June 2012

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We are headed out to Idyllwild this weekend for a backpacking trip to summit Mt. San Jacinto, hike #7 of our “10 Pack” of training hikes. We decided to hike the peak from a different approach so that we wouldn’t have to re-live our previous attempt. Plus this is actually a longer and more challenging route that is better suited for backpacking.

We will be carrying our SPOT personal locator device, so if you want to monitor our progress, check out our location updates on this map.

So far we’ve been on schedule and successful with all our other training hikes. We are managing to speed up our pace a bit and are gaining a lot more experience with much longer hikes requiring more endurance. Last weekend we hiked Santiago Peak which was longer mileage and more gain than Mt. Wilson, but we finished in less time and much less exhausted. It still wasn’t our most enjoyable hike as we’ll post later, but we definitely feel that we are on track to Mt. Whitney!

Here’s a quick look at what we’ve done so far and what’s left for the summer:

Mt. Wilson (5,710’) – 14 miles, 4000 ft gain [completed April 1]

Mt. Baden Powell (9,400’) – 8 miles, 2800 ft gain [completed May 13]

Cucamonga Peak (8,859’) – 11.5 miles, 4300 ft gain [completed May 19]

Mt San Antonio aka Baldy (10,064’) – 10.5 miles, 3900 ft gain [completed June 3]

San Bernardino Peak (10,649’) & East San Bernardino (10,691′)– 16.5 miles, 5500 ft gain [completed June 16-17]

Santiago Peak (5,689’) – 15.5 miles, 4450 ft gain [completed June 24]

Mt. San Jacinto (10,800’) – 19.3 miles, 5200 ft gain (updated route for this weekend)

Telescope Peak (11,050’) – 14 miles, 3000 ft gain [scheduled July 14]

Mt. San Gorgonio (11,502’) – 21 miles, 4600 ft gain [scheduled July 28-29]

White Mt. (14,246’) – 14 miles, 3300 ft gain [scheduled August 11]

Compared to: Mt. Whitney (14,504’) – 22 miles, 6600 ft gain [scheduled August 26-28]

Mount San Antonio, locally known as Mt. Baldy, would be our highest peak yet. Towering at 10, 064 feet, it is the highest point in Los Angeles County.  We are familiar with Baldy since we have hiked almost every peak southeast including Cucamonga, which we summited 2 weeks earlier.

View of Mt. Baldy and the “Baldy Bowl” from a previous trip

Since we wanted to challenge ourselves in terms of mileage and elevation gain, we decided to do one of the longer routes. We started at Manker Flats campground and began hiking up the road which leads to the Baldy Notch ski lodge.  As we hiked on the road we could see other day hikers and sightseers riding the ski lifts up and down, but we only became jealous when trucks would drive by leaving us in a cloud of dust.  After 3 miles and 1,300 feet we reached the lodge and decided to treat ourselves to a quick sandwich at the Notch Restaurant. Then we headed up the ski routes to the section of the trail fondly called Devil’s Backbone.

Looking back after crossing a narrow section of the Backbone Trail

The trail is literally on the top of the ridge and at times is narrow and gets crowded with hikers.  Once past the Backbone we could see the summit, but we had to make one more short stop.  Mt. Harwood is a lesser known peak just to the east of Mt. Baldy and is also on the hundred peaks list*.

Hiking up the gravel pile

In our opinion Harwood is just a giant gravel pile with little trail or plant life but it did offer some nice views and a good look at the climb still ahead.  After tromping through the loose rock we got back on the trail and started the ascent to Mt. Baldy.  It was a tough climb on the loose sand up to the bald peak.

 Popular and crowded summit

Since this is a popular day hike there were at least 20 people on the peak at one time.  If you’re looking for solitude this is not the hike for you.  Knowing we had a long way down we didn’t linger and headed down a different route that follows the Baldy Bowl and passes a Sierra Club ski hut. The trail along the Baldy bowl is much steeper and at times you feel as though you are sliding down more than hiking so there aren’t many photos of the descent.

All in all the hike was a pretty long 10.3 mile and strenuous 3,950 feet of elevation gain but we definitely felt the steep descent the most. Luckily we knew the next weekend was going to give us a little break from hiking to go kayaking in the Channel Islands.


*The Hundred Peaks List actually has 248 peaks. So far we’ve summitted 18 of them and if all goes well by the end of the summer we’ll have completed 21.

Every time we go on a day hike, we always try to get an early start. Katharine can be particularly slow in the morning, but for our hike to Cucamonga Peak (11.5 miles, 4,300 ft gain) we managed to get out the door almost on time. Unfortunately we didn’t check the local news so we had no idea that we were headed up the route of the “King of the Mountain” stage of the Amgen Bicycle Tour. Apparently amateurs like to ride the route earlier in the day so the road up to the trailhead was crowded with cyclists weaving up the hill. So in the end, we had a late start as usual.

The hike starts with a 3.5 mile climb up Icehouse Canyon, one we were familiar with from our first solo backpacking trip 2 years ago. That trip the climb seemed never ending, but this time our packs were slightly lighter, we were better conditioned, and it wasn’t as hot.  We quickly reached the saddle and headed another 2 miles toward Cucamonga Peak.

Katharine taking a break on the steep climb – July 2010


We tried to count the switch backs to the top and debated whether some counted or not depending on their angle or length.  When we reached the peak we had it all to ourselves so we had a snack and took pictures of the sun bleached trees.


As you can see we were in good spirits.  Usually if there isn’t pictures of us at the top it’s because it was too crowded or we were too exhausted.


To the west we could see 2 of 5 peaks we bagged during our backpacking trip; Bighorn and Ontario Peak.  The saddle between the mountains was just above our campsite, Kelly Camp.  Mount Baldy’s bowl can be seen behind the mountains.


We headed back down through Icehouse Canyon at a pretty brisk pace.


By the time we got back to the car, the Amgen Tour fans had left and only the race banners remained. We were relieved to drive down the empty mountain road!


This hike was mainly a training and conditioning hike to prepare for Mt. Whitney later in the summer.  Although the mileage and elevation weren’t as severe as Mt. Wilson, the altitude played a larger role in our endurance.  Mt. Wilson was a painful and tiring hike, but was at the very start of our serious hiking training season.  Since Wilson we had hiked 41 miles, so it was definitely starting to pay off. The trail up Baden-Powell was consistently uphill with switchback after switchback, but it wasn’t too steep so we were able to keep a decent pace.


We did run into some large snow drifts on the north side near the top, which we easily traversed using our micro spikes.  It was clear and sunny at the 9,407′ peak.


Near the summit we passed the “Wally” Waldron Tree, a limber pine that is believed to be over 1500 years old.


On the way down the 2,800 foot climb we tried to keep a brisk 3 mph pace down the switchbacks, which felt more like trail running.  We finished the hike in 5 hours without feeling too tired, but we were definitely hungry. The hike gave a good sense of accomplishment and it was the first time we could tell all the training was paying off.


We ended up going down the mountain to the local ski resort to grab some pizza.  It was weird to drive down the mountain to get to the ski resort, which was deserted without any snow.



At the very end of April our friends Aidan and Aditya joined us for a hike to bag 4 peaks in 7.5 miles in the Angeles National Forest: San Gabriel Peak (6161′), Mount Disappointment (5960′), Mount Markhan (5742′), and Mount Lowe (5603′). This trail was recently reopened due to a rockslide near the tunnel.

Mueller Tunnel Constructed in 1942

Each peak was somewhat unique; San Gabriel Peak is the highest of the 4 and has old concrete foundations from a fire lookout post, Mount Disappointment is covered in humming radio towers, Mount Markhan is narrow and less traveled, and Mount Lowe has a few welded pipes for viewing other peaks in the area.

Mt. Baldy (future day hike)

Mount Markhan’s trail is narrow and is more of a boulder scramble to the top.


On the way up an unusual creature crossed our path.  Although they are hard to see these horned lizards (Phrynosoma) aka horny toads are found throughout the southwest.

Can you spot the extremely camouflaged young lizard?! (HINT: In focus just to the left of the stick)

Prehistoric looking creatures

To my surprise we saw two in one day even though we’ve been hiking all over Southern California for years now without ever seeing one.


Many times when we reach a peak on our hikes we are greeted by these pale yellow butterflies that  fly circles around us.  I’ve tried many times to catch them in flight, but settled for this one resting on a plant, you can actually see the hairs on its back!

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

After Buckskin Gulch we drove to Page, AZ and spent the night drinking beers around a campfire on the beach overlooking Lake Powell.  The next morning we had one more stop to make before driving 9 hours back home.  Downstream from Lake Powell’s dam is a bend in the river that looks like a horseshoe and standing on a ledge with a wide angle lens you can capture it.


For this trip to Utah Katharine bought a 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 lens for her micro four thirds camera.  If you’re a camera fanatic keep in mind it has a 2x crop factor, but it’s still a nice 18mm equivalent.  Also keep in mind this lens weighs .34 pounds (155 grams). The entire camera with battery, memory card and this lens weighs just over 1 pound!

Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, 9mm, f/4, 1/800 sec

On the third morning of our Utah trip we woke up before sunrise, broke down our camp at White House, and repacked our backpacks for an adventure of a lifetime: a 2 day, 21 mile backpack through Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the Southwest and rated one of the top ten most dangerous by Backpacker Magazine! We used Paria Outfitters for our shuttle to the starting trailhead (Wire Pass) since we would be ending back at White House. Within a half a mile from the trailhead we entered Wire Pass, which is a short 1 mile slot canyon that can be easily be done as a day hike, but also leads to Buckskin Gulch.

Wire Pass is a slot canyon that is only 3 feet wide in some area

When Wire Pass met with Buckskin Gulch we scoured the walls looking for know petroglyphs of big horn sheep.

I was expecting something more life size and was surprised to see how small it was

The entrance to longest (13 miles) and deepest (500 feet) slot canyon in the country quickly miniaturizes you with a massive arch and walls hundreds of feet high that are impossible to climb.


Soon after entering the canyon we are reminded why this can also be a deadly canyon with flash floods carrying mud, rocks and trees.

This log jam is probably 20′ feet above the canyon floor marking a past water level

Because of the severe danger of flash floods we had been monitoring previous trip reports and weather reports for the surrounding area.  This year was unusually dry, normally the canyon can have several large cesspools from previous rainfall.  The cesspools are cold (since the canyon floor is so dark) and can be chest high since they take a very long time to evaporate. Apparently they get their name because animals can get trapped in the pools and die…  Luckily for us the cesspools were all dried up. We hardly had to hop over a puddle in Buckskin!

Dried mud along the trail looked like chocolate shavings…we could have just been hungry too

The canyon did not disappoint with it’s promised contoured walls, narrow path, and dramatic lighting.



The winding slot canyon limited our view to a hundred feet sometimes and revealed incredible views around every turn. The colors and shapes were mesmerizing and almost enough to forget about the 30 pound backpacks we had been carrying for 8 miles with another 5 to go before our campsite.


Because of the limited safe campsites and other environmental conditions the canyon is limited to 20 people per night.  Since the canyon is so winding and long we only saw a few people on the narrow trail, most of the time it felt very secluded.  We were also surprised to see some lizards considering the limited amount of light. We almost stepped on this one.

This guy was about 6″ in length.

The narrow winding sections would open up to large spaces every mile or so.  Sometimes the long hallway like sections look pretty intimidating and it was nice to walk into an area wider than your arm span.


The open areas gave a false sense of safety since the 300-500′ shear walls would still be impossible to climb.

If you click on this photo try to spot Katharine wearing a light blue shirt at the base of the wall.  The wall continued past the picture frame for another 50 feet or so.

When entering the slot canyon again it felt like Indiana Jones entering a mysterious cave.

You really need to see the photos in full screen mode to appreciate all the detail. Check out the massive boulder wedge between the canyon walls at the top of the picture and Katharine standing underneath it!

Several miles from the campsite you reach the “rabbit hole” which is a tunnel through a large boulder jam.  It is pretty easy to pass through when it is dry.

After 13 miles, 9 hours, and 383 photos we finally reached our campsite.  There were several others there and the echos of laughter and story telling could be heard bouncing off the canyon walls.  We also chatted with our neighbor who was just 10 feet away on the high sandbar ledge.  He was a young twenty year old on a 10 week soul searching mission funded by his tax return.

Our campsite was up on the ledge behind the trees

The next day we filtered water out of the shallow Paria River and headed back to White House Campground.  The hike out was only 7.5 miles but the canyon walls disappeared after the first mile so we found ourselves walking in a river bed through the hot Utah desert.

The 21 mile, 2 day adventure was visually incredible and by far our longest backpack yet.  We definitely want to go back again sometime.

Check out the rest of the photos!


After Bryce Canyon we headed south to backpack Buckskin Gulch!  We traveled 2 hours south to White House Campground and setup camp on the desert sand in the hot sun.  We decided to drive down the road and hike a mile to some hoodoos.  It was a hot hike, but it was fun to climb on the rocks and explore the area.


Toward sunset we headed back to camp, but we had one more stop before we could call it a night: the Nautilus!  This is a rock formation that is kept secret to avoid it being overrun by people.  It has been uniquely carved by flash floods to be like a corkscrew.  No other rocks around it are shaped in this way and you would probably walk right past it if you weren’t looking for it.

Although this water carved rock was pretty amazing in itself we had no idea what we were in for in Buckskin Gulch!