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.

Snow Hiking In Los Angeles: Mt. Islip

Two weeks ago it snowed as low as 3,000 feet in Los Angeles. Last week temperatures got into the 90’s for a couple days (what happened to spring?). I hiked up to Mt. Lowe with Scott last Tuesday and saw no remains of snow on the north slopes. I realized that without another storm, I might only have one more chance to hike in snow this year. So, I drove up to Islip Saddle and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail to Mt. Islip on Sunday. There was no snow at the trailhead and at first I thought I was too late.

Pacific Crest Trail near Islip Saddle. (click to enlarge).

Pacific Crest Trail near Islip Saddle Trailhead. (click to enlarge).

By a quarter mile into the hike snow appeared as I traveled on the north slopes. It was of the icy variety so I put on my microspikes.

Icy snow on the Pacific Crest Trail between Islip Saddle and Little Jimmy Campground.

Icy snow on the Pacific Crest Trail between Islip Saddle and Little Jimmy Campground.

Throughout the day the presence of snow was uneven. At times almost completely melted away.

Pacific Crest Trail between Islip Saddle and Little Jimmy.

Pacific Crest Trail between Islip Saddle and Little Jimmy.

At other times snow was abundant. However, it almost always had an icy feel to it. When I reached Little Jimmy Campground, I enjoyed seeing that a Boy Scout Troop had camped overnight. I’m really looking forward to backpacking this year starting with my upcoming Grand Canyon trip the first week in April.

Pacific Crest Trail between Islip Saddle and Little Jimmy. (click to enlarge).

Pacific Crest Trail between Islip Saddle and Little Jimmy. (click to enlarge).

By the time I made it around the north face of Mt. Islip the snow was essentially gone with only small patches remaining. So, I took off my microspikes until my return.

Pacific Crest Trail at Windy Gap.

Pacific Crest Trail at Windy Gap.

The presence of at least some snow along parts of the trail without a north facing orientation enhanced the view as I made my way to Mt. Islip.

View from the Islip Ridge Trail.

View from the Islip Ridge Trail. (click to enlarge).

While there wasn’t snow on the trail for the entire hike, there was enough to enjoy and feel like it was more of a snow hike than not. I took my time on this one and savored what could be the last remnants of this unusually dry winter. If we do get another storm soon, at over 6,600 feet in elevation at the trailhead, this trail is bound to get more snow.

 

Weekly Gallery Update #2: Views From Peaks

My Weekly Gallery Updates are about sharing photos I’ve added to the gallery section of this site.  The galleries are my way of creating a visual approach to searching for hikes by having collections of photos that link to information about hiking to where each photo was taken.

This week I’ve added five photos to the Views from Peaks Gallery.  All photos in this gallery were taken from a peak.  For me, peaks are typically the main destination I reach on a hike where I take a break, have lunch, enjoy the view, and get ready to hike back down the mountain.

October 2012

October 2012

Above view toward Mt. Baden-Powell from Mt. Waterman

October 2011

October 2011

Above view toward Mt. Baldy from Mt. Baden-Powell

October 2011

October 2011

Above view toward Throop Peak from Mt. Islip

October 2011

October 2011

Above view toward Mt. Baden-Powell from Throop Peak

November 2012

November 2012

Above view from San Gabriel Peak

A Gorgeous Icy Cold Snap on Saturday’s Hike to Mt. Islip

Last Saturday, the view of large patches of interesting cloud patterns in an otherwise blue sky along the 210 freeway heading toward Angeles Crest Highway already indicated the possibility that our hike to Mt. Islip would be weather enhanced.  By the time we (family and friends) passed Cloudburst Summit we were driving in and out of the clouds we saw rolling in from below.  From the trailhead at Islip Saddle the temperature gauge on the car dashboard read 36 degrees F.  At that point I knew we were in for a treat.

It didn’t take long hiking up the Pacific Crest Trail heading to Windy Gap to find ourselves walking into the cloudy mist.

About to enter the cloudy mist along the Pacific Crest Trail

At first the mist wasn’t as moist or dense as I thought it would be as I headed into it.  Prior to reaching Little Jimmy Campground, I met a PCT thru-hiker (trail name Viper) who mentioned his water froze overnight.  While I felt a little bad for Viper enduring such an unexpected cold snap this time of year, I found myself hopeful that something interesting would be lurking up above.

Light cloudy mist along the Pacific Crest Trail before reaching Little Jimmy.

Typically I really enjoy the trek along the Islip Ridge Trail with excellent views into the Crystal Lake Basin.  However, the weather made this stretch of our hike even more magnificent. By the time we had reached above 7600′ there was more moisture in the air, it felt colder, and ice had formed in the trees (but not on the ground).

Ice in the pine needles

The increased cloud density made depth perception more prominent than usual and the dead trees took on a more delineated character with ice clinging to their branches.

Ice clinging to the branches of dead trees standing out in the grey mist.

At times there was so much ice in the trees it looked like it snowed.

Icy Trees

But the ice that fell to the ground proved that it didn’t actually snow.

Ice on the ground that fell beneath the trees.

Near the summit the sun broke through the clouds.

The sun breaking through the clouds with little patches of blue sky and icy trees.

Above 8100′ we passed through the clouds yielding a dramatic view of ice covered trees against the blue sky–especially colorful after trekking through the grey mist for some time.

The view looking up to the sky as we passed above the clouds that continued to flow around the mountain below the summit.

View of the clouds coming in from the south and making their way around the summit of Mt. Islip

View from Mt. Islip looking toward the Mojave Desert as the clouds flowed around Mt. Islip and broke up into smaller formations as they made their way north.

View walking down through the clouds on the Islip Ridge Trail

Instead of returning to Windy Gap, we took the Mt. Islip Trail down to Little Jimmy and found ourselves in an area free from the clouds as they flowed over Windy Gap and Islip Saddle breaking up as they continued moving north.

View along the Mt. Islip Trail connecting the Islip Ridge Trail and Little Jimmy.

As we made it back down the Pacific Crest Trail we found ourselves in the sun most of the way with great views of the Mojave Desert.  Looking down the trail however, we saw clouds making their way over Islip Saddle.

View heading down the Pacific Crest Trail looking toward Islip Saddle

At Islip Saddle we found ourselves walking through the cloudy mist one more time before making it to our cars.  Along the drive home we passed in and out of the clouds driving down Angeles Crest Highway until we passed Cloudburst Summit once again returning below the clouds until we engage in another trip like this.

View from the Pacific Crest Trail as we are about to enter the clouds one last time before making it to our cars.