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Archive for the ‘Hikes’ Category

This morning I did a quick hike of Iron Mountain in San Diego County. The trailhead is on the intersection of Highway 67 and Poway Road, just east of Poway. There a well-built-out parking lot with bathrooms. On weekends, overflow parking occurs along the highway, and you can find a hundred cars there.

Here is the mountain from the trailhead. As always, you can click on my pictures and zoom.

Iron Mountain from the Trailhead

Where we stand, we are at 1,608 feet of elevation, actually quite high already. The mountain peak is at 2,665 feet. The hike there is about 2.9 miles, so the round-trip is about a 6 mile hike with an elevation change of about 1,000 feet.  I did the full round-trip in about two and a half hours, plus 15 minutes of hanging out on the peak.

The hike gets very busy on weekends. I am sure I passed several hundred people going up and down, so on a good day this mountain sees a lot of traffic. Dogs are allowed, and many people bring their dogs. But worry not, it’s a long trail, and the crowds separate as you get hiking and there are many stretches when you’re completely alone.

It is a good workout, both up and down. Bring about a quart of water per person. It gets hot and dry. Definitely wear sun protection. It is exposed every step of the way.

When you get to the top, you’re rewarded with 360 degree views of San Diego County in all directions.

Here’s looking north. The ridge on the left with the antennas on it is Woodson Mountain, with the famous potato chip rock on it. See my post on it here. The ridge in the back is Palomar Mountain, home of the famed Palomar Observatory. Palomar is 6,138 feet high.

Looking North from the Peak of Iron Mountain

 

Now facing east, we can see the litte nubby of Cuyamaca Peak, at 6,512 feet one of the highest peaks in San Diego County.

Looking East from the Peak of Iron Mountain

 

Looking south, due to the haze we cannot see it in this picture, but downtown San Diego would be on the horizon slightly right of the center of this photograph.

Looking South from the Peak of Iron Mountain

 

And finally, looking west, the haze in the distance is just over the Pacific Ocean. I have been on this mountain around the time of sunset, and depending on the weather, the view is spectacular, and the ocean reflects the sun like a mirror.

Looking West from the Peak of Iron Mountain

 

Here’s looking down to the trailhead and the parking lot. The arrow points to the parking lot and the white stuff are the cars. That is exactly the point from where I took the first picture, showing the entire mountain. You see a good part of the boring section of the trail from the trailhead toward the right, before it starts ascending sharply out of the picture to the right.

Looking to the Trailhead from the Peak of Iron Mountain

 

Here is a picture of the peak at the peak. On a weekend, you’ll find a good two or three dozen people there at any time, having a snack, chatting, taking selfies and of course panoramic photographs like I just did.

On the Peak of Iron Mountain

 

Iron Mountain is a great hike year round and one of the most popular hikes in San Diego. And – it will get you huffing and puffing.

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After hiking Palm Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert almost every year right after New Years, and skipping 2015 and 2016, today I went again on Jan 1, 2017.

Starting out, on January 3, 2010, I noticed a brand new stand of palm trees developing. I took a picture and marked the spot (click to enlarge):

New Palm Grove 2010

When I came back two years later on January 7, 2012, here is the identical view:

New Palm Grove 2012

Then I came back on March 10, 2013. This is what it looked like:

Final 03-10-2013

New Palm Grove 2013

After massive floods in 2013, this is what it looked like on January 1, 2014. I hardly recognized it.

Final 01-01-2014 with annotations

New Palm Grove 2014

The trees that were formerly where I placed the blue and green arrows are completely gone. The water pulled them out completely and washed them away. There is not a trace of them left. The center grove is still there, but it has hardly grown since last year, and it is severely bent at the root, obviously from the rush of the creek downstream.

Here is the picture I took today:

palms

New Palm Grove Jan 1, 2017

Of course, I had to take the obligatory selfie in front of the famous oasis, the destination of the hike.

selfie-with-oasis

And, as usual, there were some bighorn sheep very near. I even got some short videos of them.

bighorn-sheep

They completely blend into the environment and are very hard to see. You can only see them because they move. I saw an entire herd of about a dozen of them on the hillside; they were so camouflaged, I almost walked right by them.

It made my day. Wild bighorn sheep.

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Last week, on June 12, I did another hike of Mt. Baldy. I started from the parking lot in the valley’s campground, just below the ski area parking lot, and headed up. This time I didn’t go up the ski road, but rather took the very steep ascent. You can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.

1 - Clouds in LA

I took this picture shortly after the start. I am at about 6500 feet elevation, looking down into the Los Angeles valley. It’s cloudy down there, and it will remain cloudy all day. Not here.

 

2 - On the Way Up

Here I am at about 8600 feet, looking across the valley to the ridge where I will climb down later. The peak is to the left of this picture, not visible. If you look carefully, you can see a slight path going horizontally across just below the very top in the center of the picture. I’ll point that path out again in a later picture from a different angle.

 

3 - On the Peak

After 4.5 hours of steep uphill hiking, here I am at the peak at 10070 feet altitude. In the background, right by my hiking poles, you can see Mt. San Jacinto. To the very left is Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California. Mt. Baldy’s peak is a huge expansive and broad, flat area, some of which you can see here behind me. There must have been 100 people at the top when I was  there. It was a very popular Sunday hike. The wind was blowing cold and strong. My fingers were freezing.

 

4 - Heading Back Down

This is looking down just before leaving the peak onto the ridge I pointed out earlier. The path we saw from there is the same we see here as a thin thread in the middle of the photo. The descent from here is also quite steep.

 

5 - Looking back up

Here I am down on that ridge, looking back up from where I just came. The very back is the peak, and if you look carefully in the center of the picture, you can see hikers, like ants, going up and down along the path.

 

6 - Clouds Still in LA

Turning south from the same spot, another look into the Los Angeles valley. It’s still in clouds down there. Here the wind is whipping. The trees here are pretty tough.

 

7 - Heading toward the Devils Backbone

The most remarkable feature of this hike is the “Devil’s Backbone,” a ridge with steep drops to the north and south, and the path is right on top of it. Here we see the beginning of the backbone with a few hikers on the way up.

 

8 - Looking Over the Backbone

Here is another view of the backbone. In the distance in the back is the Mojave Desert to the north. Note that it’s not cloudy there like in Los Angeles to the south behind me. In the upper center of the picture you can see the thin lines of I-15, the major freeway leading from San Bernardino up through Barstow to Las Vegas. Las Vegas is about 4 hours north of here.

 

9 - On the Backbone

Here we are right on a section of the backbone. This is not a place to get dizzy or trip. There are sections here where the mountain drops 1000 feet in both directions, straight down.

 

10 - Ski Area Boundary

At the end of the backbone is the Mt. Blady ski area. I am at about 8500 feet altitude here just about at the top of one of the chair lifts. The sign tells skiers not to go down that way. Funny, it’s basically a cliff.

 

11 - Lodge

Of course, where there is a ski lift, there is a lodge, not something I usually find at the top of a mountain. It’s a welcome spot for a break. Forget the granola. Here is beer.

 

12 - This way to ride down

I could have hiked down the last 3 miles on a boring dirt road to the parking lot. I thought about it. On my previous hike on Mt. Baldy I hiked up that way. But my knees screamed for a break. That chairlift and the sign “This Way to Ride Down” were too inviting. I cheated. A $12 ticket did the trick.

 

13 - Ahhh

Ahhhhh.

 

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Here is an article from Backpacker.com which describes the 10 most dangerous hikes in America.

Most Dangerous Hikes

I have done the two highlighted. Now I have a list of eight more to check off. Which one is next?

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In preparation for hiking the famous / infamous Cactus to Clouds (C2C) hike this season, I did a preparatory hike last February about which I posted about here, exploring the bottom side of the trail. This last weekend I went back, took the tram to the top and found where the trail ends. I hiked down about 0.8 miles and descended 877 vertical feet from the top ridge. The top end is known to be the steepest and also the most dangerous in bad weather, that being snow and ice.

I hiked this section just to see what it was like, so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost on my way up when I’d be the most exhausted, tired, possibly dehydrated and all around not as sure-footed.

The weather was cloudy and much of the time I didn’t see much but the trail ahead of me. Here are a few pictures. You can enlarge them by clicking on them:

C2C - tram up

I took this photo from the tram riding up. We’re about half-way up here. You can see the cables disappearing into the clouds. The mountain station is above these clouds, actually in sunshine.

C2C - trail

Once on the trail, I found it quite rough and in some areas not too well defined. Can you see the trail in this photograph? Occasionally I had to stop, backtrack a few steps, when I found myself in the rocks or brush or on a slope with no obvious place to go. I can see how this would get very tricky in fresh snow. Without a GPS guiding the way, it would be a disaster to be trapped here.

C2C - view

The clouds were dramatic. Here is a typical view from the trail.

Once I got to exactly 7,500 feet (I started from the ridge at 8,377), after descending for about an hour, I decided the weather looked too dangerous to go on. So I took this video so you can get a feel of it. The clouds actually moved this fast. It was very dramatic.

After I turned around, it took me about an hour to climb back up to the ridge. I then took the Desert View Trail for some dramatic views down the mountain to Palm Springs, over 8,000 feet below. Here is one picture:

C2C - looking down

On the way down in the tram, I was well positioned to take a video of the opposite tram car coming up. This tram has two cars. They are both parked at the top and bottom at the same time and loaded. Then, as one goes up,  the other comes down. They meet in the middle. When the two cars meet, the rider has a unique opportunity to actually gauge the speed of the cars approaching each other. Here is the video:

After this exploratory hike, I think I am ready to do the full C2C, from Palm Springs at 400 feet to the mountain station at 8,600 feet. That’ll be enough. Next time, all the way to the peak at 10,500. But that’s another project.

 

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A Walk in the Woods

Many years ago I read the book A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. It’s one of those books that you can randomly open up at any page, point to any paragraph and start reading, and within a few seconds you crack up and often laugh out loud. It’s one of the funniest books ever.

The movie is about Bryson (Robert Redford), a writer who decides to hike the Appalachian Trail (the AT), and can’t find anybody to hike with him, except his cantankerous, out of shape friend Katz (Nick Nolte). So they go off and hike into the woods, where they encounter odd characters, rain, snow, endless woods, priceless vistas and the bottoms of their souls. There is something in hiking that opens up a man. Bryson and Katz are going through some good male bonding out in the elements.

The movie A Walk in the Woods is nothing like the book. The funny scenes are a bit predictable and slapsticky. And the story, while cute, doesn’t much follow the book at all, other than both are about hiking. In the end, that’s what it’s all about, and I would not be surprised if the southern terminus of the AT were not swamped next spring with lots of Bryson and Katz pairs, at least for the first few days.

Two stars for the movie, and half a star because it’s about hiking. Hey, I can do that!

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

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Muir Project

A group of artists took the John Muir Trail (JMT) and filmed a documentary. In addition to carrying gear and food for 25 days, they brought camera equipment, batteries and all it takes to make a film. They documented their trip, from beginning to end, some of the lows, some of the highs, and all of it is inspiring. Now I have plans underway to hike the JMT with my son next summer. Seeing this documentary helped get me motivated. 25 days under the stars.

Rating - Three Stars

 

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There is soup. Not just soup but bison chili. And a huge roaring fireplace. And a couple of other hikers, tucked into a table next to the windows, drinking rootbeer. I’m sitting there stuffing my face when I hear the employees behind me-

“The ice-cream freezer is broken. We have to throw out all this ice-cream!”

“Um, excuse me,” I say, standing up. “But we are hikers and we will eat some of this ice-cream for you.”

The employee somehow agrees to this, and then we’re elbow deep in ice-cream twix bars. Unfortunately I can only eat one melted snickers bar, on top of all the other food I’ve already eaten, before I feel as though I’m going to hurl. This is disappointing, but maybe for the best. Dairy upsets my stomach, and I shouldn’t be eating it at all. But when you’re in the middle of a thru-hike and someone announces that the ice-cream freezer is broken and they have to throw away all the ice-cream…

— from Carrot Quinn’s Blog – one of the through-hikers I follow

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Hand Stand

Roya’s Handstand on Potato Chip Rock – Top of Mt. Woodson, San Diego, at 2,700 feet.

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An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail

carrot-quinn-book-cover

Nobody knows for sure, but they say that some 700 to 800 people annually try to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a ribbon of trail that starts at the Mexican border outside of San Diego and winds its way for 2,660  miles all the way to Canada. Only about 300 to 400 complete the hike every year. Carrot Quinn has done it both in 2013 and 2014. She started in late April and reached Canada five months later in late September.

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart is her memoir of her 2013 hike, her first serious hiking endeavor. She celebrated her 31st birthday in September on the trail, in what she describes one of the most miserable days and nights of her life.

Unlike Cheryl Strayed’s famous story in book and movie – Wild – Carrot’s account is not about overcoming any demons of her life. It’s all and only about the hike.

The book is written in the first person and in the present tense, which makes it read like a journal, and it really is a journal, pouring out the raw emotions of exhilaration, pain, terror, dread, joy, lust and accomplishment. You might wonder how she was able to fill this novel-length book with stories about the trail and the hike, without getting sidetracked into back-stories. But she does it. It’s a memoir I could not put down and worked through quickly.

Granted, I am interested in hiking, and the PCT has always been a lure. I am pretty sure that anyone not interested in and passionate about hiking would not find the book as readable as I did. To them it would be overkill and repetitious.

But for those of us that love hiking and want to know what it’s like to do an epic hike like the PCT, this is the story that will bring it all to life. I felt like I was right there with Carrot and her friends, and I caught a glimpse of what it must be like to be out there on that monstrous journey, that endless trail that is the PCT.

Rating - Three Stars

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Santa Rosa Plateau Yesterday I talked with a friend in Albany, NY who told me that it was 20 below zero with the wind chill factor. Today Trisha and I went for a walk on the Santa Rosa Plateau (in Riverside County just north of Murrieta) and it was 86. If I had gotten on an airplane and traveled there, it would have been 100 degrees difference from takeoff to landing. A great day for a picnic, and three and a half mile hike and a few pictures in Southern California. Here I am with the snow-covered peaks of San Gorgonio behind me, more than 70 miles away. I love those mountains. If you haven’t been there, the Santa Rosa Plateau is a great nature preserve in the rolling hills of Southern California, with wildflowers, lots of live oak, sporting a historic Adobe ranch and also vernal pools. The hikes are easy with no great elevation changes, and range from just a mile or two to larger circles of 10 to 12 miles. The best time to go is in winter and spring – right now.

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The Cactus to Clouds (C2C) trail is a hiking trail from Palm Springs, California to the San Jacinto Peak. This trail has the greatest elevation gain of any trail in the United States, and it is listed as number 5 by Backpacker Magazine in the list of America’s Hardest Day Hikes. The trail starts in Palm Springs behind the Art Museum at an elevation of 460 feet. San Jacinto Peak is at 10,834 feet, so the trail rises a total of about 10,300 feet.

Compare this to hiking from Whitney Portal, which is at 8,360 feet to the peak of Whitney, at 14,505 feet, so the climb is “only” 6,200 feet. Even the climb to the top of Mt. Everest from base camp is only 800 feet more elevation difference than the Cactus to Clouds.

You get the idea: You cannot climb more altitude in a day in a single hike than on this trail pretty much anywhere in the world. It’s formidable.

So at 6:00am in the morning on Super Bowl Sunday I got in my car and drove to Palm Springs with the intent of doing an “exploratory hike” of C2C. This is not the kind of hike you attempt unless you are extremely well prepared and very fit for climbing. I strongly believe in making exploratory forays into difficult hikes before I commit. My plan was to ascend as far as I could, given water, daylight and sheer stamina, and then turn around.

Here is the chart [click to enlarge] showing my trek – as far as I got. Map

The green arrow shows where the trailhead is. It is located right behind the parking lot of the Palm Springs Art Museum, and the trail at that point is called the Museum Trail. It is extremely steep as soon as you set foot on the trail, and it never lets up for a full hour and 1,000 feet elevation gain.

There is an alternative trail that starts at the red arrow a few blocks south, which probably is a bit milder. It is part of the Skyline Trail which meets the C2C after about a mile or so. I may try that one next time.

Trailhead

The picture above shows the trailhead behind the museum parking lot. The trail is extremely rough, rocky, and actually hard to find in the first mile. I was certainly off trail a number of times, scrambling through boulders, trying to find my way. They have small white blazes on rocks, but they are not steady and consistent enough to maintain a good trail. When in doubt, head straight up, and eventually you come across the trail again.

Cactus

This is why it’s called “Cactus” to Clouds.

Looking Down

Looking down from about 800 feet up it seems almost precarious right over the city.

More looking down

Here are more views. I would not want to live in one of those houses below when an earthquake rattles this mountain and shakes some of these boulders loose.

Palm Springs Below

Looking north from about 1,500 feet up into the desert with Palm Springs below.

Rescue 1

After about an hour and a half, I got to the first “rescue box.” The sign says to not break the seal unless it’s an emergency, so I stayed away.

The rescue boxes are a grim reminder of those who have died or come near death on this harsh trail.  Inside supposedly are a telephone, water, and other essentials. I have heard that some people have raided these boxes even though there was not an emergency. Can you imagine getting here in a life-threatening situation and finding the box empty?

San Gorgonio

One I got a bit over 3,000 feet high, I was able to see the snow-covered peaks of San Gorgonio in the distance, the highest peak in Southern California.

Mountain Station

A bit further, and I was finally able to glimpse the mountain station in the distance. This is where the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ends – which means it’s the first place where there is water (and beer – it’s a full mountain lodge with bar and restaurant) and a way down and out.

From where I am standing, that is still more than 5,000 feet up and about 7 miles away.

This is where I decided I had to turn around. I was at 3,500 feet elevation, I was 3.5 miles in from the trailhead, and I had hiked for 3.5 hours. You get the idea, one mile and 1,000 feet elevation per hour. It was close to noon, I had used up half my water, and close to half my daylight, and all my strength.

The C2C is a nasty trail where you quickly get to a point of no return. The only way out is continuing up the steep trail – and nature does not care if you have any more water. People have turned around too late, tried to hike back down, only to be overcome by the furnace of the desert heat. Heatstroke is the most common form of death on the C2C, followed, of course, by falls. In the winter the trail gets icy.

The day I was there it was iced up above 6,500 feet. I had no crampons, so if I had continued on, I would have run out of water at about 6,000 feet, with 2,600 more to climb before the mountain station, on an icy trail along steep cliffs. A very lethal combination.

I once got caught in ice in the Grand Canyon without crampons – never again.

But that’s why it’s called an exploratory hike. Time to turn around. I rested a bit, ate, drank some water, took in the panorama, and headed back down. It took me three more hours to get back down to the city. Very steep trails take as long to go down as they take to climb up – at least for me.

I was here

I looked back up from the trail to the highpoint that I had reached.

High Point

Later, from the car, I glanced back to the ridge and found the very spot that I had reached before I turned around.

Now I know how to conquer the C2C. It will take two more trips, at least:

Next time I need to leave at 3:00am with a headlamp, so I can ascend to about 3,500 feet before daylight. I have to carry at least 6 liters of water, perhaps 7. That should get me to the mountain station by about 1:00pm. That’s enough for that try. 8,000 feet up, in about 10 hours.

The following time, depending on how I did, I should be able to go the extra 5.5 miles from the mountain station to the San Jacinto Peak for the full 10,000 feet. I should be able to get there by 2:00pm, provided I leave at 2:00am from the valley. The problem is, there is no water on the peak, so I’ll have to carry enough to get up and back down to the mountain station, making for a 20 mile hike before I can take the tram down.

Summary:

The C2C is a badass day hike. Only experienced hikers should attempt this. I recommend an exploratory hike first, to get the lay of the land. This mountain commands respect.

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Wild2

I went to see Wild because it was the top-rated movie this Christmas season, with 92% on the Tomatometer.

Wild is a movie about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, as it is commonly called. That’s how it’s presented.

But that’s not really what it is. Wild is a movie about a young woman growing up in middle America with disadvantages, lots and lots of disadvantages.

The movie is based on the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed that came out a few years ago.

Wild1

I never read the book. Checking the cover, and trusting the reputation of Oprah’s Book Club, I decided that this was a chick book and it wasn’t for me.

I entered the theater to watch the movie only because of all the choices it was the highest rated. You might say I entered with prejudices.

Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) and her little brother grew up mostly with their single mom Bobbi (Laura Dern), who left her abusive husband when the children were little. They were poor, mom working waitressing jobs just to keep things together. Bobbi got cancer at the age of 45 and died rapidly. The children tried to cope, each in their own way. Cheryl ruined her own marriage through her adulterous ways.  After her divorce she skided into self-destruction, seeking abusive male relationships, descending into the fog of the drug culture all the way to shooting up heroin. Somehow she decided to pull herself up by her bootstraps and hike a portion of the PCT. The hike of over 100 days was supposed to clear her foggy mind and extract the demons that haunted her life.

The movie starts out with hiking scenes, but is constantly interspersed with flashbacks to Cheryl’s childhood, youth and young adult life of self-abuse. The flashbacks are sometimes only seconds long. While lots of flashbacks in a movie sometimes make it disjointed, it actually works quite well here, since the scenery of the two lives are so vastly different.

The scenes on the trail are nature, tents, backpacks, mountains, meadows, snow. Unmistakably the present. The scenes in the flashbacks are mom, children, naked bodies, drugs, wife beater guys and life in run down houses. So I always knew what part of the story we were in without getting confused.

Being a hiker, I looked forward to the hiking parts, but hiking is basically boring, hours and hours of setting one foot in front of the other, surrounded by breathtaking scenery that you don’t even see, because you are hungry, thirsty, tired, and can’t wait for the next four miles to be over so you finally reach your destination and camp. Hiking does not an exciting movie make.

But the parts about flashback life are more interesting. Sex, drugs, illness, drama, all makes for a story to tell. So it is not surprising that’s what the movie makers focused on to move the story along. And it worked. Getting some frontal nudity of Reese Witherspoon probably also attracted a viewer or two.

Cheryl “only” hiked a part of the PCT, about 1,000 miles, from the Mojave desert to the Bridge of the Gods, the cross-over from Oregon to Washington. The actual Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile ribbon of dirt and rock that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. If you want to learn about what it’s really like to hike the PCT, you can check out the following blogs, all by people who hiked it just this past 2014 season.

  • Carrot Quinn – hiked the PCT in 2014, then the lowest to highest (L2H) from Death Valley to the peak of Mt. Whitney in 6 days, and is now on the Florida trail, hiking 800 miles from the southern tip of Florida through the swampland north.
  • Not a Chance – hiked the PCT in 2014, then with Carrot the L2H, and is now hiking the Te Araroa, 1800 miles from the northern to the southern tip of New Zealand.
  • Twinkle – hiked the PCT south to north in 2014, ended in September, flew to Maine, and hiked a large part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) north to south, ending late in November. He hiked 4,400 miles between March and November 2014.

These people didn’t hike 1,000 miles in 100 days, they hiked the full PCT 2,650 miles in 110 days, give or take a few. These are the badasses of ultra-light long-distance hikers, and their blogs are enlightening. This is where you learn about hiking.

But this is not a review of long distance hiking, it’s a review of the movie Wild. Cheryl Strayed, with her book and this movie, has put some spunk into PCT hiking, I am sure, and there probably are a number of people who went on the trail due to it. Not a Chance, somewhere, says that people keep asking her if she knew Cheryl Strayed, and she keeps answering “Cheryl hiked the PCT in 1992 when I was a toddler!”

The hikers I listed here didn’t affect the image of the PCT anywhere near how Cheryl did with her book and now movie. But then, Cheryl didn’t start out her hike wanting to affect hiking, the PCT, or the hiking world. Her story was about overcoming the demons of life. We are not all lucky enough to be born into affluent and functional families, with clean college educations, parents that can afford to send us to Harvard or Stanford. Many, many of us are born into much less fortunate environments. So it was for Cheryl. She chose hiking to expel the demons, and it seems she was successful.

And, in the process, she greatly popularized the PCT.

Wild is a wild ride, with stunning scenery, some suspense, good entertainment value, and no doubt a learning experience for viewers – particularly those that know nothing about hiking.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

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Portland you’ve been so beautiful, but I know that that’s the way the summer goes. Summer is when everyone forgets about the winter. The damp grey skies, the salad mister rain. The mornings so dark you have to turn all the lights on when you wake up. The way everyone struggles. Being here now makes me almost want to live in Portland again, but I know too that this is not the frumpy, disheveled city that I came of age in. This new city is full of beautiful, monied yuppies, who work tech jobs and spend their evenings “trying new restaurants”. Maybe, one day, when I’ve made my fortune, I’ll come back, and buy expensive products for my hair. Until then I’ll live in exile in the hinterlands, with all the other people who look like they got dressed in the dark.

by Carrot Quinn

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July 23, 2014, was not a perfect choice for a hike in the Adirondacks, but it was the only one open in my calendar. Thunderstorms were in the forecast, with a 40% chance of rain.

I had big plans, bagging a 4-peak-victory, first summiting Algonquin Peak, the second highest mountain in New York, then hopping over to Boundary and Iroquois Peaks on a minimum maintenance trail (this means no trail and no markings, only visuals of the peaks ahead), and then on the way back making a 0.4 mile each way excursion to Wright Peak, she “shortest one” of the four, at 4,580 feet altitude the 16th highest peak in New York.

But that was all just wishful thinking of my boundless energetic mind long before I had to put step in front of step.

I arrived at the trail head at Heart Lake at 5:40am and was walking by 5:50. It was dark and gloomy and the cloud cover was low. The first mile meandered through thick woods and marshland. Eventually it started climbing steadily.

The trail got rocky very quickly.

[note: click on any picture to enlarge]

Starting on Trail

If the above does not look too bad,  check  this out below:

More Trail 2

No, this is not a dry brook, it’s the trail. Somewhere around this point I passed another hiker that said this trail was much easier in the winter, because there were no rocks, just snow. Good point. I had never thought of that. I could carry up skis and come back down in no time. Hmmm.

Subject to Change

After about an hour and a half I came to this sign. I decided that my proper gear was hiking boots, trekking poles, and an extra long-sleeve shirt, windbreaker, down jacket and rain poncho in my pack, just in case. I was ready to go on.

Decision Time

Then it became decision time at 3.4 miles into the trail. The extremely rocky trail had already worn out my feet and knees and I had to be careful not to twist ankles or stub toes too much to save energy for the long return.

By this time, the sky around me was all socked in and while it didn’t rain yet and I didn’t hear any thunder, it seemed like it could start any time. Dreams of Algonquin and peaks beyond faded, and I decided to conquer Wright Peak first by taking this left turn and going up another 0.4 miles to the peak from this point. I could decide later if I wanted to move on to Algonquin or turn around when I got back to this junction.

Up the Rock

But what a 0.4 miles it was. This was the view east right from the sign above, showing the first section of the trail. Yes, the “wall” in the back was a slab of solid granite to climb up on, and the only way to do it was to let the tread on my boots do its gripping and trusting the boots. This is a nice exercise if you ever want to build your calves. It kept going like this on steep slabs of rock.

Heart Lake

About halfway up the last 0.4 miles I had a good view back to Heart Lake, where I had parked my car at the trailhead. The clouds below were so thick, the lake was only visible seconds at a time and then it disappeared again. I found a good moment to shoot this picture.

Seeing the Peak

Finally, the peak was within reach. Just a few more minutes.

Standing on the very Top

And here I was standing on the very top at 4,580 feet (which seems not much of an altitude for a Californian) but I was spreading my arms to keep my balance and prevent being blown over by the fierce wind whipping me around. The camera was sitting on a little rock ledge what was sheltered from the wind.

View from the Peak

When things cleared up for a moment I took another picture looking south from the peak.

Algonquin

This is a view toward the southwest and Algonquin, which is not really visible. I decided right there that I would not be attempting that mountain that day.

Debris

A hundred yards to the north of the peak is an airplane crash site, marked by a plaque. Four airmen lost their lives in a crash of a B-47 here on January 16, 1962. There is also still some debris from the plane collected there and strewn about the general area.

The Plaque

To give you a sense of the whipping wind at the top, here is a quick panoramic  video. I narrated over it but realize now that I didn’t speak anywhere near loud enough. I would have had to scream:

After I got to my cozy hotel that night I watched a PBS special about orangutans as I passed out after a long day on the trail and then in the car.

As I recollected my “rough” eight miles on the road, I remembered a blogger I follow, named Carrot Quinn, who is currently hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (from California to Mexico). She and her friends have been hiking 30 miles a day, every day, on their quest. I always thought that at age 57 I was a badass hiker, but Carrot and her buddies would leave me in the dust in minutes. When I checked  her blog today, titled Day 90: Hypothermia in Oregon in July, I found with amazement that Carrot and her friends had been watching the same documentary about orangutans on the same day after a very hard section on the Pacific Crest Trail.

They have me in awe.

 

 

 

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