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Since our first hike of 2012 ended up being so snowy and icy, we decided to stick to the lower San Gabriels for our second hike.

We decided to do a classic hike in our ‘backyard’ to the top of Echo Mountain. If we had more time, we would have liked to continue on to Inspiration point (see Modern Hiker’s descriptive write-up), but we only had a couple hours.


The hike was a great workout with 1400 ft of gain, and at the top of Echo we got to explore the ruins of an old mountain resort that was accessible by a very steep railroad in the late 1800s to early 1900s.


This was the first time we really got to appreciate living in Pasadena and being so close to some local trails. It only took about 10 minutes to get to the trailhead, which was really nice since we had so little time. Once daylight savings begins, I’m hoping we can even do some hiking on the weeknights every now and then.


By Katharine

One of our goals for 2012 is to summit Mt. Whitney, so to prepare we are starting to hike more regularly. The first hike of the year we tried was Mt. Islip in the Angeles NF. Apparently taking the fall off made us a little rusty on preparation… It was a warm day in LA but at an elevation of 7000 ft at the trailhead, it was cold and very windy. Right when we got there another group pulled up, got out of the car, but decided to just skip it and head home because it was too cold.

We decided to give it a shot even though we only had our fleeces, but as we started up the trail we were surprised to see snow. I hadn’t thought there would be any left from a November storm, but the trail was pretty shaded and the high elevation must have kept the temperatures low enough.

The snow was hard packed and crusted over with ice

This small sunny area was more what we were expecting

We didn’t think to bring our spikes/crampons so we carefully shuffled over the icy parts. Some were along rather steep drop offs and by the time we got about three quarters up the mountain to Little Jimmy camp, we had run out of time and the snow/ice was only getting worse. So we decided to call it a day and turn back. The hike down made us a little nervous, but we got back to the car safely. Now we know to always bring the spikes just in case!


And don’t think the irony of the mountain being called ‘Islip’ was lost on us as we slipped over the snow and ice.

The last lunar eclipse of 2011 promised to be a good one for the West Coast so I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and drove to Griffith Observatory to get the best view.  Katharine opted out of this early morning as it was a weekend right before finals.  As with any event in Los Angeles there are a thousand other people that had the same idea, so the Observatory was very crowded.

I had to park quite a ways down the road and almost run up the hill to get a spot before the eclipse was over.  I found the settings listed below to be the best for my camera and lens.  I got a few shots before it disappeared behind the clouds.

Canon 40D, 200mm, f/4.0, ISO 100, 2.5 sec

Canon 40D, 200mm, f/4.0, ISO 100, 1.3 sec

It also helps to have a nice tripod for the longer exposures.  I’ve really enjoyed using my Manfrotto 055XPROB.  It’s a heavy aluminum tripod so I don’t take it too often, but when I do I take advantage of the slower shutter speeds.

Once the moon went behind the clouds and the sun came up most people bailed which I thought was odd since they were in the perfect place to take other photos or just watch the sunrise over LA.

This was my first time to the observatory so I also took some more artistic shots of the telescopes, which looked more like cannons to me.

If anyone hasn’t been to the Griffith Observatory I would recommend it as a quick stop to get a great view of downtown LA and the Hollywood sign if you’re interested.

More Photos

As I am sure most of you know, we had a damaging wind storm a couple weeks ago, although it was not nearly as bad as a Midwestern tornado.  We were so busy with school we didn’t have any time to check out the local damage until a few days later.  I wasn’t as surprised by the damage but more the slow response by the city to clear the roads and restore power.  The entire morning I was driving around I didn’t see any utility workers.

I found this scene quite amusing, a tax measure sign leaning with two large trees in the background threatening a house.


Another scene I came across was a large tree that took down a power pole.  The power was off but the lines remained strung through the trees and across the road.


Other areas there was little damage to structures but the trees took a beating.

Decapitated Palm Tree

Katharine’s sister-in-law, Alex, was one of the many who lost power for several days.  She took refuge in our apartment as we studied for finals.  It was nice to spend some time with her before she moved across the country.  To Alex and Rick- we wish you good luck with the East Coast weather… suckers!

By Nathan

On July 4th we were dying to get out and do something besides wedding planning so we consulted our guide to Los Angeles County hikes and picked one on Katharine’s to do list.  The hike was Serrano Canyon and Big Sycamore Canyon Loop in the Santa Monica Mountains, which is a 9.8 mile loop with 1,250′ of elevation gain.  The hike started in a campground which was over run with families and crowded barbecues but after a mile hike on a dirt road we turned down a narrow path and only saw other hikers maybe once an hour.


In the beginning the trail was shaded from the hot sun, but with all the rain this year the brush had began to encroach on the trail and you felt more like trail blazing then hiking sometimes.

Trying our new day packs for Alaska (overkill for this day hike)

But of course when you hike in thick brush near creeks around here, you have to be on the lookout for poison oak. There was an insane amount of it on this trail-  it was everywhere lining the trails on either side and clinging on to other bushes reaching as high as your shoulders.  I now use a sunscreen that has a built in barrier to protect against the rash-inducing oils.

But the canyon had more than poison oak – we also spotted many flowers that provided great practice for Katharine to use her new camera! (More on the new camera later)

Olympus E-PL2, 14mm,  ISO 320, f/4.0, 1/60 seconds

We finally climbed out of the lush poison oak filled canyon to the top of a hill and a sea of dried grass.


We traded poison oak for hot exposure to the sun.  At this point we had covered about 5 miles (halfway) and almost all of our elevation gain but we had drank at least 2 liters of water each.  We headed around the loop and back to the dirt road where at 8 of 9.8 miles I ran out of water but we had reached the dirt road that was shaded and easy to walk.

We also ran into a small group of ducks resting in the shade.

Olympus E-PL2, 42mm,  ISO1600, f/5.6, 1/500 seconds

All in all it was nice to get out but it was just too hot to really enjoy the hike. We’ve decided from now on not to hike the Santa Monica Mountains during the summer months even if the guidebook claims there is plenty of shade!

By Nathan

This weekend Katharine and I are headed to Zion National Park so in preparation two weeks ago we hiked to Devil’s Chair located just South of Palmdale.  Devil’s Punchbowl and Devil’s Chair sit right on a fault line which creates some unusual terrain.  Considering we are about to leave for Zion this morning I’ll make this entry quick.


We loaded our backpacks with 20 pounds of water which is light compared to the 30- 40 pounds we’ll be carrying this week.  The hike was a nice 7 mile round trip with a slight incline, and the trails were well maintained in most areas.


One surprise we did get was snow!  We did plan for rain so we had our rain jackets but we just got above snow level at the end of the trail and found ourselves in a snow storm.  The wind was blowing the snow horizontal and gave a hazy look to the landscape.


The real photos started when the sun started to peek out as it set and the rocks jetting out of the ground contrasted with the stormy skies.



I took this photo but Katharine and her point and shoot get the credit for many of the landscape photos.  Her Olympus Tough camera is better dealing with the extreme snow and low light than my Canon.  I was constantly cleaning the lens from being pelted with snow flakes.


We are falling behind with our blog entries becasuse of our busy lives but hopefully when we get back from vacation we can catch up on wedding planning, photography, and of course the overwhelming amount of photos and stories from Zion.

More Photos

By Katharine

I have begun planning our Spring Break trip to Zion National Park in April, and I am really getting excited for it… There will be some amazing opportunities for photography plus it looks like we will be able to fit in a backpacking portion as well. This has motivated Nathan and me to get back to regular hiking so that we will be somewhat in-shape for the trip.

So, this weekend we procrastinated a lot of wedding tasks and studying for midterms by going on a short hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. Last year I got Jerry Schad’s hiking guide for LA county and bookmarked all the hikes I want us to do before we move away from LA and this week we checked one off: Red Rock Canyon.

The hike is a short (4.5 mile) out-and-back hike up and then down into a canyon. The scenery was mostly the typical SoCal chaparral of the Santa Monica Mts, but it’s always beautiful to me.


There also were some really cool caves to climb and explore.

.Plus, near the end, we started to see why they call it Red Rock Canyon.

And, for the second time in a row, we came across a film crew at some point in our hike. Only in LA!

Overall, it was a nice break from studying and a good training hike with the elevation gain and loss. Next time we should probably load up our backpacks with water to really train for our trip.

By Nathan

Last Sunday we decided to take a break from wedding planning and homework and head to a well known LA hike, The Grotto.  We had the usual LA traffic which delayed us from arriving until 3:00 but since it was a short hike we knew we could finish before sunset.  It was a little cold, windy, and the fog started to roll in as we started down the trail to the Grotto.


Not only did Katharine want to check it off her “hikes to do list” but we are also scouting for a site to take our engagement photos.  We liked the open grasses at the start of the hike where we could set-up a mock camp.


Soon we headed into a wooded area where we found a nice branch that was fun for photos.  Katharine climbed up the branch and then I set-up my tripod and set the 10 second timer.  The plan was to run 20 feet, jump, grab the branch, swing my body up and sit next to Katharine all in 10 seconds.  Well…I gave it my best shot.


As you can see from the photo I only made it to step 2 so I resorted to taking photos of Katharine alone.


The conditions weren’t the best for photography that day because of the late afternoon light and thick fog but I think with the right lighting it could look pretty cute for engagement photos.

After crossing the stream by jumping rock to rock we reached the Grotto.

The Grotto is an interesting location where the stream drops below some of the rocks creating waterfalls below the surface.  The small caves give an adventurous feel to the hike.


In some places I could see through a hole in the rocks showing Katharine exploring the caves below.  If I had a wider lens or full frame camera I think I could capture the scene pretty nicely.  I am not sure what the photo would look like though, maybe too much like were trapped in a dark pit.

I also found my favorite plant, poison oak,  lining the trail which always gives me phantom itching.  After a major episode requiring two steroid shots I can’t stress enough to stay on the trail and wear long pants.


When the fog rolled in knocking out the grand vistas I turned to macro shots of the rocks around me.

Canon 40D, 50 mm, f/1.8, 1/160, ISO 250

Different types of lichen gave the gray rocks some much needed color during our dark and cloudy hike.  We turned back as it started to get dark and drizzle, but we hope to return on a warmer day to explore the complete Grotto. Now that we’ve switched to daylight savings time, there’s extra time for hiking!

More Photos

By Nathan

I once saw a photo of downtown LA with snow covered mountains in the background and ever since then I wanted to take that photo.  The day after we returned from snowboarding I started searching the web for the best photo and using google maps to place me in the same location.  Luckily most people online posted their exact location and it turns out a great vantage point is only 10 minutes away.  The view point that rises out of the flat urban environment is better know as Baldwin Hills.  There is a windy path and a steep flight of stairs to the top which is used by many for exercise and locally known as “the stairs.”

“The Stairs”

I set up my camera and tripod at the top and waited for the sun to set.  As I waited several other photographers with more experience and better equipment joined me at the railing.  As the sun set the wind picked up and I realize it was time for me to get a new tripod.  With the wind blowing, the light dwindling, and the haze in the sky it was hard to get a crisp photo.

Canon 40D, 70-200mm with 1.4x Extender, 113mm, ISO 500, f/5.6, 1/1000

Even though I didn’t get the perfect shot, I finally found the right location, so now I just need all the other elements to fall into place.  Even though I’ve lived in Los Angeles for more than 10 years the snow covered mountains behind downtown LA always surprise me.

By Nathan

It’s surprising with all the massive snow fall this year we hadn’t gone snowboarding yet.  But last week we made it a point to make it to “the snow.”  For those of you not from Southern California, “the snow” is what locals refer to as the mountains.  As the weekend approached the forecast was calling for more snow.  Katharine’s brother, Rick wasn’t hard to convince to join us on our day trip to Mountain High, which is only a couple hours away.  Saturday morning we woke up around 6:00 and checked the snow report, 2 feet of fresh powder!  We quickly gathered our gear picked up Rick and headed to the mountains.  Once we got off the freeway the police were making people put chains on their cars, luckily we had purchased chains for Yosemite and were now pros at putting them on.  As we climbed up the mountain the snow continued to increase covering Joshua Trees which was an uncommon sight for us.


We finally reached Mountain High to find the place surprisingly empty, but we figured since it was early in the morning more people would soon fill up the lifts.  Considering this was my 3rd time snowboarding the conditions were perfect.  I wasn’t the first one to pack the powder but the powder provided a nice cushion as I rolled down the mountain.  After a couple runs I became more comfortable and started learning to carve.  Rick spent the day “poaching powder” ruining fresh snow with his tracks no matter the obstacles.

.Katharine and Rick

Shortly after we arrived it started snowing and didn’t stop until around lunch when the sun broke through the clouds.  But within an hour the snow started falling helping maintain a nice layer of powder on the mountain.  The falling snow also seemed to keep the people away and we never had to wait in any lift lines.  By the time we headed back to the car we had no idea how much snow had fallen.

8″ of fresh snow fell in 6 hours

Being able to carve down the mountain and only falling a couple times makes me want to buy my own board.  Considering Mammoth and Big Bear still have a deep base of snow we hope to get at least one more snowboarding trip in this year.  We might even try cross country skiing again!

I survived another snowboarding trip!

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