Friday, October 21, 2011

An Ode To The Morning Hike

Griffith sunrise

This is an ode to the humble morning hike.

To one of the only reasons I'll wake up at 6am. To seeing the sun before most of you. To brisk air slapping my face. To flexing my toes and stretching my legs. To feeling the heat flush my cheeks. To rabbits and birds. To mist and fog. To the middle-aged Asian couples in their matching respiratory masks. To the elderly dudes in their short-shorts. To the people walking dogs...lots and lots of dogs. To the solitude of the less-beaten path. To the rising hum of the city. To the rustling leaves and crackling twigs. To the dirt tan swirling up my legs. To the ocean views on a clear day. To the haunting haze on others. To the pain of hustling it up a steep incline. To the freedom of running full-tilt on the way back down. To the feeling of being on top of it all.

To owning the day before it has a chance to own me.


Re-reading this, I think I just wrote the copy for a new Nike ad.


What Would Ed Do?
It. But on, like, Aconcagua or something.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sequoia National Park aka "BEAR!!!!!!!!"

Hidden Bears
(I can assure you that the bears in Sequoia National Park are NOT hidden)

The plan was to stuff the car with tents and marshmallows and head up to Sequoia National Park for my birthday weekend, but talk of LA's infamous (*cough*...lame) "Carmaggedon" weekend instilled the fear of gridlock into my would-be companions, so we pushed it a week and finally arrived at the Dorst Campground just as the sun set.

In doing research for our trip, I read over and over again that Sequoia has a much more active bear population than Yosemite, and that we should be extra vigilant in our campground and on our hikes. We dutifully shoved all potential bear attractants (read: everything we brought with us, magazines and all) into our bear box, scarfed down some dinner, and called it a night. I popped my earplugs in (standard "I don't want to hear what's coming for me in the dead of night" procedure), and slept with visions of ursine visitations dancing around my head all night.

I was relieved, then, to wake up unscathed in the morning. Our campsite was pretty spectacular, the morning sun filtering down in a hazy curtain from the tippy tops of the massive trees encircling our site. I puttered around, swayed in the hammock, and forgot all about the bears - there were giant trees to see, and I was going to see them all.

In the interest of saving the environment (and because I hate to drive when I'm on vacation), we hopped the free shuttle bus and jumped off here and there to take in the sights - The Giant Forest Museum, Tharp's Log, Crescent Meadow, Big Trees Trail. When my thoughts wandered toward bears, they were happily distracted by a handful of Swedish Fish and further exploration of one of the most gorgeous places I'd ever been.

But then IT happened. I pushed for us to lay off the tourist wagon for a bit and instead take a rarely-traveled side trail from the Crescent Meadow area to the General Sherman Tree. Rebecca sort of agreed, and just a few minutes up the trail, we passed a large boulder on the right side...and directly on the other side of the boulder, just a few feet to my right, stood a bear. A black bear. A large black bear. And not just any large black bear, but a blonde black bear, which kind of looked like a grizzly bear to me.

If it's possible to emotionally pee one's pants, I emotionally peed my pants.

The bear was pretty big. Definitely big-sized. Large. Sequoia-sized bear. Giant. Did I mention it looked kind of like I imagined Sasquatch to look? Feral. Hungry. Clearly ready to tear into my flesh, which at the moment was only protected by a thin layer of SmartWool and a backpack I shrunk in the wash while trying to blast out the funk accumulated on the Mt. Whitney trip.

I froze and Rebecca nearly bumped into me from behind. Then she saw it, too, and uttered two words in the most hushed of hushed voices:

"Oh, shit."

My mind was racing. In preparing for this trip, I brushed up extensively on my "bear encounter" etiquette, probably to the point of obsession, but at this moment, I realized that much like most of my testing experiences in college, everything flew right out of my head the minute I needed it.

"Ohmygod. Ok, just walk away slowly. Ohmygod, Rebecca. Walk backwards. Slowly. Ohmygod."

We hyperventilated ourselves back a safe distance, and once we realized that the bear wasn't following us, started sprinting through the woods, spraying adrenaline-laced sweat on everything we passed. I laughed nervously. Rebecca laughed nervously. We swore a bit. Then we laughed even more nervously, and swore a bit more.

Our heart rates eventually returned to normalish, and we made it through another near-encounter the next day. Upon reflection a month later, I have to say that it was pretty awesome to stumble upon a bear in the wild, doin' its thang.

But seriously, though - my mom would be SO PISSED if I got eaten by a bear. I'm just saying.

What Would Ed Do?
Ed speaks the language of the bears. He would have high-fived the large gigantic huge blonde black bear, then hopped on its back, side-saddle-style, casually galloping up to the top of Moro Rock together to watch the sunset.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dairy Queen Wall aka "Um, so the approach is the crux, right?"

Topping out in cloudfire

I do not know this guy, but he did a lovely job.

Before this weekend, I theoretically understood that there existed such things as "approach shoes." I theoretically understood that one wears such footwear in order to approach a place where one might want to apply actual climbing shoes to their feet, so as not to ruin said climbing shoes on the, uh, approach. I theoretically understood that in order for "approach shoes" to be a necessary item, there must exist the sort of terrain that cannot be crossed in flip-flops.

Just because I theoretically understood all of that does not mean that I was somewhat shocked by the serious amount of steep scrambling it took to approach the Dairy Queen Wall, one of Joshua Tree's classic climbing destinations. Good Ranger Laura was leading Rebecca and I up towards a series of routes - my first time climbing in Joshua Tree (if you don't count the Conan's Corridor scramble), and only my second time climbing outdoors in my entire life (the first time happened, I don't know, thirteen or five billion years ago). About half a minute into the scramble, I stopped and said to Laura, "Um, is THIS the climbing?" knowing full well that this was exactly why the "approach shoe" was created.

After skinning approximately 15% of my exposed skin on the scramble up to the base of the routes, we reached our destination - some purported 5.6 climb whose frozen-dessert-related moniker I can't remember. I belayed as Laura led the route, and watched as she reached a sort of open, featureless area in the middle of the route. Hm. Hmm. For a brief moment, Laura considered where she'd place her next protection, then with the wingspan of a freakin' pteradactyl, lunged gracefully across the open space and proceeded with the climb. I studied her moves, and calculated that my own wingspan was about that of a blue jay, so we might have some problems here.

Nevertheless, I volunteered to go first, and then realized that to start the climb, I'd have to stem up using the boulder behind me - a skill I was pretty sure I didn't possess, especially since when I initially launched off the wall, I ping-pongged between the two rocks, skinning off an additional 5% of my exposed flesh. However, flush with the feeling that I couldn't let myself get soft-served by this frozen delight, I found myself aloft, pinching the grippy holds, and practicing all of the super-useful stuff related to weight and tension and movement that I'm really glad I learned at the rock gym.

I didn't make it all the way up (turns out that blank spot in the wall was too much for my old granny hip), but no matter - it felt good to shimmy up the rock. We then moved over to Frosty Cone, rated a 5.7, but it played out a lot better than this jerky 5.6 did. After a few minutes, I forgot about Laura and Rebecca below (for a bit, at least), and focused on what felt right on the rock, shifting my weight and working up the face. Once again, I got stuck the crux, but looking back over my shoulder at the desert below, I was proud of what my normally acrophobic self had accomplished.

A few climbs later, we began to downclimb the approach route, and almost immediately, I started to whimper. I felt secure up on the rock, but here, facing the slabs and boulders, and air beneath them, I lost all confidence. With some patient guidance from Really Really Good Ranger Laura, the shaking subsided and although I skinned off another 25% of my exposed skin, I made it to the bottom, my pride from my first Joshua Tree climbs (mostly) intact.

The rock tore up my skin, the approach tore up my confidence, but it felt good to be out there, realizing new limits for my body and mind. I'll definitely be back, and this time I'll still bring my "approach shoes," but hopefully also my "approach attitude," acrophobia be damned!

Thar she climbs!

What Would Ed Do?
Ed guided something like 20 million ascents of Mt. Rainier as a young buck, so I have a feeling he could probably coax me up and over some unclimbed summit in the Himalayas if he had to. That said, Ed would probably high-five Laura for her supreme patience and general awesomeness, and hopefully high-five me right afterwards for being up there in the first place.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Annapurna aka "Every Chick's Got One"

This beauty came in the mail the other day:


In internet parlance: ZOMG!!!

This isn't just any old badass T-shirt - this is a replica of the badass T-shirts sold to raise funds for the first successful American expedition to the summit of Annapurna (Annapurna I, if you're being technical), the 10th highest mountain in the world, back in 1978.

The woman behind the expedition - and the badass T-shirt - is famous mountaineer/scientist/environmentalist Arlene Blum, and the reason I'm mentioning any of this and the reason why I'm so excited to sport my very own replica T-shirt is because she wrote a book called Annapurna: A Woman's Place that I just finished reading. You see, not only was her expedition the first American team - and only the third team in history - to reach the Annapurna summit, but they were also the first women to do so, during a time that was less than hospitable towards female climbers or adventurers of any sort.

I saw the T-shirt in a photo towards the front of the book, and for all of the obvious reasons (mountains! double entendres!), I had to have it. But since finishing Annapurna, that tee seems a bit more symbolic. There's a reason Maurice Herzog famously (well...famously to mountaineering nerds) said: "There are many Annapurnas in the hearts of men" - this mountain has the highest percentage of fatalities (the ratio of fatalities to summits) of any of the big dogs - yep, even more than Everest and K2 - and if you want to translate his sentiment into non-mountain dork parlance, it basically means we all have our own crap to conquer.

In her book, Arlene recounts the struggles of being a female mountaineer in the 70s - that's to say, the struggles of dealing with all of the sexist bull that came both from outside and within the patriarchal mountaineering community at the time. To add to that the daunting task of organizing an expedition up the most dangerous, and at the time, only barely explored, of the 8000ers is a helluva challenge. I ended the book gutted by the fatalities that occurred during the expedition, but in awe of the strength of this team of women.

So hell yeah, Arlene - a woman's place is definitely on top.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mugu Peak aka "Where It All Began...Sort Of"

Mugu Peak sentinel

In contrast to last year's flurry of slightly obsessive pre-Whitney hiking and camping activity, the first three months of 2011 have been woefully inadequate, leaving me to flip nostalgically through old photos and stare wistfully at the REI catalogue. In essence, life has just gotten in the way of LIFE, so in an effort to reconnect with Ma Nature (and one another), Rebecca and I met up for a moderate spring trek through the grassy La Jolla Valley of Pt. Mugu State Park, including a traverse of Mugu Peak, an oceanside bump bearing some awesome views.

The day couldn't have been better for hiking - clear blue skies, bright grassy fields, mild temps, a gentle breeze - paradise in boots. Our hike took us through a verdant (and Boy Scout-filled) La Jolla Canyon, past some temptingly climbable rock walls, above a sleepy waterfall, and up to the overgrown grasslands above, where I tried to temper my intense fear of ticks (I do not want Lyme disease. I DO NOT want Lyme disease. I DO NOT WANT LYME DISEASE.) with an appreciation for the height of spring exploding all around. Leaving the valley behind, we ducked onto the Mugu Peak Trail, bounced over a clover-choked, low-flowing creek, and up we went.

The path to greatness

Clover-choked stream crossing

From here, we wound around a hillside perched over an unnaturally aquamarine Pacific, darted across a side trail, zig-zagged over a sizable bump, and then up to Mugu Peak itself, the small-but-steep rollercoaster ridge recalling a bit of our special (read: leg-killing, emotional-trauma-inducing) Mt. Wilson traverse last summer with Casey. On top, we chimed in on a group discussing various means of descent, then plopped our butts down on a small rockpile for some chocolate and a sweeping view of the Pacific, all the way out to the southernmost Channel Islands.

Three strangers and a clear blue sea

Almost Caribbean

We quickly realized we were short on time (a girl's gotta have a social life, you know), and decided that the best way to descend was via the use trail that shot straight up the opposite end of the peak, down towards the top of the Chumash Trail. Once again comparing this to "Casey's Special Birthday Hike" (aka the Mount Wilson Marathon), we started down a steep, but nicely compacted dirt trail, wherein Rebecca offered up, "This is the worst of it here."

It wasn't.

We reached the little sub-summit hump and stared down a much steeper, less compacted vein of dirt and rock, and lurched downward towards the grass below, skidding and engaging every single one of our abs (or our singular ab, in my case), until we reached the bottom...only to watch a bare-chested man emerge from the steep Chumash trail next to us and thrust up the use trail towards Mugu Peak at full speed. SHOW OFF.

Contemplating spring

All in all, it was a perfect day on the trail - the weather and scenery cooperated for a morning worth the mileage, and we both bounced back to the car on that sweet Santa Monica Mountain High.

I chuckled, thinking back to my first trip to Pt. Mugu State Park several years prior - a booze-filled car camping trip with a group of (mostly) new friends. One morning, we decided to hike to a waterfall listed in the guide book I'd brought along. I pulled on a pair of jeans (mistake), laced up my Sauconys (big mistake), and led by optimism and a vague map, we trudged along in the searing mid-day sun, veering off on what turned out to be a use trail. Members of our group flaked off one by one, done in by the heat, lack of water, and rapidly deteriorating trail.

A few of us stubbornly carried on, the promise of a gushing waterfall somewhat clouding our (my) judgment. My slick-bottomed tennies slid around on the dirt trail, which had turned into less of a single-track than a half-track, perched sort of diagonally on the side of an oceanside bluff. Unable to control my anxiety, with no waterfall in sight and convinced I'd soon slip off and drown in the ocean below, I said that I needed to rest for a minute. We turned a corner and I plopped down precariously on the side of the trail, shaking from nerves, when something just to the left of my hip caught my eye. I turned just in time to watch a baby rattlesnake slither away from my left thigh. I screamed, and headed back down towards camp as far as my crappy shoes would allow.

Strangely, this didn't mark the end of my hiking days (although I was convinced for a short while that I would never again set foot on a trail), but rather the start. I ditched the Sauconys and bought a pair of Keen hiking boots from a girl I met during the camping trip, and the confidence they brought was enough to completely blow open the world of hiking possibilities available to me in SoCal.

And you know - I still have those Sauconys...but they're strictly Disneyland-issue footwear these days.

What Would Ed Do?
Ed is a Spiderman among mortals. I am convinced he could hike upside down and sideways if he wanted to, and his feet probably have built-in crampons at this point.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Conan's Corridor aka "Heart Attack Rock"

Rest stop

I gots the desert fevah.

A little over a month ago, I drove out to Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park for a short weekend with The Hike Guy, Kolby Kirk, and a few of his friends (including photographer Matthew Laine Nall). I considered staying in town, to do esoteric things like "cleaning the house" and "catching up on stuff," but Kolby promised not only an ascent of Ryan Mountain, but also an exploration of Conan's Corridor, an off-trail slot canyon, so the lure of adventure strong, I knew "stuff" could wait.

We rallied the troops and wound our way slowly up a gently thigh-busting trail to the tippy top of Ryan Mountain. What the path lacked in foliage, it made up for in gargantuan views of the park far below, rendering the desert into never-ending waves of speckled beige.

Up the mountain


Heave ho

Ryan Mountain high

Arriving back at our campsite, the wind was a-rippin', so we huddled around the picnic table, refueled, and hopped across the road to set off for Conan's Corridor. Scrambling up and around giant boulder blocks, we were at the entrance of the slot canyon within a few minutes, and once we squeezed out the other end, we stood in a small ampitheater, flanked by tall rock walls.

A pair of climbers were working their way up a crack to the left, as our group began to quickly disperse up the rock. Confused, I asked Kolby what the plan was.

"Oh - we're going up and over."

Hm. I didn't know how I felt about this up and over business. I thought we were coming to smoosh ourselves through a cute little slot canyon, admire our handiwork, then force ourselves back out the same way.


I approached a chunky area next to the climbers as half of our group went over some slabby stuff. This appeared the better route, but not three steps up, I was questioning its doability. Or, rather, my own "do" ability.

With the patience of a patron saint of the trepidatious, Kolby reaffirmed my steps, offered suggestions on hand holds, and gently coached me to victory, as I stood victoriously on top of the scramble, surveying the desert below. My inner wuss had been shushed, stomped out not just by the plain necessity of getting over this thing, but also by the sheer awesomeness of it all. My heart was ready to take flight out of my chest, but damn - that was AWESOME.

Into the canyon

So awesome, in fact, that within a week of this trip, I signed up for a rock climbing series at Rockreation, and started exploring the scrambly, wiry little world of bouldering (sent my first problem last week!!).

To my sheer surprise (and utter joy), I love it. Super love it. Super duper duper love it. Like love it so much that I'm going to go ahead and buy the excessively expensive shoes because it is that fantastically awesome.

Once again, score one for the desert for showing me not only what is, but also what's possible!

I spy...

What Would Ed Do?
Ed would encourage my pursuit of the safe mechanisms by which to propel oneself up a mass of rock. Ed would then free solo El Capitan in 24 hours, barefoot.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mt. Zion Loop aka "Escape From Kelp Mountain"

A girl, a camera, a hole in the trees

In preparation for our Mt. Whitney adventure last fall, Team Awesome spent the summer bagging peaks and logging miles, conditioning our quads and internal fortitude for the task ahead. One such training excursion was a 14-mile loop starting at Chantry Flats and highpointing at Mt. Wilson. Casey vaguely described that we'd go off trail for a bit, following a firebreak, and then rejoin the Manzanita trail, which would lead us to our rather civilized goal.

Having knocked off some 14- and 16-milers in the past, coupled with the relatively low-elevation profile of the trek (Chantry Flat rests at 2200'; Mt. Wilson at 5710', with lots o' miles between the two), we knew we'd come out with sore quads...but even then, we had NO IDEA WHAT LAY AHEAD.

If you're not one of the masochistic few who've put in the grunt work on this special route, let me describe the first half of the trek:

Walk on a fire road. Cut up a faint use trail. Cut up a faint use trail rife with poison ivy. Cut up a faint use trail rife with poison ivy at what feels like a 45-degree angle. Nah, make that 30-degree angle. Curse. Curse at poison ivy. Curse at incline. Curse silently at Casey.

Emerge far, far up original fire road. Apply anti-bacterial hand sanitizer to all exposed skin to ward off potential poison ivy outbreak. High-five Casey for cutting a bazillion boring fire road miles from our journey. Round a curve. Helipad! Epic view! High-five Casey again for great idea. Adventure!

Ascend firebreak. Grunt a little. Reach a lovely ridge. Notice rather large bump ahead. Propel self quickly up rather large bump. Grunt some more. Lose exactly the same amount of elevation on the way down other side of bump. Grimace.

Shower, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Make mean faces at Casey when he's not looking. Commiserate with Rebecca. Break quads. Break calves. Break hammies. Break ass. Sweat. Slide down hill. Gently turn ankle. Whimper.

The second half of the journey was lovely, full of trail dogs and resting in the sun and various degrees of eating. But man, that first half. Casey sure knows how to pick 'em.

Despite our masochistic undertaking, I fell in love with the greater Santa Anita Canyon/Mt. Wilson area. The Pack Station and its inhabitants (both human and animal) are adorable, the trails are well-signed, wet, and green, and it's so damn close to home. A few months ago, I completed the Winter Creek loop with my friend Cristin, and this weekend, we took a turn on the longer Mt. Zion loop, which went a little something like this:

Sail down, down, down the pavement, carefree and full of vim, vigor. Pass slow pokes. Crack jokes. Sneak past Sturtevant Falls crowds on the Gabrielino trail. Cross stream. Boy, the water levels are high. Cross stream. Cross stream. Wet toes.

Snack amongst the spruces. Decidedly cold when not moving. Re-wool self. Left turn from Sturtevant Camp. Is this trail? Trail covered in water. Trail is one with creek. Consider options. Begin creation of log bridge for crossing purposes. Am chastised for poor bridge-building skills. Use stick to pole vault across instead.

Mt. Zion Trail. Mt. Zion! Join Boy Scouts on top, enjoy view with about 5% visibility, thanks to decidedly non-generous ma nature. Rejoin trail. Ooooh - trail builders done good! Enjoy dirt underfoot, greenery all around. Realize that through the misty veil, mountains appear to be moving, as if they're comprised of kelp. Trip for a moment.

Refocus. Oh, trail builders stopped here. Oh, trail decidedly thinner. Oh, trail decidedly slope-y. Oh, trail decidedly thin and slope-y. Walk at 45-degree angle for a minute or two. Resume breathing. Pick way down improperly-angled rocky section of trail. Resume breathing.

Hoegee's Camp! Consider bathroom break. Oh - hot guy with dog! WAIT...HOT GUY WITH DOG HEARD EMBARRASSING CONVERSATION ABOUT INCONTINENCE. Blush. Laugh nervously. Cross stream. Cross stream. Cross stream. Balance on stick. Wet toes. Wet feet. Cross stream. Cross stream. Nearly fall in. Cross stream.

Up pavement. Ugh. Up pavement. UGH. Up pavement. UGGGGGH. Up pavement. @#$%^^^&*).

Moral of the story - it's really pretty and super wet there right now. GO!

Verdie McVerdant

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ed Viesturs Fan Club aka "I'm A Winner!!!"

With my hammies still aching from this weekend's 9.5-mile up-down-up-down loop in Santa Anita Canyon, I logged on to the ole Facespace this morning to the most awesome email from the administrator of the Ed Viesturs Fan Club, explaining that I won a set of autographed books (No Shortcuts To The Top & K2: Life And Death On The World's Most Dangerous Mountain) by none other than Ed himself!


If you're any sort of mountain nerd, I highly encourage you to check out Ed's books for yourself. The guy's a great adventure writer, with a knack for balancing out equal measures of inspiration, adrenaline, and smarts.

And on a related note - send your good wishes down to Ed in Antarctica, as he and his team hopefully summit its highpoint, Mt. Vinson, today!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Favorite Photos of 2010 aka "I Shot That!"

2010 was a banner year for waving my hiking nerd freak flag. Here are some of the visual highlights:


Kelso ridge

Dune-top handstand



Snapping our fearless leader



As viewed from Tuttle Rd.

Closing in on Consultation Lake & Trail Camp

Summit dance

Summit hut, finally!





Follow me

Through the looking glass

Arch peek



Sunday, January 2, 2011

Inspiration Point aka "Happy New Year"

New Year's Day

After a week of nonstop rain in Los Angeles, and another of wet winter weather in Milwaukee, I woke to a sunny, exceptionally clear New Year's Day and my first instinct (other than hunting down some sorely needed post-NYE caffeine) was to lace up and get high to enjoy the sprawl from above.

And so I found myself on a quick jaunt to Inspiration Point in Will Rogers State Historic Park late that afternoon, spurred on by resolution and Resolutions, clear weather and sunny skies. We trotted up the trail and glimpsed Catalina plopped down in a glittery Pacific, saw miles and miles of buildings and highways, and marveled at the San Gabriels, glowing pink in the fading sun. This never gets old. Ever.

It seems apt to kick off 2011 at a place called Inspiration Point. The last 365 days were marvelous, filled with adventures of all stripes, and I'm ready to keep moving. It's time to revisit rock climbing and snowshoeing. To learn how to procure and attach tire chains. To strap on some crampons. To aim for high peaks. To search out deep canyons. To slide on my butt down a very big hill. To fall asleep to crickets and owls. To burn out a headlamp or two. To walk in rhythms fast and slow. To spend that REI return as soon as it comes in. To help others find their place in the outdoors. To face my fears. To plant a LOT of trees. To sit for sunsets...and maybe some sunrises. To move further away from distractions and closer to inner peace.

Here's to the next 365 (well...364).