A Long Trip Up & Around Mt. Wilson

So, I’ve mentioned it previously, that I’m training to do the John Muir Trail leaving June 23rd. How exciting! I’m looking to go off into the wilderness without a GPS Beacon, with my cell phone off, solo… To some, this may seem like a death wish; to me, it’s a defining moment in my life.

Hiking (and hot sauce) is the first thing I’ve felt a sustained passion for. Sure, I was passionate about Physics in high school and partly into college. Sure, I wanted to develop the next badass computer. Sure, I tagged along with fads. I’m an intelligent, young man with a few skills. But hiking? Hiking allows me to go and be with me. I have friends who enjoy hiking, but I’ve made it a priority, while my friends may have other priorities. It’s what keeps me sane.

Seeing the next summit, pushing my limits, alone… No one to push me along. In fact, I hate that shit. Encouragement is great, it gave me validation most of my life. But when I’m scared shitless; huffing and puffing; feeling like I want to give up; the last thing I want is an encouraging voice. Don’t tell me it’s a few more steps. I need silence! I need to listen to my body! When I’m out in nature, pushing myself to impress you goes out the window.

When I’m home, its a different story. I recently gave up going on Facebook because uploading selfies of my epic hikes with epic vistas was just feeding an ego vacuum inside me. If I show my friends and family how badass I am (gauged by the amount of likes), I’ll feel better about myself. I’ve found this drug of validation to work in reverse. The more I seek validation, the shittier I feel about myself. Damn, I like the word “shit” today, don’t I?

Some may say I’m seeking validation by posting on here. To some degree, I am. But hopefully, those who read it are on the same level of passion as I am, or looking to get to that level. Maybe my thoughts will inspire someone. Maybe getting my thoughts in writing will help me sort through my life. Who knows? But writing is awesome, and I’m starting to enjoy the act of it.

I digress… My point is, that I need to find my own backbone on this journey along the John Muir Trail. Who is Doug? What is Doug capable of? What does Doug want to do with the rest of his life? Does Doug love Doug? How can Doug help others?

This brings me to my last hike up Mount Wilson out of the Chantry Flats trailhead near Sierra Madre on January 16th. I read the trip report on SoCal Hiker (the first Peak in the Six Pack of Peaks to train for the JMT) and planned a longer, 18-20 mile trek using Hill Map. I spent two long days and nights online, planning this trip out and finally set out that morning.

My goal was to test my endurance, along with break in my Salewa Rapace mountaineering boots. The Salomon’s I had were great, except on heavy inclines. The plastic ankle support liked digging into my Achille’s Tendon; and it hurt quite a bit.

Getting to Chantry Flats was no problem. I arrived at 6:30 AM and there were already a considerable amount of people getting ready for the day. Probably a lot of MeetUp people. Anyway, I got started down the Forest Route onto the Gabrieleno Trail. It was still dark, so my headlamp was necessary. A little past the first fork, I took the right fork to Sturtevant Falls.

Crossing the creeks along the way, I was fascinated by the fact that the water just rolled off my boots. It excited me to no end. Go GoreTex! Plus whatever other wizardry is packed in these shoes. Once I got to the waterfall, it was flowing nicely, which pleased me (especially with that “California Drought”).

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Continuing back to Gabrieleno, I got fairly confused because the topo map I had showed many intersections of the trails in one spot. Luckily, a couple men and women helped me along the way. Off i went toward Sturtevant camp! The one lady kept trading places with me along the trail, telling me that I was making good pace. It felt good to hear that, knowing that there was a considerable amount of elevation gain on this hike (about 4,000 feet in 7 miles!).

Walking through the forest to Sturtevant Camp was very relaxing. The soil was damp, the creek was babbling, and the switchbacks kept on coming. The tree cover was also very nice to keep out the sun. Once I neared the camp, I helped a guy and his girlfriend find the right trail (we had been passing each other back and forth, and it stroked my ego to have the opportunity to kindly tell him the right way to go).

Once through camp, the hike got tough. The steepness kicked in suddenly, and I started making my way out of the tree cover. Sweat was pouring, I had to take many breaks, but I kept pushing. Going through the switchbacks, I caught a clearing in a bunch of trees with a perfect snapshot of lenticular clouds above Mount Baldy (see the featured image for illustration). It was beauitful and reminded me about why I hike.

As I climbed, I started trading spots with another guy. He was a vaper (nicotine only), and I had left my vape at the trailhead (nicotine and all the other chemicals give me crazy headaches and dehydration on strenuous hikes). Thankfully, he picked out another awesome viewpoint that reminded me of the Bay Area fog.

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The scene was epic and mesmerizing. I soaked it in from his view as he continued up the trail. Sipping on water and catching my breath. Then, I marched on the seemingly endless switchbacks. Finally, nearing the summit, I saw the observatory compounds and SNOW! If you couldn’t tell from my hike up Multnomah Falls, I love hiking in snow. It seems so forbidden, so risky, so… wild. I know people partake in much riskier activities, but it was an achievement for myself.

Following the road to what my topo map told me was a trail, this lady stopped me near a few houses. I thought to myself, “Is this forbidden land? There’s a trail here! I know there’s snow, but let me through!”. Finally she came out with it. The house owner was cranky and the topo map was out of date. Thanks for the information!

After that informative experience, I took the paved road past the multiple telescopes and more snow to get to the rest area to take off my shoes and refill my water.

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Up at the rest stop, there were groups chatting, and I thought to myself “It would be nice to have a partner right now, maybe a date.” But I just relaxed (the shoes were hurting my Achille’s again) until I was ready to continue. I floundered around for a while, looking for the Rim Trail, until the same lady who kept me off private property told me where to catch it. And off I went again!

This next leg, is where I depart from the SoCal Hiker route. Along the Rim Trail was a lot of snow at the summit. Thank God for my trekking poles and waterproof boots! As I started my descent along this trail, things got scary. I saw crampon tracks and thought to myself, “I don’t have crampons, am I safe to do this?” But I continued on until the risk of going back up the trail was too great in my mind, convincing me to continue downward along slick, snowy trail that was only a couple feet wide.

It was slow going down this leg, and there were no photos (hands full of trekking poles, unfortunately), but  I had pushed myself once again. I wanted to wait until I got to Newcomb Pass to do lunch. In the snowy sections, I cursed myself that I should’ve eaten earlier. Eventually, the snow stopped appearing on the trail, and I marched down the switchbacks. At Newcomb Pass, I had hiked 10.5 miles. It was about 1:00 PM, so I wasn’t making horrible time. I took a break for lunch, rested my feet, and cautioned a guy in sneakers who was heading up the trail I just came down that sneakers might not be appropriate. He went ahead anyway. Hope he was OK!

Continuing from Newcomb Pass back toward Sturtevant Camp was pretty straightforward. There were a lot of switchbacks, and I was on the sunny side of the mountain, so I started drinking more water due to heating up. By the time I got to Sturtevant, I was glad to be out of the switchbacks and back into the forest.

Retracing some steps through the campground, I took the Zion Trail to hit Mount Zion on my way down the trail. Once again, my topo map (found on the MyTrails app for Android), told me that Mount Zion was up a heavily overgrown trail. Luckily, some guys passed by who pointed me in the right direction, further down the trail. We had pleasant musings about his Osprey pack and my goals of doing the JMT, and off we went our separate ways.

After another short break, I continued on toward the short spur trail up Mount Zion. By this time, I was sore, but I set out to do what I was going to do!

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The views from Mount Zion were beautiful, and quite a drastic change from the snowy peak of Baldy I saw earlier in the day. I thought it sad that I was using my phone to take a pano shot that caught another guy looking at his phone. Hikes are for nature, not being buried in cell phones. Maybe I’ll take heed of this and not take photos on the JMT. Only using my phone at resupplies. One can have ideals, right?

Continuing down more switchbacks that didn’t appear to drop me at all elevation wise, I finally came to the Upper Winter Creek junction. Before I got to the junction, I ran out of water in my 100 ounce Camelbak. That surprised me, but luckily I had my Lifestraw, so I could drink from the running stream before hustling the last three miles of trail. Also, the fields of Poison Oak scared me after my last horrendous experience with it 6 months ago on my first attempt of Mount Gower.

The most frustrating thing about the last three miles was that I was sore, exhausted and the “Upper” Winter Creek trail climbed out of the creek bed. I wanted to be going DOWN the mountain NOT UP! But such is life in the life of a challenge-seeking individual like myself. Plus, many people were using the trail to come up to the creek as a day hike. Given the narrowness, I had to stop many times.

Nevertheless, the tree cover kept me protected, and before I knew it, I saw my car a few hundred feet below me. That last mile or so taunted me, walking a rim around the parking lot, but eventually I got back to the trailhead. I drank a ton of water, dropped off my gear, used the restroom and chilled for a good 15-20 minutes in my car, excited at what I had accomplished. I started at 6:30 AM and was done by 5:30 PM. 11 hours with considerable breaks was not that bad at all for an intense 18-20 mile hike.

Since this hike, I exchanged my boots for some Lowa Mountain Expert GTX Evo Boots which are compatible with automatic crampons (I will be needing these for my Mountaineering Level I class at REI in two weeks). Hopefully the Achille’s cushion I found in these will alleviate my woes so I can hike without hurting my feet!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I will be doing an overnight backpacking trip up Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco this weekend to start tuning my gear to suit my needs for the JMT!

As always, I appreciate you reading and hope you remember to take a hike and spice up your life!

-Doug

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2 Comments

  1. February 1, 2016
    Reply

    Have you already recieved your JMT permit? That was the hardest part for me last year. It looks like your training is off to a great start.

    • Doug Busack
      February 1, 2016
      Reply

      Yes! My departure date is June 23rd from happy isles to LYV. Thanks for following my blog!

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