Category Archives: Camping

Backpacking The Gabrielino Trail

Over Easter Weekend my friend and I decided to backpack the entire 28.5 miles of The Gabrielino Trail.  Our plan was to spend 3-4 days on the trail depending on our progress and energy levels.  We had a friend drop us off Friday afternoon at Chantry Flats where we started the first stretch of our hike to Spruce Grove Campground.

This section of the hike was not new to us, having been down if before to go camping at Spruce Grove in the past.  When we got to the campground we found it fairly vacant, with only two other groups there.  We were pleased to see it so empty and picked ourselves a nice spot near a fire pit and table.

Shortly after we finished setting up camp one more fellow hiked in and set up next to us.  He was friendly and we chatted a while before going to bed.  The next morning we awoke to the clamor of day hikers.  We had a quick breakfast, packed up, and said goodbye to our new friend.  The section we were planning to hike this day was going to be from Spruce Grove to Valley Forge Trail Camp.  Our first goal of the day would be hiking over Newcomb Pass, something neither of us had ever done before.  It was a nice day out, and the climb up towards the pass was pretty gradual and had a good amount of shade.

We found a picnic table at the top of the pass which was nice.  We had a short break there, ate a couple CLIF BLOKS, then continued down the trail towards Devore Trail Camp.  On our way down from the pass we came across Rincon-Redbox Road where we lost the trail for a minute. It just took us walking down the road a bit to find where the trail picked up again.  There probably could have been a trail sign here to make it a little less confusing.

We continued our way down to Devore where we came across two other backpackers that had just been there for the night and were now heading to Spruce Grove.  Bottoming out into Devore was real nice.  I had really been looking forward to checking out this trail camp as well as West Fork.

There was only one couple camping there when we arrived.  We made note of how awesome and beautiful Devore was, picturing ourselves camping there sometime in the future.  Not today though, we continued onto West Fork.  The trail over this stretch is a gradual climb upstream with a lot of creek crossings.

By the time we got to West Fork Campground we were ready for another break and an actual meal.  When we arrived at the campground the whole place was very busy with campers and day hikers.  We chatted with one of the other backpackers camping there and shared a pot of ramen before we hit the trail again.  The trail became a little more uphill and also started becoming more exposed to the sun.  Some parts we hiked through were previously burned, so there were not a lot of tall trees to provide shade.

Maybe I was just getting tired, but it seemed like a long slog until we finally arrived at Valley Forge.  My feet were definitely hurting now and the first thing I did when I arrived was take my shoes off and lay down in a grassy field.  We only saw one group of guys hanging out at the campground but they left shortly after we arrived.  It looked like we were going to have the entire place to ourselves.

This was my second time visiting Valley Forge.  The first time I hiked in from Red Box Junction for a quick one-nighter.  I didn’t mind being back; it’s a great little backcounty campground.  If you’ve ever been there before, you know there’s a little bridge across a small stream that leads you over to the “secret” campground.  While exploring the area we found out that we were not alone, and that some other folks had beat us to the “secret” spot.  It was a gorgeous day at the campground when we were there:  the grass was green, flowers were in bloom, and there were butterflies and ladybugs everywhere.  The whole area resembled a scene from a fairy-tale.

The next morning we headed out for Red Box where I had previously stashed some beers the weekend before.  After locating them in the hiding spot where I had tucked them away, we took a break near the visitor center at Red Box.  This is a great spot to stop for a break.

The visitor center at Red Box sells snacks and drinks, there is a potable water spigot, and also a payphone if you need to make a phone call.  We took full advantage of these conveniences.  It was nice to buy some snacks as we had not had a proper breakfast on this day.  I made a phone call to my family to let them know we were doing well, and finally we refilled our water packs.  With all that done, we started out for our next stop, Switzer Picnic Area.

This stretch of trail was all new to me.  A lot of was all expose, but down hill and well maintained.  It seems this section is popular among mountain bikers, so we had to watch out for them.

Although this section of the trail offered some great vistas, it was also in close proximity to the Angeles Crest Highway.  There was a lot of motorist noise along the trail here which wasn’t something we were used to hearing.  Despite the noise and getting hit by the sun, I mostly enjoyed this part of the trail.  I may not have liked it so much if I was coming uphill though!

It was nice to finally cruise into the shaded tree canopy of the Switzer day use area.  We took another break here and had another one of our beers to lighten our loads a bit.  There were a lot of people at Switzer’s on this day (Sunday), which is not unusual for the weekend.  If you’ve ever visited this area you know how popular it can be on a nice day.  I was honestly happy to be hiking pass all the crowds and day-hikers back into the peaceful solitude of the mountains.

We passed by Comodore Camp, which really isn’t much of a campsite anymore.  It was a possible location for us to camp if we really needed to, but we had good energy and it was still early in the day.  At this point we were thinking we could either finish the rest of the trail today, or end up camping at Oakwilde if we got too worn out.

As we made our way down into the Arroyo Seco we came across a few obstacles.  The first one was where part of the trail was very washed out on the side of a hill and we had to be careful crossing the landslide so we wouldn’t end up down the hill.  At another part of the trail there were two large trees with dense branches which had fallen across the trail.  There was no good way to get around them without going all the way down into the steep gorge below.  We decided to climb over and through them, using the branches as a ladder.  Some parts of the tree I cut through with my Leatherman to make it easier to pass our gear through.  We had to hand our large packs over and through one by one.  Eventually we made it past that last obstacle and it was smooth sailing from there, however the long day was starting to take it’s toll on us.

We were hoping to take a break at Oakwilde Camp since we were starting to feel tired from the long day of hiking but we must have passed it because we never saw it.  I was a little disappointed we didn’t get to check out Oakwilde, but we decided to keep pushing onward despite being very worn out.  We finally made it to Paul Little Picnic Area where we had a well deserved break.  After one more break at Gould Mesa we pushed through the final part of the trail finally coming to it’s end near the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

We did this hike before the trail was officially completely opened.  There is a closed section of trail between Switzer and Paul Little Picnic Area.  The Gabrielino Trail is scheduled to be completely re-opened sometime in late 2018.

UPDATE: Portions of the trail are closed again. Check trail status before going.

Bishop Pass Trail

Labor Day Weekend was upon us and we were planning on backpacking the North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail around Seven Lakes but could not get walk-in wilderness permits for the weekend.  Luckily I had a backup idea, and we resorted to Bishop Pass Trail which started at South Lake.  We spent Friday night at a drive-up campground called Horton Creek before we headed up into the mountains.

Cottonwood Lakes

Hadn’t been up to the Sierras in a while, so over the 4th of July weekend I took a three day backpacking trip to Cottonwood Lakes near Lone Pine, California.  Camp was set up between lakes number Two and Three.  On the second day I hiked to Long Lake and High Lake before turning around at the base of New Army Pass. The weather was perfect the whole time but the mosquitoes were out in full force.

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Panamint City Backpacking Trip

We pulled into the “town” of Ballarat around 9:00am on Friday morning and left the traditional beer donation on the porch of the trading post since it was not open yet.  After leaving one car in the parking lot of the trading post we headed up Surprise Canyon Road to Novak’s Camp where we parked and got ready for the hike.

The road up to Novak’s Camp was in pretty good shape and I would say a normal car could have made it to the end of the road without much trouble.  Novak’s Camp, which is the trailhead for the hike, is also called Chris Wicht Camp.  There was another group of guys who had been camping there who were also planning on hiking up to Panamint City that day.

The hike up Surprise Canyon to Panamint City is pretty accurately described, and in length, on many website across the internet so I am not going to go into great detail about it here.  I will say though, that even sounding like a short hike, at about 5 1/2 miles, the obstacles, bushwhacking, crawling, and climbing make it a nice long trek (especially with a pack on) up a constant grade.  Check here for an in-depth description of the hike.  A lot of people suggest taking two pairs of shoes due to the water hiking, but I was able to make due with a good pair of ankle-high waterproof boots.  I may have just gotten lucky with the water level, but I’m also not sure how high it gets.  One of the highlights of the hike was coming across some of the wild burros that frequent the canyon; however, they did not seem to appreciate our presence.

When you’re on the last leg of the trail and finally see that iconic brick smoke stack in the distance there’s a great feeling of joy and accomplishment.  Also, you know you have just a little bit more hiking to do!

Once we arrived in Panamint City we found the other group shacking up in one of the cabins referred to as “The Hilton.”  The cabin had a working water faucet in the kitchen and a manual flush system toilet in the bathroom.  The floors were pretty torn up and the kitchen was a little messy, but I was still pretty impressed with the condition of the place.  We set up our tents not too far away from this cabin so we could have access to the running water when we needed it.  Due to the risk of being exposed to Hantavirus we had planned on staying in our tents, not the cabins.

At night we made dinner, ate, and chatted with the other group of fellows who we found out were from the greater San Diego area.  They were all eating MRE’s; I’m not sure why I never though of that for camping food before!

Saturday after breakfast some of us decided to hike around the area and explore more of the old structures.  We first hiked up Water Canyon to an area called Thomson Camp.  Here we found a couple of dilapidated structures and a ’55 Oldsmobile jammed up against a hillside.  A little further up the canyon there was a water tank with cold, flowing water.

On our way out of Water Canyon we came across “The Green Tank” which had a trickle of water flowing into it.  The wooden top of the tank had broken and fallen into the tank.  The water level in the tank was probably less than 8 inches high.

We continued our exploration over to the “Hippy Cabin” which no one had occupied.  There was no running water at this location which I could find.  The inside was in decent shape but a little dirty and there were definite signs that rodents frequent the place.  I hung out here a little while enjoying the view from outside the front door.  You get a good vantage point down on the rest of the buildings in Panamint.

As it got later in the day there were more people arriving in the area.  Panamint City started to look more like an inhabited village rather than an abandoned ghost town.  There was a large group of college students that came in from San Luis Obispo and another smaller group from the Los Angeles County area.  Everyone was friendly and it was nice having some other folks to talk to while we were there.

It was our intention to check out “The Castle” cabin in Sourdough Canyon the next day; however, the rain we got throughout the night and into the morning kind of put a damper on that plan.  Other folks had visited the cabin on Saturday and it was reported in excellent condition (better than the other two cabins) with running water.  In efforts to get out of the rain and try to keep dry we left Panamint City without exploring anything else.  The hike back was much easier than the hike in, although it still seemed pretty long.

This was definitely a trip for the books.  I would love to come back in the spring, perhaps when the mountains still have a little snow left on them.

For reference:  This trip took place November 18th-20th, 2016.