14,505 ft. of mountain. 12268 ft. of elevation change. 21.7 miles. 1 very long day.
You must start before the sun comes up. We hit the trail at 3:30 AM, which was pretty great because we did the first 4 miles in the dark while half-asleep and it is much easier to have no idea how hard you’re working under these conditions. By 7:30, we’d gone the 7ish miles to Trail Camp.
We thought, “We’re kicking this trail’s ass, we’ll summit by 11:00 at this pace!” We had come prepared with headlamps, iodine, moleskin… the usual hiker must-haves, but we had not prepared for the Switchbacks (dun dun dun). It’s probably best that we didn’t know about them because it would have been impossible to mentally prepare for the combination of elevation, distance, incline, and acrophobia.
So, the switchbacks begin. This 1600 foot ascent that covers about two miles took around 2.5 hours. It’s not just that you’re climbing, it’s that you start the climbing at 12,000 feet after having already been hiking for 4 hours. And after you reach the top, it’s another 2 miles or so across a traverse between 13,500 and 14,000 feet before your final 500 foot ascent to the top. Before the final ascent, passers-by like to tell you, “You’re almost there!” so you start expecting a celebratory marching band and a round of applause after every turn, which was neither possible in this realm of reality nor true in its report of remaining distance. But, I suppose it’s all relative.
The only other 14ers I’ve summitted were in Colorado where tree line ends around 11,700 feet and then arctic tundra begins, so there are signs of life all the way to the top. In reflection, what stands out most about this hike is how for the great majority of it you walk across a rocky, barren terrain. But, while in the moment of hiking this mountain there isn’t just one thought that dominates because between the views, the blisters, the fellow hikers, and the “I’m the king of the world!” effect, your mind is busy the entire day. That is, until the end when you can’t think, can’t talk, and can’t move. Unless, of course, you’re choosing a restaurant, ordering dinner, and shoveling food into your mouth.
The trek to the Radio Towers from the Stough Canyon Nature Center delivers 360 views of Tujunga, the Valley, and Downtown. We were there on a cloudy day, but I could’ve sworn I even saw the ocean over the Santa Monica Mountains. I’d go back to double check, but my muscles are still sore. It’s a good thing there were chaise lounges set up along the trail for snacks and breaks.
So you park on Winding Way East, down on PCH. You do your best to ignore the Mediterranean vernacular mega-mansions peppered along the mile of paved road. You arrive at the trailhead and enjoy the stroll to a peaceful pond.
Feeling curious, you continue up the trail. It gets steeper, but you’re still curious. You stumble upon some ropes to aid your scramble and alas, arrive at the 150-foot falls. High fives all around.
Questions are asked, “Where is the water coming from?” and, “Can we get to the top of the falls?” Everyone agrees it is a terrible idea to continue, except for one adventurer. “I’ll be back,” he says.
He doesn’t come back. You wait. He still doesn’t come back… Where did he go? Having not prepared for this scenario when you left your cell phones in the car, you decide to hope your adventurer’s competence exceeds your expectations and head back down the mountain.
After you recover your adventurer, he reports: “I couldn’t find a way down, so I kept going up. I was terribly thirsty. I found a wall and figured I’d try and climb it. I literally fell down the other side of the wall and heard someone yell, ‘CUT.’ I guess they were filming some TV show. The PAs gave me water and bandaids. One of them drove me back down. Thank God for Hollywood.”
William Faulkner said, “Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder,” Clearly, Faulkner’s first mistake was climbing ladders. He should have been scaling mountains.
For more info on Escondido Canyon park, check here: http://www.lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=12