Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mt. Waterman by Snow

Southeast Ridge of East Twin Peak
I don't own that much snow gear. But it hasn't always been that way. When I was a younger fellow living in Utah, I had plenty of cold-weather gear because I was out in the snow every chance I got. But those days are a distant memory. I'm a Southern Californian now. As a result, I'm what you might disparagingly call a fair-weathered hiker. And unfortunately you'd be right.

But with the spate of recent storms, I've been watching the snow pile up in the local mountains. And I've been hearing about everyone's amazing winter adventures. And suddenly I got a longing to be out in the snow again. So this weekend, I gathered together my rather skimpy collection of winter gear--boots, gaiters, micro-spikes, jacket, gloves, hat, and pack--and headed up the Angeles Crest Highway. Mt. Waterman Ski Lifts was reporting between 14-22" of snow so that was my destination.

Driving up the ACH, the roads were clear and the sailing was smooth until I reached Newcomb's Ranch. Beyond that point, the traffic suddenly began to bunch up. Then it came to a complete standstill. Traffic jam 51 miles up the Angeles Crest. Jesus, I can't escape it even in the mountains.

The source of the traffic jam, I discovered was the hordes of Angelenos who had brought their kids into the mountains that day to do the exact same thing I was doing: to play in the snow. They crowded the roadways, filled the parking areas to capacity, and occupied every hill and dale between Newcomb's Ranch and Cloudburst Summit. I admit to being irritated by the throngs as I crawled up the highway, but it was hard to be angry at them because I understood the magnetic force that drew them there. And candidly, I felt a bit sorry for the kids for whom snow is such a novelty that even a thin, solitary patch of dirty ice was cause for excitement and celebration.

At Cloudburst, the traffic fell away again and a short time later I was trudging up the Mt. Waterman trail. Between the trail head and the fire road spur to the east, the path had been broken but had not seen much use. Beyond that point, the track was traveled, firm underfoot, and easy to follow.

Despite temperatures in the high 30s, the day felt warm as I ascended the trail in solitude so I quickly jettisoned my jacket. Water music was playing at the first creek crossing. Where the path attains the ridge, clouds boiled up from the valley and I could see Ontario Peak peaking out from behind the grey cover to the east.

3/4 of a mile before the summit, at the junction with the trail that comes up from Three Points to the west, I stopped briefly for water and to take in my surroundings. The snowy path leading to the Twin Peaks was pristine and unbroken. If anyone has been out that way recently, if wasn't from the north. Beyond the junction, the path swings gently around to the north side of Waterman before cresting the broad dual-humped summit. Here, the pleasant path through the soft, powdery white stuff was slightly less-traveled but still obvious. This was the best part of the trail.

Atop Waterman, thawing ice was falling from the trees creating a cacophony that continually disrupted the quietude. There, I sat on a log by myself listening to the mountain symphony, absorbing the moment, and storing it in my memory bank.

As I retraced my steps on the way down, the forest began to get misty and mysterious as the low clouds I saw earlier breached the ridge and spilled into the Buckhorn area. The temperature was perceptibly lower now and the snow crunchier. I stopped one more time at the creek crossing to admire again the strangeness of water coursing down the channel before the short walk back to the trail head. Reflecting on the day back at the car, I realized how beautiful and unfamiliar the mountains are in a blanket of snow. If this winter thing starts to become a regular occurrence, I just may have to get myself some proper gear so that I can graduate to become a foul-weathered hiker like the rest of you.

Beginning of the Trail

First Creek Crossing

View Toward Pleasant View Ridge

Snowy Trail

Easy Track to Follow Through the Forest

Ontario Peak and Turtle's Beak Peaking Out from the Clouds

View North to Burkhart Saddle


Can't Get Enough of this View

Along the Switchers

Unbroken Snow at Intersection with Twin Peaks Trail

The Final 3/4 of a Mile

Nearing the Summit

The Twins from Waterman's Summit

Waterman's Snow-Capped Summit

Reluctantly Heading Back Down

Encroaching Cloud Cover

Getting a Bit Foggy

Blessed Snow

Clouds Spilling Over Kratka Ridge

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

San Gabriel 3-Pack

Snow-Capped Mt. Baldy from the San Gabriel Peak Trail
I've been missing the San Gabriel Mountains something fierce lately. Looking back at my pictures, I realized why: it has been nearly two months since my last visit. In those two months, I have been to the Los Padres and trod the trails of the open space surrounding my house, but I had neglected one of my first local loves. So Sunday, I decided to make a dash up Highway 2 to embrace an old friend before the deluge the weather experts were predicting hit the southland.

Without a concrete plan, I started up the Angeles Crest out of Pasadena figuring I'd stop when something tickled my fancy. That tickle came at Red Box when I thought about the cluster of peaks and fine scenery available immediately out of Eaton Saddle. So I swung the car onto the road leading to Mt. Wilson and shortly thereafter I pulled into a relatively empty parking area at the head of Eaton Canyon.

The day was warm and gorgeous despite the impending storm as I started down the road leading to the Markham Saddle. This was not new territory for me, but I had forgotten how utterly dramatic the headwall of Eaton Canyon is. The ruggedness of this place is made all the more impressive by the impenetrable walls of Mt. Markham and San Gabriel Peak which flank the fire road and tower overhead as you head west. 

Through the Mueller Tunnel and at the Markham Saddle, I angled left following the well-established trail leading toward Mt. Lowe. To my right was beautiful upper Bear Canyon. At the saddle an easy stroll later, I made a hard turn left and followed the obvious use trail east along the ridgeline to the summit of Mt. Markham. The last time I was out this way, this ridgeline had a healthy population of Turricula parryi that you needed to negotiate. That Poodle Dog is still there, but now it is very easily avoidable. On top, I lounged on a big rock at the eastern terminus of the long, flat summit while I admired the views and listened intently to the quiet. The gigantic summit cairn I had encountered on my previous visit had been dismantled in favor of a shallow windbreak of sorts. The summit register was no where to be found.

Looking East Through the Gap at Eaton Saddle
Upper Bear Canyon from Markham Saddle

My Throne on the Summit of Mt. Markham

San Gabriel Peak as Seen from the Summit of Mt. Markham

Mt. Baldy from the Summit of Mt. Markham

The Peaks of the High Country from Mt. Markham

Looking Down on the Mueller Tunnel from Mt. Markham

Eaton Canyon and Henninger Flats from Mt. Markham

The L.A. Basin and Beyond
After lolly-gagging around for entirely too long in the mountain sublimity, I reluctantly roused myself from my high-altitude stupor and headed back to the Markham Saddle. There, I veered north and started the enjoyable climb to the summit of San Gabriel Peak. This is a more popular destination and I encountered a number of folks going up and coming down the well-trod trail. A short time later, I crested the high point of San Gabriel, stretched out on the ample summit bench, and resumed the slothful ways I began on Mt. Markham.

San Gabriel is a super nice peak. Quintessential San Gabriel Mountains in more than name. To me, it epitomizes what the front range is all about. If I had visitors from out of town who only had one day to explore and wanted to experience the history, beauty, and ruggedness of the Angeles National Forest, this is where I would send them.

Eventually, the breeze started to blow and the temps began to drop some, so I turned tail and headed back down. At the trail junction leading to Mt. Disappointment, I continued straight on a whim and then ascended the short and boring asphalt road to the top of antennae-clad summit of Mt. Disappointment. Viewing the ugly summit, one could be forgiven for believing that the name of this peak is somehow related to its present looks. But as you all know, the views from this peak are anything but disappointing.  

On the way back to Eaton Saddle, I stopped briefly at the eastern entrance of the Mueller Tunnel to admire the remnants of the treacherous Cliff Trail that the tunnel rendered obsolete. What remains of that track, which cuts across the sheer southern escarpment of San Gabriel Peak, can still be seen on the outside of the cliff face. It's had to fathom that trail as the only route between Eaton Saddle and Markham Saddle. I imagine folks from the past, men in their wool suits and hats, and women in their gunny sack dresses and clunky shoes, crossing that precipitous stretch of trail as they carefully made there way from Professor Lowe's Ye Alpine Tavern to the summit of Mt. Wilson. Hardy bastards they were back then. A short distance later, I passed a group of new-agers burning incense and practicing yoga at a vantage point on the edge of fire road. This too was quintessential San Gabriel Mountains.

Although it did rain later that night, the overly-hyped and much anticipated storm of Biblical proportions never materialized. It never does in these perpetual times of drought. But the mere threat of it occurring was motivation enough for me to get back into the Angeles National Forest after a short hiatus. And like every time I step into the forest, I'm very grateful that I did.

Mt. Baldy and Friends from the Summit of San Gabriel Peak

DTLA from San Gabriel Peak

Million Mile Views from Atop San Gabriel Peak

San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Markham from Mt. Disappointment

Mt. Markham and Mt. Lowe from Mt. Disappointment

The Views from Mt. Disappointment are Clearly Not Disappointing Even Though the Summit Is

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Escape: Scenes from 2016


2016 is in the books. Looking back, and with a few notable exceptions, it seems like I explored closer to home this last year than I have in the past. I was also a bit more social in my explorations as I had a number of outings with family and friends. Another memorable year. Can't wait to see what 2017 has in store for us all. Happy New Year everyone. Get outside and get some.

Apology: I lost some image quality in the upload so the images are not as crisp as they should be. Apologies for my technical ineptitude.

Copyright Disclaimer: The pictures here are mine. The accompanying music and lyrics are not and I claim no right, title, or interest to them. Instead, they are the intellectual property of the band Radiohead and/or its members and/or their label and/or ASCAP.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Observation Point: Zion National Park

Bridge Mountain
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I was fortunate to find myself in the spectacular red-rock playground that is Southern Utah. Early winter is really a superb time to be there. The days are relatively warm, the nights are cool, and the sky is always a brilliant blue. What else to do than visit iconic Zion National Park?

The day after Thanksgiving seemed like the best day to go since we were driving back to Southern California on Saturday instead of Sunday. I've driven the I-15 on the Sunday after Thanksgiving many times and it is not something I care to repeat ever again. That stretch of road from Las Vegas to Victorville is a dangerous and crowded gambit under the best of circumstances, but on the Thanksgiving weekend it becomes a frustrating death crawl. As it turned out, making that drive back on Saturday involved ten hours in the car and clawing our way through a 50-mile parking lot from Vegas to the California state line. So that traffic-avoidance strategy failed miserably. But I digress.

Friday morning we were up and out of the house much later than anticipated. Forty-five minutes later we were in Springdale sitting in a traffic jam heading into the Park. Instead of waiting in that interminable line, we ditched the car along the main drag and walked the rest of the way to the Park entrance. I've done this before and the benefit was a substantially discounted entry fee. This time, when I stepped up to the kiosk to pay, the Ranger rung me up at the full $30. Before paying, I told him I thought the Park charged a lesser fee to those who walk or bike in to encourage that type of thing. That was true, I was informed, but not on days like this day when the parking lot was already bursting to capacity. Hmmm. A harbinger of things to come.

Past the kiosk, we headed toward the boarding area for the mandatory shuttle that would take us into Zion Canyon. There, we encountered a long line of about 500 folks waiting to do the same. Someone nearby crabbed that the experience was more akin to Disneyland than a National Park and I shook my head in knowing agreement. Our outdoor public places are being loved to death. We need more of them, not less.
Big Bend and the Organ

Observation Point

My Two Favorite Hiking Buddies

Daddy - Daughter Date
After what seemed an eternity, we finally boarded a shuttle and were on our way. Before getting to our destination at Weeping Rock, however, the shuttle had to first go through the motions of making stops at the Zion Museum, Canyon Junction, and the Court of the Patriarchs where absolutely nobody got off and nobody got on.

At Weeping Rock (Shuttle Stop No. 7), we de-boarded the shuttle, secured our gear, and started up the East Rim Trail that would take us to Observation Point. The climb out of the canyon begins immediately as the path switch-backs up the imposing sandstone wall on the east side of Virgin River. Cable Mountain and the Great White Throne tower overhead as pretty views of the Big Bend and the Organ open below. A short distance up, a trail splits off to the right and climbs stoutly ala Walters Wiggles into cool Hidden Canyon. We continued on the main path which ultimately levels out some and then enters beautiful Echo Canyon, tracking the creek that has carved a deep gash in the soft red rock. On the cliffs high above us, we caught glimpses of Big Horn Sheep foraging precariously on the steep hillside.

Out of the creek-bed and through a narrow slot in the orange sandstone, the walls fall away and the character of the canyon suddenly changes. Here, the rock is cream-colored and the flora is evergreen. A trail into upper Echo Canyon and ultimately, Cable Mountain branches off to the east, but it doesn't appear to see much use even though it is well marked. Beyond this point, the path steepens again as it climbs vigorously to the top of plateau. Once on top, we had a short, flat stroll out to Observation Point which affords the best views of Zion Canyon. Yeah, yeah, I know. What about Angel's Landing? Angel's Landing, the crowd favorite, is cool and should be experienced, but Observation Point has superior views and is far from the madding crowds.
Desert Bighorn High on the Hillside

Oh, Hello

Sandstone Wonderland - East Mesa Trail

Trail Views

Looking Into Echo Canyon

The Valley from Observation Point. Angel's Landing in the Lower Right Foreground

Observation Point Benchmark - Elevation 6,508'

Oh, the Views

Unfortunately, because it was so late in the day, the light was not optimal so our pics of Zion Canyon from above do not reflect the awesomeness of this place. For that same reason, we didn't have much time to spend on top because we had to hustle back down while we still had light and the shuttles were running. So after a late lunch and a zen moment, we turned tail and began the trek back to Weeping Rock.

On the way back through Echo Canyon, we saw some Big Horn Sheep tracks in the soft sand and spoke about how fortunate we were to see one on the way up. Twenty minutes later, as we were descending the switchbacks into Zion Canyon, two young rams bounded across the trail about 20 yards in front of us. As we furiously clicked away, they grazed on the spare hillside forage completely unconcerned with us and our cameras. One even cut across the hillside about 10 yards above us and peered over the edge which was both exhilarating and frightening. Up close, they are huge and imposing animals.

Late Afternoon Shadows in Echo Canyon

Cable Mountain

More Desert Bighorn Sheep

Up Close and Personal

Look at Those Beautiful Horns

Walk Away. Yeah, That's Right

You Lookin' at Me?

Done Playing with the Humans
Back in the canyon, we boarded one of the last shuttles out as the sky faded to black. The contraption was packed to the gills so we stood. As more and more folks loaded on at each stop, we were slowly forced to the rear as our personal space compressed down to nothing. With everyone putting out their own thermal energy, the shuttle was already quite warm, but the driver had the heat blasting which made it an unbearable furnace. And then it happened. Like it always happens in these situations. Someone cracked one. The nauseating stench permeated the bus and enveloped us all, but nobody said anything. It's not what you do in polite company. So we all sat and/or stood there in the oppressive heat and the foul air hanging on in quiet desperation and pretending all was well. Finally, someone unlatched a window a bit and cool, clean air came filtering in. I would have kissed the guy on the lips if I could have, but he was out of reach and was with his wife. 

Twenty minutes or so later, after having stopped at the Zion Museum once again on the off chance that someone in the over-crowded shuttle wanted to get on or off (which they didn't), we pulled into the parking lot of the Visitor's Center where we all poured out of the bus and into the chill of the inviting Southern Utah night.