Internalizing That Making it to the Summit is Optional

Looking toward San Bernardino Peak on the way to Limber Pine Bench

Had I stayed the night at Limber Pine Bench or got more water at nearby Limber Pine Springs, I might have made it to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio.  Instead, I headed up to Trail Fork Springs planning to camp and replenish my water supply there.  Unfortunately, I never found the campground or the water I was told would be there.  I know the campground is there, water is probably still flowing from the spring, and I’m sure I got real close to it.  I just couldn’t find it.  As a result, dealing with becoming extremely low on water, my resulting dehydration, and accepting I wouldn’t make it to the summit became what I focused on for the remainder of my backpacking trip.

My decision to go to Trail Fork Springs didn’t appear at all risky when I made it.  I called the Mill Creek Ranger Station a few days prior to find out where to find water between Angelus Oaks and Mt. San Gorgonio and asked about which campgrounds had nice views.  Trail Fork Springs or High Meadow Springs (another four miles up the mountain) were the recommended places to camp.  Since I got a late start, I had already ruled out High Meadow Springs.  The only reason to consider Limber Pine bench was because I was also slowed a little by a light afternoon rain along the way.  However, the rain had stopped by the time I reached Limber Pine Bench and it was still before 5pm.  I could easily make it to Trail Fork Springs by 7:30 or 8:00.  Since I wanted to arrive closer to 7:30 and have more sunlight to set up camp and because I had plenty of water to make it there; I decided not to invest the time to replenish my water supply at Limber Pine Springs which I passed a little further up the trail.

Clear Skies and plenty of light on the way to East San Bernardino Peak

All appeared to be going well.  The trail and views were great and I was making good time.  At junctions in the trail, clearly marked signs indicated the way to Trail Fork Springs.  So, I was feeling great about my decision to hike a little longer to make the next day’s journey shorter.  Then I came upon a junction and the sign indicated one way to Jackstraw Springs and the other way to Dollar Lake Saddle.  It made me a little uneasy that all of a sudden there was no mention of Trail Fork Springs.  I pulled out my Harrison Map and saw that the camp should be on the way down to Jackstraw Springs.  Along the way down the trail I passed what I thought could be the beginning of Forsee Creek.  There was more green vegetation and the soil was moist, but there wasn’t any flowing water.  I continued down the trail expecting it to meet the creek again or to cross the spring hopefully close to Trail Fork Springs Camp.  After hiking at least a mile, I knew I had gone too far.  The distance listed on my permit from Trail Fork Springs to Anderson Flat (above the junction heading toward Dollar Lake Saddle) was only 0.8 miles.

Enjoying last sunlight before heading into the darkness to try and find Trail Fork Springs

Realizing I’d gone too far, I watched the last couple minutes of the sunset while contemplating my situation.  It was time to accept a few things.  The day’s hiking was going to continue into the night under the light from my headlamp.  So, I might as well enjoy the last moments of a sunset before embarking on a journey into the darkness.  Water was now an issue as I hadn’t yet found Trail Fork Springs and couldn’t be confident that I would.  I had a liter plus whatever was left in my bladder which I now needed to conserve.  I would need to set up my tarp for the first time in the dark.

It didn’t make sense to continue down the trail because I didn’t know for sure that there was water at Jackstraw Springs and that direction was only taking me away from where I expected to be going the next day.  Besides, I wasn’t exactly full of confidence that I would find that camp either.  At that point I was also still holding onto some hope that I would find Trail Fork Springs on my way back up the trail.  Perhaps I should have gone up at the junction instead of down.  Before setting out however, I needed a plan B if I couldn’t find the camp.  In that scenario I decided I would continue up the trail at the junction (hoping Trail Fork Springs was really up instead of down) and continue to Anderson Flat if necessary at most two miles away from where I was.  I never found any sign of Trail Fork Springs.  Worst, after heading up from the junction, I reached to next junction in the trail where Anderson Flat was supposed to be and didn’t see it.  In John McEnroe fashion, I yelled out “you can’t be serious.”  I was physically tired, mentally drained, frustrated, hungry, and thirsty.  I decided to find a flat spot near the trail and camp the night.

As I was setting up my tarp, I realized dinner was out of the question.  I couldn’t spare eight ounces of water to rehydrate my food.  So, I had a bar and a little more water to wash it down.  Tired as I was I didn’t sleep well.  I considered my options over and over again for hours.  Other than Trail Fork Springs, the closest water sources are High Meadow Springs four miles up the mountain or Limber Pine Springs about four and a half miles back down the mountain.  I quickly ruled out Trail Fork Springs as I’d already missed it twice and if the moist area was the spring, it had dried up since the last report.  This was my last training exercise for my Mt. Whitney trip beginning on Monday and I really wanted to summit Mt. San Gorgonio.  However, after much consideration and accepting that I wasn’t going to make it to the summit on this trip, I ruled out High Meadow Springs.  Considering that I’d missed two campgrounds and a water source already; attempting to continue up the mountain to a camp ground I’d never been where I didn’t know the location of the water source just seamed reckless.  If I didn’t find water there, I had no plan B.  The next water would at best be another two miles down in another direction away from Mt. San Gorgonio.  I’d most likely need to press my SOS button on my spot connect device and wait to be rescued.  So, I settled on hiking down to Limber Pine Springs whose water I crossed on my way up.  I would at least be heading toward help if things got that bad.

Tired but restlessly anxious, I knew I needed rest to hike another four miles and had no desire to hike in the darkness.  Normally, I drink about a liter of water through the night and I was already down to about 750 ml when I went to sleep.  I decided that as soon as I noticed enough natural light to see my way, I would get going.  Waking up a few times throughout the night, I thought about the terrain I would be walking down.  Except for about three quarters of a mile of trail that was more direct than going toward Trail Fork Springs, I had travelled the rest of the trail the day before.  This allowed me to plan out my water breaks.  Paying attention to my night time sips of water, I managed to drink only 250 ml before morning.  I was down to half a liter, but I felt I could make it to water.  I packed everything up, took a few pictures, and sent out a message from my spot connect device to let people know who were tracking me on the internet that I’d changed plans and was heading home early.  Sitting on a fallen tree, I looked up and noticed a sign on a tree that my tarp had been set up below the night before.  The sign read “Anderson Flat” with an arrow pointing in the direction I camped.  There was no delineated path leading further from where I was.  So, it’s possible I actually found and camped at Anderson Flat after all.  That realization made me think that it was now more possible that the moist soil I saw the day before was a newly dried up Trail Fork Springs.

In the morning light, I realized that I might have camped at Anderson Flat after all (note the sign on the tree–subtle especially at night).

Down to only 500 ml of water, I knew I needed to manage my level of exertion and maintain a comfortable pace because I would need to hike close to three hours to make it four and a half miles down to Lumber Pine Springs.  Fortunately, the trail is beautiful; the cool morning air was clear, views out were magnificent, and the soft morning light gently illuminated my path through the trees.  Allowing myself to take photos and engage in the distractingly beautiful natural surroundings I was hiking through helped me stay calm, go at a reasonable pace, and not fixate on my thirst.

My last view of Mt. San Gorgonio as I was accepting that I’d need to summit it another day.

I drank my last drop of water from a spot with a view of Limber Pine Bench which appeared to be within twenty minutes of my location.  Almost immediately though, I was again thirsty and it was getting hot.  I felt I was heading toward some kind of limit.  At the same time, I was the most confident I’d been since I went to bed the night before that I’d make it to the springs.  Interestingly, about ten minutes from Limber Pine Springs I passed a group of hikers.  We talked briefly about where they were going and of my water situation.  I would have accepted water if offered but didn’t feel the need to ask.  At that point I knew I could hike another ten minutes and was sure if I was in distress they would have helped me.  As one of the reasons to hike down instead of up, their presence put an exclamation point on the rightness of my decision to head down the mountain.  I felt good about how I handled cutting my losses, accepting my mistakes, and altering my plans.  Meeting them was the last mental boost I needed to make it down to the springs.

Limber Pine Springs

At the springs I took my time and drank close to a liter of water.  I then replenished my bladder and my Nalgene bottle so that I’d have four liters to make it down the last six miles to my car—which I drank most of.  Along the way down I reflected upon my experience and how I felt about not making it to the summit.  Although initially very disappointing, it was probably the best final training experience I could have had before setting out to climb Mt. Whitney.  Realizing that really helped me make it down the last couple miles.  The last year and eight months of training has me easily physically and mentally ready to make the climb over a three day period.  Not completing a climb and internalizing Ed Viesturs words “getting to the top is optional, but getting down is mandatory,” was a more important experience that rounded out my training.  In a few hours I leave for Mt. Whitney for four days.  The trip will be a celebration of losing a lot of weight getting myself in shape to make it.  While I want to summit badly, I now know I have it in me to turn back if I need to.

Our First Backpacking Trip

A few weeks ago my daughter and I went on our first backpacking trip.  So, I’ve now added a new backpacking section to this blog that will also include trips outside Angeles Forest. Our trip was short–just over 12 miles–with the main focus being to test our gear.  We hiked up Icehouse Canyon to Icehouse Saddle and then took the Chapman Trail down to our camp site at the Cedar Glen Trail Camp–which is only a few miles from the trailhead making it easy to abort our trip if anything major went wrong.  The following day we hiked back up to Icehouse Saddle and took the Icehouse Canyon Trail to the trailhead.

Being such a short hike, our path was only slightly different than day hikes most people do who cover the territory we traveled.  In fact, we returned (with my wife joining us) a few days later and hiked the Icehouse Canyon, Icehouse Saddle, Chapman Trail loop.

For such a short trip, there is a nice diversity of terrain along the trail.  Starting from the trailhead there is a stream that the trail follows past the junction with the Chapman Trail.

One of many “micro-falls” along the stream.

There are also a few spots where springs release groundwater that flows across the trail making its way into the stream–which I filter just to be safe.

Spring along the Icehouse Canyon Trail

After passing the lower junction with the Chapman Trail, there is an wonderful area of boulders weathered with interesting patterns that resemble wood grain.

Area of boulders

Along the way we saw a King Snake and several lizards.

King Snake

I always see chipmunks between the upper junction of the Chapman Trail and Icehouse saddle.  Since Chipmunks are one of my daughters favorite animals that we see when hiking, we paused for a while to enjoy watching some of them.

One of the many Chipmunks we saw on our trip.

After reaching Icehouse Saddle, we headed down the Chapman Trail hiking through Cedar Glen Trail Camp down to the stream a short distance along the trail below the camp.  There we replenished our water supply and Sarah took a bunch of pictures of Blue Jays while I was slowly figuring out how to use the Steripen (which isn’t difficult at all and shouldn’t have taken so long!).

Yours truly “figuring out” that it’s helpful to take the cap off the Steripen for it to work–sheesh! (Photo by Sarah)

One of the Blue Jays Sarah enjoyed taking pictures of.

We then set up camp and had dinner.

We got a great spot up above the trail at Cedar Glen Trail Camp.





I should point out that a campfire permit is required to use a stove and a wilderness permit is required to hike in this area.  Both permits are free and can be obtained at the Mt. Baldy Visitors Center. The following day we hiked back up the Chapman Trail to Icehouse Saddle and took the Icehouse Canyon trail back to the trailhead.

Morning view form the Chapman Trail


Icehouse Canyon to Mt. Baldy

I hadn’t been to Mt. Baldy (aka Mt. San Antonio) or to any of the trails accessible from Icehouse Canyon since October–except for a short trek part way up the Icehouse Canyon Trail with my daughter.  Really missing both areas, I decided to make last weeks Mt. Whitney training hike a trek from Icehouse Canyon to Mt. Baldy.

I always find starting a hike from Icehouse Saddle to be very enjoyable as a significant amount of time is spent along the stream.  For some reason, streams get me immediately focused on the nature I’m walking through which sets the tone for the longer journey.

Stream along the Icehouse Canyon Trail

Among the great things I experience now that I’ve been hiking in Angeles Forest weekly for about a year and a half is to know the territory I’m seeing as I look off into the distance because I’ve been there.  It’s profoundly different for me now.  I am now able to recall what it looks like to stand in a place I’m looking at far off into the distance, what it takes to get there, and what it looks like to look toward where I’m standing from where I’m looking at.  Holding all this in my mind as I gaze out heightens my experience as relationships and interconnections grow.

View toward Mt. Baldy from the Icehouse Canyon Trail about 3 miles up and trekking away from Mt. Baldy.

The forest’s intimacy and grandeur simultaneously captivate me as I look out to places I’ve been but will not be able to make it to today.

Hiking up Timber Mountain and looking out to Ontario Peak where I’ve been but won’t be going today.

The views are expansive, height and distance become more tangible when looking down long canyons instead of simply out off into the distance.

View down canyon from saddle between Timber Mountain and Telegraph Peak

I slow down and look around a lot at saddle areas.  The views out are breathtakingly expansive.  At the same time there is a close up view up the next mountain displaying its overall form which will no longer be discernible as I climb it.

View of Telegraph Peak from the saddle between Telegraph Peak and Timber Mountain.

Climbing the mountain instead of viewing it from far enough away to see its overall form is similar to the difference between being inside and outside of a building.  Smaller spaces emerge along the trail that generate their own sense of place and destination.  As the trail leads from one space to the next new features come into view.  I particularly like it when the trail curves in the distance and it looks like there may be an interesting spot just around the corner with a new view or a new set of features.

Three Tee’s Trail hiking up Telegraph Peak

After hiking for a while doing switchbacks up the side of the mountain and looking out at expansive views from over 8,000 feet in elevation, the trail gets close to the ridge.  It’s low enough still that you can’t see a view over the ridge.  The view of the ridge line becomes dominant and I start looking up instead of out.

Three Tee’s Trail near the junction with the Telegraph Peak Trail

After hiking for about an hour with no view of Mt. Baldy, the mountain comes into view near the junction with the Telegraph Peak Trail. Thunder Mountain is somewhat lost in the foreground with Mt. Baldy rising much higher in the distance.

View toward Mt. Baldy from the junction with the Telegraph Peak Trail

Eventually as I make it down toward the saddle between Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain, the change of view allows Thunder Mountain to gain prominence as its peak now stands out in front of the blue sky background.

Three Tee’s Trail leading down to saddle between Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain with the peak of Thunder Mountain now easily seen against the blue sky.

View down the canyons from the saddle between Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain are both expansive and diverse as one side looks northwest and the other southeast.

Northwest view from saddle between Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain

View Northwest from saddle between Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain

View Southeast from saddle between Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain

The road down from Thunder Mountain to Baldy notch isn’t very exciting, but there are still great views of Mt. Baldy

Road down from Thunder Mountain to Baldy Notch

My original plan was to hike to Mt. Baldy and return the same way.  By the time I made it to the top of the ski lift area I was behind schedule to make it back from Mt. Baldy before dark.  So I sat on the concrete pad, had a snack and contemplated my options.  I could just turn around and go back easily making it to my car before dark.  I could go to Mt. Baldy and return the way I came but hike much of the Icehouse Canyon Trail in the dark using my headlamp.  I could go to Mt. Baldy, come down the Baldy Bowl Trail and walk the paved road from Manker Flats to Icehouse Canyon to get to my car in the dark.

Top of the ski lift area.

I decided I’d rather hike to Mt. Baldy and walk the road from Manker Flats to Icehouse Canyon in the dark.  I was rewarded with a great trek up the Devil’s Backbone Trail where I enjoyed the multitude of different types of spaces to walk through.

View up the Devil’s Backbone Trail looking at Mt. Harwood.

Devil’s Backbone Trail along a narrow portion with huge drops on each side and spectacular views.

A wider portion of the Devil’s Backbone Trail on the side of Mt. Harwood looking back toward Telegraph Peak where I was earlier.

Walking through a flat area on Mt. Harwood with Mt. Baldy now visible through a wonderful area of trees.

Gorgeous trees and excellent views are plentiful along this short stretch of the trail.

View trekking along the side of Mt. Harwood with Mt. Baldy in view.

View out from the Devil’s Backbone Trail along Mt. Harwood

Heading up Mt. Baldy looking back down on Mt. Harwood

The trail gets pretty steep in places.

The last portion going up the trail before the curve flattens out at the summit.

I had lunch at the summit.  While not looking forward to the walk in the dark on the road from Manker Flats to Icehouse Canyon, I felt it was definitely worth the sacrifice.

Summit Marker

View toward West Baldy (which is shorter despite the optical illusion), and the path down the Mt. Baldy Trail to the Visitors Center.

View down the North Backbone Trail viewing Dawson Peak and Pine Mountain.

At the summit, I met another hiker (Kevin) who also is training to hike Mt. Whitney.  I mentioned my route and my need to walk the road once reaching Manker Flats.  Luckily, Kevin drove me to my car.  So, the remainder of my trek was a wonderful trek down the Baldy Bowl Trail.

View heading down the Baldy Bowl Trail from the summit.

The Baldy Bowl Trail looking toward Mt. Harwood

View down the Baldy Bowl Trail

View looking up from the base of the bowl along the Baldy Bowl Trail

View back toward Mt. Baldy from the Baldy Bowl Trail

San Antonio Falls from the road leading down to Manker Flats

Castle Canyon

The Castle Canyon Trail connects Echo Mountain to Inspiration Point.  So, you need to reach one of those two end points from another trail to hike Castle Canyon.  One way to get to the Castle Canyon trail is to start from the Cobb Estate and hike up to Echo Mountain using the Lower Sam Merrill Trail.

Like the Lower Sam Merrill Trail, Castle Canyon begins without shade.

However, a large part of the trail is shady and even meets up with a small stream in a couple places (that may not have water in summer).

After enough rain or snow, a seasonal waterfall (or water-trickle) emerges.

The trail starts at an elevation of about 3200′ and reaches close to 4500′ and will sometimes be covered in snow.  Usually, just enough snow to make it interesting and hike-able without snowshoes or crampons.  So, several times during winter or spring you can park at the Cobb Estate in Altadena and fairly quickly hike up to snow along this trail (2-1/2 to 4-1/2 miles from parking depending on snow level).

Unlike the Lower Sam Merrill trail where at any time you can look out to views of the city, much of the time the view of the canyon and what is surrounding you on the trail is introspective and is blocked from city views.

At other times there are great views of the city and of Echo Mountain from above.

A significant portion of the trail gets a little steep compared with the rest of the trail–which is great if you are training.  Even if you aren’t training, the reward of making it to Inspiration Point is worth the effort.  At Inspiration Point there is shade, picnic tables, signage with history of the area, and remnants of the old one man and mule railway.

On a clear day, there are excellent views down the canyon and of the city, the ocean, and Catalina Island.

Shade and Water along the Gabrieleno Trail

The Gabrieleno National Recreation Trail is about 28 miles long in its entirety.  Importantly, a short portion of the trail is still closed due to the Station Fire from Paul Little to the junction with the Bear Canyon Trail.  For the second time I hiked a short portion of the Gabrieleno trail from Red Box to the Valley Forge Campground. This time I hiked with family and friends on a hot day and it was great to have trees blocking the sun for a large part of the trek.

Starting from the trailhead at Red Box, the trail descends until reaching the Valley Forge Campground.  Most of the way the grade isn’t very steep.

The trail essentially follows the San Gabriel River.  The river is often still visible during the brief periods when the trail leads away from it for a while.  The trail also crosses the river a number of times, but the river isn’t deep enough for that to be a problem.  Fortunately, at times when there is no shade the trail is often by the river.

There were many lizards roaming around on this April day.

Flowers were blooming and it was great to see the bees working their magic.

It’s worth checking out the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center located at the parking area for the trailhead.  There are some nice artifacts there and volunteers that can tell you about the history of the area.  They have several events planned through October including a Hike-A-Thon to raise money for the center on June 2 (National Trails Day).