded with interesting descents through the forest as the sun drops behind adjacent peaks. Many of the trails are comprised of scree from decomposed granite and are slippery. Trekking poles are invaluable tools and have saved us from many a tumble. Even more important, the poles are knee savers. They will probably make nice spears too.
The easy to moderate trails in the Laguna Mountains are like casual strolls and make for a nice getaway from the suburbs. Take a lunch and enjoy watching the waterfowl at Big Laguna Lake and be on the lookout for the foxes as they seek out the field mice in the meadows. They’re watching you from a distance, but you can usually get a good photo with a zoom lens. This area is the best for an easy hike with mountains on one side and the desert on the other. The colors at sunset are beautiful.
All in all, the Peninsular Range offers some of the best day hikes, all within 90 minutes of San Diego. We are constantly on the lookout for those obscure trails less traveled and are often rewarded with solitude, awesome scenery and a decent workout. Wherever you are my friends, just venture out and explore.
A desert landscape is one of the most beautiful sights that one will ever see. The openness and feeling of adventure while backpacking the vast Colorado Desert can be an amazing experience. Wait a minute, Colorado Desert? I thought you were talking about Anza-Borrego! Actually, the Colorado Desert is part of the larger Sonoran Desert – over 7 million acres with some of the most unique plant and animal life ever. Anza-Borrego is the name given to the state park that encompasses 3 California counties and is the second largest state park in the U.S. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_Desert, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anza-Borrego_Desert_State_Park)
In our opinion, the best time to hike here is during wildflower blooms in the spring. However, a winter day hike provides mild temps and relatively stable weather. Winter is the rainy season is southern California, so you have to keep an eye out on the forecast to avoid dangerous flash flood conditions. If you ever have the opportunity to hike near the palm oasis at the state park headquarters, you will see the results of a previous flash flood. Palms over 4 feet wide were uprooted and washed away, boulders the size of cars were rolled around and thoughts of the great flood mentioned in the book of Genesis came to mind.
On this day, we would venture out approximately 20 miles east of the town of Borrego Springs on SR-22 to hike the Calcite Mine Trail. We parked on the north side of SR-22 and walked to the trailhead that was about 100 yds. away. You can actually park most vehicles in a dirt area by the trailhead. At times, a popular area for jeeps and dirtbikes, the road up to the old mine is a challenge for a good driver in an off-road vehicle. We would only see one vehicle coming down from the mine.
The landscape here was so different from the area around Coyote Mountain to the west; that’s one of the things that we love about this desert. The sandstone cliffs appear to be carved out of the ground by a majestic artist. As the sun shifts and passes in and out of the clouds, the colors constantly change. The contrast of the land with the sky and Salton Sea to the east present a palette for the amateur artist.
The Calcite Mine Trail, is an approximate 4 miles round trip. It is an easy-moderate hike up the jeep trail and the elevation gain is around 500 ft. Not much shade here, so hope for a cloudy day, bring lots of water, sunscreen and a nice hat. As we made our way up the rocky road/trail, we scrambled up the side to peer down into one of many slot canyons. Oh yeah, we just gotta check that out on the way down!
If you’re thinking that the calcite mine is intact, you will be disappointed. Filled in long ago, there are barely traces that it even existed. There are shards and chunks of calcite, but like most other parks it is illegal to collect souvenirs. An interesting mineral, it was actually used in Norden bombsight manufactured during WWII. It’s quite possible that the bombsight used on the Enola Gay had calcite from this mine. We would have lunch near the old mine marker, on a sandstone outcropping. As is our new tradition, we would have hot tea.
We enjoyed the solitude and the panoramic views from our lunch spot and began our way down to the slot canyon. It was exciting to enter the canyon as the sandstone walls rose to over 75 ft. Mary mentioned that this was not a good place to be during an earthquake. Within a week of hiking this canyon, a 4.5 quake would hit near Anza, about 15-20 miles from here. I checked the skies for signs of rain. A storm to our north could bring flash floods that would make our fate like the dinosaurs of old.
We made our way down, the walls closing in and the path as little as several inches wide. It was fun and one of the most unique experiences to date. We would stop to examine the cliffs and formations carved from repeated water flows. Sometimes, we would have to jump 5 feet or so to the next level.
Eventually, we emerged from the slot canyon into Palm Wash, one of many that had its’ own ecosystem. Other than birds, we would see mostly insects, beetles and huge colonies of ants. One ant colony was carrying the blossoms from an adjacent bush to their queen. Even in this sparse land, God sees fit for his creatures to survive. We would encounter a few motorcyclists on their way back from exploring the nearby trails.
As often is the case, I missed the turnoff if there even was one. My GPS indicated that we were diverging from our original track to the mine. A nearby cell tower was a good reference that indicated we were east of our goal. We cut over a hill and headed west as the sun rapidly sank low in the horizon. We were pushing 10 miles at this point, but the waypoint on my GPS indicated we were getting closer. In my rush this morning, I didn’t print out a local map. Duhh! We were ok though, on day hikes, we tend to carry more than we need and are usually prepared in case we have to spend a night out.
The walkabout ended uneventfully and we chalked up another successful day in the wilderness. I encourage you to get out my friends – regardless of where you live. There is so much to see….
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil. That and about 18″ of snow.
Distance as hiked: 9.6 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-4,900ft., Top of trail-7,000ft.
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous.
As a kid living in the northeast, I loved it when it snowed. Enough of the white stuff meant a day off to play. After you grow up and you have to shovel or scrape the ice off the car, it isn’t so fun anymore. Today, we would seek out a snowy trail south of the San Jacinto Wilderness. I’ve been in this area a couple of other times and enjoyed the solitude and varied terrain. We brought some friends with us today and I promised them a challenging hike with views of sub-alpine valleys and vast, arid Borrego Desert.
Within the past week, we’ve had our seasonal rains in San Diego County, so we hoped for a bit of snow above 5,000 ft. Just last weekend, we were on the beach roughing it in the RV. The typical winter day near Oceanside was mid 60’s, great for walks on the shore watching the snowy plovers nesting. Anyhow, there aren’t many places in this great country where you can go to the beach in shorts one day and hike in a foot of snow the next.
Our friends asked if they should bring their gaiters and I’m glad I said yes. The trailhead had about 6 inches of powdery snow which meant the higher elevations would definitely have more. It was strange to see snow amongst the chaparral, cactus and agave. The wind was gusting around 10-15 mph and the temps were around 45-50. After a couple of miles of intermittent snow and dirt, the trail gradually changed to all snow. Eventually, the only tracks were our own and the occasional cloven hooves of a deer. As the trail wound its way toward Spitler Peak, the northern exposure provided us with increasing snow depths approaching 18 inches. We probably could have used snow shoes at this point, but the powdery texture made it easy to follow the footprints of the first hiker.
The chaparral gradually changed into mostly deciduous trees covered in a blanket of snow, which was falling on us. The trees would continue their attack on us as the occasional gust would loosen clumps As we neared the summit, the steepest part of the trail was also the deepest and the surroundings became more like an alpine wonderland. We looked forward to the intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail where we would have lunch and some hot tea.
The 2,000 ft. of elevation gain was a challenge on any day. Today, coupled with the snow it was slow going as the snow began to cling to our boots and gaiters. Each step was a bit heavier, yep snowshoes would be good right about now. We rounded the last switchback and the blue sky opened up as the trail marker for the PCT poked out through the rocks. The desert vista to the east was beautiful as always. Our shelter of trees gone, the wind chill made it feel like it was 30 degrees.
Lighting the small MSR Pocket Rocket stove proved to be difficult today. The combination of wind, high altitude and low temps make these little stoves with the butane-propane a mediocre choice in these conditions. Lesson learned-keep a small canister of fuel in my jacket to help the fuel condense. The wind chill began to affect my dexterity too. After 5 minutes or so, I finally got it lit, boiled our water and enjoyed a nice hot cup of Earl Grey. It’s the little things…..
The trip down was much faster and a bit slippery. The steady dose of sun created a frequent snow shower as we passed under the trees. Mary put on some micro spikes and they really made a difference on the icy patches.
As we descended through 5,500 ft, the trail became a mix of mud and slush. I gave up my trekking poles so that my friends could have that extra “leg” on the way down. I’ve developed some trail legs over the last few years and rarely stumble. Besides, I’m short and don’t have far to fall. The last couple of miles became a bit tedious as sloshed our way to the trailhead. Fifteen minutes later, the Paradise Cafe near the town of Anza awaited us with the promise of amazing baby-back ribs, flatiron steak and delicious burgers. Yes, the best way to end an awesome hike is with a fantastic meal.
Bloggers have various reasons they write. For some, it is to share their thoughts. For others, it is a release or an outlet for the passion that they may have for a particular activity. Many are amateur photographers and enjoy posting their work. This episode is dedicated to a recent overnight camping trip to one of my favorite places and a quirky area of photography that is fun.
Anza-Borrego State Park is about 75 miles from my home in North County San Diego. From late fall to early spring it provides a variety of activities due to the milder weather. This mid November day found us heading out to an area a few miles east of Borrego Springs to hike and camp. One of the neat things about this state park is the freedom to move about and explore, including free camping. Free? In a state park? Sure, just stay outside the park campground and you can pretty much pitch a tent or park an RV without paying a dime.
While researching camping in Anza-Borrego on the Internet, I stumbled on a blog that discussed “boondocking”. A strange word, the last I heard anything close were the boondockers – black chukka boots that we had in the Navy. However, boondocking is basically free camping in remote areas or private property – with the owner’s approval. At times, there is probably a fine line between legal camping and trespassing, but I’ll only go where it is legit.
So a boondocking we went down Rockhouse Canyon Rd. near Clark Dry Lake. It’s a nice valley located between two mountains – Coyote Mtn to the west and Villager Mtn to the east. Rockhouse Canyon is a dirt road located approximately 5 miles east of Borrego Springs on SR22. You can usually see a cluster of RV’s near the highway as most don’t venture too far down the sandy road. During the week, you can drive a mile or two and find a secluded campsite. There is one rule in the state park: you must use a metal container for fires. However, we noticed there is an abundance of homemade fire rings throughout this area. We pulled in, looked around and noticed the nearest neighbor was almost a 1/2 mile away. Yes, this will work.
We would stay in the valley and hike north toward Clark Dry Lake on the jeep road. Overall, the road was in good shape this time of year. We ended up walking out on the lake bed, passing Coyote Mtn on the left and came up on a quarry. It was a good opportunity to have fun with some levitation photos.
If you look up levitation photography, you will find some very creative shots of people seemingly flying or floating through the air. I’m not very good at it, but it is fun to try and will make for a good laugh a few years from now. The trick is having someone take the pics or to use a remote. The auto settings on the DSLR usually work, but if the light is low, you may need to play around with the the shutter speed and ISO to prevent blurring. Anyhow, this is just another offshoot from being outdoors. You see, hiking opens up all sorts of possibilities. Just use common sense and don’t try levitating in front of a busy highway or railroad track. 🙂
The real visual treat in the desert occurs after the sun sets. You just have to experience it. Tonight, it was nearly a new moon and the stars almost outnumbered the grains of sand on the beach. Next time, I must bring a telescope.
In my opinion, a campfire is an absolute necessity for a night in the desert and knocked the edge off the rapidly dropping temps. The forecast called for 43 degrees, but we came prepared with several layers of clothes and some 3 season sleeping bags. By the morning, it would drop to 33 degrees. The animals were most active around sunset and we observed many jackrabbits. Several desert foxes ventured within 20 ft. of the campsite – curious little creatures with bushy tales. The coyotes began their yelps and would call out from the east and west. Once in the tent, the silence of the desert lulled us into a gradual sleep as I dreamt of the Bighorn Sheep jumping over Coyote Mountain.
Huddled in our sleeping bags, the dawn began to faintly illuminate the tent. I scrambled out and encouraged my wife to come out to see the sunrise. The air was dry and cold, but the sky was beginning to blossom with various hues of light. After watching an amazing display, we made our hot chocolate and enjoyed a nice, hot breakfast. My wife’s first car camping experience turned out very well. I think that she might try it again. Hopefully, next time it will be a little warmer at night. I encourage you to try camping in the desert – it will be a real treat.
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.
Distance as hiked: 9.6 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-4,900ft., Top of trail-7,000ft.
Temps: 60-75 deg
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous.
Autumn is a great time to hike in the San Bernardino National Forest. The cool mornings and eastern winds from the Anza-Borrego make for great trekking weather. There are many trails that intersect the Pacific Crest Trail in southern California. Today, I would do a solo hike on Spitler Peak Trail, a 10 mile out-and-back near Lake Hemet.
While I prefer to hike with my wife, occasionally I venture out alone when she is working. It really is a different experience when one can get away from the hustle and bustle to soak up some nature. Hiking gives you the opportunity to use all of your senses. In my previous career, I was an airborne sonar operator in the Navy. I spent countless hours listening to the underwater sounds and tuned my hearing to pick out the manmade noise from the ambient and biologic sounds. Often, I would close my eyes to “see” what I was hearing. On this trek, I focused on the sounds on the trail.
Wind blowing through conifers is distinct sound. Comforting during the day and eerie at night. The same wind through deciduous trees like oak has a lower frequency and often sounds like rushing water. Speaking of water, it was interesting to see a trickling stream up here this late in the year. Crossing the gurgling stream several times on the trail, it would eventually disappear underground as it descended into the canyon.
This trail is a gradual ascent and is spread out over 4 miles to the top. Like so many others, the grade sharply increases for the last mile. The quail were clucking out their warning calls to each other as I passed by. The bushes rustled a few feet off the path and I stopped. After so many miles on the trail, a shuffle in the brush still makes the hair rise on the back of my neck. No snakes today, hopefully they have settled in for the season.
Nearing the summit, you begin to see blue skies through the foliage. This particular trail intersects the PCT just north of Spitler Peak. The trail signs have recently been replaced.
At the top of the trail, you are rewarded with awesome views of the Palm Desert. To the left, you can see what may be the outer limits of Palm Springs. To the right, about 40-45 miles away, the Salton Sea. But, you really notice the silence. Other than the occasional wisp of the air through the foliage, it is amazingly quiet. The serene surrounding is part of the reason I put myself through a little pain and sweat.
Sitting on the garnet colored boulders, my head began to clear. This is a snippet of the backcountry experience, one where you get away from the sounds of civilization. Even the absence of sound is welcome. Oh well, enough of this peaceful stuff. This late in the year, the days are shorter and I knew that I wanted to be back to the car by dusk.
Heading down, my thoughts turned to the sounds. In my experience, other than the shuffling of my feet, the animals on the trail make most of the noise. The chatter of the various birds, the occasional hawk and if you really listen, the rare hoot of an owl who is waking up. The ground squirrels and chipmunks who sometimes fuss as you stroll by. At the end of the day, the steady symphony of the crickets remind you of the cool night that is soon to arrive.
Next time on the trail, slow down, stop and listen. What you hear may just surprise you.
Type of trail: Loop.
Composition: sand, decomposed granite, scree.
Distance as hiked: 11.2 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,000ft., Top of summit- 10,094 ft.
Temps: 58-70 deg
Located just north of the town of Upland is Mt. Baldy, one of several 10,000 ft. plus peaks in southern California. Part of the Angeles Forest and San Gabriel Mountains, the views all around this area are nothing short of phenomenal. I actually took a day off work to hike up here with my favorite hiking partner (my wife). Fall and early winter are good times to hike in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, especially before there is significant snow. Milder temps, no thunderstorms and gentle cool breezes are the norm. Of course, the weather can turn sour anytime up here, some come prepared.
We started at the Baldy Bowl Trailhead near Manker Flats Campground and quickly discovered that hiking in the middle of the week up here is so much better than the weekends. This trail is probably one of the most popular in the San Gabriel chain. The trail starts out as a paved road with a decent incline and makes a sharp right where you have a view of San Antonio Falls. This time of the year the water volume is near its’ lowest, but still streaming down. The road changes to a dirt/gravel fire road and proceeds up Manker Canyon. The trail sneaks up on your left with a small trail marker. About 50 ft. up the path is a metal box with a trail journal – nice.
The trail wastes no time ascending the 4,000 ft. you will need to gain to reach the summit. It is a well established and maintained trail that is mostly single track. The flora is an interesting mix of chaparral and pines at the lower levels. Huffing our way up 2,200 ft with a few rest breaks, we noticed the Ski Hut.
There is also a privy nearby in case you prefer to not do what the bears do. We had the area all to ourselves and had lunch on a picnic table complete with stools made of cut logs. We returned to the trail, crossed the spring that supplies most of the flow for the falls and transitioned into an area with plenty of talus from a major slide. This area is directly under Baldy Bowl and marked with cairns left by previous hikers.
After some minor bouldering, the terrain changes again with switchbacks in a sub-alpine setting. The trail begins to get steep between 8,400 and 9,000 ft is a mix of talus and sand. It is a calf and quad burning extravaganza. Hiking poles make the climb much easier as you dig them in and push your way up.
Chipmunks and ground squirrels were busy gathering food for winter as the woodpeckers were chattering overhead. We broke out into the open as our heading turned north. The craggy outcroppings at the top of Baldy Bowl loomed ahead. I ventured off the path and was rewarded with an awe-inspiring view to the south.
As we neared the summit, the trees thinned out and the sky seemed even more blue. The top of the mountain seems like the moon, barren and rocky. The panoramic views are stunning. San Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the east/ southeast, the Mojave Desert to the north and Angeles Forest to the west. There are circular rock walls built to protect against the common stiff winds up here. We ran into the only other hiker, a 74-year-old Korean immigrant who was very friendly and quite chatty. Seeking solitude we decided to head down Devil’s Backbone, a ridge on the eastern side of the peak. The angled switchbacks within a large talus field are a bit precarious and require focus. We quickly descended 700 ft. and followed the single track which at times would drop off on both sides. For two miles, the trail is an interesting and challenging trek with views of the high desert to the left and Manker Canyon to the right.
Nearing Mt. Baldy Notch, there is a small ski lift that runs during the winter. Today, it was idle and reminded me of a carnival ride. Making our way down a wide service path, we broke out at the ski resort. The access and fire road is between the ski school and rental building. It is a 2.7 mile road carved out of the mountain. The sun was fading quickly and we picked up the pace to make it back to the car by dark. We broke out the headlamps just in case darkness snuck up on us. We passed the Baldy Bowl trailhead and completed the loop. Reaching the blacktop, the crickets began their serenade. Man, that was a great 11.2 mile hike.
Type of trail: Out and back.
Composition: sand, decomposed granite, scree.
Distance as hiked: 3.1 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 600 ft.
Temps: 75-85 deg
The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park spreads out across three counties and is the largest state park in California. In fact, the second largest in the U.S. after Adirondack Park in New York. It was actually named after a Spanish explorer Juan Batista de Anza and Borrego meaning “bighorn sheep”. [¹] Like much of the golden state, the Anza-Borrego is a contrast in landscape and an opportunity for solitude. Part of the vast Colorado Desert, it is home to so much flora with animal life that is often hidden to the casual observer.
My favorite route to Borrego from north county San Diego is up the 15, skirting Palomar Mtn on the 76 and up the 79. The drive one of transition as you leave the coastal desert, pass through orange groves, around the beauty of Pala and Pauma Indian reservations and the high arid landscape flanking the west side of Julian. Early morning is the best time for the drive as the sun starts to burn off the marine layers and clouds blanketing the Palomar range. Yeah, part of the fun is getting there.
Having never seen an oasis, I headed toward the park headquarters and made my way to the campground where the trailhead to Palm Canyon Oasis began. Little did I realize that there was an $8 day use fee to park. Lesson learned, next time park at the visitor center and walk the extra mile on a sidewalk with interpretive signs about the area. You can also take a side-path that is full of wildlife.
The trail meanders through a canyon with evidence of a catastrophic flash flood that washed away huge palms and displaced massive boulders. Farther up, trickles of water are the first evidence of the oasis. Soon, the trickle turns into a stream with small cascades. The wildlife is drawn to this area in the morning and after sunset. Frequent this area and you are likely to see small herds of Bighorn Sheep.
The trail is the most popular in Borrego, so I recommend going during the week if possible. I know, most of you work for a living but Sat/Sun is the busiest time on this one and the number of people just takes away from the experience. Nevertheless, it’s a trip worth taking.
1. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anza-Borrego_Desert_State_Park
I admit to being a bit of an introvert. Maybe that is why hiking in the backcountry is so enjoyable to me. The solitude and peacefulness that one can experience is guaranteed to lower your blood pressure by ten points. Admit it, you don’t really enjoy crowds. With over 22 million people in Southern California, the thought of having a space pretty much to my wife and me is ok. If you make it to the backcountry, you will see what it’s all about. After a few hours are spent on the trail, you may notice certain sounds that are missing. You don’t hear cars, sirens, doors slamming and people talking loudly. You hear the wind blowing through the trees. You hear the woodpeckers, hawks, chipmunks and quail. The sounds of nature envelope you. You hear your footsteps as you walk, the clicking of the hiking poles on the granite. You see blue, open sky. The contrast between the terrain and horizon, especially at sunset is amazing. At night, the heavens reveal as many stars as the descendants of Abraham. The moon is so much brighter. The air seems much more crisp and cleaner.
If you are a believer, you may recognize that your surroundings in the wilderness are not just happenstance. I think the beauty was created by a God that loves us and provided this for our enjoyment.
Wildlife (Southern Cali)
Admittedly, in SoCal there aren’t many large animal encounters on the trail. Hikers typically aren’t stealthy because we actually want the large animals to hear us coming. Startling a bear or cougar is probably not a good idea. In our experience, we have come across more deer than anything else. I’ve found that the earlier (or later) you go in the day, the chances of viewing the critters are better. On the trail, it’s mostly birds, reptiles and small mammals. In the spring and summer, the rattlers are out and it’s not uncommon to run across a few.
I love to take pics on the trail; it’s a way to share my experience with others. Up until last year, I used a point and click camera. It was ok for landscapes, but not for wildlife. After getting a DSLR, my desire to take better photos increased. Now photography is another part of my hiking experience. I still don’t know much about it, but found if you take enough pics, some will turn out just fine. Just get the basics down like composition and lighting.
Most of the hiking that I do with my wife are day hikes. We tend to walk an average of 7-10 miles and try to include some decent elevation changes. We stay on the trail, but there are often side trips to check out the scenery or just to explore. Sometimes, we lose the path and bushwhack for a bit. For me, the experience of hiking is better enjoyed when you can share it with someone. My wife of over 30 years is a great partner on the trail. While we’ve had some close calls, lots of tumbles and have been a little lost, she trusts that I will get her back to the car eventually. Our time on the trail has forged a special bond within our marriage. Now, if I can just get her out on a multi-day backcountry trip. …. For now, I’ll just have to do that with the guys.
I tend to bring more stuff (proportionally) on a day hike than on a backcountry trip. Plenty of water, 1st aid kit, survival, GPS, maps, extra snacks and clothing. Sometimes the temperature varies 25-30 deg. on a day hike. We’ve hiked when it was as cold as 18 in Yosemite and as high as 98 in the Borrego Desert. In our experience, hiking in the cold was more comfortable. The heat just saps your energy.
Occasionally, I will hike solo and always let family members know my destination. A text to a family member or friend is invaluable. This year, I purchased a SPOT Messenger, a GPS locator that can send my location to friends, family members. It also functions as an emergency beacon if needed. While I don’t take risks while hiking solo, it provides some peace of mind. I used it on a hike this past summer on the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness (part of the Appalachian Trail) and our family members could track us on a daily basis. Even a couple of my coworkers followed our trip as it plots your location on Google Maps.
I’ve learned and experienced many things on the trail. After 3 years of hiking, mostly in California, I’m still quite the novice. I’ve learned to be aware of my surroundings, and have not taken a serious tumble yet. Oh, I’ve fallen in streams and came within a couple of feet of a coiled Pacific Rattler, but am convinced that I must have a guardian angel with me.
Most trails that we hike are not easy, that would be boring. Do the research, find some with hills and varied terrain. I’ve sought out guidebooks for my area like: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego: Including North, South and East Counties and Afoot and Afield: San Diego County: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide Seek the obscure trails and you may be rewarded with killer views of sunsets or lush alpine meadows. Find the websites that lists the hikes. They don’t always turn out as advertised. On a couple of occasions, we’ve had to turn back due to overgrown brush. Oh, and if you tend venture off trail, take a trail map-they are invaluable. You can’t worry about bugs out here-ticks, arachnids and once a tarantula. No scorpions yet, thank goodness.
The bottom line is just get out my friends. This doesn’t only apply in SoCal, there are trails all over this great country. I guarantee after you spend a few Saturdays off the beaten path, you will be hooked.
I now use a Nikon 3300 series DSLR, a great camera for the trail: Nikon D3300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II Zoom Lens (Black)
Trail Identifier: Monument Trail, Arroyo Seco Trail
Type of trail: Out and back or loop, sand, decomposed granite, rocks.
Distance as hiked: 7 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-3,900 ft., Top of trail 5,000-ft.
Temps: 80-90 degrees
Difficulty: moderate (heat)
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a “local” favorite of mine. Located approximately 45 minutes east of San Diego it is part of the Cleveland National Forest. Sadly, the 2003 Cedar Fire burned more than 95% of this area. I’ve hiked a significant number of the trails and the destruction is slowly fading as the native chaparral species recover. Reforestation efforts are helping and young conifers are slowly making a comeback.
We would start our hike on the Monument Trail near the Sweetwater River Bridge. The parking area across from the trailhead is a popular area for equestrians. Many of the trails in this area are shared use for hikers-bikers-horses. We tend to go later in the day on these shared trails as many people go early in the morning before it gets hot. Much of the trail is exposed, so be prepared. There are still many oaks and sycamore trees as you skirt the creek. During this hike, part of the trail was being encroached by some thickets. You have to push some of the brush back to make your way to the airplane monument. I love history and this monument was from a military DeHaviland biplane that crashed in 1922. Be careful around this engine, it was infested with bees. I was actually stung on my neck and my wife got one in her hair. We hightailed it out of there; thankfully they are not Africanized bees.
On this hike, I would also see the dreaded “Poodle-Dog Bush”, a deceptively poisonous flora that tends to appear after wildfires. The trail meanders through a wooded area with tall grasses all around. It is mostly single-track but merges with a fire road near a horse camp.
On the return leg, we descended down a dusty track and the view opened up to a valley below. A steady breeze felt refreshing. We came across the state bird, actually a male and female. California quail. They were unusually docile and not spooked by our presence. We also came a bit too close to a skunk family. They crossed about twenty feet in front of me. I stopped and gave them plenty of room. There is evidence of abundant small wildlife in this area.
This is a nice hike in an area diverse with wildlife. Best hiked from Sep-May as it gets hot!
Type of trail: Out and back.
Composition: sand, decomposed granite, scree.
Distance as hiked: 6.0 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-4,000ft., Top of summit- 5,300 ft.
Temps: 75-82 deg
Difficulty: Moderate; strenuous when hot!
Looking for a shorter hike on this hot day in San Diego, we found ourselves driving to Julian. Volcan Mountain seemed like a fairly easy trek and the hiking guidebook mentioned that the trail was easy to follow. It also promised decent breezes over the rolling hills north of the little tourist town. Julian is a now known as a quaint mountain town with its’ apple pies and small shops. The town is located on/near the site where a former slave in 1869 panned for gold. The area is surrounded by abandoned gold mines. In 2003, it was almost wiped out by one of the largest fires in California. The views of Anza-Borrego Desert and coastal San Diego County are often amazing.
From North San Diego County, we decided to take a longer route on the 76 as it wound around Palomar Mountain and Lake Henshaw. This area has some scenic drives as the terrain changes from rocky chaparral, rolling hills to sub-alpine. Much of the land around here has been set aside as national forest and public use. It’s so nice to drive 45 minutes or so and escape the megalopolis of San Diego. We made our way south to the Main St. intersection in Julian. It was late morning and the tourists were everywhere. Ugh, I find tourist traps annoying, but it’s a living for the townspeople. We turned left on Main and within 2-3 minutes were winding our way through an area with farms and ranches. We parked along the road with the sign that marked the Volcan Mtn trailhead.
Apple groves surrounded this area. The main part of this trail is actually a fire road. I prefer a nice single track trail, but this one had an option to take a hiker’s only trail as a spur. We decided to take the road up and the trail back down. The temps were already into the 80’s as we began a steady 1,500 ft. climb through mixed chaparral. For the first 1/2 mile it was all sun, but eventually we came upon big oaks which provided a great place to catch our breath. This was also the spot where the Five Oaks Trail began, a spur which roughly parallels the fire road but provides scenic views along the southern facing ridge-line ,with views into Julian. The road was rutted and washed out in some areas. There is ample shade the middle half of this trail. 1.2 miles into the hike, you intersect the top part of the Five Oaks Trail and things really open up into rolling hills with expansive views to the west and south. You can see part of Cuyamaca State Park and in the winter, I imagine you can see the coast. The views to the west are limited in the summer due to the haze. The breeze from the ocean started wafting up the hills. The effect was like a swamp cooler. We saw many varieties of oak, hence the side trail name. The road widens and the last mile is less strenuous while transitioning from chaparral to conifers and cedars, eventually leading to wide open grassy meadows bordered by oak trees. We passed a historical marker indicating this was the remnants of a cabin that was used as a potential site for the large telescope that is in the Palomar Observatory. So much history in these hills. Nearby to the east, Anza-Borrego Desert and my favorite, the Pacific Crest Trail.
As we reached the summit, the road looped around. I noticed a fenced in area with a tower and plaque.
While we enjoy getting out on the trail, I enjoy the history. I never knew they used a light beacon system to help guide the airborne postal carriers from the last century. This area, part of the San Dieguito River Park includes a segment of the 55 mile Coast-to-Crest Trail, which stretches from the coast to the PCT.
We would have lunch under the shade of an oak whose branches touched the ground. It was at least 10 degrees cooler under this old tree. We noticed two other couples walking by and started down the mountain. After a mile or so, we took a left on the marked Five Oaks Trail, a nice single track with great views of the south ridge and Ramona.
It was still very warm, but going downhill was easy on this single track trail. The switchbacks meandered through the forest and the terrain gradually started changing to the coastal desert that is so familiar to those who live in San Diego. We heard a siren and hoped that there were no brush fires around here. One thing that a hiker fears is a swift moving wildfire. As we made our way around the ridge, we saw a Cal Fire truck about 200 yds from the road where we parked.
We emerged on the original fire road and within 10 minutes ran into three firemen going up the hill. We asked the second fireman what was going on and he said someone needed medical assistance. That’s a fairly common occurrence on trails in SoCal. Lots of people are unprepared for the heat and physical challenge of the terrain. Many don’t bring enough water or hike in flip-flops. Hopefully, they would be ok. I felt bad for the firemen who were trudging up the mountain in their full gear. As we neared the bottom, we passed two other dudes. They wore dark clothing, no hats and no water. Yes, they will probably require medical assistance too. Apparently, common sense isn’t as common as it used to be.
Day hiking in Southern California has been a rewarding experience. The diversity of the terrain and environment is hard to match within the continental U.S. As my wife can attest to, hiking with Johnny is usually an “adventure”. Today, we would escape the dry, arid trails of inland San Diego or Riverside County and venture out to the coast. Looking for a stretch of mostly unobstructed shoreline, I found the beach on Camp Pendleton an easy choice. We tend to frequent the beaches on Camp Del Mar since I’m retired military and there are few restrictions when compared to the public beaches in SD county. Our goal today was to do a 10 mile out and back along the shore. As we made our way through the throngs of people clustered around the main beach, we probably appeared a bit out-of-place. With our running shoes and backpacks, we looked fairly nerdy. It was a nice day for the beach, low 70’s, with a decent breeze. We broke out from the crowds after a few hundred yards .
We’ve been up this way in the past and enjoyed the serenity of the coastal bird sanctuary that the Marine Corps has established. We came upon the tidal channel that fed a fairly large lagoon. The lagoon and the marshy areas inland are typically off-limits due to the nesting areas of the Snowy Plover and other ocean birds. We removed our running shoes to ford the channel around 150 ft. from the surf. The tide was fairly low and there was very little current. Water was up to our shins and we easily crossed the 20 ft. channel.
We continued north at a steady pace. While walking in sand isn’t easy, it was easier than our usual 2,000-3,000 ft. climb. The number and types of coastal birds were impressive. Hundreds of snowy plovers, seagulls, storks, whimbrels, pelicans and more were busy – usually in search of food. A plover chick no more than 4-6 weeks old was venturing out from its’ nest. I tried to get closer for a pic, but it was fairly quick as it scuttled away.
After an hour or so, we would break out our beach towels and have lunch near the surf. Beaches in southern California are obviously very different from the east and Gulf coast. Lack of humidity, cold water, not to mention the abundance of wildlife. We enjoyed the surroundings and took it all in. For several miles in each direction, the beach was all ours.
After lunch, we would log a couple more miles heading north and reached a point just south of the Las Pulgas exit. The sandstone cliffs rose above the beach, their weathered faces were like sentinels facing the ocean.
As is typical with us, the first leg of our hike is casual – stopping for pics and exploring. The return leg is usually downhill and faster. There was no downhill today, but we picked up the pace and jogged for about 30 minutes. As we approached the channel, I noticed a difference in the surf. It was much closer now. When the channel came into view, it became apparent that the tide had changed. In the course of the last 4-5 hrs, the transition between low and high tide had occurred. The 20ft. channel was now 150 ft., deeper, with a stiff inbound current. I assessed our crossing options and chose an area toward the lagoon where it was wider. We removed our shoes, and placed our electronics inside Ziploc bags.
As we started across, the swift current immediately pushed against us. The depth slowly increased and by the time it was to our knees, it was becoming hard to stand. We held our packs over our heads. My wife was concerned and I encouraged her to face the current and lock arms with me. Soon, the water was up to our waist and my thoughts turned to what we would do if we got washed into the lagoon. I told my wife if that happened, to let go of the backpack and let the current take us into the lagoon where it became shallow and calm.
As my wife prayed for us to make it across safely, I focused on where my next step would be. 10 feet away I saw an area where the water from the lagoon was pushing against the inbound tide. Hopefully, the force of the current would be less there. Suddenly, the bottom dropped and we were up to our shoulders. Now, I was concerned and prepared to let the current take us in. Miraculously, the current subsided and we waded the last 10 yards as the water lapped against our necks.
As we emerged from the channel, we laughed and I apologized for not taking into account the ocean tides. My wife, mentioned something like “it’s always an adventure with you…” We walked barefoot the last mile or so to the beach, tired from today’s trek.
1. When hiking along coastal areas, plan to get wet and look up the tidal tables in case you have to cross inlets or channels. In our case, if it would have been any deeper, we would have been washed into the lagoon. If you are not a good swimmer, don’t cross.
2. Tidal changes around channels can be very dangerous. An outbound current could have been drastically different for us, due to the possibility of riptides. We happened to cross right at high tide
3. Waterproof your equipment in your pack. Have a few gallon baggies available. Most backpacks will float. If you cross with your pack on, unbuckle the sternum and waist straps so that you can roll out of the pack if necessary.
4. James 5:16 – …”The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. My wife knew exactly what to do in a time of trouble. God loves each of us so much. You are the apple of His eye my friend.
Now, back to the mountains.
As my fellow blogger extraordinaire “hikingangelesforest.com” can attest to, the experience of hiking in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests is amazing. To escape the rat-race of LA and Orange County, retreat into the hills that surround this area. As an avid day hiker in southern California, I find myself venturing out farther to hike. Often, I’ll try out a new trail solo and bring my wife back to explore with me.
Today, I would make the short 100 mile drive to Mt. San Antonio or “Mt. Baldy” as it’s more commonly known. It is quite possibly the most popular day hiking destination in SoCal. The shortest of the “Three Sisters” – Mt Gorgornio, Mt San Jacinto and Mt San Antonio, it still peaks out at approx. 10,069 ft. and offers challenging trails for the serious day hiker. In what may become a tradition for Saturday hikes, a stop at Chik-Fil-A for one of their chicken biscuits provided me with some carbs and protein to tackle this hill. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Be forewarned, your biggest challenge on Mt. Baldy may be finding a parking spot on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day with the OC’ers and Los Angelenos were out in force. After “trolling” for a spot, I found one within 50 ft. of the trailhead and Manker Flats campground. The trail starts out as a paved road with a locked gate for cars. After a half mile the road makes a hairpin curve and you can see the waterfall . Shortly after, it changes over to a dirt road. If you are going to take Baldy Bowl or “Ski Hut” trail, it sneaks up on the left after another .3 miles. The trail is easy to miss and its steep ascent is an indicator of things to come.
It was a warm 75 degrees. I know, that’s almost the perfect temp for many things – but with hiking, the cooler the better. The views of the San Antonio Canyon are great, even with the haze. You continue to hear and catch occasional glimpses of the falls as you gain elevation at an average rate of 900-1,000 ft. per mile. The mostly single track trail is well-traveled, so there is little chance of getting off the trail. Saturday is probably the busiest day, and I estimated over 300 people. I don’t like crowds, but my goal was bagging this peak. With this many people, most forget that the uphill hiker has the right of way. The two boy scout troops I came across knew this well and were polite.
The Ski Hut comes up after a couple of miles and has a porta-potty nearby. It is rented out to hikers and offers a good respite from the dusty trail. A stream flows nearby and the alpine scenery is enjoyable. This is a good place to take a break.
The trail passes through a wooded area and begins a tough ascent over loose dirt and scree. After a few minutes, my calves remind me that I don’t do this enough. Up ahead, a cloud of dust appears as a group of boy scouts make their way down. Now I see why many people are wearing bandannas over their faces; the dust is stifling when large groups pass by. Passing 8,500 ft. it flattens out for a bit and the views to the west open up. The chipmunks are abundant here. Leaving your backpack on the ground is an open invitation for the little scoundrels to steal your food.
Coming out of the trees, the terrain opens up and the path less obvious. Taking a side route, the trail was steep with scree and sand. The going was slow but the view was getting better. After 30 minutes of winding up the canyon, I stumbled on some wreckage. I knew it was some kind of aircraft wreckage, but didn’t know it was one of two Marine Corps F6F Hellcats that crashed here during a snowstorm in 1949.
Like any summit worth reaching, the last leg is the toughest. The trees really thin out and the peak looks like the surface of Mars. The wind is usually stiff up here, there are several piles of rocks forming windbreaks. People huddle behind them like GI’s in a foxhole. A beat up looking plaque is my record of making the trek.
The panoramic view is one of the best. Angeles Forest to the west, desert to the east and Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the southeast. The clouds and mist hug the nearby peaks creating a mystical surrounding.
The path down the Devil’s Backbone is a nice way to come down from the top. The first 1/4 mile is steep with talus and switchbacks galore, and is fun to watch people in front of you.
The trail gets narrow in places and falls off steeply on both sides. This is not one to hike when there is snow or ice!
The trail makes its way down past the ski lifts to Baldy Notch where the lift runs on weekends. I looked around for the dirt road that I would take and intersect the original trailhead. It’s tucked behind an equipment hut and is a nice, if not long walk down. The road crosses under the ski lift where I watch the last of the riders. As the sun sinks below the horizon, the shadows envelop the hills. Turning my headlamp on, I listen to the sound of crickets, enjoying the peacefulness as an awesome hike comes to an end.
Probably the second most popular trail in the San Jacinto Mountains is Devil’s Slide. Not normally ones to hit the crowded trails, this one promised decent views and moderate elevation gain. There was also an opportunity to reach the Tahquitz Peak Fire Tower from the other direction. Last month we did South Ridge to the tower, a calf burning stroll with its’ toughest leg in the last 1/4 mile. Snow and ice prevented us from going farther to the PCT junction on that trip.
Located not far from Idyllwild, the trail starts in Humber Park, which was little more than several parking lots. Finding a spot later in the day is hard to do, so get there early on the weekends. The view of Tahquitz Rock (Lily Rock) is the dominant landmark from the trailhead and urges you to climb the summit. The trail is well maintained (and travelled) slowly gaining elevation over the course of 2.5 miles to Saddle Junction. The views of Suicide Rock and the surrounding area are primo.
Today, we would hike with a friend who we promised to treat to a more challenging hike than the previous mild 10 miler on the PCT in the Mt Laguna area. Our objective today was the fire tower on the same ridge as Lily Rock. For many people, this trail is a great way to get to San Jacinto Peak without feeling you’ve cheated. On the way up, the trail was double wide, and alternates between that and single track. We crossed a few vernal streams on the way, one with decent flow. It will probably be gone by mid summer. There are many places to pull off the trail and do some bouldering. Each one promises a different angle of Lily Rock and the valleys below.
The junction is a good place for a break and many will eat their lunch and head back down. We decided to continue on to Tahquitz Fire Lookout through the Chinquapin Flat. It was like a leisurely stroll through an alpine forest and happens to be part of the PCT. A few up/downs, but a nice change up. Within a mile, there are remnants of a PCT marker post with a faint trail that breaks off to the right. We scrambled a bit and emerged into one of the best views in the San Jacintos. Lily Rock was in clear view as well as Suicide Rock. The fire tower was to our left. Our friend made his way out to an outcropping which provided some great photo ops. Once again, getting off the beaten path provided amazing vistas.
After hanging out a bit, we got back on the trail and the PCT breaks off about another 1/4 mile to the left. We continued on to the tower. Remnants of snow drifts encroached the trail. Here, it is single path and a steep drop off to the canyon below. I can see why the rangers closed this section last month. Laden with snow/ice, it would have been treacherous. We deposited some water bottles in the snow bank, hoping for some cool water on the way back. We would only run across 6 or so people on the trail since the junction. If you want to encounter fewer people, start later in the day. The views from the tower were limited today as the heat and haze obstructed the western vistas. To the east, a bit clearer into the desert.
The trip down was easy and fast. We stopped at the stream with the waterfall and let the cool water flow over our heads. Due to the crowd factor, this trail is best hiked during the week (Mon-Fri) in early spring.
I encourage you to get out and explore my friends. The Lord has made an awesome creation.
Today, we took some friends to one of our favorite San Diego County hiking areas – Laguna Mtn Recreation Area. Located in the Cleveland National Forest, it is a mix of amazing desert views and alpine forests, all within a day hike. We would start around mile marker 25.5 on the Sunrise Hwy, where the Big Laguna Trail crosses the road on the way to the PCT. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through this area and offers a diverse display of scenery and color. We planned on hiking the PCT to Penny Pines, cross over to the Big Laguna Trail and loop around the lake to end up near the starting point. Should be under 10 miles, not bad for a good day hike.
The gently rolling hills and occasional escarpment offer fairly easy hiking. The temps vary greatly here, but it was in the high 70’s today as the warm currents came up from the desert. We would take the “BLT” as the local trail maintainers affectionately call it to the PCT and head north. Not long after we hit the 2,600 mile long trail, we started seeing many runners. It’s rare to find trail runners out here, but today we would see over 150, all heading south. It was the annual PCT 50 mile run and we were smack dab near the turn around point. Over the next couple of hours we would kindly step off the trail for the runners as they came by. About half were walking, but I am amazed that people run 50 miles anywhere, much less on a rocky trail.
We came to Foster Point on the PCT which offers excellent views to the east and north. On clear winter days, you can see for over 75 miles to Mt. San Jacinto. It was neat to have lunch with our friends near a cliff that plummets to a canyon far below. Rounding a bend, a runner warned us about a rattler 50 ft ahead. I borrowed Mary’s hiking pole and there he was, a young Pacific Ratter nosing his way out on the trail. With runners coming through here every few minutes, I gently coaxed him back into the bushes with the pole At one point, he warned me with his shaker but backed off and retreated into the scrub. In my pre hiking days, I would have gladly terminated this serpent. Now, I realize part of being a good steward is to leave the wildlife alone. We continued up the PCT and proceeded into an area that was half scrub, half forest. The single track trail was well maintained but dusty. This section of the trail had a steep hill to the left and canyon to the right. With little to no breeze, we made our way up to Penny Pines parking area where the PCT breaks off and the Noble Canyon Trail intersects with the Big Laguna Trail. This must have been an aid station for the race as they were finished tearing it down. After another quick break to cool down, we crossed Sunrise Hwy and headed into a sun-baked area that had burned long ago. Crossing through a cattle gate, I began to look for the cows but none were to be found. Soon, the meadow came into view and it felt like a scene from the old movie classic “The Wizard of Oz” as they passed out of the haunted forest. At this point, I could have used a nap.
The trail meandered on the edge of the meadow and through the forest with large pines that survived the fires. Some newer pines were about 10-15 years old. There was a vernal pond at the north end of the meadow; it would probably be dry by the end of summer. Across the meadow, we could see the Sunset Trail, a decent trail that runs along the western ridge of the meadow, with good views of the Laguna area. Big Laguna Lake varies in size and has probably peaked this time of year.
We took a wrong turn at the south end of the lake. I’m entitled to one per hike ya know. After a few minutes on the boggy shores of the lake, we headed east toward our final legs of the BLT. We would cross more meadows, a few streams and enter another forest which seemed to go on forever. My GPS showed us farther south than I had wanted to be, but eventually the trail turned north, increased in elevation a few hundred feet and crossed Los Huecos Rd. The final leg was a hot, dusty jaunt over an old fire road, onto an almost overgrown path with a welcomed trail marker for the BLT to the PCT.
The map I was using from the Laguna Mtn Recreation Area website did not seem to scale, but the lesson here was to bring better topos. All in all the 10.5 mile trek was confirmation of the diversity of terrain around here. Deserts, alpine, meadows, lakes – a neat area to hike. During the week, I imagine that you would have it all to yourself. Enjoy life friends – “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” Ps 118:24
The Black Mountain Trail wasn’t our first choice for a hike on this day, but I don’t know of a bad trail in the San Bernardino National Forest or San Jacinto State Park. Originally, we were going to hike the Seven Pines Trail which promised a river crossing over the San Jacinto River. Filling out the wilderness permit at the ranger station, I put down Seven Pines and Deer Springs as the ones we would be hiking. The area is home to about four campgrounds and is located roughly 5 1/2 miles north of Idyllwild on the 243. Following the directions to the Dark Canyon campground, the Seven Pines trailhead is another mile or so up a dirt road. But alas, the gate to the campground was locked. Breaking out my trusty Tom Harrison map, I noticed another way in to the trail. Off we drove on road 4S01, a typical rutted dirt road. Driving on these service roads with a small car is an adventure and tests the endurance of your bladder. The map showed a symbol for a locked gate, so we parked a few hundred yards away and hoofed it. Hmm, what’s with the “No Hunting”, “No Trespassing” sign? Looking at the map again, this area was outlined in black and in tiny letters – Private Property. Man, this stinks.
We followed the fence line a bit and started bushwhacking our way down a creek toward the Seven Pines trail. I figured that we could make our way to the dirt road near the trailhead. I stopped to review the map until Mary told me that I had ants on me. I must have been standing on an anthill because about 8-10 of those big black suckers were rapidly making their way up my leg. Mary started brushing them off and one bit me in the neck. Fortunately, they weren’t fire ants and we hightailed it away from there. Now I know who rules the forest.
After picking our way around a loose pine covered canyon, we decided that the trek to the trailhead would be difficult and time-consuming. I’ve learned an important part of hiking is risk assessment. This one wasn’t worth it. We would head back to the car to find another trail. The closest one was Black Mtn Trail, a 3.5 mile, 2600 ft. climb. Since the trailhead was near the highway, an easy choice.
I forgot to mention that I have been practicing for a section hike of the Appalachian Trail this summer. A friend and I will be doing the “100 Mile Wilderness” in Maine. So today, I packed my Deuter 65L backpack with about 45 lbs. of gear + weights. We hit the Black Mtn Trail which begins around 5000 ft and started a rapid ascent over scree and sand. The composition of the trail looked like decomposed granite. The loose ground combined with the quick elevation increase made for a cardio extravaganza. It was in the low to mid 70’s and it didn’t take long to get winded. Take plenty of water on this hike, because unless you go in early spring or after a rain, there is none to be found.
I began to regret taking the full pack, but remembered why I was doing it. Hiking, even short day hikes often become mind over matter. The burning in the calves and quads is enough to make you stop occasionally and contemplate why you are here. The solitude and views, yes that’s it. Like so many trails in this area, the terrain changes from desert to meadows to sub alpine. Going up, you can see the majestic San Gorgonio Mtn towering above and the desert valley of Banning below. After a mile or so, we took a break on some boulders and had some lunch. The breeze up here was cool and steady.
The last mile is a mix of shallow canyons, forest, meadows, and steep switchbacks – quite a variety. The scree was abundant and loose. Not so bad when you are slowly going up, but risky when you are hoofing it down to beat the sunset. At the trail end, we noticed a water tank from the US Forestry Service dated 1968. Later, we would discover that a fire tower was another 15 minutes away on Black Mtn. It’s also staffed by volunteers during fire season. We took a break, removed our shoes and gave our feet a rest. On longer hikes, a good break with shoes/socks off is good therapy.
It was after 6 p.m. when we started our usual fast pace down. Well, I should be honest and say Mary started her usual fast pace. An avid speed walker, she is mastering the use of the hiking poles on the trail. I figured my pack would push me down the hill, but often it seemed to be pulling me backwards. The sunset was amazing, the best colors after it dipped below the horizon. The birds were beginning to settle, the owls and hawks seemingly calling out to one another. Once again, I am in awe of God’s creation. Taking the time to admire the wilderness is part of the experience. To sum this trail up, it is a calf burning, moderately strenuous trek. It has good views of San Gorgonio Mtn, the valley near Banning and San Jacinto Peak.
Lessons Learned: 1. If you have a chance to talk to a ranger, ask about trail conditions and things like locked gates. Budget cuts in Ca. have affected operations of the state-run campgrounds. 2. Carry a map of the general area in case the primary trail isn’t available. A good topo with marked trails and coordinates will be fine. 3. Carry more water than you think you’ll need. One liter for every 2 hours of hiking on a warm day is reasonable. I’ve learned to carry an extra Camelbak or Nalgene bottle with emergency water.