According to Backpacker Magazine, Cactus to Clouds is the 5th hardest day-hike in the contiguous United States. I’m inclined to agree with them, as this is probably the most challenging day hike I have yet done.
Miles: Approx: 30 miles in 2 days for Round 1 and who knows how many for Round 2
Havasupai translates as the people of the Blue-Green Water, a name very fitting due to the amazing color of the Havasu Creek. The water of the creek has large amounts of travertine which results in the color of the creek, and results in many of the waterfalls that exist along the creek as the travertine basically acts as mortar sticking rocks and logs and everything else together.
This post is going to be a bit long as it covers 5 days of backpacking spread across two trips… also you may be overcome by an intense want to go backpacking after reading this. You’ve been warned.
Pine Mountain sits slightly below and slightly to the North of Mount Baldy. The truck trail leading up to Guffy Campground is closed in the Winter, making it necessary to hike up the Acorn Trail from Wrightwood to the Pacific Crest Trail, eventually to the Pine Mountain trail.
We met at 5:45 AM, and carpooled up Wrightwood, where we had to squeeze into some very tight street parking on Acorn Drive. Note that the drive changes from a public road to a private street. From what I have read, if you park above the signs (and somehow miss the plethora of signs saying NO PUBLIC PARKING), you will probably get a ticket and towed. Parking is tight, but we managed to squeeze 4 vehicles onto the side of the road legally, and had no issues.
This was a pop up hike for the 52 Hike Challenge, so after I gave my standard introduction, Karla and Philip (creators of the 52 Hike Challenge) talked for a couple of minutes and introduced the excellent gentlemen from Sea to Summit Productions who ended up taking some picture and video of the hike. We had a total of 11 people on this hike, which was a good number as larger groups tend to have more difficulty, especially on these harder hikes.
The hike started out a bit interesting, as we had to walk by a number of signs on Acorn Drive which indicated in no uncertain terms that the folks that own the homes on this drive do not welcome any strangers parking on this street. The paved road drags on for a little while, but eventually you’ll come to a gate with an opening on the side for hikers. Shortly after the gate you’ll see the first signage for the Acorn Trail. It starts out as more of a fireroad, and continues like that for less than a mile, before another signed junction tells you to take a left. Shortly after this left the incline begins.
The Acorn Trail itself is apparently a pretty well-regarded hike within the community of Wrightwood, and with good reason. Just to get to the Pacific Crest Trail, you have roughly 1500 feet of gain across 3 miles, which provides excellent views of the desert far below.
Once we got to the Pacific Crest Trail, the trail was considerably easier for a while, this was kind of the calm before the storm. We enjoyed trekking on the PCT for a bit, and then came the junction with the Pine Mountain trail, which was very steep down for about 800 feet, and then straight up along a ridge. If you do this hike, keep an eye out, this junction is pretty easy to miss, as the signage is below the fire road which the PCT is above. It was in this portion of the hike that it earns its Class II rank, especially in the snow.
As we ascended this ridge, it became very obvious that we weren’t going to have enough time to make our way over to Dawson Peak, as I had originally hoped, at least not if we wanted to beat the sun on the way down.
We basically just had to keep following the ridge up, and after a while, the summit finally came into view. Getting to the summit on Pine Mountain is no joke, but the views are more than worth it:
Benny Haddad from Sea to Summit Productions captured this awesome Gigapixel picture of Baldy, check it out here.
We all got to hang out at the summit and recover from the hike up for a bit. We all had a nice lunch, eventually got around to signing the summit register (thanks to Karla for finding it!). For me personally this was neat as it was my first time seeing Mt. Baldy from the North side. After I hike Iron Mountain, I’ll have seen Baldy from all four sides (now I just need to hike it from all four sides).
The hike back down was just as exciting as the hike back up, as the snow and loose rock was possibly even harder to keep traction on going down than it was on the way up. This meant we certainly weren’t moving very fast, but the views were still amazing.
After hiking back down to the truck trail, we decided to just take the road instead of hiking back up to the PCT. Either route is about the same length, but by staying on the road, you don’t have to scramble back up to the trail, and at the Acorn junction everything is at the same elevation.
The hike back down the Acorn Trail was pretty uneventful, other than that everyone was getting pretty tired. We made it back to the cars just before sundown, which was fantastic as we didn’t all bring proper cold weather gear (which was a bad idea).
After we made it to the cars, we all went to a nice little Mexican place in Wrightwood and had a very well deserved meal.
I wasn’t able to capture a trace of this hike, however a map approximating our hike is available here.
Thanks to everyone who joined me on this adventure! It was an awesome trail, and I am already looking forward to doing it again, except this time bagging Baldy instead of just looking at it.
I write this blog from Southern California, that part of the United States that is somewhat infamous for burning up at the drop of a match. If you have to resort to starting a fire in an area where fires are prohibited, be very, very careful as there is a good chance of burning down the entire forest around you.
That said, there are times when the choice is start a fire or freeze, there is a strong argument in favor of starting a fire. Fire can be a method to warm yourself and others, it can provide the means to disinfect water, it can help cook food. The ability to start a fire in an emergency can easily save your life when done properly.
The best way to be able to start a fire is to carry some waterproof matches along with a small bit of fire starter. For fire starter, many people will purchase specific things made for that, but even carrying some dryer lint in a ziplock bag can do the trick. If you don’t have waterproof matches, a regular lighter is an acceptable alternative, although they tend to be more sensitive to wind and rain.
Overall, use fire cautiously, especially when you are in an area that tends to burn easily. Always follow the rules and regulations that are in play for the area you are in. Fire, when used properly, can be a great tool.
Went for a hike up San Gorgonio a few days ago, and it was quite the hike. I had hoped that a few more people would have come through the trail and blazed everything for us, but apparently most people were turning around at High Creek Camp.
We met and caravaned up to the trailhead at the Big Falls trailhead and Picnic Area, the Vivian Creek trail is just upstream across from the stream bed. We were on the trail around 6:30 AM, which worked well as that gave us sunlight from the very beginning.
The day was incredibly warm, so most people were delayering by the time we made it to Vivian Creek camp, which is about 2 miles in from the cars. The trail was beautiful, and snow-covered almost everything.
As we started up the switchbacks towards Halfway Camp, the amount of snow on the trail started dropping quite a bit, and was only spotty from Halfway Camp to High Creek camp. The real fun began after we crossed High Creek and started what are normally the big switchbacks leading up one of the final ridges. Since no one had brought snowshoes, I made the (foolish) decision of following some other steps at a diagonal across the ridge. This ended up costing us a lot of time, and wasted an incredible amount of energy, as once we crested the ridge, we still had a good distance to go in order to get to where the trail normally crested the ridge. The better option would have been to proceed directly up the chute, but I’m not 100% sure that would have worked either due to our lack of snowshoes.
Once we made it to the point on the ridge where the trail normally leads, it was time to start heading down, saving the summit for another day (it was already 2:30 PM, and I didn’t relish the idea of being on the trails after things started getting really icy).
We made it back down to the cars around 6:30 PM, as things had gotten quite a bit more slippery farther down the trail than they were on the way up.
Overall, it was a great hike, and really proved that you can’t guess exactly what the mountain is going to give you on any given day.
Thanks to Enrique Lucha for providing the GPX track of the hike, my phone (as normal) was on the fritz. Note that this track isn’t 100% accurate as the GPS died a couple of miles away from the trailhead (but it lasted much longer than my phone did!)
If you have seen someone having a very bad day on the trails, you may have seen the rangers/SAR/whoever come up with a giant orange or red first aid kit that probably weighs 10 pounds by itself. You don’t need one of those. Most first aid you will need to do in the field is going to be dressing small cuts and scrapes, and immobilizing injured joints. In the first aid kit I use, I carry ibuprofen, some bandages, gauze, topical antibiotics, ace bandages, scissors, pen and paper and other miscellany. I carry far more than most people really need, but I tend to bring bigger groups out, so I like to be ready.
Probably the most essential thing you can do in regards to first aid, is simply make yourself knowledgeable. I went through National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification process. The course cost about $130 and took a weekend at a local REI store and is good for 2 years. While the course may be overkill for someone who is only interested in doing very small day hikes, as soon as you start doing bigger hikes, the knowledge and confidence that comes with it are indispensable, and may even save yours or someone else’s life.
One of the big takeaways from the course was the concept of the SOAP report which stands for
This is basically a high level report of what the injury is and any relevant details about the person. A SAMPLE history is good here.
These are measurements, such as vital signs, medications taken, findings from physical examination (if you know how to properly do one)
As assessment of what is likely wrong with the injured person. Sometimes this is obvious, sometimes it isn’t.
A plan for how to proceed. If someone has broken their wrist, a good plan is to immobilize it, and quickly, but safely exit the backcountry.
One thing to remember about backcountry medicine is that it is generally not focused on fixing serious injuries long-term. It’s focus is on ensuring that whoever is injured can be patched up enough to survive transport to a front country medical facility.
Signs and Symptoms
Relevant past medical history, injuries, illnesses
Last Meal Intake
Events leading to the injury/illness
To recap: bring first aid essentials, and know how to use them. If you are starting to do bigger adventures, learning what a SOAP report is and how to collect a SAMPLE history is a good skill to get into. These reports can make the jobs of first responders go much more quickly, and in some cases the time saved may save someone’s life.
Bring light, and plenty of it. A headlamp only weighs a couple of ounces, and spare batteries only a few more, so bring them anytime there is any chance of being stuck out after dark (even if you intend on being back before the sun goes down). There is often an argument between flashlight and headlamp users, and while both have benefits, headlamps tend to win out, especially for people who use trekking poles.
The one big advantage with a regular flashlight is that it can give better spot illumination when you are scouting trail in the dark. For example, I tend to carry both when I do tricky trails like Cactus to Clouds, as there are portions at the beginning where the trail is very easy to use.
Remember though: your headlamps and flashlights are only good so long as they have energy. Bringing extra batteries is essential if you are going to be using your lights heavily. Getting stuck and lost in the dark is no fun at all (been there, done that).
Normally San Jacinto and San Bernardino peaks would be switched around, but the permitting application for San Bernardino and San Gorgonio is much more complex than for all of the other hikes.
One nice thing with all of these hikes except Wilson is that they are great in the summer time as the trails are high enough where even on a warm day most of the trail will be moderate to warm.
Due to the permit availability concerns on the last 2 hikes of the series, invites for those will be done based on attendance: if you attend all the hikes, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you get a spot on the permit. Second priority will be given to people who miss one hike, third priority to those who miss two and so on.
For people looking for a few extra hikes in the mix, we’ll probably make trips to Ontario Peak (8,696 feet), Mount Islip (8,250 feet), and Mount Baden-Powell (9,400 feet).
A quick trip up Mount Islip in front of a storm system moving in, which made for some great pictures of the clouds as we came towards the summit. This hike was planned at the absolute last-minute (even more last-minute than last week’s hike). Unfortunately my phone was acting up again on this hike, so I didn’t get a good GPS track (or very many pictures). Continue reading “Mount Islip”
Hiking in the sun, hiking in the snow, hiking in the cold, hiking in the heat, there are a few different ways to hike. In this post lets look at insulation and sun protection, numbers 3 and 4 of the 10 essentials.