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!


Springtime back here can feel like a fairy land.  Creeks and waterfalls are flowing, birds are singing, and colorful flowers bloom quietly along the trails.  I used to think that we needed to travel far to see lots of greenery, but nope!  Just look at how beautiful the ivy and oak leaves are at the bottom of Chantry Flats.  I can never get over how lush it is in the Santa Anita Canyon at this time of year.

It's a deer!  We saw so many.

On this particular day, the clouds hung low and we were walking in mist by the time we had reached the four-mile mark on the Sturtevant Trail.  The precipitation hanging in the air was cool and wet, and made everything look magical and mysterious.  The weather was not bad at all though, so we set up camp at Spruce Grove that day before continuing our hike up to the top of Mt. Wilson.  With the steep elevation gain, we transcended the foggy layer and popped out through it, standing above the clouds with bright blue skies above.  I was really surprised!

Apparently, long before it was a hiking destination, Mt. Wilson was known for quite an incredible history of astronomical research.  These observatories are still functional today, but at one point were some of the largest in the world.


Over the summer last year, we found that going on night hikes was the best way to escape the heat of the sun.  Summer nights in Pasadena are very comfortable, but most people don't seem to hike after dark, so we essentially had the top of Echo Mountain to ourselves whenever we did this.  We would start at around 6 PM and bring a simple dinner up with us and eat it on the cracking old foundation of the long-gone hotel that was destroyed by a fire in 1905, while watching some of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen.  Then, we'd make the descent in pitch blackness, using our head lamps to light the way.  The Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain is a relatively short trail and is easy to follow and mostly exposed, so it works really well as a nighttime hike.  Gotta watch out for the rattlesnakes and scorpions though, because they totally exist... we've got the pictures to prove it.  There may very well be ghosts up at the ruins, too.  Who knows?


Sometime last September was when we discovered what is now our favorite place to camp, Spruce Grove Campground.  Seeing how peaceful and secluded it was, with just eight sites surrounded by crinkly-crisp golden foliage, was part of what inspired us to get into backpacking.  I never knew that we could see Fall colors like this so close to home, and it was just the biggest feast for the eyes--as big as the feast for our bellies that we indulged in with some truly gracious and funny people whom we met from the Forest Service and Friends of the San Gabriels group.  Mountain hospitality is a real thing, and it made us feel all the more grateful and indebted to our neighborhood mountain range.



In January of this year, Wes was curious about what it would look like at Mt. Waterman, which is a farther drive out of Pasadena and deeper into the mountains, following the Angeles Crest Highway.  On the rare occasion that there is enough snowfall, the little ski resort up there opens.  We knew there wouldn't be much snow this time, but we got to see patches of it, and some frost and ice.  Not bad for less than an hour drive out of Pasadena!

So earlier this year, I got this custom sign made by Wildcraft Collective (on Etsy) to commemorate our new love for camping and everything it encapsulates: the outdoor cooking, the extended hikes, the animal encounters, the photo ops.  Admittedly, I was supposed to get this sign for Christmas but I didn't order it early enough, heh.  I held onto the sign for a little while, waiting for a good opportunity to give it to Wes.  I gave it to him right when we got home from that frosty hike!

These kinds of weekend excursions go by quickly and it's too easy to take them for granted and move on to the next thing, but I know that we will look back on these carefree, able-bodied times fondly.  Wherever life takes us, we will always be able to call a corner of the Angeles National Forest home, as long as we've got a tent and a tin of sardines.

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