Overnight to Lowe — 11 Miles

Middle Sam Merrill Trail -- Rod overlooks Los Angeles, about 4 miles from the trailhead.

Middle Sam Merrill Trail — Rod overlooks Los Angeles, about 4 miles from the trailhead.

January 31-Feb. 1, 2015. First backpack of the year. I hope there will be many more to follow. Last year was a bust, mainly due to two factors: lack of rain/water and my son’s football schedule. Truth be told, I still wouldn’t trade his games for weekend trips to the hills, I just wish there was a way to add days to the weekends.

This trip was supposed to have about eight–between Scouts and Scouters. All but three of us pulled out.

We left the trailhead at Rod’s house in Altadena at 3:30 Saturday afternoon. The weather was warm, in the low 70s with gusty winds. The day couldn’t have been more beautiful.

The first part of the hike killed my legs. I didn’t stretch, nor was I in any kind of backpacking shape. Although my pack weight was 13 pounds (9 pounds base), I still experienced knee pain like I haven’t felt in 20 years. By the time we reached the top of Echo Mountain (3.2 miles), I knew I was in trouble. The rest of the hike was painful, but I pushed through concentrating on how beautiful the night was.

Caleb brought a borrowed mirrorless camera, which he experimented with throughout the hike up.

Once we reached Sunset Point on Middle Sam Merrill Trail, the sun had already set—it was about 6:30pm and crystal clear. We rounded the corner to the north side of the mountain and began the short and restful traverse to Mt. Lowe trail camp. Although we had a near full moon, the oaks and pines blocked most of the moonlight, casting tricky shadows on the trail. I was tired and didn’t trust my sense of balance, so I broke down and used the red LED on my headlamp. The air turned colder and we all added a layer and hat.

As we neared the campground, we were relieved to not hear anyone; last time we showed up, a group of partiers had taken over the camp with loud laughing, yelling and plenty of hard booze. At the time, we asked them how they carried their bottles up. They said, “We didn’t—we carried them down from the road [Markham Saddle]. We were with Scouts, it was dark, late and the guys were aggressively inquisitive. They actually didn’t see us until we came down the hill from the water tank. One of the guys ran over with a bottle of vodka and got in my face. He asked if they were being too loud and if we needed space to camp. I told him we were fine, that we were continuing on. One of the boys told him we were getting water. I quickly cut in and alluded that we got water up the trail a ways—I did not want drunk, irresponsible people spoiling the only water source. We moved on up the road to the tennis courts, about 200 yards away, where we spent the night. That was then….

This time, as we crossed the dry stream bed into camp, I turned my headlamp on high to survey the area for other people. Empty—perfect.

The air was cold, about 53 degrees with occasional gusts pushing through the forest onto our camp. We decided to set up on the terraced areas just below the south wall to help shield us from the wind.

Our first chore was to check the water source near by. It was near full with water pouring out the sides. I did not treat the water. It has been more than ten days I I feel fine.

New clothes

A few weeks earlier, I bought a new pair of running shorts and tights. I wanted to experiment with a lighter and more versatile clothing system. For about 15 years, I’ve sported the same North Face hiking zipoff pants. They work great; not too heavy, warm in the winter—cool in the summer. The zips were especially convenient. The issues I had were mostly superficial; being 15 years old, they were old fashion, baggy and bulky. The shorts were ok, but the zips are huge and take up a lot of space. The other, more practical, issue I have is the resistance against my legs with each step, adding unnecessary work to each step I took.

My new shorts are a fraction of the weight with no resistance when walking. I miss all the pockets though. The tights are not as warm as I had hoped. Worn under my shorts, slight breezes penetrate doing little to break the wind. That’s why I also brought my Sierra Design rain pants, which kept my legs very warm. At about 6oz, the shorts, tights and rain/wind pants come in at about the same weight as the North Face pants.

Andy (the trail dog) began shaking as we all made our dinners. I pulled out the “A-Pod” (Andy’s sleeping bag) for him to slip into, but he was still more interested in our scraps, as well as all food morsels around the three, empty fire pits.

After dinner, we hiked up to Inspiration Point where Caleb experimented with his camera with time exposures.

Once back at camp, we spread out our bags–no shelter–and called it a night—it was about 9:30pm.

Sunday, 6:07am – We woke to clear skies and 48 degrees. It was dark as we packed up. It took us about 30 minutes to get ready and we were on the trail. My knees really hurt. They hurt enough that Advil didn’t touch pain, so I took an Aleve as well. Still no help.

We took Middle Sam back down instead of Castle Canyon due to the steepness of Castle. Every step was painful but I figured there was nothing I could do. We stopped at one point and ate breakfast on the trail. I made oatmeal and coffee on the Supercat. Rod and Caleb ate bars.

I was relieved to finally reach the bottom but disappointed the trip was not longer.

The trip went well despite the painful knee situation. I need to get back on my regiment of vitamins. I especially need to get back on the trail more often.

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