PCT Onyx Summit to Big Bear July 2016

We decided to hike yet another section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) over the Fourth of July Weekend.  This time, our plan was to hike the section just north of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, covering 27 miles over three days, from Onyx Summit on Highway 38 to Poligue Canyon Road, in the mountains above Big Bear Lake.

These new miles would connect to the section that we hiked back on Memorial Day Weekend.  The end result would be that the two of us completed a total of 62 miles of PCT California Section C (about half of the section).  Maybe next spring we’ll tackle the other parts of Section C, when the weather is cooler and the mountains are wetter.

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San Gorgonio Wilderness June 2016

Summary: We backpacked up the Momyer Trail and camped at the Alger Creek Campsite, and on the second day we hiked onward to the Dobbs Cabin Campsite.  Then we set up the tent, and day-hiked cross-country up Falls Creek to visit Allison Falls and Lone Warrior Point.

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PCT Big Bear to Hesperia May 2016

This backpacking trip was planned in advance to be a tough one, a long one, to get our 2016 hiking season off to a solid start.  And, if you want to collect some serious trail mileage, there’s no better place to do it than the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).  At 2600 miles long, it offers plenty of hiking excitement.  We’d already done most of the sections down near San Diego (as well as assorted sections in northern California and Washington), and were now “shopping” the Los Angeles area for new PCT ideas.  In fact, we had planned to do one section near San Gorgonio Mountain last year when the Lake Fire broke out and burned for weeks, causing a trail closure right where we wanted to hike!  So this year, even though the burnt section was still closed, we set our sights a bit further north, to a section near Big Bear Lake.

A popular trail, the PCT has been thoroughly mapped out; it’s been broken down into named sections, complete with virtual mileage markers, GPS tracks, and downloadable topographic maps, all available online.  For those who care about PCT nomenclature, the hike I chose was part of California Section C, namely: PCT miles 279 through 314.  In other words, we’d be hiking 35 miles total, beginning at a dirt road just north of Big Bear Lake near the town of Fawnskin and heading roughly northwest, descending gradually toward the Mojave Desert, ending up in a dirt parking lot at the end of Highway 173 near the town of Hesperia.  After considerable study, making use of various online water reports, I came up with a plan.  I figured that this hike could be done by the two of us in about three days.  Three LONG days, because we’re not exactly the fastest of hikers.

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Mount Langley Sept 2015

This trip report is about a proud moment in fatherhood: I got to watch my son become a fourteener!

It should have happened a month ago, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say, my wife (who always accompanies me when backpacking) at first decided that she didn’t want to go hiking, so I invited my son for a three day hike. We set our sights high on Langley’s summit. My wife, meanwhile, got jealous. Suddenly she wanted to join the hike in a “support” role. But she hikes really slow and doesn’t like high elevation. She was stubborn and insistent, and eventually I gave up. I told my son not to bother taking that Friday off, and instead my wife and I lowered our sights to hiking to the Cottonwood Lakes. And we had a great time, as we always do. But my son still wasn’t a fourteener.

So we made new plans for Labor Day Weekend. My wife was not invited. We arrived at the Lone Pine Ranger Station before 8am on Friday morning, drew a low number in the lottery, and opted for a slightly more challenging route to Langley, a roundabout route via Cottonwood Pass, rather than the typical, shorter Cottonwood Lakes route. We would take the PCT north from Cottonwood Pass to Soldier Lake, camp overnight, then take our big packs up the New Army Pass Trail. We would stash the big packs at Old Army Pass, dayhike to Langley’s summit, return for our packs, and then descend to the Cottonwood Lakes Basin and find a campsite there. We would exit on Sunday.

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Colorado Hike August 2015

I’d often heard of the beauty of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, but had no real reason to travel so far, what with the mountains in my own backyard. However, in this year of historic drought, we sought greener places. We knew that the flowers and grasses would be shriveled and even the streams would be dry in August in the Sierra this year. The drought had extended north to encompass the entire west coast, so we searched for water elsewhere. And we found it: All those storms which had forsaken the coast had migrated east, to Colorado.

But I knew nothing about Colorado, except that there were plenty of mountains. So I searched online for popular hikes. I also narrowed my search to southwest Colorado, so we wouldn’t have to drive as far. The most popular hike of all was to the Chicago Basin; not only was it beautiful, but you also had no choice but to take a romantic steam train to get to the trailhead. Nice! But upon further reading I discovered that the trails were far too crowded, and it wouldn’t be a wilderness experience by any means. I looked nearby, and found another, less busy trail that also happened to lead toward the Continental Divide. Hiking a section of the famous Continental Divide Trail? Oh, yes. That sounded excellent.

So I bought the Weminuche Wilderness Trail Map, and made some hiking plans. I tried to leave it as open-ended as possible, with no firm distances to be hiked or places to camp, taking anywhere from seven to nine days. My only requirement was to stand on the actual Continental Divide sometime during the hike. True, we were a bit sad not to be riding on the romantic steam train to get to the trailhead, so we booked a motel in Durango for one night and reserved our tickets for the train ride to Silverton. We’d do it all!

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Cottonwood Lakes July 2015

It sure was great to be back in the Sierra Nevada after two years of backpacking in what could arguably be called “lesser” locales, in terms of both elevation and beauty. But we didn’t originally plan on being there at all this summer, especially not for a measely three-day weekend.

Vicki and I originally had a permit to hike in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, but then the Lake Fire ruined everything. So I had to scramble for something backpackable. Something fun! With available water, preferably. And that pretty much removed Southern California from the list of options. Which is sad, because we live in San Diego, about as far south as you can get. It’s a long way to the Sierra from there.

So I stared at the maps, read some trip reports on the internet, and came up with a plan to hike the Cottonwood Lakes, which is about as far south in the Sierra as I could find, while still being wet enough, and up high enough, to make it worth the long drive. And if we were feeling particularly gung-ho once we got up there, we might even be able to bag a 14er!

We woke up early, and left the house at 3:30am, which I figured would get us past the evil Friday-morning L.A. rush-hour traffic before six, when it starts getting ugly. We had breakfast at dawn in Victorville, and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the drive to Lone Pine. It’s a great feeling to be on vacation.

We drove across the Big Empty, the Mojave Desert, on Highway 395 for what seemed like hours, seeing Joshua Trees and low mountains in the hazy distance. We were glad to have air conditioning this time. It’s hot out there in July. Eventually the road entered the Owens Valley, and the Sierra rose awesomely on our left, while the White Mountains rose on our right.

We arrived at the Lone Pine Ranger Station. We were late for the 8am opening, so we had to hang around until the 11am lottery. It was a nice modern building, with museum-like displays. We bought some shirts and maps in the gift shop. Our luck was bad on the lottery but good on the choice of trail, as we got a permit to hike that very day. I was certain we’d be in the Horseshoe Meadows backpacker camp that night, but no. We drove up the road to the trailhead and got ready to hike.

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Mount Baden-Powell June 2015

For our first summer hike this year we decided to visit the San Gabriel Mountains. Of course, there wasn’t much water flowing in the Southern California Wilderness after two years of drought, so our choices were limited. Unless we carried our own water. But that is also limiting, as water is heavy. Still, it seemed like an idea worth trying.

So we stared at some maps. Two years ago, we camped near Little Jimmy Spring and attempted to day-hike to Mount Baden-Powell. We got a late start and never made it the whole way to the summit, and that defeat was still bothering me. So we thought to rectify it this year. We considered camping at Little Jimmy yet again, as it always has water, but what we really wanted was peace and quiet and solitude, and Little Jimmy doesn’t have those qualities in abundance, at least not on a summer weekend.

So I stared at the map, and noticed that there was a trail from Dawson Saddle to the PCT. Maybe we could camp there. It’s much closer to Baden-Powell. True, we’d have to carry our own water, but maybe it would be worth it. Looking on Google Earth, it appeared that the ridge just above the trail about a mile from the saddle had a broad flat area on top. Zooming in, it looked like a certain-sure camping spot. Carrying two gallons of water is never fun, but only carrying them a mile seemed eminently do-able. So that’s what we did.

We arrived just after dawn at Dawson Saddle, and got ready to hike.

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Catskills 2015

Paul and I got ready to begin our hike at the crack of dawn. We knew that it was going to be a very, very long day. Our plan: Bag at least three of the trailless “bushwhack” peaks in the southern Catskill Mountains. We’d do a fourth peak if we had both the energy and the time. True, the days are long at the end of May, but we knew we needed to start early or we’d be hiking back in the dark.

We began at the Denning Road trailhead parking area, hiking on a well-maintained trail toward Table Mountain. Once the trail crossed the East Branch of the Neversink River, we turned left (leaving the trail) and followed a fairly well-defined fisherman’s path upstream along the south side of the riverbed. Mellow hiking, not steep at all, and it lasted for four and a half miles.

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PCT Hwy 79-74 March 2015

PCT hike from Warner Springs to Anza

Vicki and I backpacked a section of the PCT from Highway 79 in Warner Springs to Highway 74 in Anza, California. We hiked 41 miles total from PCT Mile 111 to PCT Mile 152 over a span of four days. The trail began in chaparral, descended down into the Anza-Borrego Desert, and climbed back up into chaparral at the finish.

The hike was done back in early March as we wanted to avoid high temperatures. This section has relatively little shade, as most of the route lies within the borders of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, so overheating can easily become an issue.

This section is also notorious for its lack of water. We might have tried hiking it earlier this winter, except there were no recent entries on the PCT Water Report and we didn’t dare attempt it without any beta, especially during a dry year like this. I kept checking the water report, and finally in late February one strong hiker passed through and updated everything. Hooray! After that, it was simply a matter of balancing our hiking ability with the known water locations and coming up with a plan of attack. We’re not ultra-light twenty-mile-a-day PCT through-hikers. Oh, no. Carrying full packs, twelve miles is about the most that we might attempt, and we’d surely be whupped by the end of the day. After studying the map, I concluded that four days would do it.  Caltopo Map of our hike

The only other problem was logistics with our car. We really needed two cars, one at each end. I tried to convince Hikin’ Jim to accompany us, and he was willing enough, but his new job made an extended trip impossible. So we finally resorted to renting a car, but not for four days ($$$). Our daughter volunteered to drive us and return it within one day. Excellent!

We left San Diego at dawn and dropped off our car at the PCT trailhead parking lot on Highway 74 in Anza. Then we all piled into the rental car and drove the long way around, south to Highway 79 in Warner Springs.

At this point, we’re committed to hiking all 41 miles if we ever expect to see our car again!

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San Jacinto October 2014

It was a last minute camping trip. (For us, last minute meant next weekend.) Vicki had just gotten a new backpack and we needed to test it and work out all the bugs before our big summer trip in August. So, on Monday morning I faxed in my permit application for Friday morning and received my second choice trailhead (it really WAS the last minute, for a busy July 4th weekend at any rate), for the South Fork Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, camping two nights at Dry Lake. We decided that we’d try bagging a few of the nearby trailless peaks on Saturday, then hike back out on Sunday.

We arrived at the South Fork Trail parking lot at dawn on July Fourth. There were only two cars there. One belonged to a gentleman who stated that he wanted to watch the fireworks from the summit of San Gorgonio. We warned him of the weather forecast for thunderstorms (a thirty percent chance) and that he might get more fireworks than he’d bargained for! But he didn’t care, and hiked on.

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