Monday, October 24, 2005

Flying Above the Fall Fog

Any good book on climbing/mountaineering/backpaking will always tell you that planning is the key ingredient of a successful and safe trip in the outdoors. In my attempt to climb most of the major peaks in the Mount San Antonio area over two days I found that my plans were good and bad.

The plan was to leave on Friday evening and car camp at the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek. I would wake Saturday and hit the trail for Kelly's Camp. Then I would make a base camp and attempt Ontairo, Big Horn and Cucamonga Peaks. Sleep. The next day I would attempt the 3T's (Timber, Telegraph and Thunder Peak) and San Antonio if I was feeling good, then back to camp and out.

I attempted to drive up the Middle Fork at about 8:00pm. The rocky dirt road proved to be a bit too much for the Element to take and knowing my track record for taking vehicles off road I decided that my hide would be safer by following the backup plan. That is the next lesson in outdoorsmanship. Always have a backup plan.

I arrived at Manker Flats campground at about midnight, grabbing the last spot available. I found sleeping in the Element to be moderately comfortable once I found a comfy spot in the seat arragment.

I was up at 6:00am to prep breakfast and roll down the hill to Icehouse Canyon. This is when I found that I was low on fuel for the Svea. I figured that if I metered my usage and worked efficently I could make it through the next two days. I was right and never had a problem.

The trailhead was a zoo. I counted at least 15 people there at 7:00am. Once I was done prepping my gear I found that I was the only one in the lot. Since I am preping for the Search and Rescue fitness test I found this to be rather motivating. I was the only backpacker there and I wanted to see if I could whip the day hikers to the top.

I set off on a four mile per hour pace and ate up some trail. At the two mile mark I had passed all that I'd seen in the parking lot and I was the first one at Icehouse saddle. Kelly's camp was only another mile from there and I made a short order of the distance.

Kelly's was serene and quiet. I found a large deer to be the only other being at the spot and I made camp on one of the backfilled foundations of the old buildings. After a short rest a a review of my route I switched to fanny pack mode and headed for Ontario.

The weather was great once I hit the south ridge of the high Angeles High Country. I was moving along with my shirt off while the rest of the San Gabriel valley was swimming in a cool foggy soup that rolled in the night before.

The Ontario route is fairly straight forward without too many changes in elevation and I summited quickly. Retracing my steps I crossed back to Big Horn where the going got more challenging. The trail is much more spotty and goes directly to the summit. Unfortunately Big Horn has no summit log so I stopped and put my shirt back on for the descent along the ridge towards Cucamonga. I made the mistake of coming off the ridge too early and had to traverse on sand and scree, slippery and energy sapping.

The trail to Cucamonga is much better on the last miles and I was quickly back up to speed but I was beginning to pay for the slippery traverse on Big Horn. The views from the top were well worth the long day. Cucamonga is set off from the other to peaks so a spectacular view is available from all parts of the summit.

The trip back to Kelly's was getting tiresome and I had drank all my water. This is when I realized my plan had gone awry. I would have to back track 2 miles down Icehouse to get water. At camp, I made a meal and quickly fell asleep for about an hour, only waking because my snorting was so loud! Feeling refreshed, I ran back down to the Spring in Icehouse Canyon to fetch water. It during this trip that I decided my plan for the 3Ts would not pan out. I would have to waste too much time and energy just to get water. Next time I'll be bringing a bladder bag to fill on the way in.

At camp, I found that I was now in the company of some young Scouts as well as a group of weekend warriors. So much for a peaceful overnighter. In the morning I quickly packed and was the first to break camp.

In all I'm glad to have completed Cucamonga since I'd never been up there before. I've learned a little more about planning and I can only improve for the next trip.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Stomping Strawberry

At 6,124 feet Strawberry Peak is one of the taller peaks in the western San Gabriel Mountains. Less than an hour from hwy 210 Strawberry Peak is an excellent destination for hikers and aspiring mountaineers that want to get a quick fix.

I chose this hike because I had just got my first pair of mounteering boots. I wanted a hike that was short enough that I wouldn't be in too much pain if the boots were just totally wrong, but would also be a test for them in some apline style climbing. The elevation gain of 2600 feet in just 3 miles with some class 3 climbing in the last mile makes this a perfect proving ground.

I had been wearing the La Sportiva Makalus around the house and to the mall to get a feel for them before I "commited." I replaced the factory insole with a heat moldable one from Sole. This really gave me some arch support as well as taking up some volume in the boot. I also moved up to an expedition weight sock. I made the mistake of not wearing that sock on this day as I would find out later. Besides these changes, I also applied some Nikwax leather conditioner to the boots in hopes that it will shorten the breakin period required for such a heavy boot.

At the trailhead, I locked in the lower laces to a firm, yet tolerable, pressure. I attempted to tighten the top half of the boot, but found that I was unable to get them right without bringing both sides of the boot together. This was the first indication that the thicker sock would have been a better choice.

I started the first mile in a mild rain. The early sections of the climb involve fording a small stream in Colby Canyon and Daisy Canyon. I found the Makalus to have excellent grip on the moist boulders, but their bulk reduced some of the feel that a lighter boot has. After about half mile of climbing the rain subsided.

The Makalus are quite heavy, two pounds per boot, and my pace was reduced to a lumbering two miles per hour uphill. I can normally hit the three and a half to four mile per hour pace with my Asolo hikers. I began to throw my foot up and forward, letting the mass of the boot complete the stride.

At the 1.75 mile mark I began to feel a little hot spot on the back of my right foot (my subordinate foot.) Most of the reviews that I read said that these boots were murder on heels until properly broken in so I was fully prepared with Moleskin. Upon removing the boot I saw that there was no blister or even a discoloration of the skin, none the less I Moleskined and continued to Josephine Saddle.

The hike continues "off trail" from the saddle, although it is not really off trail since there are purple spray-painted arrows marking the way. This is where the real meat of the trip begins. Wtih two pounds of leather and steel on each foot and a 25 pound pack on I began to sweat like I was running in 90 degree heat.

During the climbing sections the boots again proved their mettle in the face of rough terrain. Smearing and edging are no problem for the Makalus despite their behemoth stature. The winds were raging at about 40 mph on some of the exposed portions of the climb, but I never felt fearful of losing traction. It was during this section that I saw one other party making their descent.

I had the summit all to myself, which was enjoyable. I could see into downtown Los Angeles and beyond to the Pacific. Mount San Antonio lay to the East in heavy cloud cover, getting a light dust of snow. The radio towers atop Mount Wilson were becoming engulfed in a moist haze. I decided not to dawdle here since I could see rain falling on the foothils to the west.

My descent also illustrated the need for the thicker socks. The tops of my feet were getting slammed from the boot and once in a while my big toe would run into the front of the boot. I suspect that a fuller sock will fill the boot and keep this from occuring.

I was tripping over my feet at times which indicated that I was getting tired. I also managed to get off course and ended up going down towards a precipitous ravine. While trying to correct myself I slipped on some loose gravel and cut my hand. I was flustered by such a stupid error and chalked it up to fatigue.

Back on the trail the tops of my feet continued to suffer and I think that the socks were beginning to compress. Suprisingly, my knees didn't feel so beat up even though the trail was steep; I'm going to attribute that to the Sole inserts.

That night I was wasted. My legs ached like I had done a 16 miler even though I'd only done six. My shoulders and arms were stiff from hauling me and the pack up the Class 3 scramble. I was still nervous about the fit of my boots but I was not ready to strap them on again with the new socks. We'll see how things go this coming weekend...