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!


Trip Report: California’s Mt. Whitney

It was Friday and the end of a busy week when I decided I needed some Sierra therapy. On a whim, I went home after work and packed my stuff to head up the 395 North. Without campsite reservations, I was taking a chance, but I figured that the worst that could happen would be that I’d end up forking over some money for a last minute hotel or sleeping in my car at a campground or trailhead.

I drove to one of my favorite campgrounds in the Sierra, the Cottonwood Lakes Campground at Horseshoe Meadow, and lucked into a walk-in campsite.

The next morning, I woke up, unzipped the door of my tent and immediately recognized two of my friends sitting at a table enjoying breakfast. They were just as surprised to see me as I was them. They were hiking Mt. Whitney the next day and invited me to join them since they had an extra permit.

Why not?

We relocated to Whitney Portal Campground from Horseshoe Meadow (it was more convenient to start closer to the trailhead), and I went to bed before dark. But I didn’t get much sleep because of all the noise and rambunctious kids running around.

At 1:30 the next morning, my boots and me hit the trail. It was a later start than I wanted. I usually prefer to start this trek at midnight to give myself ample time to complete it at a decent hour. The first time I conquered Whitney, it took me 22 hours to do the whole hike. The hike is 22 miles round trip with over 6,000 feet of elevation gain and I try to maintain a steady pace of at least one mile per hour. I knew I was going to be pushing it by getting started so late.

I originally wrote this article for the Oboz Footwear Trail Tales Ambassador blog. Read the conclusion of this serendipitous story here: http://obozfootwear.com/trail-tales/trip-report-californias-mt-whitney

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.


Mid-Week Wanderlust: Corral Canyon and Jim Morrison’s Cave

We had seen the incredible rock formations along the Backbone Trail during last year’s 67-mile section series. This time, we made it a point to go and explore Corral Canyon in Malibu and take a side trip to the Jim Morrison cave. We had the perfect weather; it was neither too hot or cold. Of course, you don’t want to be on those rocks on a hot day as the heat reflects off the rocks and makes it miserable. We had a small group and that made it easy for us to stay together and take time to help each other up and down the rocks. There were some additional rock formations we spotted from afar that we will go and explore on a future adventure.

Sensational Santa Barbara Series: Gaviota Wind Caves

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

Sensational Santa Barbara Series ~ Gaviota Peak and Hot Springs

We’re teaming up with the Calabasas Day Hikers to do a new series of hikes in the Santa Barbara coastal range. In this first hike of the series, we took the longer, scenic route to Gaviota Peak and Gaviota Hot Springs. Our hike leader, Paul Taylor, led us up to two lookout points which provided incredible sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

After that, we took a steep, rocky trail up past a cool cave and then on to Gaviota Peak where we enjoyed a lunch and some more views. Our last stop of the day was Gaviota Hot Springs where we soaked our tired feet. It was an excellent way to cap off a spectacular day of adventure. Can’t wait for the next hike in the series coming up in two weeks!

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!

Cats, Coffee and Potato Chip

I had only been to San Diego maybe a couple of times and wasn’t aware of anything more exciting to warrant a visit than the zoo. The drive down there from LA can be horrendous and take hours, especially on a holiday weekend. So why did my friend Jodi and I decide to make the trip on MLK Day other than the fact we were bored with nothing else to do?

Well, we are both hikers and Jodi likes to push the envelope a bit further with her mountain bike. I had heard of this impressive geologic feature, a rock outcropping called Potato Chip Rock and decided it was something I just had to see. Some friends of mine had been there a while back and I had seen various Internet photos of people standing, sitting, doing wild poses on this seemingly potato chip-thin rock.

Sign in the Cat Cafe

In addition to Potato Chip Rock, I had heard about a place called The Cat Cafe, which I discovered via an article shared on the Crazy Cat Ladies Unite Facebook page. I figured Jodi and I could go to The Cat Cafe first since it was downtown and then head back toward Poway afterwards and do the hike. Since the hike was only ~7 miles round trip, it seemed like an easy enough day.

Cats' PlayroomWe left Laguna Hills early and arrived in San Diego around 9am, parked on the street and walked into the welcoming doors of The Cat Cafe. Now, in case you’re wondering, The Cat Cafe does not serve cats up for breakfast, lunch or dinner. What they do serve is a nice cup of joe that you order on one side of the quaint establishment and a separate playroom for the cats lined with tables and chairs for you to sip your espresso while enjoying quality time with new furry friends.

Cat on a ShelfAt the time of our visit, there were 13 cats and all were available for adoption for a mere $25. We stayed for about an hour and I really got to know Barry, a black and white tuxedo cat who came and chilled on my lap for a while. Jodi also met a new friend whose name escapes me. The cat that stole the show was a Calico kitten named Frida who was literally bouncing off the walls running over everything as a little boy toyed with her. She was so cute and entertaining. We could have watcher her all day.

We left The Cat Cafe around 10am and arrived at Lake Poway around 10:30. The sign on the gate warned that the gate would be closed at 5:00, so we knew we couldn’t waste any time. Neither of us had done the hike before, but the trail descriptions we read online said the hike was 6-7 miles round trip with a 2,000ft gain. The average completion time was listed as 3-5 hours. We made our way to the Mt. Woodson Trailhead and started our adventure.

Gradual AscentThe trail begins a gradual ascent that takes you on a parallel incline providing expansive views of Lake Poway below. As we started out, it was pretty hazy with the marine layer, so we didn’t get the full lake effect until later in the afternoon on the way out. The marine layer served us well in keeping the temperature down because the trail is exposed pretty much the entire way.

Steep, Rocky SectionI had heard that the trail could get very crowded and didn’t know why I thought a holiday weekend would be less crowded. There were droves and droves of people of all ages, shapes and sizes enjoying this trail. Some only wore sneakers and carried a bottle of water. I figured that they had to be locals who most likely use the hike for conditioning purposes or just a regular workout. Jodi and I carried our backpacks and were in full hiking mode as if we were climbing Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio).

End of City Maintained TrailSpeaking of Mt. Baldy, this hike felt a bit like a mini-Baldy in that it got pretty steep and rocky at times. The trail climbs up a well-graded path initially, but then you reach a point where the trail is no longer maintained as advertised by a trail sign. Then you ascend through a boulder field where you really have to watch you footing. Trekking poles would have been useful, but I left mine in the car.

Sitting in a TreeWhen we got to within about 1.5 miles of Potato Chip Rock, we reached a tree where people were sitting on a rock slab enjoying a snack, the views and the sun that was burning its way through the marine layer. We had a snack and took a few pictures, then were on our way again.

It wasn’t long before we could see the radio towers that mark Mt. Woodson’s summit, and then just below that, a colorful line of people was visible, which drew my attention to the rock outcropping known as Potato Chip Rock. When we reached the end of the line, we knew we’d be there for a while as we watched various people get upon the rock and pose for various shots that someone in line took.

Mt. Woodson Summit


We patiently awaited our turn, and after about 45 minutes, were able to stand proudly atop Potato Chip Rock for our own personal two minutes of fame. Jodi got on first and I snapped a few pictures of her and then we switched and she did the same for me. I wasn’t bold enough to jump for a pic in mid-air like Jodi did, but I did sit on the edge swinging my legs.

Jumping Jodi

Sitting Pretty

On the hike back to the parking lot, we saw the lake in all its splendor with the glow of the sunset adding a nice effect on the still water. We finished the hike in time to take the short stroll down to the lake for some pictures and still made it out of the gate well before closing time. Another adventure is checked off our list.

Lake Poway at Sunset

Hike on!

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!