Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hike 2014.022 -- Claremont Wilderness Park

Hiked March 30, 2014. One of my hikes from earlier in the year that I hadn't gotten around to blogging, yet. This one was new ground for me. I tried hiking here once before, but I think there was a fire closure order in effect at the time

The trailhead is at the north end of Mills Road. There's also another nearby parking area at the northeast corner of Mills and Mt. Baldy Road. I parked in that one because I didn't know any better. Parking there was $3 for most folks, but free if you are a Claremont resident with a resident sticker on your car. The upper lot is $3 for everyone. Seeing so many cars in the lower lot, I just assumed the upper lot was filled, so I parked there. I didn't figure out until later that the lower lot always has cars because that's where Claremont residents park.

Claremont Wilderness Park is a city park of 1640 acres, set just below the Angeles National Forest. The main hiking trail here is a five mile loop along Cobalt Canyon Motorway and Johnson Pasture Road. It also connects to other trails that could take you west, to Marshall Canyon, north, to Potato Mountain, or east, to Evey Canyon. It also links to a couple of other city trailheads.

My hike began with a bit of excite-ment, as I heard the screeches of raptors and saw a pair of red tailed hawks flying not too far away. They were flying back and forth towards each other, and occasionally linked talons during their dance in the sky. I attached my long telephoto lens and did the best I could. Unfortunately, this lens is manual focus, and the depth of field with this lens is very shallow. That makes it hard to get a really sharp focus even on things that aren't moving. With flying objects, it's darn near impossible. So I got a couple of decent but no really good shots.

Later, once on the actual trail, I came to a fork in the road. Either way was going to be a motorway type of trail: as wide as a two-lane road, and relatively shallowly graded. I'm not sure if I remember why, but I went to the right. The sign said, "Cobal Canyon." The other way said, "Burbank." That would be the trail or canyon; it does not lead to the city of Burbank!

Although I didn't know it at the time, there were mileage polls at one mile intervals. Going right gives you the advantage of a countdown, so you can tell how many miles remain in your hike. Going the other way would give a count-up, which is not helpful if you don't already know how long your trail might be. However, if you're reading this, you now know the trail is five miles long.

Based on the contour lines, going counter-clockwise (right at the first split) gives you a less steep climb overall, and ends with a steep decent at the end. That means, obviously, that if you go clockwise, your hike will start with the steep incline. Going either way leaves you with relatively little shade, especially once you climb out of the oak forest. So this is an early or late season or early day/late afternoon hike. If you're hiking in the heat, bring lots of water.

Being the first time on this trail, I had no good idea of what to expect. What I experienced was a surprisingly busy trail. Yeah, it was a weekend, of course. And it was never as busy as, say, going up Mt. Hollywood. It wasn't even as crowded as Azusa Peak used to be. But it's well-traveled by a mixture of hikers, walkers, joggers, and mountain bikers.

If it's clear, you'll have expansive views to the south. The Angeles is to your north, so you can't see very far that way. As noted, there is good access from these trails to several different destinations. On the other hand, parking permits (at the lower lot, at least) are for four hours. That might limit which destinations you would have time to reach and return.

On the day I hiked, there was a fair variety of small wild-flowers. The grass was also still green and the weather was perfect for hiking. Given the alternative destinations, I'll keep this trailhead in mind for future early or late season hikes.

At the time of this hike, I was still just getting some new use out of my 500mm Tamron catadiop-tric lens. It's what I used for the hawk pictures near the top of this post, and for most of the flower pictures (and the lizard picture) later in this post. It's really trick to use, but, if you do manage to get a good focus, the narrow depth of field makes for some decent quasi-macro shots. It also produces the "doughnut hole" boka (out-of-focus blur) if there are any point light sources in the background.

Got one decent shot of what I assume to be a western fence lizard. This one's got a bit of color mixed into his back, though.
The last two miles or so of this trail give you some nice, wide-open vistas. You're running with good clearance to the south, and nice foregrounds both north and south. The trail also backtracks under itself on occasion, so you can get shots like the one a few down.

There was also a fair stretch where you could see downtown Los Angeles. It was a little hazy on this day, and, of course, from way out here in Claremont, you're practically in San Bernardino County, so the look back towards downtown L.A. is a long one.

This being back at the end of March, the wildflowers peak here had probably not been reached. The little tiny purple flowers in the fifth and eleventh pictures were among the more common, and they were far from obvious to see. The morning glory were also visible, down near the start of the hike. Didn't see much else for most of the hike, though the fiddleneck became common on the switchbacks near the end.

The only other interesting surprise was the cassia. I knew that plant from (informally) studying the Sunset Western Gardens book, back when I was looking for low-water use plants. These guys are from Australia, so I was a little surprised to see them out here in a "wilderness" park. Of course, it was just off a dirt road, and not that far from the street. Likely, seeds hitched their way up here from someone's tires or shoes, and they had such a plant in their yard.

Ideally, people would only plant native or quasi-native plants (plants that either naturally occur where you are using them, or immediately-adjacent area) in their yard. Then, even if they "escape," at least they are plants that belong in the area, and are plants that local insects and animals can utilize for food.

After getting lots of shots of the cassia, I made my way down towards my car. Just about five miles for the loop. Not sure on the altitude gain, but my very rough guess would be about 500 feet. Not much shade, except in the lowest sections of the trail. No water. Porta-potties are available at the bottom of the trail, and at a couple of places along the way.

It's a nice hike if the weather is mild, though by no means is this "wilderness." Apparently, cities have determined that if there are no ball fields and picnic tables in a park, it's a "wilderness" park.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hike 2014.026 -- Echo Mountain

Starting writing this post a week ago, but, just as I'm not finding much time for hiking, and I'm finding much time to blog.

This was my first hike in three weeks. That's probably the longest I've gone without an official hike (more than three miles, off-pavement) in four years.

In the interim, I did take a few short walks, either just around the block, or to the Huntington Gardens, or to Santa Anita Park. So I was not entirely sedentary. But I was way less active than I have been in the past. And, as past experience has taught me, a body at rest tends to stay at rest. It was tough to finally feel ready to hit the trail again.

As is almost always the case, once I finally get on the trail, I feel good. Nonetheless, because of the long layoff, I walked slower than normal.

I initially intended to hike to Henninger Flats. However, I had just barely started when I heard a Sheriff's Department announcement from a radio car: "The park closes today at 7pm). Did that mean they were going to lock the gate at 7pm? It's supposed to be locked at sunset, and there's usually a grace period, so I was thinking I'd have time (even leaving after 5:30pm) to get to Henninger and back. But the announcement spooked me, so I walked back to my car, and then drove west on Altadena Drive, over to Lake, then on up to the Echo Mountain trailhead.

Not a lot of density of flowers, but I photographed most of what I saw.

No pictures of some primrose near the start. But, other than that, pretty much everything I saw is here. First up was the phlox. Pretty and purple. I often wonder if these flowers were what the Start Trek people were thinking of when they named that character on ST: Voyager. Well not *really* often. But once in a while.

Then, a yellow flower I've seen and learned before, but could not find a name for this time around. Then some purple penstamon.
Next, some very orange-y monkey flower.

There were also plenty of wild mustard, though I don't photograph that very often. Don't want to reward the invasive!
As you gain altitude, the San Gabriel Mountains rise before you. I always love the color of the mountains when the sun gets low. The hikers to give perspective to the size was nice, too. Not by design, though: They just stopped at the point and left me no choice but to include them in my picture. Not complaining about that, though.

The next flowers on this parade of wildflowers after this mustard) are golden yarrow, desert poppies, black sage, and blue dicks.
After that, its mostly pictures of the "White City."

This trail is one I've walked probably more frequently than any other. It's also probably the first trail I ever hiked in the Angeles. It's a good length what a nice payoff at the end (the "White City").

Yet, despite these many return trips, I still see new things here. On this trip, I noticed what looks like a lot of restoration or conservation going on at the White City.

Walls that did not seem apparent in past trips have been cleared and partially re-stacked. Other rocks have been laid out to set off the man-made structures more obvious.

The best time to visit, in my opinion, is near sunset.

This trail looks to the south, but with good visibility to the west, as well. You can watch the sun a long time, and watch the long, warm colors of the setting sun affect the appearance of the walls of the old resort here on Echo Mountain. You can also watch the shadows of trees on those same walls. It's just an all-around great place to watch the sun set.

The other nice thing is, the trail is now very well improved and easy to walk, even in poor light.

That's not to say you can ignore where you put your feet. You still need to pay attention, of course.
However, with the clear trails, and the bright lights of the city below, if you can add a moon (which was there the evening I hiked), no flashlight is necessary, at least not until you're quite near the end, and the canopy blocks out those lights.

So, when I go, I typically try to start down pretty much as the sun sets, and can usually make it to the trialhead by the end of twilight.

Yet, wheat I have noticed is, even as I am heading down, others are heading up. Apparently, many people either spend the night, or at least some amount of time after dark up on this trail.

In total night (as opposed to twilight), flashlights might be helpful. My suspicion is, you'd only really need them at the end. But, being risk averse, I would tend to want to head down by sunset, to get off the mountain by the end of twilight.

Not much else to say. The hike was a success. I enjoy my time on the trail, although it really took some effort to get myself out of the house and on the trail for the first time in so long. Roughly five miles of hiking, and, as I recall, about 1200 feet of vertical gain. Perfect for a late weekend afternoon. Or even a weekday afternoon, if you can get up here early enough.