Now Part National Monument With A Much Needed $3 Million Monument Fund.

On Friday morning, President Barack Obama designated a significant portion of Angeles National Forest (almost 350,000 acres) as San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Also, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) announced approval of a $3 million San Gabriel Mountains Monument Fund (currently $850,000 has been raised for this pledge). In addition, the NFF is working with other groups to establish a $500,000 San Gabriel Partnership Fund.

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Map

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Map

A key reason to establish this area as a National Monument is to provide the ability to gain access to grant funding and public-private partnerships. That the ability to raise money and direct it is already providing much needed economic resources to this underfunded and sadly neglected resource is encouraging for me. I am hopeful that much needed improvements are far more likely to appear with this change.

View of Winston Ridge from my hike on Thursday--the last day before becoming part of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

View of Winston Ridge from my hike on Thursday–the last day before becoming part of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

With most of the hikes on this blog no longer being in Angeles National Forest, I might need to rethink its name and edit a lot of information such as where a peak is located in my peak bagging resume etc. Worth the effort though for the difference I think this will make for the forest. As with any change, there are those who are against it. In this case, I chalk that up to a lot of misinformation floating around. Casey Schreiner has followed this more closely than I and has written a number of good posts on what this change means. If your are interested in more information, this post on his blog Modern Hiker is a good place to start as is the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument page.

Combination Lock Access To Towering Redwoods

My return to hiking after my latest injury was a worthy experience which fulfilled my hunger to explore, to get my heart pumping hard again, and to have my mind calm in a way that only comes for me with exercise. I’d been away for so long that I wanted my first hike back to be special which inspired me to try and find something unique. The timing worked out so that it would coincide with dropping my daughter off to start college at Humboldt State University. Having never hiked in that area, I was at least guaranteed to cover new ground.

The view hundreds of feet up is modestly more tangible when trees of different diameters are bunched together.

The view hundreds of feet up is modestly more tangible when trees of different diameters are bunched together.

Reading through a guide book, I found a hike (#39 in White 2014) that had an unusual set of requirements to gain access to a grove of very tall redwoods (many over 300′ in height). Having just read The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring (an account of the search for the tallest trees–many of them found in Humboldt County, the fascinating and unexpected life found in the redwood canopy, and tales of climbing/sleeping in redwoods and associated dangers); I liked the idea of journeying to a grove which was talked about in the book. The Tall Trees Grove is home of the Libby Tree (a.k.a. Tall Tree) which at one time was the tallest known tree in the world. The tallest known tree today (Hyperion at 379.1′) is in this same area (but unmarked to protect it from vandalism).

Typical densely packed and diverse vegetation combine with a subtle interplay of light and shadow.

Typical densely packed and diverse vegetation combine with a subtle interplay of light and shadow.

I began at the Kuchel Visitor’s Center to get a permit and the day’s combination for the lock to open the gate and gain access to the 6 mile dirt road leading to the trailhead. Being in the mood for something special, I enjoyed the serious conversation with the ranger who wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into–essentially a handful of things to consider that wouldn’t impact my recovering Achilles tendon at all and make a fairly easy short hike feel a little more adventurous. The act of parking my car, unlocking the gate, parking again, locking the gate, and driving down the long dirt road to the trailhead made my return to hiking feel almost ceremonial.

Emerald Ridge Trail, Redwood National Park

Emerald Ridge Trail, Redwood National Park

I took my time walking down the Emerald Ridge Trail. I stopped about every hundred yards or so to take in my surroundings. Although in the midst of towering trees, this forest feels intimate. The dense understory of diverse vegetation provides a lush human scale at the forest floor to juxtapose against the towering canopy above. The trail itself is virtually the only area not covered with some form of plant life. Numerous fallen trees covered with diverse flora combined with a complex texture of young and old trees provide a constant awareness of the forest’s old age. With abundant shade provided by the canopy and understory trees, light and shadow interplay in interesting ways. Most of the forest floor is in shadow and most of the light that makes it down that far is reflected. The small beams of direct light that do break through serve to beautifully highlight areas and feel like a treasure instead of a blinding source of midday heat.

The wide gravel channel of Redwood Creek, Redwood National Park

The wide gravel channel of Redwood Creek, Redwood National Park

Arriving at Redwood Creek provided a huge contrast. Initially, leaving the dark and cool forest for the bright and hotter creek was uncomfortable. It took me a few minutes to acclimate to such a dramatic change. There is no trail along Redwood Creek between the end of the Emerald Ridge Trail and Tall Trees Grove. I already knew that the prescribed route is to follow the creek hiking on the gravel of its banks and crossing it as needed. Standing at the creek however, having walked to it in a straight line; I looked back toward the trail I just left and couldn’t see the trailhead. I wondered if I would have found that trailhead if I had done the loop in the other direction. This made me pause and ask myself, would I see the trailhead for the Tall Trees Trail? How would I know if I passed it? It was good that I had purchased a map at the Kuchel Visitor’s Center. Studying it more carefully, it was clear I’d have at least six stream crossings and the only other creek in this stretch (Tom McDonald Creek) would drain into Redwood Creek shortly before reaching the Tall Trees Trail. With renewed confidence, I headed upstream.

Sloped wall of trees along the banks of Redwood Creek, Redwood National Park

Sloped wall of trees along the banks of Redwood Creek, Redwood National Park

Fortunately, I came across a man hiking the loop from the other direction. He told me of the weather station that makes the Tall Trees trailhead easy to spot. As I made my way up the wide canyon, I internalized how challenging it must have been to discover the tallest trees. Although I’d read descriptions of the process in The Wild Trees book, the act of trying to discern the tallest ones myself and think about how to get to them yielded in me even more respect for the accomplishments of the discoverers. With such dense forest rising up the sides of the canyon and visually creating a massive sloped wall of trees as far as my eye could see, I keenly felt the sense of isolation that wilderness can provide.

Textured but visually impenetrable boundary between forest edge and creek.

Textured but visually impenetrable boundary between forest edge and creek.

The overall feel switched from human scaled intimacy to hard to wrap my head around grandeur. The often delicate and idiosyncratic interplay of light on the foliage that I could reach out and touch within the canopy had given way to a textured but visually impenetrable boundary between the forest edge and creek viewed under the harsh light of a cloudless afternoon sky. The way forward was slow going as I walked through gravel the whole way and crossed the creek six times. However, with several changes in water depth (ranging from ankle to knee deep), width (ranging from a narrow portion of the channel to almost completely filling it) and differing conditions for crossings; the 1.7 mile segment along the creek held my interest throughout. To be treated to such contrasting experiences on such a short hike was already exhilarating for me.

Lichen covered maple trees live in Tall Trees Grove.

Lichen covered maple trees live in Tall Trees Grove.

Heading up the embankment to enter Tall Trees Grove I expected to see the same things I did coming down the Emerald Ridge Trail. To my delightful surprise, this area of the forest is meaningfully different. Lichen covered maple trees define much of the north facing boundary between Tall Trees Grove and Redwood Creek. Looking at the map, I assume this is the result of some combination of the presence of increased light due to the widening of the creek channel as it makes close to a 180 degree turn around the grove and the north facing orientation.

More enclosing space beneath the much shorter and wider maple trees provides a contrasting experience.

More enclosing space beneath the much shorter and wider maple trees provides a contrasting experience.

This edge condition provides an interesting transition between the creek and the redwoods close by (often as close as ten or twenty feet further in). With branches barely above head height spanning the trail in some spots, the much shorter and wider form of the maples overhead, and the ability to be both close to the maples and able to discern the top of them; the space felt more enclosing and human scaled.

Comparatively low arching ceiling of the maple canopy

Comparatively low arching ceiling of the maple canopy

Although in shade and much cooler than the open riparian habitat of the creek, this stretch of trail is brighter than what exists deeper in. Much more light comes in from the outer side of the trail illuminating large swaths of forest floor. Similarly, the much lower arching maple canopy produces a brighter ceiling. After hiking three other redwood trails on my way home from Humboldt without seeing anything like this; I look back at this stretch of lichen covered maples as a wonderfully unique ecotone providing a remarkable transition between creek and redwood forest.

Inner loop of Tall Trees Grove

Inner loop of Tall Trees Grove

The maples gave way to redwoods on the inner portion of the loop of Tall Trees Grove. Space became more open, taller, and noticeably darker. With a more tightly packed juxtaposition of mostly old growth redwoods and less understory trees than the Emerald Ridge Trail, the grove represented a fourth major form of scenery . By comparison, these redwoods were also typically larger in diameter and taller.

Old growth redwoods in Tall Trees Grove creaking in the breeze

Old growth redwoods in Tall Trees Grove creaking in the breeze

As I walked along this portion of the loop I kept hearing a sound that I couldn’t identify right away. Although not loud, the sound was audible enough to interrupt my thoughts. I in no way needed to listen for it. The sound lasted several seconds at a time and produced a sizable accelerating crescendo punctuated in silence. Standing under a group of redwoods, I finally realized what I was hearing was the sound of some of the trees creaking as they moved in the slight breeze. This made me think about the relationship between the diameter of these trees and their height (structurally referred to as their slenderness ratio). It was as if I could hear that some of these trees were as tall as they could be without snapping. That thought made me recall reading about how the top spire of middle-aged redwoods typically dies and falls off the tree, how a redwood responds to that by growing new trunks from its larger branches which rise vertically parallel to the main trunk, and how over centuries the tree grows an aerial grove of redwoods (some pretty large themselves) all connected to the ground via the one main trunk (Preston 2007, pp. 20-21). Looking up the whole time I was pondering that, I eventually realized that I was swaying side to side in rhythm with the trees. It was probably my most profound moment of physical and intellectual connection to any forest.

Tall Trees Trail, Redwood National Park

Tall Trees Trail, Redwood National Park

I finished the loop by hiking up the Tall Trees Trail. As I got closer to the trailhead the landscape became similar to the Emerald Ridge Trail. However, there was a fairly long transition from the grove to the trailhead that was more open, yielding longer forest views, and comprised of more taller redwoods and Douglas firs than found along Emerald Ridge. It was different enough over a long enough stretch of trail that I feel I had five meaningfully different experiences along this short 5.2 mile hike with only around 700 feet of gain and loss. Thinking about the range and magnitude of what I saw while driving back up the long dirt road, I felt this was a phenomenal choice. Closing and locking the gate behind me in order to leave felt like the act of closing a hard to put down book upon finishing it.

Additional Photos: Emerald Ridge Trail, Redwood Creek, Tall Trees Grove and Trail.

Why I Created My Peak Bagging Resume

My achilles tendon is almost healed and I expect to be hiking again by this weekend. It has been over a month since my last hike. Although my case of cabin fever is getting intense, I’ve decided to take it real slow and hopefully stop the barrage of injuries I’ve been dealing with over the past year. Since my IT band injury last August I’ve only hiked 1/2 the miles I hiked in 2011 (my first year of serious hiking) and 1/3 of what I did in 2012–both years injury free.

"Use trail" leading to Brown Mountain.

“Use trail” leading to Brown Mountain, April 2012

I think my impatience to get back into the shape I was in prior to getting injured has played a significant role in my continued battles with injuries. Long periods of inactivity have now resulted in my gaining back almost half the weight I’d lost since I started hiking. Looking honestly at where I’m at, I realize I need to get in shape to pursue getting in shape. It feels like I’m starting over–only worse. I’ve decided not to carry the extra weight backpacking requires for the rest of this year (though I may car-camp) and to also limit the strenuousness of my hikes (no matter how I feel) until sometime next year.

North Backbone Trail coming down from Mt. Baldy, October 2011

North Backbone Trail coming down from Mt. Baldy, October 2011

Frankly, this was demoralizing for me. However, my outlook got better as I started to plan my first return hike. There are a number of hikes I’ve avoided going on when I was training to hike Mt. Whitney or the High Sierra Trail because they would be too easy. Since I’m not going to get back into training mode until next year, it’s now a good time to explore them. A while ago my neighbor (Chuck) gave me the book “106 Tops In The Angeles Forest”. What’s great about it is that it shows a separate map with the trail (often un-maintained “use trails” that I don’t see on other maps) and a description on how to get to each peak–many of them un-named . There’s a plethora of options to get off the beaten path and explore trails most people don’t go on and many of them are short. I used that book as a reference to find my way to Pallett Mountain as both a day hike and an overnight backpacking trip this year and really enjoyed both experiences. A plan of exploration without worrying about mileage, gain, and getting ready for some other adventure has me looking forward to enjoyed the getting in shape to get in shape phase of my recovery.

Pallett Mountain, June 2014.

Pallett Mountain, June 2014.

My first hike back will be to Winston Peak and Winston Ridge (about 4 miles round trip). Since the book is over 30 years old and the trail isn’t on the maps I use for Angeles Forest, I felt I should search the internet and see what current information I could find. I came across the Iron Hiker blog which gave a good description. It’s blogger (Keith Winston) also has a link to something he refers to as his peak-bagging resume. I didn’t even know how many peaks I had summited. His resume got me curious to see what my list actually looks like.

Path to the lookout at Mt. Wilson looking toward Mt. Baldy, May 2014.

Path to the lookout at Mt. Wilson looking toward Mt. Baldy, May 2014.

Since I track my hikes on a spreadsheet, it was easy to determine that I’ve bagged 45 peaks. More interesting to me than the number is the variety of ways I’ve reached many of them–108 routes total. For example, I’ve hiked to Mt. Wilson twelve different ways starting from five different trailheads (Angeles Crest Highway at Shortcut Canyon, Chantry Flat, Cobb Estate, Eaton Cayon, and Sierra Madre). However, I’ve only blogged about one of them and I only have step by step instructions of another.

San Gabriel Peak, December 2011.

San Gabriel Peak, December 2011.

Although I repeat many of those routes often, some of them multiple times annually; it’s exploring new routes that I enjoy most. So, I thought a resume could be an effective way of sharing these routes through an outline with quick descriptions that could be helpful to others looking for other ways to explore the forest.

Middle Mt. Hawkins, June 2014.

Middle Mt. Hawkins, June 2014.

My Peak Bagging Resume is located in the Peak Bagging Routes tab in my blog’s menu area above. It’s a continuous scroll list, organized by peak in elevation order starting from the highest (to make quick work of finding high peaks for training), with descriptions of all the hikes I’ve done to each peak, and with links to other information including any step by step instructions I’ve created. At a minimum, each peak has a link to it’s own individual page that has photos from the peak and a list of hikes. Eventually, all of them will look like the one I’ve created for San Gabriel Peak that also has a 360 degree panorama view, links to posts I’ve created, and links to posts others have written on their blogs. Also on that resume page are links to alphabetical lists to make quickly finding information on a specific peak easier.

View from the "use trail" following the ridge from Inspiration Point looking toward Inspiration Peak (Unofficial Name), February 2012.

View from the “use trail” following the ridge from Inspiration Point looking toward Inspiration Peak (Unofficial Name), February 2012.

Like the trail segment pages I’ve created, I’ll use the quick reference nature of the resume to help me plan new routes. I hope others will do the same.