Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sandstone Peak 2 aka "Mud Bath Trail"

Hike: Sandstone Peak via the Backbone & Mishe Mokwa Trails

The Inspiration: Memories of our last trip to Sandstone Peak; the promise of post-rain water everywhere!

Highest Altitude: 3,111'

Trip Mileage: 6.6

Total 2010 Mileage: 28.6

The recent-ish spate of wet weather here in SoCal prompted a return trip to one of our favorite trails in the Santa Monica Mountains - the Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak. This was actually the first trail Rebecca and I trod on together, and it was time for some re-treading, full of anticipation for the wet wonderland surely laid out before us.

Joined by Casey and Kolby, we tightened the ole bootstrings and began the muddy hike in from the Backbone Trail.

The very muddy hike in.

The very very muddy hike in.

I blurted out, "This is kind of like walking in poop."

Rebecca looked back at me, clearly disgusted.

I continued on, anyways, brain-to-mouth filter broken for the moment: "Yeah, just the color and the consistency and everything. Totally like walking in poop."

We carried on in silence.

Whilst I quietly and perversely contemplated the position of this particular mud on the Human Waste Color/Consistency Continuum, the landscape opened up like a fresh post-rain bloom all around us - the snow-capped mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, the newly greened hills cleaving into canyons drenched in rainwater, the almost unnaturally blue skies…

Even once we hit the familiar Mishe Mokwa Trail, it was all new again – the trail turned into an active creekbed and mini waterfalls tracked down the sides of cliffs like so many Smokey Robinson tears, the unfamiliar sound of gurgling water bouncing off of echo-fed walls.

Not too shabby. Any and all mud-poop comparisons totally left the building.

The rest of the hike was just really, really fantastic, and if anything, it was a reminder that mother nature isn’t static; even in a place with the kind of weather predictability that leaves potential retirees foaming at the mouth, she can throw a curveball and leave us slack-jawed and giddy like schoolchildren skipping through fresh puddles on sidewalks we thought were nothing but concrete.

What Would Ed Do?

Ed would have worn gaiters, and for that, Ed is a smart, smart man.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mojave National Preserve aka "Oh, The Desert is FUN!"

Hike: Kelso Dunes, Cinder Cones National Natural Landmark, Teutonia Peak trail (Mojave National Preserve)
The Inspiration: Discovering desert deliciousness without battling the heat
Highest Altitude: appx 5,000'
Trip Mileage: appx. 8
Total 2010 Mileage: 22

During a recent meeting of the minds between Modern Hiker, The Hike Guy, and 1/2 of Team WWED?, it was decided that winter should involve two very excellent, and very different, activities - snowshoeing and spending time in the desert.

When a three-day weekend presented itself in the form of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Monday birthday, we decided to haul our buns off to the winterized expanse of the Mojave National Preserve. Plans were made, maps were purchased, marshmallows were packed...and poor Modern Hiker had to bail the morning of the trip due to unforeseen circumstances.

The remaining two-thirds of Team Awesome was shaken, but not stirred, and decided to forge on, with Team WWED? arriving at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center just in time for an impromptu chili taste-off with the affable Mike Williams of The Beanery! Let it be said that free chili is probably the best start to a camping trip, unless you are sleeping in close quarters that evening. And even then...

After a hugs-around-the-campfire type evening, Team WWED? + THG rose early and bundled up for a bumpy drive down to the Kelso Dunes...

O, land of wonderment! O, land of awe! Big, sweeping sandy landscape loomed ahead, curls of dust at our feet, oceanic desert plants strewn left and right, dreams of flinging ourselves like out-of-control childrenfolk into the sand clutched at our collective breast.

I have now driven twice across the desert from Texas to California, and twice have declared the desert to be "boring and sucky" - but at this very moment of sand-fever, I fell in love with the desert.

The trail to the dunes is deceptive, nothing like frisking about on the beach, but one by one, our group made it to the saddle, and then the summit ridge. Watching Rebecca climb towards the summit prompted the observation that this is exactly what Ed would do, and exactly what he would look like, if this was about 20,000' taller and capped in snow. Exactly.

Once we all reached the top, we flung ourselves onto the sand in various states of rest. Rebecca stood on her hands; Kolby reclined on the slope; I flopped down prone, like a beached whale. Then we all took turns running awkwardly straight down the side of the dunes like newly-birthed Frankensteins. It wasn't pretty, but it sure made some great noise.

We later returned to the dunes area, Kolby drawn by the promise of kit fox den-seeking, and Rebecca and I by the notion of sliding down and otherwise burying ourselves in more sand. But before this was to commence, we spent some time at the lava tubes (lava!) and patiently waited for the tiniest shaft of light to stream through while completely trying Rebecca's patience and feeding her desire to avoid being stuck down there if an earthquake struck at that precise moment and showered us all in a bazillion years' worth of volcanic residue.

Luckily, we emerged unscathed, and after another stop at the Beanery and our late afternoon sand diversion, we packed up our top-secret campsite and headed through the world's largest concentration of Joshua Trees, towards Teutonia Peak, while continuing our daylong tradition of inexplicably bursting into refrains of "Lookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground" every twenty minutes or so.

After missing the sunset, we turned around at the saddle, headlights on, and eventually blasted out of Mojave on I-15, about five minutes before it began to rain, bound for the greased-up, calorie-laden delights of Peggy Sue's 50's Diner.

Start a trip with a free chili cook-off and end it with fried pickles, grilled cheese, and pie. Now that's the spirit!

What Would Ed Do?
Ed would be proud that we had the common sense to leave before the storms hit. Ed would be concerned, however, that our weekend diet consisted solely of concession food and marshmallows.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Echo Mountain 2 aka "Station Fire, You Bastard"

Hike: Echo Mountain - Mt. Lowe Railway (sort of)
The Inspiration: Kolby's 100th Hike
Highest Altitude: 3207'
Trip Mileage: 8
Total 2010 Mileage: 14

As I mentioned a few posts back, I thoroughly enjoyed my maiden trudge up Echo Mountain as part of The Hike Guy Kolby Kirk's celebratory 100th hike. In fact, I enjoyed the peak-top views and resulting thigh-burn so very much that I suggested to Rebecca that Team WWED? recreate the jaunt in timely fashion.

The trail was a bit more steep and sweat-inducing than I recalled from that misty evening, and the amount of masochists running nonchalantly up the side of the mountain did nothing to quell my sense of inadequacy, but 1400' and a bazillion lazy switchbacks later, we stood atop Echo Mountain, drinking in a pretty large swath of greater Los Angeles...with a pretty large cross-section of Angelenos.

"This would be a great place to come at night and set up a picnic blanket with some dinner," Rebecca suggested.

"Yes, if we could push all of these people off of the mountain first," I thought.
And "Yep," I replied.

As Rebecca traipsed off to explore the ruins, I settled in with a mound of satsumas and considered an option to extend the hike - we could make our way down into the canyon, back up some 1300', catch a loftier view at Inspiration Point - then backtrack down and up and down and up and down and up and down until we returned to my car, parked halfway down Lake Avenue thanks to the glut of drivers parked on the mountain.

So, no. We didn't do that. Instead, we decided to saunter down the Middle Sam Merrill Trail for a bit, then return the way we came. Except that when we got to the trailhead, the trail was closed by the park service or someone important like that, so said the sign on the brown stick.

I looked at Rebecca. There were people up higher on the very trail we hoped to hike. Hm.

"It says 'RESPECT' on the sign," said Rebecca.
"Yeah. You know what - I think we should RESPECT it," said I.
So we did.

You know why? Because:

A) It said so.
B) We could see signs of the Station Fire damage just west of Inspiration Point, no doubt imperiling the Sam Merrill Trail as it climbed higher...and if there's one thing we don't want, it's anything even vaguely resembling the Tom Sloan Hell-Trail Experience of 2009.
C) Because it's what Ed would do, dammit.

Proud of our increased capacity for rational thought, we retraced our steps and decided instead to tack on some of the Mt. Lowe Railway Trail...

...Until it, too, was thwarted by a brown RESPECT stick.

This time, though, the reason for the RESPECT stick was obvious - everywhere to the North and West of the damn stick was toast.

Station Fire toast.

It was oddly beautiful, though - every nook and cranny of the mountains exposed, chaparral-free, cast in an eerie greyish hue. I was awestruck, standing on the Sunset Ridge fire road, snapping photos with my phone, when Rebecca pointed out that the fire stopped right at the edge of the road. When I looked up, I noticed the tree you saw in the photo at the top of this post - 2/3 burned, 1/3 bright green.

That tree gave me hope - these mountains and trails are a tenacious bunch, and spring is sure to bring lots of surprises.

Until then, please RESPECT the brown sticks, yo'.
Ed wouldn't have it any other way - and neither would we.

What Would Ed Do?
For once, Ed would have done what we did. For once!


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Eagle Rock aka "The Horse-Beast Highway"

Hike: Trippet Ranch-Eagle Rock loop
The Inspiration: Modern Hiker
Highest Altitude: 1957'
Trip Mileage: 6.5
Total 2010 Mileage: 6.5

My last hike in Topanga State Park was a memorable one, filled with waterfall-seeking, creek-hopping, cave-exploring, and pagan ritual worship simulation.

You know how it goes.

So when Rebecca suggested a return visit to try out the figure eight loop from Trippet Ranch to Eagle Rock and back, I strapped on my sense of adventure and readily agreed.

We began on the Musch Trail, winding through grassland, past an equestrian-friendly campsite, and down, down, down to the valley floor.

Then we climbed. And we climbed. Nothing matching the intensity of the Chumash Trail to La Jolla Valley or the godforsaken steep scree mess of the Cucamonga Peak-bound trail barely stitched onto the side of Bighorn Mountain, but sweat-inducing all the same for a girl who has spent the past month basically bathing in Santa-shaped chocolate.

Once at the foot of the rock, Rebecca moved forward and began up its diagonal slope. I called after her, "You just head up there. I'm going to stay put and just enjoy the view from here."

I glanced around. The view options were the backside of Eagle Rock or the Valley's urban sprawl.

I followed Rebecca up, vertigo-prone mind imagining that my shoes were made out of a combination of spider monkey and Spiderman. After crawling around for a bit near the top, soaking in the 100-mile, nearly 360 views, I awkwardly placed myself on a bump and asked Rebecca to take my photo. Upon further inspection of said photo, you can see the fear in my eyes. I will not be publishing this on the internets.

On the way back down, things were going along swimmingly. My heart rate was decreasing. There were nice people hiking. Nice people biking. Nice people running.

And nice people riding horses. Horses! From a distance, they're all pretty, mythical, shiny, majestic - very Misty of Chincoteague, in league with the unicorn. I fought back the urge to run up to one and slap its chocolately haunches.

Yet, for all of my wishes, when I finally got close enough to one to initiate said haunch-slapping, I realized something very important:

I am afraid of The Horse.

The Horse is no Misty of Chintoteague, The Horse is no unicorn; The Horse is an erratic 10-ton wildebeast, all flared nostrils and blistering muscle, waiting for the precise moment in which it might rear on its hind legs and proceed to throw its entire body weight upon me, crushing all of my very delicate vital organs in one giant thruuuump.

So, yes.
I am afraid of The Horses and I am afraid of The Heights.
But I would still do that trail again because it was amazing, and amazing trumps fear anytime.

(Unless "fear" trumps "amazing" by materializing in the form of an attacking Horse.)

Addendum - 1/5/10: Rebecca has informed me that I am not allowed to be The One Who Is Afraid Of Animals, as that position is already occupied on our team. Henceforth, I shall return to being simply The One Who Is Afraid Of Heights.

What Would Ed Do?
Ed would have a gentle, but firm conversation with The Horse, guiding it through the pros and cons of crushing all of my very delicate vital organs, after which Ed would mount The Horse and ride it North to the summit of Mt. Whitney, setting about twelve world records in the process.