Almost Through Another Injury Timeout

Hiking this year for me has largely been about battling through injuries. June was mostly about slowly building up mileage and increasing elevation gain after suffering my previous setback of dealing with plantar faciitis. My last hike was an excellent backpacking trip with my friend Etienne over the weekend of July 28-29th which ended with me being pain free. We hiked from Islip Saddle to Buckhorn Campground by way of Pleasant View Ridge and the Burkhart Trail with a gorgeous evening spent on Pallett Mountain. Everything appeared to be proceeding along a reasonable schedule. I was confident I’d be ready to hike the High Sierra Trail Trail at the end of this month.

View toward Pallett Mountain from the Pleasant View Ridge use trail west of Mt. Williamson.

View toward Pallett Mountain from the Pleasant View Ridge use trail west of Mt. Williamson.

On July 1st, I hurt my achilles tendon while playing tennis and haven’t exercised since (except for swimming–which I started yesterday). Thankfully it wasn’t as bad as when I’ve hurt achilles in the past and needed to wear a boot for a couple months. The good news is that It feels like I’ll be able to hike again sometime around the middle of next week. However, this setback means I’ll need to put off hiking the High Sierra Trail until next year. I’ll start up again with an easy hike (probably on flatter terrain than can be found in the San Gabriel Mountains) and then hopefully progress in time to do a short backpacking trip from Onion Valley to Charlotte Lake and meet my friend Scott for the last night (of five) of the High Sierra Trip I had planned to go on with him.

View from the west bump of Mt. Williamson from August 2012. I'm currently working on putting together step by step instructions and trail photos for Pleasant View Ridge.

View from the west bump of Mt. Williamson from August 2012. I’m currently working on putting together step by step instructions and trail photos for Pleasant View Ridge.

Right now I’m thinking about other easy trips to go on and finish out this injury filled year since hurting my IT bands coming down from Mt. Whitney last July. For sure, I plan to spend some time in the redwood forests when I drop my daughter off to college in August. It looks like there’s a plethora of options with very little elevation gain along Northern California’s Redwood Coast. Please comment if you have favorites in that area.

Camping And Walking Among The Ancients

Last Tuesday night I was planning to do a solo backpacking trip in Angeles Forest for Wednesday through Thursday. However, my daughter asked me if there was an amazing place we could go car camping instead. Of course, there were constraints. She didn’t want to get up early on Wednesday and the hiking part on Thursday needed to be fairly short so we could be home in time for her to do something she previously scheduled. Naturally, I found somewhere for us to go.

Methuselah Walk, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Methuselah Walk, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Our car camping standards from last year were very high–Giant Forest in Sequoia, and Little Lakes Valley in the Eastern Sierras. She wanted something like that! I also needed something that I wouldn’t feel like we were missing out on the best parts of the hike due to needing to stop after a short distance. I settled on the Methuselah Walk in Schulman Grove of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

Campsite, Grandview Campground.

Campsite, Grandview Campground.

We found a great campsite in the aptly named and very photogenic Grandview Campground. It is known as a great place for star gazing and anyone who enjoys using a telescope would definitely have a great time there on a clear night–which we were lucky to experience. What I hadn’t read about was the close proximity of great viewing spots to hike up to a short distance (less than 1/10 mile) to from the campsites.

View toward the Eastern Sierras from Grandview Campground--a very short hike up from the campsites.

View toward the Eastern Sierras from Grandview Campground–a very short hike up from the campsites.

In addition to the great views, the terrain itself is interesting and the plethora of uniquely shaped trees generate a dynamism to the scenery. The campground itself is a worthwhile destination as it occupies such an engrossing landscape that is easily explored without much effort. I anticipate returning there many more times.

The trees have interesting individual characteristics as slightly different locations as well as obviously different age ranges generate uniquely sculptural forms.

The trees have interesting individual characteristics as slightly different locations as well as obviously different age ranges generate uniquely sculptural forms.

The Methuselah walk exceeded my expectations in large part due to descriptions I’ve read by others who had been there and felt that it was a place that one should visit if one was already doing something else in the area. Supposedly very interesting, but not much to it. At 4 miles with only 800′ of gain, the largest hike isn’t very long or strenuous. As a result, my experience was like going to a movie and being pleasantly surprised because it was far better than the reviews suggested it would be.

Like a landscape of ancient architectural ruins, only most of the trees are still alive.

Like a landscape of ancient architectural ruins, only most of the trees are still alive.

I think this forest has an obvious beauty to it as well as a subtlety that requires some personal reflection to begin to experience fully. For me, the landscape was simultaneously ancient and contemporary like no other I’ve experienced. Perhaps it was the knowledge that a large percentage of the trees were thousands of years old that made me feel that way. So many of the trees were around when places like Athens were being built that my mind wandered to thinking about architectural ruins. There were many spots along the trail that had some of the look of such ruins. Trees (like buildings) separated enough in the landscape to have an individual identity with nothing (or little) living between them. Some trees whose branches are currently largely devoid of needles but still possessing enough to give a sense of what they looked like when needles occupied most all of their branches. That there are also places in the forest where many of the trees still have most of their needles assisted in making these kinds of visualizations.

Trees whose branches are almost completely covered in needles provide an interesting contrast to those whose branches aren't and deepen the sense of age in the forest.

Trees whose branches are almost completely covered in needles provide an interesting contrast to those whose branches aren’t and deepen the palpable sense of age in the forest.

The presence of so many younger trees, so many trees of differing heights, thicknesses or some other feature (e.g. lack of needles) next to one another underscores the forests age and youth. This also conveys a key difference between ancient ruins and this living forest–the trees are still alive, growing, and reproducing. Their environment, though changing and evolving, is far more similar than the cultures of modern and ancient Greeks.

A "baby", perhaps several tens of years old.

A “baby”, perhaps several tens of years old.

I had read that one of the living trees is over 5,000 years old. Trying to get my mind wrapped around the idea of something living that long, I started thinking about things I knew about in history. As a result a profound sense of timelessness emerged. In a way, I felt like I had gone back in time. I also knew that the landscape was meaningfully different 5,000 years ago. To a degree, the vast time period of life creates a forest texture which allows one to imagine the order each tree came into being relative to one another in close proximity.

Dramatic forest texture allows one imagine the evolution of the forest to a significantly greater degree than other forests.

Dramatic forest texture allows one to imagine the evolution of the forest to a significantly greater degree than other forests.

As much as the experience for me is about the trees and thinking about time, the views are also pretty spectacular and expansive.

One of the many expansive views with an interesting juxtaposition of comparatively old and young trees. There are also 24 markers that go along with a self guided tour booklet available at the trailhead.

One of the many expansive views with an interesting juxtaposition of comparatively old and young trees. There are also 24 markers that go along with a self guided tour booklet available at the trailhead.

The trail has a variety of orientations which end up generating different enough micro-climates that the forest is meaningfully different although only changing in elevation by 800 feet. With views toward the Sierras and Death Valley, I found the experience was unexpectedly varied.

View toward Deer Springs Lake with the mountain ranges of Death Valley in the distance.

View toward Deer Springs Lake with the mountain ranges of Death Valley off in the distance in the second major sub-alpine zone of the trail where Sagebrush, Mountain Mahogany, Long-leaved Paintbrush, and Golden Forget-me-not grow.

There’s a lot to this four mile hike. Is it worth an approximately 5 hour drive from Los Angeles to experience and return home without going anywhere else? I think so, and I’ll be back. Heck the drive up the mountain is pretty amazing as well. There’s even a nice lookout between Grandview Campground and Schulman Grove with a trail to a vista with an epic view of the Sierras.

View from vista point

View toward the Eastern Sierras from vista point

Mountain Mornings

I started and ended May with great backpacking trips. In between was mostly about dealing with more injuries. Thankfully, this time it wasn’t my IT bands or knees. It was my feet that were giving me lots of problems which I attribute mostly to my shoes. It seams every time I find shoes that work for me the manufacturer stops making them. This time, finding a replacement pair was extra difficult and I’m still not excited about what I’ve ended up with.

View from the Pacific Crest Trail close to the trailhead as Islip Saddle toward Mt. Williamson.

View from the Pacific Crest Trail close to the Islip Saddle trailhead looking toward Mt. Williamson.

Normally I’d use a backpacking trip as an opportunity to push myself. However, this time I wanted to take it easy on my feet and take things slow. I really can’t afford another setback if I’m going to be ready to hike the High Sierra Trail at the end of July. So, the two day experience was far less strenuous than one of my typical  day training hikes. I was joined by my friend Lorenzo who prefers to go a little slower and savor the experience anyway.

There's easy access to water at Little Jimmy Springs and the water is still flowing nicely.

There’s easy access to water at Little Jimmy Springs and the water is still flowing nicely.

Spending the night at Little Jimmy Trail Camp was perfect because there are so many options to hike from there that I could easily alter plan as needed. Water is also close by at Little Jimmy Springs which serves to significantly reduce pack weight. Arriving at Little Jimmy in a mood to go slow, I was easily inspired to spend about 45 minutes following a deer around in lieu of hiking further up the trail as originally planned.

Deer at Little Jimmy Trail Camp.

Deer at Little Jimmy Trail Camp.

Lorenzo meet me a few hours later and we hiked up to Mt. Islip to enjoy watching the day turn into night. Windy and getting chilly on the peak, we ended up making dinner back down at Little Jimmy.

Dusk on Mt. Islip.

Dusk on Mt. Islip.

Early mornings are probably my favorite time on the mountain. Perhaps this is because I’m not a morning person and arriving at a trailhead from home early enough to experience an early morning beginning would leave me too tired to really enjoy it. On the other hand, waking up in a tent already a good distance up the mountain is something I find refreshing. Perhaps it’s the comparative rareness of my experiences that inspires me. Unlike home where I’m not always ready to get out of my comfortable bed, waking up in my tent in the forest is an exercise in anticipation. Depending on a bunch of factors, I find sleeping on a pad on the sloping forest floor to range between endurable and adequate in terms of comfort. I’ll wake up a few times overnight and I often look at it as paying my dues to earn the morning light. However, I somehow always wake up rested and ready for another day of hiking.

Early morning at Little Jimmy Trail Camp

Early morning at Little Jimmy Trail Camp

As we made it up the Pacific Crest Trail between Windy Gap and Throop Peak Saturday morning, I became fixated on some similarities and differences between early morning and late afternoon light which reminded me of the figure ground studies I did back when I was in architectural school. Architectural figure-ground studies involve drawing two versions of the same thing. In one version, the solid objects (e.g. walls) are drawn in color (usually black ink) leaving the spaces white. The other version is the reverse. The idea is to study how the difference between the two drawings of the same thing affects how it is perceived and to assist in seeing the importance of both solid and void.

Shade and sun, a form of figure-ground relationship.

Shade and sun, a form of figure-ground relationship. The experiential difference for me is mostly impacted by temperature.

I’ve hiked this portion of trail numerous times in different conditions ranging from a fairly hot summer’s day with smog obstructed late afternoon views to hiking in snow on a on a chilly winter’s day with clear views to the ocean.

Pacific Crest Trail between Windy Gap and Mt. Hawkins in November 2011.

Pacific Crest Trail between Windy Gap and Mt. Hawkins in November 2011.

However, I’ve never been on this portion of trail anywhere near an early morning time. So, the figure-ground like perceptual shift of sun, wind, and shade between early morning and late afternoon jumped out at me. Although the angle of the sun is the same (though coming from different directions), the meaning of the temperature change between sun and shade and the impact of the wind is fundamentally different for me. This difference revolves around whether it’s more comfortable for me to be in the sun or the shade and if a little wind makes things better or worse.

Snags from the 2002 Curve Fire leave the landscape open and exposed and require a low angle from morning or afternoon light to provide shade. I find ascending the mountain in these conditions more enjoyable in the cool morning air.

Snags from the 2002 Curve Fire leave the landscape open and exposed and require a low angle from morning or afternoon light to provide shade. I find ascending the mountain in these conditions more enjoyable in the cool morning air.

Unlike the heat generated by the afternoon sun that I prefer getting out of, the warmth of the morning sun is typically such a welcome change in temperature for me that I want to be in it. A breeze serves to heighten these preferences. As a result, in the morning I find myself more focused on stopping and taking in views while in the sun hopefully with no wind whereas in the afternoon I prefer hanging out in the shade hopefully with a breeze. This makes the lighting significantly different and changes what I focus on.

In the morning I enjoy warming up in the sun and looking at how the morning light highlights the landscape. Long shadows being reminders of recent darkness and cold.

In the morning I enjoy warming up in the sun and looking at how the morning light highlights the landscape. Long shadows being reminders of recent darkness and cold.

In both cases the long shadows make the ground more interesting for me and delineate areas to move through or stay in depending on the time of day. This range of experience which changes my perception of the terrain and requires a very early start to experience is a key reason I love backpacking.

Being in the warmth of the early morning sun on an exposed portion of the trail makes viewing the long shadow of the mountain  and the contrast between light and shadow more pleasurable to take in for me.

Being in the warmth of the early morning sun on an exposed portion of the trail makes viewing the long shadow of the mountain and the contrast between light and shadow more pleasurable to take in for me.

We made it to Throop Peak before returning to Little Jimmy to gather our things and head home. The thought of morning light has me looking forward to my next overnight trip.