Adventures in hiking…

Posts tagged “PCT

San Bernardino Mountains – Cedar Springs Trail

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Where the pavement ends, the fun begins.

 

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.

Temps:50-57 degrees

Difficulty: moderate

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.

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An ominous sign

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.

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Sign at the junction of Cedar Springs Trail and the PCT. Aww man!

Oh well, we will just hang a right and go south on the PCT for a bit.

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We removed the graffiti sticker on the PCT sign.

The wind picked up as we trekked south and eventually we found an area sheltered from the wind looking down into the desert.

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View from the PCT into Anza-Borrego 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.

Lessons Learned:

– 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:

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS

SPOT-3O Spot Gen3 GPS Satellite Messenger

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A yucca looking down from the top of the stalk

 


The Pedro Fages to Pacific Crest Trail

Nestled between Cuyamaca State Park and the southern section of Anza Borrego State Park is a nice trek along the Pedro Fages Trail.   As we pulled off the road and read the trail marker, I tried to visualize the path that the Native Americans and later the Europeans took as they made their way through Oriflamme Canyon.   The trail starts on the Sunset Highway (S1) near the junction of Hwy 79 at Cuyamaca Lake.  The California Riding and Hiking Trail which actually starts near Otay Lake in southern San Diego County passes through Cuyamaca and through this area toward Chillihua Valley.

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What makes this hike enjoyable are the wide open views as you start out in Mason Valley.   One of the things that amazes me about southern California is the diversity of the land.  Sure, it is dry and rocky in most areas, but you will find contrast all around.  Today, the deep blue sky with scattered clouds was set apart from the rocky terrain of the Laguna Mountains.

The single track trail with wide open vistas made you want to run, but I’m a hiker not a runner.  The breeze from the Anza-Borrego Desert made the dry grasses wave in unison.  It was tempting to lie down in the meadow and just watch the cloud formations, but we had a goal today.  We would hit the junction with the PCT and see how far we would go.

After 1.5 miles, you come to a Jeep trail.  Out here they call them truck roads, but they’re mostly service roads for the USFS.  Turn right, go through a gate and you will see small signs for the PCT.  Turn right and you’ll follow the PCT to Mexico.  A little farther up on the left is a battered sign for my favorite trail north.  My wife and I talked about setting up some trail magic near here for the PCT class of 2015.  Hmm, we will have to see.  I’ve always had thoughts about becoming a trail angel.  People who bring drinks, food to PCT thru-hikers are trail angels and the stuff they provide is trail magic.  It’s an awesome way to bless people when they least expect it.

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A “classic” Pacific Crest Trail sign.

The trail has been fairly level to this point but as you follow it east-northeast it begins to drop into the canyon.  It appears to descend around 800-1,000 ft.  This is a very quiet hike through here, the only sounds are aircraft passing by and the fluttering birds.   It’s definitely one of the trails less travelled.   We were not exactly thrilled about hiking down and then having to hike back up at the end, but sometimes it is just what you have to do.

At the bottom of the canyon is another Jeep trail and the PCT hikers will take a right and walk along the road before bearing left 1/4 mile up.  We took our lunch break at the bottom on a couple of boulders and took our shoes and socks off to cool down.  It’s always a good idea to remove the boots/shoes on a warm hike.  Helps to cut down on the blisters.  A rare patch of cool, green grass made it even more inviting.  A cool creek or mountain stream would have been perfect, but we are in the desert of So-Cal.

The hike up was a tough climb, and I must have left my trail legs in the Sierras because my calves were complaining.  This would be a hot hike in late spring, summer and not recommended.  Back at the main fire road, we noticed a Forest Service or Cal-Fire concrete water tank.  On top was a steel lid to the inside.   Unfortunately, it was empty but it sure would make a nice sleeping bunker on a cold night.

 

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A valve to the forest service water tank. Of course I had to try it.

After the leg workout, the valley and meadow was a nice way to finish the out and back hike.  About 200 yards out, a lone coyote trotted by.  I tried howling at him, but my throat was parched and all that came out was a failed attempt of a silly human trying to make an animal sound.   He did glance over at us and barely slowed down.

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Looking for the Roadrunner….

Today’s out and back to the PCT was a solid 6 miles.  It was good to be back on the trail with my hiking partner.  This trail didn’t have the best vistas, but any day that you can hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail is a good day.   Thanks for stopping by my blog and remember to take the 10 Essentials when you trek into the backcountry.

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter
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I always hug a PCT marker whenever I get the chance.

 

 

 


Kearsarge Pass – A Thru Hiker Highway

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Ask any Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hiker about Kearsarge Pass and they will confirm that it is a main resupply route.  We would run across more PCT and JMT hikers than ever before.  Generally, they are the most laid back people you will meet.

After a restless nights’ sleep near Pothole Lake, we decided to leave our camp set up and venture out west of the pass.  A nice breakfast of bacon and eggs got us going.  The crytallized eggs are real and when mixed with water, scramble up perfectly.  The pre-cooked bacon is trail ready and is good to go.  We lightened our packs and carried enough supplies for our day hike.  The plan was to drop down into the Kearsarge Lakes area and grab lunch next to the water.

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Our camp was within sight of the pass so the last 400 ft of elevation gain was easy-peasy.  There was one other hiker taking a break and we dropped our packs to soak in the vista.  The views to the west were beautiful.   In the Sierras, one will run out of words to describe the scenery.  There were several lakes below;  one I recognized from the map as Bullfrog Lake.  We wanted to explore down below so we ate a snack and chatted with a thru-hiker going back to town for resupply.  Like so many other long distance hikers we’ve seen, he looked like he was in need of a bath and some good food.  We started down, the slope steady with what appeared to be pulverized granite rocks for the trailbed.

We ran into a few day hikers huffing their way up and stepped out-of-the-way.  Trail etiquette being what it is, the uphill hiker has the right of way.  We ran across a lonely stream making its’ way down to the lakes.  The source of water appeared to come out the side of the mountain.  A bullfrog could be heard croaking steadily.  We never saw it, but heard that sucker for the next 30 minutes.  We made our way down some switchbacks to a trail junction.

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Wishing that we had more time to hike to Charlotte and Rae Lakes area, we hiked another 1/2 mile or so to the Kearsarge Lakes area.  The trail is fairly well-defined and meandered down to the first lake.  It was warmer now, around 75 degrees and other than a few people fishing on the other shore, very quiet.  The only other sound were the streams emptying into the lake.   We took off our shoes and stepped in to the cold, clear water.  After a minute, the bones in my legs started aching.  Well, probably not but that’s what it felt like.  It was brisk and felt good on our hot feet.  The trout were jumping every few seconds.  The Golden Trout Wilderness is aptly named.  We discussed getting our fishing licenses and gear before our next hike into this area.  I can taste the fresh trout cooked in a pan with just a touch of lemon and garlic.

 

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After eating our lunch and filtering some water, we reluctantly started back up the trail.  The climb out was less strenuous than it would have been with a full pack.  We ran into a PCT hiker who had lost the cap to his water filtration chemical bottle.  It was tiny and we struck up a conversation and he eventually found it.    As I was taking a breather on a bend in a switchback, another hiker was coming up behind.  I usually ask hikers where they are coming from or where they are going out of curiosity.  She was a PCT hiker, who had recently gotten back on the trail.   She passed me and struck up a conversation with my wife who  (as always) is ahead of me.  They immediately hit it off and continued talking as we slowly made our way up to the pass.  Conversation is a good diversion when you are in a steep climb.  Of course it helps if you’re not out of breath.

The women continued to chat and it was a nice experience to meet a thru-hiker who took the time to relate their experience on the trail.  PCT hikers run the gambit from those that are on a sabbatical to modern-day hippies.  Sometimes I believe that long distance hikers are a sub-culture within our Americana.  Her trail-name was Pillsbury,  and she was quite the character.  Before long, we reached the pass where we hung out with Pillsbury and the other PCT hiker who went my the moniker Dances with Bacon.  He was a nice guy and we chatted for a bit.  Heck, with a trail-name like that, he couldn’t be bad.

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Pillsbury  wanted to take some fun pics, so she climbed an outcropping and asked me to take some pics with her camera.  She got up her nerve and did some hand-stands.  The blustery wind was a bit much and I was glad when she finished.  She was heading into town to resupply and had another 4-5 miles to go.  While it’s mostly downhill from here, the town of Independence is about 13 miles from the trailhead in the Onion Valley Campground.  We enjoyed our time with Pillsbury and parted ways when we reached the part of the trail where our camp was located.

We had time to enjoy our camp this time.  It was nice at the site and we didn’t rush through dinner.  The Black Bart Chili tasted great.  It’s one of our favorites.    As we settled in for the night, the wind was not as strong so the water from the lake was not lapping the rocks as loud as the previous night.  Did I mention that the first night, the sound of the water was like footsteps? We were sure that someone (or some thing) was walking around our tent.   Freaked us out for a few minutes until I stuck my head out of the tent around 2 a.m. and discovered it was the sound of wind-driven water against the shore of the lake.

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No AMS symptoms tonight, we were fully acclimated.  Slept soundly and awoke to a crisp Sierra morning.  Not wanting to cook breakfast, we had some snacks and departed our hidden campsite on Pothole Lake.  We took a different route out and had to do some boulder scrambling.  Not sure that it was a wise choice.  A fall here would have hurt.

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Our walk down was fairly quick and the scenery nice.  The coolness of the air as we went in and out of the forest was refreshing.   The lakes that we had passed going up looked so different.  Still lots of jumping trout though.  We took a break near a cascading creek, the breeze and sound of rushing water enough for one to desire a nap.

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This hike was a good one for many reasons, but it turns out to be our best way in for our JMT section hike next year.   The JMT is a short trek from Kearsarge Pass.  Mt. Whitney, here we come.

Some lessons learned on this trip:

– We experienced mild Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms on our first night.  Our symptoms were headaches, nausea and a bad nights’ rest.  While we have camped around 10,000 ft. before, on this trip, we left San Diego in the morning from an altitude of 500 ft.  Ten hours later, we were at 11,400 ft.  Our bodies didn’t have a chance to acclimate.  Recommendation:  When hiking at high altitude, camp at a lower altitude on the first night to give your body a chance to adjust.

– Dehydrated foods take longer to cook at high altitude.  In our case, the normal 12-15 minutes of rehydration took almost 30 minutes.

– If given the opportunity, start a conversation with fellow hikers.  You will meet the most amazing people from all walks of life.  Many have funny, interesting stories from the trail.  You won’t find many creeps out here – they’re mostly back in the cities.

– Take the time to kick your shoes off and enjoy a dip in the water.  Next time, I’m up for a swim. 🙂

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Fuller Ridge Trail – San Jacinto Peak

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If you are up for a bit of four-wheelin on a fire road followed by some sweet views, then this is the trail for you.  Don’t forget to pick up your hiking and camping permits at the Visitor’s Center in Idyllwild.

In the past two years, we have hiked almost every trail in the San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area.   This area has some of the most beautiful alpine hikes ever.

The Fuller Ridge Trail is located approximately 8 miles up Black Mountain Fire Road (4S01)from SR243 north of Idlyllwild.   We did this one in early Nov during a mild and dry fall weekend.  It follows the western ridge up to San Jacinto and is a tough 14.2 mile out and back hike to the peak with approx. 4,000 ft. of elevation gain.  I’d give the full hike a good 7-8 hrs.  We didn’t have enough time for that and just hiked a few miles in.   If hiked in its’ entirety, it is a good practice hike for Mt. Whitney.

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Driving up this single lane fire road is a bit of a bone jarring experience, but believe it or not, a vehicle with good clearance can make it through.  It does require some maneuvering but the Jeep had no problem tackling this one straight on.   The road takes you up the north side of the San Jacinto range with views of Banning and Palm Springs along the way.  Ol’ Grayback  (Mt San Gorgonio) is a close neighbor.  Amazingly, we didn’t run across any vehicles coming down as it would have required some jockeying to make room for two.  You might want to hit the restroom before this drive because it will test the strongest of bladders.   There are a few pull offs along the way for pics.  Around 6,800-7,000 ft., the road comes to an end with the entrance to a campground and Fuller Ridge trailhead.  Only one other vehicle here this fall afternoon.  We began our ascent through a heavy cover of conifers.  It was cool and crisp with the wind whispering through the gentle giants.

 

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The trail meanders through the forest with occasional views into the desert below.  It is one of the most peaceful  and secluded trails that you can hike around San Jacinto.   Most people will not drive 30 minutes up a fire road to hike.  It’s also a nice back way in to San Jacinto Peak.  We would not be doing the 7 miles to the top,  but it is a fairly mild if not long journey there.

The only sounds were the woodpeckers seemingly fussing at each other and the occasional chatter of the chipmunks.  This appears to be a nice trail for runners as the slopes are generally mild and the trail is mostly single-track.  We noticed a fair amount of ups/downs the first few miles.  No water sources were available on this trip, so bring what you need.  If hiked in the spring, you may run across some PCT through hikers on their long trek north.

It is a mostly shaded, well maintained trail with occasional steep slopes on either side.  Almost all trails in San Jacinto are worth the trip.  This one is no exception.

Today’s tip:  Always let someone know where you will be hiking.  We usually send a text to a family member with the trail name, location and when we expect to return.


Crossing Streams and Other Bodies of Water

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On the Appalachian Trail

So, this is the real McCoy.  My previous blog was written for fun during my furlough.

If you hike long enough in the backcountry, you will inevitably have to do a water crossing.  It may be on a log, stepping on rocks, or fording through it.  Over the past several years, I have done quite a few crossings and  learned a lot along the way.

Honestly, I didn’t know much about the topic beforehand so I researched the Internet, read about it in my backpacking field guide and various articles in Backpacker magazine.  I’ll share my experience crossing various bodies of water including an ocean inlet, streams, creeks, brooks and rivers.  By no means am I an authority on water crossings – it’s mostly common sense.  If crossing over or through water intimidates you, you are not alone – it’s very common.   With a little planning and will power, you can conquer this.

My first real water crossings were on the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine.  This remote part of the Appalachian Trail has plenty of water.  There were two of us and we used the buddy system on some crossings.  

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A rope was handy while crossing the Little Wilson in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Methods for crossing (Fording the body of water)

 Always – Put on your water shoes, roll up your pants.    Loosen your backpack straps and unbuckle the sternum and waist strap.  This may help if you slip.  A pack can pull you under. 

Solo – Facing upstream, use hiking poles. side step and try to keep three points in contact with the bottom at all times.

Two or more – Couple of methods here.  You can face upstream, lock arms and side step your way across.  You can also form a single file and face upstream.  The person in the front forms a barrier.  Place the weakest at the back of the line where there is less resistance to the current.

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Hazards

Swollen, fast current.  This is a judgement call.  My general rule is if the current is fast, I don’t usually cross if it’s higher than my waist.  It’s difficult to keep your footing in a strong current with a slippery bottom.

Obstacles.  Never cross upstream close to logs, tangles or debris in the water.  If you slip, you may end up getting sucked under the obstacle.

Rapids, bends, waterfalls.  Avoid crossing near these if possible.  Water flows faster in curves and bends.  Rapids are full of hidden hazards.  Slip near a waterfall and well, you know…

Temperature.  A cold mountain stream will numb your legs and feet within a couple of minutes.  It can be shocking and cause you to panic.  Move as quickly as possible to avoid cramps.

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Some thoughts here.  Did you know in Maine (other parts of New England as well) a brook is what most of us would call a stream or creek?  A stream can be a large creek or what many out west would call a river.

Crossing over on a log

This is challenging if you are afraid of heights.  The sound of rushing water just adds to the fear factor.   I find it easiest to hold my poles out like a tightrope walker as it provides a bit more balance.  One foot in front of the other and keep moving.  If you are with others, it may help to carry the pack of the person who is struggling.  That 30-40 lb pack lets you know that it’s there.  Unbuckle the waist and sternum, loosen the shoulder straps.  If you do fall, roll out of the pack to avoid getting pulled under.

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Crossing on rocks, boulders

Choose your stones wisely.  Most rock crossings are on shallow streams and creeks.  I often use my poles for more stability and have slipped off many rocks.  Your best tool here is a pair of hiking shoes with sticky soles like the Camp Four 5-10’s.   Avoid moss-covered ones and test to see if the rocks are wobbly.  Boulder hopping with a full pack is tricky.  Lean to far and you’re going in.   Believe me, I know.

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River night crossing on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. That’s my friend’s headlamp

Night Crossing

While I’ve done a few, it’s a bit sketchy.  Always use a headlamp and test the water depth with your hiking poles.

Equipment:  You really don’t need much, but here are some ideas.

Water shoes – A good pair of waterproof shoes provides traction and forms a barrier between your feet and a rocky bottom.  Hiking shoes with good soles for rock hopping.

Trekking poles – Gives you that third or fourth leg for added stability.  Also can be used to pull you out if you fall.

Paracord – If you need to fasten it to your buddy, it can provide some assurance.

Extra socks – It’s no fun to hike in wet socks.

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Umm, don’t cross here.  Nevada Falls, Yosemite

My hardest water crossing was an unplanned one.  On a beach hike, my wife and I crossed a tidal inlet to a lagoon at low tide.  On our return, the tide was rushing in and the 10 foot crossing at 1 foot deep became a 50 ft. wide crossing up to our shoulders.  We put our daypacks above our heads, locked arms and barely made it across.  Before and during the crossing, I briefed her what to do if we lost our footing.  Fortunately, the current was coming into the lagoon.  If the current had been going out, I doubt we would have risked it.

We’ve run across many solo hikers in the backcountry where there are an abundance of water crossings.   It’s all the more important to understand the hazards when you are alone.   Find the safest place to cross and never cross at night when you’re alone, it’s just not worth it.

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Sometimes, you gotta jump

Some final thoughts.  Hike long enough and you will have to cross water.  With the proper gear and techniques, it’s just mind over matter.


Planning for a Section Hike of the John Muir Trail

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07After much preparation, our section hike of the JMT commenced.  Our plan was to do a 60+ mile section from south-north.  We would start around Devils Postpile and finish in Yosemite Valley.  There are a lot of logistics that go into an extended backcountry trip.  From clothing, food, transportation – the options are numerous.

How much will it cost?  It will vary widely depending on your choices for transportation, gear and food.  Don’t go cheap on essential hiking gear.  You get what you pay for.  The $25 tent is not a good idea for a High Sierra backcountry trip.

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It started with choosing a time of year to do it.  In the Sierras, the previous winter has a lot of impact on trail conditions.  This year was a low snow year, so the streams were not very high.  Since there was less snow, that usually means less standing water so mosquitos should not be as bad.  Well, that’s debatable.  To some, any mosquitos are bad.  Ensure that you don’t have problems fording streams or walking across logs over rushing water.  Late June/early July worked for us.  I hear late August/early September is a good time.

Next choice was the distance to hike.  This is where you need to know what your limits are.  Can you hike 8-10 miles per day with a full pack at high altitude in 80 degree temps?  I can tell you as an avid day hiker, there is a lot of difference between hiking 10 miles with a daypack and with a 40 lb. pack.  It’s not pleasant to do a forced march just to make your mileage.

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Clothing was another choice.  What to wear?  Best advice I can give is to check blogs and user groups to see what others are doing.  Yahoo has a great JMT user group with relevant info.  Due to a forecast of high temps, we would take synthetic short and long sleeve shirts, convertible pants and rain/wind jackets.  Still, conditions in the Sierras vary widely, so an extra layer or two is a good idea.  Those light weight hiking shoes may not provide enough support on a multi-day hike with a full pack.  Test it out first.

Food was next.  Dehydrated meals are the easiest and they’ve come a long way.  Test some out ahead of time and read the reviews for each.  There is some amazing innovation in the area of crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon.  Ensure they you have plenty of snacks like energy bars, trail mix, beef sticks and fruits like apples.  My wife found healthy alternatives in the form of grass fed beef sticks and even some gluten free snacks.  It’s amazing how many calories you can burn in 6-8 hours of hiking, so do the math.  Bear canisters are mandatory in most areas on the JMT, so plan to rent or bring your own.

Transportation.  Since we were doing a section hike, we chose to leave our car in Mammoth Lakes, catch a shuttle to the trail and for the return leg, catch public transportation (YARTS) back to Mammoth.  It ended up working out great.  Have a backup plan in case you miss your ride.

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Research and planning was everything on this trip which helped make it successful.  I learned so much reading others’ blogs and experiences.

NEXT:  John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


Hiking Poles Are Not For Wimps

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You can usually tell the experienced hikers from the rookies on the trail.  With only 3 years of hiking under my belt, I’m no longer a rookie you see, I’ve moved up to a novice.  Not that I don’t make rookie mistakes on the trail now and then.  Like the time I almost lit my friend’s JetBoil with the little foam koozie thing still on. Man, I might dedicate one of my future blogs to my rookie mistakes.

So back to the subject at hand – hiking or trekking poles.  Almost every seasoned hiker uses them.  Early on in hiking, it was with a single pole. Not sure why I started using one.   One pole was ok, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.  Either that or I wasn’t using it properly.  After some research, it became obvious that I could have gotten by with less knee pain with two poles.

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Not the best spot to use poles….

Most people will tell you that they use poles to lessen the impact on the knees.  The knee is an amazing feat of design by our creator.  It absorbs repeated pounding and tremendous weight over and over.  The compressive force exerted on the knee going downhill is significant.  One study revealed that the typical runner’s knee absorbed between 2-4 times the bodies’ weight.  for a 150 lb hiker, that’s approximately 500 lbs each time!  The average person’s stride is 2.5 ft.  So, in a 10 mile hike, you take roughly 20,000 steps.  So here’s some numbers that will blow you away.  That’s over 10,000,000 pounds of force or 5,000 tons absorbed by your knees on this particular hike. Good golly, check my math on that one.   No wonder my knees ache sometimes.  Supposedly, a 1999 Journal of Sports Medicine study revealed that used properly, poles reduce the stress to the knees by up to 25%.

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Cooling the trekking poles off near Mount Laguna.

I bought my single trekking pole a partner and that’s when the benefits became obvious.  With two poles, I developed better balance going downhill, didn’t slip as much, moved faster and even learned how to “spider” with them.  Yes, I know arachnids have eight legs, but someone came up with the name for the technique.  The poles even gave this boy some rhythm, where there was none before.

One of the reasons I took up hiking was to get some exercise.  Using the same math as before, imagine lifting your trekking poles even 5,000 times on a hike.  At an average of 10 ounces each, that’s over 3,700 lbs of lifting.  Wow, who needs a Nordic Track?  Back to the balance discussion – poles provide the stability when carrying a heavy pack on those extended backcountry trips.  They are invaluable when you have to ford those fast-moving streams.  Think about it, having 3 points on the ground at all times when crossing over those slippery rocks.

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Not exactly carbon fiber, but they lasted over 750 miles.

There are times when poles are a nuisance or even a hindrance.  Bouldering or rock scrambling is not the time to be using your poles.  Hand over hand climbing or bushwhacking through dense vegetation may be some other situations where they are best left strapped to your pack.  Lash them down and stow them with the tips down to avoid skewering yourself in the neck or head.

If weight is an issue, then shelling out the money for lighter high-tech carbon poles may be for you.  Expect to spend $150 or more for  those.   I remember a time on the A.T. where we ran into a fellow with 1 – 1/2 carbon fiber poles.  We saw the other half of his pole 20 miles later in a swamp with thigh deep mud.  The brittle carbon fiber pole was no match for the Maine muck.  On the other hand, my $25 aluminum poles were going strong 200 miles later.  Even something as simple as this comes with accessories.  Rubber tips are more eco-friendly, mud and snow baskets will keep them from sinking down.  Some have compasses and thermometers built into the handle.   Handles are typically plastic, rubber, or even cork, with straps to prevent flinging them over the ledge when you point out the awesome scenery or mountain lion.  I prefer cork handles since it is comfortable and doesn’t cause as much sweating.

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Poles came in very handy here. 100 Mile Wilderness, Maine.

Some other uses for trekking poles:

– The make great spears for self-defense.

– You can wrap duct tape around the shaft which can be used in emergencies.

– You can make a huge cross symbol for those trail vampires

– Use them to make noise so that you don’t sneak up on a bear or to scare away mountain lions. No, really.

– Sword fights or fencing around the campfire.  Rubber tips on of course. 🙂

So, like anything else in hiking gear, you get what you pay for.  If you’re not sure about the need for poles, borrow some from a friend or spend a small amount on an entry-level set.  Your knees will thank you.


Day Hiking the California Peninsular Mountain Range

Spitler Peak Trail in the fall.

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.

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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.

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Northern Peninsular Range

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.

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A hawk on the hunt for vermin.

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.

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Marion Mountain Trail in the San Jacinto Wilderness

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.

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Clark Dry Lake bed near the Santa Rosa Mtns.

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.

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Mount Laguna Recreation Area.

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.


Bitten by a Rattler on the Pacific Crest Trail

Dazed and losing consciousness,  the shade of a scruffy manzanita tree was just ahead.  My calf had doubled in size due to the swelling.  Using my hiking poles as crutches, I would take a step and drag my leg.  Checking my cell phone for reception, my heart sank – no signal.  I tried dialing 911 anyway and the call failed.   Reaching the small patch  of shade, I crumpled on the dusty trail and took my pack off.   I fumbled for my SPOT Messenger, an emergency beacon, flipped the cover over the SOS button and pressed it.  After a minute, the light was green indicating that the message for help was transmitting.  The throbbing in my leg had ceased, replaced by a numbing sensation – similar to falling asleep on your arm.   I remember seeing the jagged peaks of the Ocotillos on the distant horizon and faded into a dream….

Living in Southern California,  I became interested in the Pacific Crest Trail or (PCT) soon after becoming an avid day hiker. The 2,600 mile trail begins at the U.S. – Mexican border near Campo, California and ends at E.C. Manning Park in British Columbia,  Canada. The southern terminus of the trail is marked with a monument, the border fence on the other side of a dirt road.  I’ve hiked sections of the PCT, usually 8-10 miles at a time.  At this rate, I would hike the entire PCT in 30 years.  The realities of life keep this thru-hike fantasy at bay.

Today, I would park almost 20 miles north of the trailhead  near the Lake Morena Campground and have a friend drop me off at the border near Campo.  He was on his way to Yuma, so it was only 12 miles out-of-the-way.  Dropping me off on the dirt road, I would walk to the border, touch the PCT marker and backtrack north.  I  waved to my friend as he pulled away on the dirt road and headed north.    Dust arose as the car faded in the distance.   How strange it must be for the Mexicans who witness the hikers that walk this desolate trail.  I’ve read that encounters with illegal immigrants are rare in the daytime down here.   At night, the human smugglers known as coyotes herd the immigrants through this area, often abandoning them at the first sign of trouble.  Human trafficking is a sad thing and I tried not to think about it.  On this fall day, the sun was out early to greet me.  The forecast had temps in the mid 80’s – not bad for the desert.  I had 4 liters of water and enough food for a couple of days.  Water is pretty scarce around here this time of year.  This would be my longest single mileage day since my trek on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.  I’ve worked up to the longer mileage and was fit enough to give it a go.   The sky was clear with a few wispy cirrus clouds.   Taking out my little camera, I had to get a shot of the beginning of this famous trail.

Southern Terminus of the PCT

It was so quiet out here because the sand and chaparral absorb most of the sound.  The occasional chatter of a Gambel’s Quail would break the silence.  Using my map, I would pick my way around fences, up dirt roads and past some ranches.  Passing through the little town of Campo, I would see a post office and a small store.  Walking across Hwy 94, I saw cars in the distance, the blacktop making them seem like a mirage.

Crossing some railroad tracks and an old jeep road, I was making good time.  Finding shade in the cleft of a boulder, I took a break.  The screech of a red-tail hawk on the hunt pierced the tranquility.  It was catching a morning updraft, conserving energy.   The trail was relatively easy to follow and the elevation was around 2,800-3000 ft.  Checking my GPS, it indicated my average speed was 2.8 mph.  I was on track to make it to my car by sundown.  While prepared to hike in the dark, it’s not something that I enjoy doing.   Around the 8 mile mark, I made the crest of a ridge and noticed a descent into a canyon, followed by a  300-400 ft climb.  I crossed another jeep road with a gate.  Time for another snack, but I would keep moving.  While unwrapping my snack bar, I remember looking up in time to avoid tripping over a rock.  The Pacific Rattler struck without warning.    I remember yelling and lunging forward, the adrenaline surging  through my body.  I must have run another 30-40 feet before stopping.  Looking back, the snake was still coiled under the rock near the trail.  The pain in my calf jolted me back into reality.  I dropped my poles and unfastened the nylon gaiter on my right leg.  Two small holes, one with blood on my calf.   The serpent had bitten me through the gaiter.  My initial reaction was one of panic.   Within a few minutes, the area around the bite burned like fire and the skin turned red and was swollen.  I got farther away from the snake and retrieved my cell phone to call for help.  No signal!   I was in a canyon with no reception.  At this point, I wasn’t worried about dying.  I knew that most rattlesnake bites were not fatal and that it was important to calm down so that I could make good decisions.   I had not seen one person since the little hamlet of Campo, so I prayed to my God for calm and asked Him to get me out of here.

Looking at my map, I was 9 miles into my 20 mile hike.  The campground was 10 miles to the north with a  1,200 foot climb.  Campo was 8 miles to the south.   Not knowing how the snake bite would affect me, I decided to head back south and prayed for a phone signal.  I made a detour around the wretched snake and  began to feel a bit lethargic and dizzy.  Sweat was dripping as my body reacted to the situation.  I drank more water and tried to stay calm.  Up ahead near the ridge, I noticed some scrubby trees and hoped for some shade.  My leg was swelling noticeably and I knew to leave my shoes on.  I made it to some manzanitas and dropped my pack.

Still no signal.  I knew what had to be done.  Six months earlier, I had purchased a GPS device that serves as an emergency beacon and allows for me to be tracked by family members on a website.  At the start of my hike, I transmitted the “OK” signal to my wife which sends an email and text to her cell phone with my location.  Now, I fumbled for the device and knew that I had to signal for help.  I flipped off the safety cover and pressed the SOS button.  After a minute, it blinked green indicating that it was transmitting.  Hopefully, help would be here within the hour.  Looking around, I noticed the tranquility and beauty of the land.  The Ocotillos mountain range was in the distance.  The last thing I remember was a slight buzz in my ears.

I remember having strange dreams.  In  one of my dreams, I was dressed up in a fat bunny suit and jumping through the neighbor’s yards.   I still don’t understand that dream.   It was bright when I woke up.  In a strange room, the beep, beep of the monitor and I.V. in my arm left no doubt where I was.  A  nurse came in and told me that it took three vials of antivenom to treat me.  My leg would be fine, albeit sore for a long time.

Later, I would be told that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department  received the call from the company that monitors the SPOT GPS messenger.  The police chopper was on the scene within 55 minutes.  Working with the Border Patrol, they would make their way up a jeep road and haul me out on a 4 wheeler with a gurney.  A helicopter would land on Hwy 94 and take me to the hospital in El Cajon, 35 miles away.

Friends, fellow bloggers – at this point I must tell you that this story is a work of FICTION.  This didn’t really happen to me.  Have I seen rattlers on the trail?  Yes, many.  Normally, the rattlers are not aggressive and actually prefer to stay away from humans.  Most rattlesnake bite victims  are oblivious to the snake until they step on it or surprise it on the trail.  I can only tell you that if you do hike alone, ensure that someone knows where you are and take a cell phone.  Unfortunately, if you hike in remote areas, a cellular signal is not guaranteed.  For peace of mind,  I picked up an emergency beacon and  hope to never use it.  Be prepared for the chance rattler encounter and have a plan.   If you do stumble on one, freeze and allow it to retreat.  If it coils, slowly back  away and give it a wide berth.  The most common rattlers in Southern California are the Pacific and Diamondback.  In my experience, the Pacific Rattlers tend to be more defensive and will coil when threatened.  They have the ability to strike out at 40% of their length.  A coiled 6 foot rattler can lunge over 2.5 ft!   Most of my encounters have been in the afternoon.   I actually came within two feet of a coiled Pacific Rattler this past summer;  but for the grace of God was not bitten.   Enjoy your hike and be alert!

Trekking poles are also great because they can put some distance between you and a snake.  I highly recommend these made by Kelty: Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue

If you insist on walking through rattlesnake infested brush, at least consider these: Rattler Scaletech Snake Protection Gaiters (Green)

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle