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.

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