For reasons I cannot explain I hiked for 9.5 straight hours today. I mean I only took a few meager stops, mostly during the first 3 hours, to take some quick non-tripod shots of the north sides of Pine & Mt. San Antonio peaks, which still had snow. (Side note: it’s the middle of February and winter is over in Southern California – it feels like a rather hot March with flowers blooming, but there will be no use chasing waterfalls in the Angeles National Forest, they will still be dry.)
I climbed up the PCT (Pacfic Crest Trail) from Inspiration Point off Highway 2 along Blue Ridge. It was full of great views, but pretty easy – I passed many closed Mountain High lifts, and stopped to watch some people come off the one that was still open for a minute, and when I made it to the ridge I round it covered in towers – shows what I know. I did not research this hike. I have hiked on the south side a LOT and have been on this side a few times, but I was totally winging it, taking my best guesses at mileage and trail conditions. I was ready for way more than an out and back at that point, even clocking 5.5 miles it seems way too short. So I continued into new territory – without having consulted a real map, done any research, or even talked to a ranger about it. Just a guess based on general knowledge of the area and a look at my 100k GPS unit. So I left forest road I was on around Guffy Campground (the PCT was skirted the North Side of the ridge, I was on the south) and headed down a forest “road” into the Prarie Fork – a stream-bottomed canyon. I have to say, one other hiker was 50 feet above me on the PCT at one point and yelled down that “I missed it” and when I said I was doing the loop he thought that was at least 16 miles and hard on the knees – so the trail gods did send a warning that I did not heed. You cannot call anything you see on the map a “road” any longer – forest and “jeep’ roads seen still on Google Maps are washed out or overgrown at least 60% of the time inside the canyon, and rock strewn further up the mountain – though they do popup once in a while and only sometimes fallen trees block them, either accidental or purposefully cut and placed in they way… interesting.
I knew the canyons had washed out trails, but the loop was longer than expected by at least 20% and had a fairly good section where any passable area, forget actual trail, disappeared among washes, debris, fallen trees, and ‘new’ plants… so I bushwacked with my body and prayed for nothing to bite me as I scrambled through dense brush and trod on unstable ground of branches and thick blankets of leaves. Surprisingly few scrapes this morning – good ol’ rip-stop hiking clothes! I passed two drive-in campsites that were abandoned – Lupine and Cabin Flat had picnic benches, fire pits, wood areas bordering roads to show where to park, and pit toilets (I did not look). There was some water in the stream, a feeder to the San Gabriel River, so sometimes the canyon was pretty, but time and energy were lost whenever a trail was – I often climbed inside the stream, jumping sides as needed, then being forced to leave and try to find any trail again or just pushed forward in the clearest spot I could find. With darkness falling I was nearly spent. My goal was just to make it onto the trail proper at Vincent Gap – the bottom of which comes and goes and I really didn’t want to do that in the dark. I did make it to the switchbacks, happily, before I had to get out my headlamp (kids, never hike without your essentials!).
It was pretty slow going at this point – I was less than 1.9 miles from the top according to GPS, but I had to guess it was nearly 3 with switchbacks PLUS I was parked in a lot fairly far away, so if I wasn’t able to hitchhike with another late hiker in this lot, I’d have to get back on the PCT and take it to where I parked, which was at LEAST 3 miles away, but probably 4. Lucky for me, two young men came up the trail behind me after their own over-long adventure (they went to Big Horn Mine then scrambled down the the southeast side of Mt. Baden-Powell into the gap) when I had about 0.8 mile left as the bird flies according to GPS. They talked with me to help pass the final hour in the dark, slowing a bit but also keeping a pace, and, after admiring the bright stars, gave me a lift to where I parked.
I did not plan, which is pretty rare for me, I just made guesses and went for it – and it hurt! I think the last time I didn’t plan at all I did a giant day looping from Millard to Echo Mountain to Inspiration Point, then up Mt. Lowe, back down the other side passing old ruins of an Inn and back down the old tram railroad – that was about 19 miles and hurt like hell, too. I was never lost or scared, but surely bit off more than I could chew with too many miles, unknown trail conditions, and a lot of elevation climbing. Coming up the final ascent in Vincent Gap I found the ravaged old campsite gone, but plenty of over-large scat… If I had so much as twisted an ankle it would have been a long night and following day: this area is REMOTE for being not that remote. You will NOT see anyone else, so going solo was my only regret, but all worked out with my amazing luck.
Today I am wishing the guys good karma and promising my pained feet (oh, my poor toes!) a long break as I say goodnight to this day, wondering where the wilderness will take me next. I’ll probably plan my future solo adventures like I usually do, in detail – for a while anyhow. The guys I met just shrugged and said diving into an adventure IS the best plan. I might be getting too old to agree – even one buddy on this one might have saved me from a serious problem of being stuck in the wilderness until rescued, which is a total waste of resources and a lot of worry from loved ones… or from being mountain lion food.