Jun 30, 2013

Strayns Canyon

Trail Report:
June 29, '13
Strayns Canyon, San Gabriels near Mt Wilson
Kenyon Devore Trail/Mt. Wilson Loop
(elevation  ± 2800 ft)
Today’s miles:
Total Trip:

We scheduled the Strayns Canyon hike for one of those 'Liberation Fridays' at Solar System Labs when Duane was free. In preparation, I rigorously adhered to Angel's sadistic physical therapy regimen. I'm a belt and suspenders type.

We planned to get an early start. It would be a long hot day.

We drove an hour into the mountains to get to the The Kenyon Devore trail head. It used to be called Rattlesnake Trail, but that was before PR department got properly funded. The new name is apt; Kenyon Devore was a true native of the San Gabriels.1 He grew up working for the trail resorts that used to dot the mountains 100 years ago.
Strain's Camp (circa 1914)
Photo credit:The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for
Science Collection at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

The trail head sits at 5,600 feet across from the Mount Wilson broadcast complex which emits a daunting hum as it leaches megawatts into the air. The path makes a steep descent to the north into Strayns Canyon. The canyon gets it name from A.G. Strain who set up a resort camp on that spot in 1889.2 It's called Strayns Canyon because the USGS misspelled his name on a topo sheet.3 Since then hikers have fought over the correct pronunciation.

Our weather was ideal. Duane took the lead. The path zigzags the creek down a granite slope. The rock is white and broken into large scenic blocks. It has come from far below the surface and was pushed up because it was in the way of LA as it makes its way to the Mohave. We're walking down land from another eon. The grade is easy and the path is well-shaded by Douglas Fir and Jaffrey Pine. It's cool. We wore long sleeves.

At times the trail narrows atop a scary height. A time or two we had to jump an air gap. No big deal. Like most trails in the crumbling San Gabriels, this one is sadly in need of repair. Of course we say nothing about the risk; it's routine up there.

After a couple hours, we descended into Valley Forge. Not that one; the one burned up during the Station Fire. It was once a verdant fisherman's paradise. Now it's a shadeless rolling terrain covered by chaparral and blackend skeletons of immolated trees.

Poodle Dog Bush
But, by far the worst thing is the perniciously evil and generally nasty POODLE DOG BUSH. Imagine, if you will, a spiny creature whose stinging needles hook into the skin like a grapple and six-foot branches and sticky leaves whose touch will set a rash running rampant on your body. This beauty now covers the valley. Its branches drape merrily over the trail. We walked sideways. We used our sticks to hold the branches aside to eek out passage. There's teamwork.

We made West Fork Camp without incident. It's a lovely place free of the BUSH. We had our lunch and talked about hiking. What else? I watched the trees sway above and felt the worry of my knee melt away.

After lunch, we headed east toward the Devore Campground. It started getting hot. The trail began criss-crossing the West Fork of the San Gabriel River and grew faint. The approach to fords were overgrown. The air was thick with humidity and flies. We had to dodge stagnant ponds and push through high grasses to finding suitable crossings. Then it happened.

Valley Forge
I was boulder hopping the West Fork and stumbled... right into a DOG BUSH! It sucked! The stinging was instant. Duane hovered with concern. I dabbed the contact zone with about a dozen alcohol wipes from my kit. On we went. I could feel my leg swell.

After an hour we arrived at Devore. It was a small, overused campground devoid of water. Not the least bit cozy. At least it was shaded. We sat for a snack and then started climb to Newcomb Pass. This part of the trail had clearly seen more traffic. There were no washouts, no Poodle Dog Bush; it was just a good old fashion, sweaty slog.

But a curious thing happened. We passed a group of three Latino men carrying large packs. They weren't friendly. I imagined they were cartel pot farmers who were armed with fertilizer and pesticide and maybe worse. I said nothing to Duane. We never discussed it.

When we reached Newcomb Pass, the San Gabriel Valley stretched out before us. The air was clear. There was friendly hiker traffic. There was DOG BUSH, but it had been cut away from the trail. We marched our way up on the north side of Mount Wilson's east shoulder at a good pace. We were getting very tired as we pulled into the park area around the Observatory. We passed lovers clinging to each other, a lonely women in sun dress reading, and an elderly couple whose bodies were no longer firm taking in the late afternoon and the mountain panorama. Each seemed melancholy — drawn up here like supplicants with a hope of a salve for longing.

On the drive home we relished the outing. It was a good hike. We seemed to function well together. The DOG had bitten, but I had a connection for cortisone — the real stuff. Best of all there was no knee pain and the leg is getting steadily stronger.

I'm starting to think about gear.

1. Robinson, J., Christiansen, D. Trails of the Angels. 9th edition. Wilderness Press. 2013.
2. Mount Wilson was named for B.D. Wilson who, in 1864, built the first trail to the peak.
3. Robinson.

Jun 21, 2013

Lunch with Duane

I should have thought of it before. I called Duane.

Solar System Labs
We worked together at Solar System Labs. Duane had the office across the hall. He was leading an effort to improve spacecraft operations. I was trying to do the same for software. We became partners in crime. We shared a crazy notion that a spacecraft ground systems ought to make spacecraft operations easier. But, as a taxpayer, you needn't have worried. Our management recognized progress for the evil it is and used its millions carefully to protect fend off progress.

Our jobs were meeting madness. We ate lunch in our offices; that was the only time to fend off the email deluge. One day a couple years ago I noticed that he had spread out some topo maps. I stuck my head in his door. "The Sierras?" I asked.

"Yup. Got a hike planned out of Edison Lake."

I hadn't known he was a hiker. I felt an instant bond. I was much too busy fending off the budget predators to hike myself, but I felt a twinge of desire just seeing the maps. After that day we often talked about hiking. He would trace out these amazing adventures and bring back jaw-dropping photos. It was welcome respite from the relentless demands for paper no one would ever see.

Earlier this week I remembered staring at maps in his office. So I dropped him a note and we had lunch today. He couldn't say enough about hiking plans and hiking gear. It was inspiring, energizing. I told him my knee was better. I asked if he was interested in a San Gabriel hike. I've been wanting to hike Strayns Canyon. He seemed jazzed. It's a plan.

Jun 17, 2013

What we wish for

I'm ready. I've beat up the paths to both Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point. No problemo. The knee is solid. The leg is wobbly, but that's just from disuse.

I'm feeling motivated. Time for a new hike. I've inhaled enough front range dust! Maybe a nice 12-miler with a 2,500 foot ascent. Perhaps Mount Throop, Eagle's Roost or Mount Waterman. Too soon for Baldy; I've got to get my legs first.

I usually solo, but I'm ready for some company. I was reaching for the proverbial phone when it struck me. Hardly anyone from the old crowd hikes anymore. Knees, backs, family, work. No time. No desire. Even the retired guys. As my friend Jeff puts it, "why would anyone want to do that?"

He does have a point. On one hand we have stunning creature comforts: a fresh log tossed on an open hearth, an afternoon nap on a cushy sofa, or maybe a platter spicy arriabita and a bottle of Peroni. On the other we've got that crawl from a warm bag into a 30-degree night for the 2am pee, the mostly re-hydrated but still crunchy freezer-bag dinner, and the unforgettable early evening captivity while mosquitoes rule the world. Frankly I don't have a good answer for Jeff. But then why isn't streaming Netfix a sure fire path to nirvana? It's just beyond me.

Sherlock Holmes contemplating why people hike
I suspect there is some morsel of foggy wisdom here. It's probably serious and boring. Just the sort of thing I heard as a kid. Was there ever a attention killer better than the words, "when I was your age?" It may take 40 years, but a lot of that boring advice eventually exacts a toll of truth. I remember my Dad would taunt us with gems like, "whether you're rich or poor, it's better to have money." It took a long time understand that was no joke. On the other hand, some advice sinks right in. I remember my grandfather chiding me not to "take any nickels," which, as a serious-minded 5-year-old, taught me the basic virtue of mistrust.

So don't listen to me. Look for wisdom from greater talents. Besides, I've got better things to think about on my solo hikes; I think.

Jun 15, 2013

Fuji Campground

Trail Report:
June 15, '13
Eaton Canyon trailhead
Henninger Flats/Fuji Campground
(elevation  gain 1200 ft)
Today’s miles:
Total Trip:

The route to Fuji Campground starts with a half mile climb up a steep canyon to a junction with the Mount Wilson Toll Road.

The 100-inch glass on the way to Mt. Wilson
The Toll road was originally built in 1891. In 1904 the Carnegie Institution leased land at the top of Mount Wilson to build a new observatory. The road was widened to facilitate observatory construction and logistics. In 1917, the famous 100-inch Hooker telescope mirror was driven up the Toll Road. The Hooker would be the world's largest telescope for 30 years. (1917-1948).

Today, the Toll Road is a wide, dusty, shadeless, 2-mile mindless slog that ascends 1,000 feet to the Henninger Flats Forestry Center and Campground.  To the south, there are stunning views of the LA Basin.  The steep and winding grade is a perfect racetrack for kamikaze mountain bikers.

Henninger flats is a sizable installation which includes a large picnic area, a small natural science museum, an antique fire tower and a few historic mining carts.  The LAFD personnel who man the forestry center are especially friendly.

The trail up to the Fuji campground intersects the Toll Road just below a pair of padlocked pit toilets.  Fuji is just a hundred yards up the hill to shady campground that's a mating habitat for Western Bluebirds.

I have walked this stretch a zillion times.  Today was not routine.  I was focused.  I put my knee to the test.  I'm beginning to believe all's fine.

Jun 14, 2013


I know there's no point in pussyfooting around.  I need to head up the hill.  I much rather doing anything.  Maybe use one of my favorite $100 words, like tergiversate, which has no place in any blog and is a shameful waste of anyone's time. Perhaps I should just give up hiking for philately or maybe sharpen my skills with a squidger.

Besides it's hot outside.  It's just that it's anxious inside.

Jun 13, 2013

The glass knee test

Trip Report:
June 13, '13
Local stretch of Altadena Crest Trail
RT from debris basin to bridge (elevation  ± 800 ft)
Today’s miles:
Total Trip:

Trail Description:
The East Crest Trail round trip is rated easy unless you have a bum knee. Not recommended for anyone afraid of dogs.

East end of Altadena Crest Trail
To find the trail head, walk east from the cul de sac fire hydrant. Follow the palm trees for two blocks past the nice houses with big lawns and sprawling sycamores to the bright yellow lot hugger that looks like it landed from Mars. Head up the hill past the busy street to the debris basin. In early summer or late fall, you might see crows circling as they wait to grab a snack from a mostly-2-dimensional skunk or opossum which will often display a variety of tread marks.

At the debris basin bear right and head up the hill. There you will see a dessicated stand of agapatha which is why this no-named hill should be called Palatine Hill. The first stretch is slippery, narrow, steep. This is a trademark of San Gabriels trails which tend to melt away with every rain. Fortunately rain is a rare occurrence.

The trail then winds up past a memorial cross that marks the spot where two firefighters died in the '93 fire. Each year these men are honored by their surviving colleagues who place flowers and station caps on the cross. Just head, you will come to the trail apex. There you will have a unobstructed view of a dozen back yards, including one with a swimming pool. (Great viewing with binoculars!)

From here the trail descends a set of switchbacks to a filled debris basin which supports a variety of non-native species. After a short climb you then descend a dozen switchbacks that will trace along the steep escarpment which defines the fault that runs along the south face of the San Gabriels. Soon you will see Eaton Canyon. Stay alert for knotted produce bags, they can spoil your hike. Descend onto the fire road and stroll over to the high bridge for a short break. The bridge spans the dry Eaton Creek bed and provides a fine viewing platform for the parade of fun seekers with boom boxes and ice chests enroute to the trickle at Eaton falls.

Return the way you came.

I have walked the Altadenda Crest Trail dozens of times. This was different. Each step seemed like a gamble. Would the shooting knee pains resume? Would this hiatus be indefinite? The worry was for naught. The knee is fine.

Time to try something more ambitious. Next stop Henninger Flats.

Jun 12, 2013

The Law of Infirmity

Day before yesterday Angel, my physical therapist, sent me packing. Ironically, I was just becoming comfortable showing off my ability to stretch a resistance-band with my knees. As usual Angel watched with a scowl, but this time she nodded and said, "Nice definition. Looks like we're done here. Go hike." As she left she added, "By the way, you have really flat feet."

At first I was thrilled. My knee was better. The 12-week hiking ban was lifted. But no sooner had my hiking aspirations begun to soar than I felt this stir of anxiety. Where to begin? Get in shape? Get new gear? A tent? New boots? Would new boots give me blisters? A new sleeping bag? Prescription sunglasses cost a fortune. What is a non-diary person supposed to eat?  How many crunchy peas can anyone endure? With the barriers down, I felt the press of time. I better hurry or I might miss the tide.

If you happen you be retired, you will understand. There is this urgent need to do it while you can. If you don't believe me, you need only consult the Law of Infirmity first documented 2,400 years ago by Ecdelus, the stoic. 1 I have often turned to Ecdelus for guidance.

Ecdelus' Law of Infirmity (250 BC)
There is no time to waste. Tomorrow, I start.

1. During the dark days of the Humbug cleansing, Ecdelus was expelled from Athens as a thanks for reminding people, that because they die, they should not procrastinate.