Monday, June 28, 2010

Chilnualna Falls aka "Feast of the Overprepared"

Hike: Chilnualna Falls

The Inspiration: High water in Yosemite

Highest Altitude: 7,800'

Trip Mileage: 10

Total 2010 Mileage: 110.6

I've come to the conclusion that the substrate of Yosemite National Park is not composed of granite, but rather, genuine crack rock. 

I first ventured to the storied Yosemite Valley last fall, late enough in the season to grunt through most of the Yosemite Falls trail without encountering too many passersby. For my second run, I once again joined Rebecca and her (my) friend Good Ranger Laura, and this time we set out for a leisurely backpacking adventure up the Chilnualna Falls trail in the Southern part of the park.

After ingesting something like ten pounds of delicious homemade oatmeal, we ventured to Wawona to nab our permit and begin the 5.6 4.1 mile hike to the top. Almost immediately, we were presented with the thunderous sound and powerful spray of the lower Falls, and I was presented with the first mental challenge of the hike - safely navigate the small set of equally small granite steps carved out next to this raging beast of a waterfall, with a full pack on, natch. 

Several minutes of quiet hyperventilation later, my heart rate hit double-time as we trudged up the first mile of trail - this sucker's steep, folks. Not monstrously so, but enough to make me wish I didn't bring along that New York Magazine, deck of playing cards, pillow, bag of Reese's Pieces, extra pair of socks, deodorant stick, rain jacket... 

However, once I sucked down enough water and we entered the foresty-meadowy-not-so-devilishly-uphilly portion of the trail, things brightened up considerably - the forest lit up almost neon green, punctuated by tiny floral bursts - lupine and a bunch of other things I don't know the name for. As we continued upward, the falls and the Wawona Dome peeked in and out through the intermittent tree cover, and although it was a sweaty affair, the hike proved to be totally crack-rocky, as anticipated.

Once on top(ish), we set off to make camp in a super-secret-ain't-never-gonna-tell-you spot far from the beaten path, as advised by a very smart friend of GRL. In California terms, man, were we stooooooked when we saw this place - nothing but granite, trees, and plenty of air. Epic. 

Tent pitched (well, GRL slept under the stars), bathing suits on, daypacks fastened, we set off to find a worthy swimming hole to dip our sweat-slicked bods into. When an unseasonably high (and fast) river crossing gave us pause, we followed the bank off-trail, until we found a sweet little array of shallow potholes and sunny slabs to flop ourselves into and onto. Temporarily forgetting that this was effectively snowmelt, I plunged my tootsies in and let out a painful yelp. I spent the rest of my time on a rock, preening like a seal. And I'm fine with that.

After our, uh, "swim," I made a quick pit stop to answer nature's call. Whilst in the most vulnerable of positions, I heard a low growl. I paused, mid-squat. Perhaps that was just the river. Right? Then it came again, this time a little louder. I would have peed my pants if I was wearing pants. But I wasn't. And that made it worse that some large mammal was upset that I was marking its territory. So I scooped up my trousers and ran like bloody hell back to my friends, and hopefully out of claw's reach of whatever was making it's angry presence known.

Back at our secret campsite, the thought of dinner was a happy one. GRL planned a delicious Thai noodle dish, and we set up our little kitchen on a sunset-ready chunk of granite and got to work. And then we realized something. Something important. Something reallllllly important. 

We had waaaaaay too much food to fit into the bear canister once dinner was over. Like...WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too much food. We snacked a bit, and when our dinner was ready, we sat back and ate. And then we ate some more. We ate noodles until they just stopped going in. And then we waited a minute and ate some more. Rice noodles definitely expand in water. A LOT.

There were groans. Moans. Uncomfortable silences. Nervous laughter. We assessed the situation. Definitely couldn't fit our food, as it stood, into the canister. 

And then there were toiletries. Dammit. We forgot the toiletries.

We systematically began to eat. I finished off the Swedish fish. Rebecca knocked off at least half a bag of trail mix. We moved the whole shebang down a slab and made a fire. We continued to strategize - if we make the chocolate pudding, add in the creamer, some pretzels, the rest of the Reese's Pieces, the dried mango, and if we each eat a piece of fruit, maybe we can fit it all in. Maybe

There was a point during all of this bear-attack-prevention eating that I think I got high. No, seriously. I think I got high from eating too much food. I was actually convinced that because I ate so much food, the bear would just come for me anyways, because I smelled like a damn grocery store.

But the bear didn't come, and somehow we all woke up the next morning and ate a ton more food, and then a few hours later, Rebecca and I stopped at the Ol' Kettle Restaurant in Oakhurst on the way home and each ate a massive plate full of grub. Actually, Rebecca stopped short of devouring her sweet potato fries, so I finished them off for her. And then I ate cinnamon bears, some trail mix, and a fruit bar in the car. I think I permanently messed up my stomach, but man - what a pretty hike. 

What Would Ed Do?

Ed would wait until the waterfall was frozen and would scale it with nothing but an ice axe and sheer grit. Regarding the bear canister snafu, Ed probably subsists on a diet of said grit and determination, augmented with periodic shots of ambition. He doesn't need a bear canister. He is a human bear canister.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Telegraph Peak via Icehouse Canyon aka "Deception Peak"

View of Mt. Baldy from atop Telegraph Peak

Hike(s): Icehouse Canyon to Telegraph Peak

The Inspiration: The allure of the 3 T's

Highest Altitude: 8,985'

Trip(s) Mileage: 13.8

Total 2010 Mileage: 100.6

Telegraph Peak is quite the deceptive little ballbuster. 

The plan was for Team WWED? + Modern Hiker to stroll through Icehouse Canyon and head for the Three T's trail from the Icehouse Saddle, passing by Timber and topping out on Telegraph. Which we did. But it proved a bit more labor-intensive than any of us initially thought.

Arriving at the ranger station before the hike, we grabbed our wilderness permit and were duly informed that there was a hungry and very social little bear hanging out around the trail. Where?, we asked. The ranger very helpfully circled the trailhead, then made a big red asterisk right next to it.  Right there. At the beginning of the trail. Oh.

We practiced our bear-scaring measures (stomp loudly, clap loudly, repeat) and sped past the trailhead, continuing warp speed ahead, dodging slow trekkers left and right, rushing past an incredibly full flow of water, making record time to the Cucamonga Wilderness boundary. And then we all panted. And panted some more. Slow and steady does win the race when the race is more like a nearly 14-mile marathon. Lesson learned.

We carried on, tromping relatively quickly up the never-ending switchbacks to the saddle, passing a gushing double-decker waterfall in the canyon's crease. (Note to readers: Go to Icehouse Canyon NOW. Winter snowmelt = massive amounts of water everywhere. Bonus!)

At the saddle, we recharged, a mix of cold pizza, Clif bars, trail mix, and ginger chews fortifying us for the next set of quick switchbacks up towards Timber, and a surely quick 2.2 mile jaunt to Telegraph.

Ha. Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha!  Quick 2.2 mile jaunt, my ass!

At the junction with the Timber Mtn. spur trail, the Three T's trail continues towards Telegraph, and quickly descends to a very, very windswept saddle at about 7740'. Of course, we knew we'd have to climb back up to reach Telegraph, but we had no idea just how much elevation we lost on the way down from Timber. It was only afterwards that we realized that we put ourselves through 1,245' of elevation gain in just over a mile. 

During said mile, I cursed. I mumbled things under my breath. I considered finding a new hobby. It was a very, very, very silent mile. A very, very, very shitty mile. 

At what felt like the 666th switchback, we came across a group of people descending, with a few of them opting to cut across said switchback. Prompted by general crankiness, my inner self-righteous hiker asshole blurted out, "You know, you're not supposed to cut the switchbacks. It ruins the trail." The offending hiker retorted with, "Well, we're good hikers and we wouldn't cut the trail, except there's snow on it." I looked over. There was definitely snow on the trail. 

Telegraph Peak was turning me into an asshole. I needed to take a rest. I considered the possibility of scooting down the mountain on my butt. I considered the possibility of continuing on to Thunder and taking the ski lift down. I considered stopping at that very switchback and taking a nap, but I found myself nervously tromping across the snow and back up the damn mountain. 

When we reached a luxuriously wide and vaguely forested saddle, we all sat down, fueled up, and I proclaimed that I was done with this jerky portion of the hike and would be sitting out the last chunk to the top. Then we looked at the map, and the map said that it was only 0.1 miles to the top, and I bucked myself up for the last haul. 

Once on top, I realized that Telegraph Peak was not as assholey as I thought - it was just very, very picky. It wasn't going to let just anyone stake a claim - you had to earn your way. I felt proud. I soaked in the 360 degree views of Baldy, Cucamonga, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and beyond. Then I ate 4 slices of well-earned cold (well...lukewarm) pizza.

The mile or so back to the saddle was relatively uneventful (save for my constant fear of losing my balance and pitching myself thousands of feet down off the mountain during some hairy parts). It didn't seem nearly as steep, nor as exhausting, though the climb back up Timber was a minor pain in the ass. But as we gained momentum and busted our knees sailing down past Icehouse Saddle, through the canyon, and back to the car, I think we all felt a sense of pride in earning our spots atop Telegraph Peak. 

And then we went to Baldy Lodge and scarfed down burgers and fries and sugary drinks, a worthy prize for such a worthy endeavor. 

What Would Ed Do?

Ed would take Icehouse Canyon up through the Three T's, across Baldy, then hop in the car and tag San Gorgonio just for fun. Ed would, however, be proud of our camel-like abilities to collectively carry something like 11 liters of water on this trip. 


Sunday, June 6, 2010

3 Months 'Til Whitney aka "And So It Begins"

Hike(s): Batcave/Hollywood Sign/Mt. Wilson/Temescal-Will Rogers-Topanga Loop

The Inspiration: Mt. Whitney prep

Highest Altitude: 5,712'

Trip(s) Mileage: 35.6

Total 2010 Mileage: 86.8

And so it begins. 

In less than three months, Team WWED? and Modern Hiker (joined by Good Ranger Laura) will (hopefully) stand proudly atop the highest point in the continental United States - the grand diva herself, Mt. Whitney (that's Ms. Whitney, if you're nasty).

So we must condition ourselves and prepare our bodies to be the best high-altitude summit-seeking machines they can be. This training entails the following:

1) Miles. Lots of them. In a row. Without the aid of motorized vehicles.

2) Altitude. Lots of it. Progressively higher. Without vomiting.

3) Swedish Fish*. Lots of them. And then more of them.

As a little wake-up call to our legs, Team WWED? + MH began pre-conditioning in mid-May by playing tourist for a warm-up 6.6 mile jaunt, ducking into the Bronson Caves (aka Batmobile Garage), then searing our calves en route to the top of the Hollywood Sign. 

The following weekend, confident in our abilities, we led a full-on masochistic assault on our bodies, a sweaty, energy-sapping, ab-engaging, knee-breaking 15-mile cross-ridge loop from Chantry Flat to Mt. Wilson and back. Not three minutes in to said adventure, MH already had us bushwhacking up a poison oak-laden firebreak that nearly rivals the (lovingly) dreaded Chumash trail (for the record, that's the one that boasts a lovely 845' gain in 0.7 miles, straight off of PCH to the La Jolla Valley). 

After emerging from the second of these lovely scrambles, we caught the last hairpin turn on the San Olene Fire Road and hopped up on the Santa Anita Ridge firebreak - aka NOT A REAL TRAIL. But we knew this going in, and MH assured us he'd done this trail (albeit mistakenly) before - and he's a hiker of his word. 

Now, if you're reading this and thinking, "Well, I'd really like to do something painful to my legs today," I have just the solution for you - hike the Santa Anita Ridge firebreak. This sucker is no joke - up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, for what felt like an eternity. There were a few slips, a few slides, and a few times when I found myself on hands and knees - but you know what? Once it was over and we were back on the real trail, I realized that I must have a slightly masochistic streak, because it was a hell of a lot of fun (at least until I woke up the next day unable to walk properly).

Less than a week later, Rebecca and I decided that since we'd already begun the pre-Whitney physical beatings, why not carry on, but with significantly less firebreak madness, so we headed off to Temescal Canyon to begin a 14-mile loop that quickly led us up and out of Temescal into Will Rogers State Park, then on a very overgrown, bee-and-fly-ridden trail around the bend of a canyon, which took us through Topanga State Park, and then back into Temescal. This time, 14 miles didn't feel so rough.

And so it began. And so it will continue, all summer long, until we've ascended the infamous 99 switchbacks, passed quickly across the dreaded "windows," and find ourselves on top of the (continental) U.S., full of Swedish Fish and enjoying the biggest natural high I've ever imagined.**

*Swedish Fish is the unofficial energy snack unofficially endorsed by Team WWED? We highly recommend the traditional red variety, also good for trail-marking when in a pinch.

**Until the next big adventure...

What Would Ed Do?

Ed would do quadruple the miles at triple the altitude, but then again, Ed has major sponsorships and time at his beck and call; we have finite paychecks and jobs.