Monday, December 11, 2017

Big Santa Anita Canyon Thanksgiving

Got leftovers?  We did, and we had some big plans for them.  We decided to go backpacking after Thanksgiving to burn off the feast and just to ditch the Black Friday madness and get some much-needed time to ourselves.   Just the week prior, we were hiking in the Big Santa Anita Canyon (Chantry Flat) area and came upon the Spruce Grove Campground.  It was so perfect-looking, with a leafy orange carpet and a canopy of evergreen spruce branches, a creek running to the left and hiking trail to the right.  Apparently, you don't need a permit to camp here at all.  Since we had everything that we needed for backpacking already (thanks to Wes's research and deal-hunting skills), we immediately planned to head over here ASAP.   It was very exciting for us because not only was this going to be our first extended backpacking trip, but also a good opportunity to enter in this Outdoor Research contest that I found out about...

For the contest, all you had to do was take a picture of your leftovers in an outdoorsy situation and post it on Instagram with the hashtags: #leftovers, and #optoutside.  They pick twenty winners to receive a free Outdoor Research active hoodie.  I really didn't need another hoodie, but the contest sounded easy enough - we always take photos of our food during our hikes anyway, so I made Wes get on board with this (it took a little convincing).  Yeah, I felt like a bit of a sellout entering a contest, but why not give it a try if it's something that is up my alley already?  So the night before, we had vacuum sealed and frozen our Thanksgiving leftovers and even some pumpkin pie (which didn't collapse because it was already frozen).  Wes stuck a water bottle into the freezer to use as a small ice pack, which was smart because it also served as yet another water resource after it melted. 

The best part of this trip into the Big Santa Anita Canyon was stumbling upon a group of people who not only shared their leftovers with us, but also their perspectives on our many common interests.  Quickly after we all sat down together and introduced ourselves, there was much name-calling, finger-pointing, and table-slapping good humor.  We talked about lots of things, but they told us so much about their adventures as experienced backpackers who have been doing it long "before it was cool," and it was great to have some stories from our own encounters around the world to share too.  It was great to meet likeminded people who are from the generation before our own - truly serendipitous and not taken for granted.

So on Saturday morning, we woke up at 6:00 and threw our last things into the packs, filled the water reservoirs, hit up the coffee shop and then the bagel shop.  It was already past 7 and we wanted to get there early in case other backpackers wanted campsites too.

We're lucky that we live so close to the Angeles National Forest.  We arrived at the Chantry Flats area in twenty minutes and parked on the roadside not too far from the lot.  On went the backpacks and we were off into the woods. It was beautiful, just as nice as last weekend. The leaves were all golden and we could hear the stream flowing, squirrels making weird noises, and birds flapping. We knew there were bears too so we had a bear bag this time, since our leftovers were with us.

The Lower Trail beneath the trees is the way to go, to see all the pretty Fall colors!

It didn’t take us long to get to Spruce Grove (just 3.5 miles in), and it was empty save for one other tent! Yay! 

We set up and Wes dangled up the bear bag with our precious leftovers.  

Opened the bagels (they're from Goldstein's in Arcadia) and ate them up- they were not soggy!  Then we got ready to go on another hike up to Mt. Wilson from the campground.

We walked about 10 minutes along the trail and were surprised to come abruptly upon a community of cabins.  It was the historic Sturtevant Camp, an old-timey mini-resort that is now owned by the Friends of the San Gabriels non-profit group.  At the turn of the century, this was a much more established resort where "ladies in long dresses and gents in coats hiked or rode into camp and then danced the night away" (stated in their brochure).  Apparently, there were five of these resorts throughout the Big Santa Anita Canyon, but this is the only one that remains.  We've seen the ruins of another one on our frequent hikes to Echo Mountain.

As we poked our heads into the old ranger station and the honeymoon cottage, we were greeted by Brad, a super cool guy who has been a dedicated outdoorsman for decades.  He actually lives near Sequoia National Park and runs a BNB there, but was staying here for six weeks as a volunteer to watch the camp and to host the guests.  Yup, these cabins are totally bookable and there's a few awesome amenities, like a zip line, volleyball, badminton, ping-pong, horseshoes, games, a big swing, archery course, and of course, the creek.  They provide water, coffee, tea, charcoal, firewood, and there's a communal kitchen in the main cabin that you could cook in.  Brad told us that he was making a bunch of Thanksgiving leftovers with his friends later this evening and invited us to join.  

We came down from the hike a bit before reaching Mt. Wilson's peak because I guess we had spent too much time chatting with Brad and checking out the old cabins at the camp, but we still got to see some stunning views.  It got dark real quick on the descent - good thing we had headlamps, but we were thinking about the bears... we made it to Brad's cabin right around 5:30 PM and his little group of four was just about to start eating.  

Look at that vintage Wolf range! It was really fun to pile scoops upon scoops of the various casseroles and dried out meats onto our plates, grabbing utensils and cups from the shelves and making ourselves hot tea, and poking at the FOUR pies that were left. The others were having alcohol, but we politely declined. We still had a bit of hiking left to get back to our campsite, where our own leftovers were waiting for us. It was hard to hold back and not get totally full here though! I focused mostly on the cornbread and stuffing: two things that Wes despises and does not ever let me make. As for Wes, he was excited to see a cheese platter (because cheese disgusts me and so I don't let him keep any around the apartment). Then we sat down at these kitschy Thanksgiving-decorated tables by the wood burning stove and felt the coziest we've ever felt on a camping trip (besides that time that we watched Thor: Ragnarok in the Bishop movie theater at 9:30 PM just to avoid sitting in a cold tent, but that doesn't really count).

Brad's friends were some really funny and inspiring people who love to backpack and who also live in the San Gabriel area.  Kevin works for the forest service, Lily is a physical therapist, and Cam is a foodie who created the Mojoe Griddle, a three-foot steel griddle pan designed specifically for camp cooking.  Obviously, we had a million conversation topics to talk about.  They are all much older than we are, so they had tons of stories of the various places in the world that they'd gone backpacking or offroading, but they seem to agree that the Sierras in California are the most beautiful after having seen so much.  We were just in Big Pine hiking in the Sierras, and snowboarding season is coming up soon, so we'll be back soon enough.  Now we know that we really need to take advantage of living here and go more.

They were telling us all about how things weren't as easy as they are now in terms of backpacking, but it appears that there's always been a niche group of people that will do anything to walk, eat, and sleep in nature.  The "canyon life" is what they call it here.  Lily even brought out her old (but totally functional) Kelty backpack to show us what they looked like "back then," with the external frame and all.  It was funny how they bashed on all of these new brands that make stuff and how people rely so heavily on technology and nicer vehicles to get around now.  It looked to me like they will never lose that burning fire for adventure in the outdoors.

At around 7:30, we said good-bye to everyone and got our packs back on.  We had some more leftovers to attend to!  All we had to do was take the food out of the bear bag, boil up some water with the pocket rocket, and toss our vacuum sealed bags into the pot to reheat.  Wes had prepared all of the dishes and utensils.  It was not too cold out and it was so quiet here at the campsite - there was still just us and one other couple, and they were farther away.  We were still sort of amazed that we had just met Brad, Cam, Kevin, and Lily, and that we had hit it off so well. 

Our leftovers tasted super good.  Sorry, but our air-fried turkey and honey baked ham was way better than the one that they had up in Sturtevant Camp!  For the record, Brad and friends did not make any of that food - it had been left there by a giant group of people who had rented out the cabins on Thursday.  I don't think they were going gourmet anyway.  Wes was saying how that random dinner would have been the best camping meal ever if we hadn't actually packed our own bomb leftovers to heat up.

We took a few more photos of our food to submit to the Outdoor Research contest.  After we got back home, we looked through our photos and picked these two:

Aaaand... my entry won!!!!  It was insane.  Out of 1,200 entries on Instagram, they chose 20.  I wish that Wes's had been chosen too, but hell, we were both blown away that we actually scored a free hoodie!  In a few days it'll come in the mail: the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie in Atlantis Blue.  Shoot.  Haha.

Winning was just the icing on the cake to an amazing weekend in the Big Santa Anita Canyon, though.  There were so many unexpected surprises that made us feel so fortunate and thankful.  We will try to go to Spruce Grove again within the next six weeks to see if we can hang out with Brad again!  Hopefully in the future, we can have as many stories and journeys under our belts as our new friends.  And we do hope that we will run into all of them again in this "neck of the woods"!

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