Thursday, March 31, 2011

John Muir Trail: Suggestions that Aren't in the Guidebooks

Near the Golden Staircase in Kings Canyon
There's only so much you can learn from reading about the John Muir Trail, but it always helps! There are some very worthy guidebooks which should accompany you on your journey. John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America's Most Famous Trail, by Elizabeth Wenk, was my guide to the trail. While it did take up space and weight, having a guidebook with you greatly improved my knowledge and expectations of what was coming. Everyone has their own experience on the John Muir Trail and I'd like to give you a few suggestions should you ever backpack this 210 mile (337km) long trail.
  • #1 Take the MOST amount of time to complete the trail as you can: My single biggest regret of my experience on the JMT was that I only had 2 weeks to complete it. Two weeks is ample time if you're a skilled backpacker and in great shape, most complete it in 20-25 days or longer. Some crazy folks attempt to "fastpack", i.e. run, the whole trail and complete 210 miles (337km) in less than a week. However, I found that doing it in a faster time prohibited me from enjoying a lot of the side trails and spectacular sights that can be seen off-trail. You can also bag quite a number of otherwise difficult to reach peaks such as Split Mountain-14,064 ft (4,287 m) and Donahue Peak- 12,023 ft (3,665). Other places like LeConte Canyon and Evolution Valley were so picturesque that I wish I could have taken my time. So, if you can, take your time!
  • #2 Go ULTRALIGHT and ditch the stove: This was the best packing decision I made on the trail. While its nice to have a warm meal, coffee or hot chocolate on the trail, a stove is heavy and takes room out of your pack. Ounces=Pounds in long distance backpacking and you can do fine without a stove. Fuel is also heavy and extremely hard to restock once you get further down the trail. All dry food is denser and takes less room in your pack. Examples of food I brought on the trail were; protein bars, cereal, trail mix, pop-tarts, energy goo, granola, salty snacks, ect. I mostly focused on getting high energy, high density and high fiber foods. I say all this with a caveat; Drink 4 to 5 liters of water a day! Dry food can be very taxing on your digestive system. Coupled with extreme hiking and high elevation, you can completely destroy your insides if you're not careful to drink lots of water
  • #3 Ditch the tent, get a bivy sack: This decision was also an excellent space/weight saver on backpacking. I bought a bivy sack for the John Muir Trail and I've never gone back to tents. A bivy sack is like this; imagine a sleeping bag, made out of waterproof tent material that's just as thin. All you do is put your sleeping bag into the bivy sack and zip it up around yourself. The lightest of ultralight, ultraexpensive backpacking tents are 3-4 pounds (1.3-1.8kgs). A decent bivy sack is $100 and less than a pound. I should note that my 0 degree sleeping bag and bivy sack combination has since kept me warm throughout the John Muir Trail, in winter mountaineering trips, -10 degree weather in the Sierras, thunderstorms in the Grand Canyon, and a Mt Rainier expedition. I've probably spent 100 nights in my bivy sack, it never fails!
  • #4 Know thyself: This might sound unnecessarily "zen", but long distance backpacking does require that you know your own physical and mental capabilities well. For example, I knew, before going, that I would always hike well and be in good spirits in the morning. I often covered the most distance and tackled the harder passes in the morning when my spirits were high. The few times I had to hike in the dark were also highly enjoyable for me. For whatever reason, however, late afternoon to twilight were the most difficult hours for me to hike. I wasn't sore or tired, just unmotivated during those hours. Hence, I planned my day schedule accordingly. Knowing yourself is also important when it comes to deciding who you will hike the trail with. Many a backpacker has gone on a long distance trail with good friend(s) who make awful trail companions. Solo backpacking is also an option which may appeal to some. I solo'd the John Muir Trail and had a wonderful experience; others might find the solitude nighmareish. Make sure you know how you're body and mind will handle a long distance trail BEFORE you go!

  • #5 Go in July for the company, September for the solitude: When you decide to hit the trail is often determined by career and family commitments, but the season is generally accepted as the time from late June to early September. Each month has its advantages and disadvantages but July usually has the best weather. If you're concerned you might get some kind of "cabin fever" while on the trail, go in July- you will meet many other JMT'ers and PCT'ers as well as hundreds of other hikers. The trail is certainly more social, but don't think that this is a substitute for having good survival skills and self-dependancy. I decided to go in September when the crowds were minimal and the trail was often my own! People warned about water sources being low, but I never went more than 4 miles without finding a reliable water source.
I hope these suggestions help! Feel free to contact me if you would like more specific advice or gear ideas.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Introduction to Backpacking the John Muir Trail

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." ~John Muir
The John Muir Trail near Muir Pass at 11,000ft
Simply put, the John Muir Trail is California's greatest adventure. This classic backpacking trail winds its way across the spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and rarely dips below 8,000ft. It is a 211 mile long trail that goes deep into perhaps the largest unspoiled wilderness in America outside of Alaska. It is a North-South trail which travels from Yosemite to Mt Whitney in a crescendo of both elevation and scenery. I've hiked the John Muir Trail end-to-end once and hiked several sections of it on other occasions. This and the next couple of posts are my suggestions and guide to this magnificent trail

General Description

Near Donahue Pass, Yosemite National Park

The John Muir Trail starts (or ends) in Yosemite Valley. This is the most cosmopolitan and unfortunately crowded section of the trail. It starts at the Happy Isles Trailhead which is the same trail to Half Dome. From here, it makes a long climb out of the valley and up over Donahue Pass at about 11,000ft. The trail briefly crosses over to the eastern side of the Sierras and up over Island Pass.

 Ansel Adams Wilderness begins with the crossing of Donahue Pass and is a much more isolated section of the JMT. This goes through a particularly volcanic section of the trail near Mammoth Lakes. This section also contains some of the most beautiful lakes you can see on the trail, including Garnet Lake and Thousand Island Lake. You will briefly see the Devil's Postpile National Monument when exiting this shorter section. The Devil's Postpile is one of the world's greatest examples of columnar basalt which causes perfect hexagonal formations in the volcanic rocks.

John Muir Wilderness is a beautiful stretch which includes the famous Vermillion Valley Resort, a hiker bar. This section also contains some brilliantly blue high alpine lakes such as the pictured Marie Lake, and others such as Purple Lake and Virginia Lakes. The mountain passes begin to get higher, most of them are around 10,000ft or higher.

Kings Canyon National Park is the largest section of the John Muir Trail. From the climb up to Evolution Basin and Valley, you will be in a noticibly different environment. The previous section is greatly forested; this section is almost entirely alpine and much more bare. There are stout trees and shrubby vegitation and the mountain passes are between 10,000 and 13,000ft. This also contains the greatest ascents and descents, most notably, "The Golden Staircase". It can take over 3 days to return to civilization at this point.

Lastly, Sequoia National Park will end your trip (or begin) upon the John Muir Trail. This is the highest and most isolated section. There is a slight amount of vegitation and some forests, but after crossing the 13,000ft Forester Pass, there isn't much! The hike culminates at Mt Whitney, the 14,495ft high point of the trail and the contiguous United States. The final descent is through the Mt Whitney Trail in Inyo National Forest ending at the Whitney Portal

Well, this is just an introduction to one of the greatest backpacking adventures in the country! This is part one of a four-part blog section of my guide and experience on the John Muir Trail

Want more information? I've written another post about some things that might help you on the trail-

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Introduction to the White Mountains of California

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." ~John Muir
The incredibly isolated White Mountains of California
The White Mountain Range of California is simply one of the country's wildest places. The range itself rises over 14,000ft and rises abruptly from the Owen's Valley of Eastern California. Its a funny thing; the range, although only 60 miles long, is as tall as the Rockies, Sierras, and Cascades but is relatively unknown to most Americans. Unlike the latter, the White Mountains are a very desertous range, creating a unique alpine ecosystem. Within this range, the oldest living things on earth live at elevations exceeding 12,000ft. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest contains trees between 2,000 and 4,500 years old; the oldest on earth. So, whether it be by hiking, mountain biking or backpacking, exploring the White Mountains beckon the adventurer!

Location and Background

The White Mountains are directly east of Bishop California. This mountain range, along with the Sierra Nevadas, forms the Owens Valley. This is a cold, desertous region with very scrubby vegetation. It is the beginning of the Great Basin which is a massive endoheric basin (water which does not flow to the ocean). With Mt Whitney on one side and White Mountain on the other, Owens Valley is one of the deepest valleys in the world! The valley has an average "depth" of 10,000ft (3,100m). The combination of the Sierra Nevada rainshadow and the rough topography of the White Mountains has created an intensely unique ecosystem that supports some of the heartiest flora and fauna. White Mountain Road is the only paved road that penetrates this range.
Patriarch Grove, White Mountains, California
Overview of Things to do in the White Mountains

The best way to explore the White Mountains is through old fashioned day hiking. There are several trails which take no longer than a half a day to complete. One must not leave without checking out the Methuselah Grove near the Schulman Grove. This is located 10 miles up the White Mountain road from State Route 168. At an elevation of 10,000ft, you will be hiking more slowly and need much more water than you would at sea level; plan accordingly. The 1$ guide can be picked up at the parking lot and will let you know of the specific ages of trees as you wander about.

Further up the road is the Patriarch Grove which is another bristlecone grove at 12,000ft (3,600m)! This is another great place for some day hiking; the trail is less than 3 miles long. This grove. Photography is the activity of choice at this location for many reasons. This grove is very stark with little vegetation other than bristlecones. Its almost as if somebody went the the Moon and simply planted some trees!
Patriarch Grove, White Mountains, California
The Patriarch Grove is slightly more difficult to get to. The White Mountain Rd is paved for 10 miles to the Schulman Grove Visitor Center. After that, its a rough dirt road which can be accessed by 2-wheel drive (carefully!). However, this is 12 miles further than the first grove and will take you over an hour.

As you might guess, this road provides excellent opportunities for 4x4 driving. Many people drive their trucks up to the 12,000ft on this road for the bragging rights. I successfully took my 2x2 2001 VW Jetta to the top, but this was significantly more tedious. The road is blocked past 12,000ft but hiking and Mountain Biking are still permitted beyond the gate. If you're up for an epic challenge, try hiking or mountain biking the rest of the road up to White Mountain Peak. This peak stands at 14,252ft and is the highest place which can be successfully navigated by mountain bike in the USA.
Proof that a Jetta can make it up the White Mountain road
to an elevation of 12,000ft!
Take only pictures, leave only footprints... Leave No Trace
Before going out, I should let you know that this place is isolated from any form of civilization. The road is paved, but rough with no gas stations or visitor center amenities. This is a very deliberate and purposeful decision of the Forest Service. The White Mountains are a magical destination with the oldest forest on Earth. It is in the best interest of preservation to keep this place untrampled by people who are not familiar with Leave No Trace Principles. I write this guide with trust that you, the traveler, will observe the strictest of Leave No Trace rules with respect to this unique place.
The Sierra Nevada from state route 168
Getting to the White Mountains
The drive to the White Mountains is both a long trip and a scenic trip! From just about anywhere, you will be driving on Highway 395, the Eastern Sierra Highway. For those of you who truck it up to Mammoth for snowboarding, its the same direction. From the LA/Orange County area, its a five and a half hour drive. The town of Big Pine, California is the gateway to the White Mountains and the last stop that has gas or food. From Big Pine, take CA-168 eastwards for 13 miles. You should see signs for White Mountain Rd which will be on the left. Take the paved White Mountain Road for about 8 miles to the campsites or drive on another 2 miles for the Schulman Grove Visitor Center. Please note that the visitor center is not a large facility such as the ones in our national parks. Pit toilets, campsites, and running water sources are available nearby.

The White Mountains are best visited in the summer months but snow can hit this elevation any time of year. Be well prepared!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hiking and Kayaking Isle au Haut, Acadia National Park

"The wildest part of Acadia National Park"
Isle au Haut, Maine
Part III of Exploring Acadia

If you've been keeping up with the last couple of posts, this is the wildest portion of Acadia National Park. Mt Desert Island is rugged, but a veritable jungle of tourists at times. The mainland portion of Acadia NP, the Schoodic Peninsula, is a pleasant hiking place with a tenth of the visitors. However, Isle au Haut (the island) is perhaps the best part of the park because its also an adventure simply to get there!

Map of Isle au Haut
(copyright USNPS)
"Isle au Haut" is an island south of the town of Stonington, Maine. Like most things in "Downeast Maine" it has strong French heritage; hence the name "Isle au Haut". For those of you who were wondering, it the English pronunciation of "Isle au Haut" is pronounced "Eye-la-hoe" as if it were one word. The town of Isle au Haut is a lobstering town with only 79 year long residents. Its a classic, sleepy little Maine town with the basic necessities. Getting there is not complicated, but it is rustic; you ride on a mail boat! The mail boat leaves out of Stonington at 36$ for a round trip. It makes a perfect weekend backpacking trip.
Hiking trails on Isle Au Haut
Hiking on Isle au Haut

There are 18 miles of hiking trails along the island. Acadia National Park owns most of the island, but the town is worth seeing as well. If you take the mail boat, you will be dropped of in the town. The town is quaint, but bare on tourist services. It has an inn and a general store, but you should pack as if you are going on a wilderness backpacking trip. Once you've seen the town, which should take about 5 minutes, head south on the main road to the National Park visitor center (unmanned).
The "visitor center"
*Camping reservations need to be made in advance with the Park Service

From the visitor center/ranger station, you can start hiking the island on Duck Harbor Trail or continue on the Robinson Point Lighthouse via lighthouse road. The lighthouse itself is closed the the public. The duck harbor trail will connect the hiker to the couple of trails that roam about the island. Duck Harbor is the single campsite on the island and is the perfect, quiet, wilderness campsite. Again, there are bathrooms and potable water, but nothing else. However, staying here has its advantages- a determined hiker can hike every trails in the course of a weekend. The NPS has a detailed and free hiking map.
Kayaking Isle au Haut, Robinson Point ahead!
Kayaking to Isle au Haut

How I ended up discovering Isle au Haut is kind of an interesting story. One of the greatest adventures I've ever been on was kayaking 100 miles of the famous Maine Island Trail through Penobscot Bay. On one particular day, I kayaked through dense fog and ended up in Stonington. From here, I resupplied, and headed south towards the island. It felt as if I was kayaking through the Caribbean. There were tall ships, fishing and lobster boats everywhere, and enough islands to provide a lifetime of new adventures. It was difficult to navigate through the thicker sections of fog, but it added to the adventure of getting down to the island. I finally arrived and discovered this distinct section of Acadia NP. The fact that a simple mail boat was Isle au Haut's only connection to the outside world gave the island an authentic rustic aura.

While I don't remember the exact distance from Stonington to Isle au Haut, I do remember it took me roughly half a day. As you can tell from the map, there are literally hundreds of islands off the coast of Maine and each is different. Some are house-sized, others have several cities. Kayaking to Isle au Haut is just one of many kayaking expeditions that one can embark upon in Maine.

Kayaking to Isle au Haut and other places on the coast of Maine requires impeccable ocean navigation skills and kayaking skill. Weather is unpredictable and distances between islands varies greatly.
A wild Maine adventure!
Stonington has kayaking rental locations. Using Duck Harbor as a "base-camp" you can create a great three day kayak trip to and around the island: First day, kayak to the island, second day, explore the surrounding islands or circumnavigate Isle au Haut and kayak back the last day! Be sure to purchase real ocean charts for this kind of a trip. Stay posted for more guides on kayaking in Maine and the famous Maine Island Trail!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guide to the Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine

"A quite slice of Acadia"
Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine
Contrary to the often packed trails of Mt Desert Island, the Schoodic Peninsula is a much quieter part of Acadia National Park. This portion is the only part of the park that is not island based, but still provides similar beauty. Due to its location, 45 minutes away from Bar Harbor, the Schoodic Peninsula is a preferable location for those seeking solitude and minimal crowds. There are several hiking trails and a one way drive which can also be biked. So, if you have a wonderful day out in Downeast Maine, check out this gem within Acadia National Park.
Schoodic Peninsula Map, US National Park Service
Hiking Trails of the Schoodic Peninsula

There are three official trails of the Schoodic Peninsula. All three of them lead to Schoodic Head, the 440ft (134m) high point of the peninsula. All three trails will lead the hiker through the coastal woods of Maine which can be somewhat swampy at times. The East Trail is a steep but short 1 mile trail (1.6km) that takes you to the top of Schoodic Head. The other two trails are slightly more gentle.

Hiking these trails will give you a good glimpse of the woods, but exploring the shore is equally enjoyable. There are no formal trails upon the rocky coast, but there are several pullouts on the 6 mile (10km) one way road that tours the coast. When I was here, I simply pulled over on these sections and climbed around the coast. You can note the conspicuous, dark, black streaks of rock wedged between lighter sections; these are volcanic dikes. Sunset and sunrise are excellent times to enjoy some scrambling.
Schoodic Point, the edge of the peninsula
As you're driving along the the one way road, don't forget to visit the Schoodic Point, the southernmost point. This another great location where you can just hop out of your car and climb along the coast. In the summer, there are literally thousands of lobster traps set at this point. You may also notice several islands along the coast; Maine has over 4,500 islands (including inland islands within lakes). This is phenomenal when you consider that Maine is the 11th smallest state.

As you can see, this section of Acadia National Park is very small, but very beautiful. It won't take more than half a day to see the whole peninsula, but its a nice break from the hustle of summer vacationers on Mt Desert Island. If you have more than a day to check out Acadia, please, put this quite little point on your list!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Introduction to Acadia National Park, Maine: Three Parks in One

"I looked along the San Juan Islands and the coast of California, but I couldn't find the palette of green, granite, and dark blue that you can only find in Maine." ~Parker Stevenson (actor)
Acadia National Park, Maine

While much is written about Acadia National Park and its natural attractions, I was completely blown away when I first toured this park. The largest part of the park is located on the scenic and rugged Mt. Desert Island. While 95% of tourists never leave the comforts of the asphalt, we decided to trek as much as we could around the island, climbing some very steep and rocky mountains. Later that month, I was able to tour the Schoodic Penisula which is similar to Acadia but with a tenth of the visitors. Finally, in the latter part of the summer, I finally kayaked to the off shore island of Acadia NP known as Isle au Haut (its French) which receives the least visitors of park's lands. So, while there are volumes of guidebooks written about this park, I'll give you THE full tour, stressing the lesser visited areas (as I always do!).
Isle au Haut, Acadia National
Park, Maine
Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia
National Park, Maine
Background on Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is special for many reasons. First of all, its the first national park of the east coast of the United States (est. 1916). It was created originally to preserve Mount Desert Island, which to this day remains as wild as it has always been. Mount Desert Island is an East Coast oddity; it rises to an altitude of roughly 1,500ft at Cadillac Mountain. This is the tallest point on both the east coast of America AND Mexico! The island itself is also one of the largest in America; its about 1.5 times larger than Catalina Island in California. Activities of the park range from simple road tours, to hundreds of hiking trails and spectacular kayaking routes. There's even a sandy beach (if you know Maine, you know how rare this is!)
View from the top of Pemetic Mountain, Acadia National Park
Exploring Mt Desert Island

I hope you are not offended by the following statement. For crying out loud, if you want to really see this national park, GET OUT OF YOUR CAR! About 2.2 million people visit this park and the vast majority do not leave the comforts of their vehicle. While there are certainly understandable cases when car tours are preferable, I still must say that the best part of the park is explored on foot. The park website reports that there are 125 miles of trails to hike. My recommendation for gaining appreciation for the wilderness of Mt Desert Island is to hike the many trails surrounding Cadillac Mountain in the morning and then taking an easier stroll around the beaches later in the afternoon. I'll provide a full description of my favorite routes in the next post.

Exploring the Schoonic Peninsula and Isle au Haut

These two locations are equally beautiful as Mt Desert Island but not nearly as crowded. The Schoodic Peninsula is located 45 miles away from the island by road and offers several other hiking trails. My favorite activity here is to simply hop around the coastline and explore the many lava dikes that point to a more turmultuous time of Maine.

Isle au Haut is the island located south of the town of Stonington, Maine. It also offers many hiking trails and can be accessed by a ferry leaving from Stonington. However, I recommend making a kayak trip out of it! This does, however, require ocean navigation skills; you could end up lost in the thousands of islands on the coast if you don't navigate correctly! 

Rugged coastlines

Beating the Crowds in a Crowded National Park

Acadia National Park is the Yosemite of the east can become very crowded in the summer, so follow these tips for better wilderness experiences.
  • GO EARLY!- Its almost hard to believe, but even a national park parking lot can become full by mid-morning. Going early (like before 9AM) will significantly increase your chances of getting a parking spot and also give you a head start on the more crowded trails.
  • Hike more than 5 miles- Honestly, this is the best advice I can give anyone on exploring a crowded national park. I've found this to hold true in Yosemite, Mt Rainier, Olympic, Joshua Tree and several other crowded parks. Most people will hike those 1 mile trails near a visitor center or just park and takes some pictures. My rule of thumb has always been; hike more than 5 miles to get away from the crowds.
  • Design your own trail- By this I dont' mean to trailblaze; this is usually illegal or frowned upon. There's no reason not to combine shorter trails into longer ones, however! The trails permeating Acadia NP create a "spider-web" network which offers more freedom than simply following one trail.
  • Go in the offseason- While I haven't specifically explored Acadia in the winter, I have found that offseason visits to other parks are often as enjoyable. Some trails will be closed, but this shouldn't stop you from snowshoeing or cross country skiing where you can. Of course, be prepared for the weather!
I hope this helps! It might seem very rudimentary, but these are my "rules" which help me to have a real wilderness experience in parks that receive so much visitation.

This is my introduction to Acadia National Park, I will be writing about my favorite trails on Mt Desert Island and also post about the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut. Stay tuned, adventurers!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Black Butte Mountain, Oregon: They Named a Beer After it!

"It has a beer named after it. It HAS to be good"
The almost perfectly conical Black Butte, Oregon
In all my travels across the country, I've tasted many a beer. I'm convinced that the  greatest beers are in the Northwestern and Northeastern parts of the country. Specifically, Northern California, Oregon, Washington as well as Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Five of these states are within the top 11 states in "craft breweries per capita" (Vermont tops the list, New Hampshire is #11, California has the most at 221). Here in the great small city of Bend, Oregon, resides Dechutes Brewery. While it is no longer a small microbrewery, it does brew some of the greatest ales, stouts and porters of the country. Black Butte Porter is the company's highest selling beer and is named after the nearby Black Butte Mountain. So, grab a beer and climb the mountain!

View of the Cascades from Black Butte
Black Butte: The Mountain

Black Butte, like almost every Cascade mountain, is a conical volcano that has long been extinct. There are actually 18 Black Butte Mountains in Oregon, but this is the most famous one. This one is unique because its summit is a fair distance away from other Cascade volcanoes. Its location offers a unique birds-eye view of the high desert plateau of Oregon and a panorama view of the Cascades. There is a strategically placed fire lookout tower at the top of the mountain which takes a more practical advantage of the topography. Hiking Black Butte is easy and worth it for a unique perspective of Eastern Oregon.
The new Fire Lookout on Black Butte
Bend, the unoffical capital of eastern Oregon, is the closest city to Black Butte. Heading north on Highway 97 will take you to highway 20 North to the town of Sisters, Oregon. North of Sisters is the conspicous cone that is Black Butte. 5.5 miles outside of town is the turnoff for the hike- Green Ridge Road. Head north (right) on this road until you hit Road 1111. This road wraps around Black Butte until the trailhead. Be warned, these are forest service roads and they are prone to being washed out and rough!

The Hike

Hiking Black Butte is relatively easy; its a 3.6 mile round trip hike with moderate elevation gain. You will be passing through the large forests of the Cascades before finally toping out at the 6,437ft summit. From the top of the mountain, you can see several prominent cascades such as Mt Washington, Three Fingered Jack, The Three Sisters, Mt Jefferson, and even Mt Hood. You can also see the two fire lookouts which have served as stations for over 75 years. The Dechutes River, or rather, the gorge cut by the Dechutes River is also visible to the east. When you're ready to head down, simply head back the way you came!
Enjoying a Black Butte Porter atop Mt. Hood
Black Butte: The Beer

I admit, I'm a beer snot. I would sooner eat grass before I'd let a bud-light or coors tarnish my palate. I mainly prefer Porters, Stouts and Ales to any mass produced light beer. Black Butte Porter is a porter that is "just right". Its full flavored, but not too heavy like a guiness, its sweeter, but not like a brown ale, and it has a balanced flavor without being as "hoppy" as a pale ale. The taste is somewhat of a blend between a coffee flavor and a dark chocolate finnish, almost creamy. Its a perfect dark beer even for those who prefer lighter beers.

Enjoy the hike, friends, and don't forget the beer!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Southern California's 5 Finest Mountains: Climbing and Hiking

The Tallest mountains in Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, Orange County, and the tallest coastal mountain in So-Cal.
Mt San Jacinto from Mt San Gorgonio
Southern California is home to some epic mountains. Geographically speaking, some of the country's most prominent mountains are in Southern California. (Prominence is a scientific measure of a mountain's heights against the surrounding topography). These mountains have proved themselves to be formidable challenges for both day hikers and mountaineers alike. Best of all, some of the best views in the state can be seen from their summits. So here we go, the 5 most epic mountains in Southern California!
Sandstone Mountain, Malibu, CA
#5 Sandstone Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Ventura County
      Elevation: 3,111ft/948m

While not a particularly challenging ascent, Sandstone Mountain has one of the best views in California. Its located within the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu California and is preserved by the National Park Service. The Sandstone Peak Trail is only 3 miles long and will take you to the top of the mountain. On a clear day, you can see most of the Channel Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Also, you can the entire San Fernando Valley and parts of Santa Monica. This area also has some great sport climbing areas in nearby parks such as Malibu Creek State Park. This mountain makes a great day trip and can be easily climbed by inexperienced hikers. Use the US National Park website for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area maps and trail guides.
View from Santiago Peak, Orange County
#4 Santiago Peak, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County
      Elevation: 5,687ft/1,733m

Santiago Peak is the tallest point in Orange County and part of the conspicuous "Saddleback" that can be seen from anywhere in the county. Santiago Peak always "looks so close" but getting there and hiking it are challenging. The Holy Jim Trail is the most popular route up but its still a 14 mile round trip hike with 4,000ft of elevation gain. This trail can have notoriously bad weather; I have been caught in a blizzard on this trail! Needless to say, you need to be prepared and have a good amount of physical fitness before trying this trail. Additionally, the trailhead is in a surprisingly rural part of Orange County (believe it or not). Its located within Trabuco Canyon, California which has more horses than people. The trail is located 5 miles up the 4x4 Trabuco Creek Rd.
The Devils Backbone, Mt Baldy
#3 Mt San Antonio (Mt Baldy), San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County
      Elevation: 10,068ft/3,068m

Mt Baldy is the tall point in Los Angeles County and a part of the rugged San Gabriel Mountains. It is not uncommon for it to still have a snow capped summit in late May. Its possible to hike the mountain in the summer easily. Winter ascents are more technical and difficult. The best summer trail leads from the town of Mt Baldy at the forest visitor center. The Bear Canyon Trail is a simple 12 mile roundtrip hike. This is more challenging than the previous mountains, but the hiker is rewarded with greater views of the San Gabriel Mountains and LA skyline. The other option is the Devil's Backbone Trail, which starts near the Mt Baldy ski resort. In fact, if you opt to cut out some elevation, you can take the ski lift up a couple thousand feet in the summer. The trail starts at the forest road near Manker Flats Campground otherwise.
The summit of Mt San Jacinto looking towards Mt San Gorgonio
#2 Mt San Jacinto, San Jacinto Mountains, Riverside County
      Elevation: 10,834ft/3,302m

San Jacinto is the 6th most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous United States meaning that it rises higher than most mountains do out of the surrounding terrain. To give you an idea of how "prominent" San Jacinto is, the north face of the mountain rises from the desert at 500ft of elevation to the summit at 10,834ft in just over 7 miles! San Jacinto is a unique mountain with fabulous views. There is a tram which hikers often elect to take which removes 8,000ft of climbing. From the top of the tram, the trail to the summit is a moderate 12 mile hike and often done by less experienced hikers. It does snow and thunderstorm at this elevation, so again, be prepared. Of course, there is the ultimate hiker's challenge of doing the famous "Cactus to Clouds Trail". San Jacinto is located near Palm Springs, California and Tram Way will take you to the Aerial Tramway.
Looking Northwards off of the San Gorgonio Summit
#1 Mt San Gorgonio, San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino County
      Elevation: 11,499ft

San Gorgonio: the king of Southern California mountains! When it come to hiking, this will be the most challenging and longest of So-Cal's finest. There are two trails which can bring you to its lofty, treeless summit. Vivian Creek is the slightly steeper more direct route with great views of San Jacinto and Riverside County as you climb. This is a 16 mile round trip hike with a good 5,400ft of elevation gain. Its located just past the town of Forest Falls, CA which can be reached on Forest Falls Road, about 14 miles up Highway 38. Your other option for climbing is the longer and more rugged South Loop Trail. This trail penetrates the glorious wilderness of the San Bernardino Mountains and leads you by several mountain streams and alpine lakes. Its a 22 mile trek which is often done as a 2 day backpacking trip. Either way, you will be climbing So-Cal's highest mountain!

I will be posting more detailed information on the hikes in the near future, stay posted!

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