Monday, August 30, 2010

Hike 84: Bailey Canyon Park to Mt. Wilson

Hiked Sunday, August 29. I've covered all of this ground before, but this was the first time I decided to try to go all the way to the top of Mt. Wilson and back after starting at Bailey Canyon Park. There's a fairly good chance it'll be the last time, too. :D

After getting only one hike in over the previous two weeks, I was eager for a longer hike. Since Sunday was looking to be my only chance for a few days, I sort of figured on Friday that this would be my Sunday hike. I knew the weather would be moderate, and that always helps when you're going to be hiking at lower altitudes. And, being a Sunday, I figured the Ice House Canyon trailhead that I would need to use to access Ontario Peak (the last major segment out of Icehouse Canyon that I haven't hiked yet) would be full.

Bailey Canyon is not nearly as well-known as the other access points towards Mt. Wilson, so that was my plan.

I got to the trailhead about 9:30am (already later than I wanted), laced on my boots, then. . . Uh, oh. That's weird. I noticed that the soul of my right boot was peeling off from the upper. And one of the seams of the upper looked to be pulling apart, too.

This is what I get for buying cheap boots. They're a set of Coleman waterproof boots, which I think I paid all of about $40 for back in March. They are (were?) definitely more comfortable than the $20 boots I bought in December, and provide(d) much better ankle support. Their waterproof-ness proved useful when hiking through the snow on the way to Mt. Wilson in the past, and in many stream crossings all over southern California. And, yes, I have done a lot of hiking in them in just six months. Still, I expected they would last longer.

So I drove back home and switched to my $20 boots ("Bear Paw Cascade"), and returned to Bailey Canyon Park. It was now about 10:40am, which was WAY later than I wanted to start. Fortunately for me, the clouds stuck around and it was still not too hot on the way back up.

An hour and a half later, I was at Jones Saddle. Passed maybe six hikers coming down, and three heading up. That's not much compared to what I would have passed going up any alternative route.

From Jones Saddle, there are a series of pretty steep segments on the way over Hastings Peak and over the unnamed peak beyond it. Then there's a substantial drop, followed by 250 or so feet up the fire break to the Toll Road. My legs were tired after that climb.

I also discovered that going up the Toll Road from the fire break to the intersection with the Mt. Wilson Trail, when heading uphill, seems a lot longer than when you're heading down.

On the walk from Jones Saddle to the Toll Road, the red heads of buckwheat were thick and gave the ridge on the way up an almost Autumnal glow. Most of the lupine were starting to dry out, but a few were still blooming.

The sun poked through the clouds a few times, but, for the most part, it was overcast. Nonetheless, I noticed the dome housing one of the biggest solar telescopes in the world was open.

Made it up to the top around 2:30pm. As I rounded the fence that surrounds the staging area where supplies and equipment are unloaded for repairs and construction near the summit, I saw a sign that said, "Cosmic Cafe," and an arrow, pointing to the pavilion. I also passed a couple that was sitting under some trees, looking out at the LA Basin. They confirmed that the cafe was open until 4pm.

I'm happy to report that the restrooms behind the pavilion are now also fully functional.

The cafe is open from 10am until 4pm on weekends only (although they will also be open on Labor Day, Monday, September 6). Their prices are on the high side, but that's only reasonable--With the Angeles Crest Highway closed, they're a two hour drive from the LA Basin, and not a lot of car traffic makes it up here. Hikers and mountain bikers make a pretty substantial portion of their clientele. And, although the cloud layer made my hike enjoyable, I guess some hikers and bikers were scared away by the clouds. I only saw about four bikers when I was on the short segment of the Toll Road between the firebreak and where the trail departs from the road and heads to the pavilion.

Although I had plenty of food bars and plenty to drink in my backpack, I wanted to patrionize the cafe, since I want them to survive and be there the next time I come hiking up. My lunch of a bowl of chili and an iced tea ran $5.25.

I ate my lunch while sitting at a bench, looking at the antennas, the clouds, and the hummingbirds that were visiting the several feeders hung around the patio eaves.

Headed back around 3:30pm, and got back to my car around 7pm. Felt tired, but good. Despite the inauspicious start to the hike, I achieved my objective with time and daylight to spare.

Not sure about some of later hikers I passed. I was 20 minutes below the saddle, around 5:30pm, when a couple heading up asked me about getting to Jones Peak. I'm not sure if they had time to get from there to the top and back before the park's gate is locked. I sure hope they did!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hike 83: Henninger Flats

Hiked Friday, August 27.

Oh, my heck! It's been two weeks since my last hike? No wonder I'm so tired!

This week, like last week, was full of little events that seemed to conspire to keep me out of the mountains. Actually, the nasty heat was no small part of that--If the weather was nicer, I probably would have gone on at least an evening hike in there somewhere.

Fortunately for my hiking plans, the triple digit temps of this week seem to be over, at least for a few days. The marine layer was again making its way into the valleys.

But even if it was going to get warmer, I felt I just *had* to get some hiking in today. Woke up naturally around 6am, did a few chores around the house, and left by a few minutes after 7am. My car was parked in the Eaton Canyon Nature Center and I was heading out on the trail by 7:32am (according to my phone).

I'm not sure when the last time was that I was out on this trail so early in the day. I made the pleasant "discovery" that, in the morning, a fairly large chunk of the trail is shaded. Between the cooler, high-60s temperature of the morning and the shaded sections, this hike was pretty comfortable. I'm still glad I was carrying a 1/2 liter of water, but I'm sure I would have survived fine without it.

Thanks to the cool temps, the rattlesnake I ran across was taking his sweet time making his way along the road. I saw several other spots along the road where snakes had crossed.

Here's a close-up of his rattle. I'm not sure if that's 10 or 11 segments, but he's a pretty old one, right?

Despite my many times up the trail, I have not paid much attention to how long it takes to get up. Today, I did. I took the steep "shortcut" trail from the Eaton Canyon Trail up to the toll road, and reached the toll road almost exactly 30 minutes after leaving my car. About twenty minutes later, I passed the "You've walked two miles, and have .7 miles to go to Henninger Flats" sign. I still don't know if it's supposed to be two miles from the visitor center or from the bridge, or whether it's by the shortcut, or the long way.

Reached Henninger Flats just a few minutes after 8:30am. The gibbous moon was already fading into the haze, and was just above the trees of the flats. You can also see the moon if you look on the left side of the "Henninger Flats" sign picture at the top of this post. It's bigger and more obvious in the picture at the end of this post, too.

I thought it usually took me longer to get up there. I didn't stop for many pictures this time, so that probably helped. Also, I didn't stay up at the "top" very long, either. I needed to get home by 10:30am at the very latest. Turns out I got back to my car by a few minutes after 9:30am, and was back home before 10am.

Just about the same time going up as coming down, which is a little surprising. I did stop for more pictures on the way down. And, probably because I haven't hiked in two weeks, I was feeling a little tired by the time I got back. That's sad.

Here were a few shots of the winding toll road. The lower one here has a mountain biker, coasting back down into Eaton Canyon. He's actually in the previous picture, too, but much smaller and less obvious.

I'm pretty sure my next hike will be on Sunday. If the weather stays reasonably cool, I'm thinking of heading up Bailey Canyon, on to the toll road, then up to Mt. Wilson.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Hikeless Week. :(

Things are looking bleak for getting anything beyond maybe a short evening hike in this week. That's the bad news. The good news is the reason: I've got job interviews on Thursday and Friday. I've also fired off a few more applications and taken a few more civil service exams. I'm feeling pretty optimistic about getting re-employed, which I haven't felt the past few months. Hopefully, this time, I'm right. :D

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hike 82: Echo Mountain

Hiked Friday, August 13. This used to be by far my most frequently walked trail, up until this year. This year, I'm pretty sure I've hiked out of Eaton Canyon more frequently. But I still like Echo Mountain. It's got that cool "White City" as a destination.

From the 210 freeway, exit on Lake and head north until the road reaches an end (it makes a sharp left turn at the end, and turns into Loma Alta Drive). Park near the bend. The trail starts through the gates of the "Cobb Estate." The actual gates are usually locked, but the trail goes around the south end of the gates.

Follow the old paved road until it turns north. When the road turns to the north, you should keep going straight (unless you want to take the Altadena Crest Trail to the west). There's a drinking fountain right after the trail leaves the pavement. From there, the Sam Merrill trail up to Echo Mountain heads to the left; the eastbound Altadena Crest Trail goes straight before heading down and to your left.

The sign indicates its 2.7 miles to Echo Mountain. From there, it would be an additional 2 miles to Inspiration Point (which I've hiked twice this year).

This trail is extremely well defined, much better than it was about twelve or fifteen years ago. It's always been heavily used, but sometime in the last ten or so years it was substantially widened and reinforced. In most places, it's between 3 and 5 feet wide.

There are wooden 4x4 stakes at the one and two mile points, although I miss the first stake more often than not. Also, tonight, the "2" on the two mile stake was missing. Between the first and second mile, there's one point where you walk right under an electric transmission tower. Informally, I always consider that the half-way point to Echo Mountain.

If it's clear, there are nice views south over the San Gabriel Valley, southwest, to Downtown Los Angeles, Palos Verdes, and Santa Catalina Island, and west, to Century City. Sunsets can be pretty cool from up here, too.

From the top, the air to the north seemed very clear, and I had a nice view of Inspiration Point, to my north. Downtown was also easy. Yes, it was a little hazy, but it's about as clear as you can get, except immediately after a big storm.

Tonight, I actually went a little earlier than I wanted to. My initial plan was to be at the top around sundown, then watch the crescent moon and Venus pop out of the twilight. However, I made it to the top around 6:30pm, and even after killing some time up there taking pictures, it was still about an hour before sunset. So I headed on down early. Maybe I'll try this again in about a month.

Despite the temperate weather we've had this year, the mountain is definitely drying out. Most of the annuals have dried out. The only color left were some Indian Pinks that I saw, still in bloom.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hike 81: Wheeler Peak

Hiked Monday, August 9. Although listed as just 8.2 miles and 2,900 feet in altitude gain, the relatively high altitude of this trail (starts at 10,160 and finishes at 13,100 feet) made this hike a tough one. I could completely understand the "4-10 hour" length of time given for this hike: If someone is fully adapted to the altitude and in good aerobic condition, four hours would be easy. If one were of moderate conditioning but not yet adapted to hiking above 10,000 feet, it definitely could take 10 hours. As for me, I took 8 hours. I should have taken another 20 or 30 minutes and walked more along the rounded summit, but by the time I got to the top, I was too tired to think of that.

The recommended route is from the Wheeler Summit trailhead. If you instead attempt Wheeler Peak from the Alpine Lakes Loop/Bristlecone trailhead, it's actually about 1/4 mile shorter, but you need to gain an additional 350 feet or so in altitude. I took the recommended route. I was the first person that day to sign in at the trailhead register. During this entire hike, I saw all of five people on this trail. Two of them started out moments after me. Both soon passed me. One later turned around and did the Glacier trail, instead.

Because I had by now spent two nights sleeping at near 8,000 feet altitude, I didn't have an altitude problem at the start. Yes, the trail is pretty level, but even on the inclines, I could just about keep my normal 3 mph pace.

Just under one mile into the trail, we ran across a couple of deer. Ironically, this was less than .2 of a mile from where I ran across a deer the year before. Up through this area, the trail runs through a thick, mostly-Aspen forest.

Shortly thereafter, the Wheeler Peak trail merged with the Alpine Lakes Loop trail. They run along in tandem for about .1 mile, before the Wheeler Peak trail turns right and begins a winding ascent. After about .25 mile, I noticed we were now above Stella Lake, one of the two you pass along the Alpine Lakes Loop trail (which I had walked the previous year).

After another mile of compara-tively easy climbing, the trail moves above timber line. More climbing brought me to a saddle. What looked like several rock piles confused me, until I noticed they were actually crescent-shaped shields against the prevailing westernly winds. Indeed, just a bit higher up, the winds began to whip. I tightened my shell's hood around my face and continued up.

Soon, the incline became steeper. The air continued to thin as I cliimbed above 12,000 feet (which I'm pretty sure is higher than I've ever been on foot). Rest periods became more frequent, and I got to spend a lot of time admiring the view to the east. I was so out of breath that I was willing to be amused by some of the graffiti that had been etched into the dark portions of rocks along the trail. The one that said, "It's not worth it!" and "It's not too late to turnaround" were particularly entertaining.

A relatively larger picture of the rocks I crossed is uploaded here. Click on the pictures for better views:
While slowly moving up the trail, I also had plenty of time to admire the tundra-like plants scattered around me: Low, little plants with tiny flowers. Those pictures are pasted at the end of this post.

Of the eight total hours on this hike, I would suspect I spent three of them on that last 1,000 of altitude gain. It's steep and over talus. Sometimes you're on switchbacks, but often it's just heading straight up the hill.

[A cropped view of the picture above is here. The hiking man (first guy to the summit that day) is a little more obvious, and the contrast of the hiker against the big wide open is a a little clearer here.]

After one false summit (which, in reality, was not too much of a fakeout, since you could see the actual summit earlier in the hike), I reached the top somewhat unexpectedly. Several rock walls similar to what I saw at the saddle were at the top. A mailbox contained the summit register.

The summit is a rather rounded ridge. There's really not much of a "peak" to Wheeler Peak.

I enjoyed the view to the north on the way up. The views to the northwest and southeast were also great. Another cirque-like headwall peered back at me. Because of this mountain, I could not see as much of the large basin and next range over to the west from Wheeler Peak.

The white cut through the forest is the road that heads up to Wheeler Peak. If you blow the picture up (click on the picture), you can see Stella and Teresa Lakes.

What I did not realize until I was almost back in my car was how Wheeler Peak has such a long "scalp." I should have walked all the way to the end of the scalp for a view down on to the Bristlecone forest and glacier-like ice pocket. Ooops. That might be enough to convince me to try this trail again in a year or two.

Here's me doing my Eli Stone impersona-tion. If you saw the show, that might be funny. Or it might just be funny to me. You can see the 100 yards or so of "summit" that stretches behind me, with a little pile of rocks near the end. That's where I should have walked, just to look on over.

The initial part back down was also slow, because it's tough to pick your way down such a steep trail. Once I made it back to the timber line, however, my pace picked up. I'm sure I was making 3 mph on the last 1.5 miles (excluding the stops for pictures, of course).

At just about the same place I ran into the two deer on the way up, I saw a deer on the way down. No good pictures of him, though. So instead, here's another picture of one of the deer I saw in the morning, along with the two hikers who passed me.

Some flowers I saw along the way are below. I bought a little laminated, fold-out card with flowering plants of Great Basin, but I haven't come across it since I got home, yet. I hope it's somewhere so I can do my plant identifications.

Hike 80: Baker Creek to Baker Lake

Hiked Sunday, August 8. Great Basin National Park is located in east central Nevada, just south of U.S. 50, the so-called "Loneliest Highway in America." It's an extremely non-touristy area located in White Pine County. From US 50, you take NV487 south about three miles to Baker. Just before you reach the town, the main Great Basin National Park visitor center is on your right. Extensive displays, a small gift shop, and an educational resource center/classroom are down here.
On the other hand, if you continue south on 487 a few hundred yards, NV 488 veers to the west, right, into the park. The highway ends at the park boundary, but the road (Lehman Caves Road) continues upward.

Almost immediately after the park entry, the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive splits off sharply to your right. But if you head straight ahead, the Lehman Caves visitor center is maybe a mile further. There are additional displays and another small gift shop there, as well as a coffee/ice cream shop. Used to be you could get sandwiches and what not for lunch, but now the menu is limited to breakfast, drinks, and ice cream. It's basically the waiting area for cave tours.

From the deck of the Lehman Caves visitor center, there's a great view to the east, overlooking the Snake Valley and on across the Utah border.

If you start driving back down the main park road (or just before you reached the Lehman Caves VC on the way up), a well-maintained (easy for passenger cars) dirt road enters from the south (signed and on your left if driving up; not signed and on your right if driving down).

It's about three miles long. On the way, you'll pass the Grey Cliffs group campsite, an RV dump facility, and the Baker Creek campground. At the end of the road is a small parking area. That's the trailhead for the Baker Creek and South Fork Baker Creek/Timber Creek trails. The elevation at the trailhead is 8,000 feet. Nonetheless, with a night's camping at over 7,000 feet, I was relatively acclimatized and had little difficulty with the altitude.

There's room for four cars in the wide area near the pit toilet; additional cars can squeeze in along the perimiter of the lot or in the approaches and exits to the parking lot. When I arrived, the four spaces near the toilet were occupied, so I parked near the "exit," at a wide spot of the road.

The NPS newsletter shows the Baker and South Fork Baker Creek trails as starting out as a single trail, but the signage at the trailhead indicates the trails start out separately, with the Baker Creek trailhead about 20 yards north of the South Fork trail. Both trailheads are on the western side of the parking lot. If you're hiking this area, spend a moment studying the map and signage at the trailhead, because it's not (as of summer 2010) the same as what your park handout indicates.

Another difference between the map at the trailhead and the NPS newsletter is the distance. The newsletter puts the roundtrip distance to Baker Lake at 12 miles, with a 2,620 foot altitude gain. The trailhead sign, meanwhile, gives the distance as 5.4 miles each way. That's a surprisingly large discrepency, and I don't know which source is giving the more accurate information.

Regardless, the trail begins paralleling Baker Creek. It occasionally wanders off somewhat to the north. About one mile in, there's a sign for the South Fork Baker Creek trail cutoff, which crosses Baker Creek. The Baker Creek trail continues on the north side of Baker Creek. A short time later, a wooden walkway crosses an area where runoff from a hill heads towards Baker Creek.

Wildflowers were common all along the creek. Most were unfamiliar to me, although the columbines were an old, familliar friend.

The creek thins as you go upstream, closer to its source. Nearing Baker Lake, there's a large bowl, full of downed trees. I assume the trees were growing higher up on the bowl face. When they die, they are eventually forced down the bowl by avalanches or simple gravity.

The approach to Baker Lake is from the southeast. Just before the final climb, there are few small "ducks" (rock piles). Heading right, between a pair of small pines, takes you to Baker Lake. Heading left would take you south, away from Baker Lake, and towards the pass that heads to Johnson Lake. One could make a 13.1 mile, 3,300 foot-gain loop of the day. However, because I planned to hike Wheeler Peak the next day, I opted to keep the day's hike at either 12 or 10.8 miles (depending on which NPS source was right) and 2,600 feet of altitude gain.

Baker Lake is another small, alpine lake. It looks so small that it seems impossible not to freeze solid during the winter. But, apparently, ice is a very good insulator, so the lake does not freeze solid. It's supposed to be home to brook and Lahontan cutthroat trout.

The north and east sides of the lake are shallow, with a talus shoreline. It's deeper to the west. A small, forested area occupies the north-west end.

Surrounding about half of the lake are high cliffs that look like the old headwalls of a glacier that no longer exists.

I returned the way I came.

I passed two people on the way in. They had been camping in the area for several days.

I passed one person on my way out. He was also taking a day hike.

When I got back to the parking lot, three other cars (besides my own) were still there. I assume the two other cars (besides mine and the dayhiker I passed on the way out) were for people who were backpacking or otherwise camping away from the Baker Creek trail.