Posts Tagged ‘Hiking’

4th in the Mountains

July 13, 2011

Sarah and I decided to celebrate the birth of our country by combining two American values, pioneer spirit and technological ingenuity, with a combo tram ride/backcountry hiking trip in the Mount San Jacinto State Park.

The technology came in the form of a tram that took us from the Palm Desert floor (about 2600 feet) and 100 degree heat to mountains of roughly 8500 feet high and cooler temperatures.  In about 15 minutes you ascend nearly two miles and get some spectacular views of the surrounding valleys and the enormous cliffs surrounding the tram route.  The tram cars rotate so that you get different views throughout your ride.  For some history of the tram, see this.

We continued to enjoy creature comforts at the top as we ate our lunches in air conditioned splendor before strapping on our backpacks for a short three mile hike to our camp site for the weekend.  Outside the tram station, we descended steeply down a concrete walkway to the beginning of our trail.  Our travel companions, Ashley and Christina, warned us that the worst part of the hike would be coming back up that concrete walkway with our backpacks.

The hike to camp was relatively easy as we took the low trail around Round Valley.  There’s some nice pine forest and we eventually were walking near a stream that ran near a large meadow.  We reached the Round Valley campgrounds and using the map provided with our permit, we set out to find our campsite, which was in the next campground, Tamarack Valley.  It looked easy, but we got tripped up by a downed tree that covered the trail we were supposed to turn onto.  How many Sierra Club certified navigators does it take to find Tamarack Valley campsite?  Apparently 4.  After a couple more wrong turns, we got back on track and found the first of the sites in Tamarack Valley.  We scouted out some other sites, and settled on one that wasn’t too far uphill that abutted a small stream and was near the “toilet”.  The 3 mile trip took about 2 hours.

After setting up camp, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon taking a quick hike over to Cornell Peak and try to get to the top.  Our campsite was nearby, so getting to the base of it was pretty easy; the trail running through the campground took us part way and then we went cross-country to the western side of the peak, where there was a ridgeline that connected up with Cornell that we thought would be the easiest way up.  The picture to the left shows what we saw from the ridgeline.  There was no real trail at all, and as you can see, it was very rocky so we were mostly scrambling over boulders.  There was some fun bits of climbing that required using hand and footholds, which were plentiful.

We thought we were finally approaching the summit when we hit a dead end.  After scrambling over a large boulder we stood on a small area that continued up a chute towards the summit on one side and looked out over the edge of the mountain on the other.  Sarah and Ashley got part way up the chute, but could go no further.  I decided to stay put.  The GPS we were carrying put us on the same contour line as the summit, so we considered it a victory and decided to head down.  Going down is always hairier than climbing up, and after a few rough spots we made a quick descent.  As we looked back at the peak, we were impressed with our climb, but wondered if there was another way up that would have gotten us to the tippy top.  Upon our return to civilization, a few Google searches indicated that the way to the top involved approaching from the east side.  We’ll have to try that next time.

Since we had only had a short hike into camp, we had loaded up our packs with vittles for a little gourmet camp cooking.  We also packed in alcohol for the first time on a backpack trip, with two small cardboard cartons of wine and a flask of Bushmills.  We chilled the wine and flask in our stream, which did the job nicely.  For dinner, we did a shrimp ramen dish.   Frozen shrimp and packages of ramen noodles were combined with chopped jalapenos, onion, dried mushrooms, scallion, soy sauce, sesame oil, and a bouillon cube.  We prepared most of the ingredients beforehand, so it mostly involved dumping in all the ingredients into some boiling water.  It’s a really good camp dish if you want something other than dried food.  The wine wasn’t great, but it was nice to have something other than water with your dinner.

The next day our goal was to climb to the top of San Jacinto (stopping off at Miller Peak on the way), then go off-trail to several other peaks in the area.  Sarah had planned out several possible routes.  Only three of us started out the next day, as Christina was feeling the effects of the altitude.  We’d been camping at around 9100 feet and having had altitude sickness before, it’s no fun.  I actually woke up in the middle of the night with a headache, but some aspirin and water had kept me from getting any worse symptoms.

The trail was pretty steep all the way up to Wellman’s Divide.  There you get a break from the trees and you get to look out over a valley and a lot more mountains.  We took a quick rest stop there and also noticed that there was quite a bit of clouds gathering.  We kept going up and now we were able to see the valley we were camping in as well as Cornell Peak and even the tram station which was  a couple of ridgelines over from Cornell.  We also were able to see rain coming out of some of the clouds miles away.  Dang.

As we approached the last stretch of trail to Jacinto, we took a brief off-trail excursion to the top of Miller Peak.  It took about 5 minutes to find the rockpile that led to the summit, and after a few more minutes, we had found the plaque that marked the summit.  One peak down, several more to go.  We hoped, because the weather was looking worse.  We were surrounded by clouds now and the wind was getting stronger.

We made it to an emergency cabin just below the peak at San Jacinto when it started raining and the wind was whipping.  We took shelter behind some rocks and put our rain jackets on.  When the rain died down, we scrambled up the last section of rocks to the peak.  Peak number two taken.

On a clear day, the view from Jacinto is spectacular.  With clouds all around us, we couldn’t see much.  We had another visitor snap the shot to the left.  At a little over 10,800 feet this was the second tallest peak I’d ever been too.  Since the weather wasn’t that great, we skedaddled out of there and headed back off the peak to the trail.

The plan was then to go cross-country following the ridgeline between Jacinto and our next target, Jean Peak.  We left the trail and it was slow going.  There were lots of trees and large boulders, as well as some manzanitas for good measure.  It was pretty slow going and eventually we stopped for lunch in a clearing.  Unfortunately the clouds weren’t moving away and it started raining again, this time harder than before.  We had seen that the route to Jean was going to involve a lot of rock scrambling, and after a short discussion, we decided that climbing over wet rocks off-trail was not a smart move.  So, we decided to cut the trip short and head back to camp.

Rather than following the trail back to camp, we decided to go cross-country.  The first section was quite steep, but we made a quick descent to a clearing where we met up with the trail again.  After taking it for a short while, we tried to find an old trail that was no longer in use that would lead us to the general vicinity of our campsite.  We never really found that trail, but we soon found a stream that we located on our topo map, and used that as a landmark to guide us back to camp.

Since Christina was feeling better and we had made it back to camp much earlier than expected, we did another little excursion to try and find a section marker and some other landmarks on our topo.  We got to the general vicinity of the section marker but never found it.  We found some tall rocks and hung out on those awhile, and then found a spring marked on the topo.  With those small victories, we headed back to camp for dinner number two.  This time we made a chicken and grits meal from our latest issue of Backpacker.  It was tasty, and we had our second “bottle” of boxed wine.

After dinner, I took some shots of the stream.  I was trying to mess with the film speed to create a “fluid” look with the water.  I got mixed results, but I think this one turned out pretty well.  We played some Uno, but the bugs were out in force, so we turned in pretty early.

The next morning we packed up and headed back to the tram station.  This time we took the high road around Round Valley, completing the “round” in Round Valley.  The final push up the dreaded concrete walkway was the only thing left to do.  It wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I think the fact that I knew a Stone beer at the tram lodge was awaiting me as quickly as I got up added a little pep to my step.

We all made it and had that celebratory beer.  The tram ride back was equally as impressive and even quicker than going up.  The drop in elevation was met with a rise in the temperature.  Since we were all hungry, we stopped in Palm Springs and ate at a great Jewish deli called Sherman’s.  Great sandwiches and an absolutely huge array of pies, cakes, and pastries for desert.  Given the calories we burned hiking, we figured we could splurge on a large piece of chocolate cake.  A delicious end to a great weekend of hiking!

Investigating Shenandoah

December 5, 2010

A few weeks ago I decided to go explore an area of Shenandoah National Park I had never been to before, Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run.  I decided to take two existing trails and create my own loop that would allow me to get back to my car without having to do any backtracking.  A map of the area I hiked is here.  I drove into the park and parked at the Hawksbill Gap lot.  Parking there would allow me to hike down the Whiteoak Canyon trail, cut over to Cedar Run, and then head up Cedar Run trail back to Hawksbill Gap.

It was a little chilly but a clear day.  I started out from the trailhead at 10:35 AM (I’m listing times and mileage so you have an idea how long it took me to do each section in case you want to try this out).  I was taking a section of the Appalachian Trail to begin that would follow the road back towards the Whiteoak Canyon trail.  One day I’d love to hike the whole AT, but for now I take the one mile chunks I can.

The trail started to the right of the main trail (which goes up to Hawksbill summit).  This section of the AT was pretty rocky and it was slightly uphill, but it gave you a nice view of Hawksbill Summit and the valley down below.  After about a mile there was a steep ascent to the Cresent Rock Overlook that got the blood flowing.  Unfortunately the overlook was closed for construction, which meant I had to climb over some orange fencing to get across the overlook.  A bunch of the overlooks were closed for construction with signs saying “Your stimulus dollars at work.”  Hopefully, there’s enough money to actually refinish the overlooks.

A quick cross of the road and I was on the Cresent Rock Trail at 10:57.  Next up was a 1.1 mile relatively flat trail.  This section is pretty easy and makes it way through the woods without much in the way of views.  The trail was pretty well covered in fallen leaves which made for a nice walk.  I didn’t see anyone on this section at all (or on the AT).

The Cresent Rock Trail ends at the Limberlost Trail.  I made it to the junction at 11:20.  Limberlost is a short loop that is a crushed gravel path with lots of benches if you’re tired.  I only needed to go on part of the loop (.4 miles) before I would hit the main attraction, Whiteoak Canyon Trail.  Turning right onto Limberlost I was at the Whiteoak trail intersection by 11:28.  Not much to see on Limberlost, though for the first time, a small stream trickled to my right.

That stream got gradually bigger as I began to descend the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, which I would descend for 3.6 miles.  The sun was now out and the sun was sparkling on the clear water.  I ran into the first people I’d seen since beginning, coming up the trail.  The trail soon crossed over the stream and it soon joined forces with another stream to create a bigger waterway that was now on my left.  This relatively calm stream would create some spectacular waterfalls further downtrail.  I scrambled off-trail at one point to check out a pool that had been created by a large fallen tree.  I was able to get down right on top of the tree and took a few pictures of the pool at eye-level.

Continuing my descent, I came to the first fall of the Upper Falls.  It was now 12:12 and I’d traveled 1.4 miles down.  There was a large group hanging out at the falls, so I continued on to an overlook located a little bit further down the trail.  I took the picture at the top of this post there.  It was an impressive waterfall, I couldn’t even capture the whole thing in that picture.  I took a short break for a snack and to take off my long-sleeve layer as the sun was warming up the valley.  After chatting with some backpackers coming up the trail, I set off again.  The trail descended pretty steeply now and I was running across more people going up, and a lot of them were resting.  I don’t blame them, this was a tough climb and I was happy to be going down.  I soon came to the second fall and third falls of the Upper Falls (around 12:50 to the second fall).  These falls were also larger than I expected and quite captivating.  As I descended, I also got a better perspective of the valley I was in, as the ridges on each side of you became more pronounced.

I made it to the lower falls at 1:30.  These were every bit as interesting as the Upper Falls.  I decided to eat lunch on some rocks by the falls and took some pictures, including the one above of a lone leaf still hanging on, with the falls in the background.  I also decided to take a picture of myself using my tripod and timer.  After setting up the shot, I’d planned on depressing the shutter and then gracefully jump down onto one rock and nimbly spring to another one that would put me next to a small fall.  The flaw in my plan was that I failed to notice the first rock was completely covered in slippery moss, which I totally slipped on and caught myself before falling in.  Water and me just don’t mix when it comes to hiking.

After that little adventure, I planted myself on a rock and enjoyed the waterfalls for a little bit longer.   Then I decided to start making the trek home.  At 2 pm, I hit the Cedar Run link.  You’ll know you are there when you see  a series of large stones on your right crossing the stream.  No real danger of falling here, but you do have to hop from rock to rock.  It reminded me of playing Pitfall as a child, hopping on the alligator heads.  The link is .9 miles and was a gradual ascent.  The path was covered in leaves and fingers of the afternoon sun came through the treetops.  The shot to your left was taken on the link.  At 2:17, the link ended and I was left to cover the 2.7 miles of the Cedar Run Trail.

Pretty soon I came to the first fall along Cedar Run.  It was a nice fall with a deep pool at its base.  Crossing it was a bit tricky, as the “trail” that had been established required you to cross some rocks right at the edge of the pool, as it dropped off at a smaller fall.  Generally, you want to do water crossings at a spot where you have an escape point or time to get out of danger.  A fall here would be bad, but there was enough dry rocks to make it not too hairy.  After that, it was pretty much up the entire way and really steep at some points.  There were some nice smaller falls along the way but I was concentrating so much on the climb that I probably didn’t enjoy them as much as I could have.  I ran into a few people coming down, but no one else was heading up.  While it was steep, I don’t think it was any steeper than the Whiteoak Canyon trail would have been if I’d flipped the loop, and it was shorter.

I was definitely getting that “come on, where’s the trailhead” feeling when I finally heard the sound of cars in the distance and I emerged at 3:58 to the parking lot I had departed from roughly 5.5 hours ago.   All in all, the loop was about 10 miles long.  Definitely not for beginners, but anyone in moderately good shape can do this loop.  And if you aren’t too tired, you could cross the road again and take the 1.7 mile round-trip to the top of Hawksbill Summit and watch the sun set.  Having just done a sunset hike a few weeks ago, I decided to pass this time.  Tired but satisfied, I got one last treat as a full moon was out while it was still light, the cherry on top of the beautiful scenery of the surrounding mountains.

Happy hiking!


Another backpacking post

August 31, 2010

I was gone for a week on another backpacking trip to Colorado earlier this month.  But before I write about that trip, I wanted to write a little bit about my previous trip over the Fourth of July holiday to Sequoia National Park in California.  Sarah and I had planned on hiking to the top of Alta Peak, but because of the large snowfall last winter, even in July the top of the trail was impassable (unless you had ice picks, which we did not).  So, a little disheartened, we settled on a different trip to Bearpaw Meadow, about 11 miles in that would follow the general path of our earlier Memorial Day trip but at a higher altitude.

The draw for this route was being able to hit a few glacial lakes, notably Hamilton Lakes.  It was only a couple of miles from our backpacking campsite, so we set off in the morning.  Like much of the other hiking we’ve done in Sequoia, you would go down to a water crossing, cross it, and then head back up.  There was a very impressive waterfall that you passed on the way to the lakes, and you could sit on the flat top above the falls.  We stopped there for a snack and it was relaxing hearing the rushing water and looking back out at the views from where we’d hiked.

After a little while longer, we reached the first of the Hamilton lakes.  It was inaccessible from the trail and there didn’t really seem to be much in the way of a shore, so we marched on.  We were soon rewarded with the second Hamilton lake, and the view to the left.  A crystal clear lake surrounded on three sides by mountains, with various streams of snowmelt feeding the lake.

There were a smattering of people at the campsite and main shore of the lake, so we crossed some logs over to the left of the lake and found a nice open spot on the rocks.  Both of us were hot so we decided to test the waters.  Oh my, that snowmelt wasn’t warming up much on its way down.  I waded out to a rock that got me knee-deep.  It felt good after getting past the initial shock.  We both eventually did a full dip, which amounted to jumping in, coming up gasping for air, and quickly clambering out of the water.

As we sat drying on the rocks, we noticed a couple other people that looked like they were going to take a dip on the main shore.  Except, in the case of two gentlemen, they decided to go the fully monty.  Sarah mentioned that, hey, that guy is getting naked.  I said nah, he’s got some kind of speedo underwear on.  After a closer look, no indeed he was letting it all hang out.  Now I’m no prude, but standing around naked while others are trying to enjoy the lake (people were flyfishing, camping, eating lunch) is a bit much.  Oh well, we were far enough away to not really care, and it did provide a source of amusement.  The best part was when of the naked guys ventured out a little bit into the water, stood around, then returned to the shore for what we assumed was to put back on his finery.  Au contrare, he was retrieving his hat.  Guess he wanted to protect his face from sunburn.  Seems sensible.

Growing bored of the nakedness, we turned our attention to the matter of our hike.  There was another set of lakes, Precipice Lakes, that was only another 3 miles away, but the ranger stationed near our campsite had said that the trail was impassable.  It was about 1, so we decided it was too early to go home.  We’d see how far we could go before the trail got too bad or it hit 4 PM, and then we’d turn back.  Before we left, we discovered that somewhere on the hike up I’d lost my Gorillapod from my pack.  Disaster.  That thing was great.  Oh well, we hoped we’d find it somewhere along the trail on the way back.  We didn’t.  A moment of silence please……..

Ok, back to the hike. The trail basically went straight up through a series of switchbacks until we were well above Hamilton lake, which offered some awesome views of the entirety of the lake.  The trail was completely free of any impediment until we across what is pictured at left.  This picture was actually taken on the way back, so we approached this from the right.  I found a picture online of what the trail was supposed to look like (see the fourth picture in the Hamilton Gorge Tunnel section).  Basically, the trail was blocked by a wall of snow.  We went through the blasted rock tunnel and checked out the situation.  Going over the snow was out.  Sarah was pretty confident that we could climb down a couple feet to a shelf below the snow, walk through the small waterfall created by the melting snow, and then climb back up on the other side.  The soil was very loose and rocks gave way easily (reading afterwards this section of the trail is prone to rockslides).  But we went slowly and deliberately.  After a few minutes we made it to the other side, then had to slide through a narrow opening between a fallen boulder and the trail to continue on.  Later when we came back to this area we saw several other guys that were crossing.  Apparently, one group had simply walked under the snow on the trail.  Between the time they went under and we came across this section, the snow had collapsed and covered the trail.  Scary.  Glad no one was trying to go under when that happened.

After that, we had a few small water crossings where snowmelt was going over the trail and then we started hitting the snow.  Parts of the trail were now covered with snow, but we could still follow it.  That soon ended.  We were close to where we thought the lower Precipice Lake was, but we were confronted with a snow field.

This is a picture that gives you an idea of what we had run into.  We knew we were close and knew the general area where the first lake should be.  We rechecked the map.  We tested out the snowfield and it still seemed deep enough and solid enough to hold us, and we saw footprints that were leading in the direction we thought the lake was.

So we set off.  We don’t use hiking poles, but the snow was pretty firm.  When we reached solid ground again, it was a quick walk to the lake.  The lake was that deep, deep blue that I’d only seen on nature shows about Antartica/Alaska/Artic regions. It was the beginning of July and at least a quarter of the lake was still covered in ice.

We hung out at the lake for awhile and had a snack.  We were up around 9500 feet, which for this East Coast guy, was the highest I’d ever been.  I think I was starting to get the first hints of altitude sickness as I had a slight headache.  Sarah was looking longingly up, she wanted to try and make it to the second lake.  It was still a good way up, and it looked like there was no recognizable trail, all snow, and it was much steeper than the bit we had just done.  We saw some guys coming down and they all had poles.  We were also running up on our turnaround time, so we decided to turn back.  Apparently we didn’t miss too much (we saw the guys who had been coming down, and the great view we thought would be available at the second lake wasn’t there because there was another ridge you had to cross to see anything).

When we got back down to Hamilton Lake, we were able to look up and see how far we had gone up.  The Precipice Lake was not visible, you’d never know that a large body of water was up there.  Here’s another picture we took and if you look in the upper right hand side, and go down slightly from the V made by the two ridgelines, you can see an indentation.  That is where we were.  Pretty cool.

Snow Hike

March 11, 2010

So this weekend, with temperatures getting up in the 60s here in DC, I decided to venture to the hills of ol’ Virginny to hike Old Rag Mountain.  I’ve got a couple backpacking trips out west with my girlfriend this summer, so I need to get in shape ASAP.  So my plan was to push myself and make this a quick trip.  It didn’t quite work out that way.

Apparently, the snow that hit DC in mid-February has not melted on Old Rag.  At all.  This is what the “trail” looked like as I started out:

It didn’t help wearing my Keen sandals (I did have wool socks on, fashionistas are fainting right now).  There were a few other people out there, but I passed them all and was soon alone again.  Most of the first part was manageable in the snow, and it wasn’t too slippery.   Once I hit the rock scramble though it was a different story.  I promptly fell on my ass once, then grabbed two branches (hiking poles are for ninnies) that would come in handy later.  Old Rag has one rock scramble in particular that is challenging even on a dry day.  But it turned out to be no problem at all, so much snow covered the vertical climb that it was just a matter of climbing up the snow that now covered the rocks.

The rest of the way up wasn’t too hairy.  I made it to the summit in two and half hours, which I guess wasn’t too bad given the conditions.  I’d forgotten to charge my camera battery before leaving, so unfortunately my camera died halfway up.  I got enough juice back to take one pic to document that I made it to the summit.

The trip down was not as fun.  I could have strapped skis on in places and it would have been a lot easier in places.  I took to jogging down the not too steep sections, as it was easier than walking.  Whenever there was a switchback, it was often a close to a 75 degree angle of slippery snow.

Then I had a hiking first.  I had just given encouragement to two hikers that they were only about a half mile from the summit.  I was jogging again and then slowed down to a walk as I hit a pretty straight section, but for some reason had a very narrow “trail” running along the edge of the mountain.  My right foot slipped and my momentum took me down.  And right off the trail.  Weeee!  It was a pretty steep incline and I was able to dig both of my “poles” into the snow and use my feet to stop me before I got more than a few feet down the slope.  I clambered back up and then realized how much it would have sucked to fall further down.  Even if I hadn’t injured myself, it would have been tough going to get back up.  And most luckily of all, none of my friends who like taking embarrassing pictures were there to capture this.

Not advisable.

The rest of the trip down was uneventful.  As I got further down, snow turned to slush, to very wet and soggy ground.  Slightly faster descent even though it’s longer mileage.  All in all, it was a fun experience and a lesson learned: don’t hike in the snow with Keen sandals.  Luckily, I was already in the market for a pair of hiking boots, so there should never be a repeat of that mistake.