Hiking the Vasquez Rocks

Vasquez Rocks was my first ever hike almost ten years ago and provided a friendly introduction into the hiking world. So any time I get to hike out there, it’s always a special occasion for me. This time was even more special because I got to hike with my tribe AND experience flowing water in the creek among the beautiful rocks. It was the first time I had seen any sort of moisture out there. The place is typically dry and barren and you can even walk in the creek bed. This time we had many water crossings where it was hard not to get wet. Yes, this actually happened at Vasquez Rocks and the following pictures prove it.


One of the best things about this hike is that it provided a great opportunity for me to test out a pair of new insoles from SoleStar. Crafted 100% in Germany, these hiking/mountaineering insoles give comfort, stability and support while traversing some pretty tough terrain. I paired my insoles with my go-to hiking shoes I’ve worn over the past several years on shorter day hikes and they fit like a glove. My old insoles that came with the shoes were starting to wear out, so I had been looking for a new pair with better support.


The SolesStar insoles were good to go right out of the box. They were very sturdy to the touch and I could tell they had quite a bit of well-designed support to them as well. The minute I slipped my feet into the shoes, I knew I had a winner. Just walking around the house initially, I could feel my feet molding to the soles perfectly. I couldn’t wait to test them out on the trails.

 


We started off
 with a bit of rock climbing and climbed up the famous rock outcropping that you may have seen in movies like “Star Trek”, “Planet of the Apes” and many other films that have been shot out there. At a distance, the rock appears to be at a 90° angle, but it’s really more like 45°. Many people climb to the very top of it, but we didn’t venture quite that far up. We parked ourselves on a ledge about 15 feet from the very top and that was good enough for me. I already challenged my fear of heights. I didn’t want to challenge my safety as well.

 


After pushing our limits on the rock outcropping (caused by the shifting of plates beneath the San Andreas Fault), we hiked a short loop trail that took us into a rocky, yet green, wonderland. Near the end of that first trip, we topped out at an area that provides amazing views of Vasquez Rocks, the surrounding Agua Dulce area, the 14 Freeway, and the backside of the snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains.


After we finished the smaller loop, we hiked a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that took us along th
e creek and underneath the 14 Freeway via a rather lengthy tunnel. We stopped for a long break on the other side and then headed back the way we came. I had done that version of the hike with the Santa Clarita hiking group a couple of years ago, but it was completely dry and much warmer then.

 


The guys
 and I added on another mile to our hike by taking a larger loop around that had quite a bit of elevation gain, but eventually brought us back to the parking lot. It was such a gorgeous day out. The weather was perfect and it was so much fun to be on another great adventure with good friends.


As for my Solestar insoles, they are definitely keepers, and I highly recommend them for your outdoor adventures. The insoles are a high quality product that can take as much of a beating as you can give them witho
ut your feet absorbing the shock. If you are looking for stability and comfort while ascending great heights or traversing the deepest canyons, look no further than Solestar. I am happy to have found a pair of insoles that are crafted to go the distance.


Hike on!

~J

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Kearsarge Pass and a Tale of Overcoming

Last weekend, I accomplished a great achievement and hiked to Kearsarge Pass via the Onion Valley Trailhead. This wasn’t my first time up to the pass, but it’s a big victory to me because it was my first hike above 11,000 feet in almost three years. I had hiked to this pass several times, but this was the most special for me because it was a comeback of sorts.

The group’s goal was to hike to Bullfrog Lake and back, but my goal was to just do the pass, which was quite a feat by itself. I backpacked the Rae Lakes Loop a few years ago, so I didn’t feel I was missing much of the backcountry scenery. My thing was, I didn’t want to tire myself out by having to go over Kearsarge Pass twice. Since the group went beyond the pass, I took my time on the way back and stopped at Heart Lake, then revisited Flower Lake and one of the waterfalls.

The group at the trailhead.

Wild onion.

A gorgeous waterfall just off the trail before Gilbert Lake.

Gilbert Lake.

While listening to my boots grinding rock and dirt underfoot, I couldn’t help but remember lying in that hospital bed, having been diagnosed with a DVT (deep vein thrombosis), frightened, thinking the worst and wondering if I’d ever hike again. The whole situation came out of nowhere.

Just a couple of weeks prior to my hospitalization, I was a healthy (albeit overweight) 38-year-old going about my adventures, traipsing across the Sierra, leading and inspiring others along the way. Then, I got blindsided and taken out of commission. I couldn’t even finish the last hike of the Sierra series I was leading, and that devastated me because I was really looking forward to closing out the series on a new peak that I had never reached before, Cirque Peak.

Flower Lake.

Heart Lake.

After a brief hiatus, I did start hiking again, but it wasn’t the same as before. I stayed away from high altitude hikes and did hikes that were closer to home and at a lower elevation. It took me a while to work up to doing long distance hikes again. I eventually began dabbling into the high altitude hikes, but only on occasion. The highest elevation I attained post-DVT was Mt. San Jacinto at 10,834 feet.

The final stretch to Kearsarge Pass.

Looking toward Bullfrog Lake and the Kearsarge Lakes from Kearsarge Pass.

The popular rock column at Kearsarge Pass.

A marmot taking in the scenery at Kearsarge Pass.

Looking down at Big Pothole Lake from Kearsarge Pass.

Last year, I mustered the courage to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe, which was another big milestone. That gave me the confidence I needed to start pushing again. Gradually, I’ve made my way back to high altitude hiking and I’m feeling pretty good. I’d like to climb Mt. Whitney again, although I’m not sure I have another Whitney in me. Only time, coupled with a season of training, will tell. For the time being, I’ll continue enjoying the great outdoors while reconditioning my body to do what it was made to do. In the near future, I’d like to go and hike to Cirque Peak since the DVT stopped me in 2015.

Kearsarge Pass “summit” selfie.

Sometimes, we get blindsided and are tempted to give up on ourselves. In those dark and uncertain times, we have to look back and remind ourselves of why we started our journey to begin with. It’s always harder to restart something than it is to begin in the first place. The resistance feels even greater. But we have to show that resistance that we are more determined than it is. We have to stand strong and not let fear or trepidation intimidate us. We are more than conquerors.

Hike on!

~J

Mount Baldy and Wildlife Sighting

It was the perfect day for a Baldy hike. Not too warm or too cold, but just right. Since we got such a late start at 11am, we took the ski lift up to the Notch and hiked from there to the summit and took the lift back down. Even though this is considered the “gentler” route, it’s still pretty brutal when you’re out of shape and haven’t been hiking at altitude very much. It’s hard to admit that I’ve grown a bit lazy in terms of hiking, but I have. Part of it has to do with the DVT I had back in 2015. Some have noticed that I’ve dialed it down quite a bit since then and haven’t been going on the big adventures I used to do.

As many of my hiking friends can attest, once you stop hiking, even for a little while, your body reverts back to its pre-conditioned state. Beginning again is almost like completely starting over, which is discouraging because you put in so much work to get to where you were. Now you have to push through all the pain and resistance in your body once again to help it reacclimatize. That’s how I felt on this hike, as well as on my last two high altitude outings.

The hardest part of this hike is always the first mile or so, and this time it seemed ten times harder. Taking the ski lift up probably didn’t do me any favors besides shortening the distance because my body didn’t have a chance to acclimate before beginning the hike at 7,800’ elevation. It’s almost like taking the tram up from Palm Springs to hike Mt. San Jacinto.

My heart started racing the minute I stepped off the ski lift, and with each step after that, so I stopped frequently to let it slow down. My pack was pretty heavy since it held three liters of water, plus an additional 20 oz bottle of Oxigen water which I received at the recent Climb for Heroes event. I also carried food. To lighten some of the load, my partner offered to take the water bottle and carry it in his pack, which helped, but I still struggled and took a break in every piece of shade I could find along the way.

After huffing and puffing uphill for a while, I finally gave in and decided to drink the Oxigen water, along with the tube of saline solution meant to go with it, and have a little snack (some almond butter.) According to the information on the bottle, this Oxigen water contains the O4 molecule rather than the O2 molecule, which means the oxygen stays in the bottle after you open it. I had never heard of that, but with my free bottles, I tested it out on two recent high altitude hikes.

On the Anderson Peak hike, I didn’t feel a difference at all. On this hike, I was able to hike a lot stronger after drinking the saline and chasing it down with the water. I don’t know if I can attribute my second wind to the Oxigen water and I’ve now used up my freebies. At $3/bottle, I don’t think it’s worth further testing when I already know Trader Joe’s Electrolyte Enhanced Water does the trick at a much cheaper cost. I just didn’t have any this time.

When I reached the saddle between Mt. Harwood and Mt. Baldy, I noticed about five bighorn sheep grazing on the western slope of Mt. Harwood. I had seen bighorn sheep near the ski hut before, but never on this side of the mountain. Of course this happened the one time I decided to leave my big camera behind and use my phone for pics. Needless to say, I was kicking myself, yet still happy to be able to see those beautiful creatures enjoying their habitat.

When we reached the summit of Baldy, we were shocked to see that, in the middle of the day, there were so few people up there. It was in stark contrast to the last time I hiked Baldy last month. Granted, that was a special event that draws in thousands of hikers annually, but on a typical day on the mountain, you can see scores of people milling about on its barren summit. A wave of people showed up about ten minutes before we left, so our timing was perfect.

After spending about an hour on the summit snacking and comparing our O2 levels with my oximeter, we descended Baldy’s rocky, scree-laden eastern slope, said our goodbyes to a lone bighorn sheep on the side of Mt. Harwood and made our way to the Devil’s Backbone Trail. I didn’t get an altitude headache this time and traipsed down the trail feeling pretty good.

Hike on!

~J

Hiking to Anderson Peak with My Tribe

Looking toward Big Bear Lake from Anderson Peak

This was my first time on the Forsee Creek trail and my first time summiting Anderson Peak (elev. 10,840ft). The trail was gorgeous with lots of wildflowers along the way, creating great photo opportunities.

Purple lupine

Indian paintbrush

Columbine

Despite all the signs of life and rebirth, there were still remnants of the shadow of death and destruction that decimated the area during the most recent fire. It was a stark reminder of the cycle of life that the forest endures.

Danielle and I started early and Richard met up with us on the trail as he started hiking a little later. Since Danielle and I got a late start, it didn’t take him long to catch up to us.

Richard catches up

We kept a slow but steady pace as the peaceful and gradual trail wound through the forest with about a 4100-foot gain from the trailhead in about 6.5 miles. We stopped at Trail Fork about 6 miles up to have a snack and reassess whether we felt like huffing it off trail for the final ascent to the peak.

We were feeling good and decided we were too close to turn around, so we went for it. And we were happy we did. The reward of achieving the summit was so worth it and the views were amazing.

Going off trail toward Anderson Peak

Our sign-ins on the summit register

Big Bear Lake to the north of Anderson Peak

Mt. San Gorgonio to the east of Anderson Peak

I love hiking with my tribe.

*****Due to the Valley Fire, all trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness are closed until further notice. Thankfully, my friends and I got to do this beautiful hike before fire ravaged the area once again, continuing the cycle of death, destruction and rebirth.

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

I posted a silly picture on Instagram that was taken when my friends and I were grocery shopping during our weekend getaway in Mammoth. In the produce section, I noticed a bright yellow sign in front of the bananas that said, “Pick me I’m single.” Being the creative person that I am, I came up with this crazy idea of posing in front of the sign as if it were a dating ad. It was all fun and games and my friends tend to bring that out in me. We even had the produce attendant cracking up as the silliness was contagious.

Shortly after we left that section, I went to grab a couple of 1-gallon jugs of water. Of course, the ones I wanted were on the top shelf. Not only that, they were at the very back of the top shelf. I was able to grab one jug, but struggled with the second one for about a minute. I was determined to get that jug of water and was about to climb on the shelf (I like climbing stuff) when I felt someone behind me. My normal reaction is to move away because of personal space preferences, but this time, I stood my ground.

Next, I heard a man’s voice asking if I needed help, so I turned around and sheepishly said yes. The man reached up and grabbed the jug with no problem at all and I thanked him for the assistance. Normally, I would have just said I was okay and didn’t need any help, even though I clearly did. I let myself be vulnerable for once and it was all good.

People often ask where all the “cowboys” have gone and I am guilty of having posed that question myself. The reality is that they haven’t gone anywhere. They are all around us. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to appreciate the decency of a kind gesture. I’m learning and growing. In the words of Steve Harvey, “God ain’t through with me yet!”

Check back for more tales from my weekend in Mammoth including a walk through a tufa wonderland, my battle with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and a journey into a volcanic crater!

Happy trails!

~J

Sensational Santa Barbara Series: Gaviota Wind Caves

In Part 2 of our Sensational Santa Barbara Series, we once again went to Gaviota State Park just north of Santa Barbara, CA to explore the Gaviota Wind Caves. The caves are located on the western half of the park and we did our hike as a one-way car shuttle to shave off some mileage and elevation gain. To reach our destination, we hiked on a variety of trails including the Yucca Trail, Hollister Trail, Beach to Backcountry Trail, Woodland Trail, Trespass Trail and Tunnel View Trail. At just over 7 miles and a mere 1,000 feet of elevation gain, we had ourselves quite an adventure and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

Santa Cruz Island Sea Adventure

We took a break from the trails for once and took a trip to Santa Cruz Island, about 20 nautical miles off the coast of Ventura, CA. We took the Caves & Coves Classic Kayaking Adventure offered by Channel Islands Outfitters, which was voted “Bucket List” Adventure by the Santa Barbara News Press. The tour includes 3 hours of guided kayaking, lunch and a snack, wetsuits and snorkeling gear. We had a blast!

If kayaking isn’t your thing, or you’d like to mix it up a bit, Santa Cruz Island also has miles of hiking trails to explore. Check out my video of a previous hike to Cavern Point and Potato Harbor.