The Wind and the Wilderness

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I finally went backpacking! I actually did it!  When my dad and I got out of the car, we were in a valley in the middle of Joshua Tree, completely alone and surrounded by mountains.  Hiking through the valley,  the ground was so flat that you could seen uninterrupted for miles in either direction.  Walking alone, surrounded by huge rock formations, I felt so small and insignificant.  The breathtaking landscape was so picturesque that it seemed like it had been manufactured for a zoo or a museum, too perfect to be natural.  For the first day, the sky was clear and warm, completely unlike the frigid weather of my previously planned route. However, as our hike continued the wind began to pick up, eventually becoming 50 mph gusts.  When planning my trip the night before, I had originally thought we would hike to the base of  Quail Mountain and then climb to the top even though there wasn’t a trail.  However, about halfway up the mountain, the gusts had gotten much worse and between the wind and my 22 pound pack I was having difficulty balancing. I felt like i was falling uphill.  I decided it would be safer to go back down and try to find a place to set up camp that would be more sheltered.  

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When backpacking in Joshua Tree, you camp anywhere as long as your camp is at least 500 feet away from any trails. After descending the mountain, I found the perfect camp spot but it was much too close to the trail.  Finally, after what seemed like forever of searching in the wind, we found another great spot. Little did we know that this was the same spot I had spotted before and we had actually just made a huge loop!

 

Just as before, the sunset and stars were absolutely stunning. One of my favorite things about camping is that once the sun goes down, I get to go to bed! When the sun went down around 6:30, I didn’t really have anything to do so I got ready for bed too.  Unlike last time, I wasn’t freezing! The wardrobe changes I had made worked!
Then next morning we woke up with the sun and after a quick breakfast packed up early. As we got ready to go, grey storm clouds were quickly rolling in; the ten o’clock storm.  Hiking back to the car I was still in awe of how big and astounding the valley we were in.  Joshua Tree is truly inspiring and gave me so many ideas as to places or trips I would like to do in the future. I hope to be back again soon, so stay tuned for my next adventure.

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A Change of Plans

THE PLANS ARE CHANGING!!!!!!!!

Last weekend I was supposed to finally go on my two day trip but I got food poisoning so I had to post pone to this weekend! But now it looks like Strawberry Meadow is going to be completely snowed in… I had two options of either postponing it another weekend or choosing somewhere new.  Since I don’t know if the weather is going to be better by next weekend so I think I’m just going to be spontaneous and try to find a new place…

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UPDATE:  I am going to go back to Joshua Tree. Since I won’t be close to home and my parents can’t just drop me off, dad will be joining me. I’ll be on my own with carrying my own stuff and taking care of myself, but it will be nice to have his company. We are going to go on the California Riding and Hiking Trail: Covington Flat to Keys View, Quail Mountain which looks like it will be about 9 miles roundtrip and will end at the top of Quail Mountain.  This route also incorporates cross country hiking which means I’ll get to use more of my new navigational skills. Also, since Joshua Tree is a desert, there isn’t any source of water on our route which means we will have to bring our own water which will add a lot of weight. However, we won’t need to bring water filtration anymore.

A day on Pixie Rock

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Topping out on “Who’s First” (5.6)  – photo by Geoff Albert

So I know the whole reason we went to Joshua Tree was to test equipment but in reality I could have done that in my backyard.  The real, real reason I wanted to go to Joshua Tree was to go rock climbing! My dad used to go rock climbing all the time when I was little and I’ve always wanted to try it.  Two things: It’s so unbelievably fun but it is so much harder than it looks.  I took a seven hour class which at the time seemed a little excessive but I was excited and nervous.  It’s crazy how much you can learn in seven hours.  I thought we would only learn basic bouldering and nothing really scary or tall. However we not only covered bouldering but also moved on to top rope climbing. The first time I tried the top rope climbing I was terrified.  My first couple attempts I made it to the top but they were stressful and frustrating.  I decided that I was glad I had tried it but that maybe rock climbing just wasn’t for me. I opted out of trying the final, most difficult climb of the day however I had a last minute change of heart and decided I would only do half of it.  Except for the first time, something clicked.  Suddenly I wasn’t nervous anymore, I could think clearly, I knew where to go. I was actually having fun. Even though it was the hardest climb of the day, it was my fastest time and my cleanest. After ending on that note, I’m really excited to go out and try some more climbing.

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Testing out the gear in JT

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Tucked in at Indian Cove in Joshua Tree Natl Park

Cold seems to be a theme with me >.<

 

We went to Joshua Tree!!! I’ve never been before and it’s so amazing. The mountains were so cool! Over the hundreds of thousands of millions of years the wind has eroded the mountains leaving behind rock formations that are pretty much just huge granite boulders.  The other thing I had always heard loads about Joshua Tree were how amazing the stars look at night. I love stars and astronomy has always been an interest of mine so getting to camp out under the stars without a tent was astonishing.  I got to see constellations and even planets that I never get to see in Pasadena due to the light pollution. The stars were so bright you could move around our campsite without a headlamp.

 

Even though the stars and rock formations were stunning the practical reason we went to Joshua Tree was to test out our backpacking equipment!  I wanted to test and practice with certain items like my sleeping bag, camp stove, and Esbit cubes. I wanted to make sure that I would be warm enough in my sleeping bag, a long sleeve, and tights because the conditions at Joshua Tree were supposed to be similar to when I do my trip. They were definitely not warm enough! I could barely sleep all night because I was so cold.  But now I know that I need to find warmer clothing for the night.

 

My dad and I also decided to have a mini competition between Esbit cubes and our IsoButane to see the difference between weight and how long they took to boil water.  The Esbit cubes are squares of hexamine which when set on fire can be used as a stove. The cubes are lighter than the butane burner but ended up taking much longer to heat water.  For my backpacking trip I think I’ll carry the little extra weight and take the IsoButane burner.

I have a route!

 

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Strawberry Peak. It looks like a Strawberry on its side, maybe?

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Get Dropped off at Red Box and hike to the meadow
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Hike from the meadow and get picked up at Switzer
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Full Route on Gaia GPS/ Cal Topo

If you’ve the title of this blog post, you’ll know that I have a route! I am planing on going on about a 10 mile, 2 day trip.  I was originally planning on doing a slightly longer trip but due to the fact that I’ve never gone backing or hiked that long carrying almost ⅕ of my body weight I thought it would be best to start with something a little less daunting.  On the first day, I plan to get dropped off at Red Box in the San Gabriel* mountains then hike from there to Strawberry Meadows which circumnavigates Strawberry Peak.  On the first the day I will travel about 4.7 miles with an 877 foot elevation gain.  On the second day, I will continue with about 535 feet of climbing and another 4.7 miles to Switzer Falls which where I will be picked up! Also, an advantage of this route is that  due to snow melt I won’t have to carry much water because I can just filter the water available which will cut down my pack weight considerably.

Navigation Class

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Learning to use a compass and topographical map at REI

I’ve always wanted to take one of the outdoor skills classes at REI but now I had an excuse to! navigation and being able to use a compass correctly is vital to know before going on any backpacking trip. First off, the employee who was our instructor was amazing! He was so knowledgable, funny, and patient.  Before taking the class I had known the general idea of what a compass was used for but I never knew how important they really are.  I was kind of worried that since I was by far the youngest person, I might struggle or fall behind but that didn’t happen! I was so happy that everything made sense and seemed really logical.  We learned how to read a map, how to set a compass’ declination, how to take a bearing, and how to shoot a bearing. For map reading we learned what different colors and symbols meant.  We also learned how to read both topographical maps as well as hiking maps.  One of the most interesting things I learned was that every area has to set compasses to a different declination because everyplace has a different spatial relationship to the true North Pole. Setting a compasses declination allows for the compass’ readings to be accurate.  Before this class I thought taking a bearing and shooting a bearing were the same thing…but they’re not!  Shooting a bearing is how to locate a point on your map in the real world, by finding how point A relates to point B in terms of directional degrees.  However, taking a bearing is for when you’re in nature and trying to find the location of an object in the distance.  Taking the REI Map and Compass Navigation Class was such a great experience and I’d love to take their more advanced class on GPS Navigation in the future.

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Sunrise Hike

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Standing atop Echo Mountain under a (mostly) full moon

4 am… not pm

Yes, today I got up at the ungodly hour of 4 am. After reading Jerry Spinelli’s, Star Girl in 5th grade, I’ve always wanted to get up really early, go somewhere, drink tea, and watch the sunrise but never have.  I thought waking up and hiking to the top of Echo Mountain to see the sunrise would be the perfect way to start my project and test out some equipment.  It seemed like a great idea until my alarm went off and I realized it was dark and cold.  The actual getting up wasn’t too bad considering I was really only half awake, but hiking before I’d even had any coffee wasn’t quite as exhilarating as I had hoped.  However, after about half an hour, I started to finally wake up. I also learned that hiking before dawn is pretty much exactly the same as hiking during any other time except for small differences that make it so much better. I loved seeing the street lights twinkle, being completely alone on the trail, walking with only the moon for light, and seeing the outline of the city. We reached the top early enough to huddle up in sleeping bags and make tea while we waited for the sun to rise. Luckily for us the clouds surrounding the mountains, created an amazing orange and pink sunrise. It was such a great way to end Thanksgiving break and start my project.