Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hiking The Big Pine - North Fork Trail to First, Second and Third Lake

Pano view of First Lake with a peek at Temple Crag on the right.

  • Miles: 11 miles round trip (First Lake)
  • Elevation: 2,100 ft (gain/ loss)
  • Type: Out and back
  • Location: John Muir Wilderness - Big Pine, CA
  • Note: Backpacking, Day Hike
  • Permit: Required for overnight trips only; Not required for day hiking
  • Permit Issuer: White Mountain Ranger Station - 798 N. Main St., Bishop, CA; (760) 873-2500
  • Notes: Primitive campsites; No bear boxes at campsites; Also a horse-pack trail (watch your step!)

When in need for a quick fix of some sublime nature extravaganza, but short on time. This trip is a good cure. It has the promise of greenery, a good workout, mountain air and lakes! Lakes, that I think the people who are assigned to name lakes ran out of names for them.. or as I'd like to sometimes think that they just got awed by its beauty that no words to name them came out and they've just numbered them from First Lake, Second Lake, Third Lake.. and so on. Either way works out for me. 

For an overnight trip a permit is needed, day hikers need not worry about this part but feel free to visit the ranger station still for some trail conditions, weather updates and alerts. A permit can also be reserved online at - trail code: Big Pine Creek North Fork J23. Fill out the necessary information, including names of alternate leaders from within the group, who can pick up the permit if you are unable to. The following are the permit fees:

  •  $5 fee per person entering the wilderness
  • $6 fee (not per person) for reservation
  • Example: For a 6 person trip, reservation will be a grand total of $36.00 (no other additional $$ like taxes and such)

You'll receive a confirmation email but this, however, will not be your permit. Drop by the White Mountain Ranger Station to pick up the actual permit, confirm the number of people reserved, leave car information and get some last minute alerts & chit chats. This is best done before 10:00 a.m. on the entry date, else the reservation will be cancelled and deemed a "no show". Also, if lacking the required bear canister for the overnight trip, the ranger station rents them out at $5 per day.

Getting to the trail head, when coming from the ranger station in Bishop - head south on Main St., that will eventually turn into US Route 395, you'll know the change when the speed limits change. It is about a 20-30 minute drive to the town of Big Pine. Once at Big Pine, turn right on to Crocker St. As of this writing (2013), its structure landmarks are a gas station and a general store on each corner. Continue driving past the cute, sometimes western themed, houses until the road turns into Glacier Lodge Road. This would be about a 12 mile drive to the trail head passing several car camping areas, including the Big Pine Campground. You'll eventually see a sign on your right directing you towards the hiker's parking lot where the trail head is and an outhouse is located. There are 2 bear boxes located at the parking area to store all your smelly stuff so you don't leave them in your car:

  • One by the restroom
  • Another by the last parking space going towards west of the "trail" sign

If day hiking, there is an optional limited parking area at the end of the road continuing past the hiker's parking lot sign, with a restroom as well. Leaving your car on this spot would free you of about an extra mile of hiking. But remember, it has limited space and no overnight parking.

Dark clouds looming at our destination.

The trail starts, just left of the signs (trail info and the usual not to scale trail maps) and restroom. It climbs up to the side of the hill following along the road that continues to the road's end. You'll start to notice the cars passing on the road grow smaller and smaller as you continue your way up. You'll soon pass a horse pack structure on your left. Then about almost a mile of hiking, you'll see a few picnic tables and a restroom structure below you on your left. You have arrived at the junction where the trail splits to the South Fork Trail and the North Fork Trail. Walk a little further and you'll find a trail that leads down to it, camping spots with picnic tables and a restroom.

Photo taken on a separate trip by me; cam owned by Cathe (photo)

Continuing on the trail opens up to a beautiful valley before starting the climb up again. Up and out the valley you'll see trail signs keeping you on check on the North Fork Trail and then a perfect photo op (proof to your friend where you're at! lol) with the John Muir Wilderness sign. Just a little pass the sign, you'll see Second Falls (yes, even the falls are just numbered). A bit rocky climbing down closer to it, but excellent spot to refill your water bottles and freshen up a bit if you've had quite a sun exposed last mile. The next stretch of the trail runs alongside the creek with welcoming shades from the trees and not long after you'll arrive at Lon Chaney Cabin. A good place to take a quick break and enjoy the creek by the porch, after your 3 mile hike.
Cabin commissioned to be built by the late movie actor, Lon Chaney, Sr.
You'll eventually start to have a glimpse of the beautiful milky blue waters you'll get to see at the lakes above, notice the colors on the creek you've been trudging along on. About a  mile.. a mile and half more you'll arrive at a junction, taking the left fork will take you to First Lake. You are just about a hop, skip and a jump from here for your first grand view of First Lake. Camp sites on First Lake can be found just below the trail, before you emerge on top of the rocks with that grand view of the lake. The area is a small wooded basin and has pretty good access to the lake with lots of sunken rocks to perch on if you get camp water duty.

We decided to set-up camp out here on our September trip and get an early dinner on since the clouds did not look like they wanted to share the sun anymore. And sure enough, after meal and washing up, the rest of the late afternoon till we fell asleep were spent playing cards and reading inside our tent while we listened to the rhythmic sounds of rain falling on our tent fly. The following day has been decided as a day exploration instead of our original plan to camp at Third Lake.

There is but very little elevation to gain from this point on to Third Lake. All that is left is but a quick 2 mile traipse in the forest absorbing all of nature. You'll find several more good choices of camp areas in between the 3 lakes with equal gorgeous views of the lakes.

Wildlife found! They're such troopers. No bad weather will turn them away from this place.
Clouds trying to conceal Temple Crag from us at Third Lake.
Chris contemplating another cold water jump.
Temple Crag can be viewed closer and more front and center at Third Lake. We've set-up our luncheon feast by Third Lake. Climbing down from the trail, closer to the edge of the lake, we picked a perfect spot to plop ourselves down for the day. And as Chris's tradition, a trip with a lake is not complete without plunging into the water, ice cold or not - us, ladies, were not so brave on that aspect, especially with the wind blowing every so often and the clouds trying to hide the sun from us again. We're just content to take photos as proof of his wet 'n wild shenanigans and happy to cheer him on.

The winds started picking up, and more & more people seem to have found our little spot by the lake when large groups of day hikers started settling in for their picnic, we decided to head back to camp. Guess, we got to our lunch spot for the day just in time to miss the lunch rush! We were covering good time on our way back to camp that we've decided to stop by some spots and enjoy some more spectacular views. The clouds did not succeed this day and the skies showed us an abundance of blue.

Arriving back at our tent, it was time to break camp and head on out. Back to the parking lot.. back to the car.. and back to the norm.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

CicLAvia - Exploring The City, Car Free.

CicLAvia, Los Angeles' answer to Bogota, Columbia's 30+ year old Ciclovia, that temporarily closes down city streets for a day and transforms it into a sort of urban park that's car-free and open to ride your bike, skate, walk, jog, run, cartwheel and/or dance your heart out. Every CicLAvia event has had different routes. The most recent was last Sunday (October 6th) called "Heart of L.A." (the original route) where they've focused on mainly the streets around downtown L.A. And admittedly, our favorite route closure. Roads around downtown L.A. are just a bit crazy on regular days, with all the one way streets and some hills, that you miss a lot of good architectures and good food stops when you're driving, unless you make a certain place your ultimate destination.

You can start at any point in the route. There is no designated start and end. It is what you make of your day. Our jump off point on this last CicLAvia was the Metro Gold Line station stop in East L.A., the Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights and plan to ride out all the way to the south side, passing downtown to see the African-American Firefighters museum (that we have never heard of till this day) and then riding back to downtown to gorge ourselves in several downtown food spots and trucks (yes, we put back whatever calories we burned in the morning!). The route closure always runs along side some Metro stops, and will almost always be close to the L.A. Union Station, a good jump off point if you're coming from anywhere in SoCal - Amtrak, Metro Link and some Metro lines converge to stop here. So with a bit of planning, it will be easy to just leave your car at home (or closer to home) and avoid the hassle finding parking close to the route, 'cause let's face it, scoring cheap or free downtown parking is a combo of skill and luck.

This year, CicLAvia events has extended their hours from 10-3 p.m., to now at 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. A change that we didn't feel much. Getting to a hub an hour before it officially starts is a good way to avoid crowds in popular areas, since they technically start closing roads around that time anyways, even on the old schedule. Riding on empty downtown streets is bliss.. seriously. There will be other early birds, but few enough not be riding alongside anyone for quite some time. If started early enough, you may have covered a lot of ground already in exploring, so it is best to start heading back and calling it a day an hour before they start opening the streets.
Best way to avoid jammed metro trains and stations. Or you can also just kill time at any restaurant or bar and wait out the thinning crowd, if you don't mind riding along side cars way after they've opened up the streets again. This event is always on Sundays anyways, so no usual rush traffic but, please, always ride safe!

I must say though, closing down streets especially a downtown area, even on a Sunday, I bet is no easy feat! I can just imagine all the proposals that had to be proposed, the permits applied, the convincing that needed to rallied, coordinating everything and everyone (it must be like a symphony!) - to that I say to the organizers: KUDOS! and Thank you for having the guile to start this and continue moving it forward.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Some National Park Love

1st of October 2013. The U.S. Federal Government shut down due to inability to settle on funding. All federal agencies were closed or will be closed by the next couple of days, including all 401 National Parks. About 800,000 federal employees will be left in limbo with their jobs, and about 21,000 of those are from the National Park Service.  
It also, just so happens to be Yosemite National Park's 123rd birthday, 1st of October 1890. The first government shutdown that I will actually feel has shutdown my first ever visited national park. I love the Google doodle today in honor of Yosemite, but felt sad once you click on it, it takes you to all the news links about closing off many of the country's national parks, monuments and the offices/ information centers of the national forests.

My twitter feed today was filled with alerts from different accounts of national parks, forests and monuments that they will be left unattended and will not be updated until the federal employees get back to work. I felt bewildered. First, I never knew a whole government can actually shutdown. Second, I like most of the twitter accounts of those federal lands. It was the only branch of the government I can actually directly communicate with, and get a straight up answer on an inquiry. It was the only branch of government that I, personally felt, was working with the public. Plus, I have never encountered any randomly annoyed park ranger, a federal employee, like those one would find in some other agencies (*cough dmv* *cough post office*). Unless of course you've disrespected the land that a lot of us are passionate about. National Park Service folks seem to always be happy and eager to help you out.

Our fall trip Sequoia is on hold. Grateful we're not that far from it and there are options available while we wait for it to re-open. It is most unfortunate though to those coming from all over the world and finding out their destination has been closed off, without a heads up.

Hope the federal government opens up soon. Can't wait till we can flash our annual park pass again.

We all gotta start somewhere..

I have vague memories of hiking and going on travels with my parents since I was a kid. But back then, we never called it that - it was just "getting out of the house".. to see a falls, drive through really winding roads that were called "chicken intestines" (yeah, I know - who would call it that?? - but it was fun), multiple trips to beaches (having grown in a tropical country w/ lots of islands - this was a common thing), checking out to see bats in caves that we'd need the assistance of a local to bushwhack through.

All of it came to a halt though, when I reached my teenage years. Those were the years that the company of family were replaced by friends, trips exploring caves became movie theaters, eating out are no longer picnics but at restaurants with fellow teens. We still had our family trips to my family's ancestral hometowns with occasional explorations but my priorities to keep what kind of memories changed.

Fast forward to my 20's, on our way to yet another night of binging on drinks and jumping on good beats - we found ourselves instead on a spontaneous trip heading north and driving into Yosemite National Park in the late late Friday night with nothing on us but the clothes that we were able to rustle up at someone's house (in exchange of clubbing clothes) and a sense of adventure. We drove into the park in the wee hours, happy to have missed the ranger at the entrance (can you say: free entrance?) and giddy of the unknown in the darkness. It was everyone's first time at Yosemite and one of us was even visiting this country for the first time, we didn't know what to expect. Come to think of it, I don't even think we had any expectations, at all. None of us knew anything about the park, except that it was there.

Travelling with a bunch of girls (and one guy) - bathroom break was inevitable. It was in the wee hours, so when we arrived any establishment we would find were bound to be closed. We never even thought of campground restrooms.. heck, we never even knew about campgrounds! That was how naive we all were that time. I vaguely remember us deciding to just park somewhere and walk around to try to find a place to do our "business", when an off duty ranger or park employee happen to walk by and offered assistance to a group, who look like they don't belong there. She offered to take us to their barracks/housing and use their facilities (the girls & guy got separated for a bit). We were in and out fast, grateful for their kindness but didn't want to overstay the hospitality.

Later that morning, cramped up inside a rav4, I had my first wolf encounter. Couldn't sleep, decided to climb out of the car and light up a smoke (my smoking days are long gone). As soon as I opened the car door, I got into an intense eye to eye contact with this magnificent creature. By the way, that was just a one sided recollection of the event. I highly doubt I looked intense in the wolf's eyes, 10 years later I can still picture her in my mind. Needless to say, I didn't get a chance to do what I intended to do, and back to the car I crawled.

The morning after, we explored around the park as much as we possibly could. Explored a river we came across. Scrambled up some rocks to get some pictures in solitude.

Even hiked halfway to the famous Yosemite falls. We didn't make it all the way to the top. It was a pretty high traffic area and a hiker that passed us cared enough to share with us his little off the trail area to get closer to the falls, half way up. It was the perfect setting for a picnic lunch. I can't even remember where we were able to gather up some food for lunch!

That weekend, that happened 10 years ago, was the weekend I got my first taste of the California wilderness. Albeit, unplanned, we were able to experience a lot of the park, its wildlife, scenery, rivers, falls, huge trees and met some of people that loves this park.  Its fangs got me good but like some bites, its venom sat still in me, quietly, bidding its time. It took a few more years before I finally started on the learning curve of maneuvering the ins & outs of our public lands (bless the intarwebs for this!). That, however, is another story.