Hiking Modjeska Peak

After going on two 12-mile back to back hikes in the Redwoods last week, I hadn’t planned on hiking over the weekend. But when my friend Danielle suggested I check out the group hike posted for Saturday and mentioned that my other mountain sisters, Aida and Ava were going, I decided that maybe another hike would be in order. That is, until I saw that it was listed as 17 miles. I immediately thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I can do that!’ I hadn’t done an 17-miler since last year before my calf injury.

Silverado CanyonI looked up Modjeska Peak in Orange County and tried to acquire all the details I could find on the hike. I hated to miss an opportunity to hike with my “tribe.” (For more on finding your hiking tribe, see my article for Oboz Footwear coming soon.) Since Danielle mentioned that the hike was all on a fire road, I figured it was doable, and that it was worth it to hike as far in as I could and then I could easily turn around if I didn’t feel up to hiking the entire distance. Plus, Danielle said that she and the others would probably not go all the way to the peak anyway.

Hiking into the ForestThe group met at the trailhead to start the hike at 7:30am. I didn’t arrive until 8:00 and my boots didn’t hit the pavement until 8:15. My bed was so comfortable and I thought of a million other things I could do that day, but I pushed myself and dragged my body to the car to hit the road. I texted Danielle to let her know I’d be late and told her not to wait for me. She said she would start hiking, but go slow and wait at the major junction so I’d know which way to go.

Out of the CanyonI hiked most of the way alone, except for all the vehicles on the road. Oh yes, this fire road is open to jeeps and other off-road vehicles which I wasn’t aware of before the hike. It was like walking on a busy country road. At times, I didn’t even feel safe and contemplated turning around early on. The road ascended gradually up the canyon for about three miles on pavement before it turned into a dirt road and started climbing out of the canyon to some nicer views.

Climbing HigherOnce I began the climb out of the canyon, I felt like I was making progress and was motivated to continue. I gave up on hiking with my tribe and figured they wouldn’t wait for too long before heading up the mountain, so I took my time and focused on taking pictures, experimenting with a real camera. This was my first big hike in Orange County and I wanted to take it all in, fully immersing myself in the experience. I only saw a couple of other hikers on the trail. Everyone else was either in a jeep, truck, or riding a dirt bike. There were also only a couple of mountain bikers on the trail.

My TribeWhen I finally reached the Main Divide, I was surprised to see three familiar faces hanging out there. I was greeted and met with open arms by Aida, Danielle and Ava, who had waited for me like they said. They hadn’t planned to hike any further and decided to wait for the rest of the group to return from the peak, which was in plain sight at this point and only about 1.5 miles away. I was feeling great and ready to take on the peak, so I talked them into it and we got back on the trail.

View from the Top

Modjeska Peak

Another View from the TopAbout halfway to the peak, we met the group on their way down and Ava and Aida decided to turn around and go with them, leaving just me and Danielle going for that final push to the summit. We had the mountain all to ourselves for a while, until a few bikers rode up on their “street legal” dirt bikes. It was a nice time up there with our new adventurous friends who were astounded that we walked all the way up to the top. We finished the hike just before dark. If Danielle’s GPS was accurate, the hike ended up being more like 18 miles. What a day!

Hike on!

~J

It’s OK to Date a Girl Who Climbs Mountains

When most people see me, they view me as someone who has my head in the clouds. Most of my posts on social media feature breathtaking scenery of outdoors adventures and, yes, of course, mountains. Like most people, and not just women in particular, I can’t explain what it is about mountains and adventure that keeps me coming back for more.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I don’t like crowds and enjoy going to places where (for the most part) I don’t have to deal with them. Or maybe it’s because the once sheltered little girl in me has finally realized that the roof has come off and she’s free to fly wherever the wind takes her. Maybe I just love the idea of exploration and taking pictures of pretty things to quench my insatiable longing for something more out of life. Maybe I just feel most beautiful when I’m standing among the trees, rocks, creeks, crags and hills. There is no way to pinpoint any one reason.

One thing I know for sure is that what John Muir said about climbing the mountains to get their good tidings is absolutely true. There are plenty of good tidings to be received in the mountains, and those tidings should be shared with someone special. It’s just that many of us women who fancy ourselves as climbers aren’t viewed as date-worthy or marriage-worthy material. While we may in fact be considered crush-worthy, there’s just something about us that keeps potential suitors at bay. We find ourselves caught in this weird conundrum where we are viewed as both too much and not enough.

In this sense, we are too much because we can go out into the wilderness for days and take care of our needs for survival. We can be totally okay whether we’re alone on the trail or with others. We’re too much because you can always find us standing on top of another high peak looking large and in charge, having conquered the greatest mountain of all: ourselves. We’re too much because we can fall multiple times, scrape our knees, get a black eye (which happened to me once), get back up, dust ourselves off and keep trekking. In the sense of being not enough, we’re not enough in that we aren’t needy enough or vulnerable enough. We’re not pretty enough or tall enough or skinny enough. We’re basically just not good enough.

Two years ago, I went on a backpacking trip with a group of men. I had only met two of those men in previous encounters but I still didn’t know them very well. I wanted to do this trip because I knew it would be a great adventure on a very scenic portion of the John Muir Trail and it would challenge me to bring my hiking to a higher level. I had never backpacked before this trip, so I did all that I could to research ahead of time, yet I also went prepared to learn some things by trial and error as I went along with it. I knew it wouldn’t be a cake walk, but I was up for the challenge.

Things didn’t go perfectly as there were some hiccups along the way. There were also places where I had to really pray and seek direction to discern which way to go. On the first day of the trek, I fell way behind from the group and ended up hiking solo. I thought I would eventually catch up to them at the first camping spot before sunset, but became very concerned as I noticed it getting darker and there was no sign of any of the guys. Just as I began to panic, I saw one of them hiking down the trail toward me. He said he was getting tired and had to slow down, so he turned around to check on me. This was one of the guys I had never met before the trip. I encouraged him to have a snack and rest for a bit.

It was getting dark fast and we knew we’d have to make a decision soon. We never caught up to the rest of the guys that evening, so we decided to stop and set up camp just off the trail. On the other side of the trail was a small open space with the remnants of a fire pit and the creek flowed nearby so we had access to water. Together, we set up our tents and later built a campfire for warmth while preparing dinner in his Jet Boil. I brought my own but left it at the trailhead in my car to save weight as my pack already weighed 40 pounds. I cringe to think of what would have happened had no one come back for me.

Many of my friends have had similar experiences on the trails and find themselves in the same boat, feeling like they are too much and yet not enough. Whatever that invisible wall is that’s causing so many of us to not connect needs to come down. Yes, we love the outdoors. Yes, we are adventurers who believe we can succeed at whatever we set our minds to. Yes, we love climbing big mountains. Yes, we can trek along in the wilderness for five days or more carrying our homes on our backs. Yes, we are pretty darn fierce.

Yet, we’re the ones who know how to live happily with plenty and with little. We delight in the simple things in life. You don’t have to go out and buy us a $50 bouquet. A wildflower that you picked out of the ground means just as much, if not more. We love just as fiercely as we pursue the trails we venture onto. We never give up on our mountains. We will never give up on you.

It’s okay to date a girl who climbs mountains.

~J

Hiking the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge

The Goat Canyon Trestle bridge, located in Carrizo Gorge near Jacumba, CA is the largest curved wooden trestle bridge in the world. We started our hike at the trailhead off the dirt road next to the De Anza Springs (clothing optional) resort. The hike was on a relatively flat trail that followed a railroad track all the way to the bridge. A few people in our group rode their bikes while the rest of us hiked. This was a 16-mile out and back trail in a remote location and it is not recommended to hike or bike alone. Round up a few friends, go out there and have a fabulous time on this epic adventure!

In the Midst of the Storm

About to board the tram for Mountain Station

About to board the tram for Mountain Station

It’s the holiday season and work has slowed down for many of us, so what is the best thing for outdoorsy people to do? Go out and take a hike, of course! Rain or shine! It just happened to be stormy Tuesday morning, so my friend Kim and I headed to Palm Springs for a scenic ride up the Aerial Tram and a short 1 1/2-mile hike on the Desert View Trail. I had always been curious about that trail, but never had time to do it since each time I’d been up there was to hike to San Jacinto Peak. We didn’t even consider aiming for the peak in the storm, but felt it was pretty safe to hike around Mountain Station at 8,516ft.

View from the tram

View from the tram

The ride from Valley Station up to Mountain Station wasn’t very scenic as visibility was limited due to the weather. When we arrived at the top, we took a few moments to get our bearings. I had never been to the tramway during the Christmas season, so it was really neat to see all the decorations.

Christmas decorations at Mountain Station

Christmas decorations at Mountain Station

After we had seen everything, we looked outside and contemplated when to go out. We didn’t ponder IF we should go out; we already knew what we were getting ourselves into and were prepared. We wanted to see snow and possibly experience getting snowed on. It was cold, rainy and windy outside. The very sign on the door warning that the door had been secured due to high winds caused us to shudder. We bundled up and braved the elements, along with several familes with small children.

Wind advisory

Wind advisory

I knew this would be a great opportunity to test out my new Ossipee Women’s Midweight Crew base layer from Minus 33, which I wore underneath my synthetic down jacket. The merino wool base layer did well on a previous hike a few weeks ago, but I started to get a little toasty with warmer temperatures. This time, it was cold, rainy and windy, so the base layer was perfect for the conditions. I stayed warm and dry, despite the blustery weather.

Once we entered the Desert View Trail and hiked away from Mountain Station, we had the trail to ourselves. There wasn’t a soul around. The trail makes a short loop with five notches that allows for incredible views of the Coachella Valley below. However, we had no visibility because we were socked in by the clouds. Still, it was pretty rewarding to hike up to each individual notch.

Beginning of the Desert View Trail

Beginning of the Desert View Trail

At Notch 1

At Notch 1

We definitely saw snow on the ground as we had hoped, but it wasn’t the type of snow we expected or wanted to see. This snow was hard, packed and slippery in spots, so we had to be very careful. Kim put on her microspikes, but even though I brought mine, I didn’t use them. My backpacking boots have pretty good traction, even in icy conditions, but I still had to be careful.

My legs usually don’t freeze, but I’m sure they would have had I not worn a pair of midweight bottoms under my thin hiking pants. The Franconia Women’s Midweight Bottoms kept my legs nice and toasty, even with the high winds and chill factor. The fabric was very comfortable and the fit non-restrictive. Most of the time, I forgot I was wearing the bottoms under my pants.

The view from Notch 5

The view from Notch 5

After visiting Notch 5, we continued on the loop and crossed the wooden bridge that took us to the Discovery Trail, a short 3/4-mile loop that passes the Adventure Center, which was closed at the time. I love bridges, so crossing it brought out the kid in me. We saw a snowman on the way back and I noticed that Frosty was missing an arm, so I performed a brief surgery and replaced his limb with a nearby stick. He was all better after that.

"Frosty" before his limb replacement

“Frosty” before his limb replacement

I took a few more pictures and then we made our way up the long, winding paved path back to Mountain Station where I warmed up with a rather spicy cup of chili. It was much more crowded than before and we almost couldn’t find a place to sit. We lucked out and secured a spot near the entrance.

Mountain Station Chilli

Mountain Station Chili

Overall, we were very happy that we went on the journey into the storm. I couldn’t help but wonder why we did it. Why did we leave the safe, cozy comfort of our homes to deliberately go out into the elements where there was potential danger and unpleasant conditions? Why do we adventurers do what we do?

Those are questions I can’t answer right now. But my tales are still being written. I suppose someday it will come to me on one of my treks in those conditions. For now, I’m happy with not knowing.

At V.W. Grubb's Viewpoint

Time in the Nature

Smith Mountain

Smith Mountain

This hike reminded me of the hike to Telescope Peak in Death Valley, minus the barren desert views. Our intent was to hike up to Smith Mountain and then descend down to Bear Creek, which was about a 12-mile adventure. I arrived a tad late since I couldn’t find the trailhead, but the ladies waited and told the two gentlemen (Don Viejo and David) to go ahead. They were the only two from our small group that hiked up to Smith Mountain. We waited for them at the saddle. When I saw the half-mile stretch to the summit up close, I was glad I decided to wait. The trail was steep like Mt. Baldy’s Register Ridge and involved some bouldering, which I wasn’t feeling up to.

Signs at the trailhead.

Signs at the trailhead.

Once again, we were blessed with Don Viejo’s presence on this hike. The 88-year-old energizer climbed up Smith Mountain and descended like a champ. He amazes me on every outing and I’m in total awe of his stamina and endurance. He puts 30-something-year-olds like me to shame. But seriously, there is no shame in our group. We hike as a team and the stronger ones are always willing to support the ones who are either in development or recovery.

Don Viejo

Don Viejo

The hike beyond the saddle to Bear Creek took us downhill for about a 2000ft elevation loss over four miles on an unmaintained trail. A chainsaw or machete would have come in handy because we were bushwhacking and climbing over fallen trees. It was quite a challenge. Sections of the trail were also washed out and became very narrow on steep ledges with loose scree. At times, I wondered if the mountainside would crumble right beneath my feet and send me tumbling to my death. Thankfully, no one was hurt during this adventure.

Crossing a barely flowing stream

Crossing a barely flowing stream

A harrowing section of washed out trail

A harrowing section of washed out trail

I made it to within about a half-mile of the creek when I decided to turn around and head back uphill. I knew the climb back up to the saddle was going to slow me down and we’d be running out of daylight soon. I also noticed clouds gathering and threatening of an impending storm. It was a good thing I turned back when I did because I was very slow going back uphill and the rain started just as I got into my car.

A storm coming in

A storm coming in

Smith mountain as the sun was setting and storm coming

Smith mountain as the sun was setting before the rain

Even though I didn’t make it to either of the two planned destinations along this trek, I still had a very fun day with friends enjoying our natural surroundings. During the quiet moments where I hiked alone, I spent some time in prayer and gained a new perspective on some things that were causing me a lot of worry and anxiety and now I have more peace and assurance that all is well. Time in nature is always time well spent.

Hike on!

Back to Blazin’…Well, not Exactly

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Bottom of the Chair Lifts

I hadn’t been to the Mt. Baldy area for at least a few months as I was leading a series of hikes in the Sierra over the summer. While in recovery from my calf injury that occurred in late August, it’s been slow going, but I’m gradually assimilating into the outdoors again and this was the perfect opportunity to test myself at high altitude.

We took the ski lift up to the Notch, which is at 7,800 ft above sea level. As soon as I got out of the car at the bottom of the chair lift, I felt the altitude. I moved slowly, giving myself a chance to acclimate.

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On the Chair Lift Going Up

When we reached the top of the Notch, I had to take a minute to pause and take it all in, the pine trees, the surrounding peaks, the cool, thin air that gently caressed my face. Tears welled up in my eyes because I was so grateful to set foot on the mountain again. I was home.

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The Notch Burger

We ate a rather undeserved lunch at the Notch restaurant. I called it undeserved because usuallly when we enjoy a meal there, it’s after finishing the grueling Mt. Baldy hike. After burning 3,000-plus calories, it’s justifiable to indulge in a high carb meal and perhaps enjoy a beer afterwards.

This time, we did things in reverse and hiked AFTER we ate. We started up one of the gentler ski runs and made our way toward the Devil’s Backbone Trail. We didn’t have much time because I had a party to attend in the evening, but I just wanted to see how far we could get with the time we had. I was also wearing sneakers instead of hiking boots, so I didn’t plan to go far. Hiking on a steep, rocky trail in sneakers is a no-no for me.

SONY DSCI could feel the altitude with each step, but I paced myself and walked slowly uphill. It took a little getting used to, but I felt like I was being welcomed back to the wilderness. I came across multiple random hearts on the trail and took the time to cherish every one of them.

I hope you enjoy the pics!

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No Boots? No Problem!

A few weeks ago, I was on my way north toward the Sierra for the fifth time this summer. I’ve organized what I’m calling the Summer Sierra Series, which is a series of some of my favorite hikes in the Sierra geared toward people who can cover a great deal of distance and elevation, but not necessarily speed.

Group shot at Agnew Meadows

Group shot at Agnew Meadows

I had gotten so used to being left behind on hikes with groups and always the last one to finish that I had decided to hike on my own for a while. I spent the last two years making adventure trips to the Sierra, sometimes on my own, sometimes with company, but I had come to love hiking and camping solo.

Earlier this year, I was promoted to assistant organizer of a hiking and adventure group. I decided to organize hikes tailored to suit people like me. People who can do big hikes, but need extra time to accomplish the task. I led my first hike in early March in the San Gabriel Mountains and then came up with the idea for the Summer Sierra Series.

Thousand Island Lake

Thousand Island Lake

We started our hikes in Mammoth, California with a day hike to Thousand Island Lake. From there, we moved further south along the Highway 395 to the next hikes in the series. It was on my way to the fourth hike, the Big Pine Lakes, that I had to utilize a little improvisation. I didn’t leave LA until around 8pm that Friday night because I had just started my new job at one of the studios in Burbank and didn’t leave work until 6pm that evening. I had to go home first and pick up a few things, put gas in the car and then I was able to begin the 3-1/2 hour drive to Lone Pine where I was staying.

About an hour out of LA and as I was approaching Palmdale, the last stretch of civilization before heading into the Mojave Desert, I realized I had forgotten to pack a very important accessory, my socks. I was going to have to make a stop in Palmdale and pick up a pair as there was no way I could hike 15 miles in those boots without socks.

Boots? I couldn’t remember grabbing my boots and then it dawned on me that I also left the boots behind, along with my trekking poles. I was so concerned with making sure I had all my camera equipment packed (because that’s more important to me, obviously) that I completely forgot the rest of my gear. I couldn’t believe my absent-mindedness.

While the trekking poles were optional, there was absolutely no way I could hike without boots. The only other pair of shoes I brought were the flip flops I wore at the moment. I had already driven too far from LA to turn around, go home and get the boots, socks and poles. If I had gone back home, I would have stayed there and would have only been able to sleep a few hours before getting up to hit the road at like 3am to get to the trailhead on time. That was not going to happen. It was 9pm, and I knew the outdoor sporting goods stores were all closed at that hour.

I first considered Target, and then remembered I had seen hiking boots in Wal Mart a while back when I was shopping in the store. I knew there had to be a Wal Mart in Palmdale, so I plugged it into the GPS on my phone and it led me to the nearest one, only a few minutes away. I used to love shopping in Wal Mart years ago, but now the experience just frustrates me. It’s usually too crowded and you can never just go in there, find what you need and leave. The times when you’re in the biggest hurry is when you end up in the longest line. Shopping at Wal Mart is just not the adventure it once was for me.

The boots were fairly easy to find in the store, but they were only available in men’s. I knew I couldn’t walk out of that store without a pair of boots. I tried on a couple of pairs (without socks on) and landed on the Ozark Trail Men’s Bump Toe Hiking Boot. I wasn’t familiar with the brand as I do my boot shopping at REI and Adventure 16 and normally go for the higher quality boots like Vasque, Lowa and Scarpa. I also usually read and compare reviews on boots, but reviews didn’t matter at this point. They could have all had terrible reviews, but I still had to leave that store with a pair of boots.

The Ozark Trail Men’s Bump Toe Hiking Boot was pretty comfortable for a cheap pair of boots (I paid $24 for them) so they are the ones I purchased, plus the random thick pair of socks I bought along with them. I knew I was breaking one of the cardinal rules of hiking by breaking in a brand new pair of boots on a 15-mile hike, but I really had no other choice, so I crossed my fingers and just did it.

Ozark Trail Men's Bump Toe Hiking Boots on my feet

Ozark Trail Men’s Bump Toe Hiking Boots on my feet

The boots faired very well, actually. I could definitely feel the jagged rocks beneath the soles as these were not the Vibram soles I’m accustomed to. However, for a cheap pair of boots, they were pretty comfy. I barely noticed the one little hot spot on my big toe while trekking past the beautiful turquoise colored Lakes 1-3, but by the time we reached Lake 5 and took a swim, I decided to take my friend up on her offer for some moleskin, just to be on the safe side. We still had about 7 miles to go and I didn’t want to have any issues. At the end of the day, my feet were in good shape and did fine.

I wanted to share this story not so much as a product review, but as a way to encourage people out there who may be interested in hiking, but using lack of funds for a decent pair of hiking boots as an excuse to not get out there. You don’t have to go to the stores that carry expensive name brands and spend a small fortune on your first pair of hiking boots. A cheap pair will serve you well, initially. My first pair of hiking boots was a cheap pair that I bought from Sports Authority. They were only a few dollars more than I paid for the Ozark Trail boots from Wal Mart.

So if you’re one of those people using this as an excuse to not hike, go down to the local Wal Mart or your discount store of choice and get yourself a pair of boots. The longer you put it off, the more you’ll be missing out on some of the most spectacular adventures like the ones in the pictures below.

Hike on!

Hiking the North Fork of Big Pine Creek

Hiking the North Fork of Big Pine Creek

At First Lake

First Lake

Temple Crag

Temple Crag

Fifth Lake

Fifth Lake

Overlooking Fourth Lake

Overlooking Fourth Lake