As January 1 rolls around each year, I skip the resolutions. Instead, I set five goals for myself that I plan to accomplish over the course of the year that lies ahead. This year, the five goals I jotted down in the front of my fresh new, lilac print-covered notebook were as follows:
- Add that "S" to my "AE!" (this was a work promotion goal, and CHECK!)
- Practice Spanish in conversation more regularly
- Take a longer backpacking trip - two nights and/or 10+ miles round trip
- Pay off two credit cards (this will happen...eventually...right?)
- Upgrade to a REAL camera and keep photographing (also, CHECK!)
Not unrelated to number one on my list, I took a new job and had a week off before I started the new gig. With no emails to worry about, and no coworkers that may call with an urgent situation (seriously - none), I thought it would be the perfect time to tackle number three on the list.
My old roommate happens to be a self-described "trail nerd" and really did all the hard work - planning the route and sharing information on elevation gain and loss and water availability. He planned a moderate loop for us to tackle in Angeles National Forest that would allow us to hike three days and two nights on the trail without ever having to backtrack. Aside from trying to cram two nights' of supplies in my pack, the planning process was relatively easy (at least for me)!
The first few miles of our hike started at the Sam Merrill trailhead north of Altadena and took us to Echo Mountain, where we stopped to observe the remains of what was once a mountain resort that drew crowds by way of the Mount Lowe Railway during the late 1890's and into the 20th century - back when hiking was first coming into the realm of "cool things to do." Now, the foundation of the resort, along with pieces of train track and rusted metal machinery are all that remain of the mountain's heyday - the resort burnt to the ground at the turn of the century. Now, hikers pass through, stop to snack, snap photos, and yell into a strategically placed megaphone only to hear your voice bounce back at you - Echo mountain truly delivers.
As we continued onward and upward from Echo Mountain, we later found ourselves at Inspiration Point, which grants hikers with a view of 3,000 square miles - you can even see Catalina Island on a clear day. Apparently a novelty of the turn of the century, guests can peer through "looking tubes" that locate points of interest in the distance by directing your line of sight through a labeled pipe. I looked through pipes at Santa Monica, the Rose Bowl, and even "Ostrich Farm" - which, after some research I discovered was apparently a big deal in Buena Park in the late 1800's.
After just over seven miles of hiking, we arrived at our first campsite, where we were the only inhabitants. Though it was still a hot afternoon, we had to break out the hoodies and pants due to the mosquitoes that were taking advantage of the new guests. But mosquitoes equate to water - so we were able to refill and cook with fresh, cold stream water. As the sun went down over the mountains, we built a campfire and listened to the sounds of crickets and owls until we started to doze off from exhaustion.
Our second day of hiking was shorter, but not necessarily easier - about four miles that took us mostly downhill, but only after the first mile of uphill switchbacks that demanded sure footing. But once we descended into the valley, we were comforted by the cool shade of the trees and subtle smells of pine. Our second campsite was situated right on a rolling creek, and the cascades over rocks resulting in small pools looked like they were put there for human enjoyment. My skin was thankful for a wash after a full day of being covered in sweat, sunscreen and bug repellent.
The creek was my source of entertainment for the afternoon. With no LTE service and no reading material (no room for National Geographic in my pack), I had nothing better to do than search for California newts, or watch a spider weave a web while I dozed off on a warm rock. When you have no distractions, life slows down a bit, and the uninteresting becomes interesting. You discover things you've never noticed before, like the way those yellow flowers smell or how eccentric the flight of a butterfly appears.
Our last day on the trail my pack started to feel a little bit lighter, and I'm not entirely sure if it's because I was eating some of the weight in my pack, or if my body was just getting stronger. Maybe it was a little bit of both. Carrying a 35 or 40-pound pack on your back up switchbacks and down steep and narrow trails changes you physically and psychologically. Sleeping in the wilderness without a shower or toilet or bed helps you appreciate what you do have back home, even if it's a bed in a studio apartment with a shower that always kinda looks dirty even when it's clean. Backpacking changes your perspective, but it's like a drug. Last time I did one night, this time I needed two. Next time maybe I'll try for three, or maybe I'll try to take on 30+ miles. Whatever comes next, I'm ready for more - and at the end of each trip I'm sure I'll be thankful for everything I have to return to.
View more photos from this trip here!