Nearly 1 year ago, I realized just how easy it would be to bareboat charter a catamaran given that I could fill up all the bedrooms. A quick poll of friends told me that this wouldn't be a problem, and it actually would be a fairly economical vacation. After months of researching and planning, we arrived in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands on November 10th. We were greeted with complimentary rum in the airport by the local tourism department, and at that point I already knew this was going to be an interesting adventure.
The next surprise was when we learned the rules for driving on the island as we picked up our rental car. We were given 3 rules, in the following order:
1) No talking on the cell phone while driving.
2) Wear seatbelts at all times (unless you are in the bed of a pickup truck, because that is safe of course.
3) Remember to drive on the left (minor detail of course).
We quickly determined those were the only
rules followed by locals. The strangest law we discovered? Open containers are not only allowed, but you could theoretically drink while
driving. As long as you aren't on your cell phone, of course.
After gathering our group of 8 together at the Greenhouse Bar & Grill, we took care of all the logistics. All our luggage and gear was placed on the boat, people explored the storage spaces, and we started studying and reading the information. A small group of us took the car to purchase all of the provisions for a week away from land, including food, drinks, supplies, and more. We had our kayaks delivered, loaded and packed all the provisions, and settled in shortly after dinner, sleeping aboard the boat while still at the dock for the first night.Sarah Sue - 40' Lavezzi Catamaran
Day 1: St Thomas to St John
We began the day by doing some last-minute provisioning errands and meeting our captain for the day. He was incredibly helpful, taught us all the intricacies of Sarah Sue, and gave us a great set of tips for our exploration of the islands over the next 7 days when we would be on our own. While Justin, Andrew, and I learned all of the sailing, procedural, and engineering details of the vessel, the others enjoyed the sun and began their relaxation process.
After practicing picking up moorings and basic navigation while in the Charlotte Amalie harbor area, we raised the sails and set a course for Buck Island. 75% of the way there, we had a minor mechanical issue with the rigging which warranted returning to the CYOA dock. They made the repairs while we had lunch at Pie Whole
, an excellent pizza place that I highly recommend if you are in St Thomas. Back on the water, we motorsailed past the east end of St Thomas, and then sailed across to Caneel Bay in St John, tacking many times and practicing our sail handling skills. After picking up a mooring, Kyle reviewed the navigation charts with us, and Justin and I dinghied him over to the Cruz Bay ferry dock so that he could get home. Dinner consisted of Mike's Rain'n'Sea Burgers, and some classic card games were played after.
Panorama from the summit.
Originally, Labor Day was going to be a summit of White Mt, a California 14er, but due to timing considerations and lack of coverage at work, turned into a summit of Mt. San Jacinto, the high point of the San Jacinto Mountains State Park. Towering at 10,804 and across a valley from Mount San Gorgonio, the two peaks create an impressive display of prominence in the area. San Jacinto Peak is famous for the Cactus-to-Clouds trail, a grueling 20 mile hike minimum from the valley floor, up 8000 feet of elevation gain, and back down via Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (also worth seeing). Needless to say, since this was supposed to be a relatively quick trip, we passed on the long 20 mile hike of death and opted for the 12 mile round trip hike to the summit from Marion Mt, with only 4000 feet of gain.
Marie and I met up with Abhinav and Rose before carpooling over to the Idyllwild Ranger Station together to get our permit. We got a late start doing this and didn't get to the Marion Mountain trailhead until 11am. We started on the trail, passed by the Marion Mountain campground, and up the continuous incline for 2.8 miles to the junction with the PCT (known locally as the Deer Springs Trail). Less than a half mile north on the trail, we headed east toward San Jacinto Peak on the 2.6 mile trail to the summit rock. Marie and I had broken away a little earlier and practically sprinted up the mountain. At the top, we rested to escape the heat on the nice breeze of the summit, and took a couple fun panoramic photos. After spending a long time at the summit, we started the trail down, took a quick stop to check out the camping shelter/ cabin, and got going down the long trail. Unfortunately, we were racing against sunset and eventually lost. We were prepared with numerous lights, but tried to go as late as possible into dusk with minimal light, and had to do a few doubletakes as we almost went off trail a few times. The way up sure seemed easy, but in low light was very difficult to follow. We made it down without any issues, aside from having to bushwhack a detour around a loud rattlesnake in the middle of the trail. After meeting up at the car, we made the late drive back to LA with another local highpoint notched on our belt.
Well, this previous weekend we attempted to do a double 14er weekend in the Sierras. Unfortunately, it's our first mountain weekend that's defeated us...
We left Redondo Beach at 5:15am on Friday, and arrived at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine, CA around 10:00am. We got the last 3 overnight permits for the day, for 3 nights out of Shepherd's Pass trailhead. After a quick bite at Alabama Hills cafe (awesome breakfast and lunch to load up before a long weekend), we drove down some of the wrong, rarely used 4x4 trails to get to the Shepherd's pass hiker trailhead.
At 12:30pm, we were on the trail and within 15 minutes finding ourselves jumping out of our boots and socks for our first water crossing. We were able to bypass the 2nd and 3rd crossings via a use trail on the north side of Symmes creek, and then had to de-boot for the 4th crossing. This was the end of any easy hiking, and we began up 55 switchbacks and 2500 feet to a series of 3 saddles, and then dropped back down 500 feet to Mahogany Flats.
At this point, we were fairly exhausted and had been taking it easy (now being at 9000 feet and having slept at sea level only 12 hours before). However, the campsites had poor water access, so we pushed on to Anvil Camp. This entailed our first snow/ice crossings, and I whipped out the ice axe, with Andrew comfortably using poles. We arrived at 10,300 foot Anvil Camp after 8 miles and over 4000 feet of gain, then set up camp and made a quick meal of fajitas before going to sleep just after dusk.
We awoke casually on Saturday and were packed, fed, and on the trail by 9am. By 11am we were at Shepherd's pass, at over 11500 feet and 4 miles up many snow crossings. At this point I already had the gaiters on and ice axe out, but now I needed to put on the crampons like everyone else and proceed to climb Shepherd's pass
After reaching the top of the pass, we dropped our packs, searched for water as all the lakes were frozen over, and found a trickle of snowmelt about 10 minutes away from our packs. After setting up camp, eating lunch, and repacking light, we proceeded toward Mt. Tyndall, our first 14er objective of the weekend. We filled up our water on the way, and began climbing the endless talus. Marie started getting nauseous and signs of altitude sickness, and after slowing down signficantly, we got to 13,600 feet where she stopped. The other two of us proceeded to the top of the ridge, at 13880 feet and discovered a false summit which would require another 30-40 minutes to navigate around to the true summit. As a result, we snapped those pictures at the false summit, turned around, and slowly backed down the mountain. Once we made it back to camp around 7:30pm, we had a chat with some others staying at Shepherd's pass, then made food and hit the sack.
Sunday morning we were still not feeling great, after our first true exposure to altitude sickness, and so we decided to play it safe and hike back out to the trailhead. We made it out with no issues and got home late that evening.
A couple weeks ago we made the short drive to Azusa, CA on the southern side of Angeles National Forest to make the hike up to Fish Canyon Falls. It is a great hike along a fairly level canyon which has been an escape location for LA residents for many years. In fact, the hike takes you past the ruins of 60+ year old resort cabins from when this was a local vacation spot. However, nowadays things are much different as there is a rock quarry operation blocking the main entrance to the trail for 95% of the year.
Complaints from local residents and fans of this trail were excessive, and the quarry operations now grant access on select Saturdays throughout the year, shuttling visitors from a parking lot at the entrance to the actual trailhead. They were very nice and accommodating, but the unfortunate part of this arrangement is that it focuses all the foot traffic from 10 days of hiking into a 7 hour period on one day, so that the trail becomes very crowded.
Considering that half of the trail winds along the steep canyon walls, and are only 1-person wide, it makes for a more frustrating hike if you come up on people not supporting trail etiquette, as we did. The best solution for those wishing to go would be to arrive as early as possible and avoid the commotion.
We then continued to Angeles NF information, where we planned to go to Rincon Shortcut 4x4 trail across the ridges and forests, but found out the trailhead was underwater and the trail itself had fire damage from the horrible Mt. Wilson fire last summer.
I checked the trail book, and headed off toward San Bernadino NF instead to tackle the Sugarpine Mountain Trail that travels the ridge of Sugarpine and Cajon Mt, from 2000 to 5600 feet in elevation, over a total length of 17.1 miles on a one-lane rugged jeep road. The trail was pretty incredible, and doable in any powerful 4wd vehicle if you are careful when navigating the deep crags and ruts in the road. The views were great and I have a few photos below. This would be a great trail to do in the future as it has many campgrounds along its’ length.
The one hiccup in the entire trail was not the actual rocks or terrain but coming up behind a caravan of 15-20 off-road rigs that were part of the volunteer OHV group who were meeting at the summit.
The last bit of the trail took us past some expensive ranches to I-15 and we headed home with the weekend Vegas crowd.
My favorite backpacking destination as a new "Angelino" resident is by far the Los Padres National Forest. The southern reaches of the forest can be accessed within 2-3 hours, have plenty of great trails that can be found completely empty, and have a wider diversity of wildlife, geology, and hiking terrain than most other locations in the surrounding areas.
The focus for this trip was to use a two day period to go as far into the mountains as possible. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the Piedra Blanca Trailhead in the middle of the National Forest, and got our gear ready, it was already 9:30am. We started hiking at our normal fast pace, but had to slow down behind the groups that had started just before us and were struggling to use the stepping stones over some water crossings. The rains had been consistent recently and the variable runoff basin actually had some flow, such that it was just barely passable on stones and boulders without drenching our boots or removing them. Once over the rivers, we continued past the initial stops alongside the main fork of the Piedra Blanca creek, aptly named due to the giant white boulders at the entrance to the valley. As expected, wildlife was excellent, with horned lizards, alligator lizards, and more. We randomly happened across the unmarked petroglyphs left behind by the Chumash, and were excited to find out that for once they weren't graffiti but actually genuine.
We trudged onward up the trail, climbing slightly as we passed the multiple riverside camps. After 4 miles, we began climbing out of the valley, along a trail which I still consider one of the harder slogs out of many I've done (including 6000'+ gains on high sierra trails). Although it gains only 3000' or so in the final 3 miles to the top, it is an unrelenting upward grade with few switchbacks and no flat areas to rest. Since it was nearly 80F when we departed the trailhead, we were relieved as it began to cool down as we gained elevation. We reached the Pine Mountain Lodge campsite by 3pm after numerous breaks, but decided that rather than continuing the further ~5 miles to Fishbowls camp, we would stop for the day and enjoy the beautiful site.
After a laid back afternoon and a nice campfire, we went to bed early. I slept well until ~4am when I got incredibly cold, and it wasn't until dawn broke at 6am that I understood why. As it became light out, I could make out that the tent was covered in debris, likely from the tree above. But then I decided to get up and start a morning campfire, get some coffee going, etc. As soon as I unzipped the tent, I realized that we weren't covered in leaves, but an inch of snow had fallen overnight. At 6000' elevation. Less than 30 miles from the coast. In May. In Southern California. When it was 80F on the hike in. Go figure. Despite being mostly prepared for this scenario, we still had to throw on all of our layers to stay warm while packing up an beginning the hike out. Although we had originally considered some local dayhikes before departing, the 1/2 inch to 1 inch of snow was just enough to cover the poorly marked trails that we had wanted to explore, and as such we decided to start back. This was a good decision, as the sun didn't even emerge to begin warming the area back up until a solid two hours later, at which point we were getting close to completion. The river crossings had in fact changed drastically overnight, possibly indicating some other rain or snowfall elsewhere in the area.
Background: If you don’t know me that well, the preface to this is that in September of 2008 I bought a “fixer-upper” sailboat, a 25 foot Coronado (well, kind of). My boat was actually a kit sold by Coronado, and her particular builder or builders had created a bulletproof boat which unfortunately had very little hardware left. After a year of labor including the complete fabrication/ installation of an interior (galley, head, bulkhead, companionway, hatches), new-used sails, new rigging and sailing hardware, brand new electrical system, new-used outboard motor, portlight replacement (windows to all you landlubbers) and a giant topside paint job, I finished her in June 2009. As you can/will see from all my trip reports in summer-fall 2009, I didn’t really have a free three-day weekend to make the 26 nautical mile trip to Catalina from Redondo Beach, but I vowed to as soon as possible.
March presented itself as that opportunity. I had three days off that weren’t being used for desert trips or snow trips, and decided it was now or never. Aaron drove down Thursday night (arriving early Friday morning) and I began packing and loading the car early Friday.
Due to a hectic week at work, I hadn’t prepared as well as I normally do, and it was not until 1pm that we were all at the harbor with the kayaks tied down, sails ready, head emptied, motor idling, and the food supplies, clothing, and gear all packed away. I then refilled all my gas tanks at the marine fuel pumps, and made our way into the entrance channel before discovering I had left strips of Velcro at the top of the mast holding the mast-light wire (which I had never got working the day before or that morning). We would not be able to raise the sails without them off, and I knew it would take 20 minutes for us to turnaround, get back into the slip, climb the mast, fix it, and get back out with the sails up. So instead, I slipped on the bosun’s chair and climbed the mast with Marie as a spotter while Aaron drove us in circles around the King Harbor entrance channel. It was easy enough to fix, and really not dangerous or scary at all IMHO, but it was certainly funny to be waving with people at eye level on the third floor of the condo complex overlooking the harbor. All in all, it was a short period before I was back down and the sails were fully up, with Ship Happens
on a starboard tack heading directly to Isthmus Harbor.
The day presented us with moderate winds that really picked up as we cleared the point and made our way across the channel. I underestimated how strong the southeastern currents would be, and our heading eventually required us to do one set of tacks as we neared the island. After 6 hours on the water across large swells, waves, and the roughest ocean I had been on in anything less than a cruise ship, reaching the safe protection of Two Harbors was glorious. However, my main source of relief was knowing that we actually had gotten a stringline mooring, since I had heard horror stories about the difficulty of getting a spot late on a Friday evening. It seems that in March nobody goes there, despite the weather being beautiful. We tidied up on board after the relatively painless mooring process, and then hailed a water taxi on the VHF to take us to the best bar in the area (and coincidentally the only) to try some Buffalo Milk, grab some fried food, and relax onshore.
On Saturday we spent the day exploring our area of the island as much as possible for new visitors. We started by kayaking down to the south (still on the north shore) toward some neat ocean caves and landing on some nice pebbly beaches, getting as far as Paradise Cove before turning around. This totalled 7 miles round trip and tired out our upper body, which we followed with a hike to the overlook on the cliffs above Cat Harbor (opposite of the isthmus from the northeastern harbor that we were moored at). Luckily, this uphill trek was only a mile or two and didn't completely wipe out ourThe rest of the day was spent relaxing and Sunday was spent prepping to leave for the long sail back. With the wind atrociously minimal, it took a large amount of motoring to return, but it was soothing and even allowed us to spot a few nearby pods of dolphins and a few seals near the kelp before rounding the point and heading back into the harbor.
The first trip we took to Death Valley in 2009 really got us hooked, and despite cramming as much as possible into the days, there was still a lot more that we wanted to see. We got Justin on board, jumped into the FJ on Thursday night, and drove out to Stovepipe Wells campground, arriving in the middle of the night and quickly pitching our tent for the first couple nights in the middle section of this large park.
Darwin Falls Road to Darwin - 14 miles offroad driving, 7 miles hiking/crawling/swinging
Our first trip took us to Darwin Falls from the northern approach along the canyon floor, where we bouldered up a ridge to get a better vantage point of the main falls which most people miss. SInce that first visit was done in a Toyota Corolla, revisiting the road in the FJ was very satisfying. We began by parking at the same trailhead as before, and hiked the same trail to the lower falls, which at this point was completely covered in a deep pool of water due to recent rains. We had to take a different route up the rock wall to reach the upper waterfall because of the water everywhere, but still ended up reaching the rocky outcropping with a view from the top to the base.
After we returned to Sarge, we drove up and around the old Eichbaum Darwin Toll Road which was the original road into Panamint Springs and Death Valley before the Death Valley Hotel company began advertising Lone Pine as the gateway into Death Valley. Soon along the road, we stopped off at an interesting mine at Zinc Hill. We explored briefly, found someone's broken message on a piece of slate (strange?), and then took the detour on the road to China Camp, an old house or ranch along the road, where China Garden Spring provides a constant source of water for the Darwin falls, and part of the spring has been formed into a koi pond with actual koi fish! After we finished being mesmerized by the area, we attempted hiking from the top of the spring back down to the falls. Unfortunately, this was nothing but a disaster. The trail was supposed to connect or at least get close, but we didn't see where it went, even with a couple trail guides. It may have been due to the excessively high flows, infrequent visitation and landslides, or our own incompetence, but it just didn't work. We were able to follow the river for a long period, hiking through reeds and around brush, and eventually got to the boulders above the falls, but still couldn't find any perspective of the falls like we could from below. If anything, it provided us with some comical fun as follows:
At many places along the trail, we had to make the choice of climbing up awkward dirt slides, going through brush, or walking in the mud. Since I had waterproof boots, I made the decision to go with the mud route for much of it. At one point, the mud began getting deeper. Instead of turnaround, I had the brilliant idea to swing from oak tree to oak tree like an ape, keeping myself out of the mud as I went. This was actually quite fun, until I got to one tree that was ~6" diameter, and while hanging on it looking for my next reach, I heard the cartoonish cracking of the branch happening in slow motion. I put my arm out to brace my fall just as I landed in a pool of mud with the branch on top of me. At that point, I resorted to simply walking through the muck the rest of the way and rejoined Justin and Marie as a dirty and defeated man.
Once I cleaned off the best I could, we continued along the offroad drive past a few more remains of buildings, past the remains of an old water pumphouse, and then we arrived at the combination ghost town and rural desert town of Darwin, CA (with a very fitting rock arrangement on the desert floor-- see pictures).
Spent a weekend with friends in Mammoth. While they were off skiing and snowboarding, we brought our snowshoes with us and went on some short hiking trips into the cold trails of the area.
Trail 1: Twin Lakes - Lake Mary Loop (Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center) - 5.5 miles
This was a fairly tame introductory snowshoeing hike, with about 30% semi-packed and the rest fresh powder. The trail we chose traverses some preset loops around the Lake Mary area of Mammoth Lakes, starting by Twin Lakes, passing north of Lake Mary, and getting views of Horseshoe Lake, heading south around all the lakes, and then back to the start. On the return trip, we split away from the trail for an exploration of the Panorama Dome, which we were surprised to find had only one or two sets of prints at that time. Coming back down required some navigation of backcountry, as the only trails up were from the south, in the opposite direction of where we planned to go.
Trail 2: Obsidian Dome (June Lake area) - 6 miles
This was a short drive north along 395 from Mammoth, and the main trail itself was fairly tame. The semi-groomed path runs straight to the dome, and then loops around it in one big circle. Overall, the scenery was pleasant and the deer were abundant on this portion of the trail. However, not satisfied with the level of ruggedness to our snowshoeing adventures, we decided to cross country up some hills toward the top of the dome (or a mini-dome, it was hard to tell in the white wilderness). The terrain was fairly steep, and we were able to truly test our kick stepping as we zigzagged our way up the side of the hill. The view from the top was great, and we even were able to glissade down a few sections and save some time back, although we were more jealous of the cross country skier that was there sometime earlier in the morning.
Trail 3: Shady Rest Park Loops (Mammoth Lakes Town area) ~3.5 miles
Desiring a little more mileage, we took this stroll on what seemed to be a combination golf course and park during the summer season. It was extremely easy and mostly just gave us a chance to get some exercise in the form of speed-snowshoeing in a big loop. Recommended as a warm up.
Barely 3 months after our first trip to Joshua Tree, we had organized and jumped on to a group camping trip with Andrew, Arvin, Brian, and a bunch of friends. For some, it was their first trip, and for others, they were hooked like us. We camped out at Indian Cove campground with reservations due to the larger group size and the desire to have sites together, but spent the first night by ourselves since the others weren't coming out until Friday. When we awoke the next morning, we went on a quick 3 mile round trip hike to 49 Palms Oasis, on the north edge of the park. This was an easy hike into a canyon with many palms (supposedly ~49....), and had views down into the town of Twentynine Palms, a sprawling desert suburbia developed due to the associated military base.
After this, we headed off to do our offroad adventure in my 2 month old FJ Cruiser while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. The first trail we tried was the Gold Coast Road, east of Twentynine Palms, and heading into the Old Dale mining district. Unfortunately, once I got halfway up a steep shelf road, I decided that I did not have enough experience to safely navigate this terrain and needed to work my way up to that skill level slowly or risk tumbling into the rocks below. We slowly backed down and turned around, proceeding toward some other shorter offroad travels like the Geology Tour Road and, a very tame loop through the center of the park, showcasing various rock formations. We returned to Indian Cove campground to find the rest of the group there, and had a great time around the campfire into the late hours of the night.
Saturday morning the newcomers to the park went off to some of the more popular hikes and were nice enough to drop us off at the southern trailhead for the Boy Scout Trail. We ended up turning it into a 12.3 mile hike back to the Indian Cove campground by detouring to Willow Hole, a rock climber's paradise within the Wonderland of Rocks just south of Indian Cove campground. It was long, tiring, and yet relaxing due to the serenity of the terrain. When we met up with everyone later that afternoon, it was not the same late evening campfire party as the night before due to our exhaustion from a day of hiking.
Although I bought the FJ Cruiser as a means to reach the backcountry 4x4 locations that I had been otherwise taking the Corolla to, I knew it would also inevitably mean a little extra offroading and 4x4 travel without hiking destinations. So after a few weeks of owning Sarge, I just had to drive out to the Mojave Desert with Scott and try some of the trails in my California Trails - Desert Region book.
Sunflower Spring Road and Lost Arch Inn Trail
We left from LA early in the morning, and reached Essex, CA by 11am. I had previously been here before in the rented Jeep Wrangler when I needed my flat repaired, and the "town" hadn't changed one bit. The only difference was that the mechanic was closed today, or at least they hadn't woken up yet. We started east down the old Sunflower Spring Road and detoured to the Golden Fleece Mine, where we found some tailings, an adit, and some ruins. From there we continued past Pilot Peak and a couple other mines until we reached the Lost Arch Inn Trail detour to the south, which brought us by an automobile graveyard that had been plinked. In fact, it would have been quite a gorgeous sight of ruins if they did not have 3000 bullet holes distributed throughout, and shells all over the ground. There were also some amazingly intact structures, but overall, nothing specifically extraordinary for the desert unless you are a desert mine history buff.
After coming out the other side almost in Nevada, we drove back through Needles to a KOA in the Baker area where we spent the night uneventfully. Starbright Trail and Black Canyon Road
This road began a few miles northeast of Barstow, past some communications towers, a mine, and through an area with a communal stone cabin built many years ago that is used as a cabin, shelter, Boy Scout destination, and basecamp for plinking (apparently). No one was there when we arrived, so we were free to explore the inside.
We continued along, past the Starbright Mine and well preserved ore tower(?), before reaching an unexpected obstacle less than a half mile from the end. That obstacle was the new expansion of the China Lake Naval Weapons center, which had erected a fence with very scary signs right across the road that we needed to travel to reach Goldstone Road, the flat and graded dirt road back to civilization and other offroad treks. When we reached it, I contemplated turning back and looked at how far back we would have to go to bypass it. Unfortunately, there were virtually zero shortcuts with the exception of one faint trail that cut across the open desert. Without taking a shortcut, it would be easily 90 minutes of backtracking and detours to get back to where we were going on Goldstone Road only a half mile away.
So we took the shortcut. On the GPS, it looked like a decent path, and it started out as so, but within a mile had deteriorated into an old horse trail through the open desert brush. The road was only marked with wooden posts, about 4 feet high, every 100 feet, and required weaving from bush to bush, letting the creosote give love scratches to the clear coat of my month-old car. It was painful at first, but in retrospect was great because it helped break the seal much earlier than I otherwise would have in regards to offroading capability. And the point of the car is to use it. Eventually we reached Goldstone Road, and after kissing the steering wheel apologetically, we continued north to the intended next trail, Black Canyon Road.
This was a much shorter travel through some dry lake beds and along some washes with minimal difficult driving, but brought us through an unknown region rich with intact petroglyphs and the signatures of ancient explorers, some dating back to the early 180