Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet. The summit of Mt. Whitney offers tremendous 360 degree panoramic views as far as the eye can see on clear days. One of the reasons for this is because the massive Mt. Whitney is located only 84.6 miles west-northwest of the lowest point in North America at Badwater in Death Valley National Park at 282 feet below sea level. This past weekend I went to hike Mt. Whitney with a group of three buddies in one day. The hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney in one day was the most arduous hike I had ever had done, especially considering the amount of snow still on the trail in late June.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the Mt. Whitney Portal to hike to the Summit of Mt. Whitney, from Orange County Take the 91 freeway to the 15 freeway. Head north on the 15 freeway going towards Barstow. Merge onto US 395 North and follow it all the way to Lone Pine, California. Once in Lone Pine, California, make a left turn onto the Whitney Portal Road and follow the Whitney Portal Road all the way to the Trailhead to hike to Mt. Whitney. The ball park travel time from Orange County to Lone Pine with no traffic is around 4 hours.

Places to Stay: If you are hiking or climbing to the summit of Mt. Whitney you are going to likely need a place to stay before your hike.  There are two chain hotels in Lone Pine (The town closest to Mt. Whitney), a Best Western and a Comfort Inn. We stayed at the Best Western our first night before heading to our campsite at the Whitney Portal. Our stay at the Best Western was great and the room was very spacious for a reasonable price. There are other motels in Lone Pine, but these are the two major chain hotels in the town.

Campsites at the Portal: We stayed at the Whitney Portal Campground, which was a great place to camp while attempting to summit Mt. Whitney. There are 44 campsites at the Whitney Portal Campground. The facilities were well maintained and the scenery is quite majestic considering you have a mountain stream running through the Whitney Portal campground. I would recommend staying here the day before you hike and after your hike, especially considering the price for the campground is very reasonable.

Description of Trail: The Mt. Whitney trail is a heavily traveled trail and is well marked. The hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney is 22 miles roundtrip with about 6,100 vertical feet of elevation gain. In reality hiking from your campsite at the Whitney Portal Campground to the trail makes the hike more like 23 miles roundtrip with 6,600 vertical feet of elevation gain. This is a very strenuous hike to 14,505 feet. You begin your hike at the trailhead near the Whitney Portal Store and go for approximately 3.5 miles to Outpost Camp which sits at an elevation of 10,365 feet. During this section of the hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney you have a couple of river crossings and are rewarded with a beautiful meadow right before Outpost Camp. Outpost Camp is an overnight option for those looking to do Mt. Whitney in more than one day.

Going from Outpost Camp, you travel another approximately 2.5 miles to Trail Camp which sits at an elevation of 12,093 feet and is located just below the 97 - 99 switchbacks. Trail Camp is another overnight option for those looking to do Mt. Whitney in more than one day. Trail Camp is one of the last areas where you can filter water before making your attempt for the summit of Mt. Whitney, so if you need water this is the place to filter it.

From this point on it is approximately 5 miles to the summit of Mt. Whitney and approximately 2.5 - 3 miles to Trail Crest which is at an altitude of 13,600 feet. At trail crest you finally see Sequoia National Park, which is located on the back side of Mt. Whitney. Once past trail crest the trail becomes even more rugged and rocky than before. It is clearly marked, but it is strenuous going to the summit of Mt. Whitney. This section of the trail is a little deceptive as you can see the summit of Mt. Whitney from the trail, but just keep in mind the summit appears closer than it is.

You must have a permit to hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney using the Mt. Whitney Trail. The Mt. Whitney lottery system starts in February of each year. After the lottery drawing has already been completed, you can check in with the forest service as often as you like to see if any cancellations have been made on a particular day. Follow this link to the Inyo National Forest website learn more about the Mt. Whitney lottery system and how to apply. Make sure to have your permit mailed in on February 1st, the year you want to hike Mt. Whitney.

Further Thoughts: The hike to the Summit of Mt. Whitney was absolutely majestic. We had perfect weather and the scenery was amazing, especially with the amount of snow that was still on the trail due to the wet winter that we had. Our team all utilized our Crampons and Ice Axes while attempting to make the summit of Mt. Whitney. One of the major things that slowed us down while going down the mountain was the amount of snow melt. The trails became rivers and the snow turned into slush due to the afternoon sun.

Make sure to educate yourself on this hike before you attempt to make it to the summit of Mt. Whitney. Know the weather conditions when you are scheduled to be on the mountain. When we went there was plenty of snow and we used Ice Axes and Crampons. The Whitney Portal Store, click Here, has links to weather information and a bulletin board that is full of information about conditions on the mountain. During the summer time make sure to watch out for summer thunderstorms while on your hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney as they can develop very rapidly in this mountainous environment. The Whitney Portal Store even has a picture of a tornado touching down near the summit of Mt. Whitney.

If you are doing this hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney in one day like our group did, I would recommend waking up very early. We woke up at 2:45am and then walked to the trailhead from our campsite at the Whitney Portal Campground. We arrived at the trailhead at about 3:25am - 3:30am where we filled up our water bladders. Our group was on the trail by 3:45am. We did not Summit Mt. Whitney until about 1:45pm and we were off the mountain at 9:30pm. We were significantly slowed down because of the amount of snow that was still on the Mt. Whitney Trail in late June. I would imagine during the summer the hike is a little easier and you could likely save a couple hours.

This is a hike that you must train for or else don't even think about attempting to hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney in one day. The training is a necessity especially coming from Southern California as the air is very thin at 14,505 feet. We did three major training hikes that I would recommend for Orange County Hikers to do if they are going to climb Mt. Whitney. Even then it is necessary to spend a night at the Whitney Portal Campground to get acclimated as well as to complete a small training hike the day before your summit attempt. If you are spending multiple days on the mountain it is probably not as crucial to do as many long training hikes. Bottom-line is from the summit of Mt. Whitney you get 360 degree panoramic views that are absolutely amazing!

Food at the Whitney Portal Store: Before you go on your hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney, I would suggest trying a hamburger or cheeseburger at the Whitney Portal Store as they are very good. Also, the morning after your hike you might want to try the breakfast at the Whitney Portal Store. They have a great breakfast, in particular the huge pancake they are known for is pretty tasty. If you order the pancake make sure to split it with someone as it is about the size of a medium pizza and can serve probably 3 - 4 people.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 6,134 ft. (Very Strenuous), Distance: 22 Miles Roundtrip (Very Strenuous). From the campsite area it is more like: Elevation Gain: 6,600 ft. (Very Strenuous), Distance: 23 Miles Roundtrip (Very Strenuous).

Time to Complete the Hike to Mt. Whitney in One Day: If you have trained: Expect to take around 10 hours getting to the summit of Mt. Whitney and 8 hours getting down off the mountain. If you go during the summer time or are in great shape expect to be about 2 - 4 hours quicker that the 18 hour time estimate.

Suggested Training for Mt. Whitney: If you are attempting to summit Mt. Whitney in one day here is what our group did to train. If you are spending multiple nights on Mt. Whitney you can modify the schedule by spending the night on the two San Gorgonio Hikes as doing the long strenuous hikes is not as important.
View Mt. Whitney in a larger map

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Great Time to Visit Dry Lake

Sorry for the recent lack of posts, just the facts of life I guess. I have a back log of posts to do, a couple more trails from Yellowstone and several from my training Hikes for Mt. Whitney. Last weekend was the second weekend in a row that we did San Gorgonio. If you have a chance in the next couple of weeks to go to that area, it is a great time to hike to Dry Lake, as there is still plenty of water in it. The lake was about half full when we went and there was still lots of snow on San G. Above the 10,000 foot mark on the South Fork Trail as well as the week before on the Vivian Creek Trail. I will come back with pictures and a post from hiking Mt. Whitney this weekend.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lamar River Trail (Yellowstone National Park)

The Lamar River Trail is a great hiking trail that runs through the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. This hiking trail is an entrance into the vast wilderness in Yellowstone's back country. We were unable to go very far on this trail because one of the large Buffalo herds in the area was blocking the trail, but we hope to explore more of the Lamar River Hiking Trail sometime soon. The Lamar Valley is very scenic and  is a great place to see wildlife.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the trailhead to hike the Lamar River Trail in Yellowstone National Park, coming from the mammoth hot springs area, head toward the Roosevelt Lodge. At the Roosevelt Lodge make a left onto the Northeast Entrance road going toward the Lamar Valley. You are going to go a ways on the Northeast Entrance road. There are two trailhead options to hike on the trail. Both are located a couple miles past the lamar valley ranger station (buffalo ranch) on your left, but a couple of miles before pebble creek campground. Click Here to find an interactive map for Yellowstone National Park.

Description of Trail: The Lamar River Trail was in great shape when we went hiking here in Yellowstone. This is an out and back hiking trail that goes through a spectacular place, with stunning scenic vistas. We only did a small portion of the trail because the trail literally goes for miles and because our progress was blocked by a herd of several hundred buffalo. This trail eventually connects with the specimen ridge trail, which connects to the Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail, although it will take you over 14 miles to reach the Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail. This is truly a hiking trail that opens up lots of opportunities for back country exploration. You can go as far on the trail as you would like, we only ventured about a mile onto the trail and then returned because we didn't want to deal with the herds of buffalo on the trails in that section on the Lamar Valley.

Further Thoughts: This was a fun hike because of the amazing scenery that the hike traverses. It is also an area this known to have a lot of wildlife. Even though we did not hike very far on this trail, it was fun to get out of the car and explore a little. The trail is in the heart of the Lamar valley, which is full of wildlife. This area is home to the druid peak wolf pack. Make sure to have your cameras ready while hiking in this area because buffalo, wolfs, elk, prong horn, and bears and regularly seen in the valley.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 250 ft. (Easy), Distance: 1 Mile Roundtrip (Easy). Note: you can make this hike much more strenuous by exploring further into the wilderness. Remember for any back country camping you need a permit from the park service.

Time to Complete Hike: Variable depends on how far you go on the trail.

View Lamar River Valley Trail in a larger map

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail (Yellowstone National Park)

The Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail is a popular scenic hiking trail in Yellowstone National Park. This is a great hike that overlooks the Yellowstone River, across from the Tower Junction area. It offers sweeping views of the Lamar Valley and surrounding areas. This is a must due fun short hike for those looking to explore the back country of Yellowstone.

Directions to Trailhead: To hike the Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail, coming from the mammoth hot springs area head toward the Roosevelt Lodge. At the Roosevelt Lodge make a left onto the Northeast Entrance road going toward the Lamar valley. After you cross over the Yellowstone River, the road winds back to the right and there is a picnic area on the right hand side. The hiking trail starts at the picnic area. Click Here for an interactive map of Yellowstone National Park. There is an entrance fee for Yellowstone National Park, but no permit is required to hike the Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail.

Description of Trail: The Yellowstone River Picnic Area Hiking Trail was in great shape when we went and you will probably see other hikers while out exploring the Yellowstone back country on this hike. It is a 4 mile roundtrip hike out to a lookout point high above the Yellowstone River and directly across from the area by the Tower Falls Store. However, the hiking trail does continue on as the Specimen Ridge Trail which goes a lot further into the Yellowstone back country and eventually connects with the Lamar River Trail. There is about 250 feet of elevation gain on the hike, so overall it is not that strenuous of a hike. At the official picnic area, that has a couple of parking spots, they have the start of the trail marked with an official trailhead marker. 

Further Thoughts: The Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail was a fun hike in Yellowstone National Park because of the amazing scenery that the hike traverses. There is also a lot of wildlife in this area. When you are looking into the huge canyon that contains the Yellowstone River make sure to watch for Ospreys as they frequently nest in the area. While on the hike we saw two nests with the Ospreys sitting on the eggs in the nest.


Another animal that apparently frequents the area are wolves. While on the hike we saw 3 elk kills. Even though, none of them were very recent, they showed that the location is an area that is frequented by the wolves of Yellowstone National Park. Make sure to bring your camera because you have a great chance to see wildlife while on this hike, as we saw a black bear and big horn sheep near the start of the trail. If you are bringing children with you on this hike, make sure to keep close watch of them because one side of the trail you are overlooking at the Yellowstone River and it has a very long drop to the canyon floor below.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 250 ft. (Easy), Distance: 4 Miles Roundtrip (Easy - Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 1.5 - 2.5 hours.






MORE TRAIL WRITE-UPS ON YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK




Friday, June 4, 2010

El Moro Canyon (Crystal Cove State Park)

Last weekend Ashley and I had a chance to visit the Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach and Newport Coast. We did a hike in El Moro Canyon which is located in the heart of the Crystal Cove State Park. Crystal Cove State Park is a great hiking area that offers spectacular views and a great chance to see local wildlife. Ashley and I enjoyed the workout we got while on this hike, since portions of this park have some elevation gain. This is a great hiking location in the heart of the South Coast Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to Crystal Cove State Park, from the 5 freeway, exit at El Toro Road and head towards the beach. When El Toro dead ends at the 133 make a left turn and go toward Laguna Beach. Follow the 133 to Laguna Beach and make a right onto Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Follow PCH for a couple of miles and make a right into the area where El Moro Elementary School is and proceed up the road to the trailhead parking. Day parking at the trailhead is 15 dollars, which in our opinion is quite steep. A cheaper solution if you are planning on going to Crystal Cove State Park often is to make a donation to the California State Park Foundation who usually has a promotion that for a certain dollar amount you can become a member of the California State Park Foundation and receive a number of free parking passes in return that good at various state parks (Crystal Cove is one of those state parks). If you go hiking a couple of times, to Cystal Cove or other state parks like the Chino Hills State Park or Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, become a member of the California State Park Foundation more than pays for itself.

Description of Trail: We did a 7.8 mile loop while hiking at Crystal Cove State Park. We began at the main trailhead located by the Ranger Station at Crystal Cove State Park and headed out to the Deer Canyon Campground (a great spot for lunch and a back country camping site). We took the No Name Ridge Trail to the Ticketron Trail which takes you to the Deer Canyon Campground. We then followed the Red Tail Ridge Trail to Boomer Ridge. Once you hit Boomer Ridge you actually cross into the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. We made a right and followed Bommer Ridge until we made a right onto El Moro Canyon which brinks you back into the Crystal Cove State Park and all the way back to the Ranger Station. The hiking trails in Crystal Cove are in good shape but when you are hiking from the ocean out to Bommer Ridge just be warned there is a lot of elevation change going up and down. This hike is definitely a workout. The back country section of the Crystal Cove State Park contains 2,400 acres and is part of the larger 20,000 acre South Coast Wilderness. We have provided a Google map of our hike below. In addition if you want to print out a park map before you go click Here.

Further Thoughts: This was a fun hike in Crystal Cove State Park, but because we went on Memorial Day, there were a ton of people at the trailhead. The deeper we went on our hike on the trails in Crystal Cove State Park, the less people there were. I would imagine on a normal weekend or weekday there are much less people than we encountered on Memorial Day. At a couple of sections close to the beginning of this hike you have views of the homes in Newport Coast which distracts from the wilderness feel you have while on the rest of the hike. The one great thing about hiking in Crystal Cove State Park is the ocean breeze, especially when it is a hot summer day. Additionally, the trails on the higher ridges of this hike offer great views of Orange County and the greater Los Angeles Basin.

Crystal Cove State Park has a lot of wildlife, so make sure to have your camera ready when hiking in the park. While hiking here we saw three snakes, two of them were gopher snakes (one 2-3 feet long and the other 4-5 feet long) and the other was a striped racer (2 – 3 feet long). There was also a lot of evidence of other snakes, from the visible crossings on the trails. While hiking we also saw several turkey vultures, a couple of hawks, a falcon, and a roadrunner.

If you are bringing a lunch to enjoy, while on your hike, a great spot to have lunch is the deer creek campground which has a couple of picnic tables to sit at. This is what Ashley and I did and it was a great place to enjoy lunch deep in the wilderness Crystal Cove State Park offers hikers in Southern California. If you go hiking here during the rainy season we am sure you will find water in the streams in the canyons. While on this hike, the creek in El Moro Canyon still had a very small amount of water in it because of the good rainy season during the 2010 winter and spring. If you are hiking here during the summer make sure to have plenty of sunscreen, water, and a hat as some of the trails don't have a significant amount of shade.

When visiting Crystal Cove State Park, make sure to check out the visitor center as they have a couple of good exhibits on the surrounding wilderness area that are very informative and educational. There are also maps and other information about Crystal Cove State Park available at the visitor center. Crystal Cove State Park offers many different trail options (from easy to strenuous) and different loops that hikers can take while exploring the Crystal Cove State Park. We are looking forward to visiting other sections of this park soon. Bottom-line is Ashley and I enjoyed our hike here and highly recommend this park to others!

Rating: Elevation Gain: 900 ft. (Moderate - Strenuous), Distance: 7.8 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 4 - 4.5 hours.


View El Moro Canyon in a larger map