Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Gear

After hearing my story about Icehouse Canyon, my advisor hooked me up with this pair of crampons. Sweet! I can't wait to go ice climbing.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Central Coastin'

Just got back from a sweet 4-day trip up to the central coast with my friend Brian. We found wilderness, wildlife, waterfalls, great hiking, great camping, and some superb views...not to mention a dozen other great places to explore next time! It was an amazing trip, but instead of going on and on, I'm just going to post some highlights and photos...

Day One Highlights:

Cruised up to Carp, picked up Brian, and made our way to the central coast. Stopped in Solvang for windmill viewing, pastry purchasing, and a Danish sausage & meatball lunch. Nice views enroute past green, grassy hills north of Santa Barbara and around SLO. Enjoyed coastal scenery to the north along Hwy 1 through Cayucos, Cambria, and San Simeon. Pitched camp at a busy, but reasonably nice San Simeon SP right along the coast. Fell asleep to the sound of croaking frogs, and wondered what they were saying.*

* The answer, by the way, according to this and other references: Something along the lines of "hey baby, how *you* doin'?"

Day One Photos:

Pre-departure in Carp, napping on a hammock - always a good way to start the journey.

Solvang windmill

First night's dinner in camp at San Simeon

Day Two Highlights:

Took a stroll on the beach at San Simeon and took in scenic foggy views along with the local wildlife. Came across a sea lion on the beach and had a brief conversation, after we inadvertently woke him/her from a nap. Went in search of a quieter campground, and along the way found a sweet waterfall, spectacular coastal views, and lots of poison oak. Did our best to avoid the poison oak, and ultimately landed at a nice, small, inland campground along a rushing stream. Went for an evening hike (estimated distance 7mi) along a pretty ridgeline. Saw some cool birds. Enjoyed a relatively subdued death metal serenade from our all-black-wearing, skull-and-crossbone-tent-having camp neighbors (nicknamed "Goth Force"). Grateful we didn't bring any cats along.

Day Two Photos:

Dawn at San Simeon State Beach

This local resident was later seen sulking off into the ocean after evidently being awakened too early on a Saturday morning (see video below)

Pelican flyby


The itchy bush of evil

Just another typical Hwy 1 vista

Good things are in store when crossing grass-covered cattle grates

Camp two

Camp two's soothing stream

View from the evening hike

Brian's awesome pinecone perspective

Colorful manzanita

Enjoying the view (Brian's photo)

Moonrise through the trees

Rushing water at night - an artsy shot

Day Three Highlights:

Lounged around the campsite, took some pictures, then took off for a ridgeline hike. With no trail maps or guides available, every turn was a surprise and adventure. This one turned out nicely, as we discovered a spectacular blufftop overlook with a commanding 3000'+ view overlooking the Pacific. This spot is certain to be revisited on future expeditions. Roundtrip hiking distance was just over 10mi. Returned to camp to find Goth Force (and everyone else) gone. Found a group of yellow jackets, which we speculate were no longer a threat after having their venom extracted and consumed by Goth Force. Avoided them nonetheless. Enjoyed a refreshing bath in the chilly stream next to camp. Experimented with some night photography and enjoyed the stillness.

Day Three Photos:

Sunday morning at the campside stream

Along the trail, sporting a fashionable hiking stick

5 miles of ridgeline hiking rewarded

View from a future campsite

Wildflowers in bloom

California Poppy

Local resident (Brian's photo)

Brian's great trail shot from the return trip

Coolin' in the stream (Brian's photo)

Evening at camp under the moonlight

Fireside reader


Day Four Highlights

Drove back home along the coast, enjoying foggy morning coastal views, and scoping out potential destinations for future trips. Super stoked after such a great voyage!

Day Four Photos:

Foggy morning along the central coast


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Into the Great Wide Open

April Wilderness Weekend has arrived!

Cue the theme song...

The bag is packed...

Gear layout

rations are ready...

Grub layout

Grub detail

...and I'm all set to hit the road in the morning. As you can see, the camera is back from Canon, looking brand new. They did an amazing job, and all for free. Talk about earning a loyal customer!

I've got an open itinerary. The general plan is to head toward the central coast, get lost, and see what we find. My longtime friend and fellow Humboldt native Brian will be joining me, so I'm super-stoked to have a co-pilot!

Let the adventure begin!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Camera-phone improvisation. The Canon is allegedly fixed and on the way back home though!

Ahhhh, Sunday morning. A time for rest, relaxation, catching up on the wear and tear of the week, and beginning anew. A time to roll over, close your eyes, and go back to that nice dream you were having for a couple more hours.

This is what I was thinking as my pre-dawn alarm went off, beckoning me to get my ass up, shovel down some cereal, and hit the road. "I've had a good week, a productive week, a week of good training. I should just sleep in, enjoy some extra recovery. It will do me good." And I almost bought it. Almost. But it was Sunday, outdoor adventure day, and the thought of crisp, clean mountain air was just enough to roll me (literally) out of bed and into the kitchen. From there it was on!

Today's adventure took me to Icehouse Canyon, near Mt. Baldy in the San Gabriels. I hit the trail early because even though this trail is moderately strenuous, it's a beautiful and well-known wilderness area a mere hour from Downtown LA, so it attracts crowds. The parking lot was 2/3 full already when I arrived at 8am, if that provides any indication. Fortunately many of the hikers were interested only in the lower reaches of the trail, and by the time I made it a mile or two up, the crowd had dissipated a bit.

Today's round trip was 7.5 miles, to the Icehouse Saddle, and 5min additional up toward Timber Mountain. Elevation starts very close to 5000' and topped out around 7500'. The grade is pretty steady most of the way, so it's not a killer, but definitely not easy either. It took me 90 minutes up and 90 minutes back, largely because of some negotiation of hard packed, icy snow for the final 0.5-1 mile at the top end. My Achilles has been nagging me since a sprint workout on Wednesday, and at one point I almost turned back as it twinged in pain during a steep ascent.

What would happen if one tore their Achilles (or patellar) tendon several miles up a wilderness trail?

Bad news. That's all I can say.

At any rate, all was well. I took it slow toward the end of the uphill, and downhill was no problem. I'm definitely looking forward to my week of active rest though, having completed a six week training cycle! I took along my snowshoes today, partly in case I found any fun snowfields to play in, but mostly to test out my new snowshoe bag as a daypack. It worked great, although I need to custom engineer some sort of system to take weight off the shoulder straps and offload it to the hips. The snowshoes came in handy on the way back downhill. Hard packed, icy snow definitely is better suited to standard crampons, but the snowshoe crampons provided some much-appreciated grip.

Camera-phone II - among the trees enroute downhill

The trail itself was gorgeous, with a rushing stream, snowy vistas, chirping songbirds, and shady tree cover from the numerous pines and firs. Under sunny skies with temperatures in the 60s, the weather couldn't have been better. I really enjoyed this place. My only gripe is that I had to enjoy it with so many others, particularly those lacking basic trail etiquette. (e.g. there is a line of boy scouts moving at a pedestrian pace up the hill - move to the side and allow others to pass). On the other hand, humanity is always good for some sense of safety should an accident happen, and better yet, for entertainment value. Here are a few interesting and/or humorous observations from the day:

Approximately 70% of the people I saw today were Koreans, specifically older dudes and women who presumably were their wives. This is a shockingly disproportionate representation. What's the story? Is this some sort of Korean Mecca?

Speaking of Mecca, roughly 90% of the Koreans I saw (or 63% of the total hiking population) were wearing clothing that covered practically their entire face. Mind you this trail is largely tree covered - the sun wasn't really an issue. Is this some sort of Korean hajib? I don't get it. Somebody please explain it to me...

...and tell the old dudes they don't need walkie-talkies that are constantly buzzing in communication with their partners up the (well-maintained) trail. I finally broke down and asked one of these cats if they were training for a big expedition - like Everest - what with the walkie-talkies, satellite phone, and sherpas. Ok there weren't actually sherpas, and I'm not sure about the satellite phone. But one dude was blaring an opera out of a big set of speakers in his "daypack," which would have been suitable for a full-fledged Denali summit assault. No, just keeping in touch, he tells me. (shrug). Your knees, buddy.

Speaking of broken knees, what's up with ├╝bermeister running down the trail in his tight spandex shirt covered in sponsorship logos and blaring Lenny Kravitz in his ipod? Dude, nobody sponsors 40-year-old amateur trail runners. Let's be serious - you bought that shirt at Sport Chalet, do this once every third weekend, and will single-handedly keep the next generation of orthopaedic surgeons in business. But hey, at least you had the courtesy to keep your music to yourself (relatively).

...though this too can be problematic, when some dude is so absorbed in his Enya playlist that he doesn't notice the people behind him on the trail waiting for his pedestrian ass to get out of the way. Memo to the mountain lion community:

This is the slow, weak, stupid one in the herd.
Eat him.

There were several nice mountain cabins along the way. One featured full-up Himalayan prayer flags all around it, and a booming serenade of Jimi Hendrix. Unique. The other was for sale, listed by "Century 21 Beachside." We're roughly 50 miles from the nearest beach.

A barking chihuahua puppy was at the Icehouse Saddle, posing for pictures with his masters. I consulted my biomechanics textbook, did a few back-of-the-envelope calculations, and concluded that this "dog" took approximately 300 bazillion jillion steps to get up the trail. Seriously. That's like taking your kid on a day hike across Eurasia. If he was big enough he'd bite your stupid ass.

But taking the cake...some idiot donning only running shorts and a pair of these:
...seen attempting (rather unsuccessfully I'll add) to climb up a steep, ice-covered slope. In case there's any ambiguity, despite Lieberman's recent Nature publication, the success of the book "Born to Run," the Nike Free, and associated *hoopla* (note: previous word has been edited to maintain PG rating) about barefoot running, I think it's B.S. But hey, (shrug). Your feet buddy.

Even amidst the crowd, my tried and true method of finding solitude worked once again. Walk another 5 minutes past where everybody else goes - take that little bit of extra effort - and you'll enjoy the spoils. I felt contentedly (if arrogantly) satisfied as I ate my lunch at the top, listened to the breeze, then took a nice little nap.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Runyon Canyon

I wanted to sneak away for a quick hike this afternoon and enjoy the sunny day, so I decided to hit up Runyon Canyon. R.C. is a notoriously crowded place, so I figured a random middle-of-the-week trip was the best bet.

I headed to the north entrance, just west of the 101 off Mulholland. The parking lot was packed even at 1 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon. Sigh.. L.A. I found a spot down the road a little bit, and proceeded to hit the trail.

There were plenty of folks around, many with dogs in tow, and most very Hollywood, outdoor-poser looking. I'm not an outdoor snob. I swear. Still, the 3 mile loop hike was very enjoyable (I took a counterclockwise route), featured great views of the city, and was done in about an hour. The westerly side is definitely steeper, and I didn't particularly enjoy the downhill on a slippery dirt trail. In the future I'd vote for going clockwise to take that section uphill (and laugh at the aforementioned gasping, out-of-shape posers).

Camera is still out for repair, so no pictures, but soon again, I hope!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Here's a fact:

Go for a hike without your camera, and you're guaranteed to see some sweet views. Ones you want to take pictures of.

Here's another fact:

The Mugu Peak and La Jolla Valley trails in Pt. Mugu State Park have some sweet views. I'm not kidding. That place is amazing.

I cruised up for an Easter Sunday hike, and was treated to a beautiful, green grassland, amazing wildflowers, towering ocean views, and some pretty decent exercise.

The loop trail I took covered approximately 5 miles with elevation gain of about 1200', this according to the excellent trail description at Modern Hiker.

That 5mi/1200' number is deceptive, however, as 2/3 of the elevation gain happens in the first 0.7mi. The first 15 minutes of this hike had my calves screaming for mercy (they got none). While that may have had something to do with the toasting of my legs I did in the weight room on Saturday, I think I'd be feeling this section regardless.

Once past the initial grade, I was treated to a sweeping vista of picturesque, tall, green grass, with mountains all around. Boney Peak is particularly prominent to the NNE. As my camera is currently enroute to Canon for repair, I made an effort of capturing the scene with my cell phone, though it doesn't do it justice.

Looking north across the grasslands toward Boney Peak

As I walked across the grassy plain, I saw blooming wildflowers of just about every color - white, red, orange, blue, purple, and yellow. At times the grass was shoulder-high. I felt like I could have been in the African savannah, with an okapi or lion about to jump out. Maybe that's why I jumped about 3' in the air when some dude came jogging up the path behind and startled me. Fortunately he was one of only about a dozen folks I saw all day, despite beautiful, sunny, 70 degree weather.

The songbirds were chirping, lizards were running about along the path, and best of all there was a beautiful silence interrupted only by the sound of the wind blowing through the tall grass. The only issue I ran into was some poison oak. And when I say some, I mean a lot. Massive bushes, some of the biggest I've ever seen. Evidently this is prime habitat. Fortunately, the poison oak forests were concentrated in just a few spots along the trail, and with some caution I think I avoided any contact.

The second half of the hike climbed up to Mugu Peak, and along the way provided some great views of the Pacific below, and out to Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. There was a fair amount of marine haze, so Catalina wasn't visible, though I'm sure on a clear day one could see her as well as the Palos Verdes peninsula.

After the steep descent back to the trailhead, I took a little walk on the beach, and finished with a ceremonial pumpkin tossing. Watching the little gord slowly float out to sea, the significance of the moment struck me. Some say this day is one of resurrection, and indeed I think I experienced a certain rebirth, or at the very least, rejuvenation. Good stuff.