Thursday, November 15, 2012

Moved Backpacking Site to...

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mt. Wilson Loop -- October, 5 -7, 2012

Mt. Wilson Open Jaw – 27 miles
October, 5 -7, 2012

After nearly two months of 90-degree-plus days, an 80-degree weekend sounded real good! Last weekend I lead our Boy Scout Troop on an over-night to Henninger Flats (above Pasadena). The hike up was upward towards 100 degrees and the lows got down to 75-degrees. Tough conditions, but I was able to get the boys to lighten their packs; the average base weight of all 16 backpackers was 14-1/2 pounds. A big change from what they were used to at nearly 25-30 pounds.

Day 1:  Chantry Flats to Spruce Grove -- 4 miles
My wife and I like to backpack together but she made plans so I was going solo with the dog, Andy. She dropped me off at Chantry Flats just after 5:00PM and we were on our way. The original plan was to thru hike the 28-mile Gabrielino Trail, but a good section of the trail was closed due to fires a few years back. So on to plan B, whatever that might be.

My base weight for this trip was 9 lbs 7oz. The trail leading up to Spruce Grove was mostly deserted except for a few heavy-haulers, gasping for air. I past Spruce Grove and stealth camped in a thicket off trail just before the Newcomb’s Pass junction. I made dinner about 50 yards from camp, dehydrated homemade chili and Sleepytime hot tea. I planned on bringing enough alcohol (fuel) for one hot meal a day plus a little extra for coffee in the morning, which comes out to about 1.5oz fuel per day. It was cool and clear with a slight breeze—about 65-degrees. The low both nights was about 56.

Day 2:  Spruce Grove to Idelhour Camp via the West Fork -- 17 mile 

I was able to clear camp in less than 15 minutes. I got up at 6am and was on the trail by 6:15am. About halfway to Newcomb’s Pass, I ate breakfast (Grape Nuts with homemade dehydrated blue berries and Nido in a freezer bag). Up over the pass and down into Devor Camp, the trail was in pretty good condition and mostly deserted. I ran into two different backpackers camping; one guy who had a few days off at work and was practicing being a "happy wanderer," and another with inadequate clothes and no food. I gave him two Clifbars and some stern advice.

The trail along the West Fork had some damage from the fires, winds and what looked like flooding. Parts of the original trail were missing, but new paths were cut making navigating through the canyon fairly easy. I was very surprised to find so much water flowing. The only obstacle I ran into was the poodle-dog bush cropping up alongside the trail.


By the time I reached West Fork Camp, I made a decision to head up to Mt. Wilson via Kenyon Devor Trail and down the front side to Idlehour Camp. The climb was steep with sections burned out and lined with withering poodle-dog bush, but the terrain and views were spectacular. 

The weather held out nicely with highs only in the mid to upper 70s.

Once on top of Mt Wilson, I couldn’t resist a hot dog and a Coke at the Cosmic CafĂ©! The walk down the Toll Road went fast, getting me to my next destination, Idelhour Camp, at 4:30pm. I was pleasantly surprised to find the camp uninhabited, so I took full advantage and went swimming in one of the pools downstream.

After another dehydrated, home-cooked meal, I took a few notes, secured the bear bag and was in bed by 7:30pm.

Day 3: Idlehour to Eaton Canyon via Henninger Flats – 6.3 miles
Up at 6:30am, I took my time and made coffee, enjoying the cool, quiet morning. Once packed up, I hit the trail only seeing a handful of trail runners effortlessly passing me. After a quick stop for breakfast at Henninger, I made it to the Eaton Canyon parking lot by 10am where my wife was waiting with smiles, a hug and a hint of jealousy….

The dog, Andy: He is a 14-pound, five year old chiweenie (dachshund and chihuahua mix). He is good for about 18 – 20 miles a day with me, except for when its hot; he doesn’t do so well.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Henninger Flats with Son, James – “Guys Night”

January, 27-28, 2012

Packing the night before, James and I were ready and eager to hit the trail on Friday at 4:00PM. Our little dog Andy was part of our posse. 
Shortly before leaving, I checked the forecast, which called for warm temperatures (in the 80s) during the day and warm evenings In the low 60s. High wind advisory—30 to 45 mph winds. We weighed our packs before leaving and each pack came in at 11-1/2 pounds base weight. Pack weight was about 13lbs.

We parked on a local street, put Andy on his leash and headed down the trail into Eaton Canyon. With James leading, he kept a good pace into the canyon and across the dry stream bed onto the Toll Road leading to the trailhead at the bridge. Once we got started up the dirt road, we slowed down a little but still kept a respectable pace.

The day was warm and windy. The Santa Ana winds gave us clear skies allowing us to see well beyond Catalina Island. The road was full of people and cyclist—not exactly a “wilderness” experience. We eventually had to put Andy back on leash due to all the hikers.

The sun had set and our eyes were slowly becoming adjusted to the dark. James suggested that we let our eyes to adjust as long as we can. I agreed until we got to the campsite at Upper Campground at Henninger. I couldn’t distinguish flat ground. We walked to the edge of the hill, overlooking the city there was a group of mountain bikers drinking beer and laughing by a fire they built. We thought they were spending the night, learning later they were just there for the evening and leaving later.

I suggested to James to check out Fuji above us but he wanted to stay where he felt comfortable. I decided from the beginning that this was his trip and I wanted James to make most of the major decisions, so we stayed.

James found a site that was fairly flat, although we later discovered I was on a slant. By now the wind had picked up and we literally had to hold our packs from blowing away. Anything we pulled out from our already fairly light equipment would blow away if we didn’t hold it. I knew we were in for an adventure!

I asked James what our first task should be. He said boiling water, which I thought made sense, if it wasn’t so windy. I explained that we need a shelter set up so we can use the stove without it getting blown out. He agreed. I pulled out the Tyvek ground cloth and laid it on the ground, holding it down using large rocks on each corner. We were on a small knoll—a pine needle laden crown up against a pine tree. We chose this spot because it was positioned in a way that I could use the tree to pitch the tarp in an “A” frame, using a 9-inch nail on the opposite side. I strung up the Kelty Triptease by the light of my red light, and then pulled the silnylon tarp out and tried to maintain control of it in the wind. Just before leaving on this trip, I pulled off 3.5 oz of Velcro from its edges, bringing its weight down into the 13oz range.

I gave James a few stakes which, he used to fasten down the tarp. Once all four corners were staked, I pulled on the ridgeline creating an amazing “kite” effect! The wind was actually blowing from our 7-oclock, causing the windward side of the tarp to nearly collapse. I strung up an additional two guy lines from the center ridgeline out 90 degrees, which kept the side of the tarp up off our bags at night.
Winds whipping up to over 30 MPH!
  Once the tarp was up, I pulled out the alcohol stove, poured in about 1-1/2 oz fuel and lit the Super Cat. I placed the stove and its windscreen at the base of the tarp where our heads would be, yet outside the cover of the tarp. It was a risk with the winds, but to my surprise, there was only a light breeze inside the tarp, allowing the stove to work just fine. The only issue I had was that little wind actually did come into contact to the stove, cause minor flare-ups, which reduced its efficiencies. Within minutes, our three cups of water was boiling and we pulled out or chilimac/mashed potatoes/re-fried beans mix in a freezer bag and poured the hot water in. the meal tasted great!

Before I pulled the stove out, and began boiling water, I poured two cups of cold water into a bag of dried milk and butterscotch pudding, which I bought at the 99-cents store. I mixed the concoction for 2 minutes as suggested on the recipe, and then took a wet bandana and wrapped the bag. Since the air was relatively warm (65 degrees), and the wind was blowing, I would use evaporation to chill the pudding, instead of the recommended refrigerator.

After the chilimac, I pulled out the pudding, which set nicely and we had dessert!

Cleanup was simple: we basically used only freezer bags. We had hot tea and decaf coffee afterwards and then set up the bear bag adjacent from our camp. The mountain bikers were still partying as I swung the line over the branch, using my new chap stick tube and micro carabineer for the PCT method. James was busy cleaning his bowl since he didn’t want to use the bag.

Once everything was set in camp, James and I walked over to the edge of the hill and looked at the city lights. The wind was blowing pretty good, making our view especially clear. I checked the thermometer and it read 60 degrees. Not bad for February!

Back at camp, we removed all our smellables, found places on the ground for our packs so they would not blow way and turned in. I was on a hill, sliding to my right. Rather than make a big deal about it, I found downed branches and a couple rocks, building a shelf alongside and under my side. I laid down the Tyvek and then my Neo-Air, creating an almost cradle effect. It worked, and I slept sound without any sliding.

Morning came with calm. No wind; not even a breeze. Two deer caught the attention of Andy and eventually us two. It was about 6:30am. I got up and started boiling water. While the water was heating I took down the bear bag and pulled out our oatmeal bags and called James out from of his slumber. I made enough water for two cups of hot beverages and oatmeal. Cleanup was simple, as was the take down of the tarp. We did took our time, enjoying the mountain and each other as we talked about what weapons we would choose if we were being attacked by the enemy. Once we were packed up, we hit the trail and walk down the hill enjoying the morning sun.

My New Balance MT101 trail runners worked great, especially with the thin socks. No issues. I decided not to bring the Northface wind jacket, which was a good idea. I never used the long johns but I did wear my base shirt and Capoline long sleeve to bed, only wearing the “puffy” at night and in the morning. I brought three pair of socks: thins, light SmartWool (SW), and the thick SW. I only wore the thins up and down the hill, while wearing the thick SW to bed and early morning. I never wore the light weight SW. No camp shoes needed; I loosened the laces and was perfectly comfortable.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

They Call Her, "Lucky"

California High Desert, 1986 -- After a Coke and a pit stop, we jumped back into the '72 Volkswagen van and rolled down highway 14 toward Los Angeles. Death Valley was a good three hours behind us now.

Dean and I were about ten miles out of the desert town of Mojave when we saw what we thought was a person on the side of the road. It was dark outside and the faint incandescent headlights of the van barely lit up the white clothes of what looked like a roadside casualty. Our first thought: A dead person!

We came to an abrupt stop on the rocky shoulder, between the highway and the railroad tracks. I was the first to approach the person. I leaned over and directed the beam of my flashlight into the sunken eyes and face of what I could now see as an elderly woman.

“Is she dead?” asked my friend, Dean. Hesitantly, I poked her shoulder and she came alive! Dean and I jumped back.

The woman popped up off the gravel and brushed her white pantsuit clean. Curious, I asked why she was sleeping on the side of the road, in the desert, in the dark!

She explained that she spent all her social security money in Las Vegas and had just enough for a bus ticket to Mojave where she usually finds a ride home to Los Angeles.

“So…, this is not the first time you’ve been in this predicament?” I asked.

“Oh dear, no.” The woman explained, “This happens a few times a year—but only when I loose all my money, you see.”

Dean and I offered her a ride home, which she gladly accepted. During the drive I was able to steal a shot of her sleeping.We dropped her off in front of a restaurant where one of the orderlies of the home regularly picked her up. We waited until the man arrived--disgusted yet humored by her tenacity.

The woman was 86 years old.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Get Your Kicks in a Wigwam along Route 66

San Bernardino -- We've seen the Kodachrome photos of families posing in front of windmill restaurants, coffee cup- shaped cafes and the largest ball of string, or was that from the movie "Vacation...?"

Recently I was forced onto a detour and happened upon the Wigwam Motel along Route 66. It was a vision out of Life Magazine! After taking a few photos and talking with the owner, I drove away feeling as if had left a site of an old Disney documentary; all that was missing was an Airstream camper and Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar.

Roadside vernacular architecture seemed more popular during the first few decades of the 20th century. I miss seeing them. As a kid in the 60s and 70s, I remember the giant dinosaurs on the way to Palm Springs and the magic of Clifton's Cafeteria in Los Angeles; all are examples of zany facades designed to entice the curious traveler. These tourist attractions were also a nice excuse to pull off the road and give the kids a break from asking the same, age-old "question" every ten minutes.

During my brief visit, I met up with a family owner of the Wigwam Motel, Kumar Patel. While he was showing me the teepees and grounds, he mentioned that the last owner allowed the old 1949 motel to deteriorate, almost to the point of disrepair.

Six years ago, the Patel family purchased the now historic landmark and renovated each of the 19 stucco teepees complete with air conditioning and free wi-fi. The pool was resurfaced and palm trees planted throughout the grounds. Due to it's landmark status, they cannot add buildings. However, they are allowed to make improvements, and to their credit, they have restored and maintained the personality of the 50s-era motor hotel to a tee.

For about $70 per night (about $10 more on weekends), the Wigwam Motel is quite a deal, as well as a pretty cool experience in lodging--even your pet, Charlie is welcome!

For more information, visit

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Taking Off

In May of 1987, a small group of us drove out to Death Valley. One of our stops was Ubehebe Crater. Ubehebe is about 2,400 feet in diameter and 500 feet deep. The hot wind blows across the east rim, then down inside and funnels through a passage, builds up speed and up the west side of the rim at a 45-degree angle. Sometimes winds can blow up to 100 miles per hour.

We stood at the west rim, opened our jackets and like kites, were lifted up by the force of the wind and all enjoyed a short yet eventful flight.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Working Your Island

Years ago I overheard a conversation between two transients.

"What do you do for money, dude?" said the first homeless man.

The second man smiled with pride and said, "I don't need to work, I have a guitar!"

Soon after, I heard a gentleman brag about working his "island." Curious, I asked where he was from and what kind of work he does on the island. The weather-beaten man was well-tanned and looked like the beach bum type. He pointed to the three-foot slab of concrete separating the nearby boulevard, pulled out his cardboard sign and asked for a buck.