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

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!



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.


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.


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.

Taylor’s Transcendent Trek

I had no idea what I was getting myself into on this one. All I knew was that it was an endurance trek. Thinking that it couldn’t be any worse than a Mt. Baldy snow hike, I saw it as a piece of cake. This ended up being 9 of the toughest miles that I’ve hiked on any trail. We started out on a real trail and then took a “use” trail shortly after that. This consisted of miles of bushwhacking while ascending and descending steep, rocky terrain. At times, we could feel the terrain collapsing beneath every step. I have learned to never trust the rocks in the Santa Monica Mountains. Most of them move. They move under your feet, and they break away when you grab them to try and keep your balance or prevent a fall. I witnessed quite a few falls during this adventure, and three of them were mine. Two of my falls were caught on video, which you will see here.

Hiking to Piute Pass

A lush aspen forest, multitudes of wildflowers, pristine alpine lakes, all leading up to a pass overlooking an alluring backcountry. Piute Pass provides the quintessential Sierra experience. The elevation gain is gradual enough that anyone in relatively good physical condition can accomplish this hike in a day. The hike is 10.3 miles round trip with 2,300 feet of elevation gain, so it should take anywhere between 5 to 8 hours to complete.

This hike had been on my list for a long time, so I set off on the adventure on the last day of August when summer was still in full swing. Come along on the journey with me and see why you should add Piute Pass to your list of Sierra destinations.

Hope you enjoy this latest episode of Tales of the Trails!  🙂

Is It A Mirage?

Ansel Adams WildernessIt all started that morning at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center as our group waited to board the bus that would take us to the trailhead. I saw a nice ranger standing by and asked her to verify some information on the hike I wanted to do, which was slightly different from the group’s goals. I told the lady that I was going to Thousand Island Lake and inquired about the River Trail, which was the route recommended in my guidebook, “50 Classic Day Hikes of the Eastern Sierra,” by Devon Fredericksen and Reed Harvey. I wasn’t quite prepared for her response.

Oh, you’re going to Thousand Lake? That’s a tough one. You shouldn’t take the River Trail, that’s steep. You need to take the High Trail. It will be more gradual.

I was perplexed.

But the guidebook I have suggests taking the River Trail. It’s supposed to be 14 miles round trip and can be done as a day hike.

She remained adamant.

I don’t know what guidebook you’re reading. That’s going to be really tough.

She then took out a map and showed me the trail from Agnew Meadows, which was the starting point, all the while trying to encourage me to take the High Trail, which was about two miles longer, but supposedly more scenic. I didn’t have my own map of the area and the store where I could have purchased one wasn’t open yet, so I stuck with my original intent to follow the advice of the guidebook and take the River Trail. I admit, after the ranger’s reaction, I felt some apprehension.

The sign at the trailhead.

The sign at the trailhead.

About a mile or so into the hike, I was off and on my way to Thousand Island Lake. Since the guidebook stated that this was a popular trail and that the lake had been nicknamed “Thousand People Lake,” I figured I wouldn’t be alone. Yet, for the most part, I was. It didn’t bother me much, though. I often prefer solitude when trekking in the backcountry, although it is nice to have a partner sometimes.

The trail gradually ascended, never straying far front the San Joaquin River tumbling down below. At one point, the trail got really close to the river and I took a slight detour to check out a cascading waterfall.

San Joaquin River waterfall

San Joaquin River waterfall cascade.

Shortly after I returned to the trail, I met a group of backpackers coming toward me, each carrying packs that appeared to weigh at least 50 pounds apiece. We greeted each other and, of course, they asked where I was headed.

I’m going to Thousand Island Lake.

I braced for the reaction.

Oh, wow. That’s quite a slog. You’ve got a ways to go and it’s a trudge from here.

I tried my best to appear unfazed.

Well, I’m used to long day hikes. I’ve hiked twenty-two miles in a day before.

Their eyes widened.

Wow, you must be a serious mountain woman!

I bid the backpackers a good day and they sent me off with well-wishes as I was on my way again. Shortly after that, the same thing happened. Backpackers coming down the trail were once again astounded that I was going to Thousand Island Lake as a day hike, as if they didn’t believe it could be done. I assumed that they were on their way back from the lake.

Is that where you guys are coming from?

The backpackers looked amazed.

No, we were at Garnet Lake. That’s a little bit closer.

As we parted ways, I began to question the path I was on and thought that maybe I should change my goal to Garnet Lake, which, as the backpackers said, was closer. I reasoned that a lake is a lake and they all probably look the same anyway. Maybe I didn’t fully understand the description in the guidebook, although I studied it at least 100 times before setting out. Maybe the book was wrong.

I set a time and decided that no matter where I was at when that time came upon me, I would turn around. This was an unfamiliar trail to me and I didn’t want to get so far in that I couldn’t make it out at a reasonable hour. I also didn’t want to miss the group who were hiking the same mileage on a different trail, but at a faster pace than me. I wanted to make it back to the Adventure Center around the same time because we were to have dinner that evening in town.

No end in sight.

No end in sight.

The trail continued to climb and I found myself in a forest. Not too long before that, I had emerged from a short section of forest and reached a clearing that I thought would finally provide clear views of my goal. But it just led me to another forest. While I was grateful for the shade, the trail became a constant uphill slog and I realized that what one of the backpackers said was right. I took a break to snap a few shots of flowers just off the trail. It was hard to silence the doubts as they consumed me like a giant wave.

Anderson's Thistle

Anderson’s Thistle

I began to think in my heart that I had failed and was going to have to go back as my turnaround time closed in on me. I thought to myself that if I could just see where I was going, I would have hope and be motivated to stay the course. But the arduous climb continued and the scenery around me wasn’t changing. All I saw were trees. I never saw a lake, not even Garnet Lake, which was supposed to be closer. The climb seemed no longer worth it, so I just wanted to stop and go back the way I had come, back to what was familiar.

After this clearing the path became dim.

Beyond this clearing the path grew dim.

A little less than an hour before my turnaround time, I saw what appeared to be two day hikers coming down the trail toward me. They weren’t carrying big heavy packs. At this point, I just wanted confirmation that I should turn back because I had already prepared myself for the disappointment. I greeted the couple and asked if I was getting close to Thousand Island Lake. They gave me the most encouraging news I had heard all day. I was about a couple of miles away from a pass and once I reached the pass, the lake would be right there, just on the other side of it. I thanked the couple and pressed on.

Even with the affirmation, I still had doubts as I trekked through the somewhat dense forest. I contemplated turning around for fear that it was getting too late. For some reason, the altitude really affected me on this hike and I was troubled that I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the pass. I couldn’t see beyond the trees.

Twenty minutes before my turnaround time, I was about to throw in the towel. Then, I realized that I owed it to myself to at least continue until 1pm, which was the time I had set. Certainly, I could hang in there for twenty more minutes, despite the seemingly endless slog.

The first views of Mt. Banner.

The first views of Mt. Banner.

Exactly twenty minutes later, I was blessed with one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. Mt. Banner came into view just beyond a small pass, and shortly after that, the most beautiful, sparkling lake glistened before me. It wasn’t a mirage. It was real. I could finally see it, touch it, taste it. All of the doubts that tried to kill my dream, my vision of this wonder, were at once silenced for good. My goal had been validated by what my faith and action produced.

What sort of tale did I find myself in?

Just because the circumstances conflict with your inner vision, what you know to be true, it doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong path. You may have naysayers telling you what can’t be done, but you have to realize that people often speak from what they know based on their own experiences and background.

Those backpackers who provided their input, the ones who almost discouraged me from going on–they were carrying 50-pound packs and they may not have been regular hikers, so of course they were going to see my goal as a slog and an impossible feat. I hike consistently and am used to long day hikes, so I’m well-acquainted with my strengths and abilities. I’m also aware of my limitations. However, I knew in my heart that I could do this.

Thousand Island Lake.

Thousand Island Lake

Had I given up, I would have missed out on one of the most beautiful treasures of the Sierra. I would have done all of that work for nothing. It was a nice hike and there were some really cool sights along the way, but the money shot was the lake, and also the return route as I decided to take the scenic High Trail on the way back.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times where it’s in your best interest to turn around, such as when you’re in imminent danger as I was on a previous hike to Cloudripper Peak. Sometimes in life there is danger on the path and you have to turn around, not to give up, but to reconfigure the approach to your goal and try again.

Even if that is the case, the theme remains the same: Never Give Up. Never let anyone or anything talk you out of your goal. Never let yourself or your own doubts talk you out of your goal. You can either be your own worst enemy or your biggest cheerleader.

Maybe you’ve been praying for something over the years and nothing is changing, as if you’re in that forest I was in where I couldn’t see where my path was leading me to. Perhaps everything around you contradicts the very thing you’ve been praying, hoping, wishing endlessly for. Don’t stop because even though it may not feel like it, you are ever closer to your dream come true.

Never give up then, for that is just the place and time when the tide will turn.

~Harriet Beecher Stowe