Monday, September 28, 2009

John Muir Trail Wildflowers

Here's a slide show of some of the wildflowers along the JMT. I recorded a little guitar instrumental to go along with it. (It probably sounds better with headphones!)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sequoia Overnighter

Since I have Monday off from work, I decided to drive up to Sequoia National Forest. I left on Saturday around 4:00 and arrived at my camping destination after sunset.

I found a nice secluded site along the Kern River away from the big campgrounds. After eating some chili and rice for dinner and reading a few chapters of my book, I was excited to get some sleep and was looking forward to a long day of exploring when I awoke.

Moon glow off the Kern/
Crickets sing under the stars/
Sand beneath my feet.

I woke up to a warm morning and was anticipating a good day. I drove up to the Sequoia grove of 100 giants and quickly revisited some of the trees I first saw last year. However, I was itching to hit a trail. I drove to a spot where there appeared to be a trail head.

There was a small group of hunters who were also parked in the dirt lot, rummaging through their gear and drinking some cokes. While putting on my hiking boots I was listening to part of their conversation. "I'm hoping to grow this beard like ZZ Top. I'm not going to shave until this thing reaches my nuts." Once I got my boots on, I was ready to hit the trail. I said hi to the hunters and talked to one of them for a few minutes. He told me he and his buddies were out for the weekend but they hadn't caught anything. After parting ways, I started looking for the trail. It led out into the forest and then quickly split into numerous directions and was not maintained. After looking around for a few minutes, I realized I was not prepared to hike in this area since I didn't have a map and it seemed very easy to get turned around and lost. Unfortunately, I knew I was going to have to swallow my pride and cross paths with the hunters again, only 5 minutes after entering the woods. I reemerged back into the parking lot where the hunters were still sitting, packing up gear, and talking.
"Back so soon?" asked hunter 1.
"Yeah, is there a hiking trail back here?" I asked.
"You got a weapon?" asked hunter 2.
"For animals or people?" I asked.
"There's all sorts of things that will eat you back there." Said hunter 3.
(I remember getting this sort of harassment from construction workers in Yellowstone. When my roommate Zach and I were hiking down the roads, several groups of workers seemed to get immense satisfaction reminding us that Grizzlies eat humans.)
"Oh I'm not too worried about that." I replied.
"There's bears and mountain lions back there. All it takes is one encounter with a lion." Said hunter 2.
I guess he did have a point there. After looking at their maps which they kindly offered, I decided it was probably best to go look for a trail that was better marked. I said goodbye to the hunters and got in my car to find another spot. Since I did not have an adequate road map either, I ended up taking a road that took me out of the National Forest. Once I realized that the road was going to eventually dump me back into the Central Valley, I didn't feel like turning the car around. I ended up having a nice Sunday morning drive through the California countryside and had to settle with a FAIL for this particular trip.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summiting Whitney

Since moving to LA a year and a half ago, I have (ironically) been able to explore solitude in ways I never imagined or intended to. Although solitude was definitely not my original intention for moving here, my curiosity has allowed me to embrace and even enjoy the idea of being alone. I knew hiking the JMT would give me further opportunities to experience and explore what solitude has to offer.

At some point, I'll have to write about it, but it was nice to know I havn't lost all sense of humanity. I found connecting with people was much more of a hiking motivator than hiking to places. After spending a "zero" day at Muir Trail Ranch, I watched all of my hiking companions hike ahead while I rested for the day. I assumed I'd catch them in a couple of days.

As the week wore on, I was disappointed that there were still no signs of any of the familiar faces that filled the first half of the trail. Subconsciously, I started hiking faster and was putting in longer days in the hopes of catching at least one of my old acquaintances. At the same time, I had to remind myself to take advantage of the lessons to be learned from hiking and camping alone, and the opportunities to meet new people.

Two days from finishing the trail, I heard Erin call my name from the top of Pinchot Pass. It was great to see her and catch up on how the last week of the trail was for her. On the other side of Pinchot Pass, I ran into Gabe, Mike, and Keith who I thought were long gone. I was shocked and very happy to see them, and we shared a lunch together before pushing on. On the very last day of my hike, I ran into Sam, Pat, Robert, and Richard at the Whitney trail junction, 2 miles from the finish line. It was one of the highlights of the trail for me. I felt blessed to be able to summit with these guys since we had crossed paths many times in the first couple of weeks on the trail.

We enjoyed a beautiful, and peaceful hour on top of the highest mountain in the lower 48 and the terminus of the John Muir Trail. In addition, a wonderful feeling of accomplishment in that our goal of hiking the entire length of the trail was achieved.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Folks on the Trail

One of the blessings of hiking the John Muir Trail this year was getting the chance to meet and camp with some great people. As I mentioned before, a sense of community often develops when hiking trails like this. Here are a few of the people I got to know on the trail. 1.) Matt: I met Matt on the second day of the trail. He also was hiking solo. We hiked together for a couple of days until he had to push ahead due to time constraints. Here he is pictured looking at his sleeping bag with the food he planned on sleeping with. I think his worried expression is due to the fact that I had just finished telling him that bears came into my camp the night before! 2.) Having a beer with Cindy, Erin, and Andrew at Red's Meadow. Cindy and Andrew were school teachers from New Jersey, and Erin is a robotics engineer from Boston. They became familiar faces on the trail. I camped with them again at Marie Lakes, VVR, and Muir Ranch.

3.) David and Robert: I met David near the beginning of my hike and later camped with him at Red's Meadow before parting ways. Robert is an Irishman living in LA, who teaches high school history. Robert also became a familiar face, someone I "leap frogged" the entire length of the trail. He always had some entertaining story or observation to tell, usually involving plenty of well placed f-bombs to color his stories for dramatic effect.

4.)Kaylynn: A world traveler from Australia, she was hiking from Lake Tahoe to Whitney. I camped with her and Robert one night after VVR.

5.) Richard: He is a Desert Storm veteran who flew helicopters, and also a former Kings Canyon Park Ranger. I crossed paths with him numerous times in the first half of my hike and then caught up to him again on the last day. We had some interesting discussions.

6.) Pat and Sam: I also crossed paths with these guys numerous times, summited Whitney with them, and gave them a ride to the Burbank airport after the trail was finished. Pat is an interesting talker, who teaches math in a community college near San Francisco. His friend Sam works with computers and lives in Silver Spring. They also have a Facebook page called "Pat and Sam's JMT 2009" which has numerous videos of the hike.

7.) Gabe, Mike, and Keith: Gabe is also an Iraq war veteran who served two tours in the army. His brother Mike and his friend Keith are students in San Diego. I also leap frogged these guys throughout the trail. Whenever I would pass, they would offer some sort of snack or candy or when this picture was taken, fresh trout they had just caught and cooked.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Los Angeles Crest Highway

This just makes me mad as hell.

It saddens me to think an arsonist is responsible for all of this devastation. For some reason, if lightning or some other natural cause were the culprit, I would feel better about it. I guess man is a part of nature as well so it was meant to be. The amount of life that was destroyed as a result of these fires is hard to imagine. I think about all of the lizards, snakes, birds, plants, trees, insects, and even bears that I saw on my hikes the last few months. Perhaps they found a way to fly away or bury themselves in the ground. Obviously, fire is part of the natural cycle of life and this mountain vegetation will return again. How long? I'm not sure. Unfortunately, it seems all of these innocent creatures have received the "shit end of the stick" when it comes to man's approach towards the environment, or one man's angst in this case. Thankfully, the sun will rise again tomorrow, the rains will eventually fall, plants and animals will return. I just hope we as humans can become more responsible stewards.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Coliseum

Journal excerpt from August 19, 2009:
While eating dinner, I was looking down into the valley below. It looked pretty far and inaccessible from where I was camping. However, on closer inspection, following the curve of the land with my eye, it actually looked quite simple to walk down to the valley to the river. Indeed it was. It was a remarkable after dinner saunter. Once down near the valley floor it was like I entered another world. In fact, it felt like a Coliseum. There were towering mountain walls all around me. The grassy meadow was like walking on marshmallows, the land was so soft and buoyant. The river was so tranquil, shallow yet swift, fish swimming around, meandering down into the lowlands. I could see a waterfall high up on a cliff, cascading down into the river, like an ancient monumental fountain. The landscape was a plethora of colors I can't recall seeing before. In fact, it felt like I was visiting an ancient civilization, there were strange rock formations that couldn't be natural. Perhaps past hikers constructed these "thrones." My imagination was running wild. I imagined this past civilization's buildings and towers being transformed into stone. Their descendants transformed into the tiny furry creatures darting between the rocks. Once I hiked back up to my campsite, which took all but 20 minutes, the scene returned to normal. More big mountains, rivers, and valleys.

One thing that occurred to me while enjoying my after dinner walk, was the wonderful feeling of exploration. Even though others obviously had been in the valley before I, it was exciting to entertain the idea of being the first to walk in that unspoiled mountain meadow. If not the first, it was clear that human beings rarely walked where I found myself walking. The land was so fresh I felt guilty stepping on the plants and grasses. I felt absolutely privileged. How ingrained the need to explore seems to be placed upon the heart of man!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pine Cones

Journal excerpt from August 19, 2009:
One thing that brings me joy on the trail are the pine cones on the white pine trees. Right now, there is a sappy substance emanating from inside the cones. Whenever I take a break, I like to look up at the pine cones because they shine and glitter like they have diamonds inside.

Depending on the point of view, they sparkle red, blue, green, white, and look remarkable against the bluest of blue skies and white granite mountains and cliffs.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mather Pass

Journal entry from August 17, 2009:
Hiking up Mather Pass this morning, I paused to take a rest about 3/4's of the way to the top. The scene before me was stunning. Rugged, foreboding mountain peaks surrounded me, high above treeline. Snow still packed to the sides where I assume less direct sunlight is available. What struck me most was the weather. Not a cloud in the sky, temperatures 75-80 degrees, not the slightest hint of a wind or breeze. Everything was calm and still like the desert, as if awaiting a cataclysmic event. A couple of butterflies fluttered around my head for a minute. Beautiful, fragile looking wildflowers peaked beneath rocks and crevasses. I knew I was captured in a fleeting summer's moment. The terrain all around me bore evidence of extreme trauma. How many thousands or millions of years it took to create such a scene is beyond my expertise. Again, what I did realize, was that I was seeing just a fraction, albeit a beautiful one, of the valley's personality.

How brutal are the winters year after year in this place? What's it like when whole sections of the mountainside come crumbling down into the valley? What pressures are tectonic plates applying to the land to create such beauty? How powerful and overwhelming were the glaciers that once slowly filled and moved down the valley, scraping, polishing, and depositing rocks and carving mountainsides before it eventually retreated and melted creating such pristine and beautiful lakes? What a remarkable dichotomy where such a wild and inhospitable place can still harbor beautiful summertime meadows, gentle waterfalls, wildflowers, plants, and small furry animals and insects!

Immediately it brought to mind some of my favorite kids I have worked with in the past as counselor or teacher. Some kids have this rugged, wild, and frankly frightening auras about them. Often times, mental or physical abuse from friends or family members can be the culprit. Sometimes, it may be nothing more than the traits they were born with. One thing is for sure, to enter into relationship with them, you are in for one hell of a ride. Like Mather Pass I'd imagine, the storms, or acting out episodes, are going to be intense. There will be moments when one wonders whether or not they will survive, or whether it's all even worth it.

Then, there will be days like today, tranquil and peaceful. The child will show you the most amazing displays of love or wisdom, friendship or humor, just like the rare wildflowers that peak out of the rocks, or the butterflies that joyfully play above the alpine grasses, or the gentle waterfall that sings, shines, and provides nourishment to all things around. Today, I have no complaints about seeing Mather's pleasant and peaceful side. The storms will have to be confronted by someone more courageous than I.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Anybody who knows me, even slightly, understands that I have absolutely no mechanical skills whatsoever. So when my stove broke halfway through my JMT hike, I knew I was in deep shit. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but I knew I was going to be uncomfortable for a while. In the past, whenever I tried to fix something, an all too familiar pattern would develop: First, a flash of panic when I'd first discover something was broken. Second, a wave of calm that would last about five minutes, when I'd tell myself "Surely you can fix this. It can't be that complicated." Third, a couple of minutes of profanity laced outbursts. Fourth, a couple more minutes of profanity laced outbursts. Fifth, breaking all surrounding mechanical parts. Sixth, a final kick into broken mechanical device. Seventh and final phase, a satisfied declaration on my part exclaiming "Now it's @*% fixed!!"
This time around I told myself, "Surely you can do this. It can't be that complicated. Besides, you've matured a lot." Indeed I had matured a lot. This time, a wave of calm ensued that lasted about ten minutes before phases 3 and 4 kicked in. When phase 5 began, my "angel on my shoulder" started to scream, "Don't do this!!! Look at your surroundings!!! You're going to starve!!!" "Fine!!" I shouted. "But I'm going to phase six damn it!!" After one triumphant kick to my stove, I resigned myself to eating cold mashed potatoes and tuna for dinner and went to bed bitter. The worst part about my broken stove was that the moment it stopped working, I had ten days worth of food in my backpack. After burying my first night's dinner of mac and cheese in the Kings Canyon National Park, I wondered how many more meals I would have to bury. It didn't settle well with my conscience to bury food anywhere in this beautiful park. To make matters worse, I was also struggling with the idea of burying my stove because the extra weight really starts to add up with a full pack. I'm estimating my pack was close to 60 pounds with all of the food. I was welcome to any idea that would lessen my burden. My second night with a broken stove, I was able to start a nice campfire and cook my food. It was one of my best dinners on the trail. Unfortunately, it looked like it would be my last because the second half of the JMT is mostly above 10,000 feet. Campers are prohibited to make fires above 10,000 feet due to the lack of bio-mass that occurs at high elevations. My third night, I spent another half hour or so attempting to fix the stove but to no avail. I attempted to eat mac and cheese without cooking it. I simply soaked it in cold water for about 30 minutes until it was soft enough to consume. I practically gagged after every bite and was unable to get more than ten spoonfuls down. As a result, I buried the rest under a rock and went to bed annoyed and hungry. The fourth night, something amazing happened. Again I was camped above 10,000 feet and was preparing myself for the likelihood of eating another cold dinner of uncooked noodles. I was camping next to a glacial lake called "Marjorie" and decided to take a quick dip to cleanse off not only the dirt, but the negative mood I found myself in. Once again, the "baptism" worked like a charm and I soon found myself feeling refreshed, happy, and with clarity of mind and purpose. "I'm going to fix this stove!" I told myself. What happened next is something I don't think has ever happened in my life. I had a moment of mechanical clarity where I was able to pinpoint the origin of the problem by simple trial and error and process of elimination. As it turned out, a hole the size of a pinpoint (that I didn't even know exhisted) was clogged by tiny pieces of dirt that was prohibiting the gas from flowing through the jet into the base of the stove. Once I unclogged the jet using a small needle, the stove worked like a charm. It was one of the high moments of the hike for me. The following dinner was absolutely delicious and I was thanking the high heavens that I chose not to bury the stove in the wilderness. Too bad I already sold my Volkswagen.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who Says SOCAL Has No Seasons?

I went for a short hike in Griffith Park a few days ago to get some exercise. I enjoy seeing how different plants, trees, and flowers change as the year progresses. Even though there has been no rain since spring, some wildflowers have waited until September to bloom. I guess they must store water in their stems or roots during the summer and then patiently wait for their turn to come on to the scene. Below: Indian Pink (Silene laciniata)

Everything else at this point is dried up, brown, and dusty. If one looks closely, it's a joy to see the changes in the landscape as the seasons progress.

The cloud cover pictured is a result of the forest fires that continue to burn. Hopefully I will get a chance to explore the National Forest sometime soon to see firsthand just how much damage has been done.

Perseid Meteor Shower

One of the great things about backpacking long distances is the sense of community that can develop amongst fellow hikers. I was fortunate to meet quite a few interesting people. I met doctors, teachers, college professors, students, war vets, computer technicians, foreigners (Irish, English, Australian), and former park rangers. Often times, someone would pass me during the day, and I'd see them later in the evening. Sometimes a few of us would camp together for the night. Sometimes I would meet someone, and then cross paths a couple of days later. There were a handful of us who would "leapfrog" each other the entire trip. There were a few spots on the trail when a full fledged party would materialize. One such place was Muir Trail Ranch. This was where most of us had sent our 5 gallon bucket to resupply. The ranch is run by a tough little old lady. After picking up our buckets, a small group of us set up camp in a nearby campground. The mood quickly became festive as many familiar faces continued to arrive throughout the afternoon and evening. After an evening soak in the hot springs located across the river, several other hikers started a small bonfire in the fire ring located in the campground. Since this was a resupply point, many of us had sent more food than was necessary to ourselves. As a result, a small banquet ensued followed by lively conversation, stories, and jokes around the campfire. Even more enjoyable, this just happened to be the peak night for the Perseid meteor shower. Before retiring to our tents for the evening, we were able to witness a fantastic display of meteors burning up in the atmosphere above the Sierras, as they streaked across the Milky Way glowing above us. First thing that came to mind was John Denver's explanation of "Rocky Mountain High!" (Check at the 3:20 mark!)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Glacial Baptism

Journal from August 11, 2009:

I woke up this morning feeling irritable. Mosquitoes were out in full force, I smelled like a rotting corpse. My thoughts were trapped in my head and I wasn't enjoying the beauty surrounding me. Thankfully, Marie Lakes changed that for me. Marie Lakes (pictured third) is a body of water originally formed from melted glaciers. Ice cold, aqua blue, and surrounded by 12,000 ft. mountains. Once I walked above 10,000 feet, I stopped noticing the mosquitoes. I found a great campsite in between the two lakes. Temperatures were warm, and the noon day sun made the plants, grasses, wildflowers, and rocks glow with intensity.

I stepped into the ice cold water. "Wow, that's cold!" The sun's heat radiated the skin on my back. A little farther. "Whoa!!" I was having a hard time catching my breath. "Do it!" Dunking the rest of my body, I felt myself gasping for air. Exhilarating! Refreshing! What a difference a baptism in a glacial pond makes! The high Sierra sun quickly warmed my body and I soon felt all my muscles relax. Along with cleaning all the trail dirt from my body, my mind too, shed all negative thoughts and burdens and was quickly set at peace.