Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | March 17, 2012

Snowdon – Snowdonia National Park, Wales

February 14th 2012

7.5 miles  2510′ elevation gain

We are spending a few days in North Wales with our daughter, Laura, and son-in-law, Fernando and have planned to climb Snowdon, weather permitting. Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, is the highest peak in England and Wales at a modest 3,559′ but is no cakewalk particularly in winter. We last did this about 35 years ago when I carried Laura to the summit on my back! My intent was to ascend by the Pyg track and return by the Miner’s track. However, the owner of the bed and breakfast where we are staying suggested the reverse to avoid a possible navigation error that would put us on the trail to Crib Goch, that being potentially very dangerous in winter. She did tell us that guests had made the ascent by the Miner’s a few days earlier but did encounter snow and ice near the peak making the going a little tricky. The weather is cold and dry but the mist is hovering over the hills around Betws-y-Coed where we are staying. The forecast is not so good for tomorrow so we decide to give it a try with the understanding that we will retreat if conditions are bad.

We drive the short distance to the trailhead at Pen y Pass, passing the Pen y Gwryd hotel where Edmund Hilary and John Hunt stayed while training for the first successful ascent of Everest. There is a large parking area here and several cars, so we will not be alone. The Miner’s trail starts right here where we are parked so this will be our outbound route. The wind is howling through the pass and it is bitterly cold. We put on almost all our clothing, and as soon as I remove by boots from their plastic bag it is snatched from my hands and balloons off across the slopes! We can see Crib Goch from here although mist swirls around the top. The Miner’s Track is paved, though potholed, and reasonably flat. The sign here says to allow six hours for the round trip. It is 10:00 am and we can see some other walkers ahead so off we go.

Snowdon & Crib Goch

As we come into the shelter of the Crib Goch ridge, the wind drops and we warm up a bit. There are big bags of large stones by the side of the track, so presumably some quarrying is still practised. As the track bears to the right we get our first glimpse of Snowdon, like Crib Goch it is speckled with snow and the peak is obscured by swirling mist. To our left we pass our first tarn, Llyn Teym perched at 1,237′. As the track straightens out we lose sight of Snowdon but can now see the twin peaks of Y Lliwedd (2,947′) in the distance. As Snowdon comes back into view, we pass some ruined wall and then can see the valve house at our next tarn, Llyn Llydaw (1,416′). Here the Miner’s track takes a sharp right to cross Llyn Llydaw by way of a causeway. As we cross, Crib Goch looms above us and Snowdon hangs across the tarn behind the Gribin Ridge. To the left of Snowdon is the notch of Bwlch Y Saethau.

Llyn Llydaw & Snowdon

Once across the causeway, the track swings left and we pass the ruins of an old crushing mill used for the nearby copper mines. We have been making good time, but the going has been easy with little elevation gain – we are maybe halfway in distance but have gained only about 300′. We are a little intimidated but the sight of the Snowdon massif, another 2,000′ or more above us, ominously beckoning us on. The track moves away from the tarn and we appear to be heading straight for the peak.This is our first real uphill section and the paved track is replaced with a rocky pathway. The effort warms us and jackets are unzipped or removed. To our left a stream tumbles down from the as yet unseen tarn above. This is the beginning of the Glaslyn River.

The peak!

The climb begins.

We reach some ruined walls which present a great photo opportunity with the bulk of Snowdon dancing in and out of the cloud in the background. Shortly thereafter we reach and skirt around Glaslyn the last of our tarns. Here a large standing stone invites us to ascend a steep trail up the mountain. We hesitate, but with jackets rezipped, leave the main track here. As we climb we see walkers returning along the track that we have just left (we later learn that this goes to the copper mine). However, we can also see hikers on the slopes above us and so plug on. The trail is quite steep and very rocky and we soon encounter our first snow and ice. The trail is a little indistinct in places but Laura leads the way. It is a little exposed here but the horizontal views are impressive. Above, the swirling mist limits visibility but we can see walkers coming in above us from the east, presumably on the Pyg track, which will be our return route. The ice is a little slippy in some areas and the trail a little hard to follow as multiple sets of footprints spread out across the mountainside. We scramble to the top and meet the Pyg trail by a large cairn. We turn left on the Pyg and shortly come to a large standing stone – this is where we should have come out!

This way!

The trail now becomes steep and rocky. There is more snow, but little ice. I assume the snow has not melted to refreeze as ice. In fact, the snow doesn’t even melt on clothes or boots so we remain dry. Unfortunately, there are no views through the mist, but in any case we need to concentrate on keeping to the trail.

Are we there yet?

We reach a small rock band where several people are pausing prior to the final bash for the ridge top. This is the famous Zig Zag.There has been no thought of turning back – at least no one voices any concern. We take a few seconds rest but then Dee and I push on. At this point Dee is zooming up the mountain in fine form – or maybe she just wants to get the climb over! We can see Laura and Fernando leaving the rock band below us. Just before we reach the ridge (Bwlch Glas) a couple of young men humble us by almost running past, albeit equipped with crampons and ice axes! At the ridge the visibility is no better than 20 to 30 yards. A couple of walkers come in from our right, presumably having ascended by the Ranger or Llanberis path. As soon as Laura and Fernando reach the ridge we set off for the final push to the summit.

Zig Zag

Bwlch Glas

It is very cold and windy here, so no place to hang around. I have already had to remove my glasses on the Zig Zag being unable to clear them of ice. We meet the rail line coming up from Llanberis and follow it until we see the cafe nestled just below the summit. Needless to say, both rail and cafe are closed for the season. The visibility is poor and we are at the base of the summit marker almost before we realize. We enlist a fellow walker to take a picture.

The Summit

The steps leading to the marker are covered in ice and everywhere the wind has carved fins and nodules into the ice. We can hardly stand in the wind. Dee has ice balls hanging from her wooly hat. I also try to take pictures, but my camera lens is iced over and I can’t clear it. On retrieving Dee’s camera from our “volunteer” photographer, he reports the same problem with her’s. I take a couple of pictures of Laura and Fernando anyway as they climb the top. Fernando confides in me that there was nothing like this on their recent trek in the Himalaya.  Enough of this already. Dee’s thermometer registers just below freezing, but the wind chill brings it way below that. We descend and make our way back to Bwlch Glas. Dee takes one look at the way down and exclaims, “we can’t go down there”. The initial descent does look imposing as, buffeted by the wind, we wait for Laura and Fernando. A cramponed hiker who has just gone past comes back up to see if we are alright! This breaks the spell and by now Laura and Fernando have caught up. So with Dee sandwiched between Laura and me, we slide and slither down without too much trouble. At the rock wall I am finally able to clear my glasses of ice, not that there is anything to see. Again we pause here and take a few pictures, though my camera is still a problem.

Rock Wall

We pass the standing stone at the head of the Miner’s track and continue on the Pyg track. visibility below is restored and we see Llyn Llydaw below. Soon the Pyg track is relatively clear of snow and we make better time along the relatively flat, rocky trail around the south face of Crib Goch. Laura and Fernando lead the way. We even stop for a snack, although the cold makes this brief. Eventually we round the flank of Crib Goch at Bwlch Y Moch. As we approach we can hear the wind howling and screaming through the pass. As we hit the notch the wind almost lifts us off our feet. A strap on Dee’s backpack whips across her face and cuts her just below the eye.

Bwlch Y Moch

We soon reach quieter territory and the path steepens as we descend back to the road. It starts to rain, just as forecast and we are all glad to finally see the youth hostel and parking area ahead though it still takes us a while to reach. We have completed the hike in about 5 hours and 20 minutes. Not bad given the conditions. Definitely a hike to remember. We have been denied the gorgeous views from the top but the weather and trail conditions have made this quite an adventure.

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | February 3, 2012

Pineknot Trail – Big Bear

January 12th 2012

6.7 miles       1,300′ elevation gain

There is a lack of snow in Big Bear so not much skiing going on. This means we were able to get a good deal on a cabin for two nights mid-week. Yesterday, on arrival, we hiked the Castle Rock Trail, a mere couple of miles made slow and difficult in places by the layer of ice frozen on top of some remaining snow patches. Today, we will be a little better prepared and will go up the Pineknot Trail to Grand View Point. We last did this in July of 1999 with Dee’s sister, her husband and my nephew all visiting from England. Today it will be a little cooler than then, mid-20s overnight and 39 degrees as we leave the cabin.

The trail begins at the Aspen Glen Picnic area which is just a short hop from the cabin and no problem ( for tomorrow we had planned to take the Siberia Creek Trail to Gunsight but the forest road to the trailhead is closed for the season). We park in the empty lot and as we put on our packs a dog walker passes and asks ” Going for a hike?” Astute fellow! The trail from the parking lot is well-marked and being wide and open is a mixture of slush and ice. As we progress into more shaded areas the trail itself has a thick layer of ice on top and we skirt around where possible on the softer snow at the edge of the trail. Progress is slow, enough of this, we put our traction “chains” on our boots.  We cross a frozen creek, then enter a snow and ice-free area as the trail climbs gently through the trees. It appears that Dee’s “chains” don’t match and we try to remember where we bought them. After a while I realize that she has one on back-to-front! We hesitate about taking them off, but decide that we might encounter additional ice and so having made the necessary adjustment, we plod on. As the trail switchbacks around we are treated to a view of Big Bear Lake. The trail straightens out as we climb gently through the pine forest, and yes we are glad we kept our boot grips in place. They seem to work very well, although we try to avoid the worst of the ice, only to sink in about a foot of snow at the edge of the trail. We pass through some meadow areas where the track is less well-defined under its smattering of snow, but on reaching Deer Group Camp we know we are on the right route.

Not too far beyond the campground we cross a flat open area and reach the junction of 1E01 (our trail) and 2N10. Here at a saddle, and the trailhead for the Seven Oaks Trail, the view is magnificent and we pause for a while to enjoy it. The sun and wind have combined to eliminate most of the snow here. We climb the remaining 1/2 mile to the aptly named Grand View Point. The view is magnificent from the 7,784′ rocky outcrop. I descend a little farther for an even better view, unobstructed by trees. What a place for lunch. Dee is reluctant to scramble down, so I return to the rocky outcrop which is a fine substitute. The view across the basin of th Santa Ana River to Mt. San Gorgonio and the surrounding peaks is stunning. I have read that Catalina can be seen on a clear day, but clear though it is we cannot see the island. Our lunch includes a welcome flask of hot soup but just as we are beginning, our peace is broken by two dogs who seem interested in our snack. They are closely followed by their owners, a young man and woman, who apologise profusely and then move down to the lower view point. After lunch I want to revisit the lower rocks to take pictures and the dogs and owners obligingly reappear on their return journey. We chat for a few minutes and enlist the young man as our photographer – saves setting up the gorilla tripod!

After taking our fill of pictures we retreat the way we came, stopping again at the saddle for additional photo taking. We have not really been cold in spite of the mid-40s temperature but stop at the campground for our flask coffee on the return. Here there is an interesting solar toilet, but the drifted snow within suggests that the toilet seat is not solar heated! The descent is enjoyable, if uneventful. Aided by our boot accessories, we are more confident on the ice, which is melting in places ready to refreeze at night. Back at the car, the temperature is 44 degrees. We return to our cabin for warm drinks.

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | July 28, 2011

Trans Catalina Trail

July 21st 2011

12.5 miles  2,100′ elevation gain

We are in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. We came out yesterday from Long Beach on the Catalina Express – they were offering a free round trip if you travel on your birthday! Our intention is to hike part of the Trans Catalina Trail and I have booked seats on the hiker’s special 7:30 am shuttle to the airport. Dee is a little apprehensive as she has not hiked much recently and doesn’t do well in the heat. This was not helped much when we picked up our hiking permit at the Conservancy office yesterday and the lady on duty told her the temperature in the interior could be 20 degrees higher than in Avalon (where it was already in the upper 70s), that the trail was very rugged and by no means flat! I have tried to reassure Dee that there are several points at which we can “escape” to the road and flag down the shuttle if necessary.

We arrive early for the shuttle having visited Jack’s bakery for coffee and bread for lunch. This gives us the chance to talk with the driver. She claims the trail is easy and that the cloud cover probably won’t burn off until late morning. She also shows us the crossed arms signal to use to stop the bus if need be. This is more encouraging. There are three other riders, although they are going to the airport and from the look of their equipment won’t be hiking far. The driver is also a guide and gives us a great commentary on the island and its history – in fact she almost goes past our drop off point so engrossed is she in her presentation. We alight the bus at the junction to Black Jack Campground.

Road to Black Jack

The mist is swirling around us and visibility is less than 20 yards! It is in the low 60s and Dee dons her jacket. We set off up the dirt road towards the campground. Within minutes the mist has condensed fine droplets in our hair and these sparkle in the limited light. The track ascends slowly, scrub and cactus alongside. There is supposed to be an old mine here somewhere, but I think the only way we would see it is if we fell down the shaft. The road contours around Black Jack Mountain and we meet a junction offering a path to the top (it’s the second highest peak on the island). We pause only briefly – although it’s only a short climb we will see nothing, so there seems little point. Ahead on our left a large picnic ramada looms out of the mist – we must be near the campground.

The "trail" begins...

At this point we meet the Trans Catalina Trail proper and descend into Black Jack Campground. It looks delightful – set in a stand of pines with water, tables, and toilets. But it is deserted. Not a soul to be seen, nor any evidence of human occupation. Is this an omen? Here the trail becomes a trail, pushing its way through scrub and trees. Visibility remains problematic.

Sitting bison.

I don’t think we will see bison on this part of the island, but just as I’m saying that, we spot footprints and a relatively fresh pile of dung. Moments later Dee freezes. “Did you see it?” she asks. “See what?” “The bison. It crossed just in front of us like a ghost”. I have no reason to doubt her, although I am annoyed that she didn’t tell me in time so I could see it. Not a few minutes later any doubts are dispelled, as a huge animal ghosts across the trail in front of us. It really is an eerie experience. “There’s another one sitting down” says Dee pointing at a large rock. I scoff, but as we go past I see there is an overhang to the rock with a sort of beard hanging down. The beard twitches and a horn glints through the mist. This time we can get pictures, albeit of dubious quality without mist piercing vision. We feel fulfilled, as least as far as bison are concerned.

Cape Canyon Reservoir

White Sage

The trail appears to open out a little as we approach Cape Canyon Reservoir. The map shows this to be quite a large body of water, all we can see is a few feet lapping at the bank by the side of the trail. We descend slightly to cross Upper Cape Reservoir Road. It is a little clearer here and to our surprise a couple of vehicles go past on this dirt road. The visibility has improved but still no views are available. We climb uphill past a little seat made out of signposts. The white sage is entangled with cobwebs, which in turn are laden with micro-droplets of water glistening in the feeble light.

We just saw an island fox.

Dee has finally removed her jacket. The next section presents an uphill climb, but not too severe. This trail is not particularly rugged by our standards and so far the going has been relatively easy. We crest a small hill and there below us is an island fox. Shall I try for a picture or make sure Dee sees it? I beckon her over and eventually she sees it. We exchange stares for several seconds and the fox then trots away into the mist with a swish of its long tail. Now that was worth seeing!


We pass through a burnt area – presumably from the 2007 fire. Some steeper sections bring us to another dirt road which we will need to follow for a hundred yards or so before diving down into Renton Pass Canyon. We can see the trail below us but … there is a herd of bison astride the trail. (The trail was constructed using bison tracks and if ever proof of this was needed, here it is). Indeed one is sitting across the trail right by a trail sign. Dee is not quite panicking, but close. We descend and take a diversionary route slightly to the left of the herd (or in Dee’s case not so slightly). The driver had told us that although accidents are rare, it is not a good idea to walk through a herd! This gives us a great opportunity for pictures, although I am not sure Dee is holding her camera very steadily! We regain the path only to encounter a few solitary individuals who present no problem. As we climb out of the canyon another group of 6 or so  are trailside. Somehow Dee manages to stampede them – fortunately in the opposite direction from us. Enough Bison already!

Above Haypress

We now head in a more easterly direction and cross the airport road. The trail takes a D shaped swing behind the road to visit what is presumably a view-point. Yes, all we can see is a bank of cloud. Across a ridge we get our first blue sky of the day and below us is Haypress, a body of water beautifully nestling in the hills. We descend to the pond and turn left to again meet the airport road. Horror of horrors! Here is a playground with swings and a slide. There are several cars parked here and children are playing. This is no lunch stop for us. We quickly turn our backs, pass behind the lake, through a gate and up the hillside back into the mist.  This area is fenced to prevent deer and bison from damaging vegetation recovering from the fire. At the top of the hill the sun is shining again and before us is the local radio tower. We exit the fenced area, pass by the tower and are now on the Divide Road, our way for the next couple of miles. The dirt road climbs gently and offers good views of the surrounding hills. We can see Avalon below us, nestled under a bank of cloud. Time for lunch.

Divide Road above Avalon.

We keep left where the Lone Tree Trail branches off and ascend to the top of the Hermit Gulch Trail. (We did the Lone Pine via Hermit Gulch on a previous visit). We have our first company of the day. A group who have come up Hermit Gulch and will return via the Memorial Trail. We are told that by doing that you can get into the Botanical Garden for free! The gardens are on the agenda for tomorrow. Besides we had continued on the Divide Trail on our previous visit, so its down Hermit Gulch we go. This is trail again, a little steep and overgrown in places. It is now quite warm so we are glad to be going down. We meet three hikers on their way up. Each asks us how much farther do they have to go!

Hermit Gulch Campground.

The hillsides here at the back of Avalon are scarred by bulldozed tracks, again presumably a byproduct of the fire. Hopefully they will revegetate. Eventually we reach the canyon floor at Hermit Gulch Campground and walk down the Memorial Road back to Avalon where a shower will be rapidly followed by well-earned alcoholic beverages!

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | July 17, 2010

Pinnacles National Monument

July 8th 2010

Distance: 4.3 miles   Elevation gain: 1,215′

Ever since reading an article in the L.A. times about ten years ago, I have wanted to visit the Pinnacles. Of course, that article was extolling the magnificence of the spring time flowers – and it’s now the middle of summer. Still the description of the terrain had also captured my imagination. The park is about 265 miles from home, but here we are motoring down the 101 on our way back from San Francisco and a mere 12 mile diversion will take us there. As we approach the turn off in Soledad, I nervously watch the car thermometer – about 72 degrees, not too bad. The Pinnacles are just visible behind the more typical rolling hills. They are the eroded remains of an ancient volcano, this part of which has been dragged northwards as the Pacific plate grinds along the San Andreas fault.  Condors have been also been released here and there are now more than 20 in the park. The road in is narrow but well paved –  zero traffic however. Eventually we reach the Chaparral Ranger Station and obtain our free parking receipt courtesy of our senior pass – being old is not always bad (usually, but not always). We park in the large, almost empty, lot. A last glance at the thermometer shows 78 and it’s midday. There’s a light breeze but not much prospect of any shade.

Juniper Canyon

We suit up and set out along Juniper Canyon.  The trail is delightful as it follows along the dry Juniper Creek. However, it’s almost flat and I know we have 1,200′ of elevation gain ahead somewhere. We begin to see and enter the rocky formations, their weathered profiles vaguely reminiscent of Bryce Canyon.  The gentle elevation gain blends into more severe switchbacks and with the sun beating down the going becomes hard work.

Switchbacks ahead!

We reach a junction for the Tunnel Trail, but given the heat and the long drive we have ahead of us, we decide to do a shorter loop than originally planned and continue on the Juniper Canyon Trail. The Tunnel Trail will be our return. More puffing and sweating up another series of switchbacks eventually sees us on a ridge where several trails meet – there are even some bathrooms – but no shade for lunch. Here we meet a couple from Ohio who have come up from the opposite side. They oblige with a photo of us.


We take in the stunning view but don’t loiter for long, heading off to look for shade. We take the High Pinnacles Trail, marked steep and narrow (we will shortly find this to be a true characterisation!). The trail climbs a little before dropping slightly to reveal a shady nook beneath an overhanging rock. First shade all day and perfect for lunch.

Phew! Shade.

After a few minutes, another couple arrive and jokingly accuse us of stealing their shade. Well we ain’t moving. We must look bedraggled as they comment how nice it is to see folks like us (i.e. old farts) out here on the trail. True they look much fresher than us as they continue on their way around the larger loop. Somewhat, but only somewhat, refreshed we continue. No it isn’t all down hill from here. We now face the “steep and narrow” section that winds through the heart of the high peaks.

Steep .....

This is really fun and it is even a little cooler on this side. We climb over and around “pinnacles” aided by steps cut into the rock and handrails on the steeper bits. Even so, it’s a squeeze in some places.

.... and narrow

 The view to the east on this side is extensive and here, actually in the pinnacles, my expectations are more than realised. Eventually the trail does begin a downward climb and we reach the upper end of the tunnel trail. A brief descent brings us to the tunnel – some twenty yards blasted straight through the rock. An abomination really, but oh it’s so beautifully cool in here. As we re-emerge into the heat, a woman approaches from below and almost collapses into the shade of the tunnel. That makes us feel better! It must be in the 90s she gasps. She is a regular hiker here. We chat for a while and leave her resting on the floor of the tunnel.  A little farther on we meet the junction we passed on the way up and follow our original footsteps down to the canyon and the car.  We are mercifully parked in the shade. I steal a quick look at the thermometer and it is 90 degrees – in the shade. We visit the ranger station where Dee buys a postcard. I am so hot and sticky I am reluctant to touch anything and I feel as if the ranger is daring me to do so. A family enter and the distraction gives me the chance to look at a couple of books on the Pinnacles. The restrooms here are nice, allowing for a wash and change of clothes before we face our remaining four-hour drive. Just 12 miles back on the freeway the temperature is back in the seventies. Dee is reading from the park pamphlet about spring and fall being the best time to visit. On a weekend in spring it may be necessary to use the overflow parking lot – not on a weekday in July I can assure you! Nonetheless, this park ranks up among California’s best!

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | January 18, 2010

Backbone Trail – Will Rogers State Park

January 9th 2010 

Distance: 10.2 miles        Elevation gain: 1,675 ft 

Will Rogers State Park marks the beginning (or end) of the backbone trail, yet it is some years since we did this trail, mainly because of parking. However, we have joined the California State Parks Foundation, for a modest fee, and have a number of free parking passes. We park in the main parking lot and feel like royalty – to say nothing of having saved $12! There are quite a few people either returning or leaving, most probably to Inspiration Point a relatively short trip from here. There is also some sort of soccer game in progress on the polo field! 

The weather is very comfortable and the air very clear so we should have good views. We have plenty of company, from obvious hikers to those on a family outing. 

Santa Monica Bay

We avoid the steeper shortcut and take the fireroad as it ascends onto a ridge overlooking Rivas Canyon to our left and we get our first views of the sweeping Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes and Catalina Island. Inland is Century City and Downtown L.A. We can also pick out the Getty Museum perched on its ridge top below us. At the turn off to Inspiration Point we lose most of our fellow travellers and the backbone trail proper(marked by a kiosk) begins. It is now a  trail. As we continue to gain height on Rogers Ridge the view becomes more spectacular and we spend a few moments picking out peaks – Strawberry and Wilson in the front range and Baldy, Gorgonio, and Jacinto behind – several of which are snow-capped. Out in the ocean Santa Barbara Island comes into view. 

Chicken Ridge

The trail is a little rough but quite manageable and shortly we reach Chicken Ridge where the trail crosses a bridge. Here a couple of hikers are enjoying the expansive views but their presence prevents us from getting the picture we want – maybe on the return. The trail is guarded by rails for a short stretch and then evens out along the ridge. Shortly after the trail splits off to the right and descends into Rustic Canyon; we have taken that trail in the past but today continue on the backbone trail. 

Above Rivas Canyon

The trail climbs along the right slope of the canyon just below the ridge. The vegetation is a little more lush here and the grasses brush against our legs – better check for ticks. We meet a rabbit chewing on a juicy blade and he continues for a minute or two before hopping off into the undergrowth taking his succulent lunch with him. There are a few vetch and monkey flower in early bloom. In a while we reach the top of Rivas Canyon where a renown four-trunked oak sits astride a saddle overlooking upper Rustic Canyon. We settle on the tree roots, careful to avoid the ubiquitous, plump ants climbing the oak, and enjoy a cup of coffee. To the north we can see Gizmo Peak on dirt Mulholland and across Rustic Canyon Sullivan Ridge winds up towards the old Nike missile site. Apart from a few descending cyclists we enjoy the quiet. On our way again we see Temescal Ridge off to our left, but are unsure which bump is Temescal Peak. The trailside is brightened with heavy clumps of Toyon berries and the first Ceanothus is bursting into flower. As the path climbs along the ridge the view to our right opens up again across the L.A. basin and the mountain ranges beyond. At the 5 mile point we select a lunch site just before the trail steepens on its way to join Temescal Fireroad. I ascend a few more hundred yards but am rewarded with no greater view than Dee back at base camp! We are hungry and soon consume our lunch before starting on our return. Mr. rabbit is still busy chewing! 

That Oak Again!

At the oak tree we take a water break, this time sitting on the non-ant side! As we approach Chicken Ridge the trail becomes busier, more so at the Inspiration Point area. We hurry along to keep ahead of two women sharing their views with the world at large in loud piercing voices. Back at the car, we shed our packs and boots and look around the Will Rogers ranch house. We are just in time to catch the last tour of the day and spend an interesting half hour being led around the property by a docent complete with running commentary. A good end to the afternoon. 

Roger's Ranch House

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | December 22, 2009

Zuma Canyon – Santa Monica Mountains

December 20th 2009 

Distance: 3.5 miles.              Elevation gain: 400 ft 

For today’s hike we are looking for a trail we haven’t done in a while, somewhere to experience the fall colors and a fairly short route as I am nursing a head cold. Zuma Canyon should fit the bill as the creek side sycamores should be in their autumn glory, while the creek crossings should be relatively easy. We haven’t done much hiking together recently as Dee has been recovering from a twisted ankle – incurred tripping down concrete steps, not on the trail! The weather is splendid for December, and while folks on the east coast are ankle-deep in snow, we hope to be ankle-deep in fallen leaves. 

We access the trail from Bonsall Drive, just off Pacific Coast Highway. As we park we get our first view of the “horse set” – some riding, others leading their mounts. Off we go and almost immediately catch up to two ladies taking their horses for a walk – funny, I thought you took dogs for a walk, but rode horses. Despite the fact that we are moving faster than they, they do not give way and so when they turn off on the Zuma Loop Trail, we push straight on up the canyon, avoiding the risk of dung coated boots or worse.  

Zuma Canyon Trail

 We pass the turns on our right to the Ocean View and Canyon View Trails, which as the names suggest offer great views but are not on today’s itinerary. After the recent rain, the trackside is sprouting green, although the first few stream crossings are dry. 

Bermuda Buttercup

To Dee’s delight, we come across a few Bermuda Buttercups and she is able to play with the macro setting on her new camera. As we go deeper into the canyon, the sycamores are even more striking than we anticipated. After a couple of boulder hopping creek crossings we reach the end of the trail. 

Creek Crossing

We progress just a little farther upstream and find a rock for lunch (to sit on, not to eat). The yellow leaves, trickling stream and gurgling mini waterfalls make this an idyllic spot and we stay a while. 

Lunch Spot

On our return we branch off on the Zuma Loop Trail, which climbs part way up the canyon side to reveal ocean views of Catalina and the Palos Verdes Peninsular. Below us we can see the creek outlined by the sycamores as it follows the canyon floor.

Among the Sycamores

Above us we can hear the clatter of stones on metal as some cyclists on the Zuma Ridge Trail amuse themselves by throwing rocks down the water drainage channels. As we descend back to the Zuma Canyon Trail we see our first coast paintbrush of the season and meet two more horses with riders mounted. One is shouting at a pair of cyclists (who are not supposed to be in here) – go for it lady! Soon we are back at the car. Here is a horse-box, containing a horse! It is decidedly unhappy about being left here while its fellows are out enjoying the canyon. It bangs listlessly against the side of its prison and we hope it doesn’t hurt itself.

Autumn in Zuma Canyon

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | November 10, 2009

Mt. Baden Powell – San Gabriel Mountains

October 15th 2009TOPO!map

Distance 8.1 miles    elevation gain 2,825 ft

Other than Mt. Baldy, this is reported to be the most popular peak in the San Gabriel Mountains and should give our visitors (Dee’s sister Vanessa and her husband Keith) a real sense of the range and some great views. This is a hike that was originally scheduled for yesterday – but it rained, much to the disgust of our U.K. guests. Today we expect fair skies and the rain should have cleared the air. I had intended to approach the trailhead from the west along the Angeles Crest Highway, but it is closed due to the recent fires and we will need to go around the back of the range and then east on the Angeles Crest. I check the Caltrans website early in the morning and confirm that the 2 is indeed closed from La Canada to the Islip Saddle because of the Station Fire. Of more concern, it also reports it to be closed from Islip Saddle to 6 miles west of Big Pines by rock and mud slides. Our trailhead is 4.5 miles west of Big Pines. I check to make sure there is an alternative hike in the Wrightwood area (the Pacific Crest Trail) and decide to go for it, keeping the road update to myself.

Off we go in the morning mist on our two-hour, 125 mile drive! The traffic is reasonable and we make good time. The sun comes through and it looks like perfect weather. To us the scenery is boring, but it gives our visitors an idea of the desert terrain and the less developed side of the San Gabriels, a distinct contrast to the urban jungle on the south side.

We leave the desert floor and climb up into the mountains. Just beyond Wrightwood is a sign announcing a road closure ahead! We reach the trail  parking area at Vincent gap and right there, not ten yards beyond, the road is closed. We have just made it. I am somewhat relieved – I would have felt a real idiot if we couldn’t get in after two hours in the car!

E Mt. Baden- Powell (39)

Just made it!

Vanessa has neglected to bring hiking boots with her from England and is wearing a pair of Dee’s. These are leather and Dee has hardly worn them herself i.e. they are not broken in. Largely at my insistence she has brought a pair of trainers as back up – Keith and I each have one shoe in our packs! Off we go.

E Mt. Baden- Powell

Off we go.

Our journey back from England, the pressure of our daughter’s wedding, much time spent in the car, late nights and vast amounts of alcohol are finally catching up with us. Dee gasps in the thin air and I have her lead so she can control the pace. After the first few switchbacks she sets a nice steady pace and seems to have plenty of breath available to chat with her sister! The multitude of photo-ops also ensures that we have ample time to get our breath back. I read somewhere that there are 41 switchbacks and Keith and I debate whether a zig and a zag is required to make up one switchback or, as we hope, that counts as two.

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A short break.

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Half Way.

The gradient is not steep but relentless with almost no respite. It is quite warm – and what did I insist we bring – hot coffee. That’s going to be as appropriate as the waterproofs I am hauling in my pack. Having said that, the coffee I have at approximately the half way point does give me a caffeine shot and I feel temporarily rejuvenated. As we progress up through the wooded mountainside past the turn to Lamel Spring (the only water source) I glance at Vanessa’s feet but decide not to tempt fate by asking if the boots are comfortable. It occurs to me that the girls, with their shorter stride, will need significantly more steps to reach our destination. This may be offset by heavier body weight (and the extra shoe) Keith and I are carrying. E Mt. Baden- Powell (9)The trees change as we gain height and through gaps we can see the surrounding peaks and rock walls and behind us the huge expanse of this end of the Mojave Desert. At about 9,000 feet, just as my usual altitude headache starts to penetrate my skull, we reach the first of the gnarled limber pines. These are reported to be up to 2,000 years old – almost as old as we’ll feel by the time we reach the top.

E Mt. Baden- Powell (10)

The Ridge.

Then as with so many hikes in these mountains, we break out in the open on a ridge and the views immediately may the whole thing worthwhile. We can see Mt. Baldy in the near distance. At the end of the ridge we come to the Wally Waldron limber pine – a magnificent exposed specimen named after a boy scout leader.

E Mt. Baden- Powell (33)

Mt. Baldy

Here the Pacific Crest Trail branches off to Little Jimmy Spring but we make the final ascent to the 9,399 ft summit.

E Mt. Baden- Powell (19)

The Desert Floor Below.

There is a monument to Baden Powell, but it is the scenery that gains our attention – as well as the Mojave and Baldy we can see the southern end of the Sierras, Mt. San Gorgonio and San Jacinto. Nearer at hand is the Hawkins Ridge and peeping through the mist are Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes Peninsular. Cameras overheat with activity but eventually we settle down just off the peak for lunch. Several pairs of Clark’s Nutcrackers flit around the sparse trees and we linger for quite a while. First I and then Keith stroll around to take in more views.

E Mt. Baden- Powell (32)

Catalina Behind Us.

A couple of men arrive at the peak and we exchange pleasantries. As we leave we enlist their help for a group picture. It appears that one of them was on San Gorgonio a few weeks earlier at approximately the same time as me, they have been to the Brecon Beacons in Wales and were recently in the Mt. Shasta area – coincidences abound!

We descend exhilarated and rewarded. The way down is relatively uneventful but enjoyable. As we lose altitude the talk turns to dinner. I do wish people wouldn’t talk about food and drink when there is none available for miles. I will have a mirage of a cool beer before me, but  just out of reach, for the rest of the hike! We reach the car and we are all glad to take off our boots. Maybe I’ll get that beer soon!

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | November 9, 2009

Piedra Blanca – Sespe Wilderness

October 11th 2009TOPO!map

Distance 5.5 miles    Elevation gain 900 ft.

We have Dee’s sister Vanessa, her husband Keith, and my nephew Andrew staying with us and at relatively short notice decide to do this trail. It is some years since we last hiked it and I have not done my usual homework on the route, but I take a hiking book with us. Dee has a slight ulterior motive in suggesting this trail as she wants to show Vanessa around Ojai. Andrew has a large rental car and graciously agrees to drive.

We turn off highway 33 north of Ojai on Rose Valley Road and wind our way up the mountainside before dropping down to Lion Campground. We can already see the Peidra Blanca (white stone) formation in the middle distance to the north. We reach the parking lot and spend a few minutes reading the information at the trailhead kiosk. The trailhead is well-marked but the trail appears to go east and according to the kiosk map that will take us on a trail to along Sespe Creek to Oak Flat and beyond. I am confused and do not remember this at all. It seems we should be crossing the dry bed of Sespe Creek. We search in vain for another trailhead. Andrew meanwhile takes the obvious signed trail and as we follow him it becomes apparent that this quickly veers north and crosses the creek. The old adage that if all else fails, follow the instructions applies here. In my defense it does seem that the trail has been rerouted since our last visit. In fact I believe the parking area was closed on that occasion and we had to hike in an extra mile.

N Pierdra Blanca

Above Sespe Creek

We soon reach a signed junction indicating that we should indeed take the left fork and continue north for Piedra Blanca. It’s quite warm and we toil uphill for a little way until we reach the rocks. Vanessa is wearing a rather fetching head garment to protect herself from the sun – it reminds me a little of Yasser Arafat’s but she claims, more appropriately, to be Princess someone or other. It is very functional at any rate.

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Piedra Banca

The white (sand)stone formation is very impressive – hard to believe their marine origin in this wilderness. We decide to push on leaving rock scrambling for the return.

N Pierdra Blanca (10)

Crossing the "stones".

We climb up and around the outcrop before descending on the back side and following Piedra Blanca Creek up the canyon. The creek side is almost lush compared to the barren rocks we have left behind. There is an occasional winter fuchsia in bloom and there is water in the creek. Unfortunately there is also plenty of poison oak!

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Heading up the canyon.

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Princess Vanessa

My objective is lunch at Piedra Blanca Camp, but it seems much farther than I remember. We reach a side path towards the creek and take this as I try to convince myself that this is the camp site. I’m not sure where you would pitch a tent, but there are several cans in the undergrowth! We have lunch. Not convinced that this is the camp site I suggest we continue a little farther down the main trail. I now have the bit between my teeth and am determined to find a more obvious camping area. The girls decide to wait, while Keith, Andrew and I venture on. After about another half mile we find another turn towards the creek where there are more obvious tent sites and fire rings. Satisfied we return to join Dee and Vanessa. (As it turns out we had not reached Piedra Blanca Campground as marked on the map!). We make our way back to the white rocks and enjoy a little scrambling to take in the views. N Pierdra Blanca (6)Despite my lack of preparation (I could have studied the trailhead map more carefully and could have entered the Piedra Blanca camp coordinates in my GPS), we have enjoyed our visit to the Sespe Wilderness. We do stop at Ojai on the return but, this being Sunday, the majority of the shops are now closed and a couple of Dee’s favorites appear to no longer exist. We drive back through Santa Paula and Moorpark to show off the avocado and citrus groves.

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | November 4, 2009

Pen Y Fan – Breacon Beacons, South Wales

September 9th 2009

Distance: 7.0 miles         Elevation Gain: 2,340 ft.

We are staying in a cottage in South Wales belonging to Deirdre’s sister. Today we are going to retrace steps from Deirdre’s childhood and our early years together. Two weeks ago I climbed the highest mountain in Southern California, and today will be the highest mountain in South Wales – slight difference in elevation; 11,499 ft versus just 2,896 ft! The Brecon Beacons are near Deirdre’s childhood home in Merthyr Tydfil and we are both delighted to have the opportunity to revisit and anxious to see how the degree of difficulty compares to the Santa Monica Mountains.

We approach from the north via the town of Brecon. This will be a route neither of us has done before. The weather is excellent and it should prove to be a great adventure. From Brecon the approach roads are very narrow and winding – I manage to drive on the left but if anyone is coming the other way passing is going to be extremely difficult. However, we arrive at the trail head unscathed. Somewhat to our surprise there are several other cars in the parking area, which was an old army camp. Even here, the green hillsides stretch before us and we join the grazing sheep as we follow a faint path across heathland. We can see the more defined trail ahead. The mountains are of red sandstone and where the path is more worn we can follow what looks like  a red brick road – the sandstone breaking away in slabs to provide a rough staircase. We start a gentle ascent up this rocky path towards a ridge, Cefn Cwm-llwch, that connects Allt Ddu on our left with Pen Y Fan out of sight ahead of us. About halfway up to the ridge we pass another couple taking a breather. Although Deirdre seems to find the climb hard we are making good progress.

The Peaks from Cefn Cwm-llwch

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 Once we reach the ridge we can see the peaks ahead. The grade is now more gentle and the views in all directions are magnificent. We can see people on Cribyn to our left and Pen Y Fan and Corn Du ahead. As we near the top, the going gets steeper and the green carpet covering overlaying the hills runs out in places almost as though nature ran out of material. The ground underfoot is broken rock, sheered off in slate like pieces. The drop offs are dramatic with the sheer cliffs dropping into deep valleys (cwms) divided by ridges. We pass another couple just before the final climb and yet another before the peak – we are going nicely!

The final ascent

The final ascent

Summit of Pen Y Fan

Summit of Pen Y Fan

I reach the top first – 2,907 ft. There is a final scramble and there over a rock band is the cairn summit – and a dozen or more people. I take some pictures of Deirdre as she scrambles up to join me. She can pick out the reservoirs and other landmarks from her childhood memories and seems exhilarated by the experience. We enlist another walker to take a summit picture. In the near distance we can see numerous folks approaching by the shorter route from the Storey Arms to the south. Too many for us to lunch so we start down towards Corn Ddu to the west and move a little off the path out of the wind.

Summit of Corn Du

Summit of Corn Du

 Refreshed we complete the short climb back up to Corn Du – Pen Y Fan’s sister, though lower, peak at 2,683 ft. There are more people here too but we content ourselves with individual peak bagging poses. Below us to the north is another cwm with a cirque lake by the name of Llyn Cwm Llwch (or plink ‘n plonk as I call it, my Welsh not being too good).

Llyn Cwm-Llwch and the way back

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 We descend around the rim of Cwm Llwch glad of the jackets we have doned as the wind blows through here. Shortly we reach an obelisk immortalizing a small boy who went missing in 1900 and whose body was found here. Our trail branches off and we descend towards Llyn Cwm Llwch and skirt around to follow the path into the valley.



Here long looks backwards reward us with the profile of the two peaks. The ground underfoot is once again springy grass and we reach civilization at a cottage at Cwm-llwch. Here there is a bubbling stream and we are sorry to join a paved lane just beyond a parking area giving access to the Beacons from this direction. We now have to follow lanes back to the car and although we would otherwise find this pleasant it is a bit of a drag at the end of a great day’s outing. Back at the car we remeet two of the couples whom we have seen at various points during the day. Back to the cottage for tea and cake!

Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | October 26, 2009

Nicholas Flat – Leo Carrillo State Park

TOPO!mapAugust 15th 2009

Distance: 8.3 miles.             Elevation gain: 2,100 ft.

Although the forecast is for slightly lower temperatures we again select a hike starting at the ocean. We park on Pacific Coast Highway at Leo Carrillo State Beach and risk life and limb crossing the highway to reach the pay parking lot where the trail begins. Except that we can’t seem to find the trail head and wander around the camp site. Eventually I swallow my pride and ask the ranger at the pay kiosk. He points out the trailhead, confusingly labelled as the trail to Camp 13? This appears to be a new trail with handicapped access. However, after a few yards we reach the sign for Nicholas Flat. I know we need to take the left hand trail if we are to do a loop. Of course, the trail I select turns out to be the one to Camp 13 and returns to the camp site in half a mile. Dee is not pleased. Also there is no marine layer cover today and the sun is coming out! We retrace our steps and select the correct trail which climbs steadily uphill above the very extensive (and full) campground for about a mile and 500 ft to a junction.

Finally on our (correct) way.

Finally on our (correct) way.

Dee waits while I climb a short distance to a view-point. A man descends as I ascend and at the top a couple resting, the man looking decidedly the worse for wear! I rejoin Dee and we take the left fork in the trail. We will take the right fork on our return. I watch the gentleman coming down from the view-point behind. I hope he is returning and not venturing further! The trail climbs an additional 1,100 ft in the next mile and a half. It’s not particularly hot as there is some very thin cloud cover but it is humid and Dee is struggling a little today. We rest on some rocks and refresh.

Nice spot for a break.

Nice spot for a break.

 She decides to struggle on. We soon come across the man I met earlier, he has removed his shirt and is also taking a break. He seems a little embarrassed and quickly puts on his shirt and after a brief exchange we allow him to go ahead. We don’t really understand what he says – must be foreign! We reach our high point and then descend into Nicholas Flat.

Descent to Nicholas Flat

Descent to Nicholas Flat

There are three cyclists here who appear uncertain which way to go and keep getting in our way. We take a short cut through to the pond – plenty of water here. We usually eat lunch on a rocky outcrop that overlooks both the pond and the canyon below. We can hear voices from what sounds like a significant crowd but are surprised to find just two girls atop. I wish them good day and they ask if we have come all the way from England. In the spirit of the conversation, I reply yes, 30 years ago. We are rather slow hikers. Jokes over we relax and have lunch.



We skirt around the pond doing a mini loop to rejoin our trail.

The pond.

The pond.

It’s much easier going down and Dee is now over her difficulties. I take a slight diversion to climb a hill. We stop at the same set of rocks as on the way up and take the alternative trail around the hill back to the car. The ocean views are good.

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