Tuesday, July 29

Big Tujunga Narrows Swim/Hike

Hands down one of our favorite trips to enjoy with all the friends. A whole year had passed & the experience was a totally different trip down the river. We came to find sections of the canyon ankle deep & a few feet wide last year, were now waist high & covered the entire floor of the Big Tujunga. There were at least eight sections to swim this time around, versus the four last year. Enjoy the video!

Wednesday, June 18

Thru Hike East Fork San Gabriel River

- We have since repeated this hike more recently -

More often than not when people think of hiking, an uphill struggle usually follows next in the thought process. The goal is usually a summit. A peak. Any peak. Often forgotten are the snaking twisted roots of the eroded & crumbling massif that make up a great peak. On this adventure we opt for the deep sinuous East Fork gorge that cuts directly though the Sheep Mountain Wilderness below three fantastic peaks.

This portion of the San Gabriel River is a storied place. Many people sought fortunes in it's river beds & canyon walls in the form of precious gold. Still to this day, gold panners have claims set up in the lower reaches of this chasm. Large ancient mines cling to the upper hillside, beckoning exploration & the thought of riches. We explored 1800's fugitive dwellings, 60's era plane crashes, smooth canyon narrows & an over 50 year old concrete bridge to nowhere.

Thursday after the Los Angeles traffic died, two of us drove our cars out to Heaton Flat to stage one for our finish on Sunday. If you're going to do this hike right, don't try to set up the car shuttle the morning of, it will make for a long first day & possibly poor camp selection. Friday comes & I ride my bike to work & back b/c my car is in the mountains. Gear packed all five of us squeeze in to our dear friends sedan & speed off into the night. 

We arrive at Vincent Gap to a large semi empty parking lot. There were actually people camping right next to the restrooms?! It was about 11pm & our easiest goal of the trip was to sleep on the Big Horn Mine Fire Road to get a early start on Saturday morning, about ten minutes away. With a thousand Thank Yous said, our ride departed into the night leaving us with a fantastic view of Mt. Baldy silhouetted by the night sky.

Morning comes & we pack up before the ever popular Baden Powell trail gets any people. Taking the junction that leads from the dirt road, down left into Vincent Gulch. The upper reaches of this trail are wonderful. This is the second time I have hiked this portion & always love the transition the trees & plants make the further you travel down. Great succulents if you pay close attention.

We made a side trip to Tom Vincent's cabin that is hidden off trail in the upper portions of Vincent Gulch. Short history, Tom Vincent (alias) was a gold miner from Arizona in the late 1800's that caught & killed three men jumping his claim. This necessitated a quick leave to California where he made the San Gabriels his home for thirty years, discovering the location that would become the Big Horn Gold Mine & to this day many mountain locations carry his name (alias).

After leaving the cabin we traveled four miles down Vincent Gulch to the point where we meet the East Fork river. Just before we enter the canyon proper, a detour is required to see the 1964 Cessna plane crash. This is about the extent I know of the site, but cool to see none the less. There is a fantastic camp just as Mine Gulch & Vincent Gulch come together on the northern banks. Great shade, a metal stove of sorts & water close by. However, this is where the real trail ends & I have made the walk back up Vincent Gulch, not nearly as fun as downhill. I was glad to be continuing on down the East Fork.

| Mt. Baden Powell, Big Horn Mine up high in the upper right corner |
There are cairns (ducks) marking some sections here & there, but no one particular route was going to win over another. The best approach for the upper several miles of the canyon is to move from open rock bank to the other as the canyon walls twist & turn. There was always a ton of open space to explore as the four of us sauntered along. 

After a few more miles, we would do 9.5 miles this day, we caught glimpses of our old nemesis Iron Mountain. Banter of last years hike was kicked up & all were in agreement that it was one bad ass mountain that had helped form this amazing labyrinth we were now exploring far below it's peak. The rocky walls grew taller, their age shown through the smoothed & coarse transition. It was amazing to stand there, imagining the East Fork a ten foot deep raging torrent.

With no exact measuring, I'd say around the seven or so mile mark, much before the Fish Canyon confluence, the walls become immense, towing hundreds of feet over our heads. I had read that this was the deepest canyon in all of Southern California. Yeah or nay, this place was magical. We took to some heavy bushwhacking sections, but nothing that really slowed much progress. Alder Trees grew all over the river, glowing bright green in the afternoon sun.

With a few checks of the map we were growing closer to the camp at the confluence of Fish Canyon & the East Fork. Simple enough to find, when you see water spilling out from another direction you're there. We had no idea of the heaven that awaited though. On the upper western bank there was one of the most idealic backcountry camps I've been to in the San Gabriels yet. Like I had mentioned, this canyon has been a place of much history, I can only imagine the nights spent here by others. You will have to work hard yourself to get a glimpse of this camp & make this paradise home for a night.

The dulcet mood of the camp overwhelmed us all with a slow start to the last day. We had eight miles left & some of the most drooled over sections of our topo maps. We were getting to The Narrows! In the lower reaches of the canyon we took to walking directly in the water. It was easy to keep cool & really was enjoyable, keep in mind the canyon over the peak discussion from the beginning. Throughout this trip we would drop our packs at a fine pool, jump in & then just keep on moving. Absolutely spectacular.

Turing a bend in the river there is a significant change in rock landscape that is the transition into the Narrows proper. Smooth dark rock line all sections of the riverbed, worn in all directions. There is even an anvil placed on a rock from an era gone by. Cameras are firing off while we take in all the sites & sounds of this wonderful place.

Each little bend reveals a different look to the landscape, the colors of the rocks shift, being eroded in a much more block like form than just a quarter mile up river. We made lunch part way down through this section, on a sandy beach with all our wet stuff laying out. At this time an intrepid group of adults came by us that was doing the same hike, but in one day. We congratulated them, but they agreed they couldn't take in all the beauty at their pace. Hell, they never even jumped in any of the hundreds of swimming pools we'd passed.

Shouldering our packs we had one more historical site to see on our way out of the canyon. In the late 1930's there was plan to build a highway through the East Fork up to Angeles Crest Highway. Construction began, but in March of 1938 a massive flood washed away the few miles of road that had been built, leaving an arching concrete bridge in the middle of the San Gabriel Mts, dubbed the Bridge To Nowhere.

From the Bridge there is five miles of trail to the parking lot. Thus, the Bridge to Nowhere is one of LA's most popular hikes from Heaton Flat. I told myself long ago, if I was ever going to see this Bridge, it was going to be the hard way. I had no desire to walk with hundreds of others to this monstrosity. It felt good to round that bend, see the bridge & a take nice flying leap into one of the many pools around it's base. Sure enough tons of people were there & we hightailed it up the canyon side & back on the first trail since the morning before.

The last five miles went quite smooth. The trail is easy to follow & allowed us to make much better time than the rock strew river bed. The only event to speak of after the bridge was seeing Swan Rock. Really a neat formation high on the upper reaches of a canyon wall. Once the Iron Mt trailhead was insight we knew our hike was just about done. Around another corner or two & Heaton Flat parking lot came into sight. Only two questions came up after that, where to go for beer & what was the next adventure?

| Swan Rock |

The East Fork was a top of the list type of adventure. I'm sure in time it will be repeated & a whole new hike will be experienced. My best advice is to set up the shuttle early, stay to the banks in the upper sections crossing back & forth. On the last day walk directly in the water for the pure fun, jump off some rocks into the pools, live it up. Your shoes & other stuff will dry during the five miles of open canyon after the bridge.

- We have since repeated this hike more recently -

| Bridge to Nowhere |

Wednesday, March 5

Willet Hot Springs & Forgotten Upper Bear Canyon

There has been quite a few adventures into the wild this fourteenth year of two thousand. Most have been spur of the moment fantastic ideas, so good that other plans need to be put on hold, jobs schedules need to be changed & before dawn departures will likely be required.

The first of such tales this year begins much like all the others, 4 hours of sleep & driving before the sun has made an appearance. The car packed tight with gear & eager souls speeding through Ojai & into the Los Padres National Forest. Our goal was to hike east along Sespe Creek until we just felt content, a perfect plan for the outdoors.

Setting out at a decent hour we made the first miles quite easy. It was apparent from the first twenty minutes of the hike this years drought has taken a major toll on the water in the river. On several previous visits to the area multiple creek crossings were always encountered in the first portion, all of which were dry this time.

As we marched along the many twists & turns the river has created over thousands of years, she begins to reveal water along many stretches, full wide & barely moving. All the same, around many parts of the trail, large sections were dry as a bone.

We eventually decided to call Ten Oak Flat our home for the night. If you walk far enough off the main trail into this basin, there is two very old picnic tables & a nice flat spot.

It was only one in the afternoon & we decided to check out Willet Hot Springs, another couple miles down the trail. Although, the sun was beginning to warm up & those who know, know the Sespe is damn hot with no shade in many sections.


Arriving at Willet after a couple miles & one steep half mile spur trail we kicked back & explored the bungalow, this is nine miles from our start at the car. Sulphur was pungent in the air & four nice guys were also enjoying the hot tub. After soaking a bit, we opted to return to camp via the dry creek bed & river embankments instead of the trail. There is really neat geology in the area, wish I knew a bit more about that stuff.

After flavoring up some pretty mediocre water, dinner ensued & some swell conversations drifted off into the night. I slept out in the open, wishing to see the stars put on a show & really just enjoy things we don't do normally at home this day in age. The next day we retraced our steps out along the Sespe Creek with talk of what the next trip would be.

About two weeks went by & we found ourselves driving in a different mountain range setting up a car shuttle to make another backpacking adventure unfold. This time in the Angeles National Forest along Hwy 39, our goal is to check out Upper Bear Camp & exit via Smith Saddle.

After strolling the easy one mile of paved (gated) road, we turned off onto trail where Bear Creek meets the West Fork San Gabriel River. With tons of water already flowing we knew this trip was going to be a blast.

After a bit of walking & a few creek crossings we reached Lower Bear Camp, very idealic for the beginner backpacker, but the trash was pretty bad. Took some, but it really needs a bag & to be packed out.

After some more creek crossings (there are a lot!) & some fantastic old cabin ruins the trail becomes noticeably less traveled. A few large bends in the canyon produce towering vertical cliffs over a hundred feet at times. Lunch was consumed & we walked on another couple miles. Here is where the trail is apparent at times & much less at others. Just keep going up stream & things are good.

We came to a single old camp/rock fire pit on the eastern side of the stream, headed a bit further up the trail & found Upper Bear Camp with a rock pit above & another below. This was really tucked into the canyon. Quite small & nice under some trees. In the summer months this would be an oasis after sweating to get there.

The usually relaxing, filtering water, making dinner & chatting took course. Vegan marshmellows & dark chocolate tinged with orange was the winner.  It was a beautiful dark moon-less night, there was deer activity within ten feet of our camp while we ate dinner & didn't know until we saw the evidence on the ground that hadn't been there ten minutes prior.

The next morning we found the switchbacks that rise out of Bear Creek to make an exit out of the drainage. This first section was really a fun portion, a few eroded sections, but fantastic views towards Triplet Rocks & Mt Waterman area. The climb to Smith Saddle will really get your legs pumping at times, but grows more forested as you climb.

At the saddle views stretch forever into two great confluences. Smith Mountain just above. This was our last rest before reaching the car down below on Hwy 39. The trail from the saddle down to the hwy takes forever, it ducks in & out of canyons & looses/gains elevation sooooo slowly. Arriving at Congregation Ale House, conveniently right at the bottom of the San Gabriels, just in time to watch the kick off for the Super Bowl.

Saturday, January 4

Villager & Rabbit Peaks - Anza Borrego Desert

| Anza Borrego Desert |

Edward Abbey has said pretty much everything that needs to be conveyed about the American Southwest, the remote stillness that seeps from the vast unobstructed desert landscape will never be experienced any other place than standing amongst the dirt & rocks of this desolate beauty.

| Heading towards Rabbit Ridge in the morning glow |

It was hard when the alarm went off at 5am at the Oasis Motel. We'd slept a mere four hours after driving from Los Angeles & now were looking down the barrel of potentially one of our hardest overnights yet. Later in the reading you'll discover we should have woken at 3:45am, but let's not get ahead with boring details.

Carlos & I had come to meet our two good friends Kyle & Dave to tackle there number one nemesis in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Rabbit Peak via Rabbit Ridge & Villager Peak. Parking the cars at a small turn out off Hwy 22, the sun was just beginning to peak on the horizon.

| Following straight up the ridge |

The first mile of the hike is across the sandy flat of the desert floor to meet the base of Rabbit Ridge. With the high adrenaline & constant photo opportunities the morning glow offered, I barely noticed the oppressive amount of water (8 liters myself) we were all carrying to make this trip happen. There are no springs, or seasonal water sources on this trip (suffice snow at times). With more than 5,000ft elevation change from the desert floor... we were going to work for it.

| Precious apple we all shared, Kyle in the distance on left |

At the base of the ridge the camera went away & the uphill slog was imminent. Sharp crumbly switchbacks took us to the ridge proper & the assault on the ultimate 'false summit' roller coaster ride began. Gentle slopes at first with times of quad busting uphill to vanquish the next semi-plateau section, with views of more staggering ridgeline.

| Anza Borrego Desert looking West |

After a couple hours our legs were getting into the flow, spirits were high & jokes were flying in all directions. The weight was still a burden, but the views out to the desert floor & the Indian Head region were absolutely magnificent & only getting better the higher we climbed.

There is a point in, shall we say around 3 or so miles, where the travel changes to a much more direct ascent over boulders & much closer to the exposed ridgeline. Again, the views were like no other place I'd backpacked before. Past this section of steep boulders the hike plateaus & we get a good first look at the jagged rocks that make up our next section of hiking leading to Villager Peak, our camp for the night.

| Plateau section in front of us on right. Good camping if travelers are burned out. |

After a good rest we dawned our packs & began what became my favorite part of the hike. There was something about the experience that was so different than other trips in the past. I was falling in love with the barren landscape & fresh look of the ridge we were traversing.

| Upper ridge between Plateau & Villager Peak. Super fun! |

There was nothing more than a few Class 3 moves & mostly Class 2 with our trekking poles. Often times we'd find ourselves in different places than the cairns & having a blast in the process. There didn't seem to be any true route through this section, just don't fall to the left. Topping out on another known false summit we could see Villager Peak close at hand, it was a bit after twelve noon at this point & back on desert terrain.

| More ridgeline scrambling |

Some more roller coaster style ups & down brought us to our first goal, Carlos & I's first peak in the Anza Borrego. It felt good, actually, it felt good to drop all that water weight & set up camp on Villager Peak. I had carried roughly 17.6 lbs of water & all my gear weighed something close to only 9 lbs, minus food. Without too much lethargy we still had another goal to achieve today, Rabbit Peak.

| Known 'false summit' on the way to Villager Peak |

Gathering only the necessary food & water for a bit over six more miles of hiking, Kyle, Dave & I set out across the deceivingly long undulating ridge that leads from Villager to Rabbit Peak. After dropping down & up several times over rock strew hill tops, it was clear this was going to be a very steep hike back to camp, possibly in the dark.

| Rabbit Peak (right foreground) - Desert Crown - El Toro Peak farthest (back left) |

Closing in on two miles away from the camp, one-ish mile to Rabbit Peak, the perfect storm of small woes began to crop up. Our 5am start was hurting us with waning sunlight, we had headlamps, but the route was much more challenging than the entire previous part of the day. One person had mentioned not bringing enough food if we really pushed hard, mixed with the intensely exhausting campaign of carrying water earlier, would we have the energy to summit & get back to camp in the dark?

Finding a breath taking spot to call it quits early wasn't hard, we just walked ten feet to the ridgeline & sat for a good while reviling in the magnificence of our defeat. Heading back to camp we arrived just as the sun was going to drop behind the far west side of the Anza Borrego skyline. A tough, but smart choice was made we all decided.

| Sunset |

The usual nighttime chores ensued, food was eaten, stories were traded & the stars were gawked at. Becoming far enough removed from the burdens of light pollution I get to experience a 'Top 5 Favorite' moment I don't get often, seeing a the ghostly appearance of the Milky Way Galaxy in the night sky above. Abbey's calm desert night had me entranced.

| Mid ridgeline heading down |

The sunrise was a brilliant orange, washing over a blanket of clouds that hide the Salton Sea far below to the east of us. There was no rush that morning, warming hot tea & hot breakfasts are a welcome start to the day. After repacking our small necessities for living out in this beautiful land we marched off in search of our cars, thousands & thousands of feet below us on the desert floor.

| Fantastic views to the desert floor at all times |

Quickly reaching the boulder ridgline that leads off the main summits, I was in heaven, snapping more photos than were ever needed, bouncing from one beautiful perspective to the next. After consuming most of the water & food, our packs allowed great travel down Rabbit Ridge on day two.

| Hard to tell, but that yellow ledge drops about a 1,000 sheer ft on the other side |

Reaching the plateau section, roughly 4,300ft, we were all riding a high of uncompromising views & fantastic camaraderie amongst us all. The most exciting moment of our controlled downhill slide was when a low questionable rumble became a military F-16 (of some sort) blasting over the peak we had camped on, barrel-rolling into the valley below us, then screaming up the other side of the valley. Hoots & howlers were let out to try & match the body shaking sound that just overwhelmed us all.

| Couple thousand more feet down |

The desire for a cold beer gauged how fast each of us walked the last couple miles down the hogback to the desert floor. Finally tackling those crumbly switchbacks we landed in the desert sand. The previous mornings adrenaline was no where in sight, but we all felt good, still carrying some water & we hadn't lost our car keys. We were going to make it to beer.

| Barrel Cactus with fault scarp in background |