Friday, June 22, 2018

Backpacking at Cottonwood Lakes

We wondered if something was a little bit off when we were booking permits for Cottonwood Lakes online.  Why were there so many reservations available for a popular weekend like Memorial Day?  Was it not fully booked out because it isn't as scenic or spectacular as other parts of the Sierra?  Maybe it's still too cold this time of year to go backpacking?  It was sort of unsettling, but we wouldn't be alone... it appeared that eight other idiots booked on the same day for the same general area.  We'd been looking forward to going back up the 395 for months, after waiting out the awkward time in between when the snow is good for snowboarding and bad for backpacking.  This would be our first long-awaited backpacking trip into the Sierra of the season.

Well, the days were drawing nearer and I started doing some research about Cottonwood Lakes.  It seemed like not too hard of a hike to get to the first or second lake and there was a large campground at the trailhead that we could try to grab a spot at the night before.  So, we could set up camp at Lake #1 or Lake #2 and then keep exploring the rest of the five lakes from there.  Wes kept his eye on the weather (which we soon learned really doesn't matter because it fluctuates on an hourly basis in the mountains).  After work on Friday, we went to REI to buy some things that I never thought I'd ever want to have anything to do with: freeze-dried instant meals and bear spray.  Also, I considered a female urination tube in case the weather was bad enough that I'd have to pee inside of our tent, but decided that it would be unnecessary (and disgusting).  We packed our backpacks, but not before we procrastinated just a little bit and stuck our many random stickers on our ice chest.  By Saturday morning, we were sort of sleepy but ready to roll.

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!