First Impression Of The Anza-Borrego Desert

Hiking in 2015 began for me with a camping trip to the Anza-Borrego Desert with my friend Scott. I’ve had going there on my bucket list since I met a hiker a few years ago near Mt. Wilson who gave me an impassioned description of its magnificence. The area this desert encompasses is so vast with so much to see that I found choosing a place to go overwhelming. Thankfully, Scott is in the process of hiking all the trips covered in Afoot & Afield: San Diego County which allowed me the opportunity to simply tag along on a couple hikes he hadn’t yet done. I chose to have this trip be about simply getting a glimpse or the desert with the understanding that I plan to go back several times to garner anything resembling an introduction. My glimpse turned out to be engrossing and I hope to return a couple times this year before it gets too hot for me.

View from an unnamed peak with Smoke Tree Canyon visible on the left. Dry teddy-bear cholla cactus and ocotillo stand out in the landscape.

View from an unnamed peak with Smoke Trees Canyon visible on the left. Dry teddy-bear cholla cactus and ocotillo stand out in the landscape.

Although I went on three hikes on the trip,1 I want to share a brief look of my most tangible first impression through the lens of parts of just one of them–mainly Smoke Tree Canyon. In the areas I visited, my main impression was that there is an extreme duality that every part of the landscape displays in relation to water. I expected the dry part. From a distance, adjectives like barren, desolate, and stark ring true. I hadn’t really thought that much about how intense the wet part could be nor how it would show up in the landscape.

View from the unnamed peak looking across Smoke Trees Canyon to the mountains beyond.

View from the unnamed peak looking across Smoke Trees Canyon to the mountains beyond.

By the time I found myself enjoying the view from an unnamed peak, I had been thinking about the presence/absence relationship the landscape had with water for a while. While contemplating the rocky ground I was standing on, devoid of almost anything that could be considered dirt as most of that must get washed down the mountain sides in the rain; I looked out toward the mountains and noticed the high walls of Smoke Trees Canyon characterized by heavy erosion scarred cliffs terminating the mountain slopes.

View up Smoke Trees Canyon from an unnamed peak.

View up Smoke Trees Canyon from an unnamed peak.

I turned my attention further up the canyon thinking about the awesome impact water must have moving down these mountains in the rain. With no meaningful vegetation to slow water down or soak it up, the volume of water and speed by which it travels through the canyon must at times be phenomenal. I began wondering how little rain is actually needed to produce a flash flood. The scale of the area producing drainage is so vast.

Looking back at a dry waterfall that we needed to scramble down enclosed by rock canyon walls.

Looking back at a dry waterfall that we needed to scramble down enclosed by rock canyon walls.

Reaching the canyon floor, long expansive views gave way to tall enclosing walls. The ground being sandy as opposed to the rocky ground leading down the mountain side, it was clear that I was walking down a temporarily dry stream bed. My earlier bird’s eye view from the peak wasn’t required to see the absence of a potentially fast moving and deep body of water flowing through this area.

Metamorphic rock walls of Smoke Tree Canyon

Metamorphic rock walls of Smoke Tree Canyon

The first part of our walk down the canyon was through a narrow channel surrounded by metamorphic rock walls cut out mostly by the horizontal force of large volumes of water moving down the canyon. Even without water present, there are still points with enough large boulders on the canyon floor that minor rock hopping was required to move forward. I found the rock walls and narrow space between them impressive. They formed an amazing and continually unfolding area to walk through. At the same time, I thought about the bird’s eye view and the extreme nature of this landscape. These walls weren’t carved out by a continuously flowing river at any time in their history. The space I was walking through was created by a long series of individual events. Events that continue to occur to this day making this scene only temporarily dry. Although I have no idea how big of a storm is required to create a depth of water that would be problematic for someone to be in this area, my guess is that it would be hard to gauge without extensive experience and that it would be best for novice desert visitors (like myself) to avoid areas like this during any rain. This isn’t some permanently dried up stream bed; it’s an active area fueled by the whims of weather patterns.

Sedimentary walls appear further down Storm Trees Canyon as it also widens.

Sedimentary walls appear further down Storm Trees Canyon as it also widens.

Further down the dry stream bed, the canyon begins to widen and sedimentary walls–some still pretty tall– appear. I found the difference dramatic. Water must get comparatively slower in this area allowing debris to pile up and then erode. The size of some of the boulders up high appear to mark a past canyon floor height.

Lower walls take form as the canyon continues to widen.

Lower walls take form as the canyon continues to widen.

As the canyon continues to widen, smaller height walls take form in the area between the larger walls defining the canyon. With those more interior walls down to about the standard height of a room, I began to start thinking about how close I was to being able to see over them.

Multiple channels below knee high emerged as the canyon continued to widen.

Multiple channels below knee high emerged as the canyon continued to widen.

Soon, I was able to see over these interior dividers as their height dwindled down below knee high and the canyon opened up considerably. There were now choices regarding which channel I wanted to walk or if I preferred walking a straighter line through the more elevated and more rocky terrain between the channels. At this point the juxtaposition of all the different heights of the channels I had walked through had me thinking of the different perspectives each yielded. Looking at the ground, there were still more channels, just at a smaller scale. Channels that ants would find as enclosing as the ones I found higher up the canyon. This made me think of the film The Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames. Standing in one spot I could see clearly several orders of magnification of scale relating to the impact of water moving through this landscape–all without water being present.

The curvy ridge like top, thinning out to almost a point, felt to me similar to the smaller shapes etched into the canyon floor and no higher than the soles of my shoes.

The curvy ridge like top, thinning out to almost a point, felt to me similar to the smaller shapes etched into the canyon floor and no higher than the soles of my shoes.

This idea of seeing similar things at different scales dominated my thinking for a large part of the remainder of my hike. I enjoyed looking at features in the landscape and considering the larger or smaller version. Upon seeing something I found interesting, I would look around to see if I could find a similar form at a different scale.

One of the many sculptural scenes as the canyon transitioned to a wash.

One of the many sculptural scenes as the canyon transitioned to a wash.

As the canyon gets wider and water has more area to disperse and slow down, the tallest enclosing walls begin showing erosion caused more by runoff from higher altitudes created by more of a sheet flow over cliff like edges. While the walls are obviously different as seen from the canyon floor, the source of this difference in the direction and depth of water flow generated erosion can be seen clearly from the views looking down on the canyon from the peak. The result is a more vertical from of erosion. By the time I reached a zone transitioning the canyon into something more like a wash, numerous more sculptural scenes emerged as the tallest canyon walls shortened continually until they ended altogether.

Smoke trees dominate the horizontal landscape as the canyon widens and the speed and depth of requisite water necessarily decreases.

Smoke trees dominate the horizontal landscape as the canyon widens and the speed and depth of requisite water necessarily decreases.

The presence of smoke trees 2 further underscored for me the large amount of water that must make its way through the canyon at times. Looking back toward the mountains, standing in the completely dry landscape, the dramatically wetter reality was everywhere to be discerned. A rain at any time (not necessarily seasonal) could change the feel of the landscape profoundly, perhaps to the level of producing a flash flood or to a lesser degree simply greening the vegetation. As a result, my first impression of this landscape is that it has an extreme wet/dry duality that is there to see at all times.

Notes:


  1. We stayed in the Culp Valley Campground and walked the short Culp Valley Trail that is an extension of the campground. On our first day, after setting up camp, we hiked Lower Willows with a small and interesting side trip to a palm grove and culminating in a engaging view from the Santa Catarina Spring Monument area. On our second day we hiked Rock Tanks Loop with a small extension along a ridge to an unnamed peak. I took over 400 photos which I pared down considerably into 11 small galleries easily accessible from the links in this note. 
  2. The smoke trees, being so much more densely configured than the other vegetation outside the canyon implied for me significantly larger continuous water requirements for survival. Their presence suggested to me an indication of just how much water can flow through this area. I’ve since read a little bit about them and confirmed that they require a fair amount of water for survival. 

My Top Ten Hikes Of 2014

This year was a difficult one for me on many levels. In regards to hiking, I was constantly injured and at just over 430 miles hiked this year; I hiked 479 miles less than my best year (2012 when I first hiked Mt. Whitney and was in my best shape). I didn’t even make it half way. I missed many planned trips and didn’t even post about some of my favorites. As I look back though, I see I still managed to have lots of great experiences. My favorites were:

10. Little Jimmy Backpacking Trip in Angeles National Forest with Lorenzo
One of my many returns to hiking this year after enduring an injury time out. This was my first overnight at Little Jimmy Campground but I’ve day hiked in the area numerous times and knew the surroundings very well. The point of this trip was to take things slow and begin to get back into shape. What made this trip special was the different perspective I got on the second day hiking familiar terrain to Throop Peak much earlier in the morning than I had before. Post: Mountain Mornings.
Morning at Little Jimmy Campground

Morning at Little Jimmy Campground

9. Pallett Mountain Backpacking Trip with Etienne

Pallett Mountain is along Pleasant View Ridge which I hiked up to for the first time earlier in the year from Burhart Saddle from the west. I found it to be a great peak with nice places to camp. I hadn’t yet hiked the entire way from third bump on Mt. Williamson to Pallet Mountain from the east. I learned my friend Etienne also wanted complete that segment of Pleasant View Ridge, so we decided to camp on Pallett Mountain which was a great call. The night view from there is outstanding and it’s one of the lesser traveled places in the forest.

Sunset on Pallett Mountain

Sunset on Pallett Mountain

8. Limber Pine Bench Backpacking Trip In San Bernardino National Forest With Scott
My first backpacking trip of the year over familiar terrain but still one of my favorite trails even though I tend to run into some kind of “problem” every time I go. Post: My First Backpacking Trip Of The Year.
Late afternoon at Limber Pine Bench

Late afternoon at Limber Pine Bench

7. Limantour Spit, Point Reyes National Seashore With Debbie
This is one of the larger of several small hikes I did with my wife on the way back from dropping my daughter off at college. What made this hike so memorable for me was it was the first time I’ve ever been at the end of a spit. I really enjoyed the edge condition where the waters of Drakes Bay, Drakes Estero, and Estero de Limantour meet.
The end of Limantour Spit

The end of Limantour Spit

6. PCT at Three Points to Winston Peak

I hiked to Winston Peak for the first time earlier in the year and it became one of my favorite peaks. The main reason this peak isn’t as popular as peaks nearby is it can be reached by a 1.2 mile round trip hike from the parking lot at Cloudburst Summit. Who wants to drive all the way up there for such a short hike? On my first trip I extended it by also hiking to Winston Ridge. However, I like this peak so much that I decided to think about how to make it the furthest point on a much longer hike. I had never hiked following the PCT from Three Points to Cloudburst Summit before largely because being so close to Angeles Crest Highway (crossing it four times before starting up the trail leading to Winston Peak) didn’t appear that interesting. This is another example of the map not being the territory. I found this to be a great hike with expansive vistas throughout yielding another great perspective of the forest. This is now one of my favorite hikes which I’ll return to often and look forward to trying one day in the snow.

View heading down from Winston Peak

View heading down from Winston Peak

5. Point Lobos State Reserve With Debbie

This was my third time visiting Point Lobos. Being conveniently located off Highway 1 near Carmel, I’m not sure I’m capable of driving by it in daylight and not stopping in. There are so many ecotones in such a small area and pretty much a guarantee to see some combination of Southern Sea Otters, Harbor Seals, and California Sea Lions.

View from the North Shore Trail at Point Lobos State Reserve

View from the North Shore Trail at Point Lobos State Reserve

4. Baden-Powell Snow Hike In Angles National Forest

This was a fantastic day hiking a trail I know well, but this time in snow. Clouds made this one especially interesting. Post: Snow Hiking In LA: Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden-Powell

Limber Pines near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell

Limber Pines near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell

3. Founder’s Grove and Mahan Loop, Humboldt Redwoods State Park With Debbie

This is a short hike off Avenue Of The Giants (a detour off Highway 101 I doubt I will ever miss again driving that stretch of highway in daylight). The only place I’ve experienced that I can compare it to is Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park and I’m torn between which one I prefer. I have a modest preference for giant sequoia trees and a modest preference for the quality of light in this redwood forest.

Forest floor at Founder's Grove/Mahan Loop

Forest floor at Founder’s Grove and Mahan Loop

2. Methuselah Walk, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest With My Daughter

This hike was part of a trip where my daughter and I camped at Grandview Campground. Knowing that many of the trees were thousands of years old (one over 5,000 years old) had me thinking of timelessness as I walked through the dramatic variety in texture this forest yields. Post: Camping And Walking Along The Ancients.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine on Methuselah Walk

Ancient Bristlecone Pine on Methuselah Walk

1. Emerald Ridge Trail in Redwood National Forest

This was my first hike after an extended hiatus due to injury. It was a unique experience as I needed to get the day’s combination to unlock a gate to drive to the trailhead. This loop trail included hiking down Emerald Ridge, along Redwood Creek, through Tall Trees Groove, and up the Tall Trees Trail. Along the way I crossed several ecotones which made this hike exceptionally diverse for a short hike. Post: Combination Lock Access To Towering Redwoods.

Tall Trees Grove

Tall Trees Grove

Snow Hiking In Los Angeles: The Mt. Waterman Trail

After several days of rain, there are several options for snow hiking in Angeles National Forest right now. Last Sunday I enjoyed one of them. There was deep enough snow at the Mt. Waterman trailhead that I was able to snowshoe 1 the entire way from Angeles Crest Highway to the summit. I read on the Mt. Baldy Facebook Page that the ski lift area received another 8″-10″ of snow Tuesday night and that they will open up Thunder Mountain with the understanding that the snow is extremely thin in some areas. So, there’s enough snow on our mountains right now to support a good range of winter fun.

Mt. Waterman

View from Mt. Waterman

Mt. Waterman is a great place to snow hike for most all skill levels because it’s not as steep as most snow covered options in Angeles National Forest 2 and it doesn’t have the kind of sketchy areas many of the other trails have. Even where the trail is a little thin with a significant drop to one side; the trail is still wider, the drop is less steep, and the drop isn’t as far as most other trails high enough in elevation to be covered in snow.

One of the more "sketchy" parts of the Mt. Waterman Trail. Comparatively tame when compared to other trails nearby.

One of the more “sketchy” parts of the Mt. Waterman Trail. Comparatively tame when compared to other trails nearby.

For the most part, the trail is comfortably wide with an easy grade which makes it a perfect place to snowshoe as there aren’t many awkward areas where the size of the snowshoes makes moving forward tricky. In fact, there are lots of more flat and open areas which I find very appealing in the snow.

View toward Mt. Waterman from the last saddle area before the summit.

View toward Mt. Waterman from the last saddle area before the summit.

Among the many winter treats experienced hiking this trail at this time of year is to see the stream flowing down the mountain which is dry most of the year. Traversing this trail soon after the storm meant the ice was still falling from the trees. The sound of that along with the interesting patterns on the ground below the trees was an added bonus.

Seasonal stream along the Mt. Waterman Trail.

Seasonal stream along the Mt. Waterman Trail.

I find the snowy version of the summit even more dramatic than it is the rest of the year. The color of the trees–especially their bark–stands out more against the contrasting white snow. The partially snow covered portions of the plethora of granite outcrops helps to emphasize the varying formations being created due to the weathering process. I also find the warmth from the sun as I move out of the shade in the winter to be of larger impact than the coolness of the shade on a summer’s day.

Mt. Waterman

View from Mt. Waterman

The area of the summit of Mt. Waterman is larger than most peaks in Angeles National Forest . As a result, it yields many different perspectives and can be reached by several different routes that lead to the peak.

The steeper approach to Mt. Waterman from the east.

The steeper approach to Mt. Waterman from the east.

The one described here is one of the two options coming from the east. There is a split in the trail just past the last saddle before the summit that allows a steeper more direct approach and leads to the more spatially constrained eastern area of the peak. Here, views are long but always partially blocked by trees and large granite outcrops which often give the feeling of being walls.

View looking out toward Mt. Baldy from the more constrained eastern end of the peak.

View looking out toward Mt. Baldy from the more constrained eastern end of the peak.

Continuing west along the trail that runs the length of the summit (the summit is long enough to call the path a trail), the landscape opens up dramatically providing an expansive view of the more open and flat middle section of the peak which is also directly accessed from the longer gentler approach from the east 3.

View looking west on Mt. Waterman.

View looking west on Mt. Waterman.

Since I wasn’t going to make this a loop hike by taking the road back, I turned around and headed back the way I came enjoying the constantly changing views of almost the entire high country of Angeles National Forest.

On of my favorite views of the high country of Angeles National Forest as seen from the Mt. Waterman Trail.

On of my favorite views of the high country of Angeles National Forest as seen from the Mt. Waterman Trail.

The following other snow hikes I’ve posted in this series should be covered in some amount on snow for a while now (baring an unforeseen heat wave).

The Pacific Crest Trail from Angeles Crest to Mt. Islip

The Pacific Crest Trail from Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden-Powell (presently only accessible from Wrightwood because Angeles Crest Highway is closed between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap for the winter).

The Baldy Bowl Trail

Notes:


  1. I didn’t actually need snowshoes to hike this trail on this day. Sure, near the summit even the snowshoes sunk about 4″ into the snow. So, it was nice and extra fun for me to have them. However, one could just “post hole” it–preferably with tall gaiters. That’s what I did when I started snow hiking. However, I had an experience at Mt. Hawkins where the trail got icy and very slippery forcing me to turn back earlier than I wanted because I started slipping on the snow instead of sinking into it. I knew I needed to get some equipment to counteract that issue. At the time, I bought snowshoes because they helped with both icy conditions and make travelling in deep snow more enjoyable. Later I learned about microspikes which are great to help with icy conditions and work better than snowshoes when the snow isn’t deep. I now carry both microspikes and snowshoes when I snow hike. There were others wearing snowshoes, some with micro-spikes, and a lot more just wearing hiking boots. My friend Etienne was even trying out hiking with his skis to prepare for an upcoming snow touring trip. 
  2. Only 1,250′ of gain over three miles to the summit for an average of  just over 415′ per mile. Compare with Islip Saddle to Mt. Islip at over 570′ per mile, Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden-Powell at over 740′ per mile, or the Baldy Bowl Trail to Mt. Baldy at over 930′ per mile. 
  3. The more gentle approach is taken by continuing straight at the fork after the last saddle before the peak (instead of going up the steeper trail on the left). This lower path eventually reaches another obvious junction where a left turn leads to the middle portion of the peak. This lower path eventually widens to road width and leads to the road at the west end of the peak. The road at the west end of the peak is also accessible from the higher trail and leads back down to Angeles Crest Highway. The lower path also leads to a lesser known middle path with a seasonal stream that meanders down the mountain eventually terminating in a ski run that needs to be crossed to reach the road that leads down to the highway. It’s probably best to avoid that middle route when skiers are present. 

Snow Hiking In Los Angeles: Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden Powell

The last days of October finally brought some rain to Los Angeles. This first storm of the season yielded enough precipitation to allow for a substantial snow hike. However, I wasn’t sure of that when I left my house last Sunday hoping to find myself in a winter wonderland. As a result, I headed up Angeles Crest Highway with several options in mind for potential snow hikes. Although I thought it was possible I might find very little snow, I brought my microspikes and snowshoes with me so that if I found icy or deep snow I wouldn’t need to turn back as I did last year above Limber Pine Bench.

View from the summit trail leading up to Mt. Baden-Powell.

View from the summit trail leading up to Mt. Baden-Powell.

I decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden-Powell. This was in part due to the fact that I hadn’t hiked that section of the PCT in snow yet. Also, while I could see the peaks along the way were in snow, their associated trailheads were not. With Mt. Baden-Powell (at 9,399′ in elevation) being the highest peak reasonably accessible as a day hike from Angeles Crest Highway, I felt the trek from Vincent Gap would give me the best shot of being continuously in snow deep enough to sink into without reaching soil. It turned out to be a good decision.

With the exception of a small stretch along a ridge, numerous switchbacks connect Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden-Powell.

With the exception of a small stretch along a ridge, numerous switchbacks connect Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden-Powell.

This section of the Pacific Crest Trail is moderately strenuous and is used by many as an early season training hike for the Mt. Whitney Trail. The key reasons for that are; the trail is at high elevation, it follows a large number of switchbacks up one face of the mountain similar to the path covering the 99 switchbacks from Trail Camp to Trail Crest, and it has an average grade of 750′ per mile which is steeper than the 590′ per mile average grade of the Mt. Whitney Trail. What makes this hike moderate is it’s comparatively short length of 7.6 miles round trip.

One of the few flatter areas of this section of the PCT provides a good place to make gear changes.

One of the few flatter areas of this section of the PCT provides a good place to make gear changes.

The trail is well maintained and was easy to follow in the snow throughout. It is also a popular trail, so there were numerous people there before me whose footsteps also helped to lead the way. Although there was no snow at the trailhead, about a mile and a half up the trail the snow was deep enough to provide a continuous hard packed ground cover. At that point I stopped to put on my microspikes. With the sun melting the ice from the trees, it sometimes felt like it was lightly raining as I walked under them.

View toward the Mojave Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail.

View toward the Mojave Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail.

The switchback nature of the hike makes changes of views to be mostly about getting a higher perspective of the same panorama or up close changes in the dominant species of pine tree that takes place with elevation gain (Lodgepole and Limber Pine being my favorites on this trail).

Limber Pines in the cloudy mist

Limber Pines in the cloudy mist

A little over halfway up the trail I found myself moving from sunlight into clouds as they were making their way around the mountain and heading out over the Mojave Desert below. Visibility now being low, I found myself preoccupied with the snow and icicles which had formed differently on the trees, branches, and needles. The colorful bark of the limber pines stood out more against a grey background and icy snow covered needles.

Slight mist in the air  softened and enhanced the  view up toward the sun

Slight mist in the air softened and enhanced the view up toward the sun

Most of the rest of the way up the mountain involved constant transitioning between being in the clouds with low visibility to moving outside of them into the sunlight with a long view out to the desert below. Numerous pockets of differing degrees of mist between those extremes yielded subtly lit landscapes with engrossing interplays of sunbeams, light, and shadow.

Heavy mist from the clouds makes the Wally Waldron Tree and Mt. Baden-Powell barely discernible.

Heavy mist from the clouds makes the Wally Waldron Tree (center of photo) and Mt. Baden-Powell barely discernible.

The day was filled with dramatic visual experiences as the clouds sometimes moved swiftly over and around the mountain. A stunning example occurred over a five minute period as I approached and reached the Wally Waldron Tree. At first I could barely see it through the dense mist of the clouds and Mt. Baden-Powell was barely discernible.

Five minutes later the lower clouds moved away opening the sky to the sun.

Within five minutes I was at the Wally Waldron Tree and the lower clouds had already moved away opening up the view to a misty sunny sky.

Within five minutes the clouds moved away allowing the sun to break through. Still a little misty and softening the view of the sun, the difference was intensely uplifting. The splash of blue, the snow appearing more white than grey, and the view of the peak beyond were striking developments over so short a time period.

View looking south from Mt. Baden-Powell.

View looking south from Mt. Baden-Powell.

It was clear and the air was surprisingly still on the peak given how fast clouds were swirling around it. Although the view out was blocked these clouds (I couldn’t even see Mt. Baldy), the drama of the quickly changing light and cloud shapes made the experience wonderfully exceptional.

Sun breaking through and softened by the mist on the way back down the mountain.

Sun breaking through and softened by the mist on the way back down the mountain.

The trip back down the mountain provided similar experiences as the clouds never burned off while I was there. It was another phenomenal day on the mountain. Days like this always leave me thankful that I discovered this forest in Los Angeles which is just as easy to get to for many Angelenos as the beach is.

Additional photos: Mt. Baden-Powell, Pacific Crest Trail.

 

Mt. Lewis Is A Small Treasure Hidden In Plain Sight

I’ve hiked from Dawson Saddle over a dozen times, but I only made it up to Mt. Lewis for the first time last Saturday. I confess I was told to go a few years ago on a day I went snowshoeing up the Dawson Saddle Trail toward the PCT. As I was getting my snowshoes on another hiker arrived at the trailhead having just finishing snowshoeing to Throop Peak. He told me that he had a great trip to the peak and was now going to take his snowshoes off and hike to Mt. Lewis (a short distance across Angeles Crest Highway from where we stood). He said that he does this often and really enjoys the juxtaposition of snowshoeing and hiking on the same trip. As we parted ways, he assured me that a quick hike up to Mt. Lewis was worthwhile. Although I also had a great day snowshoeing (only my second time), I wasn’t up to doing the additional hike afterword.

View toward the Antelope Valley from the densely forested  Mt. Lewis

View toward the Antelope Valley from the densely forested Mt. Lewis

For me, a lot goes into determining where to hike that has little to do with the beauty of a particular place in the forest. Although it always looked to me that it might be interesting to summit, the trail is only a mile round trip and is over an hours drive to reach from the 210 freeway. That’s too much driving for such a short hike to be worth doing for me on its own. Frankly, the terrain behind it is so great that I’ve only allowed time and energy to hike those spectacular areas which left Mt. Lewis unexplored by me. Now that I’ve been there, I believe this peak would be almost as popular to climb as the others close by if there was a much longer trail to get to it. I combined it with Throop Peak creating a worthwhile short day on the mountain travelling 5.2 miles with 1,728′ of gain and loss. I think the key to hiking Mt. Lewis is to hike it first and then cross Angeles Crest Highway to combine it with something much longer. Over the past few years, I’ve always ended up just going home after hiking whatever I hiked first–reaching my car after an already satisfying and tiring hike always proved to inspire procrastination.

View from the steep Mt. Lewis use trail. Note the trail goes from bottom to top on the left side of this photo.

View from the steep Mt. Lewis use trail. Note the trail goes from bottom to top on the left side of this photo.

It is important to point out that this trail isn’t for everyone. It is an un-maintained use trail that has very steep parts to it, is thin in many places, and often has a steep drop to one side. The steepest part is over the first quarter mile.

View toward Throop Peak from the heavily wooded trail.

View toward Throop Peak from the heavily wooded trail.

The trail is heavily wooded which noticeably slowed down the gusting wind as compared to what it was like at Dawson Saddle and Throop Peak on Saturday.

Mt. Burnham (Left) and Throop Peak  provide a nice background to the long view down the trail.

Mt. Burnham (Left) and Throop Peak provide a nice background to the long view down the trail.

The views from the trail are often dramatic. In many ways this is due to the trees partially blocking the long view creating many interesting panoramas as major landmarks come in and out of view. The interplay of foreground and background is often engrossing. In fact, the trail and peak are so wooded that getting a completely unobstructed view out to a desired landmark requires a significantly higher degree of focused effort than is typically the case. I’m not saying it’s hard to do. It is just a different and more nuanced visual experience than being on terrain with completely unobstructed views. In a way, it’s similar to being inside looking out.

View toward Mt. Baden-Powell (left) and Mt. Burnham from the trail.

View toward Mt. Baden-Powell (left) and Mt. Burnham from the trail.

This quasi inside feeling makes the landmarks feel a little more special when they do come into clear view. That I love seeing the forest and its landmarks from different perspectives made this quality very appealing to me. The series of glimpses out combined with the more intimate interior spatial changes of the terrain along the trail made the short half mile to the peak interestingly varied. My sense of anticipation regarding what I would see after traversing another hundred feet or so was constant.

Typically enclosing space on Mt. Lewis

Typically enclosing space on Mt. Lewis

I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the peak and found it spatially enclosed by trees. I concede that on one level I was disappointed that the unobstructed 360 degree view out I had expected didn’t exist. However, there are views in all directions, just not from the same spot and the process of seeking them out is interesting and fun. Also, the peak itself is on the larger and more flat end of the spectrum compared to other peaks nearby. So, some walking around to find these good angles is required and the possible great views are unlikely to all be seen on a single trip.

View toward Twin Peaks from one of the southern breaks in the trees on Mt. Lewis

View toward Twin Peaks from one of the southern breaks in the trees on Mt. Lewis

Unlike the super windy conditions at Dawson Saddle, there was only a slight breeze on Mt. Lewis and it was significantly warmer due to the protection provided by the trees. This level of protection combined with numerous areas of flat enough ground to pitch a tent got me thinking about camping here sometime in the future. I noticed I’m not the only person whose thought of this. Unfortunately, I saw remains of a camp fire which is not allowed in this area for obvious reasons. I sincerely hope that anyone inspired to camp on Mt. Lewis due to this post will obey the fire restrictions in place for this area which only allow the use of a portable stove etc.

The protection from wind combined with fairly flat terrain on the peak makes Mt. Lewis an interesting option for camping.

The protection from wind combined with fairly flat terrain on the peak makes Mt. Lewis an interesting option for camping.

I’ve been thinking about hiking to Ross Mountain sometime next year (a destination following the ridge down the south side of Mt. Baden-Powell about 2,000′ lower in elevation). This would be a long day hike which would benefit from my being able to start early from Dawson Saddle. The option to spend the night on Mt. Lewis and then swap gear at my car before embarking on such a trek is very appealing to me and is now the most likely way I’ll attempt to reach Ross Mountain. I also look forward to returning to Mt. Lewis to spend the time to look around more which would be a perfect thing to do on a late afternoon before spending the night.