Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mt. Baldy Night Hike via Devil's Backbone - 10/15/11

Winter is an exciting time for peakbaggers--it opens up new possibilities and makes old hikes new again. We may have bagged most of the peaks in the San Gabriels, but we haven't done many of them in the snow yet, so this winter we'll be dusting off our crampons and ice axes and discovering a whole new San Gabriel Mountains.

While we wait for the mountains to get frosted, we've started another idiotic hiking activity: night hiking! We got a taste of it on Mt. Whitney and we've been itching to try it again since. It seemed like it'd be a good idea to start with a mountain we're familiar with, and the mountain we've climbed the most is good ol' Baldy.

There are group full moon hikes on Mt. Baldy where they hike the Devil's Backbone Trail to Baldy Notch and party at the restaurant up there. That sounded cute and all, but why not continue on to the top of Baldy?

The Ski Hut Trail requires some route finding and that wouldn't be fun at night so we went with the Devil's Backbone. We also figured the mountain lions would appreciate us staying out of their territory after dark. The plan was to start in the evening and summit in time for sunset, but we started late and only got to the Notch by the time the sun started setting.

Hiking at night wasn't nearly as creepy as I was expecting. We ran into two groups of hikers descending as we were making our way up. In some ways, the dark makes it less scary; since you can't see the deadly drops on either side of the Backbone, there's no reason to believe they're even still there.

This was my first time ascending the Devil's Backbone and the summit push was actually a little bit harder than I was expecting, and it didn't help that it was also windy and freezing. The view of the city lights from the top was amazing and different, but it wasn't the relaxing summit party I'm used it. There were three tents up there so we weren't completely alone, but we still had the cold to deal with, along with the darkness making it difficult to tell how far we were from the edge.

We got back down to the Notch just as the restaurant was closing, so there were still a few people left on the mountain. We were definitely the only humans hiking on the fire road headed back to Manker Flats however. The rustling of large animals in the trees off the trail was starting to freak us out so we did some speed hiking all the way back to the car.  Maybe those competitive hikers who do Baldy in 2 hours only do it because they think the mountain lions are coming for them.

Matti's pics.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mt. Hollywood, Mt. Bell, Mt. Chapel, Mt. Lee, Cahuenga Peak - 10/12/11

We took an unexpected day off during the recent hot spell and instead of spending it inside our nice cool Westside apartment, we headed to Griffith Park to bag some Santa Monica peaklets in the 100 degree weather. In addition to the five we climbed, there are a few other nearby peaks that we would've been able to include on a cooler day or if we'd started earlier: Beacon Hill, Glendale Peak, Burbank Peak and Bee Rock.  

Griffith Observatory and Downtown LA

The air wasn't quite as clear as last weekend, but the peaklings still provided us with some impressive views of Los Angeles and the ocean to the south, the San Fernando Valley to the north, the baby mountains to the west, and our San Gabriel mountains to the northeast.

Los Angeles

The trail is a runner-friendly fire road that starts out at the Observatory parking lot. Each peak requires you to leave the fire road and take a short but steep and slippery use trail to the summit, so it's possible to skip some of the peaks if five is too many. None of the trails are marked, so we ended up on an unnamed sixth peak (the one just west of Mt. Hollywood), thinking it was Mt. Bell. Some of the ascents were actually mildly strenuous, but it didn't really feel like a true peakbagging experience what with the film crew on top of Mt. Hollywood and the cars driving by on the road to Mt. Lee.

Downtown LA

Mt. Lee and Cahuenga Peak were my favorite of the bunch. Even though the "hike" to Mt. Lee is on a paved road and most of the summit is fenced off to protect the radio towers, it's exciting to get so close to the Hollywood sign after seeing it from the city for so many years. Cahuenga Peak was the only one that really felt like a hike, as it was steeper, longer, more isolated, and about 100' higher than the other four.

The Hollywood sign from Mt. Lee

Even on such a hot day with plenty of water breaks, the entire hike only took us around three hours. If you really wanted to, you could knock out all of the peaks in and around Griffith Park in one day and you'd never have to go back, but I think the views are good enough that I'd go back on a cooler day in the winter when the haze is gone and the San Gabriels are snow-covered. Standing on the minipeaks, Downtown LA is right in front of you, a unique perspective that you don't get from any other hike. As much as I love hiking in the San Gabriels, they're also great to look at, and the Griffith Park peaks are the perfect place to go to admire them.

San Gabriel Mountains

Monday, October 10, 2011

Arlington Peak - 10/2/11

Recently we've started coming to terms with the limited number of San Gabriel Mountain peaks, and the fact that we will run out at some point. So to avoid acknowledging the inevitable, we've started venturing out into other areas. Our last four hikes have been in four different mountain ranges: Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada, The Three T's in the good old San Gabriel Mountains, San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains, and most recently, Arlington Peak in the Santa Ynez Mountains (Santa Barbara).

This was our first time peakbagging in the Santa Ynez Mountains and we weren't expecting too much since the highest point is under 5000' and its proximity to the ocean reminded us a little too much of the Santa Monicas (aka The Baby Mountains).

The Dragon's Back starts out easy enough on the popular Tunnel Trail before you leave the fire road and cross over Mission Creek and start gaining some elevation. There are some fun class 2 spots right off the bat and you quickly get started on the (almost) 3000' of total gain over these 2.5 miles to the peak.

Mission Creek

The really steep section starts about a mile into the hike. For some reason, the day we went it was unbearably hot and we actually considered turning back because the stupid sun was relentless and wouldn't stop squishing my head. Just under half a mile later, after a short stretch of class 3 reminiscent of the Clouds Rest summit push, we came to a nice flat rest spot where we took a break and decided we felt good enough to continue.

Starting the steep part

There is no trail the rest of the way, but there were plenty of other people ahead of us who seemed to know what they were doing so we followed them and when they got too far ahead of us, we followed their footprints. The remainder of the hike is mostly class 2 with a little bit of class 3 mixed in just to piss you off.

Almost the entire hike goes along an open ridge, which gives you plenty of opportunities for unobstructed views of the ocean and the Channel Islands. This also means that you're stuck in the sun for the majority of the hike, but there are a few large boulders along the trail that you can duck behind to escape the heat.

When we got to the summit, we considered continuing on to Cathedral and La Cumbre Peak to make a loop back to the trailhead and avoiding having to climb back down all those rocks (descending class 3 is much scarier than ascending), but based on the map we had, it would have added at least another 5 miles to our hike and we weren't prepared for the extra mileage.

On the way back, we came across a few drops that could have meant the end of our ankles, so we ended up backtracking a bit. It's best to look around for an alternate route rather than rush down this dangerous section of the trail.

La Cumbre Peak

Arlington Peak

We were planning on returning on the same route we took to the summit, but at some point we left the trail and had to descend a very steep and slippery trail straight down into the canyon. We ended up at the top of Seven Falls and the only safe way to get through it at that point was to jump into three separate pools and swim through them to get out. Luckily, there were several friendly beer drinking college students hanging out there who helped us keep our packs dry.