A Calm Between Two Storms

I went hiking last Thursday between the two storms that finally brought some rain to drought stricken California. My hike started with the clouds from Wednesday’s storm slowly breaking up and giving way to mostly blue skies as I made my way from the Cobb Estate Trailhead to Mt. Lowe.

Lower Sam Merrill Trail

Lower Sam Merrill Trail


With a freshness to the air that comes after a rain and the corresponding intensified smells that damp ground and wet vegetation produce, the landscape felt more alive to me than usual. The interplay of sunlight breaking through and then being hidden by clouds added a compelling dynamism and energy that clear skies don’t produce for me.

View coming down the Upper Sam Merrill Trail from Mt. Lowe.

View coming down the Upper Sam Merrill Trail from Mt. Lowe.

By the time I made it down to Mt. Lowe Campground and found the water tank Chris told me about, the sun was out and the skies were mostly clear. I enjoyed a short rest sitting at one of the picnic benches feeling confident I was going to see a fantastic sunset on my way down the Middle Sam Merrill Trail.

Water Tank above and behind the remains of the concrete retaining wall of the Old Alpine Tavern.

Water Tank above and behind the remains of the concrete retaining wall of the Old Alpine Tavern.

It’s just over a mile from Mt. Lowe Campground to Sunset Point along the Middle Sam Merrill Trail. The terrain is easy hiking but views are blocked by the north face of an unnamed mountain (that I sometimes refer to as Inspiration Peak for quick reference). While I covered that short amount of ground, the weather changed dramatically. I arrived at Sunset Point to discover it was engulfed in the foggy moisture of clouds making their way over the mountain. The coming storm was making its presence felt. Further down the trail, light from below began breaking through foretelling my pending descent below the clouds.

Light breaking through the clouds from below along the Middle Sam Merrill Trail.

Light breaking through the clouds from below along the Middle Sam Merrill Trail.

When I got below the clouds, the view was clear and expansive. With clouds forming above the mountain but not off in the distance, the nuanced subtle changes in light made the night portion of my hike extra special.

View from the Middle Sam Merrill Trail close to Echo Mountain.

View from the Middle Sam Merrill Trail close to Echo Mountain.

Not being able to predict what I’m going to experience is part of what makes hiking so enjoyable for me. Every hike seams to produce it’s own story. Starting my day with clouds breaking up from Wednesday’s storm and ending it with the arrival of clouds for the storm that started late Thursday night intensified the feeling that I was just able to squeeze this one in–a calm between two storms.

Being Able To Decide What Weather I Want To Be In

Hiking has taught me to pay more attention to the weather.  As of last Sunday, I’ve now internalized the reality that there are numerous days in the year when I can decide what weather I want to be in.  Living within an hour of both the Pacific Ocean and trailheads leading to peaks as high as Mt. Baldy’s 10,064 foot elevation yields opportunities to take advantage of elevation differences.

Last Saturday, I went on a family and friends hike.  My wife and I left our house under cloudy and misty sky’s.  We didn’t see an blue skies or the sun until we were partway up Mt. Baldy road.  By the time we made it to Icehouse Canyon to start our hike, we were out of the clouds and into clear sunny skies.  Coming down the Chapman Trail allowed us to see out of the canyon and view the cloud cover that most people in the LA area remained below for the day.

View of cloud cover down Icehouse Canyon with Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak off in the distance.

On Sunday, I woke up to the same weather.  The ground was wet and the air was misty with clouds as far as I could see.  Initially I was disappointed as I had planned to play paddle tennis with my cousin in Marina Del Rey.  The weather report showed 30% chance of rain and I decided it wasn’t worth the risk to drive out and have the courts become unplayable after a few minutes of rain.

At that moment I finally realized that staying below the cloud cover could be a choice instead of a situation I had no control over.  I walked to the end of my block and looked at Mt. Lukens.  The clouds were low enough covering half the height of the mountain that it looked possible that I could get above the clouds again as I did the day before.

So, I set out to go on a short hike to San Gabriel Peak where I had once unintentionally found myself above the clouds before and it was one of the peaks that were above the clouds the day before.  Driving up to Eaton Saddle, I found myself in the clouds and either in mist or light rain.  I drove higher up to Mt. Wilson only to find it was also still in the clouds.  Admittedly, this reality was humbling.  Perhaps I didn’t have a choice after all.  Fortunately, I continued up Angeles Crest Highway and by Newcomb’s Ranch I found myself in the sun.  Having only brought a small snack and water for a short hike, I settled on hiking the Mt. Waterman Trail.

At the trailhead, it was completely sunny and clear.  However, as I followed the trail heading east up the mountain toward the Kratka Ridge, I started seeing a light mist as the clouds were just making it over the Ridge.

A light mist of clouds making it’s way over the Kratka Ridge.

I thought that it was possible that I wasn’t so much above the clouds as I was in front of their path over the mountain range.  So, I picked up my pace trying to make it up to the summit before clouds had a chance to overtake it.  It didn’t take long after the trail changed direction and for me to reach high enough ground to find myself once again in the sun.

Back in the sun looking across the cloud cover toward Mt. Baldy.

With clear skies at the summit, I enjoyed the uncommon opportunity to stare both up at a cloudless sky and across the cloudscape.

View from Mt. Waterman toward the east and across the cloudscape toward Mt. Baden-Powell

Looking toward the west where nothing is tall enough to rise above the cloudscape as it makes it’s way over the mountains.

Making my way down toward my car found me inside the clouds as they made their way over the Kratka Ridge.  This suggested to me that earlier I was at times both over and in front of the clouds as they moved north.  Along the way down the mountain I felt a few drops, but mostly just some mist.

In the clouds only a couple hundred feet below the summit.

Once I got to the point in the trail that I started heading back west across the north face of Mt. Waterman, I found myself exiting the clouds.

Back in the sun and clear skies along the north face of Mt. Waterman.

On the ride home I thought about how liberating it felt to be able to decide what weather I wanted to be in for the day.  Playing around the edge of the clouds, being just above them, just in front of them, and at times inside them or under them (at home and on the way to and from the trail) made for a wonderfully dynamic day.