Saturday, June 30

5 Days in the Gabriels

| Asia looking into Prairie Fork |
Several great things happen when you travel in the mountains for many days in a row. You get to hear packs of coyote yell at one another in your camp, high canyon walls surround you while drinking cool river water, the Milky Way Galaxy reveals itself to you in a stunning wide stripe across the night sky & you grow closer to yourself & the ones that have labored alongside you for these natural wonders. Each one of these things happened on our trip that forever imprinted the exact reasons to journey to such places.

Myself & Asia both had quite a bit of time off at the moment & worked out a 5 day "Plan A" filled with new areas in the Gabriels we had both had never been before. Throughout the week we planned for more & more friends to come & meet us on our trip. We would be mixing car camping & backpacking on this 5 day trip.

Beginning our adventure with "Plan A" underway, driving out to the dirt road that leads to Guffy Camp. This was the first place I hadn't been yet due to it's odd access. The dirt road rides directly under the Mt. High ski lifts & is covered in snow or unmaintained the rest of the year.

| Guffy camp on the ridge at sunset |
A wonderful drive, quite sheer at times, afforded wonderful views into Praire Fork & further towards Baldy. Eventually being blocked by the locked gate at the junction to Guffy. With six sites build around a loop & one jutting off hanging over a cliff staring at Pine Mt.

| Sunrise on the PCT |
That night Asia & I shared our whole camp with only one other person that had some fun Zen tunes playing through the trees. Exploring the area some that night & enjoying our first fire in the woods. Asia light our fire with magnesium & a flint first try! Waking for sunrise the next day we wandered down the PCT & captured some images overlooking the desert to the east.

After breakfast we packed up our car camping adventure & headed for Vincent Gap to welcome our first "city-escapee" to the woods. Carlos arrived & we all got our packs in order in the parking lot below Mt. Baden Powell. Unfortunately, my DSLR camera battery died at this point in the trip & here on out I was forced to use my cell phone camera.

Alas, we weren't heading up, our goal was the less traveled Vincent Gulch Trail down into the East Fork of the San Gabriels. After the junction from the Big Horn Mine trail we were tucked away in the forest shade on a beautiful mountain trail.

| Pine Mt. with Mt. Baldy peaking over on the right |
Loosing elevation through switchbacks the bugs began to grow intense. Sweaty heavily in the mid day sun wasnt helping. 

Eventually the trail hits the river bed (dry at the time), crosses over & starts to become a bit less maintained. At times along the rocks, but mostly edging along the east side of the slope above the rock bed, eroded & soft in some places, but not terrible.

| Break time while hiking down Vincent Gulch |
What seemed to be about a mile from first meeting the river bed the trail drops a significant amount in a roller coaster fashion to meet a small right hand turn "grotto, water fall area" that you must rock hop. This was an important point, being the first running water we saw it was a good sign for our backapacking mission. It also marks the point where the trail completely changes to what could be called no maintenence & a fun filled class two rock scramble above the creek.

| Asia enjoying the fruits of our labors |
With one trekking pole & a firm hold on the rocks there was no real terrible danger, but this section was slowly putting a damper on our three minds about "Plan A" still being successful for future days. For you see, there is still two more attendees that were due to arrive the next day...... in the dark.

| Looking back up from where we started on the right |
Here is where our trip got a bit more interesting, after passing the grotto, passed the eroded trail over the rock section & now dipping deep into the flowing canyon with it's walls soaring over 50ft on both sides.

| Here is some of the sketchy section after "The Grotto" |
We hung a left & followed the trail (what we would learn is a use trail) up onto a small bluff over a side canyon & a dry side river bed. Climbing over a downed tree (that had worn bark from past travelers, good sign), through a few young pine trees & emerged onto a wonderful hidden trail camp.

| Trail Camp. Didn't see anyone till we got back to the car |

What was curious about this is our original goal required us to hang a right & walk a short distance to our camp. Alas, we had last taken a left & come to three rock made fire pits some 5 minute walk up from the Vincent Gulch Trail. Albeit, we didn't intend to camp the night at this mysterious odd spot, but we couldn't help but drop our packs and call it home.

It was fairly clear that we were the first visitors this camp had had since the last year, before winter took it's hold on the high country of the Gabriels. The foliage on the ground was a thick carpet to clear for a tent alone, revealing a plethora of some of the largest insects I had seen in my life. This was going to be real solitude, it was obvious.

| This is further down the trail on another eroded section. You can barely make out a person sitting in the bottom center. They are filtering water near our use trail turn off |
This gulch's protection allowed the forest to grow large & dense, as well as the bugs to become accustomed to long, long lives. We spent the afternoon relaxing in Asia's new lightweight hammock & just sitting in nature's beautiful splendor.

| Fetching the nights water |
Now resting deep in Vincent Gulch, place number two I had never been, we needed several things to happen before the day's light was lost. First, hanging our food in a bear bag up a tree, we could leave camp safely to filter water for the nights cooking. Our watering hole was dead center among the high rock walls allowing for no possible way to have a bad time. Climbing all over the fallen trees & resting our muscles in the cold mountain water.

Last chore was to gather firewood & begin our transition from day to night. Becoming more stationary near the growing fire & the impending darkness, the mosquito's had a small feast. It was only the second day of summer & the cooler temps in the valley didn't happen till close to 9pm to scare the little buggers off.

| Still in love with my Big Agnes UL 3 person |
A peaceful slumber & a late morning in the outdoor sense, the three of us convened to decide the trips fate. Should we move on to "Plan B"? The three of use were going to hike back up to the parking lot, meet Georgette & Collin around 9:30pm, then assist them to backpack in the dark back to our camp. This was one of those plans made while looking at a black dotted line on a map in the backyard weeks before.

Agreeing that with more confidence, it was quite possible to achieve this night hike, but with too many stories in the back of our minds that confidence & a few miscalculated moves can lead to bad situations.

| Becoming more wild in the canyon of Vincent Gulch |
Getting our packs in order we set out for "Plan B", back up Vincent Gulch with enough time to call our friends & opt for a change to Horse Flats to end out our camping weekend.

| Sweating our butts off |
Let my not get ahead though, the three of us were still in the far reaches of Vincent Gulch, just heading out into what would become a fog of tiny flies within the first minutes of the trail. Until we reaches the lower switch back some 2 miles up hill, we sweated, blistered, swatted & cursed the 30+ that swarmed each one of us. I opted at times to stand in the open hot sections of the trail & rest just to escape areas the flies wouldn't go.

Quite deceiving (as I would read later), the hike out of Vincent Gulch is very strenuous under 30lbs of weight. Others on the blog-o-sphere would attest to the same thing, so be fore warned. What kept us going was the thought of that cooler in the back of the car with cold drinks.

| Looking down into Prairie Fork from outside Guffy |
Much rest & refreshments later, we found ourselves pulling into Horse Flats past the several camps that dot it's entrance. That evening the three of us collected firewood, relaxed in the hammock, & prepared for two more friends to arrive. 

| Mt. Hillyer Trail |
That evening around 9:30pm, Collin and Georgette arrived & our group was complete. They had the biggest smiles on their face, after working all day on a Friday, they were now escapee's in the woods.

| Life is good. Mt. Hillyer Trail |
The next day we took the usual trail up to Mt. Hillyer, taking time to climb on all the necessary rock boulders. This is a very unique trail that contours through huge boulder fields & young kids with crash pads line the endless off trail exploring options.

| Horse Flats Campground |
It was thoroughly enjoyable to be on the summit of Hillyer for the third time. Not particularly impressive, but it was after 4 days of enjoying very different areas of the Gabriels; Guffy & the high alpine terrain, then the deep river gorge of Vincent Gulch & now amongst the house size boulders of Mt. Hillyer.  All the while, adding new dynamics to the group with wonderful friends to share each day with.

Closing on day four we lost Asia to the city. Gathering wood once again, we set in for a comfortable night of chatting around the fire. I know I've said interesting things happened on this trip, but our last night's events took the cake for unexpected. While tucking into the my tent for the night, literally half in half out, Collin calls out that he hears a girl calling my name softly off in the distance, but growing closer. My girlfriend was sitting right in front of me in her sleeping bag so I had no idea who else knew my name out here. Standing up, in our now dark camp, a girl in her early 20's walks out of the blackness, with no acknowledgement to me or the 2 foot distance between us, keeps walking past as I ask if everything is ok, a bit startled. Not a single word came out of her mouth or even a head turn. She walked on out of our camp, hearing the bushes rustle I was a bit in shock. Did that just happen? It was like everything was invisible and she didnt see anything or anyone. I turned to get back in my tent & I heard the bushes rustle some more. Coming back is the same girl now & I address her a bit more aggressively & she very drunkenly admits she is lost. Fortunately, it was someone I had seen in there camp before while strolling so I helped her to the road & told her to just follow the asphalt sound & stay on the road, her camp was the next one over. Well, ten steps later she was off the road, heading in the woods away from the entire campground in a drunken stooper. Now realizing how serious she needed help, I took her arm & walked with head lamp back to her camp. A bit on edge I might be walking into some sort of ambush (after all we are outside LA). Speaking with her I found out her camping partner was also named Jeremy & the puzzle pieces began to fall into place. She eventually recognized the car & her camp was all pitch black, there was no chance for her to go pee, while drunk & find her way back w/o a flashlight. Dropping her off w/o entering the camp for my safety, I checked over my shoulder on the way back to my tent. She literally would have walked off in a western direction out of the campground into the woods if she hadn't crossed our path, the only & last people she would have seen. Fortunately, I wasn't in my sleeping back either. To think...

Let's get back to the fun, opening on day five (for myself at least) we sat around the fire & packed up slowly. Only thinking of what amazing food establishment to first bombard with our disgusting smell. The Blue Dog Tavern was the culprit & garlic fries w/ beers only added to the wonderful stench.

Thursday, June 28

Secret Stairs - Santa Monica Workout

This is a well deserved write up that has been waiting for some time. This was a genuinely great Secret Stairs hike that never let up with beauty. Myself  & Georgette were joined by another new member to our Secret Stairs hike, Wendy.

Starting near the north western portion of Santa Monica & wondering back into the rich ($$$) foothills of Santa Monica. Within the first half hour of the hike we crossed several staircases that hosted a good 30 fitness buffs of all ages running the steps & doing various work outs.

Following the guides in the book was necessary, this was truly a place I had never been in LA & had won me over before half the hike was over.

Becoming more lush with green landscape, the homes & their owners putting on a silent show for the passerby's.

Like I had mentioned, Wendy got to join us for her first time & was in awe that we weren't really walking through Big Bear. We had dropped down between to canyons following a lite river with home lining both sides w/ dangling green trees all over.

Circling around amazingly, we carefully followed the last narrow staircase (above photo) to the view (below) and could not believe all the lucky folks that called this area of LA home.

Till Next Time.

Saturday, June 2

Little Jimmy Backpacking Trip

| Dividing the Clouds with Baden-Powell in background |

Carlos would come to ask one of the most important questions anyone has ever asked me while out in the woods. Why do you like doing this so much? It may have been phrased differently, but more or less a simple question that requires more than a "surface" answer. Why sweat for hours under a heavy pack, why leave the comforts behinds, why eat crummy mediocre meals made from only hot water, why sleep on the ground, and why can we truly not wait to be back out there once we are home safe in our beds.

Here is the words and photos to accompany the short video above. Enjoy

This trip was going to be a perfect Memorial Day Weekend adventure to contemplate such ideas & reflect on why these times were so important to myself and those that dared to leave all else behind.

| Carlos cruising along the trail |
Compared to last months backpacking trip to Sespe, this would be a shorter initial trip to Little Jimmy Trail Camp, with many shorter day hikes out from there while keeping all our gear set up.

The trail up from Islip Saddle Parking Lot is a nice uphill climb, nothing terrible. Just at the mile mark or so, when you are ready for some level ground, the trail crosses an old fire road and begins it's winding path deeper onto Mt. Islip. The trail changes & turns into a much easier grade that even your Grandmother would hike, if it weren't for the first mile uphill. 

|Little Jimmy Spring |

Rounding a bend our members were a little astonished to already be at camp by lunch time. Dropping our packs, we set about clearing places for tents, collecting fire wood, & hanging bear bags. This was a new & fun adventure, that with a little patience & practice beforehand at home, went swimmingly. Double carrabeaner made for a great pulley system we left in the tree all weekend and used repeatedly.

 Last of the campground prep was to go fetch water for the day and to make dinner that night. Trying to be a bit smarter about our packs this time, we carried minimal water up & filled everything once we were all established. Experience can make people the wiser. Little Jimmy Spring looks as if it has been visited for over a hundred years. A well trod path leads to stump cut benches & a beautiful area to sit and enjoy delicious mountain spring water.

Onward towards the days destination, Mt Islip. Leaving camp behind, full with water we head up the trail toward Mt. Islip that read 1.2 miles. As you wind up the hill the views open up to the traveler. Alas, at a trail junction there is another sign the reads Mt. Islip 1.2 miles. The same exact sign we saw a mile ago. Ergo, this must mean it's more like 2.4 miles to the summit. Not a problem, just not expecting. 

| On the trail to Mt. Islip |
The weather was amazing! Clouds covered the entire south side of the whole mountain range, while the north side stayed clear. The photo at the top of the post shows this best contrast in one snapshot!

| On the trail to Mt. Islip |

This hike was also especially neat b/c I experienced something in the woods I had never seen. While walking the trail the very last bits of winter's snow clung to the trees and was melting rapidly. So rapidly in fact it would slush off the trees like someone dumping a huge Slurpee out of the trees onto our heads as we passed beneath their branches.


Summit love.

| Summit of Mt. Islip |

On top of Islip there is the ruins of a neat rock cabin. Our other trooper Kevin mentioned this was the remains of a past weather stations from the 1920s. If this is the truth, it was in a perfect location, looking far into two diverse sections of southern California.

| Stone Cabin on Mt. Islip |

Rising now above the clouds the hike took on a whole new attitude and everyone was all smiles. At the summit of 8,250ft we were treated to a stunning view of the mountains covered in clouds in almost all directions.

Back down at camp that night the temps dropped below freezing due to the crazy weather above us and we all slept a little off and on. I hadnt mentioned to the reader how at 2:30 in the afternoon that day we could already see our breath!! There is only one photo from the night b/c no one wanted to leave the fire side... and you can see it was taken before the sun even went down.

 Everyone slept a little extra that morning, at least according to camping, waking around 8am & getting the day started it was apparent it would be warmer with less cloud cover. Still brisk none the less, we all made a solid oatmeal & hot chocolate breakfast & headed for the spring for round 2 of water.

| On the trail to Mt. Hawkins |

Our destination for the day hike was Mt. Hawkins. We had attempted this peak in late winter & lost the trail in the snow, eventually turning back when we reached a large drop off. This time, with very little snow & wonderful brisk alpine wind blowing, we set off through the moonscape that is the north side of Mt. Hawkins.

| On the trail to Mt. Hawkins |

This trail afforded wonderful views of California's central valley, while holding LA's secret city views on the other side of the mountain.

| On the trail to Mt. Hawkins |
Eventually reaching the 8,850ft summit the weather was great! We even got a little sunburned, a welcome change from yesterdays cloud infested cold.  The summit had views in all directions. One could stand & see far out into southern California, then turn around and see almost to the southern end of the Sierras on the other.

| On the summit of Mt. Hawkins |
I have gotten a lot better at choosing moments to really take my camera out get the right essence of our hike b/c I found myself lugging too much, too often. On this trip I got several of my favorite shots on the way back down. Here are two of them below... Narrow trail, cliff drops, & stunning views.

On the way down more switchbacks with the central valley in background.

Making it back to camp with plenty of sunlight in the sky was our goal. Sure enough, here we were with loads of time to kill before our next meal... must be time to Slackline! Check out our camping video for more funny moments, but this is basically amateur tightrope walking!

| Georgette slacklining at Little Jimmy |
Carlos & Kevin were kind enough to go to the extra effort to carry the wench and line for us all to try out in the woods. Being completely new to this, Georgette & I were at ground zero, no pun intended, but we did spend a lot of time on the ground. Still a great new hobby to hone one's patience.

| Carlos & Kevin filtering their water |

 Night was setting in & our stomachs were telling us so. We set out to filter some more water. Carlos & Kevin are shown above using the newest & lightest way to purify water, The Sawyer Filter. Worked like a charm.

| Out into Central California |

That night's weather proved to be much more comfortable, sitting around the warm fire in only fleeces this time. We spoke about how the trip had been & people's favorite moments around one last beer, Peruvian style. Closing in on 9:30pm, we all could barley stay awake, perfect bed time for camping.

| Around the campfire with the moon |

The last morning was a smooth exit, one more trip to the spring to bring home far better water than the city could provide & make sure all items were accounted for. Packs hoisted onto our backs we set out downhill!
| Carlos in the REI quarter dome, Kevin in the Mtn Hardware & Us in the Big Agnes |

As for myself & discovering a little more about my own personal journey into the woods & into my soul, it really is still a mystery that seems to be slowly revealing itself to me each time I look a bit harder. There is just more to the outdoors that I need to experience & learn from before I think I can make an informed, soul satisfying, decision.

Maybe that day will never come or maybe I will always be walking through the woods looking for it... with a huge smile.