Sunday, September 16, 2012

Buckhorn Peak (Mt. Akawie), Mt. Williamson, Pallett Mountain - 8/26 and 8/27

In case you don't live in Southern California or you've just been locked inside your air conditioned home for the last few weeks, we've been experiencing a pretty relentless heat wave and hiking is pretty much out the question. This particular weekend was relatively mild and we figured it wouldn't be too bad above 8000', so we made our third (and most successful!) attempt at camping in the San Gabriels to bag some of our few remaining local peaks. 

Buckhorn Peak isn't much of a hike but it's a good warm up for Williamson and Pallett (and Will Thrall and Pleasant View Ridge) if you're out of shape thanks to the never ending Summer. I hear there might be a trail that takes you at least part of the way up the mountain, but we just walked behind our Buckhorn campsite (#8) and scrambled our way up.

This way to Buckhorn

After about a mile of steep and slippery scrambling, we found a flat area that looked a lot like Mt. Waterman. We looked around and didn't see anything else that could have been Buckhorn Peak, so we decided we'd made it and sat down to enjoy the view. Plenty of nice flat shady spots for a picnic or a tent and a perfect view of the peaks along Pleasant View Ridge.

Pleasant View Ridge

After a relaxing night at the surprisingly quiet and empty campground, we headed to the Islip Saddle trailhead to go for the four peaks we thought we could do in one day. We didn't start early but we should have; this isn't an easy hike and it was way too hot that day for a ridge climb.

If I'd done better research, I might have known ahead of time that this is some Three T's/North Backbone/Iron Mountain roller coaster shit and you do not want to take it lightly. You have to remember that every time you descend from a peak down to a saddle, you'll have to climb all the way back up to get back to your starting point.

Steep Ridge to Williamson (from Pallett)

Once you leave the PCT and start the ridge hike, the views open up on either side of you: Bear Canyon and the rest of the San Gabriels to the south and the Mojave to the north. The scenery almost makes it worth enduring the Summer heat.

Bear Canyon


You'll reach Williamson about 2.5 miles and 1500' into the hike. After Williamson, the next peak you climb up to isn't a peak at all, but a pain-in-the-ass bump on Williamson (but you can call it Little Willie).

Next you'll drop down about 800' just to climb right back up about 600' more to get to Pallett. Ah, finally! Now for the descent. NOPE. You still have 4 more miles to go and about 1200' more to gain on your way back to Islip Saddle. Good luck with that. Eventually we'll take another Angeles Crest Highway trip to climb Will Thrall and Pleasant View Ridge (the peak, not to be confused with Pleasant View Ridge the ridge), but not until the temperatures drop at least 20 degrees.

Holcomb Canyon

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mt. Whitney - 7/24/12

After several months of intense training, we've completed our second dayhike of Mt. Whitney. Our five training hikes were specifically designed to prepare us for the altitude, length, and elevation gain of Mt. Whitney, but really, every hike is preparation for Whitney. There's something unique and exciting about each trail I've been on, but my biggest motivation for hiking regularly is to keep myself in good enough shape to climb my favorite mountain.
These were the training hikes:

1. Jones Peak, Hastings Peak, Mt. Wilson via Bastard Ridge
2. Timber Mountain and Telegraph Peak
3. Mt. Baldy, Mt. Harwood, and West Baldy via Register Ridge
4. Mt. Islip, Mt. Hawkins, Throop Peak, and Mt. Baden-Powell
5. San Gorgonio Mountain

Although this year's Mt. Whitney hike had some incredibly special moments, it wasn't really different enough from last year's climb to warrant another trip report, so instead I'll give you my best of and least-good lists.

The Best of Mt. Whitney Climb #2:

5. Remembering last year's hike

Not really a moment, but several moments, mostly on the ascent when I said "Oh yeah, I remember this part of the trail!" And a few times when I remembered which section of the trail came next, bringing back the same feelings of nervousness and excitement from the original climb.

4. The windows

As much as these freak me out and I'd almost rather wait until I get home and just look at the pictures, they're like the mountain's final encouraging push to help us get through the last section after all those exhausting hours of climbing. 

3. The view from trail crest

You've finally huffed and puffed your way up 97 switchbacks and you're considering the possibility of calling it a hike and turning back, when you look to the west and say "Holy shit, where the hell did all those mountains come from?"

2. Alpenglow 

In our case, alpenglow came a few minutes after we reached trail camp and turned the Sierra Crest into a fiery wall of granite. Don't look away; it only lasts a few minutes.

1. Sunrise over Lone Pine 

Last summer I saw the most amazing sight I'd ever seen and I spent a year waiting to see that sunrise again, partly worrying that my memory was an exaggeration and that it wouldn't look quite so incredible the second time around. But it managed to be even more spectacular this year.

The Least Good:

5. The Windows 

Yes, they're on both lists. They didn't scare me this time as much as they did last year, but it's still a 3000' drop on either side of a narrow walkway. There are actually parts of the trail between trail crest and the summit that are narrower than the windows, but the drop is only on one side of you and they're not convenient landmarks like the windows.

Don't fall

4. Nowhere to pee

The mountain hasn't suddenly sprouted trees out of the rocks at 13,000'. If you want some privacy, you're out of luck for the majority of the hike.

Good luck

3. Being afraid to sit down for fear of falling asleep

Some people hike Mt. Whitney in 3 days, others do it all in 8 hours, but at some point everyone has to take a break. If you're like us and hiking on 3 or 4 hours of sleep, you'll have to be careful not to let your snack breaks turn into nap breaks.

Perfect nap spot

2. The Pain 

My shoes don't fit quite right and my pants scrape the flesh off my sides, but even if you have all the best quality and most comfortable gear, you'll inevitably end up with sore muscles and probably a few blisters. Hopefully you make it through most of the hike without constant cringing, but mile 22 is unlikely to end up being the most pleasant experience of your life.


1. The Weather

Some people are unfortunate enough to be greeted by thunder clouds on their way up the mountain and they're forced to turn back prematurely, but just like last year, we ended up with perfect weather: no thunderclouds, no rain, clear skies. There was absolutely no chance we'd have to turn back for weather-related reasons, but that doesn't mean the weather wasn't a total pain in our already-sore butts. The sun is bright, the wind is crazy strong, and the summit was about 20 degrees when we were there, but it's a pretty good sign when the biggest complaint I have after 22 miles and 6000' of gain is that the weather was annoying.

Now enjoy a Mt. Whitney picspam.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lassen Volcanic National Park: Lassen Peak and Brokeoff Mountain - 7/4 and 7/5

There's nothing quite like spending a week surrounded by active volcanoes, bubbling mudlakes and steaming earth cracks. No one would want to miss sitting by the many incredible blue lakes of the park and walking among the repulsive sulfur springs, but you'd think your average national park visitor would have no desire to climb an active volcano--especially one that gains 2000' over the short 2.5 mile ascent and has permanent snowfields scattered throughout the trail.

Lassen Peak and Summit Lake

Believe it or not, Lassen Peak is one of the most popular hikes in the park--people who you'd never expect to have an interest in peakbagging are suddenly all over this 10,462' mountain. That's not to say that the average park goer doesn't struggle through every step, but there's no reason to turn back when your destination is less than 2.5 miles away (unless you're injured or have symptoms of AMS).

Lassen Peak Trail

The trail is filled with informative signs along the way, detailing the geological history of the area. They also keep you posted on how far you have left before reaching the summit. Although this is encouraging for those who find this climb strenuous, the mileage didn't seem quite right and they'd probably be better off leaving the hikers guessing.

Mt. Shasta from Lassen Peak

If you've never summited a volcano, you're really missing out. Once you've climbed up to the high point and gotten your views of Mt. Shasta and all of the surrounding lakes and volcanoes, don't head back down just yet. The summit of Lassen goes on forever once you climb down into the lava-filled snowy crater.

Lake Helen from Lassen Peak

Exploring the crater

A lake in Lassen's crater

If you find yourself in Lassen National Park and you want to climb a volcano over 9,000' but you're plagued by a nasty case of misanthropy, you might want to give Brokeoff Mountain a try. It's about 1200' shorter than Lassen (but still the second highest point in the park), and the trail is 2 miles longer than the Lassen Peak Trail, so you won't run into as many people on your hike. It's also not an active, bubbling, snarling volcano like Lassen; if Lassen Peak is a volcanic zombie, Brokeoff is more of a volcanic ghost. This one gains 2600' over the 3.5 miles to the top, and you're rewarded with a slightly different view of Mt. Shasta, and a unique view of Lassen Peak.

Brokeoff MountainTrail

Lassen from Brokeoff

There are also plenty of non-peakbagging hikes for children, the elderly, and able-bodied lazy people. It might not have the incredible waterfalls of Yosemite or the vastness of the Grand Canyon, but it certainly doesn't deserve to be one of the least crowded National Parks.

Lassen Peak and Summit Lake

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mt. Zion Loop - 6/18/12

In case you've been wondering if I've given up on hiking and found a new hobby, I absolutely haven't--I will keep hiking until the mountains figure out how to file a restraining order--we've been taking our Whitney climbing group on training hikes and haven't hiked anything new. In the last few weeks we've done Baldy, Harwood and West Baldy via Register Ridge, 3 T's (minus Thunder), and Jones, Hastings and Wilson via Bastard Ridge. This week we finally got a chance to ditch the noobs and try something different.

If I were one of those helpful bloggers who arranged their hikes by difficulty, I would put this one in the Moderate section, but only because I'm worried someone who's never hiked before will see this and be like "well that vulgar peakbagger said it was easy so I'm gonna give it a try." It actually is pretty easy, but since it starts at Chantry Flat and Sierra Madre Search and Rescue does most of their searching and rescuing in that area, I think it deserves a warning.

Start the hike at Chantry Flat and follow the bustling Sturtevant Falls trail for about a mile. After you cross the bridge, follow the sign to Spruce Grove Campground to start the loop. Or you could start the loop from the opposite end with the Winter Creek Trail and it would feel a bit more like a peak bagging experience.

About another mile and you'll get to the Gabrielino Trail sign 2 1/4 miles from Spruce Grove. Take the Lower (Top of the Falls) Trail for the more pleasant hike (unless you brought your horse with you). 

The trail takes you up above Sturtevant Fall and provides some great views of the pools above the waterfall. This seems like it might be the spot where hikers have to be rescued; it's quite a drop. On a weekday, this might be the last place you see anyone on the trail; the rest is secluded and bordering on creepy.

Pretty soon you'll enter into a forest of alder trees surrounding the stream. This gets my vote for the prettiest canyon area in the San Gabriels. As an added bonus, the Humboldt Lilies are in bloom all over the canyon at this time of year. The trail will bring you to Spuce Grove Campground, a nice place to set up your tent, or have a picnic, or get your food stolen by a bear.

Continue on the trail until you get to Sturtevant Camp, where there will finally be a sign for Mt. Zion, and probably some boy scouts.

Chaparral Summit Push
At some point this trail gains 2200' but I didn't notice it. There is a little bit of an incline after the sign that says 1 1/4 miles to Mt. Zion Summit. The summit push is right after the sign telling you all about Wilbur Sturtevant's trail building activities and this is where it abruptly switches from shaded canyon to sunny chaparral. A quarter of a mile and you're on the summit. Yep, that flat area with a view of Harvard and Wilson and not much else is the summit. Sorry.

When you drop back down to the history of Wilbur sign, head down the opposite direction from where you came. This part of the trail feels a lot like the Mt. Wilson Trail. Just over a mile later you'll start to leave the chaparral and get back into the canyon. When you reach Hoegee Campground (not as creepy as Spruce Grove), just under 2 miles to go and you'll be back at the parking lot with the rest of Los Angeles.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mt. Islip Snow Hike - 4/15/12

We were grossly deprived of snow this year in these stubbornly dry San Gabriel Mountains and only got in a grand total of two snow hikes over the course of this 2011-2012 winter season... until last week when Tlaloc finally decided to grace us with the snow storm we were so desperately awaiting.

We were planning to revisit Mt. Baden Powell to get our last glimpse of snow before it all melted, and we were expecting the usual measly few inches of snow that we've gotten used to over the last few months.

Our hike started out at the ever-crowded Crystal Lake Campground and as soon as we stepped out of the car, it was time for the microspikes. (And time for the better-prepared among us to grab the snow shoes and ice axe.) We slowly made our way through the campground to the Windy Gap trailhead to get the snow party started. The ranger manning the parking lot warned us that we wouldn't make it to Baden Powell with our minimal gear, but we scoffed in his naive face and continued on our journey.

We were planning on bagging Throop, Hawkins, Burnham, and Baden Powell, but it quickly became obvious that naive parking lot ranger was right. Our new destination was now Windy Gap to Mt. Islip.

Sal to the rescue
We tried to follow the Windy Gap Trail, which is aggressively maintained by the good folks who volunteer with the San Gabriel Mountain Trailbuilders, but it was buried under several feet of snow and nowhere to be found. We ended up on a steep chute that wouldn't have been possible to cross without our well-equipped hiking buddy creating a trail with his snowshoes and ice axe.

After an exhaustingly steep half mile, we ended up at the saddle between Hawkins and Islip. From there, we descended another half mileish and found an unusually frosty Windy Gap. Another strenuous mile and we were on top of Mt. Islip where we were greeted by a pair of crazy peakbaggers checking out the crazy spectacular views. It's only 8250', but isolated enough to show you some amazing shit.

The descent involved lots of glissading, self-arresting and post-holing, and we finally made it back to the campground. Farewell, San Gabriel Mountain snow. Until next year.

Up to the saddle

Islip summit

Amazing shit

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mt. Wilson via Bastard Ridge - 4/7/12 (with cameos by Jones Peak, Hastings Peak and Mt. Yale)

We tried climbing Mt. Wilson from The Mt. Wilson Trail once a few months ago. We reached the summit and it was enjoyable.  But in the interest of avoiding insanity by climbing the same trail repeatedly, we took a very different and much more exciting route this time. (The quote doesn't really apply to hiking though; climbing the same mountain over and over again will always yield different results, e.g. Mt. Baldy Ski Hut Trail <3 <3 <3)

Bastard Ridge Trail
Start out at the Mt. Wilson Trailhead off of Mira Monte Ave. in Sierra Madre and continue on the Mt. Wilson Trail for about a mile, keeping an eye out for a very steep but obvious use trail going straight up Bastard Ridge (Yes this is the real name. No we didn't make it up.) toward Jones Peak. It's just under a mile from the start of the ridge up to Jones and the elevation gain is about 1700'. Bastard Ridge continues to be a bastard for a few more miles, but after summiting Jones Peak, you're past the toughest part.

The trail gets a bit overgrown in spots, but it's pretty hard to lose the route since you're just sticking to the ridge the whole way. After climbing down the North side of Jones, continue up the ridge straight ahead instead of turning left for the Bailey Canyon Trail. About another mile (and less than 1000' of gain) and you'll end up on Hastings Peak.

Continue on the ridge for another 3/4 of a mile or so. As you look ahead toward the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, you'll see only one option for climbing up to the road. It looks like it'd be impossible to climb without a rope, but it's not quite as steep as it looks and we discovered that it is indeed possible, albeit steep as hell.

The trail leading to the toll road

The trail to Mt. Yale
The trail gets a bit less exciting once you reach the toll road. Follow the fire road around Mt. Yale until you get to the Northwest side of the mountain where you'll see something that looks semi-climbable. It's a short ascent up to the peak and it's your last chance for solitude before you rejoin the Mt. Wilson Trail. From the bottom of Mt. Yale, you have about 2 miles and only about 1000' of gain left to go until you reach the summit of Mt. Wilson.

Once you get to the top, you not only have the opportunity to feel superior to the suckers who drove up, but you're also way cooler than all of the people who took one of the four established Mt. Wilson trails. You added three bonus peaks to your hike and cut about a mile and a half off the ascent. So give your hiking partner a well-deserved pat on the butt and feel proud of your accomplishment.

Downtown LA from Jones Peak
Mt. Yale, Mt. Harvard, Mt. Wilson from Bastard Ridge

Los Angeles from the Mt. Wilson Toll Road