Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hike 2011.037 -- Mt Lowe

Hiked Monday, May 23.

The starting point for this hike is the same as the one for Echo Mountain or Inspiration Point, both of which I've hiked numerous times since 2010. However, both the middle Sam Merrill and Sunset Ridge Trails (both of which start near Echo Mountain and lead you up towards Mt. Lowe) crossed into the old closure area and so were off-limits under the previous Station Fire Recovery Order. Last week, the closure on those areas was lifted. This was my first hike into the newly opened areas.

From the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena, the way to the Sam Merrill trail is through the gates that lead east from the end of Lake. This is the Cobb Estate. Straight ahead on the broken pavement leads you to a few trail signs. If you make a left turn at the end of the east-leading pavement, you'd be on the westbound Altadena Crest Trail, which loops just north of the Cobb Estate for less than a mile before petering out near someone's backyard. At least as of last year--I don't think it's been completed all the way through to the Millard Canyon road.

If you go over the curb of the pavement and continue down into the drainage, that's the eastbound Altadena Crest trail, which heads south for a bit, running for about 3/4 mile before emptying on to Rubio Canyon Road. A 1/2 mile segment has you walking along Rubio Canyon Road (which changes to Loma Alta Drive after about 200 yards) as you head east, then south. Turn left on Zane Grey Terrace, and the trail leaves the pavement and continues all the way to near the Pinecrest entry point of the Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

For the Sam Merrill trail, however, you avoid the Altadena Crest trail entirely. Instead, after you've left the pavement of the Cobb Estate, turn left. This trail makes a looping turn around as it crosses the wash, then heads up towards Echo Mountain (described several times previously).

Just as you're making the final straightaway towards the ruins at Echo Mountain, you'll pass three trail options, one after another, all on your left. The first option is the Sunset Ridge Trail. That one heads mostly to the west, generally following the old rail path to The Cape of Good Hope, then continues along a wider rail bed all the way towards Inspiration Point. The second option is the Middle Sam Merrill trail, which intersects with the rail bed just west of Inspiration Point. And, of course, the Castle Canyon trail (previously blogged) goes straight up to Inspiration Point.

Today, I took the Sam Merrill up, continued to Mt. Lowe via the East Mt. Lowe trail, then returned from Mt. Lowe via the rail way bed and Sunset Ridge trail.

Plenty of flowers still in bloom. At the start of the trail and at several points along the way, the Spanish broom was thick and fragrant, as was the sage. Purple primrose were covered in water droplets, and bundled closed in the cool air.

Yes, it was cool. In fact, by the time I got near Echo Mountain, I had to stop to put on my sweater. Although the sun was shining on spots down below, I saw very little sun during this entire hike. Clouds rolled over the hills and completely hid Mt. Lowe from view. Not surprisingly, when I did get to the top of Mt. Lowe, I could see nothing but clouds.

But that's getting ahead of the story. First, I had to walk up the middle Sam Merrill trail. Despite a foreboding warning at the start, most of the trail is outside of the burn area. It's not until I reached "Sunset Point" that I came around a ridge and confronted the dead trees. Most of the oaks were dead. Most of the coniferous trees, however, seemed to survive.

Once over this ridge, it was an easy but surprisingly long way to the north and west before reaching the main railway bed. "Surprising" might be a strong word, since I did have the mileage indicated on my map. However, in appearance, the canyon to my west penetrated further into the front range than it appeared from the start. The same phenomenon occurred on my return trip, when I found myself "surprised" by how far I needed to go west before the road turned south, and, eventually, back east, towards Echo Mountain.

It's 2.7 miles from the start of the upper Sam Merrill until you reach the rail bed. From there, if you make a right on the road, you'd reach Inspiration Point in .3 miles. However, the clouds were thick enough that I knew I'd see very little from there, so I had no interest in making that detour. Instead, I held out some hope that the summit of Mt. Lowe might peek above the clouds. To go there, I made a left turn and walked along the very wide road/trail.

After no more than .2 miles, a metal sign on the right indicated the start of the East Mt. Lowe trail. I was thus obviously quite close to the summit of Mt. Lowe already, but the clouds gave me no view of my final destination.

This trail climbed a bit, and gave me a slightly higher view of dead trees and blooming wildflowers. Desert Poppies were common. They are distinguished from their relatives, the California Poppy, by the lack of a reddish disc at the base of the bud. They were also yellower than the California cousins.

After another short (less than .2 mile) of walking, the trail to the summit split off to the right, while the "straight" path would have taken me to Mt. Lowe Camp.

From here to the summit, things were a little confusing. I climbed and switchbacked up, but the thick clouds hid all significant geographic reference points, as well as the sun. By the time I reached the summit (decorated by a couple of historical signs, a lightning rod, a "shelter" that had lost all its roofing, and numerous site tubes pointing to other peaks in the vicinity), my mental map no longer matched the hidden reality. The site tubes for Mt. Baldy and Mt. Wilson felt like they was pointing west, while the Mt. Markham and San Gabriel Peak tubes seemed to be pointing south. So, lesson one for the day: 5,600 feet isn't always high enough to get above the low clouds rolling over the San Gabriels. Lesson two: don't rely on your sense of direction if you have no firm points of reference.

Although the site tubes promised a very impressive view under clear conditions, today I just collected a lot of shots of grey. I'll have to come this way on a clearer day.

I didn't have the motivation to push to the north the 2.5 miles or so to San Gabriel Peak (6161), in part, because I wasn't sure what sort of a view I would find there, either. Instead, I backtracked down the east Mt. Lowe trail, then returned to where the Sam Merrill Trail intersected with the railbed. However, rather than backtrack the rest of the way, I took a right just before the signed Sam Merrill trail, and headed down the unsigned rail bed.

Mt. Lowe trail camp was only 1/10th of a mile or so down this way. A small creek trickled just above the camp. Numerous interpretive signs dotted the area. A large rock retaining wall rose adjacent to a picnic area, with rails to tie your horses.

I enjoyed the peace-fulness there for a number of minutes before resuming my trip down the rail bed. Interpretive signs continued the rest of the way. Many had historical photos, so you could compare the landscape in front of you in 2011 with how the place looked like during its heyday.

This wide road way could be followed to Millard Canyon. There was also a very clear trail that split off from the road and similarly continued to Millard Canyon. Not sure if both are open all the way through, or if either crosses into the remaining Station Fire Recovery Order.

Not sure what this arrow was about. If you know what it's pointing at, let me know!

Just after you reach the very obvious "Cape of Good Hope" section of the rail bed (about 3.5 miles below where the Sam Merrill trail intersected with the rail bed), the Sunset Ridge trail heads off to the west (left) from this road. The sign was somewhat overgrown, but the path (if you are looking for it) is not hard to see.

This section of the trail is narrower. The concrete foundations of numerous trestle bridges remains, as are, in some sections, the wooden ties that held the rails in place. Along this section, most of the historical interpretive signs were damaged by heat. Although the paper within the signs appeared undamaged, the plastic cover to the signs were melted into odd and opaque shapes.

Eight-tenths of a mile later, you're back near Echo Mountain. Two and six-tenths miles later, you've back on Lake Avenue.

So, total mileage for the day was about 14.3 miles (5.2 miles roundtrip from Lake to Echo Mountain, 2.7 miles from Echo Mountain to the rail bed, 2.4 miles roundtrip from there to Mt. Lowe, 3.2 miles on the railbed to Cape of Good Hope, .8 miles from there to Sam Merrill, according to the Tom Harrison map). It felt good to have a nice, long, yet relatively easy day of walking. Definitely cleared my head and let me ponder the challenges I'm still facing in a less-panicked state of mind than what I was feeling on Sunday.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hike 2011.036 -- Hermit and Sturtevant Falls

Hiked Thursday, May 19. I had only been to Hermit Falls once before, so I figured I was over due. Parked at Chantry Flat (top of Santa Anita Avenue) and pulled out my Adventure Pass. Headed down the paved "trail" for .2 miles, until the sign for the Hermit Falls/First Water Trail. The sign says it's 1.2 miles from there to Hermit Falls.

This is a steep trail, obviously dropping more feet than the paved trail towards Sturtevant (because you're meeting the water well downstream from that junction. It's generally a well-defined trail, although with foliage encroaching somewhat in spots. As you near the stream, there's a signed junction that directs hikers only towards the base of a retention structure, or horses and hikers in the other direction. The hiker path is more direct.

Either way, you cross the water near here, and then (if you're going to Hermit Falls), continue down-stream from there. A sign indicates 3/4 mile further to Hermit. There's a thick carpet of green vines and shrubs in this area and it looks very un-southern Californian.

Also a few cabins in the area, same as they are further to the north.

After about 1/4 mile, the stream approaches a pond behind another detention structure. The trail crosses to the right side of the stream here, and climbs somewhat. The final bit is a slight decline to a rock outcropping.

Hermit Falls is nearly entirely shielded from view by these rocks. The best view I could manage was after going down somewhat towards the water, just downstream from the pool. That's the picture at the top of this post. The picture here is looking down over the lip from above.

Much of the large pool within the alcove at the bottom of Hermit Falls is also shielded, and can only be seen by leaning precariously near the edge of the rocks, or jumping off the rocks completely.

Here's a shot looking down towards the pool. Three women down there provide some idea of the scale and distances involved.

Yeah, a lot of people jump off the rocks and into that alcove. Not me. I get nervous just leaning over.

Seems like it's a 2 second drop or more, which means 50 feet or so. Larger divers make a very loud splash. But, because of the rocky protrusion, you can not easily see people landing from the top.

For those who do dive (and I am not recom-mending this), there's a rocky cliff with several thin ropes tied around trees and roots, just downstream from this outcropping. Climbing back up this route is no easy task, although obviously nearly everyone who jumps into the pool eventually makes it back up.

I carefully climbed down to closer to the water line. If there weren't so many people jumping off the cliff, I might have tried getting closer to the outlet of the pool, which might have given a better view of the actual waterfall. But I didn't want to intrude too much on the divers, and, in fact, if something disastrous happened to a diver, I didn't want to see that, either. Yeah, I'm a big chicken.

Climbing back up seemed harder than going down, which is somewhat unusual. It didn't help that I slightly twisted my ankle on the hike to the overlook, so I had to move gingerly. Also, the ropes here are much thinner and more worn-looking than the ones in Rubio Canyon, so, even more so than in Rubio Canyon, I tried not to put too much weight on the ropes. Although people taller and less overweight than me would have an easier time of this, I imagine most hikers will be satisfied with just peeking over the edge at the alcove below.

After leaving Hermit, I headed upstream, along the First Water trail. Where the Hermit Falls trail makes the stream crossing and heads up the canyon wall, I continued along the water. I soon reached an amusing place with a water crossing and sign warning that only one person should be on the (non-existent) bridge at a time.

Another water crossing, and I eventually met back up with the trail to Sturtevant Falls. Not entirely sure about the distance, but you meet back up right where the paved trail from the Chantry Flat parking lot levels out. It's right after the bridge that crosses Winter Creek. There's a couple of signs at this junction, indicating directions and/or distance to Chantry Flat, Sturtevant Falls, and the First Water and Winter Creek trail destinations. It's 1 1/2 miles from here to Sturtevant Falls.

I headed up to those falls, took a few pictures, then went back to my car. So figure 3 miles roundtrip from the junction to the falls, .6 miles from the junction to Chantry, 1.4 miles from the parking lot to Hermit, and that's 5 miles, plus the distance from Hermit to this junction. I figure this puts it in the 5.5 to 6 mile range for the day.

Still a nice variety of flowers in bloom. Some I recognize (not all of which I photo-graphed) included Indian pink, primrose, larkspur, periwinkle, Himalayan blackberry, and buckwheat (both reddish buds and whitish blooms), plus many I did not recognize.

If I head back down here again, I'll spend more time "down below" and take some pictures looking up at the cliff for more perspective on the dimensions of Hermit Falls.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hike 2011.035 -- Mt. Hollywood

Hiked Thursday, May 12.

I had a job interview slated for Friday, so I wanted to take a short hike on Thursday. Originally, I was thinking of finally heading to the Santa Ana Mountains. However, since I haven't been there, yet, I am still worried about finding an acceptable hike to do once I get there. In other words, I'd like to have a planned hike and a back-up or two in my pocket in the event of road closures and what not.

Finally settled on a late-afternoon hike from the Griffith Observatory. I enjoy the observatory, but usually only get out there 3-4 times a year. Not sure when the last visit was. Since then, they've introduced another show, dealing with the Northern Lights. So my plan was to head out there, get a ticket for a planetarium show, then, depending on the timing, either do a hike before or after the show.

As it turned out, I arrived there a little after 3:30pm. Tickets for the 5:15pm showing off "Light of the Valkyries" (the Northern Lights show) went on sale at 3:30pm, so the timing was perfect. I bought the tickets, then went for my hike. I'd have about 90 minutes to complete it.

Mt. Hollywood is the peak immediately south of the observatory. The shot at the top of this post shows what it looks like from the steps of the observatory. It's a little deceptive, however. The summit appears much pointier from this perspective than it actually is, and deceptively close. I wouldn't be surprised if the "as the crow flies" distance was just 1/2 mile or so from summit to dome. But the trail makes numerous long and sweeping switchbacks upon the face of the rise, so you wind up covering 1.5 miles or so each way.

You might even be able to see the trail head in that first picture. It's at the south end of the parking lot at the Observatory, and extremely well-signed. Trust me--if you're in the right parking lot and looking for it, you can not possibly miss this trailhead!

Of course, depending on when you arrive, parking in the lot may or may not be possible. If you're forced to park down the road, there are actually several alternative routes that would also get you to the top of Mt. Hollywood. They'd be obvious, once you got your bearings. But if this is your first attempt here, you should probably just walk up the road to the main lot. When you get to the lot, look behind you (to the south end, opposite from the dome).

There's a blue sign at the trailhead, which looks just like street signs all over Los Angeles. It says, "Mt. Hollywood Hiking Trail." There's also a gate across the "trail's" beginning, as the trail is actually a dirt road. Maybe 150 yards from the start, there's a sign for the Berlin Forest, planted in honor of one of Los Angeles' many sister cities.

Pine trees line this section of trail. The Hollywood sign (which is on south face of nearby Mt. Lee) is visible to your left as you climb.

At the first level-off the trail goes over the tunnel that you pass through if you got to the Griffith Observa-tory via Vermont Avenue. Immediately after you've crossed over that area, you have a choice. The dirt road begins a sweeping climb to the left. Meanwhile, straight ahead, there's a steeper and shorter trail that cuts off much of the switchback's distance. In the picture above, the dirt road is the lower cut, while the trial is the upper cut.

Because of the short distance involved, I took the longer way, along the dirt road. Regardless of which route you take, you quickly climb above the observatory level, with plenty of nice views behind you. Along this first climb, there are sections where the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles are right behind the observatory complex. One of these days, I'd like to hike up there in the evening at get a pretty picture of the doom and skyline, all lit up.

After just under a mile along the dirt road, there's a well-defined trail that comes up from the left. It rises to road level via a number of retaining beam steps up from what I assume is Dante's View. A row of palm trees and several benches mark that area.

Shortly after that, the dirt road swings to the north side of Mt. Hollywood, and dips down a little bit. If you stay on the dirt road, you give up about 20 feet or so of altitude here before the road turns sharply to the right and heads up a broad approach to the summit. From the north, you see that the summit is not pointy, but flat. A number of benches are at the top, along with places to tie up your horse (if you had a horse).

Once around the ridge line, you can see Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena to the north and northeast. The San Gabriel mountains provide a nice backdrop, and a different perspective on the mountains versus how I normally see them from due south.

If it's clear, Century City, West L.A., and Santa Monica are off to the west. San Pedro would be to the south. On the day I went, things were pretty hazy and you couldn't see much towards the west or south.

You can return the way you came, or take one of the shortcuts (at least one of which seems engineered, so I'm pretty sure it's an actual trail and not just a use trail).

Somewhat pricey foods and drinks are available in the Obser-vatory, which has its food catered by Wolfgang Puck. I'm convinced he's devaluing his name by associating it with some pretty mediocre food, but what do I know?

Total walking for the day was about three miles. Altitude gain is about 650 feet. At the top, you're above the Hollywood Sign, but still below the summit of Mt. Lee. You're also practically on the same line of sight as the letters of the Hollywood Sign, which is a unique vantage point: If your name were "Olly Woo," I'd definitely want to get up here and take a picture of the thing!

Temperatures were in the upper 70s, which was not too bad. The breeze helped. And the observatory show gave me an excellent chance to cool down and let traffic thin out before the drive home.

Funny thing about this hike is that, despite my many trips to the observatory, I never really noticed the hiking trail. It's a nice option to add to your trip to Griffith Park.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hike 2011.034 -- Altadena Crest

Hiked Tuesday, May 10.

I almost lost my cell phone today. That's what happens when you let your mind wander a little TOO much on these hikes!

Lots of stuff on my mind, mostly related to my job search. No need to go into detail, but it was enough to keep my mind spinning during most of the hike.

Since I was taking a short hike, I didn't bother with a backpack. That meant I had a bunch of stuff I had to carry, either in my hands or in my pockets. But I don't like too much weight in my pockets, so it was mostly in my hands.

Parked in the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, and walked the just-over 1 mile to the bridge. Along the way, I had to cross the water, which is still running high for the location. No problem staying dry for me, but some folks were pretty slow getting past the water.

At the bridge, I crossed over to the west side then climbed sharply up the Altadena Crest Trail.

I took plenty of pictures even before I got to the bridge. Several flowers that I don't remember seeing before. And here, I learned something I do like about my new camera that this older one lacks: the lcd display is just way too dim to see what I'm looking at when the sun is behind you. It also has trouble focusing close, but that's not too different from my new camera.

Turned out most of my shots came out blurry. Fortunately, a few were clear enough to serve for identification purposes. Several varieties of Clarkia, including what I'm pretty sure are elegant Clarkia.

Here's a wider view of that area.

After making my turn up the Altadena Crest Trail, I enjoyed several views of thick yellow flowers.

It wasn't long after these yellow guys that I saw a grayer flower that, unfortu-nately, didn't photograph very well. It was there that I left my phone on the ground, and didn't realize it for about ten minutes. But I turned around when I did realize it, and the phone was exactly where I thought it was.

Turned around again and walked to the high point just before the trail descends to Zane Gray Terrance, which then leads to Loma Alta and Rubio Canyon Road.

My initial plan was to continue past that area, then catch the trail that heads up to the Sam Merrill, where I would continue west to the end of this section of the Altadena Crest trail. However, losing my phone cost me about 20 minutes and a little bit of nervousness, so I called the hike short.

Not long after I made my final turnaround, I looked to the south and watched a number of crows harassing what was probably a hawk. Got some pictures of them, with the Downtown LA skyline and the Goodyear Blimp as a backdrop. It's a crop of a wider shot, though still saved pretty large, so you can poke around and enjoy the view.

There were also some monkey flower along the way. Funny thing about this flower is that I pointed some out to my wife when we were in Franklin Canyon. She said, "I guess they call it that because it looks like a monkey's face?"

I laughed at that because that IS where the name came from, although I personally don't see the resemblance!

Six or 6.25 miles or so for the day, total.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hike 2011.033 -- Above Glendora

Having read Dan's Hiking Blog yesterday, I learned that the thread leaved brodiaea was blooming. That's an endangered flower that stopped planned developments in Big and Little Dalton Canyon, above Glendora. Thought it would be nice to see an endangered species. Also, since I could only managed a short hike, something nearby seemed like a good idea.

Unfortunately, I got a later start than I wanted to. That made the hike pretty hot.

Started on the Colby Trail, which is at the top of Lorraine Avenue in Glendora. Lots of matilija poppy near the stone entry way.

Lots of old oak trees, too. And lots of squirrels. This gray one was working on an acorn as I came up, and didn't move as I fired off several shots. He eventually headed into a tree.

At .22 miles (according to the sign), a spur heads off to the right for the Berm trail. If you instead go about ten yards further up the hill and turn left, there's an unnamed trail that heads to where the brodilaea grow. Many were growing right adjacent to the trail, so there was no need to go tromping off trail. Others were further off, but, again, why risk stomping on some if you can photograph plenty right off the trail?

I also saw dried annual grasses, and a whole lot of sunflowers (both here and at many other points during my hiking today).

After the time in the brodilaea meadow, I made my way across to the meadow on the east side of the Colby Canyon Trail (along the Berm Trail).

Along the way, I saw this bundle of white flowers, here, as well as a lot of wild radish. The wild radish were also in the meadow to the south of the brodilaea area.

I then made my way down towards the fire station, then on out to Glendora Mountain Road (GMR).

From GMR, I headed north a short distance to pick up the Poop-Out trail, and headed up that way. Sunflowers, blue dicks, blue penstamon, and assorted other wildflowers added color to this steep section of trail, just as they had the first time I headed up this way.

Once at Monroe Truck Trail, I had the option of either heading back down via the Upper Mystic Canyon trail (to the right) or down the Lower Monroe Truck Trail (to the left). Because of my arbitrary three mile requirement, I went left.

Almost immediate-ly, I came across a small gopher snake who seemed to have a death wish. He was sprawled out across about 2/3 of the trail. I've seen them do this before. I guess they like the sunshine, but it seems like they'd be in bad shape if a mountain biker comes down the trail while they're doing this.

The decent down into Little Dalton Canyon was pretty pleasant. I mean, other than already being hot and thirsty, it was nice. :D

The trail descends and heads mostly northward, with GMR visible on the opposite canyon wall. Finally, the trail drops to stream level and begins working its way back south. I knew this, of course. The whole point of the detour was to accumulate my three miles.

Once at stream level, the stream and trail make multiple intersections. However, it was much easier to follow the trail this time than it was the last time I was down here. I think someone has done some significant trail maintenance over the past five months.

When I finally reached GMR, I had another choice: Up GMR, then catch the Colby Trail back to my car, or just walk down GMR, and figure it out that way. I took the lower choice.

When I reached where the Berm Trail/Colby-Dalton Trail reached GMR, I ignored it and continued along GMR. In retrospect, this might have actually been a longer way than just heading back into the hills.

The first road I saw heading west had a "Not a Through Street" sign a bit in from GMR, so it made no sense to go that way. Instead, I continued to Palm Drive, then made a right (heading west). I wasn't sure if this would make it all the way back to my car. In the distance, I could see what looked like a dead end.

Fortunately, looks were deceiving. Although there's a big tree in the middle of where the road was heading, and the pavement made a 90 degree turn to the south, the short "Palm Drive Trail" linked the two paved portions of Palm, and carried me across the drainage basin back to Lorraine. From there, it was up hill a bit to my car and a very welcome conclusion to my hike.

My car thermometer said it was 94 degrees. My clock said it was not yet 1pm.

All told, about five miles of walking (at least 1.5 miles of that on pavement).