Sand Fire Map (Modis Thermal Satellite + Topo)

I finally came across a map that I find helpful for understanding the rough boundaries of a current fire in relation to a topographic map which gives me a better sense of what trails have burned or may be in imminent danger of burning than other maps I’m aware of. The map is updated about every two hours as explained here where there are also explanations of the map’s limitations. Viewing the map from the viewer is helpful because one can zoom in. Although more detailed views don’t also display the fire data, zooming back and forth allows considerably closer study than the image I’ve shared below. I’ve added a link to this viewer on my hiking links page for future reference.

Sand Fire Map from the morning of 7-24-2016. Red is active burning. Yellow is last 12 hours. Black is last 24 hours.

Sand Fire Map from the morning of 7-24-2016. Red is active burning. Yellow is last 12 hours. Black is last 24 hours.

To get an image with the topo map and Modis Thermal Satellite Imagery shown above, one needs to select the appropriate data layers in the drop down menu from the viewer. For the above map, I chose Modis Fire Detection from the Dynamic Data menu and US Topographic Map from the Base Data menu.

New Page Additions Since April 2016

Below is a list of new and updated pages for this blog between April and June 2016.

My favorite hike in Angeles National Forest this quarter was hike #29 on May 12 to Ontario Peak in large part due to seeing a bear in Icehouse Canyon.

My favorite hike in Angeles National Forest this quarter was hike #29 on May 12 to Ontario Peak in large part due to seeing a bear in Icehouse Canyon. This view is coming down from Ontario Peak looking toward Mt. Baldy.

Clicking on links below will open the page in a new tab so that it will be easier to follow links on those pages and still get back to this one.

Hiking Journal

Updated Hikes

Updated 52 Hike Challenge

  • Added hikes #11 through #28 on my 52 Hike Challenge Page. Note: I’m only counting different hikes in Angeles National Forest starting in February for the challenge.

New Peaks (also updated on My Peak Bagging Routes Page)”

  • Fox Peak elevation 5033′ in Angeles National Forest
  • Lookout Peak elevation 8531′ in Kings Canyon National Park
  • Roundtop elevation 6316′ in Angeles National Forest

Updated Peaks (also updated on My Peak Bagging Routes Page):

 

Fire On Kratka Ridge In Angeles National Forest Today

In the time it took us (my friends Karl, Valery, and I) to hike about a mile and a half from Mt. Hawkins to Throop Peak, a small fire had started on Kratka Ridge. The fire was small enough and far enough away from us that we were never in any danger. However, the reality that another fire was burning more of Angeles National Forest was a demoralizing sight for me. With just enough smoke rising into the air to make the forest between Mt. Waterman and Throop Peak feel genuinely vulnerable, I felt a deep sense of urgency to see firefighters actively engaged in putting the fire out.

View from Throop Peak of the fire just getting started.

View from Throop Peak of the fire just getting started.

Until recently, I would have needed to wait until I saw planes or helicopters to know the fire was known by those who could do something about it. Thankfully, I now have a device that enables me to both send and receive texts via satellite. So, I sent a text to my wife to report the fire. Much to my relief, she found out help was already on its way and was able to text me that information. Still, that process took over twenty minutes (in part because she was in Santa Barbara and needed to be patched through to the proper agency). Armed with that knowledge, I was significantly less anxious while waiting for the first planes to arrive. My new device had just earned its keep.

Zoom view of one of the first fire retardant drops (which landed on the fire) as seen from the Dawson Saddle Trail.

Zoom view of one of the first fire retardant drops (which landed on the fire) as seen from the Dawson Saddle Trail. Mt. Waterman looms high above in the background.

The aerial firefighters in the first planes appeared shortly after we had made it down Throop Ridge to the Dawson Saddle Trail. Fortunately, the fire hadn’t grown by much prior to their arrival. It was impressive to watch them time the drops so that the wind blew the retardant where it needed to be. After four drops, the planes were gone presumably to get more retardant. The fire was diminished some, but, more work was needed to put it out.

Zoom view of one of the second set of drops, as seen from the Dawson Saddle Trail, just before the trail led out of view of the fire.

Zoom view of one of the second set of drops, as seen from the Dawson Saddle Trail, just before the trail led out of view of the fire.

Objectively, the aerial firefighters were back again quickly. While away, however, the fire began to slowly grow again and the clock ticked relentlessly. We saw two more drops make a positive difference before we followed the trail out of view to Dawson Saddle. Before reaching the trailhead, I spoke to a hiker who was just starting out for the day. He told me he had just driven up Angeles Crest Highway with no problems. So, I took that route home. At Islip Saddle, I saw that helicopters had joined the aerial firefighting team. Continuing down Angeles Crest Highway, Eagle’s Roost appeared relatively safe. Smoke from the fire appeared over Kratka Ridge just prior to my reaching Vista where Forest Service fire trucks were located. As far as I could tell, the fire appeared pretty well contained when I continued down the mountain.

View of the fire coming over Kratka Ridge from Angeles Crest Highway before Vista.

View of the fire coming over Kratka Ridge from Angeles Crest Highway before Vista.

I find it hard to get a true sense of where a fire is in the forest from most reports I read. With that in mind, I highlighted the approximate location in the track map below from a hike I did along Kratka Ridge in 2015.

The fire appeared to be contained to the southern side of the ridge away from Angeles Crest Highway.

The fire appeared to be contained to the southern side of the ridge away from Angeles Crest Highway. Click on map to enlarge.

 

New Page Additions since January 2016

Below is a list of new and updated pages for this blog since January 2016.

My favorite hike in Angeles Forest this quarter was hike #3, my snowshoeing trek to Mt. Hillyer.

My favorite hike in Angeles Forest this quarter was hike #3, my snowshoeing trek to Mt. Hillyer.

Clicking on links below will open the page in a new tab so that it will be easier to follow links on those pages and still get back to this one.

Hiking Journal

New Hikes

Updated Hikes

New 52 Hike Challenge

Updated Peaks (also updated on My Peak Bagging Resume Page):

  • Mt. Hillyer, I added snow pictures and two new routes. One route starting from Angeles Crest Highway and another starting from Three Points forming a loop with a faint hiker’s trail.
  • Mt. Lowe, I added a new route starting from Eaton Saddle and going as far as Idlehour Campground.
  • Muir Peak, I added a new route starting from Upper Sunset Ridge.
  • San Gabriel Peak, I added a new loop route from Red Box.
  • Winston Peak, I added a new route that includes Cooper Canyon Falls

Updated Trail Photo Galleries:

New Reference Galleries

Deaths, Rescues, And Trail Closures

It might be helpful if more of us (myself included) who post hiking photos or write about our hiking experiences told more stories about when and why we turn back sometimes prior to reaching our planned destinations.

Helicopter rescue getting under way last Wednesday in Icehouse Canyon.

Helicopter rescue getting under way last Wednesday in Icehouse Canyon.

I mention this in part because two people died this past week in Angeles National Forest. The first, Daniel Nguyen, died falling from the Devil’s Backbone Trail near Mt. Baldy last Tuesday. The second, Dong Xing Liu, died falling in the Icehouse Saddle area last Saturday. Lieu’s wife and ten other people were airlifted off the mountain as well. Four of those people suffered injuries including a broken hip and broken ribs. I followed this link from a post from Modern Hiker on Facebook to learn more about one of Saturday’s rescues. Another hiker, Jason, suffered multiple injuries including a fractured skull and eye socket in a fall from Timber Mountain on January 23rd. As far as I can tell that has only been reported on a gofundme page set up by his brother-in-law Andrew (who posted on my Facebook page) and shared on other social media. Last Wednesday, I played a minor role in a rescue where a hiker needed to be airlifted out of a gully in Icehouse Canyon (he had a broken ankle/leg and should be OK). I was merely one of the several people helping the first helicopter locate the hiker. I also helped walk his dogs down to the trailhead after one of the rescuers shepherded them back up the steep mountain from the gully to the trailhead–which there’s no way I could have accomplished. As far as I can tell, that rescue has only been reported on social media by myself and one of the other hikers (Bonnie) who helped with the dogs. I wonder how many other rescues happen that don’t get reported in the popular press. I’m guessing more than I want to know about. I called the Mt. Baldy Visitor’s Center this morning and verified that the Icehouse Canyon Trail is temporarily closed. With great hesitation, the person I spoke with said Baldy Bowl and Devil’s Backbone are still open. However, it appears that has changed. About an hour later the US Forest Service posted “Be Advised: Until further notice, all Mt. Baldy Trails have been closed due to icy conditions and severe risk of injury.”

Starting downhill with the hiker's three dogs.

Starting downhill playing my minor role with the hiker’s three dogs.

Of course, there’s a lot of criticism floating around on social media. Criticism of the hikers, criticism of the Forest Service for not closing the trails down sooner and also for closing them down at all–the Forest Service really can’t win on that issue. I’m not interested in those discussions. Daniel Nguyen died trying to help someone else. People fall on dry flat perfectly maintained walkways wearing appropriate shoes all the time. I’m thankful I’ve never needed to be rescued but that doesn’t mean I won’t no matter how reasonably cautious I think I’m being. To those who’ve been so critical and condescending, the story of Ranger Randy Morgenson’s death in the High Sierra’s might help slow down a desire to judge and spew out pronouncements. Also, I wasn’t part of the decision-making process the Forest Service used to temporarily close the trails. Without being part of that process, I don’t know all the issues they were dealing with when they decided to make those closures.

Help came quickly with hiker's Anthony and Bonnie ending their hikes early to help me bring the dogs down. Two members of the forest service (who were great) met us part way down and helped as well.

Help came quickly with hiker’s Anthony and Bonnie ending their hikes early to help me bring the dogs down. Two members of the forest service (who were great) met us partway down and helped as well.

I rarely see first-hand accounts of people deciding to turn back earlier than planned on a hike. I certainly don’t write about that every time I decide to turn back at an appropriately early time for me. My turnaround point may be too early or too late for others. However, sharing my decision-making process may help others think through when they might want to choose to call it a day. At the same time, I’d like to underscore that unavoidable accidents do happen. Sometimes a slip is just that; no amount of preparation, gear choice, or reasonable level of caution would prevent it.

I had already hiked to Mt. Hawkins in snow before on November 9, 2011. I bought snowshoes after that hike. Note the post holing track I left on my way up. No sinking into the icy snow occurred on my way up to Windy Gap on this year's attempt.

I had already hiked to Mt. Hawkins in snow before on November 9, 2011. Note the post holing track I left on my way up. No sinking into the icy snow occurred on my way up to Windy Gap on this year’s attempt.

I’ve been on three snow hikes this year. I’ve needed to turn back early on two of them–one was last Wednesday when I turned back just above the junction with the Chapman Trail. On January 25th, I headed up the PCT expecting to go to Mt. Hawkins, microspikes on, using my trekking poles, and carrying snowshoes in my backpack. I had already hiked up to Mt. Hawkins in the snow back in November of 2011 and thought this would be a perfect day for a repeat trip.

The view from Windy Gap looking up the PCT in the direction leading toward Mt. Hawkins.

The view from Windy Gap looking up the PCT in the direction leading toward Mt. Hawkins.

Heading up from Islip Saddle, my microspikes worked great, the trail was comfortably wide for me, and it was a gorgeous day. By the time I got midway between the lower junction with the road to Little Jimmy Campground and the campground itself, the trail began to narrow. Frozen postholes and other clues showed the snow to be over a foot deep in some areas. However, the hard icy conditions prevented me from sinking in. I had never been in conditions like that before. My previous experience with snow that deep meant it was time for the snowshoes because I’d be sinking in. The narrow flat ledge remained wide enough to remain at a reasonable distance inside the edge of my comfort zone. At my skill level, though, I needed to be laser-focused, paying attention to my feet instead of the fantastic views around me, and go real slow in many places. When I reached Windy Gap, I wasn’t physically tired or winded at all, but, I was starting to feel mentally drained. The view up the PCT looked like something I could handle physically. At the same time, I knew there would be lots of areas where I’d need to be super focused mentally and I wasn’t sure I’d be up to the task of doing that. The presence of tracks indicating others had made it higher up didn’t matter, the fact that I had made it as far as Mt. Hawkins in the snow in the past didn’t matter. What mattered was how I felt at that moment, and I felt a little apprehensive. I was concerned about the icy conditions and whether or not I’d know in time if I got too tired to maintain the focus required to descend safely. Unlike the snow that gives, allows one to sink in, and slows one down; this icy hard stuff meant one small slip and I could find myself accelerating down the mountain.

The view from Windy Gap looking toward Mt. Islip.

The view from Windy Gap looking toward Mt. Islip.

After deciding not to go to Mt. Hawkins, my attention turned to Mt. Islip. I wasn’t ready to be done for the day and I’d seen a few photos on Instagram of people who had recently made it to Mt. Islip. Well, there wasn’t any form of ledge or trace of trail present. That may be no problem for some people better trained and more experienced than I, but I need some form of a trail/ledge or I feel too unsteady to move forward. So, that wasn’t an option. I sat on the bench, ate lunch, enjoyed the view and got ready to focus on making it down from where I was.

The road to Little Jimmy running just above the PCT.

The road to Little Jimmy running just above the PCT.

By the time I got to Little Jimmy Campground, I decided I needed another break mentally. This reinforced in me that I made the right decision back at Windy Gap. The trek down from Windy Gap wasn’t even that tough, but, I recalled most of my need to achieve laser-focus was between the campground and the junction with the road. Then I thought about the fact I had never taken the road before. Surely it was wider and much safer. What a relief, the road was perfect. I could just relax, enjoy the rest of my day, and not worry about a few patches of thin and icy trail. From above, I was surprised to see how close the road follows the PCT as I looked down on it. In many ways, it’s just a wider version yielding almost identical views. This road would be great for snowshoeing on another day. In fact, I can’t imagine a scenario where I will take the PCT instead of this road up to Little Jimmy in the snow in the future. A key thing I’ll remember moving forward is the sense of relief I felt when I got to the road. While I know I would have turned back on my way up the mountain if the trail disappeared or got much narrower on the way to Little Jimmy Campground, that sense of relief made me realize the importance of tracking my mental tiredness–especially in areas where there is no real margin for error. How many times have I turned back later than I should have and just got lucky? How would I even know? Accidents happen where there’s nothing one could have done to prepare and there’s nothing one could really do differently (which is why I carry a device that can send messages for help via satellite and $100K of search and rescue insurance). Knowing when to turn back on a hike is a fundamental part of hiking that we hikers should also be training for. I hope other’s will share their stories of turning back as they may provide some inspiration for this form of training as hike reports do in finding trails. One person’s accident is another person’s bad decision making and vice versa. I think there are too many factors to judge whether something is a misfortune or a mistake from afar and that there’s really no point in doing so. It’s up to us to determine what we shouldn’t do. Lot’s of people could have easily made it to Mt. Hawkins on the day I clearly shouldn’t have tried. I’m happy I turned back!