Monday, June 11, 2018

Calling the Angeles National Forest Home

We've been calling Pasadena home for just over five years now.  Even though neither of us had imagined ourselves tucked way up in northeast corner of LA, it's been a total blessing to be where we are and we've never run out of things to do.  There's always the tupperware aisle at TJ Maxx, and the clearance section at Crate & Barrel, you know what I mean?  I wish I were kidding... Anyway, aside from cooking an array of new things at home and trying all sorts of underrated restaurants north of the 210 freeway, we'd spend a few hours hiking in nearby places every so often.  We would occasionally do a small hike (and feel very good about ourselves) to Eaton Canyon, Echo Mountain, or Sturtevant Falls, bringing banh mi and summer rolls or bagel sandwiches with us.

Even though that technically counted as being in the Angeles National Forest, we realize now that those highly trafficked trails barely even scratch the surface of what our surrounding wilderness had to offer.  It happened really quickly, but we started going deeper and higher.  When Wes wanted to buy trekking poles and the Forest Adventure Annual Pass last June, I knew that the itch was getting real.  We started going farther, higher, and deeper into the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains than we ever imagined we would.

With so many underrated campgrounds directly in our immediate area, we could always entertain the possibility of camping over the weekend with very little planning involved.  We've also enjoyed some fun cooking adventures (and mishaps).  Most people probably don't mind eating cup noodles or freeze dried food packets while "roughing it," but we always plan to cook something hearty at camp, even if it means carrying a heavier load in (we have packed in and packed out many a pasta jar, can of beans, or whole onion).  There ain't no fancy sous vide machine or air fryer out there, but we've made delicious food with a campfire, a pocket rocket, or a little portable gas stove.  For us, food is always half the fun wherever we go.

Chili at Chilao Campground (drive-in)

Brussels sprouts over the campfire and pasta in the pot with the pocket rocket

Reheated Thanksgiving leftovers which we had vacuum sealed and frozen the night before

Hanging the bear bag - annoying for me but I think he finds it fun

Several pounds of edibles that we carried for 5 miles to Spruce Grove Campground

Canned sardines, our favorite source of backpacking protein!

According to the Internet:  the Angeles National Forest covers over 650,000 acres and is the backyard playground to the huge metropolitan area of Los Angeles. The land and terrain within the Forest are much more diverse than what is perceived from the street level.  Much of the Forest is covered with dense chaparral which changes to pine and fir-covered slopes as you reach the majestic peaks of the higher elevations.  Elevations range from 1,200 to 10,064 feet.

 Echo Mountain - 3,205 feet

Inspiration Point - 4,714 feet

Mt. Wilson - 5,710 feet

Mt. Waterman - 8,038 feet

We vividly remember getting up to Inspiration Point for the first time ever and it was hailing!  This did the opposite of deterring us - it was exhilarating!  We were so amazed that it could literally be hailing so close to home.  Going beyond the usual stopping points and staying out through the night has opened our eyes to awesome plants, waterfalls, creeks, historic places, and critters that we hadn't known about.  Also, it was insanely liberating to be two of the only bums around.  There have been many defining (a.k.a. character-building / bonding) moments on the high trails: unexpected weather, reaching a new height, seeing a wild animal, meeting inspiring people, making an actual fire, enclosed tent farts (with the rain fly zipped), etc.

So this long overdue blog post is an ode to the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains.  I've been bad about getting together all of our pictures and writing things down for the past year - ironically, it's really because we've been busy doing what's in the photos rather than sitting at the computer!  Finally, here is a somewhat massive collection of the past year's worth of photos from all four seasons in our beloved Angeles National Forest!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Urubamba, Peru

Not going to lie, I was very doubtful of the soundness of my decision to book a few nights in Urubamba earlier on.  As we rode away from the bright and cheery city of Cusco into the dust, my apprehensions were confirmed when our driver mysteriously got pulled over by two policemen.  It was entirely too easy to fall in love with cutesy Cusco, but Urubamba was a place that we had to figure out.  Maybe it wasn't quite as raw and rugged as the wilderness where we were trekking, but we had nobody to lean on this time around.  Soon, though, we realized that the rhythm of life here is just as real as it gets.  It's a small town.  There were no coffeeshops, English menus, or people dressed in traditional garb walking around the plaza with llamas like Disney characters asking you to pay to get your snapshots.  We drank chicha in somebody's house, not in a picanterĂ­a.  We stayed at a quinta with Peruvian families, not a hostel with young globetrotters.  We ate food that was cooked using methods passed down for centuries, flavors intact, untouched by Westernization or mass production.  We actually didn't meet any other tourists here - it is always fun to talk to other tourists about their travels or about their countries of origin, but for these few days in Urubamba, we were talking only to people who live here (thank goodness I speak some Spanish).  Some people came from different parts of the world and found their hearts at peace here, building a new life off the beaten track.  Others are native to this land and follow the same traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation.  Everyone showed us through their beliefs and warmheartedness that they are extremely proud to call this place home.

Known as the "Sacred Valley," the Urubamba Valley was formed by the Vilcanota River, which was (and still is) worshipped as the wellspring of life by its inhabitants.  But we think that it's the inhabitants themselves who make this valley sacred and special.  We didn't know what to expect, coming way out here for a few nights, but we left feeling that we had been touched by the true spirit of Peru.  People were kind, and not just pleasant and polite, but so eager to share and wanting to include us.  There weren't a lot of foreigners around, so maybe people were excited to have us, even if we were just a pair of sorely clueless foreigners.  Here, we never got the sense that we were being looked down upon, or looked up to, or treated with any kind of bias or reservation.  It was amazingly easy to bond with people, even though my Spanish was not good.  It's no wonder that people from different parts of the world fall in love with Urubamba and settle down here.  I wonder if people all come back from the Sacred Valley in Peru still dreaming about it at night or secretly making plans to move out there to start life afresh.  We did, for a little bit.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Feeling Young Climbing "The Old Woman" in Joshua Tree

It was a crisp December day and winter break had just started for me.  Christmas was just two days away and I was looking most forward to spending time with my family this year.  We planned no trips, so that we could be ready to do anything on a moment's notice.  So... when my sister suggested rock climbing in Joshua Tree the day after my brother's return from Mississippi, we were all up for it.

Alas, my brother's flight ended up arriving at 2:15 AM due to a delay and we were planning on leaving at 7:00 that day.  We didn't let that stop us, though.  Despite having only slept three or four hours each, we all dragged ourselves out the door and two hours down the highway bright and early.  We were probably all delirious from lack of sleep, but it was so worth it.  I thought that it was lots of fun clambering over boulders and watching the pros scale these huge cliff faces... until I put a helmet on my head and clipped into a harness.  I didn't think that I'd make it very far, but we were all surprised that I actually inched myself all the way up to the top of "The Old Woman."  It was a grueling slog up a long, vertical crack, involving fist and hand jamming and a LOT of deep breathing.  The official name of this route is called the Double Cross, and I can proudly say that I conquered it on my first outdoor climb ever!

Wes wasn't able to try climbing, but he avidly documented the day's events in these photos.  We stayed out until the sun set and really had a good time with my sister's friends, who were all like monkeys on these walls.  I am so grateful that she invited us along and so in awe of what climbers can do when they are released outdoors.  I am also grateful for the perspective that I gained from this climb--literally (it was a grand view from up there!) and figuratively.