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

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.

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.

My First Backpacking Trip Of The Year

Last Friday I spent the night in the forest for the first time this year and was joined by my friend Scott who also wrote about this trip on his blog. I finally felt comfortable testing my IT bands on back to back days while also carrying a significantly heavier pack. The results were so good I hiked a third consecutive day with my friends Etienne, Lorenzo, and Tim to Mt. Waterman in Angeles National Forest on Sunday. Feeling no pain during or after these hikes makes me confident that I will be ready to hike the High Sierra Trail at the end of July.

Snow on the trail just above Limber Pine Springs.

Snow on the trail just above Limber Pine Springs.

Scott and I started from Angelus Oaks and hiked a portion of the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail (which crosses nine peaks above 10,500′ ending at Mt. San Gorgonio). I’ve never hiked the entire trail and have been unexpectedly challenged by it each time I’ve hiked a portion of it (August 2012 when I couldn’t complete my planned trip and June 2013 when my trip was made unnecessarily difficult due to misinformation). This year’s challenge involved icy patches of snow on the trail. Since it was so hot all week leading up to our hike, I didn’t think to bring my microspikes. I lose my footing easily on icy snow. Last year I slipped and fell about 30′ down the mountain along the Sky High Trail close to where Thuan Ngoc Pham slipped in the snow and died earlier this year. Slipping (but thankfully not falling) just above Limber Pine Springs and the possibility of needing to return in the dark easily convinced me to play it safe and head back to our campsite at Limber Pine Bench. Scott being more sure footed in snowy conditions than I and a faster hiker (who wasn’t risking a night time return without me along to slow him down) was able to easily make it to West San Bernardino Peak and back before dark. His description and the photo he posted on his blog confirms to me I wouldn’t have enjoyed it had I chosen to continue.

Limber Pine Bench

Limber Pine Bench

Fortunately, turning back wasn’t that disappointing for me having been to West San Bernardino Peak twice before combined with the fact that Limber Pine Bench is one of my favorite camping spots. While waiting for Scott to return I enjoyed taking pictures there.

View toward Mt. Baldy from Limber Pine Bench.

View toward Mt. Baldy from Limber Pine Bench.

Scott returned in time for us to enjoy a nice sunset while eating dinner. My favorite part of sunsets are when the sun disappears from view but still lights up the sky. Dusk is also extra enjoyable for me when there’s an opportunity to watch the lights come on in the city below.

Night setting in at Limber Pine Bench (elevation 9,360').

Night setting in at Limber Pine Bench (elevation 9,360′).

Although I’ve had my challenges on this trail, it’s one of my all time favorites. I particularly enjoy the diversity of experience as the vegetation and topography changes significantly every couple miles.

San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail between Manzanita Springs and Limber Pine Bench.

San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail between Manzanita Springs and Limber Pine Bench.

The plateau area west of Manzanita Springs is one of my favorite places to hike because of the expansiveness of views, interesting rock formations, and the gentile slope that serves as a break from the rest of the trail which is considerably more strenuous. Getting out of the heat was an added plus. Eventually, I think I’ll hike the nine peaks. Maybe next year.

View from the plateau area of the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail west of Manzanita Springs.

View from the plateau area of the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail west of Manzanita Springs.

My Ten Best Hiking Experiences of 2013

Honorable Mention: Icehouse Canyon to Icehouse Saddle and back via the Chapman Trail.

View just below Icehouse Saddle.

View just below Icehouse Saddle.

I haven’t made it back into the forest regularly since injuring myself. Of the 77 hikes I’ve done this year, only 8 have taken place after my IT band injury became too extreme to ignore any longer after finishing my Mt. Whitney hike on August 1st. Those 8 only add up to about the same mileage I did over 4 days at the Grand Canyon. My injury combined with some personal stuff kept me away from the forest and my blog.

Last Sunday I decided to go on a solo hike in one of my favorite areas of Angeles Forest–Icehouse Canyon. Part of what makes the place so great is the plethora of choices on has to continue on past Icehouse Saddle if one of three directions leading to Cucamonga Peak, Ontario Peak, or Mt. Baldy. So, I didn’t need to commit to much of anything when I started from the trailhead.

Adding to my enjoyment of just being in the forest was the fact I hadn’t hiked Icehouse Canyon before during this time of year. Some of the views opened up a bit as the deciduous trees have lost all their leaves, it was much colder, the light was different because the sun is at a lower angle this time of year, and the fallen leaves added some vibrant color to the forest floor. I spent a lot of time thinking about 2013 and what I’m hoping for in 2014. My knees handled the trip excellently, though the left one was a little sore the following day. In addition to the awesome terrain; being back in the forest, reflecting, and my knees holding up were what put this hike on this list. It’s still probably going to be a few months before I can consider hiking on back to back days. I’m hoping to be able to hike the High Sierra Trail (73.5 miles from Sequoia to Mt. Whitney and finishing at Whitney Portal) in summer 2014.

10. Car Camping Trip Staying at Upper Oso Campground

Red Rock to Gibralter Dam

Red Rock to Gibralter Dam

This was a three day-two night trip in Los Padres National Forest. If was the first overnight “training” trip for many of us planning on hiking Mt. Whitney. Over the three days, we (me, Debbie, Lorenzo, Etienne, Camila, Chloe, Olivia, and Roxanne) tested out gear and went on several short hikes. The best one was from Red Rock to Gibralter Dam where we got a great introduction to the Santa Ynez River Valley.

9. Monument Peak, Laguna Meadow Loop.

Big Laguna Trail between Noble Canyon Trail and Water-of-the-Woods.

Big Laguna Trail between Noble Canyon Trail and Water-of-the-Woods.

My friend Scott guided me on this hike. For me, It was a great introduction to the Laguna Mountains. We had lunch on Monument Peak where I fixated on a breathtaking view of the Anza Borrego Desert. We hiked along the Pacific Crest Trail for a while and by the time I was trekking through Laguna Meadow I was blown away by the range of experiences especially on a hike without that much elevation gain. At 15.1 miles with only 1750′ gain, this was our last training hike together before our Grand Canyon Trip.

8. Sequoia: Congress Trail with side trip to the Lincoln Tree

Near junction between Congress Trail and Alta Trail.

Near junction between Congress Trail and Alta Trail.

I found myself in Sequoia a lot this year. I find hiking through a forest filled Giant Sequoia’s to be one of the most spectacular experiences I’ve had hiking. The fact that these huge trees are living organisms can be tough to wrap one’s mind around. The Congress Trail is a very easy hike. In terms of high reward for little effort, it’s pretty hard to beat–which is why I wanted to take my daughter there. We had an great time father-daughter bonding, car camping at upper stony creek campground and trekking through this part of Giant Forest.

7. Mt. San Jacinto

Mt. San Jacinto Peak Scramble

Mt. San Jacinto Peak Scramble

This was an overnight backpacking trip where we (me, my wife, and Lorenzo) spent the night at Little Round Valley Campground which we all thought we excellent. We hiked up the Marion Mountain Trail, ate dinner at the peak under moonlight, and hiked back down to our campsite training for our planned 3:30 am start for our upcoming Whitney Trip. My wife pulling off peak scrambling down from the summit at night (a first for her) was almost as impressive as the terrain.

6. A night alone on the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio.

Sunset from in front of the bump on Mt. San Gorgonio where I ate dinner.

Sunset from in front of the bump on Mt. San Gorgonio where I ate dinner.

Among the advantages of hiking on a weekday is it is possible to find yourself alone in some amazing places in nature. The summit of Mt. San Gorgonio is one of them and I was treated to a truly spectacular evening. The following day I hiked down the remarkable Sky High Trail (still covered in patches of snow) meeting my friend Scott at Dry Lake which offered me the amazing opportunity to traverse the mountain range.

5. Little Lakes Valley

Little Lakes Valley

Little Lakes Valley

This trip was another great car camping experience with my daughter. We stayed at Rock Creek Campground–which was excellent. In my view, Little Lakes Valley is a phenomenal introduction to the Eastern Sierras. The trail from Mosquito Flat to Morgan Pass is remarkable in how much of the terrain is lake, stream, and/or meadow. Starting out at over 10,000′ in elevation and making it up to over 11,000′ on a fairly gradual 3.5 mile one way trip to Morgan Pass yields an incredible opportunity to experience the high country of the Sierras with comparatively little effort.

4. Alta Peak

Alta Trail, JCT Alta Meadow to Alta Peak

Alta Trail, JCT Alta Meadow to Alta Peak

We (my wife, Etienne, and I) did this as a training hike for Mt. Whitney. For those living in the LA area who hike San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and Mt. Baldy as Whitney training, I would add this to the list or replace any one of the above with this one–especially if your Whitney plan is multi-day. We started at the Sherman Tree Trail, hiked up the Alta Trail where the view at Panther Gap is stunning. We spent the night at Mehrten Meadow (though in the future I’d try to make it to Alta Meadow) and the following day hiked to the peak and then back down taking the trail to Lodgepole. The view from Alta peak was incredible and includes a view of Mt. Whitney for appropriate inspiration.

3.Snowshoeing in Giant Forest.

Moro Rock Crescent Meadow (road) January 2013

Moro Rock Crescent Meadow (road) January 2013

This was my first return to Sequoia since the mid 1970’s. Scott and I car camped at Potwisha Campground (where it got freezing cold at night). In January, with a temperature reading of 6 degrees at the trailhead, Scott and I were treated to phenomenal experience snowshoeing through Giant Forest. I was completely blown away and saw the place as Nature’s Version of New York City.

2. Mt. Whitney via Whitney Portal

Mt Whitney 2013.

Mt Whitney 2013.

This was a truly remarkable trip. It ranks second only because I went last year as well. Otherwise it’s really a coin toss with number one. This was the culmination of a lot of intense training with my wife for over a year as she went from novice hiker to backpacker. We we joined by our good friends Etienne and Camila. I never got around to blogging about it. The experience was radically different than what I had the year before. This more than any other hike instilled in me the impact of what we bring to a hike as a key component toward what we experience. I added lots of photos and dated them so it’s easy to see what was from 2012 versus 2013. Of potential interest to others is the scouting I did for campsites near Consultation Lake, where I might stay at the end of my hoped for High Sierra Trail trip in summer 2014.

1. The Grand Canyon rim to rim and back again.

The Grandeur of the  South Kaibab Trail as seen just below the Tonto Platform.

The Grandeur of the South Kaibab Trail as seen just below the Tonto Platform.

This was a four day backpacking trip I did with my friend Scott. It was a phenomenally diverse experience. I was a surprised by it’s intimacy as I was impressed by all the big things it’s been described as being. For me, the best stretch was the North Kaibab Trail, but in many ways that’s also a coin toss. It is clear why it is regarded as one of the “wonders of the world”. I wrote about 13 things that I think make it so, but there are significantly more than that …