Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hike 2012.032 -- Griffith Observatory to Mt Hollywood to Mt. Lee

Hiked Sunday, June 2. I was considering a second trip out to the Mt. San Jacinto area, but didn't feel like a long drive today. Instead, I drove to Griffith Observatory. Traffic and road closures made the drive take about 45 minutes, which is still short compared to Palm Springs.

Arriving at the Observatory parking lot about 9:45am, the lot was filling, but not completely filled. Most spots were either tight fits and/or adjacent to cars/SUVs straddling lines. Nonetheless, I found a spot in a moment, and walked over to the observatory (which opens at 10am on weekends). For reasons I'll probably be able to explain in about a week, I wanted to spend a little time walking around there. In practice, I didn't spend nearly as much time in the observatory/museum as I wanted to, though.

It was obvious before I got there, and even more so upon my arrival, that the skies were still hazy. Part of that is the marine layer, but part is just your typical southern California smog. No ocean visible, and even downtown did not look all that close.

I got a temporary Friends of the Observatory Card (not sure where my permanent card is, though it's somewhere in the house), because my wife wanted to buy some sun viewing glasses and I wanted to get the 10% discount we were entitled to. The Venus Transit was still two days away (I have a short post about my Tuesday here), and she wanted to have some sun viewing glasses (or, as I like to say, zero-magnification binoculars) to share with folks who might not have glasses of their own.

But, back to the hike.

After leaving the observa-tory, I stopped near the start of the trail (at the north end of the observatory parking lot) and applied my sun block. Unfortunately, I did not bring my "floppy hat," so my sun protection was incomplete. When I got home, I saw a thick band of red, sunburned skin on both shoulders. I had applied the sun block to my arms, face, ears, and neck, but not to my upper shoulders. While walking with the day pack over my shoulder, my t-shirt got alternately pulled down 4-6 inches, first one way, then the other. So the lesson for me was, "Bring the floppy hat" or "Apply sunblock to the shoulders, even though you think they're covered by your t-shirt."

From my unsuccessful (although I didn't know it at the time) application of sunblock, I headed up the hill, past the Berlin Forest, over Vermont Avenue (Vermont Canyon Road), and on the Charlie Turner Trail. This part of the trail, from here to the top of Mt. Hollywood, I had done once before, albeit quite just over a year ago.

After crossing Mt Hollywood Drive (a continuation of Vermont Canyon Road), the trail begins a long traverse to the west, part of a really long switchback. There are more direct ways up there, but they're obviously steeper.

Sunflowers were common here, and thick in several other spots along the hike. The walk was thick with people here. A couple walked down the other way with an immaculately-groomed Shetland sheepdog. I comment because the dog was so cute my wife (who stayed down near the observatory while I hiked) later commented on it. Then, when I was looking at the picture of sunflowers (displayed at the top of this post), I zoomed in and noticed you could see the couple and their dog!

Eventually, I got into a grove and increased my pace, making it to the top in a touch under 30 minutes. the path is rather obvious, and the vistas broad enough that even if you were to take a wrong turn, you could easily correct yourself and get back on the right path in no time.

As you pass to the south and west of Mt. Hollywood's broad summit, you get a look at some well-singed palm trees. That's how close the fire 2007 fire got to the Griffith Observatory.

After having made your way around about 270 degrees of the summit, the final approach is from the northeast. Wide trail, with places to tie your horse near the summit, and a couple of benches surrounded by a "hard turn" fence to keep horses from the picnic area.

Nice being way high up, although the haze really limited the view.

After about five minutes, taking some pictures, drinking some Powerade, and texting my wife down below that I had achieved Mt. Hollywood, and was heading towards Mt. Lee, I began the second leg of my hike. From Mt. Hollywood, I tried to trace an efficient route to Mt. Lee. It looked like I could take a somewhat westerly path in a way that would minimize any unnecessary loss of altitude or backtracking.

However, my first effort, sticking with the broad dirt road, was not the way. After I rounded a bend, it was clear this path was descending more than I wanted to. I headed back to the other side of a rise, and saw a clear trail that climbed, then traversed this hill. It went high rather than low around the summit, reaching a wide, flat spot with a fire hydrant. A family posed for a picture during their Sunday lunch in the park as I passed this area.

On the other side of the fire hydrant, the path became a dirt road, and was, in fact, the road I had seen from Mt. Hollywood, heading west, towards Mt. Lee.

Incidentally, as I write this, I'm virtually recreating my path by pulling my way through a Google Maps aerial view of this area. Interestingly, there's a couple of large blacked out areas around here, which makes me wonder what they're hiding.

I followed this fire road until it termi-nated, at a water tank. It was the same water tank I found myself near on my first (and last) hike to the Hollywood sign, even though I had started that one from the Camp Hollywoodland trailhead, down in Franklin Canyon.

As last time, I followed a use trail that seemed to run a contour towards a ridge that I could follow to the Hollywood Sign.

In retrospect, however, I've decided the easier route from the water tank would actually be to just head straight up the ridge behind the watertank.

I'm pretty sure this is Mt. Chapel (1614 feet), and I actually doubled back and summited this peak, because, well, why not? Lots of flowers around this summit, with lots of bees and several pairs of swallowtail butterflies, doing what I assume to be mating acrobatics.

After summiting Mt. Chapel, I headed back to the west, along the ridgeline. Got some nice views back at Mt. Hollywood along the way.

Eventually, my trail dropped down below the boughs of a live oak, and I intersected the paved Mt. Lee Drive that I would follow the last 2/3 of a mile or so to the top of Mt. Lee.

Mt. Lee, of course, is home to the Hollywood sign. An early episode of Motion featured a hike there, and was part of my motivation for launching my original (for me) 100 hike year of 2010.

I kept a modest pace as I climbed the back side of Mt. Lee. It was warming up by now and I didn't want to over do it.

As I reached the last turn before the first view of the Hollywood sign, I came across a stone monument that wasn't there the last time I was here: A monument to the purchase of Cahuenga Peak. I didn't notice it at the time, but the stone monument had been carved to reflect the shape of the actual Cahuenga Peak (1820 feet), which was about 1/4 mile away. Several use trails headed to that summit, but I didn't have the motivation to add that one to my day. Perhaps on a future trip to Griffith Park.

Instead, I settled for Mt. Lee (1680), and the hordes who came to see the big white letters up close.

Took some pictures, texted my wife that I had achieved Mt. Lee and was heading back, then begin my return.

Wasn't 100% sure which route this would entail. I knew I'd take Mt. Lee Drive back to the dirt road that is the Mullholland Trail [if you stick on Mt. Lee Drive, instead, you can get the closest possible (legal) view of the front of the Hollywood sign.]. I'd go past the Sunsdet Ranch Stables (where I could swear there was once a "miniature" representation of the Hollywood sign on the hills above this ranch), then past the point where I could turn down to the Franklin Canyon/Camp Hollywoodland trailhead (labeled Brush Canyon on the Tom LaBonge Griffith Park map).

BTW, I guess I should call Tom LaBonge a media whore here. That's just because when you use that term on people like Gloria Allred, people accuse you of being sexist. I want to stress that I'm a gender-neutral caller of media whoredom. Anyone who works that hard to get on tv. . . . What else can you call them? Even if you may agree with them. In the case of Tom LaBonge, I laugh every time I think of the "Reggie" hunt. Los Angeles City Council President (at the time) Wendy Greuel was trying to hold a press conference, and LaBonge figuratively snatched the microphone out of her hands to announce that the L.A. Zoo was going to house Reggie (who's still there, by the way). Poor Wendy didn't know what hit her.

But, again, I digress.

After Mulholland Trail intersects with Mt. Holywood Drive, I had to decide whether to just take Mt. Hollywood Drive all the way back to Observatory Road, or try to take a side trail back up to the Charlie Turner Trail. I eventually decided staying on the road would require less climbing. Unfortunately, it also means having to walk up the narrow sidewalk, with lots of slow moving people going in both directions. Might have been better off taking the longer, harder way around the traffic jam.

Got back to the Observatory about 2:15pm, just four hours or so after I started my hike.

I then went inside the observa-tory to try to cool off a little. Kind of crowded in there, but I still got to spend some time among the scale model of the solar system and "The Big Picture."

I love "The Big Picture."

It's a collection of huge plates taken by the 48" Schmidt camera on Mt. Palomar. Blown up to wall-size, 152 feet wide and 20 feet tall, and a huge enlargement of a tiny strip of sky no larger than what your index finger would cover if held out at arm's length, yet it contains about a million galaxies.

Each galaxy, of course, contains 100 of billions of stars. All in a tiny sliver of sky.

I also like it because it's a place I've scanned with my C11 telescope. From a dark sky, you can just slowly slew a big telescope through this area of space (west from the star Vindimiatrix in Virgo) and pass after one tiny fuzzy patch after another, with each fuzzy patch being a whole galaxy (or sometimes, two or three galaxies). It's a very humbling experience, and a lesson on the scale of the universe.

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