Hiking the PCT in the San Bernardino Wilderness

Hiking the PCTLast weekend, my friends and I hiked a 12-mile portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Bernardino Wilderness, on a section that was not touched by the Lake Fire. It was my first time hiking that segment of the PCT, so I was excited when my friend Paul began this series. We are doing a total of 12 hikes and accomplishing this feat by way of a car shuttle with each segment.

We started out at Onyx Summit at an elevation of 8,443 ft. On the drive up the winding road to the summit, we were a little surprised to see the temperature dipping below 40 degrees in the middle of summer. By the time we made it to the saddle, the outside temperature gauge on my friend’s SUV read a mere 37 degrees.

Before I left home that morning, I wondered if it was a good idea to use this outing as an opportunity to test a new piece of gear, the new Base Camp Hoodie from WoolX. I loved the hoodie the instant I removed it from the packaging, from the look and feel of the lightweight 100% merino wool fabric, to the Pomegranate Pop color, which happens to be one of my favorite. I tried it on immediately and did the mirror check and was pleased to see that the fitted design and color block made my waist appear smaller. That’s an important thing for us plus-sized women who venture into the outdoors. (The Base Camp Hoodie goes up to size XXL.)

Sporting the WoolX Base Camp Hoodie

Sporting the WoolX Base Camp Hoodie

Since the Base Camp Hoodie is intended to be worn in warmer temps, I thought this would be a good time to try it out. I didn’t check the weather before leaving, but figured it would be a warm day, even in the higher elevations. Nothing prepared us for 37 degrees, though, but when I got out of the car at Onyx Summit, I was grateful to be wearing a long sleeved top with a hood. I slipped my thumbs into the thumb holes and pulled the hood over my head as I made my way to a sunny spot as we waited for our friends to return from leaving a couple of cars at our destination for the shuttle back.

Hanging out in the Sun

Hanging out in the Sun

37 degrees is a little cool for the Base Camp Hoodie, unless you’re exercising. For sitting or standing around, you might want to try something a little thicker, and WoolX also makes a midweight and a heavyweight base layer to keep you insulated in those conditions.

When we started hiking uphill, I began to warm up, but I never felt like I was overheating. There was lots of shade on this trail and much of the incline was gradual. For the most part, this section of the PCT was mainly downhill for us as we traveled in a northerly direction heading toward the desert. We even saw a care station for thru-hikers on the PCT, as well as a sofa and what appeared to be another care station perhaps filled with “trail magic” or supplies. We didn’t open it, so we weren’t sure. And then there were multiple water sightings as we traversed through a shaded canyon.

PCT Care Station

PCT Care Station

PCT Sofa

PCT Sofa and “Trail Magic”

Water crossing.

Water crossing.

Enjoying the trees

Enjoying the trees

The trees were gigantic and healthy, a very welcome sight after witnessing some of the devastation from the Lake Fire on the drive up Highway 38. As we approached increasingly exposed areas, we took the opportunity to stop and take shade breaks. It didn’t take long for the temperature to climb to a balmy 75 degrees. When I got too warm, I just lowered the 1/2 zip of the hoodie for a little more ventilation. Whenever the breeze picked up, I could feel it blowing through the superior wicking fabric and it kept me cool.

Admiring the tree

Admiring the tree

As we made our way closer to the end of our trail, we noticed several Joshua Trees, an indicator of where the forest ends and the desert begins. It was quite a strange and beautiful sight. With Big Bear Lake and Lake Baldwin to our left in the west, the expansive high desert plateau to our north and rolling hills and mountains in the east, we enjoyed quite a palette of views.

Where the forest ends and the desert begins

Where the forest ends and the desert begins

Looking towards Lake Baldwin and Big Bear Lake

Looking towards Lake Baldwin and Big Bear Lake

The high desert ahead

The high desert ahead

The icing on the cake, so to speak, was “The Eye of God,” a little side trip we took at the end of our hike to a giant quartz rock that we could see glistening from the road. Of course, we seized the opportunity to do a little photo shoot and I took the opportunity to expand my rock collection.

The "Eye of God"

The “Eye of God”

My loot

My loot

All in all, this was a great, peaceful journey on segment of the PCT that I probably would never have ventured to had I not been introduced to it. And my new piece of gear, the WoolX Base Camp Hoodie, is one that I will keep and wear over and over again. It’s lightweight, no itching or chafing and no “wooly” smell. It’s just a soft, yet durable, high quality product that rivals some of the other top brands of 100% merino wool on the market. It’s also very stylish and cute. I might just wear it again on the next segment of the PCT.

At the Oaks

The Art of Doing

I’m a dreamer and I like to encourage others to dream. Dreaming is good. Well, it’s good until you get so caught up in dreaming that it begins to take the place of actually DOING something. What I mean by DOING is putting forth the physical effort necessary to see to it that what worked out so perfectly in your dream will come to fruition.

There are a lot of things floating around on the canvas of my mind, ranging from things I know I need to do, to things I really want to do, to things I’ve started but haven’t finished. For instance, I went on a desert trek in Israel a couple of months ago, volunteered at a youth camp, and toured the Holy Land. I took lots of pictures and recorded videos of the trek and the tour, but haven’t touched any of it. I know it’s going to make a great episode, or series of episodes (I haven’t decided) for the web series…

…if I could just bring myself to do it.

So what’s the holdup?

Well…I also have a ton of video footage to edit from a weekend adventure in the Anza-Borrego Desert here in California. I went there the week after I returned from Israel and had a blast. We caravanned on dirt roads while hanging out of the sunroof of an SUV, explored some really cool slot canyons, went spelunking in mud caves where it was pitch dark, and witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets I had ever seen from the top of a peak above some other freaking amazing slot canyons. This would make a really awesome episode as well…

…if I could just put some action to all of that dreaming.

I also have an upcoming trip this weekend to a breathtaking lake in the Sierras where I’ll be filming another episode of the web series. I’ve got to write a script to break it up into segments like a show because I want this one done right. I’m organizing and leading a group for this hike, so I need to get a lot of things coordinated and I have a limited amount of time to do it.

And I still have the Israel trip and Anza-Borrego unfinished. I also have to do laundry and pack for the upcoming trip. I need to go to REI and pick up some last-minute camping stuff. I need to make sure I remember to pack all my winter clothing to sleep in because it’s going to be in the 30’s at night and I just can’t go out there and freeze. I need to be sure to provide my group with all the information they need regarding this weekend’s trip.

Yet I still need to do those episodes that are waiting in the wings. See what procrastination does? It makes us look busy, like we have so much on our plate, when all we need is proper planning. A good, well though-out schedule will surely solve my problem with ease. But then there’s the issue of keeping up with the schedule. The act of DOING.

Perhaps I should call it the ART of doing. After all, it takes great skill to successfully balance multiple tasks and see them through to completion.

The antidote for procrastination is accountability. Now that I’ve opened up about these things, I’m obligated to fulfill my role of the artist, so to speak, and see these dreams materialize.

I wonder what sort of a tale I will find myself in while taking on this mountain?

Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number

Don Viejo's Ad

Don Viejo’s Ad

I had a pretty good idea of who Don Viejo was before I actually met him in person. He had left his mark all over the San Gabriel Mountains in bright orange, sprinkled with black letters. He was in search of a hiking partner and was very specific about his requirements.

When I saw the first ad on the way up Baldy Bowl via the Ski Hut Trail, I thought it was a joke. I mean, who would dare put themselves out there like that, or better yet, expect someone else to put themselves out there to go and meet on top of a mountain? This day and age, you just can’t be too careful.

It wasn’t until I saw the second sign posted on the other side of Mt. Baldy, on the Devil’s Backbone Trail, that I realized the poster must have been pretty serious, so I snapped a picture with no intentions of calling. I didn’t fit the age requirement anyway.

Hiking in tutus

Hiking to Mt. Baden-Powell in tutus

Months later, one of the hiking groups that I’m an assistant organizer with did a special tutu hike to Mt. Baden-Powell the day of Don Viejo’s scheduled interviews. Every now and then we do a fun and silly hike like a tutu hike, zombie hike, or a hippy hike where we dress up in crazy costumes.

We hiked up to Throop Peak and Mt. Burnham, then made our way to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell where there were a few people milling about. Then, we saw a short, slender man with strong, capable legs standing near a tree next to a sign and cradling a notebook. He was accompanied by a taller, younger man.

Don Viejo with his son

Don Viejo with his son on Mt. Baden-Powell

We kindly approached and introduced ourselves. Don Viejo, a pleasant man full of life, told us that he got into hiking after his wife died six years ago. His son, the taller gentleman with him, wasn’t always able to accompany him on hikes and didn’t want Don hiking alone, so he helped him come up with a creative way of finding a hiking partner.

Don may have been 85 at the time, but he was certainly young at heart. He demonstrated more strength, agility and charisma than many people one-third of his age. We were amazed by his trail savvy and desired to spend more time with him so we could glean more of his knowledge.

Don Viejo shares his trail knowledge

Don Viejo shares his trail knowledge

Don had only met a couple of potential hiking partners that day, but he wasn’t too impressed with them, so we invited him to join our group so he would never have to hike alone. The next time I saw Don was this past Saturday when I had the pleasure of hiking with him on the Register Ridge Trail to Mt. Baldy.

Don with his game face on

Don with his game face on

Now 87, Don is still going strong. I had agreed to be his hiking partner and look after him during the hike. In return, I was treated to endless jokes, witty humor and poetry along the way. I was so entertained that I forgot just how hard the hike up the ridge was.

Don Viejo hiking up the steep Register Ridge Trail

Don Viejo hiking up the steep Register Ridge Trail

Don and I matched pace perfectly. He allowed me to go ahead of him, so I hiked a ways up and then stopped to let him catch up, never letting him out of my sight. Watching him navigate his way over the steep, rocky terrain was an inspiration and it encouraged me to go further.

We made it to the Devil’s Backbone Trail in 3.5 hours, took a short snack break, and then hiked to the summit of Mt. Baldy where we took a longer lunch break. We hung out on the summit for a while and I took a picture of Don at the summit sign. We glanced over at West Baldy and considered a visit, but then thought better of it. Another time.

On the way up the Register Ridge Trail, Don had told me that if I made it to the summit, he’d give me one of his coveted calling cards. He didn’t forget, and I was very grateful when he placed the card into my hand.

The front of Don Viejo's card

The front of Don Viejo’s card

The back of Don Viejo's card

The back of Don Viejo’s card

As we began our descent from the summit, we ran into two of our friends, Cee Cee and Steve. We had already seen Steve leaving the summit as we were approaching and wondered why he was going back up. Cee Cee said that he wanted them to have a picture together for the first time on the summit. At that point, I realized Don and I didn’t get a picture together, so we hiked back up to the top with them.

Group photo with Don Viejo on the summit of Mt. Baldy

Group photo with Don Viejo on the summit of Mt. Baldy

We took some group photos and then Don and I took a photo together. It was one of my best of many experiences on the mountain.

Don Viejo and I on the summit of Mt. Baldy

Don Viejo and I on the summit of Mt. Baldy

After we finished getting our pictures, we bid Cee Cee and Steve farewell as they were going to stick around on the summit for a bit. We knew we’d probably see them again at the Notch where we’d catch the ski lift down for the short walk back to Manker Flats.

Danielle, Aida and Don Viejo

Danielle, Aida and Don Viejo

As we descended the second time, we ran into our two other friends, Danielle and Aida. We initially though they had turned around to help out another person in our group who was struggling. Turns out, the other lady made it to the Devil’s Backbone Trail and decided to wait there while they went to the summit. We saw her on our way down and chatted for a bit. She was fine, so we continued toward the Notch.

While hiking with Don, I realized that he was old enough to be my grandfather, and couldn’t help but think about my own grandfather, who I loved dearly, but lost three years ago. Though decades stand between us, Don and I share one major thing in common: grief. Don lost his wife around the same time I lost my mom, and hiking is what helped us both through it.

When we made it to the Notch, Don Viejo treated me to a root beer and we celebrated our accomplishment. Don is truly a class act and I will never forget my experience with him. I hope to share many more mountain experiences with Don. He has so many tales of his own trails that I’d like to hear and then share with you.

Hike on!

~Joyce

 

Strawberries, a Meadow, and a Peak

Tree on the Trail to Strawberry MeadowOn Saturday, we hiked to Josephine Peak via Strawberry Meadow, a 14-mile car shuttle that was supposed to begin at Colby Ranch. However, the gate to the ranch was closed for some unknown reason. At that point, we initiated Plan B, which was to go to Red Box Rd. and begin our hike on the Strawberry Peak trail. While we didn’t climb Strawberry Peak, our trail took us around the base of the north side of it where we were treated to some enchanting views.

It was a beautiful day, although there were periods of fog. When the sun was out, it was nice and warm, but when the clouds blew over, it got breezy and cold. During the first 6-7 miles of the hike, we had to dodge TONS of bikers on the trail coming toward us. As it turned out, they were doing some sort of marathon called Mud Foot and one biker told us that there were about 75 of them total, all spread out. One biker even suggested that we find a nice place to stop, relax and wait for all of them to pass. We decided to go on despite the warning, because we didn’t know how long it was going to take all of the bikers to go through.

SONY DSC

By the time we made it through Strawberry Meadow and into Strawberry Potrero, we had seen the last of the bikers and the trail was peaceful again. At the end of the day, we had hiked 14 miles with roughly 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Not too bad for a day’s work.

The tale of the trail?
Just because you find one door (or in this case, gate) closed on the way to your destiny, don’t give up and throw in the towel. Stay on the path and be open to other opportunities. There is always another–and sometimes better–way. You will get there. You will conquer your mountain.

SONY DSC

“I didn’t sign up for this!”

A lot has happened over the past couple of weeks and I have many stories to share, but I’m going to start off with this one tale of the trail from my most recent trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California. This is a place I had been longing to visit, so I was happy to see it posted with a group of adventure enthusiasts I’m familiar with.

Photo credit: Irina P.

Photo credit: Irina P.

Among the list of adventures planned, the big draw for me to sign up on this weekend getaway was the hike to the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge. I had seen various pictures and videos posted of the hike and of the bridge itself and had grown very intrigued. The prospect of finally getting to do the hike filled me to the brim with excitement. I set out with the group on Saturday morning, GoPro and camera ready.

As we started out of the campground in Borrego Springs, a brief check of Google Maps showed that the trailhead to the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge was at least 2 hours away and almost 100 miles. This wasn’t what we initially thought or planned for and it didn’t bode well for us since we had a caravan trailing behind. It probably would have taken us closer to three hours to get there, leaving us with less time for the other things we had planned for the day.

To my dismay, we had to axe the Goat Canyon Trestle idea and move on to Plan B, which in my mind wasn’t as spectacular. I was crushed since one of the main reasons I signed up for the event was to see that darn bridge and take tons of pics and video footage of it.

Thankfully, all was not lost. My disappointment over not getting to hike to the bridge almost rendered me unaware of the blessing of great friends and company by my side. We may not have had the bridge, but we still had each other, and there were adventures to be experienced.

The CaravanAs we approached our first destination under “Plan B,” we had a little fun in the truck by opening the sunroof and all the windows and hanging out of the car waving at the caravan of five or so cars behind us. Two people maneuvered up through the sunroof and climbed onto the luggage rack on top of the 4 Runner. It was quite a sight!

The slot canyons were pretty impressive. We started out heading the wrong way at first down a trail that led to a cliff where there was no way to proceed. After backtracking to the parking lot, we found the route leading down into the winding canyon. The canyon walls were steep and narrow and reminiscent of the Narrows at Zion National Park in Utah.

Slot CanyonIn order to make our hike a little more adventurous, we turned the hike into a loop and exited the canyon a different way. This required scrambling up some steep, rocky terrain and crossing over multiple washes before making our way back up the ridge to our cars in the parking lot. Once we made it back, we enjoyed oranges and ice cold water.

Gaining the RidgeWe stopped at a small general store on the way to fill up with gas to get to our next stop and spent a lot of time there just hanging out. We chatted with the store clerk, ate ice cream, checked out some local maps and educated ourselves a bit more on the area we were in. There was so much to be discovered in the desert and we knew we were at the brink of something great and spectacular.

Our next and final stop was the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves. The mud caves are found along the walls of a wash canyon and are one of the most extensive mud cave systems in the world. They contain approximately 22 known caves and 9 slot canyons.

Inside the Mud Cave

Photo credit: Irina P.

We somehow ventured into one of the most difficult caves in the park, according to a couple of people in our group who were familiar with the area. We basically parked, walked up and said, “Hey, that’s a cool hole in the earth! Let’s go check it out!”

So we proceeded to investigate and what struck us immediately was the air conditioning down there. It was a very hot day and being greeted with a burst of cool air on our faces was an invitation to explore further. What we discovered was a multi-level cave with skylights further in where a rope had been installed to assist the climb up a sheer rock wall about 25-30 feet high.

Slot Canyon LookoutAfter exploring the one cave, we went and found another one a short distance away. This cave started out dark and then opened up into an amazing slot canyon with beautiful geological features and several places for photo opportunities where we could look down into the canyon.

As the sun began to set across the horizon, we scrambled up to a high plateau that provided us 360-degree views of the Badlands of Arroyo Tapiado. It was totally worth the climb to watch the sunset from there, but to do it in the company of great companions was absolutely priceless.

Sunset on PlateauOn our last day, before heading back home, we hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to a refreshing desert oasis where we were able to cool off in the shade and soak in pools of water while reminiscing over the weekend’s events. We even saw quite a few bighorn sheep that happened to be very photogenic!

The tale of the trail?

I was disappointed when the plan to go to the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge fell through. It almost ruined the experience for me before it even fully began. But because I made a slight attitude adjustment, I was able to embrace what was ahead with open arms and I ended up having one of the most incredible and thrilling experiences of my life with some really amazing friends.

Sometimes, the plans we make in life fall through. I’m not at the place I expected to be at this point in my life and despite the endless fun I seem to be having, I’m working through a great deal of heartache over some broken dreams. Despite the heartache, I have decided to make that attitude adjustment and embrace the many blessings I’m able to enjoy. It’s given me so much freedom.

Do I still feel the sting of disappointment? Yes. Do I let it drag me into a state of despair? No, absolutely not. I have learned to embrace new dreams and thank God everyday for the ability to do what I’ve been given the privilege of doing. This isn’t the life that I signed up for, but it’s what I’ve been given, and it’s not so bad.

It’s not what you’ve lost that counts. It’s what you do with what’s left.
–Charlie McGonegal

Hike on!

~Joyce

Photo credit: Irina P.

Photo credit: Irina P.

Strawberries and a Peak

We hiked to Strawberry Peak from Colby Canyon, my first time hiking that route. This took us up a few sections of class 3 climbing that challenged my fear of heights and was pretty adventurous. The climbing part wasn’t half as bad as I expected it be; it was 3/4 as bad. I knew there was some rather tedious climbing involved but I thought it would be a little more straightforward than it was. Thankfully, we did this hike as a one-way car shuttle to Red Box so we didn’t have to down-climb those boulders. From the peak, we enjoyed amazing views in every direction and feasted on chocolate covered strawberries for a treat. It was a beautiful day with great company.