Jaunts With Jackie

Fill your life with adventure. Have stories to tell and not things.

Category: Hiking

Poppy Fever & Waterfalls

Southern California has received a significant amount of rain this winter and as a result there is  a “Super Bloom” happening and lots of water in our local falls.  The poppies are looking amazing. The hills are a lush green and in some spots they are carpeted with poppies.

When the sun is out you can see them glowing a brilliant orange from the freeway. You can get up close and personal with the poppies in Lake Elsinore at Walker Canyon Ecological Reserve.

The land is owned by the preserve, but there is a 4 miles loop that you can walk around and see an amazing display of spring flowers. It seems that most of Southern California is trying to talk selfies with the poppies. If you visit on the weekend, I suggest you go early and bring plenty of patience. Exit at Lake St. off of the 15 Freeway and head towards the poppies. You can park along the side of the rode in either direction. The city of Lake Elsinore has put out a few porta-potties and trash cans. The first part of the trail is a little steep, but we saw ladies in sundresses and fancy shoes heading up along with several people with canes and one man with a walker. The further you walk up the trail the less people you will see.

A Common FIddlehead

We wanted to see the poppies up close, but soon realised there is a variety of different flowers to enjoy as well. It was partly cloudy the day that we went, so we spent some time waiting for the sun to poke out from the clouds. To get the full effect you should try and go on a sunny day. Poppies only open up when it’s sunny. 

Look closely to see the flowers close to the ground.

Hiking San Juan Loop

After walking around and enjoying the flowers we decided to leave and try and hike to a nearby waterfall. When we got to the car it was a complete zoo. There were people parked on both sides of the rode for over 1/2 mile. Again, go early. We drove up Lake to Ortega Highway. It is about 15 miles from the poppies to the parking lot for Ortega Falls. There is a parking lot across the street from the Candy Store. This is part of the Cleveland National Forest so you need to display your adventure pass. If you didn’t bring one they sell them at the candy store for $5.00. To reach Ortega Falls you start out on Old San Juan Loop. It is only .3 miles to the top of the falls.

Ortega Falls

We only stayed up top, because the water was roaring and muddy. It was too cold for us to make our way down to the bottom and playing in the water. We decided we would continue on the trail and head to Chiquito Falls.

A little plant growing on a rock.

This is as close to the water as we got.

Time Time To Turn Around

It was 3 miles further, unfortunately after a mile we came to an impasse. San Juan creek was roaring from all the rain and there was no safe way for us to cross. We walked upstream and found a log, but it didn’t look like we could make it across. We figured it would be a bad idea and we didn’t want to be one of the people that rangers are rescuing every weekend. We continued hiking on San Juan Trail and ended up back at the parking lot. 

Ortega Oaks Candy Store 

We were back so early we went across the street to the Ortega Oaks Candy Store. When it’s warmer they serve refreshing rootbeer float, but the day we were there it was way to cold for that.

Ortega Oaks Candy Store

We settled on coffee and brownies. We browsed all of their candy selection and I settled on sour watermelon gummy bears. 


We had a great adventure and because we didn’t make to the falls we have an excuse to go back again soon. 

The One Hike I Don’t Ever Plan on Doing Again

Last year Sally, Jeff, and I started hiking the peaks for the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. We did our first peak in May. It was Mt. Wilson and we continued on from there. Sally ended up doing four of the peaks and Jeff and I finished all six. The day that Jeff and I finished San Gorgonio we sat in Jeff’s truck beyond exhausted and we decided that it was a miserable hike and we did not want to do it again.

Planning to Do it Again

Well then 2018 rolled around and we all decide that we were going to complete the Six-Pack of Peaks and finish in enough time to get invited to the finisher’s party. To score an invite to the party you have to finish all the hikes by September 30th. San Gorgonio is somewhere between 18 and 21 miles. My Fitbit registered our hike as 21 miles. San Gorgonio is the tallest peak in Southern California. You climb 5,390 feet to reach the peak at 11,503 feet.

Turning the Hike Into A Backpacking Trip

Sally and I decided that we would try and break this hike up into two days and backpack up six miles and spend the night. I applied for an overnight permit month in advance and we hiked the other 5 peaks that were part of the original challenge. Unfortunately, 2 weeks before our trip a fire broke out in the area and the Forest Service had to close both San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Peak. The ranger called to cancel my overnight permit. We ended up backpacking to Little Jimmy instead.

A Change in the Six-Pack

A few weeks later Jeff Hester of Six-Pack of Peaks added alternative peaks to replace the ones that were closed due to the fires. One of the alternatives was Sitton Peak. Sally and I had already hiked Sitton in the spring. We logged on to the Six Pack web site and logged our hike and we were officially done with the challenge. Although we were done, it felt like we had cheated.

San Gorgonio Opens Up

At the end of August the Forest Service opened the San Gorgonio area again for hikers. We did not have a weekend to make it into a backpacking trip, so we decided we were going to tackle it in one day. We chose to hike it on Labor Day. The day before we hydrated, hydrated and hydrated. That night I ate mac-n-cheese to try and store up some carbs.

The Day of the Hike

Monday morning we left at 4:30 a.m. We got to the Vivian Creek Trail Head at 5:30 a.m. and it still was dark. We started hiking a little before 6:00 a.m. The first part of the trail is on an access road walking past cabins. We crossed the dry Mill Creek Bed. Once we got across it was time for uphill switchbacks. The next mile was tough. We had a plan that we would not stop in the middle of the switchbacks. We tried to make it to the end before stopping. It did not take long for us to get high enough to start getting some amazing views.

Looking back towards San Bernardino.

After the switchbacks we ran into a sign, we were entering the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

San Gorgonio Wilderness

I still looked perky at this point.

Sally loves a sign

The next few miles were some of the prettiest of the hike. We saw giant trees and little meadows. We crossed the creek a few times. We passed Halfway Camp, which is not halfway and we came upon a doe and her fawn. The fawn still had her spots and they both had the biggest ears. They were not overly concerned with us and we stopped and took a few pictures.

Time for a Break

We continued hiking up at a pretty good pace. We stopped at about mile 6 and had a little snack. I was starting to have bad visions of what was yet to come. Before the hike Jeff had reminded me to tell Sally to not look up and the answer to all questions about the summit is, “no that is not the summit.”

Hiking in Altitude

The next miles were tough. We continued going up, eventually, we got up above the tree line. At this point in the hike altitude started to come into play. We were over 10,000 feet and breathing in enough air is a struggle. It looked like we were walking across the moon. When we looked up in the far distance we could see a summit, but of course, it was a false summit. The summit seemed so far. We were now hiking very slowly, probably less than one mile an hour. Sally asked if we should turn around and not continue on to the summit. I assured her that we were getting closer and we were going to make it.

A Little Encouragement

A very enthusiastic man stopped to chat with us. He told us that we were doing great and that we were probably 20 minutes from the top. Feeling reassured we continued on averaging 100 steps before we had to stop to catch our breath. Well it was not even close to 20 mins, more like an hour and a half. We passed one false summit and we could finally see the real peak of Mt. San Gorgonio. We boulder hopped up to the top. We found the metal box and signed the trail register. We took pictures with the summit sign.

My second time at the summit of San Gorgonio

I won’t be back!

We were relieved that we made it up there.

We Made it to The Top

We had made it to the top of the tallest peak in Southern California. We sat down for a much-needed break. It was warmer at the top than we had anticipated. We did not even have to put on our puffer jackets. We had our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and some jalapeno chips while we were being stocked by little trail bandits.

Trail Bandits

The chipmunks wanted these chips.

These chipmunks wanted us to feed them and they were not scared of us. We spent less than 30 minutes at the top because we knew how far we still had to hike and we wanted to get back to the car before dark.

The view from the summit.

We started way down there in the valley.

The Way Down

The way down seemed steep and endless. I tripped on a rock and splayed out in the middle of the trail. I cut my hand and knee. It seems like one of us always falls on our hikes, the trails are full of obstacles like rocks and tree branches, and if you look up to see the scenery that is usually when it happens.

Injured Toenails

I did not know it at the time, but when I tripped I injured my toenail. When we had 6 more miles to go my toenails felt like someone was jamming bamboo shoots under them. With every step it brought a new swear word out of my mouth. I decided I could not take the pain anymore and I sat down right in the middle of the trail. I would have cried, but I’m sure I was too dehydrated for tears. I unlaced my boots and re-laced them using a surgeon’s knot. I tried to get them tight enough for my toes not to hit the end of my boots, which is hard to do when you heading down such a steep incline. I had visions of how ridiculous it would be to call for an emergency rescue for toenails. I had to dig deep to keep going.

The Last Mile

The last mile on the mountain was treacherous. The trail losses about 1,000 feet in less than 1 mile. Our joy of making it down the mountain was overshadowed by the fact that we still had to walk back across Mill Creek dry bed and another mile to the car.

Walking across Mill Creek on the way to the car.

On the way I saw something moving along the trail and when I got closer I saw that it was a baby King Snake.

A baby King Snake.

It was not scary, because it was tiny and we were exhausted. It took us 12 hours and 45 minutes.

We Made it to the Car

We got back to the car around 6:15 p.m. At the car we peeled off our boots and put on flip-flops. My toes felt so bad that I left my socks on for the drive home. We had an hour’s drive and Sally and I had plenty of time to discuss the hike. We decided we are done with San Gorgonio. There are plenty of other peaks to do and there is no need to repeat this one. The thing about San Gorgonio is that it is not very pretty, It has some beautiful parts, but the peak is not spectacular. The positives of this hike were we had a lot of good laughs and it felt good to finish the Six-Pack of Peaks, even though this was actually our 7th peak for the challenge.

Finishing the Six-Pack of Peaks

We have now finished 9 of the peaks and we have 3 more to go before December 31st, however, one is still closed because of fire damage. I lost two toenails and Sally lost one from this hike. In October Jeff, Sally, and I went to the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge Party.

Jeff, Sally & I at the Finisher’s Party.

515 people completed the challenge and we felt excited and proud that we did it too.

We all found our names on the finisher’s list.

At the party we added our adventure goals for 2019 to the Wish Tree.

The Adventure Wish tree.

Jeff wrote that he wants to hike Mt. Whitney. Sally and I want to hike the JMT and meet Jeff at Mt. Whitney. We will see what 2019 brings our way.

Whitney Portal Trail to Lone Pine Lake

Monday morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m. in my tent at Lone Pine campground and decided it was too cold and too windy to try and go back to sleep. I turned on my headlight and packed up my tent. At 6:00 a.m. when I heard Sally walk by I got out of my tent and then packed it up too. We had plenty of time to make coffee and try to warm up. As we were drinking our coffee the sun started shining the most amazing light on Mt. Whitney and the surrounding mountains.

Sunrise hitting Mt. Whitney

Sunrise at the Base of Mt. Whitney.

A Beautiful Sunrise

The view just kept getting better and better.

It was sunny but cold.

We were in awe, it was truly breathtaking. After lots of coffee and a breakfast of an almost frozen protein bar, we headed up Whitney Portal Road to hike 3 miles to Lone Pine Lake.

The Start of The Whitney Portal Trail.

Whitney Portal Trail

We started our hike where hikers that summit Mt. Whitney start and we foolishly thought that this hike would not be too tough considering we were only going a little over 3 miles each way. Wrong. We underestimated the effects of hiking at such a high altitude. The entire 3 miles was uphill and the entire time it felt like I was trying to suck air through a straw. We had to stop many times to catch our breath and to peel off layers of clothing because although it was cold outside we were working hard.

Looking back into the valley of Lone Pine.

The higher we hiked the more snow and ice we encountered.

Lots of snow & ice.

Hiking in Snow and Ice

There were a few sketchy parts where we had to walk very carefully because the entire path was ice. One of the craziest parts was the iconic log bridge that we had to cross. We got halfway across and realized that there was ice on top of the log. I was sure that I was going to slip on the ice and fall into the frigid water.

I made it across the log bridge.

It was a big relief when I made it to the other side.

Sally navigating the ice.

After the bridge, it was another uphill slog and then we saw the glorious sign for Lone Pine Lake.

We’re always happy to see a sign.

Lone Pine Lake

We stopped to talk to some fellow hikers and then headed down to the lake. The lake is beautiful, but it is very different looking than the Big Pine Lakes. The entire lake was in the shade, even though it was close to 11:00 a.m.

Lone Pine Lake, CA

We did not have a thermometer, but it was the kind of cold that makes your skin sting. I boulder hopped around the lake looking for a camera angle that showed a little more light.

Lone Pine Lake, CA

Lone Pine Lake, CA

We took pictures and tried to eat a protein bar, but they were frozen solid. We decided it was too cold to hang around. Lone Pine Lake is as far up the Whitney Portal as you can go without a permit, so this was the end of the road for us. We headed back down. Thankfully, the sun had started to warm up the trail and melt some of the ice that was on it. We came down much faster than we had hiked up.

Heading back down.

Hiking Down Whitney Portal

When we got to the bottom we decided that we would go to Alabama Hills Cafe once more. We had some delicious sandwiches and even though it was warm in town we were still frozen from that hike. On the way out of town, we stopped at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine to buy some stickers. While we were there I bought a book about the JMT (John Muir Trail.) A seed has been planted and Sally and I are considering doing either the JMT or the High Sierra Trail this summer. We are going to apply for permits and wait and see how much snow the Sierras receive this winter. Luckily, we had an easy 3 1/2 hour drive home to a nice warm shower and a comfy bed.

Big Pine Lakes Lived up to The Hype

Sunday morning we woke up early and crawled out of our tents. When the sun camp up we could see that it had snowed all the way down to the base of the mountain. No wonder it was so cold in my tent. Instead of cooking breakfast we took advantage of being so close to town and we picked up coffee on the way out of town. We headed back on 395 towards Big Pine Lakes. We parked at the trail head then walked over to look at the trout ponds at Glacier Lodge. The view was amazing.

The Trout Ponds at Glacier Lodge.

Hiking On The John Muir Trail

We started off on our hike. We soon came across the sign that we were entering the John Muir Trail.

Me on The John Muir Trail.

Sally on the John Muir Trail.

Blue Skies & Yellow Trees

I had an agenda of seeing blue sky, yellow trees and turquoise lakes. The storm from the day before had blown out and the sky was a brilliant blue. About a mile into our hike we started seeing fresh snow on the ground. This hike is on the tougher side of moderate, lots of uphill switchbacks. We hiked next to Big Pine Creek the majority of the way.

Big Pine Creek

At about 2 miles in we got to a meadow of Aspen trees and the leaves were magnificent yellows and oranges. We stopped and took millions of pictures. I must have muttered, “This is so beautiful” a hundred times.

The Aspen Grove

The view of trail.

Lon Chaney Cabin

We stopped and took a break at the old Lon Chaney Cabin. The cabin was build by the actor, but it is now owned by the Forest Service.

The view from the front porch of the cabin.

We Found The Snow

After the nice break at the cabin it was back to more uphill and lots more switchbacks. We started to see a lot more snow. Every hiker we saw that was heading downhill stopped to tell us about their overnight experiences. The consensus was that nobody slept, because it was freezing cold and the wind was howling. We were warned to expect more snow the higher we got.

Lots of snow

Big Pine Lake

Just when we thought we could not go another step uphill we saw a sign. Sally always gets excited when we see a sign, because that means we’re close to something. This sign was for Big Pine Lake. We hiked up over the ridge and then caught a glimpse of lake number one through the trees. Que the singing angels. The lake is stunning. The lakes get their color from particles from Palisade Glacier. The blue is so blue.

Big Pine Lake #1

The trail is above the lake and we decided we would hike to the second lake instead of stopping. Lake number two is even more amazing, because Temple Crag is the backdrop.

Big Pine Lake #2

Looking at Temple Crag

I could look at this view all day.

We scrambled down a trail to the shore. Again we took hundreds of pictures and we sat down to have a picnic lunch. While we were eating we could see the wind blowing snow on Temple Crag. Shortly after the wind started blowing across the lake and we were freezing. We decided it was time to head back.

On the shore of Lake #2

A picture for Carey.

One last look.

Heading Back Down

There are five more lakes, but we decided that we would save those lakes for a day that was warmer. The hike back was just as amazing. This was one of the first hikes I have ever done that I did not want it to end. We hiked a little over 12 miles and it is safe to say that this hike is now my favorite one I have ever done.

Looking at where we had come from.

We found Fall.

Blue skies and yellow leaves.

Our Campsite at Lone Pine

We drove back to our campsite in Lone Pine. We still had plenty of daylight so we decided that we would cook dinner and make a fire. Sally and I split a big beer that she had brought for us as treat. It was so cold that we started our campfire while it was still daylight. We ate rehydrated Mountain House Pasta Primavera and it tasted delicious after all our hiking. We sat around our campfire with big jackets and down blankets until we could not take the cold any longer. We climbed into our tents and got ready for another very cold night. The wind was howling again, but this time I toke Alleve PM and wore earplugs. Thankfully I was finally able to sleep, because Day 3 we were heading up the Whitney Portal.

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