Strawberry Peak

April 29, 2007

After hiking a great deal last summer, I promised myself I'd keep it up in the fall and winter, but ended up only hiking about once a month.  That's better than the zero hiking I'd normally do in those seasons, but not what I expected.  Perhaps it's important to have an off season and take a break, though.  I did one hike at the end of October (Mount Wilson), one in December (Strawberry Peak), one in early January (a short loop hike featuring Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains, with my friend Lora Danley visiting from New York City), one in February (Strawberry Peak a second time), two in March (a Saint Patrick's Day Hike with the Math Department from Triunfo Pass to Sandstone Peak, and also Angels Landing), and now two in April.

The first April Hike was on Saturday the 21st, with Kaya Yuki, Meiching Fong, and Fred Liu.  Mei wanted to do an easy hike so I chose Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, and we also hiked as close to the Hollywood Sign (which is on Mount Lee) as we could.  The hike took 4 hours mostly on fire roads and was 8 miles or less.  Everyone had a good time and we had some excellent Shanghainese food in San Gabriel afterwards.  I didn't write a separate trip report for that hike, but here is a picture of the three in front of the Hollywood sign.

Amazingly that was Kaya's first hike ever, but she enjoyed it and was willing to try more.  In addition we planned to visit Yosemite May 20-22 (very cheap to go before Memorial Day, and this would be the earliest in a year I've ever gone) and of course I wanted to take her on my favorite hike up Half Dome.  So I suggested some warmup hikes to prepare for it, namely my two favorite hikes near LA, the shorter one being Strawberry Peak (6.4 miles) and the longer one Mount Baldy (12 miles).  Kaya was a little scared of walking next to drop-offs (exposure) and hiking on narrow trails, so I was a bit worried.  I thought it would be good for her to try Strawberry Peak, which would be a more scary hike than anything on Half Dome (save maybe the cables at the end), and if that went okay she should be fine for Half Dome.  Another advantage of Strawberry Peak is that it has 3rd class rock climbing in it, and Kaya had recently started climbing at the UCLA rock wall and enjoyed that.  In fact she's an amazingly natural climber, and I thought she might enjoy doing it outdoors as well.

We also wanted Marisa Eisenberg to join us on the hike (Marisa happens to be the person who finally got Kaya to try climbing, and is herself a terrific climber, quite a bit better than me).  I'd wanted to do this hike with Marisa from a while back, since I figured she'd be a very fast hiker as well and I wanted to do the hike fast back in February.  However she was too busy and I ended up just hiking alone.  This time she claimed she's out of shape, but I didn't believe her since she said the same thing when we climbed in the gym not long ago and then proceeded to climb several routes that I can't do.

This time we just planned to take it easy, especially since Kaya's right knee was hurting from when she bumped it Friday while climbing a 5.8 route set by Marisa!  Kaya and I both wake up early but Marisa is a late sleeper, and so we settled on picking up Marisa at 7:30am and heading to the trailhead from there.  The previous two times I'd done the hike I'd left at 6:10 and 6:30am respectively, and was home both times 5 hours later.  The hike had taken 3.5 hours total and the drive 1.5 hours total.  In December the weather had been cool (see the trip report) and in February I think it was warmer (I recall starting out wearing long underwear but immediately taking it off and just hiking in a tee shirt and pants).  This time the weather forecast looked perfect--temperatures in the 70s and 80s.  I had needed very little water the first two times (a liter or less I think) and somehow it didn't register that we were going to need more this time.  I brought more anyway--an extra liter Nalgene bottle and an extra half-liter of bottled water since Kaya doesn't like tap water.  I was going to bring even more, just to have extra weight to carry, but I couldn't quickly find my collapsible water bottles so I just passed.  This would turn out to be a big mistake.

I did carry more weight than usual both to get more practice carrying more weight and to slow myself down.  A couple weeks ago I finally started thinking about making reservations to climb Mt. Rainier with RMI or some other guide service, and was surprised to find all the slots already taken!  So I decided instead to just climb Mt. Shasta this summer on my own, but that meant I need to learn how to travel on snow and use crampons and an ice ax.  So I signed up for a snow travel course with Sierra Mountaineering International on May 5, and have been scrambling to get the rest of the gear I need.   Unfortunately it's a little late now to buy winter gear in Los Angeles, but I found the Arcadia branch of REI still had Grivel G12 crampons, so I planned to pick up a pair there after our hike.  And right near REI is Din Tai Fung, a terrific Taiwanese-style soup dumpling restaurant that I'd been to once and have been meaning to go to again for a long time now.  It seemed that would be the perfect place for lunch.

I wouldn't need to carry nearly as much weight on Shasta as on Rainier, since it's a one-day hike (up the standard Avalanche Gulch route) with no crevasses.  But it would still be worthwhile to get used to carrying more weight.  I used my medium-size Arc'Teryx Khamsin 52 backpack, and crammed it full of stuff, mostly cold-weather and rain gear in case it was somehow cold high up on the mountain (little did I know that would not be the problem!).  I also brought my trekking poles in case Kaya had trouble with her knee.  I wasn't sure how to strap them to the back--probably the side straps would have been the best, but that would be a pain to deal with every time I opened it, so I put them upside down through the ice axe loops and kind of attached the hand loops of the poles to the bottom ice ax loops.  Not very secure it turned out, and this would be another mistake for the hike.  I also wore my La Sportiva Trango S EVO GTX mountaineering boots, to further break them in before the snow travel course.  I bought both expedition trekking and mountaineering Smartwool socks at REI the previous Friday, and decided to wear the lighter trekking socks with no liners for this hike.  I was worried this would be too hot, but surprisingly even though it was a very hot day my feet felt fine.  I'm still a little worried that these boots will be not warm enough for Rainier, but my guess, or at least hope, is that they'll be fine for Shasta.

I was a little worried how I would climb the 3rd class sections with a heavier pack and mountaineering boots, and part of the hike was to determine how well I could handle that.  Both the boots and the pack turned out to be great for climbing.  The pack was very comfortable and secure against my back; only the trekking poles gave me any real problems although I definitely had to adjust my climbing style a bit to take the pack into consideration.  The boots were certainly not as secure to climb in as hiking shoes (although I didn't need to worry about twisting my ankles!) but still worked great.

I've described the hike in some detail in my previous report, so look there for general information.  I also took plenty of pictures of scenery that time and so didn't bother this time; instead we just took pictures of ourselves and a few of those are below.  We arrived at the trailhead sometime after 8am (I didn't keep track of times much for this hike) and took our time getting going.  Marisa ate some yogurt and part of a bagel.  I'd only eaten yogurt and a tiny bit of cereal for breakfast, figuring the hike would be short and I'd enjoy lunch even more.  I brought a couple half-empty packages of Skittles and a Luna Bar that were left over from previous hikes and could be used if we needed them.  Marisa brought along the rest of her bagel and a little less than a liter of water; Kaya had a half liter of bottled water.  I offered them the use of an Arc'Teryx lumbar pack that I'd brought along, and also to carry their stuff.  Kaya tried out the lumbar pack and gave me some of her stuff; Marisa let me carry everything including her water.  So my pack which was 18 pounds when I left was easily over 20 pounds at the start of the hike.

We put on sunblock as well, as it was already sunny and warm.  The weather seemed perfect.  We finally got started sometime between 8:30 and 9am, probably closer to 8:30 but I don't recall.  I figured the best order to go in would be Marisa first to set the pace, then Kaya, and then me at the rear.  This worked out well and for the most part was the order we stuck with, although Kaya went first briefly at one point uphill.  Marisa started off full of energy and flew ahead of us.  She grew up in nearby Glendale and had hiked in these mountains often before, but had never climbed this particular peak.   It turned out her claims of being out of shape weren't unfounded, however, as once we started up the steeper parts she would quickly get out of breath and have to stop.  We tried to go at a slower pace but she still had to stop a lot.  Kaya seemed fine going uphill, and I felt fine as well.  We would stop to enjoy the scenery also, and it was stunning as usual.  Disappointingly despite the fact that it seemed a Santa Ana day (thus the warmth) the basin was filled with fog and we couldn't see anything nor to the ocean.  But in a way this was nice since it felt like we were really apart from any civilization.  I expected the fog would burn off by the end of the hike but it never did.

Since we started the hike quite a bit later than I usually do, we ran into quite a few other people this time as well, including several people on the ridge, which in other hikes I had not run across anyone on.  At Josephine saddle we stopped to eat some snacks:  Kaya her onigiri (the traditional Japanese hiking food!), Marisa her bagel (which I had a bite of), and we all shared my skittles which the other two agreed were great for quick energy.  We talked with some women who were maybe in their 50s and training to hike Half Dome in June!  One of them had never done it before, and the other had done it last year in 14 hours.  They however were not going up the ridge but just continuing further on the easy, and apparently flat after the saddle, trail.

We headed up the ridge.  I thought the more interesting last mile of the hike would energize the other two, and indeed Marisa got a lot more energetic especially on the climbing portions, but Kaya seemed to lose her energy a bit.  She did enjoy the climbing sections as I hoped, but didn't enjoy the parts over loose gravel (of course I hate those as well, but am able to deal with them better now that I've had a lot of practice).  Nonetheless everyone was still in a pretty good mood going up as the picture below, taken someplace on the first climbing section, shows.

Here's a picture taken further on, between the two climbing sections I believe, but I don't recall just where.

Kaya turned out to have no real fear on the trail, and was mostly comfortable with the climbing except for a few exposed sections.  So my fears that she might not be able to do Half Dome were assuaged.  Just as in the gym she was a very natural climber outdoors, picking great lines to climb and moving fluidly.  Marisa of course was even better, completely at home in this environment, and loved the climbing.  Frequently the two of them would go very quickly up some segment and I would wonder just what they did because it didn't seem nearly so easy to me.

Finally at some point--I forget just when--we reached the summit!  Marisa signed the register for us.  There were several other people at top although some had come from the easier other side.  We took three pictures at the top, three choose two with each combination of the two of us, and since I already put up a couple pictures of Kaya and Marisa here are the other two combinations.  Although Kaya enjoyed some aspects of the hike she was unhappy with others, and here she is showing her displeasure.

Marisa was a little happier with the hike.

Since the little shade at the top was taken up by other people, we found a spot a little lower down and ate some more.  I think by this time it was around 11:30 or so.  We had a few problems.  It was a lot hotter than I'd expected (in the mid-80s when I looked at my thermometer earlier, and it probably got hotter after that) and we were almost out of water.  We still had to get down, I recalled Din Tai Fung closes for lunch at 2:30, so it was going to be very tight if we could make it there in time.  We didn't rest for long, then, and headed down.

Here is the last picture we took, and my favorite.  This was fairly near the top, I think, and looking north or northeast.

Marisa sped up a lot going down, but now Kaya was slower, especially on the gravel parts which she hated.  The sun, heat, and lack of water were really getting to her too.  And then a couple events conspired to slow us down further.  One was that after having each of my trekking poles fall off my pack and still reattaching them in the same poor way, I finally lost one.  I had been feeling behind my back every few minutes to make sure they were still there, so I couldn't have lost it far back, but it seemed to have been lost on some rocky section and could have ended up anywhere.  I left the two and my pack and ran back to try to find it.  No luck, and I ran across a hiker coming down who said he hadn't seen the pole either.  But he later found it after I'd given up, at one spot where Marisa had thought of going one way but we figured out another was easier.  I had briefly checked out her way and it must have fallen off there.  I was happy to recover the pole and this time attached them more securely using some tiny accessory carabiners--I should have done that from the start!  So a lesson learned.  I ended up losing both rubber tip protectors (which I shouldn't have brought either--in fact I shouldn't have brought the poles in the first place--but I wanted to make sure I didn't accidentally stab anyone) but those were easily replaced at REI for $3.50.  We did lose some valuable time due to this.

The other interesting event as we descended the ridge was running into a rattlesnake.  We'd been talking about them during the hike but certainly didn't expect to encounter one.  This one was apparently on the left edge of a narrow section of trail, in the brush and not visible, but the rattle could be clearly heard, and it sounded angry.  Actually it sounded like it could have just been cicadas, but another hiker said he could see the rattle.  There were about a half dozen of us stuck at this point, unsure of how to proceed.  We couldn't just let the snake block us from going down.  So one person decided to just dash down the trail past it, and that seemed fine.  We all took turns, with me going last.  I thought it would be no problem to run past, but when it was my turn, with everyone else on the other side, I did feel a little scared.  But of course I made it fine.

I normally get pricked several times by yucca plants on this hike, which really hurt, but for some reason this time I managed to avoid getting pricked.  I think someone cut the tips off several plants since I hiked her in February.  Kaya managed to get pricked a couple times, though, once on the elbow and once on the calf, the latter causing a little bleeding.  This only added to her increasing unhappiness.  We did make it down to the saddle, finally, and took a very brief rest in the shade.  We were out of water by now and very thirsty.  We stopped very briefly and then headed down the trail.  By now it was about 1:15 and we had to hurry to make it to Din Tai Fung.  I was hoping we could get down in about a half hour and then drive there in less than a half hour and we could make it by 2:15.  Indeed we started quite quickly, running down sections, but eventually Kaya slowed down quite a bit and Marisa ran ahead.  Kaya was very unhappy with the heat and being thirsty and was nearly in tears.  But she kept going and kept as positive as she could.  We finally made it down in 45 minutes, and it was after 2pm when we started driving.   At some point on the 210 freeway I realized we were not going to make it.  So a quick change of plans--first go to REI and get something to drink, and then drive to the mall in San Gabriel which was sure to have restaurants open.  This was good because Kaya wanted to eat some shaved ice there anyway.  In a way it was perhaps better that we ended up not going to Din Tai Fung this time.

After picking up my crampons and other things at REI, we went to San Gabriel.  I was hoping to eat at the other Shanghainese restaurant there, but the chef was out when we arrived (around 3:30pm) and so we ended up back at the same place we'd eaten at last week!  This was the first time for Marisa.  The restaurant was nearly empty, a far cry from the 20 minute or so wait we had the previous Saturday.  We ordered some soup dumplings (to make up for Din Tai Fung) and breaded fish sticks (a specialty of the other restaurant, to make up for that) and a couple other dishes, and everything was delicious.  We requested water and I finished off my glass quickly; the waitress just left the pitcher there and I drank several more glasses.  It's interesting that I drank more water (1.5 liters, and I could have drank a lot more) on this hike of 6 miles than I did on the 22 mile Whitney hike (just over 1 liter for 13.5 hours), and much more water afterwards than I did on Whitney.  What a difference temperature makes.  Certainly it was a big mistake not to bring enough water, and it would have made the hike much more enjoyable if we'd had enough to drink.  I'll be especially careful in the future.

We ate until we were full, and then went to eat Taiwanese-style shaved ice, the first time for Marisa and me.  It was great.  By now we were all pretty much recovered from the hike.  We drove back and all got home before 6pm.  The hike itself had taken between 5 and 5.5 hours.  I really enjoyed hiking with Kaya and Marisa, and I hope despite the tough parts that they enjoyed it as well.  We'll see if I can get either of them to climb Mount Baldy with me this weekend or the next.