Training for Whitney in the Angeles National Forest ~ 2013

My family is one of those families that like to conquer things.  My dad has been the leading force behind our family conquests. From cycling centuries, hunting deer, racing a Trophy Truck in the Baja 1000, deep sea fishing in Alaska, flying an airplane to jumping out of one my dad has done more in his 58 years than a dozen people would do in their life time.  My brother and I try to match his achievements year after year.  I cycle with him and strive to be just as good as him. My brother hunts with him and is becoming a very talented hunter.  This year my brother and I were sitting around having our normal conversations about life with beer in hand and were talking about all the things that our father has done.  One of the things that came up was his accomplishment of hiking Mt Whitney in a day. Over the next couple hours by brother and I got pumped talking about it and decided that for his birthday in July we were going to hike Mt Whitney, we even got our spouses talked into joining us.  We signed up for the Lottery and was awarded our first choice, overnight on my brothers birthday.

I think so far the hardest part of this was deciding on the gear we needed.  Neither of us are “true outdoors”, we hike we camp but never to the extreme of Whitney.  We had to buy backpacks, light weight tents, light weight sleeping bags, stoves, water filters and the list goes on because we have never done this before.  As we both researched this trip we found out other things we will need like a bear canister. Bears REALLY?!?!?!

Once we got awarded our date for Whitney we started to research where we could train around Southern California that would be similar to Whitney.  We found a great site that helped us locate hikes around our area called Dan’s Hiking Page.

The three trails we hiked to get training for Whitney were:

  1. Icehouse Saddle via Icehouse Canyon
  2. Timber Mountain via Icehouse Canyon
  3. Mt Baldy via Ski Hut Trail

Icehouse Saddle via Icehouse Canyon

We decided to keep our training on Mt Baldy in the Los Angeles mountains with the Icehouse Saddle via Icehouse Canyon being our first training hike. This trail is actually really beautiful.  When you start out you see old stone buildings that used to be part of the Icehouse Resort.

 

I’m not sure what kind of resort it used to be because the buildings that lay in ruin are pretty small.  There are also old wood cabins that look as though they are still lived in but when we hiked by there was no one there.   This trail also runs right along a small creek that has a few crystal clear pools.  Some so deep you could swim in them.

We didn’t know what to expect on this trail or any other trails on this mountain because the four of us had never been there before or really hiking for that mater.  There were some trails that forked off from the main trail that would lead to the stream and for us beginners we always stopped to look at each other with the deer in headlights look.  Which way should we go?  Looking at the map on the computer to actually hiking the trail is completely different. A well worn out side trail could lead any beginner hiker astray.  We managed to stay on course.  The trail is pretty level for the first mile.  There are a few spots that are wet with run off and rocky but for the most part there wasn’t much of a grade until you got to about mile two then the small switch backs start.  If you haven’t hiked before they kind of suck but we managed to get through it.  There are a couple areas that were pretty steep and we had to pull over to catch our breath but we made it to the top in good time.

This trail is pretty well traveled.  If you start around 7:30 in the morning you will be heading to the top with the masses any later and you are sharing the small trail with two way traffic which can get pretty slow if you have to keep stepping out of the way for people moving faster or the opposite direction from you.  We got to the top in 2 hours and had a nice little lunch.  The Saddle is pretty but there isn’t much of a view because you are not up on a ridge.

 

There are many trails that branch out from the Saddle taking you to different ridges and mountain ranges but we hadn’t planned on going any further that day. After relaxing for about a 1/2 hour we started to head down.  This is where I felt the pain.  My knees ached and my feet hated me. I was the slowest on this part but I was happy to take my time. It usually takes a good week for my knees to stop hurt once the pain sets in.  From what I am told the proper trail manners is that when you are heading down you need to move to the for the people coming up.  I’m glad someone told me that because I would have expected them to move since they are going slower. Most actually welcomed a little break for us to pass so it was hard at times to do the “right thing.” We made it to the bottom in an hour.  We ended up hiking a total of 7 miles and we looked like it.  Our shirts were soaking wet and our legs were dusty, but we still ended up having a beer at Bass Pro Shop on our way home.

Timber Mountain via Icehouse Canyon

Our next hike was only my husband, my 15 year old step son and myself.  My brother and his wife couldn’t make it due to some injuries they had from a week before. My husband and I decided that his son was going to make the Mt Whitney trip with us but he needed to do some training before we decided for sure he was going to go.  We planned on doing the Saddle again and would figure on a path to take that branched off from the Saddle when we got up there.  My step son is very athletic.  He is on the Football team, the track team and the Basketball team at his high school. I knew he would do well, but when we got up there he rocked it. He will have no problem with Whitney unless he gets Altitude Sickness.  We took the same route to get to Icehouse Saddle and took about the same amount of time to get there.  Once we were there we decided to take the route going west to Timber Mountain which was an extra mile up to a ridge.

This route was much steeper than the route to the Saddle.  At some spots the ground was loose and our feet would slide down.  We finally made it to the top of the ridge and it was beautiful.  There was a sign stating we were there and a large tree that had fallen so you could have a seat.

There was also this camouflage metal container that was pushed into the tree that had a log book for people to sign.  I thought that maybe it was a geocache but when I got back and looked on their website it didn’t list that log as one.

The view was obstructed by some trees so I started to hike around them to get a better look.  I wasn’t looking around me just what was in front of me.  I started to jog over to the ridge when I heard something move around in the trees.  It was too large to be a rabbit or chipmunk.  It really scared me, but when I looked closer it was a deer no more than 10 feet away.  It wasn’t scared of me but didn’t want me close either.  I never thought I would run into a deer in our local mountains.

I finally made it over to the ridge.  The view was amazing and worth the hike to that peek.  We ate lunch and then started to head down.

We got about 2 miles down and came across an older couple screaming snake.  Low and behold there was a large rattle snake all curled up about 3 feet from the trail.  This thing looked like it was about 4″ thick and about 4 feet long.  The men started to throw rocks at it so it would move away from the trail and it finally did but not before it started to shake that tail which was LOUD!!

At that point I was freaked out.  I wasn’t aware of snakes while I was hiking. How many had I passed and how many do I still have to pass.  We finally made it down the hill without any incident.  My knees felt better than the last time but still were sore.

Mt Baldy Summit (10,064 Elevation) via Ski Hut Trail

We decided to hike Mt Baldy summit next.  This trail has three ways to get to it that I know of.  1st one is starting at the Ranger Station in town and hiking up the West peek I believe.  If you were to do this trail up and back it would be over 12 miles.  We weren’t ready for that one.  The other two ways are at the end of Mt Baldy Road.  The other two start at Falls Road, a fire road that goes to the ski lodge.  You start this road at Manker Campground.  It starts off paved and takes you to the San Antonio Falls.  They were running but were small from where we were standing.  Once you pass the falls the road turns to dirt and you have to start to look for the start of the Ski Hut trail the jolts up the hill on the left.  I have been told the trail is easy to miss so we kept our eyes open. About a 1/2 mile once you pass the falls there is a small dirt path with a sign that says Mt Baldy trail that we turned left on.  And the steep trail started and didn’t really end until we got to the Sierra Ski Hut about 2.6 miles up.

 

The view was gorgeous and you could see the ski hut through the trees as you zigzaged through the switch backs.

 

There were a lot of people on the trail.  I was afraid of being that person on the news that they say “She was an experienced Hiker but got lost in the Angeles Forest” but with the amount of people on the hill there was no way anyone could get lost even if they wanted to.  We made the ski hut in about two hours.  There were people everywhere enjoying the beautiful day. We stopped and braked for about 30 minutes.  Just enough time to get some pictures in and food down and we were back on the trail.

 

The next 2.1 miles were brutal.  A lot of the trail was steep.  We were almost to the first ridge when we saw another rattlesnake.  This one was much smaller and wasn’t as close to the trail, but it sure made you aware of nature all around us.  As we started to get close to our first peek there were hikers on their way down telling us that we were almost there.  Which now that I look back, they were full of it because we still had about 2-1/2 more peeks to get too.  When we peeked our first ridge we thought we were there but we looked off to our right and we could see some bright colored shirts moving up another steep ass ridge.  My husband, who I told that this would be an easier hike than the previous one, was cursing me out.  I couldn’t help but laugh.

 

When we started up the next ridge it was hard to tell which trail to take because there were so many going up but in different directions, but once you made it to the top it didn’t matter which way you went because they all ended together.  We finally made it up the next ridge and at the peek you could see another ridge that we had to go up.  It wasn’t as steep as the one we just came from but there was some rock climbing we had to do.  We pushed through that section and we finally made it to the last ridge, oh yes there was one more.  We passed by another hiker coming down who told us again that we were almost there, but this time he said that we were on our last ridge and we would be able to hear the party at the top in just a few more feet.  We pushed through it and we made it. There were so many people on top.  I was really shocked.  The view was spectacular!!!

 

 

You could see everything.  If there wasn’t a fire going on they said you could see the ocean on a clear day.  I was amazed.  All four of us hated the hike at one point going up but once we were at the top we all knew it was worth it.  We all got pictures by the plaque that was proof that you MADE IT.

We had lunch and headed down.  We decided to go down Devil’s Backbone that took us to the Ski Lodge by the Ski Slopes.  This route would still take us to our car but wasn’t the same way we came up.  Devil’s Backbone took us along the ridge of the mountain range.

 

Cliff’s on both sides gave us views of both the high deserts and Inland Empire.  When we first started to head down it was pretty steep with shell rock under foot.  It was a slippery slope and at times a balancing act to stay upright.  Once we made it off the shell rock it was a simi-flat trail.  Going down we all seemed to be much more talkative and in better moods.

 

 

We couldn’t get over the view and the cool breeze made it a nice hike.  Going down hill for me isn’t fun.  My knees hurt and my toes cramp.  I was doing ok until we got to the ski slopes right before the Ski Lodge and restaurant.

 

The slope is steep and super slick.  I had to take small steps to make sure my knees didn’t take a pounding which took me longer and the longer I was up there the more my feet slide in my shoes.  By the time I got to the bottom I had 5 blisters.  I had the wrong socks on and my boots were too loose.  Two mistakes that I will NEVER make again.  We stopped at the restaurant Top of the Notch and had a few beers and some potatoes skins before our last 3.6 miles down a dirt fire road that lead us to our car.

 

After our snack we started off on our last segment.  It was the longest 3 miles I have ever walked.  My blisters decided to have babies and then they had babies. I hated that I could see how long the road was.  You could see the road whip around the mountain, it looked like miles before we would get to the turn.  I finally made it to the car and I was done!!!  Our total time was 8 hours on the mountain.  We had lots of times that we stopped and rested and we were at the Top of the Notch for about an hour. The total mileage was about 10 miles and we gained about 3900 feet during our ascend. I can’t wait to try this hike again but with better socks and tighter shoes!

We have less than two months before we hike Mt Whitney and we are getting more and more excited as the days gets closer.  I feel like I am in better shape now than when I was younger and I had tried to hike Mt Whitney.  I hope this is the year that I accomplish this great task and follow in my dads footsteps.

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