Friday, January 25, 2013

Hike 2013.003 -- Turtlehead Peak, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

(Picture 1: Turtlehead Peak, as viewed from near the trailhead).

Hiked Sunday, January 20. Thanks to Martin Luther King's contributions towards advancing the cause of civil rights, and to the fact that he was born in January rather than, say, February, I got Monday the 21st off. So this gave me a three-day weekend to head up to Las Vegas. I'll probably be making more frequent trips up this way in the coming year, perhaps once or twice a month, particularly on long weekends.

(Picture 2: Also near the trailhead, showing the infor-mational displays).

It may be as many as ten years since I last came to Red Rock. A lot has changed. For starters, there's a new entrance station, and a huge new visitor center. I didn't spend too much time IN the visitor center, so I can't say if the space is being well-utilized. The bookstore has definitely been spiffed up, though. I bought several hiking books and a map there, mainly for future reference.

(Picture 3: Sandstone blocks in the quarry).

For this day's hike, I just looked at the free newsletter for the area, and settled on one that seemed reasonable. Actually, I was thinking I might do two hikes, since I have hikes to make up if I want to get anywhere close to 100 this year. At my current rate, I'll barely break 50.

(Picture 4, Sandstone and Sandstone Bluffs).

I also chatted with a volunteer at the info desk. I was told there, while there are several waterfall hikes mentioned in their handouts, there would be little if any water. So I will save them for early spring, when there might be some snow melt to feed them.

Instead, I settled on Turtlehead Peak. The newsletter described it as 5 miles and strenuous. Two thousand vertical feet, with an intermittent trail.

(Picture 5, Turtle-head, with still a long ways to go).

I concur with that description. By the time I was done with this hike, I knew I wasn't going to take a second hike on the same day. It was a very difficult five miles, taking me about 4 hours to complete. Without stops for pictures and to admire the view at the top, it would have taken maybe 3 1/2 hours. That's a long time for such a short distance. Don't know if this is because the hike really is strenuous or if I'm just in lousier shape compared to past years.

(Picture 6, Same as picture 4, but from a higher perspec-tive).

How you get to Red Rock NCA depends on which end of the Las Vegas Valley you're coming from. From the south, you can take I-15 to Blue Diamond Highway, then head west. Turn right at NV-159 (there's a sign for Red Rock), and continue 'til you see the sign for the scenic drive, on your left.

From the north, you'd typically take U.S. 95 west, then Summerlin Parkway, then follow the signs, eventually dropping south to Charleston Blvd, and heading west. The only problem with that route is that there are several traffic circles along that way, so if you don't like traffic circles, head south on Rainbow, then turn right on Charelston.

If you're already on Charleston and west of I-15, you will likely just head west.

[Note: In the years since I originally posted this, the western beltway has been largely completed, so now you're more likley to take U.S. 95 to Summerline Parkway to the Beltway (CC-215), then drop south two offramps, to Charleston, or take the Beltway west from I-15, down near Blue Diamond/Harry Reid Airport, then, again, exit at Charleston and head west.].

(Picture 7: Jagged rocks on the way up the ravine).

If coming down Charleston, the entrance station will be on your right. Charleston becomes NV-159, by the way.

After paying your fee ($7 for a day pass, $30 for an annual pass, or show them your America the Beautiful pass), the visitor center is signed as the first left. In addition to information and the bookstore, there are flush toilets, drinking fountains and vending machines (I didn't check if they had food as well as drinks).

(Picture 8, a tiny patch of snow, near the summit of Turtle-head). After leaving the visitor center, you next want to get on the 13-mile scenic drive. It's one-way, so don't miss your turnoff when you get to it.

The trailhead for the Turtlehead Hike is the fourth parking area along the scenic drive (after Calico I, Calico II and Calico III), about four miles from the start of the drive. It's a fairly large parking area, but it was definitely overflowing when I got back from my hike.

(Picture 9, Calico Hills, from Turtlehead Peak).

There are pit toilets here, but no running water.

Several trails pass through this area. You could either take a short (2.5 mile RT, 400 foot altitude change) hike to Calico Tanks, do a segment of the huge (11.4 mile) Grand Circle trail, or the Turtlehead Peak trail, which is what I did. I was pretty sure that the impressive cliff ahead was going to be my destination (See Pictures 1 and 2).

Several signs and informational displays are right at the trailhead, too.

(Picture 10: La Madre Mountains, north of Turtlehead Peak).

Also right near the trail-head are some huge sandstone blocks, illustrating what was done at the Sandstone Quarry for which this trailhead was named (See Picture 3).

At the lower section of trail, clear trail markers are placed at regular intervals. Still, there are several use trails even here, making it sometimes difficult to stay on the official trail. This difficulty becomes nigh impossible once you get higher up into the ravine. In multiple places, equally clear and worn tracks will run on both sides of the ravine, with numerous other paths running between them. They really ought to do some additional signage, to make one route "official," and try to let the other trails slowly heal.

(Picture 11: Brownstone Canyon, below and east of Turtlehead Peak).

Turtlehead Peak is in view for most of the way up. Also as you climb, the large amphitheater that is "Red Rock Canyon" (actually, many canyons, all flowing towards the broad opening between the mountains) becomes visible, in all its glory. To the west are the Sandstone Bluffs, with multi-hued Rainbow Mountain in the midst. To the north are the La Madre Mountains. To the south, the Calico Hills.

(Picture 12: Gateway Canyon, east of Turtlehead Peak).

Although I lived in Las Vegas for a number of years, I don't recall hiking this particular trail before. I'd hate to think I had seen this view before and forgotten it.

This entire trail is very slow going. In the lower reaches, you pass through and along a wash, and the sandy surface makes for lots of loss effort as your feet slip through the sand. Meanwhile, the upper reaches are VERY steep, and often require either sloppily climbing up steep sand or hopping and climbing up and over boulders.

There's really no trick to conquering this trail. You just need to keep moving slowly and carefully.

(Picture 13: Las Vegas, in the distance).

Once at the saddle, the trail description says to head up the shoulder. However, a person in front of me reported this was impassable, so a group of us ended up taking a roundabout route, contouring along the east slope of Turtlehead before zigzagging back up the back.

However, on the return trip, I had no major difficulty making it down the "shoulder" or ridgeline directly. Yes, it was steep. And it would have been very tiring heading up. But there were no impassable barriers.

(Picture 14: Moon rise).

The view from the top? Outstanding. Despite the glare of the low sun to the south, the twisted and fractured nature of the rocks all around, and their red rock splendor, definitely made the effort here worthwhile.

I spent about 20 minutes on the summit. At one point, I ease down a bit towards the west, wanting to take a picture down the sheer drop. But I chickened out. Just couldn't make myself lie down and snap a shot over the edge.

But I did take LOTS of pictures in all directions from the top.

(Picture 15: Jar Jar Binks, in stone).

The return to the car was definitely faster than the climb. Yes, in spots you need to stop and puzzle out the easiest way down. However, it's easier to pick out more-worn trails on the way down.

By the time I got back to my car, I knew my hiking for the day was over. Just five miles, as I said, but 2,000 feet. A father led his two young children (probably no more than 10 and 8 or so) on this hike, but I would not necessarily think this is a hike many that young would want to conquer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hike 2013.002 -- Mt. Lukens via Rim of the Valley and Crescenta View Trails

(Picture 1: Looking up the wash from near the bottom of Crescenta View Trail).

Hiked Sunday, January 13. I'm getting off to a pretty slow hiking pace this year. Even my hike write-ups are falling behind. That's the downside of trying to work two jobs. I may need to cut back on the hours of my part-time one.

(Picture 2: Trailhead).

Today's hike was pretty much chosen because I just read about it here. Well, not *just* because I read it there, but because it was a pretty nearby place that I had never been to before. Yep, despite three years of serious hiking in southern California, I never made it to George Deukmejian Wilderness Park.

(Picture 3: Trail marker near base of Rim of the Valley Trail).

Partially, that's because it was closed after the Station Fire. Indeed, take a look at pictures 16, 18 and 21, below, to see some of the devastation that the Station Fire wrought on the forest to the north of the Duke. The Duke itself was not directly burned by the Station Fire, but by a backfire set to protect the residents below, should the Station Fire have spread this far.

(Picture 4: Freeman Oak).

The other reason is that this area was just never on my radar as I scouted out places to visit. Incidentally, another nearby place I haven't hiked yet is the Verdugo Hills, which are the hills between Deukmejian and Griffith Parks. I read a post on Dan's Hiking blog, overlooked the hills on my hike this day, and saw them on the map after I got home. So don't be surprised if my next local hike turns out to be in the Verdugo Hills.

(Picture 5: Looking down at trailhead area from Rim of the Valley Trail).

George Deukme-jian was Governor of California back in the early 1980s, after our current governor's first two terms in office. It also turns out he was the first in a series of California governors (he, Pete Wilson, Grey Davis) that could generously be described as "bland."

(Picture 6: Creek on Rim of the Valley Trail).

It's funny because every four years for about 20 years, someone would be running for President of the United States, looking for a running mate, and supposed experts who obviously did not live in California would mentioned whom ever was Governor of California at the time as a possible VP choice, completely ignoring how little any of them would have added to a national ticket in terms of coattails, personality, or electoral votes.

(Picture 7: Looking into the southern glare, with fall color in the canyon).

But I digress. "The Duke" (I don't know if anyone ever calls it that, but I will, just like I like to talk about Schabarum Park as "The Pete," which I know nobody else does) is north of La Crescenta, an unincorporated area in Los Angeles County. Somehow, Glendale owns this park, although the park sure seems not to be contiguous with the city. I'm assuming Glendale used some state bond dollars or dedicated development fees to acquire mandated open space outside their city limits as a tradeoff for allowing higher density developments within the city.

(Picture 8: Mt. Lukens view).

But, again, I digress. To get to the park, take the Foothill Freeway (I-210), exit at Penn-sylvania Avenue and head north. You then have several options. I'll suggest turning left at Foothill, just 1/2 mile north of the freeway. Then turn right at New York Avenue, after about 1/3 mile. Head north on New York until it ends, at Marksridge, just over a mile after you got on New York. Make a left at Marksridge (you have no other choice). After about 100 yards, the entrance to George Deukmejian Wilderness Park is on your right. The gate there is locked at dusk, so don't park in there if you think you might be getting back after dark.

(Picture 9: Downtown LA, over the Verdugo Hills).

It's a small park, just over one mile square, and, according to the Tom Harrison map, is within the statutory boundaries of the Angeles National Forest (but it is not part of the Angeles National Forest). It is thus surrounded on three sides by the Angeles, and obviously provides a developed access point to the forest around it.

(Picture 10: Mt Lukens, again).

At the top of the narrow road that skirts a detention basin are two parking lots. The one on the right is paved, and is probably the main lot, while the dirt one on the other side of the road is probably supposed to be overflow parking. Next to the paved parking lot are flush toilets, a large barn that looks like it serves as a community center, and what might be a community garden adjacent to the barn. There are also numerous picnic tables.

(Picture 11: Looking west on the way up).

Even from the developed area, you're well above the basin to your north, so it would be a nice picnic area even for those uninterested in hiking.

From the lot, there are several hiking options. Unfortunately, I didn't read the description of my hike for this day, so it was all a surprise, including the distance.

(Picture 12: Access trail, west of Dukeme-jian Park).

First task was to find the trail-head. I could see distant trails switch-backing up the hills above me, but could not immediately determine where they started. In retrospect (meaning, not until I got back), I think they intend for you to walk along the fence to the northeast side of the park. That way eventually leads you along a wash, and they have several trail signs along the way (none of which give you mileages, however).

(Picture 13: Mt. Lukens, again).

I wanted to take the Rim of the Valley trail, which I knew should head towards the northwest. So I started by heading up the pavement, then past the swinging gate (picture 2). A "trail" sign was there, though it did not give a name. I bore to the left at each turn, and eventually came to a marker pointing more directly north. I don't think I actually got confirmation that I was on the Rim of the Valley trail until I had been walking about 2/3 of a mile, however.

(Picture 14: Pacific Ocean in the distance).

The ultimate goal was Mt. Lukens. Well, actually, that would the the penult-imate goal, since the ultimate goal is always to return home safely.

Mt. Lukens, I could see from near the start, as I knew it was covered by antennas, and I could see an antenna-covered mountain above me. I did not know how long or high this walk would take me, but I knew it was a day hike and I was pretty sure that starting out at 11am would allow sufficient time.

(Picture 15: Downtown, from a higher perspec-tive).

I also knew there was supposed to be a loop, which one could make in a clockwise direction by taking the Rim of the Valley Trail, then coming back down on the Crescenta View trail.

(Picture 16: Stone Canyon Trail, and Tujunga Road).

Well, in bearing left at each turn, I did eventually reach some "Trail" signs (picture 3), but none that named the trail I was on. My at-this-point unnamed trail climbed the hills north of the park, and quickly rewarded me with an overview of the area. To my east, I could see what I later would learn is the Freeman Oak, saved by a former Glendale Assistant City Manager during the Station Fire (Picture 4).

(Picture 17: Patch of snow just below Mt. Lukens).

Climbing higher, I then had the view presented in picture 5. In that picture, the "correct" route would be to head from the left side of that picture (right, from the parking lot), along that wash and towards the Freeman Oak. Instead, by bearing left (towards the bottom of that picture, then back up to the center left of the picture), I wound up on the trail that heads off the middle left of the picture.

(Picture 18: More Fire Station damage).

The trail climbs and heads to the west. When it rounded the first major ridge, I encountered my first named-trail sign. From there, it provided more expansive views to the west, then rounded the ridge, then dropped down into a ravine. At the bottom of the ravine was s small creek. It cascaded across the trail (Picture 6).

(Picture 19: Hang glider above Mt. Lukens' antenna).

The trail then briefly paralleled the waterway. On the canyon wall to my left were the remains of a metal frame that held a bridge across a side canyon. The trail quickly climbed out of the ravine, wound around the former bridge point, and eventually began swish-swashing across the front range. Views of Mt. Lukens were alternately provided, then obscured. The approach towards the antennas was annoyingly slow.

(Picture 20: Mt Baldy, in the distance).

As the climbing and westward trend of the trail continued, I could see an additional trail access, coming up from someplace well west of the Duke. I also got some views of a bit of "fall" color mixed in along the canyon bottoms to my south (Picture 7).

Climbing also slowly let me see beyond the Verdugo Hills, also to my south. Eventually, downtown Los Angeles and Griffith Park's hills were visible in the distance.

(Picture 21: Dam and bridge, down in Tujunga Canyon).

Later, I could easily see the Pacific Ocean, further to the south, and the Sepulveda Basin, way off to my west.

By the time I finally got to the view of Picture 13, I was getting pooped. But the climbing continued, on, and on.

The day was relatively cool. As if to reinforce that point, as I finally neared the summit, I saw my first of several small patches of snow (Picture 17).

Finally being able to see to the north, I was struck again by how barren the Station Fire had left this area. How to know how long it will take before this starts to look "normal, again."

(Picture 22: Rocks, on the way down Crescenta Trail).

From the top, I admired the view in all directions. Several hang gliders shared my view.

Meanwhile, to the north and below, I could see the bridge and dam of Tujunga Canyon. Very nice.

For my return, I did come back by way of the Crescenta View Trail. It was well-defined at first (a dirt road), and the first sharp turn to the right (also a dirt road, but with no indication that this road would take you back to Deukmejian Park) was easy to follow. It sort of petered out for a while, however, becoming very narrow and less than obvious. I actually backtracked at one point, thinking I must have lost the trail somewhere. But I had not.

In contrast to the Rim of the Valley Trail, which is all about 3 feet or more wide (in the places where it is not a full, 45-foot wide dirt road!), once the Crescenta View Trail leaves the dirt road, it becomes extremely narrow single-track, tightly bordered by vegetation.

I think they're in the process of widening and renovating that trail, but it will be a while before they finish. So, if you do walk the Crescenta View Trail, I recommend long pants and possibly long sleeves.

Ten miles and about 2,800 feet for the day. It was a tough ten miles, either owing to the altitude gain or me being out of shape.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hike 2013.001 -- Echo Mountain

Well, I never managed to fit in my 80th hike last year. It was like the universe conspired to create weather or conflicting engagements that kept me out of the mountains. No, I know it didn't really do that--the universe has much bigger fish to fry than my little hiking goals. But it does get frustrating sometimes when your schedule will only allow you one day a week to recreate, and those days keep getting taken away by other obligations.

So it came to pass that it was not until Saturday, January 5th before I finally had a few hours to spare for a little hike. I figured I'd start this year on my most frequent hike: Echo Mountain.

This hike has always been popular, but I think it's becoming more so. In fact, on this day, as I drove to the top of Lake Avenue, things were just crazy. Not only were their cars on both Lake and Loma Alta, but there was also a table set up just outside the gates of the Cobb Estate. On the table were dozens of cups. I don't know if this was supposed to be a race or a jogging meet-up, or what, but it just wasn't how I wanted my hike to start.

I turned around on Loma Alta and made my way back down Lake, not entirely sure of my plans. Initially, I was thinking maybe Rubio Canyon. Instead, I would up starting my hike from the top of Echo Glen Drive. Echo Glen Drive heads north from Maiden Lane, which is at the north end of Mt. Lowe Park. I assume Mt. Lowe Park is an old right of way for the Red Cars that used to run all over southern california. Echo Glen Drive appears to be a private road, closed to public auto traffic, but intended (I believe) as a pedestrian access to the mountains. Walk up Echo Glen Drive about 400 yards, and you intersect the trail that heads north from Loma Alta, that runs parallel to a wash, and begins just west of Rubio Crest Drive.

Once there, you've got about another 500 yards or so of running along yards and driveways, then along the bottom of a ravine before you meet up with the Sam Merrill Trail. My estimate is that the way from the top of Mt. Lowe Drive adds between .75 and 1.25 miles to the total round trip distance.

The regular way up the Sam Merrill and back is supposed to be 5.4 miles, so I'll call it 6 1/4 miles for the day.

As expected, the volume of folks heading down the trail was tremendous. It felt almost like Mt Hollywood, though obviously it was not THAT crowded.

There were thin, high clouds during this hike, which meant a soft, warm light on the mountains as I climbed.

When I got to the top, I snapped a number of pictures of the ruins and the mountains that rise above the old "White City." Then I headed back down.

It was dark by the time I got back to my trailhead. Nonetheless, I crossed Maiden Lane, entered Mt. Lowe Park, and took a flash photograph of the plaque at the north end of the park. It was the National Historic Landmark plaque for the Mt. Lowe Railroad.