Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Millard Canyon and Eaton Canyon Waterfalls, above Altadena, CA, March 2021

Skipped over a number of hikes, and now I've done several hikes after this one, too. That's sort of good news for me, since it means I'm getting in a lot more hiking than in recent years.
This is two separate hikes. The first, from mid-March, was up to Millard Canyon falls. This one can be pretty, and even a thundering roar, after heavy rains. This year has been drought conditions in southern California, so, although this is as heavy as I've seen it, recently, that's mainly due to it being dry or nearly dry the past few times I was up here.

This makes the falls "nice," rather than "impressive." But "nice" is nice. :D

The parking area down at Millard Campground is still only open on weekdays, though you'd still be obligated to display your Adventure Pass or federal recreation pass from your rearview mirror.
I also hiked up to the Sunset Ridge trail, and wandered over to an overview of the falls. Falls were not impressive, at least not with my cell phone. I've found on recent hikes I just carry my cell phone, rather than my DSLR. I have two of them, but my smaller, "crop sensor" one is acting up, and my full-frame one is heavy. I'm deliberating if I will try to repair or replace my crop sensor one (a Nikone D3400). It's about half the weight of a full-frame dslr, and that's enough to matter when I'm packing a day pack.

Passed a relatively large number of hikers (for such a short hike), but all wore masks.

I also hiked Rubio Canyon between these two hikes, but no pictures are included, and I won't separately blog it. Even the lower falls were dry, which did not surprise me, given the year's lack of rainfall.
For Eaton Canyon, I hiked in via the Altadena Crest Trail, same as last time. Apparently, I've been doing this for some time, but, this year, it's been a necessity. The Pinecrest gate is still locked, access via the Nature Center is limited, and temporary fencing prevents walk-in access between the Nature Center and Pinecrest. I suppose you could probably walk in from further down the canyon, but I haven't checked this. Figured the Tanoble access was better, anyway, since it's an official trail, and they can hardly get mad at you for walking on an official trail, right?
Passed a couple of people on the Altadena Crest Trail, and only three or so inside Eaton Canyon. About half wore masks. The young couple in the canyon was not wearing masks, but they were far from the trail.

Eaton Canyon was flowing nicely, though, again, as expected, somewhat low for the end of March.

Spoiler for a later post, by the way: This week, I took the Altadena Crest Trail, then headed up to Henniger. Signage along the Toll Road indicates the route is open, although the visitor center and bathrooms are closed (which, let's face it, was often the case, even before COVID).

I like the Tanoble option for Eaton Canyon. It makes it a little longer, and with more climbing than even if you come from the Nature Center. Much better workout, and, at least for now, the only way to visit Eaton Canyon after 5pm. Not sure when they'll lift the COVID restrictions.

Other "coming attraction" blogs include another Trip to Valley of Fire, in NV, and a truck trail hike near Morton Peak, in the San Bernardino National Forest. I also hiked around Schabarum Park, on Cesar Chavez Day.

Oh, yes, and last night, I hiked from Eaton Saddle to Mt. Lowe and San Gabriel Peak. Yeah, it's been a pretty good last month or so of hiking.

I also hiked the McCullough Hills/Trail 601 trail at least once that I haven't blogged, yet. Hopefully, that's all.

The other thing I just started doing was contemplating some short summer trips, like long weekends and what not. A while ago, the Joshua Tree National Park ranger who's newly in charge of the Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival set the Saturday of Labor Day as the tentative date for 2021, if COVID restrictions were lifted. I'm starting to feel pretty confident that this will happen. So I also started idly checking vacancies at some of my favorite national parks. Looks like Apri and May are pretty much booked, which is how I started thinking about summer. June and July, I started seeing availability in Grand Canyon, Zion, and Cedar Breaks. Not sure if I'll try to one or more of those this summer, but it's a definite possibility. Don't want to wait to long and have all availability disappear.

At any rate, that's just me thinking out loud, and maybe reminding you to start thinking making reservations, if you're planning on traveling this summer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Melcanyon to Mt. Bliss, Above Duarte, Angeles National Forest, CA

Hiked Sunday, March 21. First day of spring! Also, a week after DST, so I've got good afternoon time for hiking. Late start. According to the timestamp on my photos, I didn't get started until about 3:30pm. But I managed over 11 miles for the day. Mt. Bliss would have even gotten me back by sunset, except for a wrong turn I took.
In terms of timing, this hike was sort of like my first time up there, in the sense that I came down in the dark. Amazingly, that was over ten years ago, during my first 100 hike year. At least my third time to the top of Mt. Bliss, however.

As is usually the case this year, I was looking for a hike where I would likely be able to maintain some separation between me and any large group of unmasked hikers, and this one did not disappoint. I only saw four other hikers over the course of 4 1/2 hours. Also, the trail is nearly entirely Van Tassel Motorway, wide enough for a firetruck.

This trail starts on the mountain-side of the corner of Opal Canyon Road and Brookridge Road, not far from the corner of Melcanyon Road and Brookridge Road. Foothill Transit bus 861 stops at this corner, in case you want to try a public transit hike, at some point. It's basically a scheduled neighborhood shuttle, but it does link to the Gold Line (City of Hope Station), as well as the "Murder Bus" (Foothill 187), among other routes.
Uphill from this corner, Opal Canyon is bsically a driveway, up past a house and to a gated water tank. If you climbed that fence, you'd be trespassing. However, if you walk around the fence, you've fine. On the other side of the little fenced off area, you'll discover a surprisingly well-defined trail, quickly heading up the hill. After maybe a 1/2 mile of weaving up the hill, the trail intersects with Van Tassel Motorway, the aforementioned dirt road used by SCE and CalFire, among others. The area burned in the 2016 Fish Fire. The more recent Bobcat Fire burned som of the upper reaches of this hike, as well.
Van Tassel Motorway starts down off of Encanto Parkway, but there's a horse property or horse leasee where the road starts, and I'm never sure where I'm allowed to park around there, so I've always started my hikes from the neighborhood. However, on the return of my first hike, I did return the other way, because I couldn't find my trail off the Motorway in the dark.

The Motorway is pretty steep and you gain altitude quickly. Some flowers are not uncommon in spring, even along the lower reaches. But it's been a pretty dry winte and spring, so not many flowers, this year.

When Van Tassel Motorway starts decending, that's where you veer off, on a spur road, to the right. That takes you up to a ridge, which you follow, to Mt. Bliss's summit.

It's not a very prominent summit, but you get a pretty good view, all around. Straight shot over the Mt. San Antonio, for example.

The last time I was up here, the summit was covered in tall grasses. This time, it was pretty barren, from that Bobcat Fire.
Somewhat hazy day, so the views were not as long as typical. I could only see as far as the Santa Ana Mountains, for example. No sign of San Jacinto or San Gorgonio. And, because of the setting sun, not very good clarity to the west, either.
When I headed down, I made the mistake of taking the "first" trail I saw, which headed down. After probably a mile and half, however, this road just ended. So I had a pretty long and steep climb, almost all the way back to Mt. Bliss, before being able to head down the proper road. It's funny, but somewhat typical of me that I'll try to hike by memory, and not always recollect correctly. But I did manage to find the trailhead, at least!
Because of my detour, it was pretty dark before I got to my car. Fortunately, there was the first quarter moon to help light my way. That's in addition to the bright city lights, of course. So as long as my trail was on the city-side of the hill, I actually needed to use my hand to shade myself from the city lights, or the glare was annoying.
Got back to my car about 8:30pm. Wow, almost five hours of hiking! According to my AllTrails recording (which had a hiccup along the way), I walked at least 11 miles, and had almost 4,000 of elevation gain (gross, not net). My fitbit for the day gave me credit for over 34,000 steps and over 450 floors (for the day, not just for the hike). It felt really good to go on my first afternoon/evening hike of the season.
I have several more hikes to blog. I'm afraid I've fallen behind, again, despite my limited hiking opportunities. Hope to get them up, soon.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Northshore Peak, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV

Hiked Friday, March 5. I have a Valley of Fire hike from a few weeks before this but still need to go over pictures. This post contains only my phone camera shots, plus a panorama that google automagically stiched together for me.

This was a late afternoon hike, after I drove up from the LA area. The title may seem odd, because I've previously posted for Northshore Summit. This is different. But if you look at the third to the last photo on this post, you'll see where I went.

You can park in the same lot but rather than going up the obvious trail past the vault toilet, you go back down, cross Northshore Drive, and head towards the left (east) end of the impressive Northshore Peak. You achieve the ridge, then head along or behind the ridge, working your way west. Mostly a walk up, until the last few peaks.

I'm pretty sure I got to the peak right of the notch (not the rightmost peak). Hard to tell, as I turned around before heading up that short, steep bit, as I was running out of daylight.

All of the pictures except the last were taken from the ridgeline. The panorama at top is looking east and northeast, towards Lake Mead. The second is from the second-to-last saddle I got to, shooting north. The top left of that photo is looking towards the east section of Bowl of Fire, which I also recent hiked. The ridge you walk along to for Northshore Summit is at the right. The next shot is looking more or less southeast, I think. Lake Mead is that way, too.
The next shot is looking a bit further east than the previous shots. The parking area for Northshore Summit is about 60 percent of the way from left to right, at the center, vertically. On the original (on my computer), I can zoom in and see the parking lot, then see the trail, heading atop the low ridge, into the shadow of the higher ridge, then along that higher ridge, to the summit, and beyond. From this angle I can see what AllTrails probably meant me to take to get to Bowl of Fire, although I can also see the ridgeline I took instead.
The last shot gives you an idea of how dark it was before I got back. Means I definitely turned around at the right time, because I made it off the steep section with light to spare, but then had to walk the last 3/4 of a mile or so in late twilight. Couldn't see very well, but the lower section is sort of cross-country, anyway, and there are no dropoffs or even significant rocks to trip over. Just need to avoid the creosote bushes.

Set the ISO to 6400, opened my zoom up to f/4, 24mm, for 1/2 second. Tilted the camera back, with one edge resting on the car roof, and tried to hold still. Orion is visible pretty easily, which I guess is all I figured I could get, under the circumstances.

Only about 2.5 miles for the day, with about 900 feet of elevation gain. Short, but somewhat slow going, as there was a fair amount of picking and choosing and backtracking, trying to find the easier route up and down the ridge. Pretty spectacular views from the top, though. I'll likely return when I have a bit more daylight, to reach the official summit.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

East Section of Bowl of Fire, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, January 23. Having explored sections of the Bowl of Fire on my two previous hikes, today was supposed to be a longer hike, approaching from the Northshore Summit trail.

I had hiked the short Northshore Summit trail several times before. Most recently was last October, but I have been up there at least twice, previously. Can't find my older posts, though, so maybe I never blogged it? Odd.

Northshore Summit trailhead is one of the few formal hiking trailheads indicated on the Lake Mead hiking handouts. A link to the recreation area's designated hiking areas is here..

The "official" (NPS) hike from this trailhead is a short one, just to the top of a bluff that's north of Northshore Drive. Great view from there, though. However, even on my first hike there, I noted a trail crossing the desert, far below. Figured that one day I would investigate that, though I had no idea what I might see.

Turns out the "what I would see" was a lot more spectacular than I would have imagined.

From the top of the bluff, the trail continues another 1/4 mile or so, running along the edge of a steep dropoff. Portions of Bowl of Fire are visible to the north and northwest. Relatively flat alluvial plains stretch to the north and northeast, with that plain crisscrossed by flood gullies and washes of varying widths.

The ridge itself descends just a bit as it curves to the northeast. From that northeast end, a well-defined use trail made its way, yes, somewhat steeply in parts, but not dangerously steep, nor dangerously exposed, down into the alluvial plain, below. I followed the trail that way.

Note, by contrast, my AllTrails app indicates a turn left to stay on the "trail" some distance before that. I did not see a more apparent trail before "mine," however, so I don't know if the indicated trail has since been eroded away, or if the "trail" is just a sort of "suggested direction" thing that was drawn from above, but not actually walked. If the trail is still in use, it must require a pretty steep drop to get to.

After a relatively brief section of steepness, my trail eased its way along the edge of a small wash, before eventually dropping down into the bottom of that ravine. There was a small pile and line of rocks at the intersection, so, on the return trip, the point to leave the wash was easy to see.

After a spell, this wash ran into another, wider wash, and another small duck of rocks. I made a left, there.

More weaving within the wash, until a wide wash inflow came in from the right. A stack of rocks there indicated another turn, so I headed up this other wash leg. Stayed in this broad wash for nearly a mile, until I saw a narrow canyon, heading in from the left. I saw a marker some distance up this side canyon, so I thought this might be the way to go. In retrospect, looking at my completed AllTrails recording, I "should" have stayed in the main channel. Nonetheless, both paths would eventually lead to where I was heading.

The marker in this side canyon told me I was crossing over into a Wilderness Area. So, apparently, the main wash (also a jeep trail) runs along the Wilderness boundary.

My side canyon "ended" at a dry falls. It would have taken some skill to scale the actual drop. But, just a few yards before the falls, ways out of the canyon were easy to manage. As always, I attempted to stay on either sand or hard rock as I climbed out and about. Didn't want to damage any cryptobiotic soil, nor the plants, strugging to grow in small patches of soil among the sandstone.

It's a wonderland of rocks here, similar to what I saw on my hike to the middle-western section Bowl of Fire. As the previous day, then, my horizontal progress slowed to a stop, as I explored the eroded sandstone around me. Lots of zigzagging, again, trying to minimize my impact on the land before me, but also to position myself for lots of picture-taking.
After an hour or so, while covering only about 1/2 mile of horizontal distance (lots of picture taking), I was starting to feel a little tired, too tired to keep looking for low-impact routes onward. Also, a fair distance to return awaited, and I knew it would end with a pretty substantial climb out of the washes and up to Northshore Summit. Didn't want to be too tired heading backout, as that would increase my chances of slipping.

So I retraced my steps, seeing familar waypoints along the way, and adding them to my AllTrails recording.

Incidentally, this time, I not only brought an external "spare" battery to recharge my phone, but I also brought a cord to plug it in! This let me record on AllTrails for the entire trip. On several previous trips, concern over draining my phone battery too quickly meant I only recorded the return leg. I will need to make a spare battery a regular part of my hiking gear.
As another aside, the second photo on this post? I thought it looked like the same sort of stone that held ancient footprints on previous trips. I have no idea if I'm seeing actual footprints here, or just some semi-regular, pecurliar erosion marks. But I took a photo, just in case.

As with all of my Blogspot posts, clicking on the photos in the posts produces a much large version of the picture to view. Much more detail to be seen, that way.

According to AllTrails, my entire hike was 7.15 miles, with an elevation gain of 846 feet. I didn't venture far beyond the start of the red sandstone start of the Bowl of Fire. Had I gone another 1/2 mile or so further west, I'd have (in theory) crossed my January 10 hike. Two miles past that would have reached my hike from the previous day.

Northshore Summit trailhead has an actual parking area, and a vault toilet. That's in contrast to the Mile 18.2 trailhead used on the previous two hikes into Bowl of Fire, which had neither.

As I think I mentioned in a previous post, I had never even heard of "Bowl of Fire" until a few weeks ago. Since then, I've been seeing lots of posts about it on the Explorers of the Mojave Desert Facebook page. Not sure if it's become more widely known, or if I just never noticed those posts before I knew where it was. Either way, some pretty dramatic scenery, and a bit off the beaten path. On this hike, I didn't see any other hikers, once I got away from the trailhead. For four hours of hiking, that's pretty amazing. So, no problem maintaining proper social distancing.

Still some pretty extensive areas of Bowl of Fire I didn't get to. May try more of a thru-hike next time, with less time photographing, just to get a sample of the rest of the area.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Middle-West Section of Bowl of Fire, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Hiked Friday, January 22. This was from the same starting point as my last hike, at the 18.2 mile point of Northshore Road. The difference was the weather was cooler, and so the hikers were practically non-existent. I also had a greater comfort level with the area, and confidence that I could wander and get back, safely, having already done so, once.

I left the Los Angeles area at a decent hour. My goal was to get to the trailhead by around 2:30pm, which would mean about three hours before darkness. I figured that would give me plenty of time to get to the actual Bowl of Fire, explore the area, then get back to my car.

I succeeded in getting to the trailhead on time. This time, I was surprised to see no other cars parked along the road at this pullout; on Sunday, there were 7-8 other cars in the area. I was in the area again the next day, by the way, and, on a Saturday, there were only 3-4 other cars. So I think just the cooler temperature versus the previous week was a good part of the smaller turnout.

The second shot in this post is looking west, along Northshore Drive. The third shot is looking north, from the east end of the small butte (or just a thin hill?), where the well-defined trail that started at the pullout ran, quite clearly.

I still haven't figured out where the "official" trail goes, from there. I think I'm supposed to head a bit west, in a small wash, before turning back north, towards the broader wash. But the red sandstone of the mid-western section of the Bowl of Fire is visible, ahead, so figuring out which general direction you want to go is easy, even when sticking to washes as paths.

I eventually came a cross a well-defined trail, again. From the wash, it rose above and to the left of a larger wash, as I approached the read rocks. When I reached that crest, I was clearly in the Bowl of Fire.

Colorful, pock-marked sandstone was everywhere. My horizontal progress slowed to a crawl, as I found rocky or sandy paths to wander up, down, and around the remarkable sandstone to be found, here. I felt like a kid in a candy store, taking in the views, framing shots, and seeing where to go, next.

There was no way I would be able to see it all. But I tried to take in what was before me. Looking up, looking left and right, then back from where I came. I couldn't get enough.

I think I took over 200 pictures on this rather short hike. The lighting wasn't great -- it was mostly overcast, and threatened rain (and actually did spritz, a little). But the views were still jaw-dropping.

So, while most of my walking on this hike was across open desert, to get from the road to the Bowl of Fire, at least half of my time, and the vast majority of my picture-taking, was in the actual Bowl. I wandered around this portion of the Bowl for probably 90 minutes. By contrast, my AllTrails recording indicated just 4.1 miles of walking for my entire hike. So, based on my typical pace, only about 30-35 minutes of actual walking in each direction to get to the bowl, and the rest of the time was shooting photos, and walking, yes, but very slowly, and only between long stretches of photography. That's a pretty high ratio of not-hiking to hiking!

Given the hundreds of shots I took, both with my dslr, and my phone, obviously I am posting only a tiny fraction of what I saw. And, the amazing thing is, this is only a small fraction of the entire Bowl of Fire. The entire Bowl is about three miles long. I doubt I covered more than 1/2 mile of horizontal distance, once I reached the Bowl.

From where I turned around, AllTrails indicactes a path about another 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile west, with two shorter spurs, up different drainages. Meanwhile, further down from where I turned around, I could have caught the "main" trail, which would have headed north, then east, along the actual "Bowl of Fire Trail." That trail is indicated as running 5.4 miles, to the Northshore Summit trail trailhead.

I have hiked from that trailhead a number of times, but always turned around at the "summit." However, the next day (Saturday, January 23), I hiked from that trailhead, and continued on down, to explore the far eastern section of the Bowl of Fire. That will probably be the subject of my next post.

Just as a preview, it was about 3.2 miles from the trailhead to the start of the sandstone, so figure about two more miles of Bowl from where I would turn around the next day to where I turned around on this day. So add that to the half-mile or so covered today, and the 3/5 or so of a mile further west, that's the previously-mentioned 3 miles or so of Bowl.

Without a four-wheel drive and high clearance, or, at least, a car shuttle, seeing it all in one day would be a long haul.

Funny thing about this Bowl of Fire: I never remember hearing about it until this year. Now, at least on the Explorers of the Mojave Facebook page, I keep seeing posts from there. Were they always there, and I just never noticed? Or are more peope visiting? My suspicion is the latter, though I can not be sure.

As for me, I do "have" the Lake Mead NRA Trail Illustrated/National Georgraphic map. That is to say that I bought it and consulted it in the past, but, as for the past few weeks, I can't figure out where I left it. I have seen "Bowl of Fire" indicated on the map. But I do not recollect any hiking trails indicated to access it. Also, it is not mentioned in the hiking handout provided by Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

As a result of the relatively low profile of this area, it is lightly-visited (though, as I mentioned earlier, apparently increasing in visibility). There are some really fragile rock fins that, had anyone walked over them, they would not exist. There is also a lot of cryptobiotic soil in the area, indicating that it has not all been trampled by off-trail walkers.

That's one of reasons why I try not to go off trail, and, if I do, I try to stay on firm rocks or sandy, non-crypotbiotic soil. Walking over vegetation or crypotbiotic soil can leave a trail that will last for years. And, as noted earlier, walking over some very fragile rocks would irrepairably change the texture of those rocks.

My lesson from these visits here is that there is usually a less damaging trail to take. When I'm too tired to seek out that alternative, I usually just wind up turning around and going back. That's definitely what happened the next day. On this day, it was not so much the tired factor as the time factor: If I didn't start heading back to the car, soon, I'd get stuck out there, in the dark. While I do have a headlamp, that's a lot more useful to stay on a trail, and less helpful if you're off the trail.

The skies also threatened rain, and I even got drizzled on, a bit. But I knew I wasn't that far from the car, and if I just started walking, I'd be back before hypothermia (or even real discomfort) set in.

The other nice thing about turning back before you need to rush is that you can still be on the lookout for photo ops. The greenish rocks and reddish sand here really caught my eye, even as I was walking back to my car.

On the drive back into town, I caught some pretty heavy rain. First, heavy rain in the distance, while I was dry. Then, heavy rain. Then, no rain, but very wet road. Then, more rain. I doubt the accumulation was much, but it's always a little exciting when it rains in the desert.

As previously noted, just 4.1 miles of hiking. Easy afternoon. And I only saw one other hiker on the trail, so successful social distancing, again!