Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hike 89: Puente Hills

Hiked Sunday, September 26. The first time I hiked this area was back in early April. I haven't been back since May, at the latest. Once it started getting warm and the rattlesnakes started coming out, I didn't like this area because the grass grew so close to the trail that I came across rattlesnakes a few times rather suddenly. Best way to get bit is to startle a rattlesnake, so I stopped coming down here.

But today, I figured I only had time for a short hike before the heat got oppressive, so I opted for a return to the Puente Hills.

I tried to get a relatively early start to beat the heat. Only partially succeeded. Hiking started around 8:30pm, up the Coyote Trail. Looped around, came back down the Native Oak Trail, then returned to the Seventh Avenue trailhead. 5.5 miles overall. Not very scenic. By the time I finished, at 10:30am, it was already 91 degrees. But at least I got a short hike in.

It looks like the Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Authority has done a pretty aggressive job of cutting back the dying annual grasses. The trails I walked on today all had wide downed areas, which meant less of a chance of sneaking up on a rattlesnake.

One drawback of this trail is that it's all single track. That by itself is not a drawback, except that the trails are heavily used by mountain bikers. I had to step to the side at least a dozen times to make room for bikes coming down the hill. The trails are steep enough that bikers are pretty slow moving up, so you won't get passed by many bikes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hike 88: Sandstone Peak

Hiked Thursday, September 23. This was another hike mentioned on a past episode of Motion, the outdoor activity show that airs on KABC 7.2 at 7pm M-S (opposite Jeopardy!). (Here's a link to the episode that included the Sandstone Peak hike, as well as a hike to the Hollywood sign and the M*A*S*H hike, which I have also done and blogged about).

Unfortunately for me, it's WAY west of where I live. It took about 90 minutes driving there and about two hours to get back (catching rush hour traffic). Also, the last bit there is slow and winding. I felt a little nauseated by the time the car stopped.

Following directions I found elsewhere on the Internet, I took the 101 Freeway west, exited at Westlake Blvd (CA-23) and headed south. After about a mile and a half, the typical wide, suburban boulevard turns into a narrow two-lane road. At one bend, I took a wrong turn and inadvertently left Westlake. The "Not a Through Street" sign quickly tipped me off, and I got back on Westlake. After about three miles of climbing and weaving, Westlake merges into Mullholland Highway, westbound. But it's still a narrow and winding road there.

Just under two miles later, Mullholland makes a sharp right (it's signed); the "straight" direction is Decker Canyon Road. Less than 1/2 mile later, Little Sycamore Canyon Road will be on your right. You continue on yet another narrow, winding road. After about 2 1/2 miles, Little Sycamore Canyon Road turns into Yerba Buena Road. It's still narrow and winding.

Somewhere along the way, when the pavement turns lousy, you know you have crossed back over into Ventura County. The mileage markers on the side of the road will now say "VC" at the top, with a number that gets smaller as you proceed. Not long after you pass "VC 8.0," you'll see a very obvious trailhead on the right. There's a large parking area across the highway (on your left). Park there.

On the left where you just parked, there'll be a trailhead sign indicating the Backbone Trail, which continues 4.2 miles (8.4 miles RT) to the east. On the right (north) side of the road, there's another sign, indicating that this is also the Backbone Trail, and that the Mishe Mokwa and Sandstone Peak Trailheads are just a few tenths of a mile ahead. There should also be a small metal box at this trailhead, with (hopefully) a bunch of small maps folded inside.

If the box is empty, then you're out of luck, unless you already printed out a copy of the brochure at this conveniently-provided link. Other Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area brochures are available here.

If you just want to bag Sandstone Peak, the direct trail from trailhead is given as three miles. But this is a long way to have driven for a three mile hike, so I decided to do the Mishe Mokway Trail-Backbone trail loop to Sandstone Peak. The brochure gives a 6 mile roundtrip distance for the Mishe Mokwa to Sandstone Peak hike. Signs on the trail say it's a 1 mile roundtrip detour if you also add Tripeaks (which I did).

Going the long way, after an initially steep climb, the trail is relatively flat as it heads parallel above a drainage. Looking to southeast, there's a pretty nice view of the Santa Monica Mountains.

After about 1.5 miles, you'll see Balanced Rock to your right, across the drainage. The rocks here look old and worn.

Not long after Balanced Rock, I came across a huge Rattlesnake, sunning itself on a rock, while also keeping itself partially hidden in the grass. I took a few pictures of it before the snake realized I was there. When it did, it shook its rattle vigorously. Even after I left, I could hear the rattling when I was well over 60 yards away.

The trail then crosses a small seep (I'm sure the water flows deeper in the winter and spring). After crossing, I saw a picnic table and what was obviously "Split Rock" (a rock that was, yes, split in several points). The first sign at the start of this trail told me Split Rock was 1.7 miles from the start, so I knew I was nearly 1/3 done with my hike.

Right after Split Rock, I noticed a tremendous number of lady bugs in the brown grass and dirt along the trail. Not sure what that was about.

The trail then heads up yet another drainage. It also begins to dry out some more. I suspect that as you climb, you rise above the normal marine layer (there was no marine layer on this day, so I'm just speculating). My impression of drying out was confirmed, however, when I saw a mazanita bush to my right. Hadn't seen any other mazanitas until this part of the trail.

When it leveled off, I was amused by the sight of a couple of cottonwoods (or possibly aspen), growing far away from where they should be growing.

Upon seeing a sign for Tripeaks, and having a recollection of reading about this detour on Modern Hiker dot com, I took the detour.

It was getting pretty hot, and parts of the climb were steep. But since you're at low altitude and it wasn't THAT hot, I pushed on.

The last bit of the trail is pretty undefined, but you just keep heading up.

The view at the top was worth it. Most of the view is towards the west and northwest (That's the shot at the top of this post). I could hear the rumble of what sounded like a military jet, flying out of Point Magu NAS. I could also see some expansive agricultural lands, probably where some of my summer strawberries grew up. :D Several Channel Islands were further off in the distance.

Made my way back to the Backbone Trail and continued my loop. I ignored the road that led to a couple of water tanks and continued on to Inspiration Point. There's a small monument there to a deceased Boy Scout. On top of the monument is a small "pointer," with various locations marked. I looked along the mark for Mount Baldy, but, if it was visible, it was definitely not distinct.

The marker also pointed out a Mt. Allen, to the north. Not indicated was a Sandstone Peak, which seemed kind of weird, until I later determined that Mt. Allen was what Sandstone Peak used to be called.

Continued on to Sandstone Peak. The last bit there is also pretty steep. There are several "use trails" that provide alternative routes up, but I took the signed, official way up. Views from here were panoramic, as you're on top of the tallest point in the Santa Monica Mountains.

I finished the last of my Gatorade up here. I didn't realize it was "the last," until I looked for the other bottle that I was sure I stuck in my backpack that morning. Fortunately, it wasn't that hot (low 80s) and I was only about a mile and a half from my car.

The last bit of trail runs parallel, but above and to the west, of the Mishe Mokwa Trail that the day's adventure began on. While walking the short connector segment between the Sandstone Peak Trail and Mishe Mokwa Trail, I passed two young men, heading the other way. They were the first two people I saw on the trail all day. I also saw two other young men coming off the trail back in the parking lot, when I started my hike. Also, on the register on Sandstone Peak, I saw one other name for the day. All in all, that's not a lot of foot traffic for a well-known trail in southern California. But, after all, it is a heck of drive for us living on the Eastside, and it was a weekday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Fee-Free Weekend Coming Up

Saturday, September 25 is "Public Lands Day," which means another day when federal agencies that normally charge an entrance fee (including areas of the Angeles National Forest that normally require an Adventure Pass, as well as Joshua Tree National Park, etc., etc) are free to enter.

Unfortunately, I have a family commitment that will keep me in town on Saturday. Darn, that poor timing!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hike 87: Echo Mountain (Again)

Hiked Monday, September 20. Another nice easy hike, for two reasons. First, today was the debut of my Shoe-gooed boots. The Coleman boots I got from Big 5 in early spring started to fall apart before a recent hike. Earlier in the week, my good wife rejoined the sole with the upper, and I gave it several days to cure. I'm happy to report that, after the easy 5.5 mile hike of today, the seal is holding solidly. If it stays fixed after a few more of these short hikes, I'll take it out on something longer, again. Second, I had a civil service exam to take this morning, so I waited until the evening to get my little hike in.

I started out around 5pm. The afternoon sun hits you most of the trail, but on the bits in the shade, I could already feel fall in the air (and fall doesn't even start until tomorrow!). Most flowering plants have turned brown, with red or brown "blooms" of seed pods where flowers were a few months ago.

On the way up, I thought to myself that I would probably get some nice views of a rising gibbous moon, because I knew the moon was already gibbous on Saturday. It would be rising about an hour later tonight than it rose on Saturday, when it was already well-up in the sky by sunset.

Sure enough, I did get treated to a beautiful moon, coming over the reddish hills above Alta Dena.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hike 86: Ontario Peak

Hiked Monday, September 13. 12.2 miles and 3,577 vertical feet, according to the USFS handout. Although this hike is supposed to be about 1/4 mile longer each way than going to Cucamonga Peak, it's much easier. Partially, it's because Ontario is 200 feet lower than Cucamonga. Mainly, it's because there's a pretty substantial loss of altitude on the way from Ice House Saddle to Cucamonga, so you heed to gain several hundred feet twice.

I left home around 9am, picked up my Wilderness Pass in Mt. Baldy Village, and so got to the trailhead a little before 10am. I spent some time at the summit before checking my watch (2:18pm), so I would estimate it took me about 4 hours and 10 minutes to get to the top. I got back to the car some time after 5pm, so it was a little under 3 hours to get back.

The trail is generally well-traveled and well-marked, except when you get to Kelly Camp. There, the trail splits, with one part going straight and one part heading sharply to the left. The junction is not signed, I went left because that branch seemed more heavily traveled, and it turned out I was right.

From Kelly's Camp, the trail climbs steeply to the south. It dodges many downed trees before reaching a saddle. (There are a LOT of dead trees on this trail, many standing but some downed--victims of bark beetle, I think). A board sitting on rocks indicates it's about 1 mile to the right to Ontario, or 3/4 mile to the left for Big Horn Peak. Conversely, someone scratched longer distances to both on the sign. I don't know which is correct, but suffice to say that it was about 40 minutes for me to get from the sign to the summit, and I wasn't moving very quickly.

It was relatively clear when I got to the summit. Traces of the marine layer obscured some of the view to the south, but the airport was huge and obvious, almost exactly due south from the summit. Downtown LA was visible but small and way off to the west. Mt Wilson's towers were small but distinct, to the west-northwest. Mt San Jacinto was far off to the east. Baldy was much closer and to the northwest.

I did not see a summit register. But there is a bottle opener affixed to the dead tree near the summit, so I suppose if you decided to bring a cold drink that required a bottle opener, you'd be all set for that.

Late in the season, so not many flowers blooming. The yellow variety I have pictured was the only relatively common one, and the bees, wasps, and flies were all over them, so I get the feeling there weren't many other choices. There were also plenty of gooseberries, the result of those plants having bloomed months before.

Given the unseasonably cool weather of recent weeks, I may even be able to try the Mt. Baldy Trail approach to Mt. Baldy.

I did learn something about my new boots: When going downhill, my feet slide forward, stuffing my toes into the front. That was a little uncomfortable. Also, with the toes up front, if you kick a large rock, it'll hurt, even with the boots on.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hike 85: Mt. Zion via Lower and Upper Winter Creek Trails

Only time for a shortish hike yesterday. It almost turned out longer than intended, however.

We've had the weirdest weather this year. Yesterday (like today, and the day before) was overcast almost all day. So even as I drove up towards the mountain in the late afternoon (about 4:30pm), it was in the low-70s. I decided on my hike because it's roughly 7.5 miles would (my guess) take about three hours, which would get me back by 7:30pm.

I also wanted something shortish because I was wearing a new pair of boots. One of my pairs started coming apart at my last hike, and I haven't had a chance to try the shoe-goo solution to putting the sole back on the shoe. Instead, I was wearing another $20-ish pair of boots, from Big 5. At that price, I don't worry too much if the boots don't last long, although I do hope they do.

Unfortunately, the thick clouds of the evening made it get darker earlier than I expected. That meant I needed to walk slower (so I wouldn't attract the attention of a mountain lion, or walk off the edge of a cliff). In fact, I didn't get back to the car until about 10 'til 8pm. And, as you may already know, the gate at the bottom of the road to Chantry Flat is supposed to be locked at 8pm. I was a little worried I might be forced to spend an unplanned night at Chantry Flat. Fortunately, the gate was still open when I drove down.

Glad I was wearing the slightly-heavier boots, because all that walking in the dark meant I kicked a lot of rocks on the way down. Feet made it home in one piece, though.

The leaves (I'm assuming big-leaf maple, but they may be syacamore; I'm not too good with tree identification!) were already changing a bit. That, plus the red dead-heads of buckwheat and other seasonal seed pods, mean there's starting to be a little bit of color in the mountains.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More from Washington

More pictures from my Labor Day weekend trip. On Sunday morning, I took the Metro to the Arlington Station. Got off and crossed the Arlington Bridge into DC. Visited the Lincoln Memorial, first. Approached it from the southwest and rounded about to the southeast, where I snapped the first picture.

Then it was up the stairs to see the man in the Big Chair. There's a short blurb behind Lincoln. On the wall to his right are the words to the Gettysburg Address. On his left are the words of his Second Inaugural Address. There's also a small gift shop in that left alcove.

I was surprised by how many non-Americans there were. It's not that non-Americans shouldn't have an interest in Lincoln that seemed odd, but that there were comparatively few Americans, who absolutely should have an interest in their own history!

After leaving Lincoln, I made my way to the Korean War Memorial. It is comprised of three main features. First are the statues of soldiers in Korean War-era clothing, apparently walking towards the Lincoln Memorial.

Second is the polished marble wall that is somewhat reminiscent of the Vietnam War Memorial. Except, instead of the names of war dead, this memorial has images lightly etched into parts of the wall. Other parts are bare. Both parts serve as a sort of horizontal reflecting pool, which is what you're seeing in the picture above.

Finally, there's an actual pool, with a sign asking you to please not toss any money into the pool because they'll stain the art.

After leaving the Korean War memorial, I made my way towards the FDR memorial, which I wrote about yesterday. On the way, I passed a long, temporary wall along a part of the parkway. Turns out the wall shields ongoing construction on a new, Martin Luther King, Jr memorial. Not sure when it's supposed to be finished, and I haven't seen the final design. But it looks to be pretty large.

From there, I continued along the Tidal Basin, on to the FDR memorial. Views of the Jefferson Memorial reflected across the Basin. Aging cherry trees leaned across the walkway. It was very peaceful.

Inside of the Jefferson Memorial is a large statue of Jefferson. Several of his writings (including excerpts from the Declaration of Independence) are visible along the wall. In the "basement" is a small "museum" and gift shop. Oh, and restrooms.

From the Jefferson, I rounded the rest of the Tidal Basin and returned to the Mall. Once there, I visited the World War II memorial, some pictures of which I posted yesterday.

Then I walked over to the Smithsonian Metro station and went back to my hotel room. Probably two miles of walking that day, and an additional 1.5 miles or so the day before (not counting the distance inside the East Wing of the National Gallery, the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the American History Museum.

I could spend several weeks just visiting the museums around the National Mall. Wouldn't mind going back there, again.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Washington, DC, or "How I spent my Labor Day weekend"

Five shots from my short visit to our Nation's Capital. Just since I don't have any new hikes to share.

This first shot is from the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. It's the actual lunch counter where the kids from Jonesboro held one of the first sit-ins that was intended to desegregate lunch counters all over the South.

The fountains in the middle of the World War II Memorial. I'm all for honoring World War II veterans, but I'm not sure if sticking this huge memorial in the middle of the National Mall was the best way to do it. Tom Brokow's "The Greatest Generation" label was all about giving recognition to a generation that made great sacrifices and asked for nothing in return. Putting this huge thing on the mall sort of undermined that title. Also, it almost seemed to me like we as a nation were admitting that "We'll never do anything else worthy of recognition, so we might as well use up the rest of our memorial space for this thing."

Off the mall, about 1/2 mile to the northwest of the Capitol building, up on New Jersey Avenue, is this replica of "The Goddess of Democracy" that the students set up in Tiananmen Square, back in 1989. It's labeled as a memorial to all victims of communist oppression. I came across this one entirely by accident. I was walking from Union Station and trying to find an entirely different memorial.

This is a small part of the sprawling memorial to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It's off the main mall, along the Tidal Basin, at about 4 o'clock in relation to the Jefferson Memorial. It's funny how our older memorials were classically designed and relatively simple in design. By contrast, these newer memorials are loaded with multiple design features that seem to require reading a book to make it possible to appreciate all the sub-parts. Oddly enough, I'm pretty sure that the most common picture of this memorial is of this part, and it's because of Fala, FDR's dog, and not because of anything FDR actually did!

The Capitol Building. Everytime I see this building, I start humming, "I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill. . . ."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Angeles Forest Rescue

Off doing other things this weekend, so I couldn't manage any hikes. I may try something tomorrow.

In the meantime, I got a little bit of amusement out of this story. No, not the part about the woman who was hurt jumping into the pool below Hermit Falls, near Chantry Flats.

The funny part was why the rescue helicopter was already in the area. They were looking for a lost hiker, which turned out to be a hiker who was "merely hiding from hiking companions, with whom he had argued."