Saturday, May 29, 2010

Griffith Park Circuit

The urban wilderness above downtown Los Angeles

Hiking at Griffith Park is kind of like the outdoorsy equivalent of going to run laps around the track. It beats the treadmill at the gym, provides some fresh air, and has decent scenery, at least from an urban perspective. It's never going to provide that amazing, calm, and satisfying feeling of really getting out in the wilderness. You're almost never going to have it to yourself. But when you live in LA, and the freeways are jammed on a holiday weekend, it beats the heck out of a lot of other ways to spend an afternoon.

So, today I took a 6mi, 1100' loop route, starting from the parking area near the Merry Go Round. I'd been to this area before (bittersweet memories), but never on this particular path, which took me to the top of Mt. Bell, then circled back past Mt. Hollywood to Fern Canyon. Here's a map:

I celebrated completion of my weeklong qualifying exam (results pending) with one of my world famous breakfasts, so I was feeling good.

With some more aggressive hiking than I've been doing lately planned for the upcoming weeks, I figured I'd use the opportunity to test my fitness a little bit. 1100' over 3mi is nothing crazy, but it's not trivial either, particularly when you decide to hammer the pace. I made it to the top of Mt. Bell in about 50 minutes, so I felt pretty good. The view from there was nice, and it seems much less visited than nearby Mt. Hollywood. This lizard hanging out on the rock was my only company for lunch:

After lunch I took my time coming down the bottom half of the loop, enjoying the scenery along the way. Total trip time: 2.5 hours.

Mt. Bell summit

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Exploring the PV Peninsula

Seeing as I'll be spending the upcoming week cooped up indoors doing my qualifying exams, I went for an outdoor double-dip this weekend. My buddy Gregg sent along a couple trails on the Palos Verdes peninsula, so after a hearty Sunday breakfast I went for it.

First stop was Malaga Cove, and a hike along the coastline. The trailhead is at Malaga Cove School, which with its palm trees, manicured landscaping, and ornate spires is pretty much exactly like my elementary school, and I'm sure yours too:

Most of the shoreline here is rocky and narrow, so a check of the tide table and surf was a must. Tide was relatively low (2') and dropping when I arrived, and surf was moderate (3-5') so I figured all would be well. Unfortunately I only got about 5min down the beach before I ran into an impasse:

With the crashing surf and no knowledge of what lied around the corner, trying to shoot around this point would have been a bad call, despite having stashed the car key away in my trusty, waterproof Otter Box. I figure the winter surf and storms probably eroded a normally wider beach - it would be interesting to return here later in the year. So I hiked back up the bluff, down the road a bit, and found another path down to the water, just north of Bluff Cove. From there I hiked down the rocky beach toward Rocky Point. This was a good ankle workout with all the loose rocks.

Rocky coastline

Along the way I spotted a bunch more wildflowers (I'm surprised how many are still out this late in the spring!), a dead sea lion, some lizards, decent tidepools, and few other hikers.

Beachside flora

Even though it was a beautiful day, if a bit windy, the rockhopping seemed to deter most other visitors, who stuck to the bluffs above. After a while I decided that I too had enough rockhopping, and just short of the point scrambled up a big storm drain to the blufftop road, which I followed back to the car. Roundtrip distance for this part of the trip was around 4.8mi, with a net 300' elevation gain/loss.

Blufftop tree along the return route

Next I drove up through Rolling Hills to Del Cerro Park, a really nice spot perched atop the hill with beautiful views of the coast and out to Catalina Island. I did a quick, easy, and pleasant 1.7mi, 350' roundtrip to the top of a little pine-treed knoll, where I had some lunch and enjoyed the view.

Scenic knoll near Del Cerro Park - note Catalina Two Harbors isthmus on the crooked horizon

My favorite part of this hike was walking through the tall, reddish-hued grass that swayed in the wind:

So, after about 13mi of outdoor exploring over the weekend, I suppose it's about time for me to get back to least temporarily.

A hui hou!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mysteries of Rustic Canyon

Google Earth view of the route. Map here.

Jay called last night to see if I was down for a hike today, which of course I was (like a clown, Charlie Brown). Both of us were looking for something local, and though I'm itching to get out of the city, that will have to wait for at least next weekend, or maybe the upcoming Pac NW trip next month. So we hit up Rustic Canyon near Brentwood, which is in the Santa Monicas, just a couple canyons west of Mandeville, and a few east of Temescal. This was an approximately 6.5mi round trip, short on elevation challenge (a few hundred feet), but long on human interest. Rustic Canyon, as it turns out, is quite mysterious.

The first 1.2mi of the trip was up a paved fire road that featured nice views back toward Palos Verdes and the Santa Monica Bay.

Looking south over Santa Monica Bay to Palos Verdes

At this point we turned off on a side trail that led to a mysterious, old compound of reinforced concrete and steel buildings, along with an inordinate number of long, concrete staircases. Legend holds that this was a WWII era hideaway for Los Angeles nazis, built with the fortune of one Winona Stevens, mining heiress, at the behest of one "Herr Schmidt," nazi spy. This is not established fact, mind you, but a popular legend advertised by a non-trivial number of internet sources (just search google for "rustic canyon nazi") all of which seem to be sourced to a handful of LA Times articles. Both Jay and I are a bit skeptical, but who knows, as the history is apparently rather unclear. At any rate, nowadays the place seems home mostly not to disaffected zealots, but disaffected youth expressing their dismay via graffiti:

Graffiti covers the most intact structure on the property

Behold the "imposing villainy." Life is tough in Brentwood. Is that Sponge Bob?

After taking in the creepy scene for a few minutes and watching a lizard do some pushups, we wandered up the canyon creekbed, dodged some poison oak (FUPO!)...uh oh, here comes another tangent...

Today I came up with an ingenious solution to the P.O. problem: genetically modified replacement P.O. Ok, it sounds crazy, but hear me out... first, we modify P.O. so that it no longer produces its evil urushiol. This can't be too hard. After all, scientists just created artificial life (sort of). Then we modify it so that it out-competes normal P.O. for resources. I'm not sure exactly how to do this. Ecologists? Finally, we spread our new "Friendly Oak" (Love You F.O.!) far and wide, destroying P.O. FOREVER. Bwahahahaha.

Ok, end tangent.

So we walked up the canyon, and after a while stumbled across a camp full of girl scouts. That was cool. Young women learning to love the great outdoors at places like Daisy Way, Junior Junction, and Brownie Town...

There were only two problems:

1) No cookies for sale. WTF, mate?

2) The rifle range:

What? Since when do brownies pack heat? We weren't taking any chances, so we hoofed it out of there (past the very nice swimming pool), and up the road to this "wilderness outpost" (read "picnic area"), where we had some lunch and rock-throwing contests (Jay won, convincingly).

Today Jay got both the hat and the shirt right. Nice work Julia. Fight On!

On the way back, I snapped a few wildflower photos, and we were greeted by a pair of nonpoisonous snakes:

Wildflower scene, including the thistle, a thorny plant I respect

Just keep your distance, reptilian one, and we're cool

Another great day in the outdoors, and home in time to bake (and eat) a shepherd's pie. Boo ya!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Return to Paseo Miraniebla

I nombre niebla: the heavy fog kept us from arriving on time, la densa niebla nos impidió llegar a tiempo

Last time I went hiking at Paseo Miramar was in the middle of a torrential rainstorm, so while I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, I didn't exactly get to see the spectacular views that everybody raves about. So, when friends Jay and Julia suggested a Sunday morning hike on the westside, I figured what better opportunity to revisit and see the sights?!

Julia navigates our way through the dense fog. Notice her excellent choice of cardinal and gold Trojan Crew gear. Fight On! At least Jay got the hat right.

We hit the 5mi roundtrip, 1000' net elevation gain trail around 9:45, again under a dense marine layer. Beginning the hike, the homes and coastline of Pacific Palisades were visible through the fog, and I figured by the time we got to the top at Parker Mesa, the sky would be clear.

We spotted many wildflowers, birds, and lizards along the way, as well as some poison oak, which prompted a diatribe on my part about this plant's passive-aggressive cowardice. Beware the upcoming tangent...

Seriously. A thorny cactus I can respect. It makes its intention to harm well-known, and provides fair warning and opportunity for me to avoid it. Likewise the poisonous berry, which while using its bright, shiny fruit to attract me in an effort to spread its seed at least requires that I make a conscious effort to do it mortal harm before it levies any damage. Stupid poison oak, on the other hand, just lies there in wait for me to incidentally brush past, gives no announcement of its presence or my violation of its space (particularly during non-leaved times of year), then days later strikes out with an itchy, malicious rash. Were it a predator that required such a strategy to catch me, or if it benefited in some way from deceptively brushing across my leg, I'd still be pissed, but I'd have to offer my respect. But no. Hey, P.O., what's your problem dude? That's just not cool. Stand up and fight me like a man! A plant with no integrity. F.U.P.O.

As a side note, I would welcome any input from a trained botanist (or other expert) on exactly what evolutionary (or otherwise) advantage is afforded the poison oak/ivy/sumac by it's evil itchiness. Speaking of evolution, check out this funny badge I spotted on the back of someone's car this morning:

Do I see a striking resemblance to the Abominable Olympic Snowman?

...ok, end tangent.

The highlight of the trip was a doe that we spotted near the top of the trail, casually grazing on some bushes, evidently unaffected by the nearby human traffic. Jay speculated that she recognized visitors from Santa Monica and Malibu as unlikely hunters, and therefore felt no threat. Julia added that she probably knew she could run faster than us anyway.

We reached the top of the trail, looked out to the horizon, and saw a beautiful...

...gray blanket of fog. Pretty much just like last time I was here, only without the rain. DOH!

After a brief rest and snack, we made our way back down the hill, and off to Santa Monica for some great Italian sandwiches. All in all, this was a fun little morning scamper, and I always enjoy some friendly company!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beach Walk

Today on my way home I stopped by my favorite beach for a little afternoon stroll. It was a beautiful day outside, and as I strolled down along the water a huge smile came across my face, thinking of how I love the sand and the surf, and how dearly I'd missed it in the years I lived far away.

It was a really windy day outside, which was good in terms of having blown some smog, fog, and marine layer away and providing nice views. It was also cool to see the whitecaps out on the water, and the sun was in just the right spot to highlight the dense nearshore kelp beds.

Walking down to the beach - note kelp beds

However, the sandblasting effect was a little bit much. I guess the weather service wasn't playing around with that gale advisory. Anyway, I made the best of it and stuck close to the water while making my way down toward the sea caves, because after all, what's cooler than a sea cave? Seriously. I want you to think about that for a second... what's cooler than a sea cave?

As a reminder, this is a sea cave. In fact the very sea cave I speak of. Cool, huh?

Whaddya got? That's right, nothing. Me either. Because nothing's cooler than a sea cave. In fact, even nothing isn't cooler, because there isn't anything cooler than a sea cave. OK.

So I figured the wind-impenetrable sea cave would be just the place to hang out for a while, take some pictures, and enjoy the day. That is, until I got to the sea cave, walked around, and noticed a sea weirdo lurking nearby. The sea weirdo was roughly clad, suspicious looking, and seemed rather protective of the sea cave. So I kept walking, figuring I was overreacting, and he was probably just enjoying the wind-shielded sea cave too. After all, he had nothing on the weirdo that Jay and I once near this very spot with a black robe and big pewter goblet.

As I walked away, I glanced back a few times and spotted the sea weirdo continuing his suspicious behavior, hopping and running about near the sea cave. Maybe he was practicing his monkey jump kung fu?

At this point I was hatching a contingency plan for getting back to the car that didn't involve going back past the cave and weirdo. "Screw that," I finally decided, "I'm going back to hang out in the cool sea cave."

As I walked back, I was on keen lookout for the weirdo, but only saw an unidentified pinniped swimming around in the water. Apparently it too was sketched-out by the sea weirdo, because it ducked under a wave and kept swimming. Good plan, pinniped. As I passed through a smaller, nearby sea cave, I glanced to my right and noticed the weirdo tucked into a corner behind a rock, hiding under a blanket. He wasn't doing a good job hiding, because I could clearly see his weirdo-ass moving around underneath the blanket. I kept an eye on him as I walked away, and noted that he peered out several times from under the blanket, then started stalking toward me. Freaking weirdo. Fortunately I had about 50 yards on him by this point, and was confident he was substantially slower than a buffalo. I passed quickly through the cave, back up the beach, and never spotted the weirdo again. Weird.

Pelican weirdo patrol

After checking out the tidepools for a while, I decided to call it a day.

Cool tidepools - note starfish


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Holy Batcave, Batman!

This doesn't even really count as a hike, but today I went to Griffith Park in my sandals with my beach chair, looking for a nice spot to sit down for the afternoon and read a book. I wandered up a trail and stumbled into what turns out is the infamous Batcave.

I didn't have my camera, but here's a picture that somebody else took:

Bronson (Bat)cave

I had no idea I'd visited the Batcave until I came home, googled the place, and found all this information about it.

I thought the cave was kind of cool, but actually spent more time scrambling around on the nearby hills, trying to get up on top of a sweet rock to sit my chair down and chillax. Let me tell you, that place is rockslide city, and I was not at all equipped. I did eventually find a nice spot with a view of the Hollywood sign, and enjoyed my afternoon, but not before cutting my feet and hands up trying to climb steep, slippery rockslides on the back side of the cave. At one point after clamboring up a particularly nasty section, I set my chair down in a nice, shady spot (next to a rock wall), only to be greeted within moments by falling rocks from above. No bueno.

Aside from the sliding rock, this place is quite nice. A quiet, peaceful place to listen to the birds, the wind, and take in a little mountain view. The hike itself is trivial (15min roundtrip), and for those with a thing for Batman or Star Trek, the cave is a nice bonus.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mandeville Canyon

Shot up to Mandeville Canyon near Brentwood for a quick hike today before the Trojan/Bruin water polo match. The hike was neither easy nor hard, about 8 miles round trip with a net elevation gain of 700'. The sunny, 70 degree southern California weather was perfect, and there were many blooming wildflowers to be seen, along with lizards, crows, and butterflies.

Even LA's wildflowers are jumping on the Laker bandwagon

This hike features nice views down to the Santa Monica bay and coastline, along with downtown LA, and - from the top of San Vicente Mountain - Burbank and the valley. There was quite a bit of haze, smog, and marine layer today, however, which rendered downtown and the San Gabriels barely visible.

There was a bit of a crowd (maybe a couple dozen), including a number of mountain bikers, but relatively speaking it wasn't bad considering the proximity to town and easy accessibility. There were lots of cool dogs too, my personal favorite being a chubby, furry Belgian Shepherd spotted near the top.

The best surprise for me was a historic Nike Hercules missle radar site at the top of the trail. Despite my obsession in youth over all things aircraft, I've never studied surface-to-air missles, and was shocked to learn that the U.S. once had nuclear-tipped SAMs. Holy cow! I guess that's one way to take out an incoming bomber.

There are a number of informational signs, as well as a great lookout tower, which I enjoyed all to myself while having lunch before a crowd showed up.

Another successful (urban) wilderness adventure!


Aerial Combat Maneuvering

OK, so this isn't really an outdoor adventure, but I have to share this story of the most amazing bird fight I saw today.

My buddy Jay and I were hanging out watching the track meet at UCLA, when along comes a soaring hawk flying by overhead. I always enjoy watching the birds, so I was checking him out, and noticed a crow was flying with him. At first I thought it was a coincidence, until I saw the crow dive-bombing and trying to attack him. The crow did this repeatedly, as the hawk did evasive maneuvers. They kept circling over the track, providing us a perfect vantage point. It was serious, like a straight up Top Gun dogfight. At one point the guy sitting in front of us, who had also noticed the action overhead, turned around and said "do you guys see this shit?!" They were engaged in a major aerial battle. This lasted a minute or two before the hawk landed in a nearby tree, at which point I figured the show was over.

Wrong. As the hawk sat in the tree, Crow-G went and gathered up his posse, and soon enough there were 3, 4, then 5 crows circling and dive-bombing the tree. The hawk took off and flew overhead again, the dogfight resuming for what must have been another 5 minutes. The only way I can describe it is to say it was exactly like the final battle scene in Top Gun, where Iceman's F-14 was surrounded by enemy MiGs:

Jester's words echoed... "The jets you're flying against are smaller, faster, and more maneuverable."

The crows kept attacking, but couldn't seem to do any damage. The hawk kept outmaneuvering the crows without ever going on the offensive.

Iceman: "Mustang this is Voodoo 1, we are totally defensive, launch the alert fighter!"

In time a couple of the crows bugged out, and it was down to 3 on 1. Unfortunately the fight moved off into the distance and we never saw the conclusion. My assumption is that it ended just like Top Gun, with another hawk coming in to save the day.

"Maverick supersonic, I'll be there in 30 seconds."

Good stuff...