Rae Lakes

As my permit dates for Rae Lakes began approaching, I started watching the weather forecasts with more interest. Initially, this was to figure out what I might need to pack. But as the days became closer and closer, I became more concerned about the conditions I might find myself in. This was going to be my first multi-day solo trip, so I was trending toward being extra cautious about the journey. Initially, the forecast called for a warm start, followed by a 20% chance of thunderstorms for the rest of the trip. That is manageable, as thunderstorms are common in the latter part of the day. But each day, the forecast kept trending in the wrong direction. That 20-30% chance became 30-40%, then 40-50%. In addition, the weather service also issued a Fire Weather Warning (which was later changed to a Red Flag Warning) for late Monday afternoon through Tuesday evening. They warned of dry lightning triggering fires and the high winds creating the possibility of it becoming fast-moving. Not really the conditions that I looked forward to hiking into. As I sat in my hotel in Visalia, I reached out to some of my more experienced backpacking buddies (David & Leslie/Mike) to get their take. They all agreed that it did not look like it was going to be a fun trip. The general consensus was to go ahead, get up early as planned and drive the 2 hours to Road’s End and consult with the ranger. If I liked what I heard, continue on to the first campsite and spend the night. Then I could make the call and decide if I want to continue or simply turn back. With that, I set my alarm for 4 am, and hit the pillow.

When I woke up. I checked the latest weather report and saw that it was looking more like 50-60% of thunderstorms and showers as well were now in the forecast. Given I had not camped in the rain, doing it for multiple days seemed like a poor option. I got to the permit station just a touch after 7 am. I spoke with Ranger Mary about the forecast and what her thoughts were. She basically asked, “How much do you like being wet?” That settled it, no loop for me this time, but I was still game for one night in the wilderness! So, I parked in the long-term lot, finished getting ready, and hit the trailhead just before 8 am. The forecast for Upper Paradise was to be in the low 80s, with a light breeze. I had hoped that my early start would let me stay ahead of the heat. I had not paid attention to the forecasted high, so I had no idea exactly what I might be racing against.

The trail is fairly flat for the first 1.9 miles until it reaches the junction of the Kings River and Bubbs Creek. Here I would take the left fork and begin ascending toward Paradise Valley. The sounds of the river were so refreshing. The views were as incredible as I had imagined. It was getting warmer as I pushed on. I had a liter of water in my interior water bladder, a liter in a side bottle, and 1 liter of Gatorade. I could feel my pace slow. At first, I thought I might be the added weight of 5 days of food, the extra clothing, and other items making it tougher. But, as I felt the sweat begin to soak my shirt, I knew that day was warmer than I had hoped for. 

At Mist Falls I took an extended break. Ate some of the oranges I brought for the first day and drank some more fluids. I decided to spend a bit of time in the shade and recharge before pressing on. Most everyone here were day-hikers. Oh, how I coveted their small light packs… I pressed on, being mindful of the temperatures. I dug out my cooling towel and wrapped it around my neck. 

I kept finding myself looking for a place to sit under some shade for a bit. I checked my position and the topography ahead of me. I gave serious consideration to throwing in the towel and bailing. I found another rest stop and refilled my side bottle with some cool water from the river (properly filtered of course). I finished my oranges but still could not think about having my proper lunch. I knew that this was not a good sign, so I tore open one of my goos and forced it down. 

As I made my way across the exposed switchbacks, I estimated the temperatures were either in the upper 80s or low 90s. This was going to take some serious effort if I was actually going to make camp. My spirits were getting crushed. I would move from shady section to shady section, pausing for a bit almost every time. Once I reached the southern end of the valley, I took another break and was able to eat my lunch. I again went to the river to filter more water, as my bladder had been completely emptied by this point. Rechecking the map, I was not too far from Middle Paradise campsite, so I pressed on. 

Passing through Lower Paradise, I could see the numerous dead trees and why this campsite is currently closed. I then spied the bear locker at Middle Paradise and said this was as far as I was going to go. I was the only one here, so picked a nice spot a bit back from the water, hoping the bugs would not be an issue. Thankfully, for most of the hike, they were not too bad.

I got some more water and then began to set up camp for the night. It was only 3:30 or so, but I just did not have the energy to hike another 2 or so miles to Upper Paradise. Eventually, 3 other hikers joined me at the site. And not soon after that, a doe strolled past us with not a care in the world. While soaking my feet in the cool water, I used my InReach to report in with my wife and give her my status.

My site had a fire ring, so I had planned for a small fire to pass the time later. I gathered some starter material and placed the pine needles in the pit. I then set off to find some downed wood that I could use. I started to smell the familiar smell of a campfire. I figured it must be from further down the trail. According to GaiaGPS, the Middle Paradise campsite was further north. I then looked over to the fire pit, and the started material had begun to smolder on its own! It seems the last users of this firepit had not properly put it out. Thankfully, I took care of it, but I was pissed. 

About 4 to 6 other hikers passed on through, pushing on toward Upper Paradise. I would say now that I had an extended break here, I probably could have pushed on. But, I was fine spending the night here. Later in the early evening, two more hikers also decided to find a spot to pitch their tents. It was one of them who spotted the bear as it passed around us. We watched it as it took a look at us. It looked to be about 2-3 years old and did not seem to have any tags or collar. Eventually, it wandered away. I certainly was going to be a bit more cautious for the evening. Since I was not needing 5 days of food I treated myself to a double dinner, being a bit more mindful of any unwanted company. 

With plenty of water to manage my fire, I sat and enjoyed the flames. I reflected on what I had overcome. I let the fire die down until only the embers remained, I doused it with my water pouches and made sure it was out. I had really wanted to gaze up at the night sky from Rae Lakes, but this view would have to do. The night was pleasant, I slept without the cover on my tent and just my camp shirt on. Once the moon rose, it did wake me once, but even that was a welcomed sight. As the pre-dawn broke, I found myself rested and ready to head back out. The other folks were going to continue on to Woods Creek and then see what the weather held. I did briefly consider it, but in the end, felt it best to stick to the one night.

I repacked my bag, trying to be mindful of the other campers. I knew I was hiking down into the heat, so I wanted an earlier start. Not ten minutes on the trail, I spotted that same bear dashing in front of me and then stopping a safe distance away. I kept my face toward him as I continued carefully down the trail. Two hikers passed me before I reach Lower Paradise, and I gave them each a heads up about my earlier bear sighting. Upon reaching Lower Paradise there were two folks who had ignored the closure notice and camped there. I let them know as well. 

The miles slipped by much easier, the pack a little lighter, the temperatures pleasant and mostly going downhill. I stopped at Mist Falls, and this time the entire area was empty. I sat a listened to the roar of the river tumbling down. When I went to put my pack back on, the sternum strap snapped. Crud! Maybe this was a sign that turning back was a good idea. Also, I did discover a hole in one of my pairs of Darn Tough Socks…. About ¾ of a mile past Mist Falls, I meet my first day-hikers. A family was taking a break and politely asked if I had bug spray. The bugs had been worse today. In fact, at Mist Falls, I broke out the bug net. I turned around and told the father which pocket to find it in. They were so happy. We chatted some before we each headed our separate ways. 

As I made my way along the trail, a mule train was making its way up, I assume to resupply the ranger station at Rae Lakes. I stepped aside and let them pass. Now I would watch out for fresh droppings on the trail. A bit further down, I met two more day-hikers, they told me they just encountered a rattlesnake slithering off the trail. Sure, enough it was just off to the side, minding its own business. I safely snapped a photo or two and continued on. 

I started to encounter a mix of day-hikers and those still heading out to attempt the loop. I let the backpackers know about my bear sighting at Middle Paradise and wished them well. Soon, I found myself back at the junction of Bubbs Creek and the Kings River. I hoped to cross that bridge upon my return from the loop. But this time just a quick stroll on it would have to do.

The day was getting much warmer, and I could feel the need to drink more and more as I covered the last couple of miles. I found myself drifting from shady section to shady section again. I was guessing it was in the mid to upper 80s. I would know soon enough once I got to the car. It was about 10:30, and I met someone just heading out. We chatted a bit, he had just landed a walk-up permit. He had hoped to have the ability to send a message to his wife, but couldn’t. So I offered to pass along his itinerary for him once I was able to.

Finally, the permit station came into view. I spoke with the ranger and gave him my bear sighting information, as well as the camping at Lower Paradise and the fire issue. The area is now at Stage 3 fire restrictions, so the small fire I had is no longer allowed.  Once at the car, I cleaned up some, then threw on some shorts and a t-shirt. Unfortunately, I also developed a nice blister on my toe. I had felt something earlier, but when I checked my foot, I did not see it. I guess it was another sign that I made the right call. I picked out some snacks for the ride home, but the trail mix was not going to be one of the options, as it had melted into a mass of goo. Yeah, it had been warm on this hike. As I pulled away, heading toward Cedar Grove for some cold soda and a snack, I waited for the car’s thermometer to settle down. It read 95°F at 11 am. Yikes! That would explain why I had so much trouble, it was even hotter than I planned. 

As I drove up out of Kings Canyon, I pulled over at a nice vista and could see the start of the clouds forming in the distance. I decided to take the long way home and drive through Sequoia National Park. I did not plan to stop, I just wanted to enjoy the trees and views. Once back off the mountain, I headed back through Bakersfield, this time stopping at Dewar’s to pick up some chews for the family. All in all, it was an adventure to build on. Except for the one-two punch of the heat and the predicted rain, the trip went mostly well. Maybe in the early fall, I might find an opportunity to try again…

The forecast on Monday.

Grasslands Loop

The second hike of the day was to do the Grassland Loop & Oak Canyon out in Mission Trails. The Oak Canyon portion was one of the hikes I recommended for my synagogue’s Stepping Into Israel hiking challenge. I decided to add in the Grasslands Loop for a change of scenery while doing it. The skies were still grey and a light mist was falling as I set off. Since almost all this hike has no shade, this was welcomed hiking weather. The trail was mostly empty, in part due to the weather. The stream was once again dry. Making my way back to the car, I passed a nice collection of morteros. Once back at the car, I headed off to grab lunch and then my third hike of the day.

Torrey Pines State Park Extension

Ever since March, I have been exploring some of my local peaks. One peak, Torrey Pines State Park High Point (that’s a mouthful), has been on my list for a while. This ‘peak’ sits within the extension to the state park, and had been closed for some time due to Covid-19. The extension has several trailheads to start from, but I opted for the trailhead closest to the high point near the school, & set off along the Red Ridge Trail. It passes by several multi-million dollar homes before entering the state park. The trail was nice and flat, and as I made my way to the end, a few Torrey pines lined the trail. According to Peakbagger, the actual high point was located in a section that was beyond the roped off area. Close enough for me. The view from the end of this little trail was lovely. I had a sweeping view of the lagoon and Torrey Pines SP.

With the knee feeling good, I set off toward the D.A.R. viewpoint. I followed the trail down into the gully, then turned up to go back up another trail to climb up to the viewpoint. The sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean. While I could have done something closer to my house, I wanted to enjoy the sunset over the water. 

I then began working my way back to the car, and decided to take an alternate route back. I wanted to take the Gully Trail, but I discovered it was closed. I debated returning the same way I had come, or loop back through the streets. Since I was close to the streets, I decided to take that route. As I returned to my car, the trailhead was filled with cars, some were probably folks I passed along the trails, but others were just sitting there enjoying a spectacular view. 

Bear Mountain

After dropping my son off to spend his one-year dating anniversary with his girlfriend in Tempe, I opted to head up to Sedona for some hiking over the weekend. I had planned to try to hike out to Devil’s Bridge and  then maybe try Doe Mountain afterwards. But as I drove up to the trailhead, the parking situation looked worse than Mt. Woodson on the weekend. So, I decided to pivot to one of my alternate hikes. Boynton Canyon trailhead was nearby, so I decided to see if I could find reasonable parking there. Sadly, the lot was full and the roadside parking was also packed.

Instead, I opted to hike Bear Mountain, one of the peaks on the Arizona Summer Six Pack of Peaks Challenge. Figuring since this was a harder hike than the other two, it would be less crowded. As I pulled up to the trailhead, I saw that the small lot was full, and about 8 or so cars lined the roadside. Since this is also the same parking spot for Doe Mountain, I figured I would probably be ok with the amount of trail traffic.

I grabbed my gear and crossed the road to the trailhead. The trail starts off crossing a short, flat section before beginning its first climb. I knew from the research I had done, that I was in for a short but steep hike. The trail was fairly easy to follow and whenever there was some uncertainty, painted white markers pointed the direction.

After a steeper section, I found myself on a plateau. It was here I finally got to see the actual summit. Looking back, I was rewarded with some sweeping views.

The trail continued climbing, but at a much gentler grade for a bit. In fact, there were a couple small descents just to keep me on my toes. Off to my right, was Fay Canyon. I had hiked this several years ago with my twins during a Thanksgiving vacation. I am pretty sure I could spot the rock arch in the cliff.  I took a short rest on a log at the saddle before the final steep push to the summit. Thus far, I think I saw about 10-15 hikers on the entire trail. With my break over, I began making my way up to the summit.

After about a quarter mile of climbing I reached the end of the trail. I enjoyed another break, as well as the views. A rock pile served as the summit marker. I could see Bear Mountain – Middle Peak off to the northwest, but I did not feel the need to add another two miles to this hike. 

Looking back up

The hike back down was mostly uneventful. One bonus was that the vistas were easier to see hiking in this direction. Even though it was now mid-afternoon, I did encounter some folks heading up. I gave them some information about what lay ahead, suggesting possible turn around points. Soon I found myself back off the mountain and making my way across to my car. The parking lot and roadside had thinned out. If I did not have plans to met a college friend for dinner, I might have done Doe Mountain as well. All told this hike was 4.5 miles roundtrip with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. 

Old Survey Road

Ted Markus and I had a chance to hike the Old Survey Road out on the Ramona Grasslands. This hike requires a permit and is limited to 50 per day. The trail is only open on weekends and for just a few months of the year. While we knew today was going to be warm, it was just about our last chance to explore it.

We arrived just before 8, and a group of four hikers were ahead of us, waiting to have their permits checked by the ranger. Once signed in, we headed down the dirt road. Cows to the left, Bulls on our right. The trail worked its way back to the northwest, past the ruins of a house and a lovely picnic bench under the shade of some oaks. 

The main attraction is the chance to possibly see some Golden Eagles. This the main reason for the closure dates, to allow for proper nesting in the nearby rocks.

We climbed a small hill and were rewarded with a nice view of San Pasqual Valley. The Safari Park’s hot air balloon was clearly visible, as was much of the trail I took on Thursday.

We had a decent descent to the trail’s end. After snapping a few photos and waiting for the group that was ahead of us to have a chance to make some progress climbing back up, we set off. Neither of us was in a rush. A few more people passed us by as we made our way back, including one horseback rider. 

As we drew closer to the car, we both commented that the day was certainly heating up. After checking back in with the ranger we tossed our gear into the car and turned on the AC. The thermostat read about 94 at just after 10 am. If you can get a permit and can do it, it was a really pleasant stroll.

Valley of the Moon

Today’s adventure was to summit Blue Angels Peak. With the forests closed due to fire danger, we were looking for something that we could do. I had suggested doing San Ysidro and The Thimble, but Susie wanted to explore something new, so Blue Angels peak was selected. 

I headed out early to try and catch the sunrise and squeeze in a quick summit of Jade Benchmark. It was a short climb to the summit. I found the register, but the ink in the pen was dry. I was also able to locate the benchmark before I hustled back down and waited for Susie and Gail to arrive. About 7:30 they pulled up and transferred into the Subaru. Rather than make the steep climb up from the trailhead we opted to drive to a turn out to avoid this section.

The views were spectacular as we worked our way along the roads. Finally we came to the point where we left the road and began to follow a use trail toward the summit.

With a bit of scrambling at the very end, the summit was reached. Susie found the register and we signed ourselves in. The Valley of the Moon spread out before us to the east, and Mexico was just to our south. A nice breeze kept us cool. A Border Patrol jeep cruised the road below us.

I scrambled around the summit locating the various reference marks. Plastic bottles could be found scattered about. Our next goal was the boundary marker to our south. This obelisk denotes the border between the United States and Mexico.

We took our photos and then headed back. I had located several other peaks also on the Borrego Benchmark Club list, but the day was warming up a bit and I needed to get home since Yom Kippur starts at sundown. This is place I need to return to and explore this region further!

Camping @ Crystal Cove

Well, it finally happened, I went backpacking! I had finally reached a point where some of the peaks I want to summit are more than a long day hike. Susie Kara suggested testing out my set up at Crystal Cove State Park. I booked a spot at the Upper Moro campsite. Throughout the week, I kept a close eye on the air quality. The plan was to start after work, hike back to the site, spend the night then head back down. I got to the state park around 5, spoke to the ranger, and asked about the conditions. She said it wasn’t too bad, and agreed if we opted to leave the trail is easy to follow in the dark.

Ted Markus graciously decided to join me. We hit the trail right at 5:30, packs strapped to our backs. Our route wandered up through Moro Canyon. After about a mile we reached the East Cut Across trail to begin climbing up toward the ridge. 

Here is where we would earn the beer we packed! Over the next mile the trail would gain about 700 feet. Once on the ridge, we passed through Lower Moro Campground. We snapped a few photos of the view and continued on, as our campsite was about another .85 miles further.

We arrived at sunset, and quickly set about setting up camp. We had the entire campsite to ourselves, so we did not need to camp next to each other. Once the tents were up, we enjoyed our sandwiches and beer. We chatted for a while then turned in for the night. In many ways this was going to be the real test for me.

My sleeping pad and tent worked well. While not the best sleep, I woke just after 6. I had a granola bar and some oranges while I broke down my gear. We loaded our packs and headed back down. A few early morning mountain bikers were testing their calves climbing the ridge and some others were enjoying the trails.

We soon found ourselves back at our cars, knowing that we were ready to attempt a real backing trip once it was safe to do so. I quickly changed shirts and headed off as I had a 9:30 meeting.

Daley Ranch & Burnt Mountain

Today I decided to go out to Daley Ranch and summit Burnt Mountain. Daley Ranch has been closed for some time due to Covid-19, so I was glad to take advantage of its open status. This area has always been a popular spot for hikers and mountain bikers, so doing this hike on a weekday seemed like a good idea. I pulled into the Cougar Pass Trailhead’s parking lot just after 7. There were already 5 cars parked. I grabbed my gear and headed down the trail. I had hiked most of the route I was planning to take back in 2016. I found my route in Runkeeper, but not a single photo. I guess I will have to make up for that oversight.

The first part of hike would be along the Cougar Ridge trail. It would work its way upward, crossing two flowing streams along the way. Oaks provided shade in spots. The wide trail appears to be recently graded. After a bit, the Engelmann trail connected from the east, but I wanted to take it from the other junction, so onward I hiked.

The next trail I encountered was the Bobcat Trail. This single track bisects the Engelmann Loop. I might take it upon my return.

Finally, I reached the other junction for the Engelmann Loop. I could see Burnt Mountain before me, and where my route probably was. Flowing water worked its way down the middle of the trail, but there was enough space on either side to keep from having issues. I soon came to small pond. I spied a mother duck and her ducklings having breakfast upon the water.

From my research, I knew I had to cross a small meadow to the base of the mountain, & from there a use trail should take me to the summit. Just past the pond, I saw the meadow and a faint path through it.

Once on the other side, I picked up the trail. It was a little overgrown, but manageable. It worked it way up the steep slope, with an occasional cairn to help guide the way. 

With the summit in view, some lovely wildflowers blocked my path. Rather than disturb them, I was able to move around them. Once on the summit, I found the benchmark and the two reference marks. The summit had three rather large cairns that I opted to leave alone. After a short rest, I headed back down.

Back on the Engelmann Loop Trail, I continued taking it counter-clockwise. I still had yet to encounter another person on the trail. 

The trail’s beauty continued to impress me. I could see why Scott Turner, author of Afoot and Afield in San Diego, loves the trail. As I came up to the junction with the Bobcat Trail, I had a decision to make—take it or stay on the Engelmann Loop. I opted to stay on the loop.

Soon, I passed my first pair of hikers. Thankfully the trail was wide as they did not have masks. By the time I finally reached my car I passed 5 other hikers and two mountain bikers, all without masks. Just glad the trail was wide. All told I covered 4.94 miles in 2:35, with over 1,100 feet of elevation gain.

Van Dam Peak

I decided to get some early morning hiking in before sitting through a morning of online meetings. Figured I should finally summit the other two peaks around Van Dam. I decided to start up from the Savannah trailhead. Susie Kara joined me in a socially distant manner. That is, as always I was behind her as she led the way 😉

The start of the trail took us steeply up to the main ridge. A bit overgrown, and the wet plants soon made my pants wet as well. Once on the ridge, we made our way to Van Dam peak. Typically, when hikers refer to Van Dam, they are actually referring to North Van Dam (where the graffitied concrete slab is). We turned south on the Iola trail for a bit, before picking up a faint use trail that took us to the summit. There is no benchmark or even a register. A large rock was just to the west of the summit, and Susie scrambled up for her photo.