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

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.

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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.

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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!  🙂