Hiking L.A.

Blogged: December 11, 2006

Little Baldy - Sequoia Nat'l Park

Hiked November 25, 2006

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and BF, dad, and I decided to try and counteract our activities from the previous two days—namely, eating voaciously—and go out for a hike. It was supposed to be a clear day up in the Sierras, and we thought we might be able to get one last hike in before the snowy season. (They call that "Winter" in most places. In Los Angeles, we don't really know what it's all about.)

Because my parents are divorced, I had the good fortune of having two full Thanksgiving meals, one on Thursday and one on Friday. This meant I really needed to hike.

We chose a trail from my dad's book "Best Short Hikes in California's Southern Sierras" called "Little Baldy." Dad said he had hiked it before, and it was a nice little jaunt with great views. The forecast said it would be sunny with highs in the 50s. So we got on the road.

Of course, this being a Hiking L.A. hike, we got a late start. We got on the road by noon, though, with dad driving his Prius and BF snoozing in the backseat.

As we headed into the mountains, a huge wall of clouds loomed in the distance. Dad and I started to question the weather.com forecast of "sunny, 54 degrees." Our doubt only grew as we climbed higher and found ourselves deep inside a dense fog.

"Maybe we'll get above the clouds," dad said optimistically.

We got to the split in the road where you turn left to go to Kings Canyon and right to go to Sequoia National Park and it was still foggy. We took a right, and about fifteen minutes later, the sun started shining again. We were above the clouds.

As we kept driving, Dad started to get nervous about finding the trail. He had gone online to find a description of the hike, and had printed out a trail description for a hike called "Big Baldy." It was approximately the same distance and elevation change, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it was a completely different hike. Dad thought it was just people messing up the names. Big Baldy, Little Baldy—they're both bald, right? What difference could it make?

I was convinced, however, that these were two separate hikes. I was even more convinced when we passed a sign on the highway that said "Big Baldy Trailhead" and it didn't match the description from the book at all. Though he didn't really want to drive any further, I convinced dad to keep going so we could find the Little Baldy trailhead.

Of course, at this point dad realized that the last time he hiked what he thought was "Little Baldy," he had instead hiked it's big brother. Then dad really started to get concerned that the hike in the book would be either: 1) too far away, or 2) not a satisfying hike. There was no way to tell. We decided just to give it a chance.

With a little help from the Prius' GPS navigation system, we found the Little Baldy trailhead after a few more miles. We got out of the car to find ourselves in near-freezing weather. I had bundled up before we got in the car, and I came prepared with gloves, my winter hiking jacket, and long johns under my hiking pants. As I was getting dressed that morning, BF made fun of me. He teased me and said "we're not climbing Mount Everest."

But when we stepped into the chilly air, BF had stopped laughing. Luckily, dad had packed extra hats and scarves for the trip. BF wrapped a scarf around his head and neck and pinned it down with a baseball cap. He looked like a low-rent sheik. But it kept him warm.

Finally, we started hiking. The hike consists of switchbacks that head from Little Baldy Saddle, at around 7300 feet, to the top of Little Baldy, 8044 feet. The climb was gradual—enough to raise your heart rate but not punishing. On the way up, we started to climb high above the clouds and got some amazing vistas:


As you head up the mountain, there's a false summit about 500 yards from the real summit. It almost had us fooled, especially since you could see an amazing view of the Pacific Crest from there. Here's BF posing in front of it:


Thankfully, we kept hiking and after another quick jaunt uphill, we arrived at the top of the world:


It was hard to believe we weren't at the top of the world. We had a 360-degree view of the Sierras and the sea of clouds over the valley. Here's a picture that dad tells me includes Big Baldy in the distance:


BF had a fun time scaring me by pretending to jump off the side of the mountain. Here's an example of what it looked like, except I'm the one at the ledge:

walking off copy

It turns out there was another 100 feet or so of level rock beyond that point. It looks much scarier that it actually was. Here's a rare picture of BF and I together on a hike (usually it's just two of us, and one of us has to be behind the camera):


And here's the Pacific Crest again:


And another vista:

right view

Other hikers had made cairns (or ducks, depending on what you want to call them) and placed them strategically at the edge of the bald summit:


Here's the marker to prove where we were:


The only downside was that it was downright freezing at the summit. The wind was blowing steadily, and it had to be at least ten degrees below freezing. After twenty minutes of soaking in the views, we decided it was time to thaw out.

So we headed back down the mountain, stopping at the false summit to eat some sandwiches. When we got back to the car, the Prius informed us that it was 32 degrees outside. This was at the bottom of the hill. For a L.A. girl, this was beyond cold. We needed to warm up.

Before we left the park, we stopped at a grove of giant sequoias to take some pictures. It was getting dark, and we were back in the fog, so there was an eerie glow about. BF managed to get a good shot of the trees, still:


We arrived back in Fresno safely, and not long afterwards BF and I gathered up our things and drove back home to Echo Park. Later that week, back in the warmth of sunny SoCal, dad called me to say that we had gone hiking at just the right time. Two days after our hike, the Sierras were hit by the first big snowstorm of the season, and most day hiking trails would be closed for the Winter. We got in just under the wire.

Blogged: December 6, 2006

Switzer Falls

Hiked: November 18, 2006

The weekend before Thanksgiving arrived and more than a month had passed since BF and I had been able to go on a hike. The simple explanation for this was that we had visited family up in Portland, Oregon one weekend, and then I proceeded to be ill with a viral cold (diagnosis thanks to my mother, the doctor and reigning queen of over-the-phone diagnoses).

But on Saturday, November 18, I finally felt well enough to venture out. Unfortunetly, BF and I didn't get our act together until very late (as usual). We had invited a friend to come along, and by the time we all figured out where to hike it was almost 3pm.

Because of this, we chose a short, four-miler just a few miles up the Angeles Crest Highway. We decided to hike to Switzer Falls, a popular hike among Angelinos in the know.

To arrive at the trailhead, you drive down a side road that descends about 500 or 600 feet into the canyon below. You start at the Switzer picnic area and head downstream from there. However, when we arrived at the gate, we were confronted with a large sign informing us that the gates would close at 4:30. BF drove us down the road halfway, just to check the scene out, when we saw multiple patches of broken glass on the ground. It seemed that many cars had been broken into at some point recently. Because of this, we didn't feel great about leaving my car below the gates, especially if it were to get stuck there overnight. So BF dropped the friend and I off and returned the car to the highway above.

A quick aside: the friend shall now be known as "Danger Mouse". I say this because when I told him to come up with a fun alias for the Hiking L.A. blog, he jokingly presented this as an option. He never came up with another one, so Danger Mouse it is.

Back to the hike. BF parked the car and carefully hid from sight all valuables. He then met us back down the path and we headed on our way.

The hike itself is very easy and pleasant. For the first half of the trail, you simply follow the stream on mostly flat terrain. The trail crosses back and forth across the water, but the stream was very low so this was an easy undertaking. Here's a view from the beginning of the trail:


And BF getting artistic:


About a mile in, the trail climbs the canyon wall and you gain all your elevation (600 feet in all) within a short distance. At this point, you find some nice vistas of what I gather is Bear Canyon:


Then you descend toward the falls and the shadows. There you eventually find the slightly diminutive falls. Here's Danger Mouse demonstrating his bravery:


It was getting dark at the falls, so we decided to hoof it back to the car. The light had completely faded when we reached the flat part of the trail again, but we each had flashlights, so it wasn't a problem.

There was only one mishap to report. As we walked in the dark, BF led, I was in the middle, and Danger Mouse brought up the rear. At one point, a large tree trunk crossed the path at about forehead level. BF ducked under it, and as I also ducked under it I thought, "Maybe I should warn Danger Mouse about this." Then I thought, "No, it's so obvious!" I didn't want to be patronizing, so I kept my mouth shut. The next thing I heard was a loud, cartoonish "boiiinnggg" and I turned to find Danger Mouse splayed out on the ground. Lesson learned: better safe than sorry. Luckily, Danger Mouse wasn't seriously hurt.

We arrived back at the picnic area without further incident and started our climb up the steep road back up to the car. I had to take a few breathers on the way up—I'm a slow climber and I was still recovering from that pesky virus. One of the great surprises of the hike came when I was pausing on the road staring up at the stars that don't come out in Los Angeles. I saw a shooting star, and then Danger Mouse spotted another, and we realized that it was the night of the Leonid meteor shower. Even though we weren't in an ideal geophysical position to see the show, we got to see at least a dozen shooting stars between the tree of us. Considering I can see about 5 stars on any given night in Los Angeles, this was certainly a treat.

When we arrived at the car it was still intact and our goods were still inside, thankfully. Then Danger Mouse asked if we might be interested in hitting up In N Out Burger on the way home. We told him it was basically a tradition at this point, and we wouldn't think of eating anything else, let alone anything healthy. So we three went off into the darkness, towards double-doubles animal style, a warm shower, and a good night's sleep under the obscured L.A. stars.