Sunday, November 25, 2012

Condor Peak and Fox Mountain

Hiked: 11/24/2012
Route 3 San Gabriel Mountains
Distance: 15.5 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5476' (Condor) and 5033' (Fox)
Prominence: 600' (Condor) and 473' (Fox)
Elevation Gain: 4100'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.28
Round trip time: 8 hours
Recommended water: 184 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

My original plan was to climb Mount San Gorgonio, but a second winter storm left the top 2000' in a blanket of snow and ice that I was not prepared to tackle solo. The backup plan was Condor Peak (from Vogel Flat off Big Tujunga Canyon road) north of La Crescenta. I added Fox Mountain #2 since the peak was only a short distance off the main trail. Both peaks are on the Sierra Club's hundred peaks list for Southern California. I was looking for a tough hike and was not disappointed. It was a long, hard day that left me spent.

The Condor Trail was closed after the 2009 station fire and only reopened in May, 2012. It was in mixed shape. Many parts were in good shape, but other parts were completely overgrown with grass or shrubs. There were a number of places that were washed out and a burnt tree had fallen over the path at one point (see below). I kept checking for ticks at every stop but didn't find any. In the spring, this trail may be a tickfest. On the way back, I met one other solo hiker heading up. I found a lot of bighorn sheep tracks on the trail, but no other wildlife of note. Weather was perfect, unusually warm for this time of year.

The ascent to Fox Mountain summit is steep over soft dirt. Poles are handy for this one. In contrast, the ascent to Condor Peak is a steep rock scramble and poles get in the way when you need your hands to grab nearby rocks. When I got to the Condor ascent, I hesitated and did some mental math on my odds of making it up and down without an accident. After a few minutes, I decided to proceed, slowly.

Both of these peaks exemplify my favorite kind of hike. There is no road to the top and no shortcuts. The shortest route is at least 10 miles round trip for each. The other routes are in the 14-16 mile range. The only way to make it to the top is with blood, sweat, and determination. I was happy to sign both summit logs the same day.

Condor Peak (left) and Fox Mountain (right) from early on the trail. Far, far away.

A downed tree blocking the trail. I crawled under.

Found these sunglasses in a bush along the trail.

The sun rising over Fox Mountain summit

Fox benchmark

Strawberry Peak (left) and Josephine Peak (right) from Fox Mountain summit

Approach to Condor Peak summit. The trail gives up a few hundred feet of elevation before taking it all back on the ascent. The final ascent looked a little dangerous, but looked worse than it was.

Looking back at Fox Mountain (center) from Condor Peak.

Mt. Wilson from Condor

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Badwater Basin, Death Valley

Hiked: 11/19/2012
Distance: Drive Up
Summit Elevation: -282' (lowest in the North America)
Elevation Gain: N/A
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): N/A
Round trip time: N/A
Recommended water: N/A
Parking/Fees: Death Valley Pass ($20)
Difficulty: Easy

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. My family briefly vacationed in Death Valley this week and although I didn't hike to it, I thought it belonged on the hiking blog for the negative elevation record. My GPS registered -289', while the official USGS measurement is -282'.

Coyote crossed over Badwater Road on the way to the basin.
He paused a little ways off the road to eat something.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Black Star Canyon Falls

Hiked: 11/9/2012, 11/16/2012
Distance: 6.6 miles round trip on road and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1650' at the Falls
Elevation Gain: 800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.64
Round trip time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: None
Difficulty: Moderate

Black Star Canyon is filled with mystery, rumors, and ghost stories. But mainly, it is filled with boulders. Very big boulders. This hike starts on a paved road, turns into a dirt road, then after crossing 3 bridges a little more than 2 miles from the start, it descends into the canyon. From the canyon, go left which is up. All the elevation gain is done while ascending the canyon and navigating over and around large boulders and rocks. Some of the boulders are larger than cars, up to 20' high, with some piles reaching higher. There are several places on the way to the Falls where there is no easy choice on where to climb. The constant boulder scramble makes this a unique hike in the OC as far as I know. When I finally reached the Falls, it was dry. It had rained most of the day before and I expected at least a trickle. Even without a gushing waterfall, the trip was a worthwhile challenge. On the second trip, I saw two deer near the parking area, but they fled before I could get a picture.

As the sign says, your safety cannot be guaranteed.

The path down to the canyon

Giant boulders litter the canyon, every one a great place to twist an ankle

Boulders can be bypassed on the right

Black Star Canyon Falls, dry as a bone

Noel and I where the falls usually flow. This is from my second trip to the falls.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Nix Nature Center Loop, Serrano Ridge

Hiked: 11/4/2012 (x9)
Distance: 4.7 miles round trip on trail and dirt road
Summit Elevation: 824' unnamed bump
Elevation Gain: 850' (500' out, 350' on return)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.68
Round trip time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks
Difficulty: Easy

The loop from Nix Nature Center starts on the Little Sycamore trail to Serrano Ridge road to Camarillo Canyon trail to Stagecoach South trail back to the Nature Center. The entire loop is 4.7 miles. The Little Sycamore and Stagecoach segments have the elevation gain, Camarillo is downhill and Serrano Ridge road is flat. The loop can be done in reverse, but there are a lot of loose rocks on Little Sycamore that I would rather face going up than coming down. Part of Camarillo Canyon used to be very steep, but that part of the trail has been blocked off and replaced with new switchbacks. This hike is beginner friendly and a great place to burn some calories.

The nature center is new and worth a visit. The Rangers are friendly and the bathrooms are clean. Before I started climbing mountains, I spent a lot of time on these hills. While the area is known for rattlesnakes, I've hiked the loop at least 20 times without seeing a single one. There are two connectors to trails on the other side of the 73 (continuing to follow Serrano Ridge road, and the Old Stagecoach trail from Camarillo) if you want to extend your hike. There are also connectors to trails on the other side of Highway 133.

View from Serrano Ridge road looking back into Little Sycamore canyon.

Rock formations in Camarillo Canyon