Tuesday, February 26, 2013

C50 Training: Four Loops In The Verdugos

Various radio facilities crown the Verdugo peaks.
Due to an abundance of fire roads, mountain bikers, and radio towers, I rarely hear the beckoning call of the Verdugo Mountains. Nevertheless, when in Burbank for a work assignment, sometimes I hustle up the sweat-inducing ridge route from Wildwood Canyon Park. I like ridges--and, I suppose, sweating. But I also like loops and very long dayhikes. So while searching for another training scheme for the C50, I noticed that a challenging and semi-interesting 25-mile walkabout could be achieved by highlighting variations of four different loops in the Verdugo range: Beaudry Motorway, Stough Canyon, La Tuna Canyon, and Wildwood Canyon.

I convinced two other people to join me. Well, actually I convinced Sue, who had participated in the superloop to San Gabriel Peak. Then she convinced Bob, one of her regular hiking partners. We three gathered at the entrance to Wildwood Canyon Park (1,240') on January 4th. It was a frigid but crystal clear, shining Friday. Bob pointed out a family of coyotes moseying around on the neighboring golf course, and by 7:00 AM we hit trail.

Mt. Thom radio facility.
A few yards down the park road an unsigned trail on the left started steeply up a toe of the ridgefoot. It curved sharply to the right before switchbacking up a second toe and thereby gaining the primary ridge at an elevation of 1,740 feet. This initial half-mile buttkicker warmed up our legs while raising us into view of the city below and the canyons on either side. Soon the Vital Link Trail joined forces with our nameless ridge path. It helped us, by means of well-constructed zigzags, reach a communication tower (West Peak) at nearly 3,000 feet.

This completed the first half of our Wildwood Canyon loop, which more precisely is a lollipop-shaped route. The second half, returning via the park road, would have to wait until the end of our day.

Turning east across the tower facility we merged with the Verdugo Motorway, a wide, unpaved, service road traversing almost the entire range west to east and providing connections between other roads and trails. It carried us past a junction for Hostetter Motorway, which wound down the range's north side toward Tujunga. A few minutes later we stood upon the fenced, tower-covered summit of Verdugo Mountain (3,126'), nicknamed Bicycle Peak, presumably for its appeal to mountain bikers. The Sierra Club has planted a register can on an antenna-free bump a quarter-mile further east. But I did not know that at the time.

Photo Op Rock on Mt. Thom.
Moving on, we flew east along the Verdugo, occasionally glancing over at the much larger and loftier San Gabriel range, which included prominent Mt. Lukens. At a split for the Whiting Woods Motorway, we instead kept to the right, following the backbone southbound. The road alternately offered sweeping views of Sunset Canyon on the right and Henderson Canyon on the left. We passed Skyline Motorway, a crumbling, overgrown, tick-infested roadbed heading back down to Burbank. Beyond Skyline, the well-maintained Brand Motorway dropped to the right toward Brand Park in Glendale. Then, 0.6 miles after Brand, we finally said goodbye to Verdugo Motorway and hello to Beaudry.

The North Beaudry Motorway seen descending toward Glendale.
Most people do the Beaudry Motorway loop starting from Beaudry Blvd. in Glendale. Having come from the opposite direction, we began at the upper junction with Verdugo and marched through the course clockwise, first passing through trickling Deer Creek on the North Beaudry road. We then bypassed the 0.4-mile connector to Beaudry Blvd. at elevation 1,360 feet, transitioning to South Beaudry, which wiggled its way up to a ridge and steadily climbed to the radio facility at Mt. Thom (2,440+'). A brief stop at Thom included peering over the city at Griffith Park, checking out the "art" on Photo Op Rock, and barely noticing Las Flores Motorway as it weaved across the south face of the summit. South Beaudry then shuffled us onto Tongva Peak (2,656'), less than a mile north of Thom. Adjacent to the KROQ-FM radio facility, a small overlook area provided a suitable spot for sitting and snacking. Pomeroy Canyon formed a great corridor before our eyes, and to one side an alluring ridge route descended gently in the direction of Brand Motorway. I made a mental note to include that in a future adventure.

Pomeroy Canyon leaving Tongva Peak with Griffith Park in the distance.
After refueling we hopped back onto the Verdugo Motorway, having finished up the roughly 5-mile Beaudry loop. The road then transported us 3.3 miles back to the first radio facility at West Peak. We continued westbound another mile before deciding to shake off the boring motorway and try on an obvious use trail seen etched along the very top of the backbone ridge. This 0.6-mile path climbed up to Point 2646 and then sharply dropped 500 feet to a junction where the Verdugo and Stough Canyon motorways intersect. The steep, hardened slope caused some slipping and one minor fall. But still it was a nice diversion from stomping the fire road all day.

Sue and Bob taking the use trail up to Point 2646.
Starting down the Stough Canyon Motorway, our next loop was under way. Normally folks park at the Stough Canyon Nature Center 500 feet below and begin from there. But we were doing it in reverse. The uncomplicated road eased down 0.9 miles, delivering us at the Nature Center (1,520') by 1:17 PM.

Thus far we had covered a distance of 16.3 miles in 6.25 hours. An empty bench welcomed our weary rear ends. Miss Drinking Fountain and Mr. Restroom shouted out, "Use us!" Socks were changed, lunches consumed. And half an hour later, Sue, Bob, and I felt somewhat refreshed, ready to take on the second half of the Stough Canyon loop.

This is what remains of the Old Youth Campground facility.
Back up the road we marched for 0.4 miles. A turnoff on the left climbed 60 feet to the Old Youth Campground trailhead. This wide, pleasant path pushed us up a little ridge and into a flat hideaway above McClure Canyon, where the campground ruins (a stone foundation and fireplace) sat restfully. This corner of the range offered more views of Burbank, including Bob Hope International Airport. The trail continued slightly uphill, wrapped around the east and north sides of Point 2256, and terminated at the Verdugo Motorway. Turning east (right), we quickly found ourselves back at Stough Canyon junction, having now concluded the simple 2.4-mile loop. Another half mile on Verdugo brought us to the La Tuna Canyon Trail junction (2,300').

The La Tuna loop is longer, more rugged, and less popular than Beaudry or Stough. It begins and ends off of the I-210 on La Tuna Canyon Road. Hikers park at turnouts for either the La Tuna Canyon or La Tuna Foot trailheads, which are 0.3 miles away from each other. It is therefore necessary to car shuttle or to walk the moderately busy, litter-filled surface street between trails. Both singletrack paths ascend to the Verdugo Motorway, which can be used to connect the two and form a loop.

A bobcat notices our presence.
Our unusual plan, however, required us to modify the loop a bit and do some of it piecemeal. In fact, we already had completed part of the route before lunch, when we took a combination of Verdugo Motorway and the ridgetop use path from the West Peak area to Stough Canyon. And now, post-lunch, we had already taken the road from Stough to La Tuna Canyon trailhead. Therefore, we only needed to cover the remaining portions down La Tuna Canyon and up La Tuna Foot.

Without delay, the La Tuna Canyon Trail gently sent us northward along a ridgeline, falling a mere 250 feet in 0.4 miles. A more rapid decline followed as we were moved eastward into a lush little tributary. This refreshing side canyon sponsored a slow-flowing stream and numerous oaks. Unfortunately, the footpath seemed in a hurry to depart these cool narrow walls. It floated over to the next canyon and after a few u-turns released us onto La Tuna Canyon Road (1,320').

Here we faced east and negotiated the street, which ran in unison with La Tuna Canyon creek. After a short distance there was a turnout and picnic area for The Grotto, apparently a local hangout featuring a small, enclosed waterfall.

The La Tuna Foot Trail is visible across the canyon.
A use path took us into The Grotto (1,440'), located a mere 300 feet or less from the roadway. We identified the eroded, unsigned La Tuna Foot trailhead, steeply withdrawing up the east wall. After a quick and easy scramble, the trail took shape and looked to be in fine form. It switchbacked a bit before gaining the dominant ridge and calling it home. For approximately 1.9 miles we steadily tackled this incline, gaining maybe 1,500'. The path sometimes skirted along cooler north slopes below the ridgetop, passing through green-growth and a few small trees. Mostly it sprawled out across the chaparral-decorated spine, undulating a couple times over small bumps. At last the narrow track bumped into a wide fire road called Plantation Lateral around elevation 2,880 feet.

Plantation Lateral spent another quarter-mile increasing us to 2,980 feet, and in the process guided us through a bunch of planted trees, including pines, referred to on maps as the Fire Warden's Grove. Shaded benches provided a place to recuperate after our stamina had taken a beating on the La Tuna Foot climb. Having previously criss-crossed between Warden's Grove and West Peak, we considered the 7-mile La Tuna Canyon loop closed and could almost see the end of our journey.

Heading down the Vital Link Trail at sunset.
Ten minutes later, at 4:42 PM, we willed ourselves back over to the Vital Link. Gazing down the long ridge, it appeared much the same as when we started up ten hours prior. The sun slid behind the Pacific at 4:56 PM. Bob snapped some pictures. We reached the 1,880-foot mark and abandoned the ridge, selecting an unpaved fire road that plummeted into the heart of Wildwood Canyon Park. As darkness closed around us, and the road switched to pavement, we noted the park's audible firing range and its scores of tree-shaded picnic tables. The road through the canyon ended up being 1.2 miles long, the final leg of our final loop of the day. It was a relief to finally see our cars at 5:39 PM.

Despite some aches and pains, and a few blisters, the group fared well. We racked up 25.6 miles and 6,700 feet of gain, all done in less than eleven hours. I, for one, felt like there were another 5 or 10 miles left in my legs. Next time I would put that feeling to the test.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

C50 Training: Altadena to San Gabriel Peak Superloop

Standing on Mt. Lowe with Mt. Wilson behind us.
By late December snow had arrived in the Cucamonga Wilderness, forcing me to look elsewhere for adequate training scenarios. Thus, unlike hikes one and two, which covered parts of the actual C50 course, this trip took place further west, in and above the city of Altadena. Also, this time I would not be traveling solo. A new friend, Sue, had taken an interest in the C50 after joining me on a trip up the Lone Tree Trail a few weeks prior. Neither of us had anything better to do on Christmas Day, so at 7:10 AM we met at the Rubio Canyon debris basin and started a 25-mile superloop to San Gabriel Peak.

Aerial imagery showing the location of Camp Huntington Road in Altadena.
Across from the basin, the unsigned Camp Huntington Road quietly snuck northward along Rubio's east bank. At a vehicle barrier, the paved, private drive bent to the right, providing access to a couple residences, while our path continued straight, beyond the barrier, morphing into a dirt road used by the water company. Past a second split leading up to a reservoir, the road then ended at a fenced in well--and the entrance to narrow Rubio Canyon.

Sue and I briefly followed the use path up-canyon, passing a junction on the right for the SCE Tractor Road trail, which squeezes behind the reservoir and takes off eastward toward Pine Canyon. Our plan, however, sent us crossing the dry creek bed, following the well-defined Camp Huntington Trail westward and ascending 150 feet up to the Rubio Right-of-way.

The Right-of-way is an old train route once used to transport passengers into Rubio Canyon for the historic Mt. Lowe scenic attraction. Today this deteriorated railbed supports a footpath that begins between two houses at the corner of Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge and concludes 0.4 miles later at the ruins of Rubio Pavilion, where in 1893 an incline tram carried tourists straight up the mountainside to a hotel on Echo Mountain.

Lower Old Echo Mountain Trail seen from high up on the Lone Tree Trail.
Sue and I turned left onto the Right-of-way, but after a mere 125 feet down-canyon, we turned sharply right onto yet another historic trail, the Lower Old Echo Mountain.

Lower Old Echo traces part of the original 1892 walking route to Echo Mountain. Thanks to a few local caretakers, this trail is returning to life after much neglect. It is free of bushwhacking and offers a heart-pounding, 0.7-mile ridge route up to the Sam Merrill Trail junction at some electrical towers.

From these towers, we hurried up 1.2 miles of the Sam Merrill to another old railbed called the Alpine Division, which long ago took tourists 3.5 miles along the Mt. Lowe system from Echo Mountain station to a remote Swiss-style hotel called Alpine Tavern, located at the southwestern base of Mt. Lowe.

We stepped onto the first portion of this route, now called the Echo Mountain Trail, and crossed the head of Las Flores Canyon, hugging steep, rocky cliffs. Less than a mile later, the path safely deposited us onto the Mt. Lowe fire road near Cape of Good Hope. This is where the old railroad used to turn right, heading up and through Millard and Grand canyons.

The 2009 Station Fire badly burned this area, destroying much of its beauty, but the road was in good condition, still handling regular hiker and biker traffic. We passed through some interesting landmarks, such as Horseshoe Curve and Granite Gate, accompanied by informative signs next to the road. Despite observing extensive fire damage, we also experienced some delightful forest canopy, particularly in Grand Canyon, where many trees survived the conflagration. Among these majestic oaks and pines rested the ruins of Alpine Tavern, where the old railroad line had ended and now existed the building's foundation and a modest campground.

Here we transitioned to the West Mt. Lowe Trail, found immediately above the campground alongside a dry streambed. A short distance up this gully Crystal Spring could be heard flowing, locked behind a spring box door. This drainage was tapped over a century ago for the Alpine Tavern. The outlet pipe still fills an old water tank above the ruins, and overflow leads back into the gully. But this scheme no longer works properly due to several holes in the disintegrating tank. Rather than pour naturally down the gully, almost all of the water is diverted onto the hillside beside the leaky tank, which rarely, if ever, reaches capacity.

Looking across devastated Bear Canyon at Mts. Deception
and Disappointment.
After Crystal Spring, the West Mt. Lowe trail crossed the switchbacking fire road once before continuing its 1.5-mile ascent across Lowe's west face. Only a year or two ago rocks and overgrowth prevented a casual journey along this route. But workers have re-established it as a comfortable and perhaps slightly more attractive alternative to the East Mt. Lowe approach, which spends considerable time highlighting charred slopes, a downhill mountain biking course, and the tower complex on Mt. Wilson.

Climbing out of Grand Canyon, West Mt. Lowe provided inspiring vistas of the hearty forest around the campground. Higher up it then moved us into view of the devastated upper reaches of neighboring Bear Canyon. Looking across this burned gulch, we could see Mts. Deception and Disappointment, as well as our primary objective, the cone-shaped San Gabriel Peak. We then zig-zagged up the rocky, northwest shoulder of Mt. Lowe, reaching the 5,603-foot summit at 10:18 AM.

The rocky path up Mt. Lowe's northwest ridge.
Another hiker had beaten us to the top and was occupying the bench. He too had started from Altadena, but from Cobb Estate instead of Rubio. He kindly snapped a picture of me and Sue, before heading down. Despite the chilly, overcast weather, visibility was decent, allowing views of all the surrounding peaks, including nearby Mt. Wilson with its large array of antennae. Locating tubes placed upon the summit pointed out various landmarks. Some tubes had also been positioned along the trail from the campground. They were originally part of the scenic Mt. Lowe attraction, intended for guests of the Alpine Tavern who would walk or ride a horse up to the summit.

Lowe is a worthy destination all by itself. One-way from Rubio we totaled approximately 7.3 miles with 3,950 feet of gain in three hours. But it was only the first of three planned peaks for us. Next on the agenda was Mt. Markham.

After signing the register, we left Lowe and descended 0.3 miles to its east side, where there was a trail junction. Here the East Mt. Lowe path contoured southward, forming an alternative route back to the campground. A second trail, usually referred to simply as Mt. Lowe, split off to the left, heading northward.

Mt. Markham and San Gabriel Peak seen from Mt. Lowe.
We followed this second trail for another 0.3 miles, to a point where it intersected Markham ridge, which cut eastward. A clear use trail propelled us 0.4 miles along this rocky spine and elevated us 420 feet to the long, flattish summit, where at 10:59 AM a register awaited our signatures.

Taking a moment to sightsee, we spied a small group atop Mt. Lowe, and another on the East trail. Directly below us Eaton Canyon's impressive vastness stretched out for miles, and immediately to our north, fire-ravaged San Gabriel Peak looked very close and very conquerable.

Returning to the Mt. Lowe Trail, it now leveled out, gently snaking across Markham's northwest slope for approximately half a mile. This stretch paralleled the Mt. Lowe fire road and finally joined it at Markham Saddle, which is a popular pass between San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Markham.

A trailside memorial for someone's dog, Eragon.
Here the fire road continued east. Sue and I instead chose the unsigned trail that climbs northward from Markham Saddle, along the west face of San Gabriel Peak. We located the path to the left of a water tank. It passed through a mostly blackened and destroyed landscape. But the trail itself was adequately maintained and easy to follow. We found ourselves skirting the headwall of Bear Canyon and admiring a few rock formations. Some exposure kept us alert. At one of the switchbacks, a memorial cross had been placed for a dog named Eragon. I suppose he fell off the cliffs.

After 0.7 miles the trail reached another saddle, this one being between Mt. Disappointment and San Gabriel Peak. A left turn would have taken us to a paved road for Mt. Disappointment, host to some telecommunications equipment. But we went right, skipping Disappointment and continuing on our way to San Gabriel Peak.

This last summit trail climbed 400 feet in 0.4 miles. That's not terribly steep. But having started five hours earlier and several thousand feet below in Altadena, Sue and I were struggling a little, moving steadily but slowly, feeling the weight of every step. At 12:10 PM we finally trudged onto the 6,161-foot highpoint and plopped down on a bench, resting our legs and sucking in the cold air. It was time for lunch on San Gabriel Peak, and time to gaze upon some of the backcountry and snow-capped peaks to the distant east.

Snow-covered Mt. San Antonio is visible from the Mt. Markham summit.
Done with lunch, and failing to find a register, we considered our day so far. Three peaks had been bagged. We had accumulated about 10.5 miles and 5,300 feet of total gain. The bulk of the climbing had been completed. Yet we still faced fifteen miles back to the cars.

Retracing our route, we dropped down to Markham Saddle and backtracked on the Mt. Lowe Trail. The East Mt. Lowe alternative then swung us around the south slopes of Lowe, where dead branches rose up from the new chaparral like skeleton hands from a graveyard.

I was running low on water, so we revisited the campground and old tavern site. I scrambled to the hole-filled water tank and, hoping no small animals had recently died in there, refilled my Camelbak from one of the spouting leaks. The water appeared crystal clear, which eased my mind a bit, even though I knew it proved nothing.

A tranquil setting in the heart of Eaton Canyon.
Via the Mt. Lowe fire road we marched 0.2 miles to the unsigned Idlehour Trail, located at a junction which also included the fire road to Inspiration Point and the Middle Sam Merrill (Sunset) Trail. At 1:54 PM, we found Idlehour next to the Inspiration Point road and began hastily covering its entire 4.5-mile length. Along the way we experienced a spectacular canyon and a healthy forest. We trod upon a beautiful blanket of newly fallen leaves and boulder-hopped across two bustling creeks. We chatted with a solo backpacker spending his Christmas holiday in isolated bliss. Then it was necessary to say goodbye to this wonderful place and ascend 760 feet from the canyon floor to the relatively boring Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

By 4:47 PM the road had conducted us to Henninger Flats, a developed campground with a one-room visitor center and museum. We rested on the benches, took advantage of the water fountain, and tended to our aching feet. The sun was already setting, so down the road we went for another 2.6 miles, periodically checking out the panoramic views of all the twinkling cities below. We crossed the bridge at Eaton Wash around 5:40 PM, nearly an hour after sunset, and with flashlights beaming into the darkness anxiously started on the Altadena Crest Trail (ACT), our journey's final leg.
Viewing the sunset on Christmas Day 2012 from the Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

The ACT stretched across the northern boundary of Altadena, sometimes riding slopes directly behind residences. Being very worn out and tired, our pace slowed considerably while tackling another 900 feet of gain, rolling up and down, in and out of the little foothill gullies. Thankfully the trail was in good condition and prompted only mild cursing on my part.

Recent volunteer work made it possible to hike the 2.5 miles from Eaton Wash to Rubio Canyon without using the surface street detour from Zane Grey Terrace. We instead utilized a brand new section of trail that climbed out of the last gully and down to the trailhead at 1101 E. Loma Alta Drive, where we were parked right across the street from the Rubio debris basin.

The time was 6:45 PM.  Tallies for the day amounted to 25.3 miles, 7,136 feet of gain, and we had been out and about for 11.5 hours. Not bad for a Christmas Day hike.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

C50 Training: Upper Middle Fork and Chapman Trails

I arrived at the Icehouse Canyon trailhead around noon on November 21st, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Cars filled half of the large parking lot. The weather was clear, and not as chilly or windy as my trip two days prior on the 19th. Still I wore gloves and a beanie, and carried an extra shirt.

Cucamonga Wilderness trails map at Icehouse Saddle.
I started up the trail at 12:15 PM, feeling better than I did on the 19th, when I was weak from bronchitis. This time I reached Icehouse Saddle in 85 minutes, having stopped briefly only twice: once at Columbine Spring to refill water and once on the tough switchbacks.

At the saddle I met an Asian man waiting for his boys, whom I had passed along the trail. One boy, a giant, lumbered along slowly. The shorter ones moved a bit faster. The father explained that it was the boys' first trip to the saddle. He, however, frequently visited the area and had recently hiked to Cucamonga Peak in a storm that dumped inches of hail and snow on him. What a lucky fellow!

I disliked the cold shade of the saddle, so I found some sunlight on a slope below the Three Tee's Trail, cleared away pine needles, and sat down to eat lunch. One of the smaller boys finally arrived. He hid behind a large tree, wielded his walking stick like a rifle, and prepared to snipe the giant from a distance. Suddenly I realized that I too was on the verge of being attacked. A platoon of hornets had infiltrated my personal space and were crawling over the blanket of pine needles right beside me. I grabbed my Camelbak and quickly returned to the frigid saddle. While finishing lunch, a series of loud, somewhat concerning human cries sounded from the direction of Timber Mountain. However, they did not include pleas for help, so I gave them little thought.

My goal for the day was simple: tag Timber Mountain, then walk the Chapman Trail before sunset. Climbing Timber would provide additional exercise, but the C50-related objective was acquiring a needed GPS track of Chapman. I also wanted to finish before sunset in order to take pictures of the trail with my new camera.

The Middle Fork Trail at Icehouse Saddle descends to the left
while the Cucamonga Peak Trail goes straight.
Around 2:00 PM I was only a few steps up the Three Tee's, on my way to Timber, when three young hikers arrived with a story of being attacked by hornets along the trail--which explained the earlier screams. This news brought to mind my own unpleasant hornet encounters, one of which resulted in losing my old camera while fleeing wildly from the stinging bastards in Sharps Canyon. Deciding to avoid another painful (and potentially expensive) confrontation, I turned around and instead considered the Middle Fork Trail. Previously I had explored Middle Fork from the trailhead in Lytle Creek, but had turned around at Commanche campground due to time constraints. So this was a good opportunity to check out the unexplored section between Commanche and Icehouse Saddle.

A trailhead sign indicated the beginning of Middle Fork, located immediately to the left of the unsigned Cucamonga Peak Trail, which took off generally southward, contouring around Bighorn Peak. Middle Fork, however, invited me to descend a gully to the east via switchbacks.

A rock slide area along upper Middle Fork Trail.
This part of Middle Fork clearly suffered from abandonment issues. It tested my balance on narrow strips, made me prove my agility dodging brush, and attempted to twist my ankles with rock debris. Still, I found it quite alluring. The trail sent me weaving between clusters of old trees and passing through open vistas of the canyon below and Etiwanda Peak above. The combination of slightly rugged terrain and beautiful scenery thoroughly impressed me. Near the bottom of the gully there was even a little stream of water flowing beside the trail. It quickly merged with the drainage coming down from Cucamonga Peak's north face.

Etiwanda Peak from upper Middle Fork Trail.
At this water junction the path turned left, escorting me the remaining distance to delightful Commanche Camp, situated along the stream's tree-shaded west bank. I reached the camperless campground at 2:43 PM. According to my Tom Harrison map (and the Forest Service), from Icehouse Saddle to Commanche the distance is 1.7 miles, which I covered in a little less than forty minutes at a leisurely, picture-taking pace. After admiring the thick blanket of fallen leaves, the slowly tumbling creek, and the broken "Commanche" signpost kept upright by a pile of rocks, I flipped a quick u-turn. Those 1,660 feet of elevation that I lost since the saddle were not going to regain themselves.

Signpost at Commanche Camp.
By 3:42 PM I was back at Icehouse Saddle, taking a five-minute break to catch my breath and fantasize about future adventures. During the return climb, about halfway up the gully, a steep ridge had beckoned me to leave the trail and ascend northward, presumably to Timber Mountain. Thankfully I had summoned enough common sense to resist the call of an uncertain adventure less than two hours before dark. Thus I spent my rest break daydreaming of one day attempting that route with more time to spare.

Again, my primary goal for the day was to cover the Chapman Trail before sunset, which would occur, without any concern for my needs, in merely one hour at 4:44 PM. Returning to reality, I hustled down 0.6 miles of the Icehouse Canyon Trail to the upper Chapman junction.

Upper Chapman Trail minutes before sunset.
Chapman took me northwestbound, kindly surrendering 650 feet over 2.1 miles to Cedar Glen campground, while affectionately hugging the mammoth sides of Timber Mountain and Telegraph Peak. Despite the trail's feminine embrace, Timber and Telegraph treat her poorly, hurling annoying rocks upon her surface whenever and wherever possible. Slightly bruised and battered, she nevertheless remains positive, gifting travelers with breathtaking, panoramic views of Icehouse Canyon and beyond. After showing her a little appreciation, I was further rewarded with the sounds of vociferous hikers several hundred feet below in the canyon. Not only does Chapman deliver beauty and passion, she often provides conversation as well.

Entrance to Cedar Glen campground.
By the time I reached Cedar Glen at 4:51 PM, the sun was done setting, but there would be maybe another half hour of sufficient daylight. The empty campground seemed like an ideal place for a picnic or a nap. But I had failed to bring a basket full of food or a desire to sleep.

Without hesitation I continued out of the camp, crossed a small stream, and in the fading light entered the dark forest of lower Cedar Canyon. I mostly jogged the well-maintained 1.6 miles from Cedar Glen to the lower junction with Icehouse Canyon, thus completing the Chapman roundabout. Still there was the 0.9 miles through Icehouse Canyon back to the car, which I reached by flashlight at 5:32 PM.

Over the course of five and a quarter hours, I managed around 12.5 miles with about 4,140 feet of gain. The hike was more entertaining than most, and I had an unexpected adventure down to Commanche Camp. But still, two months after the fact, it bothers me that I did not achieve my goal of finishing Chapman before sunset. Although, running behind schedule did allow me to snap my favorite picture of upper Chapman Trail lit by the setting sun. So perhaps it was a stupid goal to begin with.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

C50 Training: Ontario Peak Trail

Ontario Peak trailhead at Icehouse Saddle.
Ten months had passed since I hiked the Ontario Peak Trail. So on November 19th it became the focus of my first training exercise in preparation for the Cucamonga Fifty (C50), which I plan to do in April or May. I woke up late morning and drove to Icehouse Canyon above Mt. Baldy Village. It was a weekday, and I had no problem scoring a parking spot right next to the trailhead. The sky was clear, but a cold breeze kept me wearing gloves and a beanie much of the day.

With three liters of water in my Camelbak, I started up the canyon at 10:45 AM, arriving at Icehouse Saddle by 12:24 PM. The trail made me ascend 2,600 feet in the span of 3.6 miles. Covering this distance took a little longer than usual because I stopped at Columbine Spring to refill my Camelbak plus a 1-liter bottle to simulate conditions for my future C50 attempt. Also, a lingering case of bronchitis had interfered with conditioning, and my weakened body required mini-breaks on the steeper switchbacks before the upper Chapman Trail junction.

After a short break for lunch, I hit the Ontario Peak Trail at 12:38 PM. The path contoured westward along the southern head wall of Icehouse Canyon. This tree-covered, north-facing slope receives little or no direct sunlight and ices up during winter and spring months. While hiking here last January, a patch of ice upset my footing, causing a fall and slide of about twenty feet before a young pine tree rescued me. This time, with no such hazards, I managed to stay upright the entire way.

The trail left Icehouse and rolled over a ridge into Delker Canyon. It then curved around the head of Delker before entering Kelly Camp, having gained a mere 260 feet in a mile.

At Kelly Camp the main trail continues to the left.
The springs are straight ahead via the path on the right.
I walked into Kelly Camp at 1:02 PM. The trail wanted me to ascend, more vigorously now, to the southwest. But one of my goals for this hike was locating the Kelly Camp springs, which I had missed in January. So instead I wandered west toward a gully and mere yards from the edge of the campground found a piped spring which feeds an intermittent stream feeding Delker Canyon. Unfortunately, only drops dripped from the pipe this late in the season. A second, untapped spring a few yards beyond the piped one was also exhausted.

In the midst of mild disappointment, I noticed the remains of an old trail leading north and away from the springs. Suddenly there was an urge to follow this trail, and my disappointment abated. The faint path performed a wide u-turn over Shortcut Ridge, offering impressive views of Telegraph Peak to the north. It mostly disappeared after this point, but perhaps a long time ago had meandered southward to the beginning of Lost Creek, which was completely dry during my surprise visit.

View of Telegraph Peak from Lost Creek.
I completely lost the way at Lost Creek and opted to climb cross-country to the Ontario Peak Trail, now three hundred steep feet above me. After negotiating some rocks and dodging a little brush, I found the main trail waiting for me very near the Bighorn Peak junction. My watch said 2:08 PM. I had spent an hour exploring the abandoned trail to Lost Creek. If I had continued on the main trail from Kelly Camp, I would have reached the same spot in ten or fifteen minutes.

Within sight of the ridgetop junction, I started the 1.4 miles west toward Ontario Peak, saving the eastbound trip to Bighorn for later. The trail passed to the right of several ridge bumps, including 8,688, which is home to many burned trees. After this false peak, views in all directions were spectacular, especially those of Cucamonga Peak standing boldly to the east.

View of 8,688 and Cucamonga Peak from Ontario Peak.
Continuing 0.4 miles beyond 8,688, I reached Ontario Peak at 2:51 PM, having gained 1,000 feet post-Kelly Camp. Large boulders covered the small mountaintop, and those wishing to stand on the true summit could very easily climb them and peer over the trees to the north. The register was in a plastic canister nestled between smaller boulders below the big ones. After signing the book, refueling, and admiring the sweeping sights of cities far below and peaks nearby, I departed the summit at 3:15 PM, making it back to the ridge junction by 3:43 PM.

A broken sign sat upon some rocks at the Bighorn Peak trailhead. It indicated the trail designation (7W08A) and mileage (3/4). The use path continued along the ridge for approximately 0.8 miles and 420 feet of gain. At 4:10 PM, it unceremoniously petered out at a rock and wood pile. The pile held up an old metal pole next to a single campsite. In January a plastic register canister had been among the rocks, but this time I found nothing.

Rock pile and metal pole at Bighorn Peak.
The elongated peak encouraged a small amount of exploring through some trees to the east. It's possible to follow the ridge as it turns right and descends to the Cucamonga Peak Trail at saddle 7654. But I needed to backtrack to the Ontario Peak Trail, so I could get a GPS track of the 0.4-mile segment above Kelly Camp that I had bypassed earlier.

I left Bighorn Peak at 4:13 PM and completed the 2.2 miles back to Icehouse Saddle by 5:03 PM. Running out of daylight, I saved the longer Chapman Trail for next time and returned to the car via Icehouse Canyon, finishing at 6:27 PM.

After hiking 14.8 miles with 4,770 feet of gain, I tried to start my car in the freezing darkness. But after six years of dutiful service, the battery suddenly quit without notice. In neutral I coaxed my Honda Accord slowly downhill to the village, where a good patron of the Lodge restaurant gave me a jump start while explaining how the cold mountain weather hates car batteries.

About Me and This Blog

Thursday, November 22, 2012

About Me and This Blog

My passion for hiking started two years ago while searching for a way to lose weight and simultaneously maintain an addiction to cheese. Since then I have further discovered that hiking is more scenic than a treadmill and more peaceful than city streets. The mountain air is fresh. The animals and flowers are pretty. Sometimes a trail goddess talks to me, or I find a new hiking buddy. These are all wonderful things. However, for me, hiking is now primarily about the next challenge of the wilderness, the next unique peak, the next steep ridge, the next isolated canyon, the next cross-country route. For me it's about doing something different and perhaps more difficult than the last time. This goal keeps me motivated while moving through the mountains, and eating cheese.

Two years ago I was in poor physical condition, and my first challenge was Mt. Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains. I decided to hike the Mt. Wilson Trail from Sierra Madre over and over until I was able to reach the summit. After several attempts, I finally succeeded on a drizzling spring day. Cold and slightly faint from insufficient food, I looked around and saw nothing but fog and a parking lot. I could barely see the radio tower complex a hundred feet away. But I wasn't disappointed, because I hadn't climbed for the view. I had climbed for the challenge, and for the cheese.

In addition to climbing peaks and eating cheese, I help maintain some historic trails in Rubio Canyon above Altadena. Also, this year I started trail running and finished the Mt. Wilson Trail Race and the Chino Hills 10K. My most recent interest is fastpacking, which is hiking with a very light pack as far and as fast as you can without assistance. I'm currently training for my toughest fastpacking challenge yet. I call it The Cucamonga 50.

The C50 is a 50-mile course with over 16,000 feet of gain, covering all of the trails (out-and-back) in the Cucamonga Wilderness near Mt. Baldy Village in California. In addition to fastpacking the trails, there are also seven peaks to bag and a time limit of 24 hours. If you're interested in more details, please visit my C50 website.

I created this blog to document my training for the C50, which I plan to complete in the spring of 2013. I will post detailed trip reports, which could be of interest to anyone planning a hike or their own C50 attempt in the Cucamonga Wilderness. Once I finish the C50, I'll post the final trip report here. Afterward I plan to devote this blog's contents to my other hiking adventures.