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La Vida Locavore

The Best Way to Hike Mt. Whitney

This past week, I hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney. Depending on who you talk to, it is either 14,496 ft, 14,497 ft, 14,505 ft, or 14,508 ft. No matter what, it's the highest peak in the lower 48 states. And it requires no technical climbing or mountaineering skills to get to the top. Which is why people come from all over the world to hike it.

I think that's the wrong reason to do the trail. Don't hike it because it's the tallest; hike it because it is GORGEOUS. It's an incredibly pleasant, relatively easy trail (with the exception of a part near the top), and it's a really worthwhile hike even if you don't plan to go to the top.

Read on to find out why most people hike Whitney the wrong way (in my opinion) and how to do it right.

Mt. Whitney
Whitney's summit is smack in the middle of this pic.
Most people who hike up Mt. Whitney do it one of two ways. Some get day permits and they day hike. Typically that means starting anywhere between midnight and 4am, summiting in the morning, and hiking back down by evening. Unless you're in such good shape that a 22 mile hike with 6100 feet of elevation gain doesn't phase you and you're already acclimated well to high altitude, this option is grueling.

Everyone I spoke to who did it said, "Don't do it." Some added, "It's a beautiful trail. Enjoy it." When I did the hike, I ran into plenty of day hikers on their way down. With few exceptions, they all looked miserable. I hiked part-way with one day hiker at a spot toward the end. He was dead tired and not happy about having a few more miles left to go at that point.

Why turn one of the most enjoyable hikes in the country into a grueling marathon? Besides, the lower altitudes are so beautiful, and if you day hike, you pass them in the dark on your way up and when you're too tired to care on the way down.

An option, if you are really set on a dayhike, is to hike up to Lone Pine Lake, which is 2.8 miles up the trail, the day before to take pictures, see the trail, and acclimate to the altitude. You do not need a permit to go to Lone Pine Lake.

Here are some photos of what you miss if you do this section of the trail in the dark:

Steller's Jay
Steller's Jay

Anderson's Thistle
Anderson's Thistle

Mountain Monkeyflower


Scarlet Monkeyflower
Scarlet Monkeyflower

Poison Angelica
Poison Angelica

Bitter Dogbane
Bitter Dogbane

Scenic View
The View


Western Monkshood
Western Monkshood

Scarlet Gilia
Scarlet Gilia


Mule Deer

Shooting Star
Shooting Star

Elephant's Head
A flower called Elephant's Head. Can you see the elephant's heads in there?



Waterfall and Wildflowers


Lone Pine Lake
Lone Pine Lake

That's just a few photos of the first 2.8 miles of the trail, from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Lake. See why it's a dumb idea to hike it in the dark and miss all of that?

The other way that people do the hike is better, but I still wouldn't like it myself. They hike 6.3 miles up the trail and camp at Trail Camp. Then they get up early in the morning (sometimes VERY early, like 2am) and hike to the summit, and then backpack out that same day. The trail is 22 miles total, so they only have to hike about 16 miles in one day. And at least they see all the beauty on the trail. But they have another problem:

Marmot Attempting Food Theft

That is a yellow-bellied marmot, and it is more than happy to chew its way into your pack or your tent to see if you have food in there. And if you were responsible and put all your food in a bear-proof canister, oh well. Now you've got a hole chewed in your pack or tent. Someone I met on the trail had that happen to him. Another person followed the advice we got in advance and left her tent open to save the marmots the trouble of chewing it. The marmots got in her tent and peed and pooped all over, even on her sleeping bag.

I don't know what your stuff cost, but I know what mine cost. Tent, $259. Sleeping bag valued at $420 (I paid much less but that's what it would cost to replace it). Backpack valued at $275 (again, I paid way less). I don't want my gear damaged by a marmot.

Yellow-Bellied Marmot
Marmot at Trail Camp, looking for goodies

Trail Camp is at 12,040 feet and it is rather crowded. It's above the tree-line so it's very exposed and windy. It can also be cold.

Here's what I did. I hiked in only 3.8 miles to Outpost Camp at 10,360 ft and I stayed there two nights. On day 1 I hiked in and took my sweet time, taking as many photos as I liked. You already saw the trail up to Lone Pine Lake (2.8 mi). Here the next mile, between Lone Pine Lake and Outpost Camp.

Mountain Heather
Mountain Heather

The View Just Above Lone Pine Lake

Looking Down on Lone Pine Lake
Looking down on Lone Pine Lake

Crimson Columbines
Crimson Columbines

Bighorn Park
Bighorn Park, near Outpost Camp

Bighorn Park
Bighorn Park, near Outpost Camp

Here's the view from my campsite at Outpost Camp:

Outpost Camp

Waterfall at Outpost Camp
Waterfall at Outpost Camp

When I arrived in Outpost Camp, my first thought was "Wow! I get to sleep here???" I was so excited! Sure, I would wake up in the dark the next morning and leave very early, but I was staying two nights - so I'd get all the opportunity I wanted to poke around on day 3.

The advice I got to stay at Outpost Camp was mainly that it's warmer, less exposed, and less crowded than Trail Camp. Plus, some people don't sleep well at altitude (I sleep fine) and it's 2000 feet lower than Trail Camp so you might get more sleep. After the fact, I'd say my main reasons for staying there are that my feet are prone to injury and don't do well carrying weight, so backpacking 3.8 mi is better than 6.3 mi for me, even if it means a longer way to the summit; it's beautiful; and there isn't a big marmot problem. I had zero marmot trouble. I did keep all of my food, trash, and cosmetics in my bear canister, which I left about 20 feet from my tent, so there was nothing interesting in my tent at all.

So my first day, I hiked those 3.8 miles to Outpost Camp. The next morning I got up at 3:15am and by 3.48am I was on the trail to the summit, in the dark, with a head lamp. I never even saw Mirror Lake (about 4.0 mi into the trail). By the time I reached Trailside Meadow about a mile later, it was light enough to see.

I saw some cute little pikas:

Pika, related to rabbits

Got some water:


And passed by Trail Camp. It was already light, and Trail Camp had nearly emptied out by then. After passing Trail Camp, I started on the Infamous Switchbacks. It's a 2 mile section of the trail with 99 switchbacks. You're above the treeline, and the view is nice... but otherwise it's pretty boring.

Looking Down at the Lake
Looking down on Trail Camp Pond from the Switchbacks

Your last place to get water before the summit is a spring at switchback #23. Make sure you have at least 3 liters to take to the summit. Your only other option from here on is eating snow - if there is any.

The View Down on Trail Camp
The view from a little further up

Snow near the cables section of the switchbacks
Section of switchbacks with cables. At this point, you are 6.7 mi into the 11 mi trail

A few of the plants from this section

Sky Pilot
A type of Polemonium known as Skypilot. You'll see lots of this and not much else from here on up.

The view yet a little higher up

View from the Top of the Switchbacks
The view when you are nearly at the top of the switchbacks

Finally, finally, you hit Trail Crest. At this point you have completed 8.2 miles of the trail and you are at 13,700 feet up. You now enter Sequoia National Park (you were in Inyo National Forest). You cross over to the other side of the mountain, and remain there for the balance of the hike. Here's the view from the other side, looking down on Sequoia National Park:

Entering Sequioa National Park

View of Sequioa National Park



What I read before going was roughly "once you reach Trail Crest, the work is basically done, and you're basically there. It's just an easy 2.5 miles to the summit."

I disagree. I hated this part of the trail. Admittedly, I had a monster migraine (it wasn't altitude sickness, it was an out of control horrible migraine, the worst of the decade, that began the moment I woke up that day). But I think I'd hate it anyway. Here's the trail:

The Scary Part of the Trail

The Scary Part of the Trail

Yup. One wrong move and off you go over a cliff. The trail is really rocky for about a mile or two, which means it's not comfortable on your feet, and you have to watch what you're doing to avoid tripping and/or breaking an ankle. The way down was as bad as the way up (or worse), and I'm just grateful it wasn't wet and slippery.

From Trail Crest, you descend a bit and - about a half mile in - you unite with the John Muir Trail at 13,480 in altitude. Then you start going up again. At about 9.0 miles in, you see cairns marking the route up Mt Muir. Shortly thereafter, you come to the "Whitney Windows" - rock formations that allow you to peak through and see the summit.

This is the view of the ridge leading to the summit, taken of the side of the mountain facing Lone Pine. So the trail to the summit is on the back side of what you're seeing here. The last bit on the right side of the photo that is sticking up and out is the summit:

A View of the Summit

Don't underestimate the time it takes to go these last few miles. It's not a major elevation gain, but it's challenging hiking because of all the damn rocks on the trail.

Finally, finally, you get to the summit:

Me on Mt. Whitney

See all those clouds? They had just rolled in, in between when I reached Trail Crest and when I got to the summit. It was 12pm, and it was lightly hailing while I was on the summit. Afternoon storms are common, and I was relatively lucky on weather. It was cold at the summit, but it cleared up pretty quickly and never really rained. The day before I summitted, it snowed. I met some people who hiked nearly the whole trail and turned around because of the cold. I met others who kept going despite the cold - and they were dressed in shorts. I packed several layers, including a down jacket and a space bag. I didn't need the down jacket but I wanted to be prepared to be stuck on the mountain overnight, should a disaster occur. Thankfully, it didn't.

That day, another hiker broke her ankle near the summit. Fortunately, she got cell reception at the summit, and they airlifted her out:

Helicopter Landing on Mt. Whitney

So, now it was time to go down. My migraine was in full swing at this point, and hiking was not even fun anymore. I just wanted to get below Trail Crest, to get off that exposed ridge at the top of the mountain. At long last, I did. As I hiked down, I met more people who were still going up. Some of them looked like they were in bad shape.

I felt better once I reached the switchbacks again, and still better once I reached Trail Camp. As I reached Trailside Meadow on the way down, I stopped and threw up everything in my stomach, which wasn't much. I had tried to eat a sandwich at Trail Crest and had only succeeded in eating a bite. The only other thing I'd been able to eat was dried mango. And lots and lots of ice cold water.

Some people get sick from the altitude on Mt. Whitney. If you live in the U.S. you don't have too many opportunities to find out how your body reacts to being at 14,000 feet. But I'm lucky because I've spent plenty of time in Bolivia, where normal life takes place at 14,000 feet. I know exactly how I react to 14,000 feet. When I go from sea level to 9000 or above, I suffer from a minor headache and slight nausea the first day. After that, I feel fine. What happened to me on Mt. Whitney wasn't altitude sickness. It was a migraine - and one of the two worst migraines I've had in my entire life.

Fortunately, when I arrived back at Outpost Camp, my tent was already set up and ready for me. My stuff was all there. I sat with a hiker who was setting up camp next to me and we chatted as he had dinner. I ate an apple. Then I changed into clean(er) clothes, got in my sleeping bag, and was asleep by 7:30pm. And I slept for 14 hours.

During the night, I heard hikers going past me starting around 12:30pm. I woke up then and again at 3am and 7am. I got up two of those times to go to the bathroom. All three times I woke up, my head still hurt. But when I got up at 9am, my head felt fine. I got up, ate breakfast, packed up, and had an enjoyable 3.8 mile hike back to my car.

If I had to do it over again, I'd do it exactly the way I did. But now that I've done it once, I don't plan to do it again. I hike because it's fun, and the rocky top part of the trail was not my idea of fun. I really preferred the beauty of the lower altitudes over the part of the trail above 12,000 feet. I also like steeper trails than the Mt. Whitney Trail. It's not a steep trail at all. If I go back, I'll hike it as far as Lone Pine Lake or Outpost Camp or Trail Camp and then head back down. And then I'll explore the other trails in the area, because there are plenty of them, and they are no doubt gorgeous, just as this one was.

Yosemite Wildflowers

I'm told that this was a lousy year for wildflowers thanks to the drought. It was certainly a lousy year for waterfalls. On the flipside, there were fewer mosquitoes than usual (don't worry, there were still plenty and they ate well this weekend).

Lousy or not, the wildflower display was spectacular. Here are my photos. They are mostly taken at altitudes ranging between 7000-8000 feet, although a few come from lower altitudes as I descended the Yosemite Falls Trail. We backpacked from Porcupine Flats at Tioga Rd, past Yosemite Falls toward Eagle Peak, and then backtracked to the Yosemite Falls Trail, taking that down to Yosemite Lodge in the valley. I also did a day hike to North Dome and hiked along Indian Ridge and on the trail toward Eagle Peak.

Trip 2 Group Photo
Here we all are, ready to go!
We saw a TON of different kinds of penstemon, also called beardtongues. There are over 50 varieties in California. Penstemon is in the Plantain family. I did not get a photo or even identify every single type of penstemon I saw.

Azure Penstemon
Azure Penstemon, Penstemon azureus

Azure Penstemon
Azure Penstemon, Penstemon azureus

In which I get photobombed by a bee...
Same plant. A bee snuck in there... can you see?

Closely related are Keckiella. Here is some Gaping Keckiella on the Yosemite Falls Trail.

Gaping Keckiella

Gaping Keckiella

Gaping Keckiella

I also saw a wide variety of monkeyflowers, which are in the Lopseed family (Phrymaceae). We have monkeyflowers in San Diego, but the ones I saw in Yosemite were all new to me.

Common Monkeyflower
Common Monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus

Layne's Monkeyflower
Layne's Monkeyflower, Mimulus layneae

Crimson Monkeyflower
Crimson Monkeyflower, Mimulus cardinalis

Crimson Monkeyflower
Crimson Monkeyflower, Mimulus cardinalis

From the Asparagus Family, I saw several brodiaeas:

Elegant Brodiaea
Elegant Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans. Seen on the Yosemite Falls Trail, around 5000 feet.

Alpine Gold Brodiaea
Alpine Gold Brodiaea, Brodiaea gracilis. Seen near the Porcupine Flats trailhead at Tioga Road, around 8000 feet.

Alpine Gold Brodiaea
Alpine Gold Brodiaea, Brodiaea gracilis. Seen near the Porcupine Flats trailhead at Tioga Road, around 8000 feet.

My favorite flowers might have been the lilies:

Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily
Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily, Calochortus leichtlinii. Seen between 7000 and 8000 feet.

Small Leopard Lily
Small Leopard Lily, Lilium parvum. Seen along creeks around 7000 feet.

Small Leopard Lily
Small Leopard Lily, Lilium parvum.

Small Leopard Lily
Small Leopard Lily, Lilium parvum.

Small Leopard Lily
Small Leopard Lily, Lilium parvum.

In the Violet family:

Macloskey's Violet
Macloskey's Violet, Viola macloskeyi. Seen on the trail to Eagle Peak.

In the Buttercup family:

Some Happy "Little Frogs"
Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa. Seen on the trail to North Dome.

In the Heather Family:

Western Azaleas
Western Azalea, Rhododendron occidentale. Seen by the sides of streams around 7000 feet.

Western Azaleas
Western Azalea, Rhododendron occidentale.

In the Purslane Family:

Pussypaws, Calyptridium umbellatum. Seen everywhere when we were at 7000-8000 feet.

In the Phlox Family:
Skyrocket (a.k.a Scarlet Gilia)
Skyrocket, also known as Scarlet Gilia. Ipomopsis aggregata subspecies bridgesii.

And then there are the gooseberries. These were flowers, but now they are unripe fruit. And before long, they will become bear food. Particularly because I'm probably one of the few people who hike past them that knows they are edible.

Sierra Gooseberry
Sierra Gooseberry, Ribes roezlii. Seen on the Yosemite Falls Trail.

Seen but not pictured:

Putting It All Together: Backpacking Meal Planning

As always, attempting to eat real food while backpacking is an uphill battle. To date, I've only done overnight backpacks, never multi-day trips. I've also never ventured into bear country. But I am about to do both.

There are some things that work in hiking and backpacking, until they don't. My old hiking boots and insoles were fine, until I began doing longer hikes and carrying a 20 lb pack on my back. Then I got tendinitis. Bringing fresh fruit and peanut butter sandwiches works on an overnight trip. For a longer trip, you can bring them for the first day - but after that you need a different plan. And don't even get me started on bathroom strategies that work for the very short term but prove catastrophic if attempted on longer hikes.

Thus, my overnight trips prepare me to a certain extent for my upcoming trip to Yosemite, but I'm basically wading into unfamiliar territory. And I'm almost guaranteed to be the only one in the group who doesn't simply pull out a plastic bag of freeze-dried god knows what, pour boiling water in, eat it, and then pack away the bag as trash. At the end of the meal, I'm the only one with dirty dishes. So here's my plan.
I got the trip details last night. We're spending one night car camping in Mammoth, and heading to Yosemite after breakfast the next morning. For those familiar with Yosemite, the trip begins at the Porcupine Flats campground on Tioga Rd, heads ESE a few miles, and then turns SW as we backpack to where we'll spend 2 nights. I can best describe it as a point a little north of about halfway in between Yosemite Point and North Dome. It's about 6 miles, basically flat but descending 1100 feet. The next day, we do a day hike up North Dome, then back to camp. Day 3, we backpack over flat terrain to near Yosemite Point. Day 4, we get up early and backpack past Yosemite Falls into the valley. It's a few miles but a 3000 foot drop. Then we catch our bus and go home.

A few more factors: All of this food needs to fit in my bear canister after we leave car camp (car camp has bear lockers), and it's going to be beastly hot outside (80s and 90s). Chocolate will melt. None of the hiking will be strenuous. Certainly not bad enough that I'll be at risk of "bonking" (running out of stored glycogen). If that were the case, stuffing myself with sugar would become very important. Sadly, I won't be doing any sugar binges on this trip. (I wish! Wouldn't it be nice to fill up on sugar "for your health"??)

By my estimation, I'll need a meal for the bus and breakfast for car camp. Then three breakfasts, four lunches, three dinners, and four days of snacks for backpacking. This will be followed by lunch and dinner to eat on the bus going home. The last day, I can potentially buy food in Yosemite Valley... but I'd rather not rely on that.

The easy part is the first bit on the bus and in car camp. Grab a burrito before boarding the bus, and then make my normal hiking breakfast at camp - a bagel with two eggs and melted cheddar cheese. And a peanut butter and honey sandwich can last long enough to serve as my first lunch.

My dinners are already set. I've cooked and dehydrated the following foods:

Plus I've got store-bought dehydrated curry lentil soup.

The pasta is bulky so I'll eat that first. I should have used spaghetti but it seemed to me that the noodles would all break, so I got penne instead. Plus, the sauce is chock full of olive oil, and fats are the least stable component of dehydrated food. One more reason to eat that first. I can add kale to the sauce for added nutrition.

For the lemon garbanzo bulgur pilaf, I cooked and dehydrated bulgur and chickpeas separately. I seasoned the bulgur with lemon and cumin already. Now I just mix in dehydrated onions, carrots, and kale together with the bulgur and chickpeas and I'm good to go. And salt. It's unsalted, so I'll just bring a baggy of salt and add it to taste.

The two soups are the lightest and easiest to deal with so I'll save those for last. Actually, I might leave the black bean at home because it has some fat in it and also because I don't even know how it will taste. Better only do so much experimenting with my own cooking in one trip, so that if something fails, I won't be screwed.

Aside from that, I've got a hunk of aged gouda, dried mango, rolled oats, raisins, trail mix, crackers, and Larabars, plus I found a booth at the farmers market that uses ethical meat to make nitrate/nitrite free chorizo. And I can get some dehydrated split pea soup that tastes OK.

So here's the plan:

Day 0:

Camp Food Product Review: Larabar, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Flavor

Prior to a long hike, I ran to the store for energy bars and went with the brand that was cheapest, thanks to a sale. In this case, it was the Larabar. I got two flavors, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, and a chocolate coconut flavor. The latter did not taste good. The former was delicious. I went back and bought about 10 of them.

But how does it stack up nutritionally?

The following nutritional recommendations are made assuming one is doing strenuous exercise for several hours. In fact, if you are sitting on your tush at home, then following this advice would be very bad for you.

My backpacking class recommends energy bars that are no more than 8 to 10g protein and no more than 4g fat per 230 calories. It also recommends 5g or fewer of fiber - and says to drink lots of water with your bar. The upshot of all of this is that your body isn't doing much in the way of digestion while you exercise, so you want to give it an easy job (i.e. refined carbs).

Trail Eats

I don't know about you, but my entire mindset as an adult and even before that has been about limiting my calorie intake, limiting the calorie dense foods I consume, and limiting the amount of refined carbs I eat. And throw in limiting salt and NOT drinking my calories. I don't always succeed at this, and I have several pounds of fat on my body to prove it, but I try.

With that kind of a mindset, it's a bit disconcerting to switch gears and plan what to eat on a long hike or an overnight backpack trip.

All of a sudden, you're burning 1000 or 2000 calories per day by hiking (or more even) and you NEED to eat a lot of calories. In fact, it's dangerous not to. You're losing salt through your sweat. And you might even feel nauseated or not very hungry while you are exerting yourself. Digesting protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates isn't easy, so refined carbs and sugars are the way to go. And, for a backpack, whole foods like fruit can be heavy - not to mention perishable if it's a longer trip - so now you're really limited to the stuff that you normally try to avoid eating. In fact, suddenly drinking your calories sounds like a downright great idea!

I'm interested what others eat in such a situation.
My tactic generally involves stuffing myself with fat and protein in the evening so that I can have the entire night to digest it. If I am leaving from home in the morning and it's a long drive to the trail, then I have it in the morning. For a breakfast, I go for what I call a "cholesterol sandwich" - a toasted bagel with butter, with a fried egg and a melted slice of cheddar on each half of it. YUM. After a 2 hour drive to the town near the trailhead, I get a latte and a biscotti. Mmm... refined carbs.

On the trail for a day hike, I've always brought a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch, an energy bar or two, a banana, dried mango, and homemade trail mix. My trail mix changes over time but right now it's just peanuts, raisins, and pepitas because those things are cheap. In the past I've included pecans (yum), almonds, cashews, pistachios, and coconut flakes too. The nuts I get are unsalted so I've taken to adding salt myself. It tends to get absorbed by the raisins, which tastes just fine. These foods are energy dense and nutritious, but hard to get down when I'm hiking up a steep hill. Bananas are more perishable than energy bars, but they go down a lot easier while hiking.

Drinking calories might be easier than eating them. Filling my water bottle with homemade lemonade isn't a bad idea, but you can't do that in the middle of a backpacking trip unless you carry along some lemons, and that isn't practical at all. It's making me start to understand the people who pour those little packets of powder I find so disgusting into their water bottles.

Many backpackers get pre-made dehydrated or freeze-dried meals that come in plastic bags. They bring water to a boil, pour it in the bag, let it steep for 10 minutes, mix, and eat. There is no way on earth I would ever pour boiling water into a plastic bag and then consume the contents, given what we know about plastic leaching chemicals that interfere with hormones (see the latest Mother Jones piece on this). And even pouring processed food made with god knows what into a metal container of boiling water and then eating it does not sound very good to me. If I had to go the pre-made food route, I'd try an organic brand called Mary Jane's Farm.

Using individual pouches of pre-made food also makes for an awful lot of plastic waste. It trips me up that people who love nature so much they want to hike and camp in it are also avid consumers of such wasteful products. As I try to look for alternatives, I understand the difficulty of avoiding all of the plastic bag waste... but I still don't like the waste.

For an upcoming backpack trip, I've dehydrated my own food for dinner. Here are the meals I've prepared:

  1. Pasta with tomato sauce. The pasta is pre-cooked and dehydrated. The sauce is dehydrated into "tomato sauce leather." I might add dehydrated kale and maybe carrots.
  2. Bulgur and chickpeas. The bulgur is cooked alone, mixed with cumin, salt, and lemon juice, and dehydrated. The chickpeas were cooked and dehydrated. I also dehydrated carrots, onions, and kale to add to the mix. And I added dehydrated parsley.
  3. Curry lentil soup. Not homemade. I bought the mix from the store.

Beyond that, I'll have to come up with other ideas. Probably rolled oats with dried fruit for breakfast. Hardboiled eggs for the first day or so perhaps. (If I feel like carrying them, I could bring raw eggs, unwashed and fresh from the chicken. They don't go bad outside of the fridge for a few weeks.) Maybe a hunk of hard cheese and chorizo from the farmer's market. And definitely my dried mango. Oh, and cookies. Chocolate chip cookies, already made and in the freezer, ready to go.

What do you guys do for hiking, camping, and backpacking? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

San Jacinto, Sort Of

Yesterday I hiked up most of Mt. San Jacinto. It's the second tallest mountain in southern California, located in between Idyllwild and Palm Springs, and it stands at 10,843 ft. From the peak, you can see all the way to the Salton Sea. Or, I should say, from near the peak, because I did not get to the peak.

Yesterday I learned a very important lesson. There are times when you are aiming to hit the summit and, at a certain point, you need to realize that you aren't going to the summit and your new goal is to save your own behind and get off the mountain while you can. Which I did. I was 0.3 mi from the summit when I turned around.
As noted here before, I hike very slowly. If I ever did a long thru-hike like the PCT, I'm sure my trail name would be something like Tortoise or even Molasses. I'm OK with that but it has some implications. On long trails, I am on the trail for a very long time and I need to carry a lot of water. Only I'm also not terribly strong. I can carry about a gallon - but not more. Therefore, especially in hot weather, I need trails with water sources along the way. I carry a filter with me. I might switch to Aqua Mira drops because they are faster and lighter. I went with my filter because it filters out debris and pesticides as well as microbes, and because Aqua Mira chlorinates your water and I'd prefer my water sans chlorine.

There are 4 ways up San Jacinto and one of them is out of the question for me, at least for the foreseeable future. It's called Cactus to Clouds. You start in Palm Springs near sea level and the total hike is some 23 miles. A more sane approach takes the same basic route but uses an aerial tram to bypass all but the last 6 miles, for a 12 mi roundtrip hike. The tram costs $24.

I didn't want to fork over $24 for the tram so I had 2 options, both leaving from Idyllwild. (In retrospect, the tram's a bargain compared to the alternatives.) There are more ways to get up there if you are planning to camp along the way, but for a day hike most people either take the Devil's Slide from Humber Park or the Marion Mountain Trail.

The Devil's Slide is gradual but long - 8 mi to the top, 16 mi total. There is no water on the trail right now. There typically is but we're in a dry year. The Marion Mountain trail is notoriously steep, particularly in the first 2.8 mi. It's a 5.6 mi trail, for a total of 11.2 mi. And it has water at about the 4 mi mark as of right now. (If you plan to hike it, check with the ranger about the water, because it could dry up.)

Either option has great scenery, although I actually preferred the scenery of the Marion Mountain trail. Both have tons of wildflowers blooming right now. The two trails meet 0.3 mi from the top. From there, you head the last little bit to the summit, and I am told it requires some rock scrambling to get up there.

I'd heard horror stories about the steepness of the Marion Mountain trail, but it's actually no harder than the Ski Hut trail I did up Mt Baldy. So, although I'd planned to do the Devil's Slide, I opted for Marion Mountain. I took 3 liters of water and a water filter along, and started up around 9am. (FYI, you need a free permit for either route, and there's a quota of 30 people per day on the Devil's Slide route during weekends the summer. Devil's Slide also requires a $5 Adventure Pass parking permit, but Marion Mountain does not.)

I was immensely enjoying myself on the Marion Mountain trail, feeling great that it wasn't too hard after all. Then, about a mile and a half in, I got lost. I had a compass and the $2 trail map the ranger sells on me, and I had my GPS running on my phone using the Backpacker Lite app, which is not always too reliable (once it told me I traveled 1/4 mi while I was standing still). The $2 ranger map, in retrospect, sucks. A good 7.5 minute topo is the way to go, or at the very least, the $10 map from the ranger.

Where I was at, the trail was making switchbacks that were too small to be covered by the map I had. The map just showed the general direction of the trail as it meandered from going NE to going SE for a ways, all the while heading (on average) straight east. Then, at a certain point, it made a steep turn NNE. And the map had no markings on it for coordinates or anything. It did have altitude, in 400 foot increments.

According to my phone's imperfect altimeter, I was at about 7200 feet when I lost the trail. The trail makes its turn north around 8000 feet. As long as I headed east and generally went up the mountain, I'd hit the trail again. Unless I was south of it. So I decided to head slightly northeast. It was rough going on very steep terrain, with plenty of boulder scrambling and some walking through thorny shrubs and climbing over fallen logs. I wasn't too panicked. At a certain point you just have to accept that you are going up the mountain but not on a trail, and eventually you will be on a trail once again. And, somewhere around 8000 feet, I did rejoin the trail as predicted.

By this point, my phone's battery was low so I turned it off. So long as I stuck to the trail from here on out, I'd be fine without my not-very-helpful GPS. And with my phone off, there went my source of checking the time. This was around 1pm.

I kept on the trail and hit the next few milestones, where the trail meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Deer Springs Trail, and then the PCT veers off after half a mile. The next segment is one mile to a campground called Little Round Valley. And from there it's 1.3 miles to the summit. The water is just before Little Round Valley.

I ran into some other hikers at the stream and we all stopped to filter water to refill our bottles. I let them borrow my filter and spent extra time there as a result. Just before Little Round Valley, I ran into another hiker going down and asked his advice.

Here was the situation. It was already 3:10pm and I was about 1.5 mi from the summit. The sun would set around 8pm. He was the last person on this trail heading down, and there was nobody else on this trail at all besides us. The Devil's Slide Trail would be more populated and also easier to see because it's better marked. Particularly if I ended up going down in the dark. But to get to the Devil's Slide, I had to first go UP to where the trails meet, 0.3 mi from the summit and a bit over 1 mi from where I was at that point.

I still really wanted to make it to the summit. I asked the other hiker if he thought it was a bad idea, but he didn't. I kind of did. But off I went, toward the summit. In retrospect, I should have gone down with him.

I realized I should have gone down with him and almost turned around before I'd even gone another half mile. But it was too late. He was probably much faster than me, and he had a good head start. I did not want to attempt the Marion Mountain trail going down for fear I would get lost. The only other option was to make it to the saddle where the trails meet, 0.3 mi from the top, and then head down the Devil's Slide. Maybe there were people on the summit who were going down Devil's Slide and I could hike down with them, in fact.

I went as fast as I could and finally made it to the saddle around 4:15pm. I don't go fast, but getting lost really slowed me down. By then, I'd been hiking since 8:55am and I'd gone 5.3 miles and 4000 feet up. I was at 10,500 feet or so. I stopped and ate a sandwich and an apple while waiting to see if anyone else was coming down from the summit.

I thought about going to the summit. Just 0.3 mi. I was so close. If I could do it, then I was still in the running to complete the "3 peaks in 3 weeks" challenge I signed up for and then I'd get a $30 giftcard to an outdoor retailer to buy more gear. But I realized: my health and safety are worth more than $30.

Another issue? My car was parked at Marion Mountain, NOT Devil's Slide. But I just did not feel good attempting to go down the Marion Mountain trail alone, knowing I was the only person on the trail and the trail was so hard to follow I'd already been lost once. Especially with the sun setting. I'd rather get down the mountain safely and THEN worry about the car. Worst case scenario, I could call the police and ask them to pick me up or something once I reached the bottom. There would be cell phone service there.

So I headed down the Devil's Slide path - nearly 8 mi to get down with about three and a half hours to do it in. I tried to go fast but I'm sure I was not going fast at all at that point. My phone was down to 30% battery and had no reception. I turned it on to check the time when I reached the various landmarks on the way down - Wellman's Divide after 2.4 mi, then a spot where the trail joins the PCT after another mile, then Saddle Junction after another 1.8 mi. After Saddle Junction, it was just another 2.5 mi to the end. I reached the bottom at 8pm, just as the sun was going down.

Going up took me 7 1/2 hours to go 5.3 mi. Going down nearly 8 miles took me 3 1/2 hrs. All in all, I went about 14 miles and it took me 11 hours.

I'm not that disappointed I didn't hit the summit. I can go back. If I do, I'm taking the tram. This is just a rough year to do those other trails because of the lack of water, unless you're faster and stronger than me and you can carry all the water you need. I can't.

All in all, I learned a lot on the trail yesterday. I had a space blanket for warmth in case I got trapped up there, plenty of food, enough water, a headlamp, a sweater, a warm hat, a Swiss Army Knife, and even stuff to start a fire if need be. I wouldn't be happy or comfortable if I was stuck overnight on the mountain, but I knew I'd be safe. My map and compass bailed my butt out when I got lost, but the map was insufficiently detailed, and my phone, while helpful, ran out of batteries too quickly. Next time, I'm spending the money for a better map. And it was good I actually KNEW how to use the map and compass. And I had practiced it before.

Despite my troubles, I actually had a great time. There were tons of flowers - columbines, shooting stars, ceanothus, beardtongue, beaked penstemon, scarlet bugler, and another yellow flower that could be a snapdragon or something related but I have to check. The views from the Marion Mountain side were the best, but the Devil's Slide was not bad either. On the way down the Devil's Slide I could easily see Tahquitz Peak and Suicide Rock, both of which I've hiked before.

After I'd already gone maybe 13 miles and I was near the end and my feet hurt and I had a few blisters, I passed some azaleas and the breeze blew the scent over to me and I was in heaven. That is why I hike. Because even at that point, when I'm ready to be back down to my car and a nice meal and a shower and my bed, I am still enjoying myself, especially when I encounter something as wonderful as the scent of azaleas.

Now that it's all over, I realize I probably could have gone to the summit and gone back down the Marion Mountain trail to my car before dark. And I probably could have found my way down OK and not gotten lost. But I can't be sure. And I would have worried the whole way down. So I still don't regret my choice.

If anyone wants to go back up San Jacinto with me, I'm game - but we're taking the tram.  

Weight Loss, Diet, Exercise, and a Thank You

Since I moved to San Diego, I've gained 50 lbs. That's five-oh. And I'm 5'3". I came here weighing less than I usually do, but then I got a job at a bakery, gained it all back, and then kept going.

This year, I've started losing it again. I don't know what I weigh. I don't own a scale. But I do know that I now fit into a dress I haven't worn since 2007. And a male acquaintance I ran into this week was totally checking me out all of a sudden. One person I had met once before and ran into again said she didn't even recognize me. And I know that my body feels GREAT all the time, and I'm suddenly capable of doing amazing things I couldn't do before, like going on 11 mile hikes up steep mountains while carrying a heavy pack on my back.

So this blog post is about what happened. And it's also a thank you to someone who deserves a lot of credit for helping me find my passion and believing in myself.
There's a reason I write about food and not exercise. I love food. I've never loved exercise. Exercise has always been something I suck at. I honestly think I've got a problem. As a kid I was active, swimming on the swim team in the summer and then doing the minimum required of me in gym class during the school year. Sometimes I swam in the winter too, but just as training, never on a team to compete.

I say that as a preface to this story. In junior high, they made us run a mile once a week in gym. I was always the slowest by, well, a mile. My fastest time was 11:03. Most of the time, I averaged 13 or 14 minutes. Finally, in high school, they decided to educate us about heart rate in gym. They took us out to the track and had us take our own rest pulses. Mine was about 50. Then they had us power walk a lap around the track and take our pulses again. Mine leaped to 180.

The gym teacher freaked out when I told her. She double checked and found that I had not made a mistake. My pulse was really 180. Holy shit. No wonder I sucked so bad at running (and despite my regular swimming, I was pretty slow at that too). My heart rate was sky high! Strangely enough, through this time, my blood pressure was always very low. Last time I had it checked, and this was during a time when I'd been very physically active, it was 90/50. If I sit on my tush and eat junk for a few years, it'll go all the way up to 120/80 - normal for most people, high for me.

I don't know what to make of this, but what I do know is that if you put me in a sport, I won't do very well. And I often don't enjoy it. Especially if there's a ball involved.

Shortly after I moved here, I met a woman named Marna. That day, I mentioned to her that I wanted to learn how to SCUBA dive. She got excited and said her sister Kristin could teach me how and even maybe certify me. Her sister is a marine ecologist who dives several times a week for her job and, matter of fact, lived right near me. In fact, we could go meet her right now!

So we did go meet her. Kristin was OK with the SCUBA plan, it seemed. She was nice. I liked her. She called me later that week and we went out for drinks. She called me soon after that and asked if I wanted to go hiking.

Truthfully? I absolutely did not want to go hiking. I wasn't entirely sure what "hiking" was (walking in nature?) but it involved me and exercise and I wasn't interested. But I wanted Kristin to like me so she'd teach me how to SCUBA dive. So I said yes.

I didn't have the right clothes, or the right shoes. I didn't even bring a bottle of water. And I was carrying a pink purse. Kristin picked me up. Thankfully, she had a bottle of water for me. She was carrying a heavy pack and planned to gradually increase the weight in it as she trained for a 10 day backpacking trip to the Sierras. Marna met us at the trailhead.

As we approached the mountain, I saw a steep trail going up it. Dear god, I thought. We aren't going up THAT thing! Surely we were just going to walk around the mountain on a nice, flat trail. Right?

Before long, it was clear we WERE taking that steep trail up the mountain. And we were going all the way to the top. Marna (a novice hiker, like me) and I were huffing and puffing and begging for frequent rest stops. It took us a long time, but we got to the top. I sat down and huffed and puffed. I was breathing so hard I couldn't even stop to drink water.

For some reason, Kristin kept inviting us, and Marna and I kept going. I still wanted Kristin to teach me to SCUBA dive, and I did enjoy the hikes somewhat. Gradually, I began to love the hikes. SCUBA never happened for various reasons, like poor visibility in the water.

After a few weeks, Kristin went and did a 10 mile hike, much more strenuous than the 3 and 4 mile hikes we'd been doing. She declared Marna and me ready to tackle the 10 mile hike in about another week. And... we did it!

We got into a rhythm of about 4 hikes a week. Two 3-miles, one 4-mile, plus a longer one on Sunday mornings. I bought some appropriate shoes.

Then, things changed. Marna and Kristin had their own sister dynamic going on, and Kristin and I were about as different as two people could be, and very poorly suited to be friends. For one thing, she likes to hang out with friends in silence, and I'm a chatterbox. Sitting with another human being in silence feels like a punishment to me. It's bliss for Kristin.

Marna, like most normal people, was getting in better shape. She was speeding up. I was afraid I'd be so slow they wouldn't want to hike with me anymore. I bought trekking poles to see if they'd speed me up (they do). But then we did stop hiking together, at the end of the summer. All in all, the entire period of us hiking together lasted from about March to late summer. That was it.

I never learned how to SCUBA dive, but I was hooked on hiking. I continued going by myself several days a week. That was 2007. Since then, I've continued hiking, on and off. I stopped for a bit in 2009-2010. Then I started again. Then I stopped for a bit in 2012. Then I started again.

Despite all the hiking, it never lead to any weight loss. I worked in a bakery for six months in 2007 and ate cake, cookies, and ice cream all day every day. I lived across from a place called Extraordinary Desserts for 2007-2008 and dined there regularly. I gained 20 lbs.

I moved away from there at the very end of 2008, just after my brother died. But then I decided that, with my brother gone, my only pleasures left on this earth were physical, and what did I care if I gained weight? I ate an awful lot of tiramisu, fruit tarts, four berry cobbler, brownies a la mode, and apple blackberry crisp with homemade vanilla ice cream. I enjoyed every bite. I gained another 20 lbs. I stopped eating all the junk when my pants no longer fit.

A few years later, a cupcake shop opened up near my place, and I became friends with the owner. I'd stop by to say hi - and eat a cupcake or three. I gained another 10 lbs. Finally, I gave up cupcakes for New Years, I think in 2012.

And still, the weight stuck around. Or, I should say, the fat stuck around. Right around my middle. And on my arms and especially on my legs and butt. I wasn't gorging on junk food so much, and I was hiking 3 miles three times a week, and nothing was changing.

In late 2013, I gave up most sugar. The American Heart Association recommends women eat 6 tsp of added sugars per day or less. That includes all forms of sugar - honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, you name it. I'd even throw in fruit juice. Six teaspoons is about 25g or 100 calories. It ain't much.

I was hiking three times a week. Maybe I lost a little weight but if I did, it wasn't much.

Around New Years, I made few more changes. I gave up putting milk in my coffee and began drinking it black. Yes, milk is full of calcium, but it has lactose too (a sugar). I was drinking a LOT of milk. I like lattes, and I love coffee, and I drink a lot of it - always with milk. I have my whole life. If you drink your calories - even milk - then your body does not account for it by consuming less later the way it does if you eat food.

The other change was in the amount and intensity of my hiking. Instead of three short hikes a week, I began aiming for four short and one long. The four hikes are on my favorite mountain, a 3 mile trail that goes up 870 feet in elevation. I'd try to go daily, Monday through Thursday. Then I'd take a day off, do a long hike Saturday, and take a day off Sunday.

The first long hike was a relatively flat 6-mile hike. I thought my legs were going to fall off. Six miles soon became eight miles, and I felt very comfortable doing eight miles for several months. About a week and a half ago, I upped that to 10 or 11 miles. I signed up for a backpacking trip to Yosemite over the Fourth of July, so I've also started training to be able to carry a heavy backpack as I hike. I've been increasing the weight in my pack by 3 lbs a week. Tonight I carried 21 lbs up the mountain.

A few weeks ago, a nearby outdoor retailer advertised a "3 peak challenge" to hike the 3 tallest mountains in Southern California. I signed up. So far, one down, two to go. I'm doing the tallest this coming weekend, and the last one the week after. And, at this point, by July I might be in good enough shape to attempt Mt. Whitney if I can get a permit (22 mi, 6100 ft in elevation gain, tallest mountain in the lower 48).

These long, steep hikes burn a ton of calories, and usually I can't force myself to eat that much while I'm doing them because it makes me feel sick to my stomach. My muscles are getting stronger, and I had to buy a smaller pair of pants.

However, I'm still REALLY slow. REALLY REALLY slow. Most people who are capable of going up these tall mountains on long, steep trails are much faster than me.

As I've been on this journey, I've occasionally tried to join up with local hiking meetup groups in the area. They are always too fast for me and never willing to slow down to my pace. They often tell me there are hikes for slower hikers, usually to very easy, short trails. Because they assume that if you're slow, you can't do that much. Only, I can. Just slowly. And I don't enjoy those easy trails.

I was thinking about it today, and I realized, if Kristin did not introduce me to hiking, I probably would have never started doing it. And if she hadn't believed that I could do the hikes she lead me on, I wouldn't have believed it myself - and I wouldn't have done it.

Now, I'm doing these harder hikes because I know I can do it - just slowly. If you hiked with me and saw how slow I was, you probably wouldn't think I could do long, hard hikes. And I bet if anyone else had introduced me to hiking, they would have seen what pitiful shape I was in and directed me to the easy trails at Torrey Pines, which I find boring. I wouldn't have gone back for more. And I would have never discovered that my true passion was for the intense, steep, difficult hikes I now love. After I do them, my body feels cleansed. I feel amazing. And although it's hard to start up again if I ever stop for more than a few weeks, once you get going, it becomes addictive. I need the high I get from trekking up a steep slope with a heavy pack of gear on my back.

So, Kristin, wherever you are, thanks. And to anyone else reading this, if my ass can make it up to the top of a mountain, if you have two functioning legs, than so can yours. And you might even find you enjoy doing it.

Two Kickass Southern California Hikes

In the past week, I've done two extremely strenuous hikes. Not the hardest hikes around in absolute terms (Google "Cactus to Clouds") but strenuous in terms of long mileage and very steep terrain combined with hot weather and little shade.

The first was El Cajon Mountain at El Capitan Open Space Preserve in Lakeside, CA. This hike is notorious for its difficulty and some say it's the hardest hike in San Diego county. Around here, we often call it El Capitan, since we have a city called El Cajon, and calling it that might be confusing. I realize that, for non-San Diegans, El Capitan might refer to the place of the same name at Yosemite. So, FYI, that's not what I'm talking about.

The second was Mt San Antonio, more commonly referred to as Mt Baldy. It's located in the Angeles National Forest, in the town of Mt Baldy, more commonly known as "Baldy Village." Details and photos below.
El Capitan is an 11.2 mile hike, out and back, through chaparral. If you go, do it in the winter. Of course, since people use this hike as training for places like Mt Whitney, which you typically hike in July and August, that means hiking El Capitan when it's hot. And I mean HOT.

Why is it so hard?

El Cajon Mountain

Most of the uphill segments are extremely steep. As you can see, there's a bit of downhill when you're going up, which means you have to go up hill when you're going down. This makes the trail a physical and mental challenge. For one thing, once you hit the peak, something in your brain clicks off that the main challenge is done, it's time to go down now. Only with this mountain, you still have to go up. I found myself uttering a lot of four letter words on the way "down" every time I looked ahead of me and saw something like this:

El Cajon Mountain Trail

The second reason it's so hard, besides the sheer length and steepness itself (up to a 42% grade) is simply because on the way down, you've already gone 5.6 miles to the top and your legs are somewhat shot. But I felt pretty good when I hit the top. It's not til you go back down a mile or so, and hit the first up hill of your trek "down" and it just isn't pretty. Even after you pass the last major up hill segment around mile 2.5, you still have short bits of steep up hill to go until you hit the 1.0 mile marker. And at that point, with 10.2 miles behind you, you can breathe easy because you are really going DOWN - and only down.

The last reason it's hard - particularly in the summer - is the heat. You can start early - the parking lot opens at 7am, but you can park on the road earlier than that - and hit the peak when the weather is nice. And then, around 10:30am, the weather becomes uncomfortable and continues heating up until its downright miserable or even dangerous. I thought three liters of water would be enough the first time I hiked it. They weren't. I needed four. Which means carrying a full gallon on your back (8 lbs), so now you're doing this trek and carrying a lot of weight as you go.

I first tried this June 1. The weather forecast said it would get up to 81. When I arrived back to my car after hiking 10.2 miles, it was 93F. I ran out of water and had a time constraint that made it impossible for me to finish the last mile of the trail - probably a good thing given the heat and my water situation. I went back a few days later and did the whole thing - with 4 liters of water. It was still hard, but not as hard. And it was a few degrees cooler that day, thank god.

That brings us to yesterday, June 8, and Mt Baldy. The mountain stands at 10,064 ft, just a few feet taller than Haleakala, in Maui. The trail starts around 6000 feet. To acclimate to the altitude, we camped out at the Manker Flats campground near the trailhead the night before. And since the web is piss poor at providing this info:

The campground is shaded by beautiful conifers and dotted with wildflowers.

Pine tree

Beardtongue, Penstemon grinnellii

We decided to do a popular 11.3 mi loop, hiking up the Ski Hut trail to the summit, then down the more gradual Devil's Backbone to Baldy Notch and back down to the car.

The Ski Hut trail supposedly leaves from the Manker Flats campground, but it's actually from a parking area just up the road a little bit. Drive over and park there. You need an adventure pass for the car but no other permits.

We found the spot, parked the car, and got on our way. And I'm aware that my hair looks ridiculous. I didn't bother with it since I was going to wear a hat all day and end up with it ultimately looking even worse.

Starting the Hike

My big mistake is that I packed too much. I did El Cajon mountain with a day pack, my 10 essentials, a gallon of water in 2 64-oz Kleen Kanteens, a peanut butter sandwich, a banana, trail mix, and an energy bar. I should have stuck to that. This time around I switched to my Gregory Cairn 58, which weighs nearly 4 lbs, plus 2 Kleen Kanteens full of 3 liters of water, 10 essentials, a sweater, a heavy jacket, and way more food than I needed. In all, it weighed at least 17 lbs. That was a dumb move. REALLY dumb. There are some people who can carry 17 lbs like it's nothing. I am not one of them.

The Ski Hut trail begins by passing San Antonio Falls after 0.6 mi (not the most spectacular waterfall this time of the year) and continuing along a gravel road for about one-third of a mile. At that point, an unmarked steep trail leads off from the left, and that's the ski hut trail. Apparently there was a sign and people kept stealing it, so they leave it unmarked nowadays.

From that point, until you hit the summit in another 3.7 miles, you are going pretty much straight up. There is a stream where you can get water near the Ski Hut, and if the Ski Hut is open (and that's not a given), there is water and a latrine there. The Ski Hut is not far past the half-way point to the summit.

The trail is stunningly beautiful, much prettier than the way we went down, but it is STEEP. It climbs 3900 feet in 4.6 miles. There are a few short sections where it levels out a little bit, but not too many. Still, if you can do it, I think it's worth the beauty to take this steep route.

Mt Baldy Ski Hut Trail

A California King Snake!

I spotted the snake near the Ski Hut and got pretty excited because I've never seen a king snake before. This guy is obviously not dangerous if you remember "Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black, friend of Jack." Or Jill, in this case. But when I told other hikers about the snake, some got scared. The snake responded by hiding under a rock right after I got the photo. So clearly, he was a huge threat to human life (not).



The plant life on the trail was mostly conifers and manzanita. I saw quite a bit of golden yarrow, beardtongue (the penstemon in the photo above), and some snow plants. I am no expert with conifers but I think I saw limber pines, some kind of spruce, and incense cedar, plus some other kinds of pines.

Some of the pines have tons of sap that have spewed out of them and ultimately dried on the tree. I saw a woodpecker and a friend helped me identify it as a Williamson's Sapsucker. Sapsuckers are cool because they peck the tree to get the sap to flow. Then bugs come to eat the sap and get stuck... and the bird eats the bugs.

My friend Kevin near a big tree. You can see the mountain's kinda steep.




The photos do not nearly capture the beauty of this hike. They don't even come close. After a tough climb, we finally reached the top. By this time, I was running low on water. I did not refill it at the Ski Hut because I was tired of carrying so much weight. Dumb move. Even with the elevation, it was hot outside and I had to really chug my water to avoid dehydration. Three liters would have been enough IF I had refilled them when I had the chance. If you aren't certain that the Ski Hut is open or the stream is flowing, then bring 4 liters on this hike.

Me Atop Mt Baldy

Me Atop Mt Baldy

You can go down the way we came, and in retrospect, it would have been nice from a scenic point of view. On the way up, we had our back to the panoramic views surrounding us as we concentrated on the trail. It's always nice to enjoy them on the way down.

Instead, we completed our loop by taking a much more gradual route that takes you along a ridge (the "Devil's Backbone") to Baldy Notch, a ski resort. At Baldy Notch, you reach a restaurant (Top of the Notch) with water, food, and bathrooms, and ski lifts. The ski lifts allow you to bypass 1.8 miles of the trail, which is just a boring gravel road for that section. An adult ticket is $12 down and at that point we felt it was not worth the money, and sort of cheating. So we started walking. But as we walked those 1.8 miles - and yes, they were boring, scenery-wise - that's when we really just wanted to be done with the hike.

To be fair to my companion, he had just day-hiked Mt. Whitney two days before. If it weren't for that, he would've felt fine at the end of the hike. He's in great shape. I'm in great shape... for me. But compared to most humans, I'm a wuss.

The one nice thing we saw on the way down were matilija poppies. I had never noticed this before, but these poppies are weird because they have six petals. Most poppies I've seen have four, and most eudicots have petals in multiples of fours and fives. Monocots tend to have petals in multiples of three or six, and poppies are not monocots.

Matilija Poppies

Matilija Poppies

At long last, we reached the road, and then it was a short walk down to the car. By this point, I smelled probably worse than I've ever smelled in my life. Changing clothes felt GREAT. I only regret I did not have a change of shorts. I did have a fresh change of every other article of clothing and I was grateful for all of them.

My last photo is of a sign that cracks me up, since I'm a midwesterner who became a Californian as an adult:

No Throwing Snowballs

Silly Californians. They like to drive up to the mountains in the winter to play in the snow, and apparently they find it so exciting that they need to be told not to pelt passing cars with snowballs.

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