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Month: February 2013

Mt. Wilson Hike

Mt. Wilson Hike

For months now my friend has been trying to get me to go with him to hike Mt. Wilson.  He already went twice without me, once I was out of town (or something) and the last time, in January, I had a heel fissure.

On February 24th I agreed to go.  My friend showed with his son at about 9:15 and we started out from the little park in Sierra Madre at the base of the trail.

Before I get into my description of the trip, here are two more bubbly descriptions from Pasadena hiker, Joan Bang:

I’m posting these videos in part because I didn’t take any photos on the WAY UP and also because she clearly captures all the sign posts and stopping points that I’ll mention later.

I had looked at the weather report earlier in the week and read about temperatures under 50 degrees at the top, so I dressed warm.  I wore a sporty heat wicking (or something)  undershirt (yes, the one you bought me a few years ago, mom), another long-sleeve shirt over that and finally a fleece lined jacket and a knit cap.  The cafe at the top is closed until April, so I brought with me half a bag of caramel popcorn, a small bag of banana chips, a bag of potato chips, 5 “cutie” oranges, 2 pears, an apple, 2 small bottles of chocolate milk and two plastic 24oz hiking bottles of water.  I also packed supplies like hand wipes, napkins, etc.   I borrowed my father’s hiking stick and a spare one that Kent had and we set out.  Within minutes I started overheating.  I took the coat, hat and long-sleeve shirt off and stuffed them into my backpack.  A few minutes later I had sweated off all of my sunscreen already.  I was huffing and puffing all over with that backpack and we were barely a mile up the mountain.

Looking back on it later, that first stretch wasn’t bad.  After about two miles you get to “First Water;” a trail that, if followed, diverges down to a rushing stream and pools of water.  We carried on up the hill though.  In another mile and a half, after a wooded hike, around 11am we reached the “campground.”  The campground is roughly halfway up the seven mile hike.  What I didn’t realize was that the next quarter of the trip would be the hardest.  Even though the next mile and a half after the campground is through a heavily wooded area, it’s also the most intense and steep of the climb.  I spent the entire time hunched over leaning heavily on the walking sticks maneuvering my way up through the rocks like a weird 4 legged insect. We had to stop every fifteen minutes or so and take a breather. The length of time it takes to hike this part is always underestimated, and even though my friend had done this twice already, he did it again.  Or maybe we stopped more than he was used to (he wasn’t stupid like me, he hadn’t brought a lot of heavy food).

Eventually, after 5 and a half grueling miles we came to a clearing with a large wooden bench.  It was there that I stopped and drank my first sip of water since the beginning of the hike and ate the most delicious pear I’ve ever tasted.  We were surprised to see we still had a mile and a half to walk to the top.  Luckily, half of that hike is a walk up an access road in the shade.  It was then that I saw the first snow I’ve seen in real life in quite a while.  I don’t think I saw this much snow on the ground the last three times I went to Ohio.

Finally, around 1:30 we reached the observatory parking lot.  We plopped down on the large boulders at the edge and ate our supplies.  It was then I realized that I’d lugged all of that food and water up the hill needlessly.  I couldn’t even finish my apple I was so full.  I would only end up drinking one full (24oz) water bottle.  After about an hour we started back down.  It was then that I could actually enjoy the scenery for the first time and took out my camera.  The photo below is taken looking south just in front of the boulders at the edge of the parking lot.  It was disappointing to see so much smog hanging in the air after hiking up to the top of the mountain.  I’ve heard that on clear days you can see Catalina Island from Mt. Wilson, but on Saturday we could barely see the 210 freeway.

Next to the trail-head is this little groomed tree growing all by itself.

 After a half mile or so of switchbacks we were back on the access road crunching through the snow.

Over to the left was a view of the ridge with Mt. Wilson Observatory.  The parking lot is just below the observatory to the left in the photo below, just out of frame.  The Observatory sits at an elevation of 5,713 feet.

I’m not sure what the snow capped peak over there to the east is, any ideas?

After building the road going through the mountain much of the stone already loosened by tree roots had fallen away, leaving the western hillside replete with hardy trees displaying knotted roots.

After leaving the access road my friend took us on a shortcut straight down the ridge to the wooden bench where I’d had that first pear, 5.5 miles from the bottom.

In the photo below if you follow the trail you can see the bench.

We took a brief rest on the bench.  It was 3:30 and had taken us roughly an hour to come down less than two miles from the top.  It was just before reaching the bench, coming down the steep shortcut that my knees started to pulse.  As we sat on the bench I took an advil, but my knees became worse and worse as we worked down the steepest switchbacks in the wooded trail.

As we continued I was able to see the beauty in our surroundings that I could not notice hunched over on the way up.  The forest above three thousand feet turns into a cool damp garden flush with moss that might seem more natural to Oregon or northern California.  This has always been my favorite type of forest, impeccably green and glowing with life.  Even felled trees were more alluring  here than in the lower mediterranean climate found on most hikes in Los Angeles.

At several points there were dead pine trees that had lost their needles but hadn’t fallen under their own weight.  They spiraled up into the sky with jutting arms like some kind of evil spiny organism that feeds on low flying hawks (which were also plentiful).

But my favorite thing was the moss covered rocks.  I’d like to have a wall in my house that looks like this, wouldn’t you?

I put my camera away to catch up with my friend and his son, who were half a mile ahead of me down the trail.  I took it back out again when we passed first water and came out to a canyon sunset.  Can you see the little strip of water out there just to the left of center, that’s the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area.  The large white thing on the right is the Santa Anita race track.

With about a mile left to go my friend offered to snap a picture of me.  At this point I was in quite a bit of pain, mostly in my knees.  I was relying heavily on the walking sticks, and for the first time in my life felt what it must be like to not have adequate use of your legs.  I lamented that I would have done this trip more if I had discovered it earlier in my life.  Of course, I’m also wondering why my knees are crapping out on me before I’m even 32 years old.  Maybe I need to eat more fish?  Maybe I need to just hike more often; Sam and I go months now in between hikes.  I probably should have expected a result like this when attempting the most difficult hike of my life after a three month hiatus.

Over my left shoulder you can see Santa Anita park.

Looking east toward Monrovia.

And west toward Los Angeles.  If you squint you can see the towers downtown all the way to the right in the haze.

After the hike my friend treated us to an expansive and expensive Korean BBQ all-you-can-eat dinner at Gaon in Pasadena.  I can’t remember the last time I ate so much meat, but after hiking for fourteen miles I seemed to have a bottomless stomach and everything tasted that much better.  I ate two servings of their mashed potatoes and 1.75 of the potato pancakes in addition to everything else.  Maybe it just tasted better because, for the first time since I was a freshman in college, I felt zero guilt for overeating.

The next day, however, my entire body aches and I can barely walk.  I’m discovering blisters all over my body and a nice “rug burn” from the straps of my backpack.  I can’t raise my arms above my shoulders and I am dreading walking to my car to go to work tomorrow morning, as hobbling around the house is hard enough.  The dryness and the grit and abuse my hands took seem to have brought back my eczema and I’m getting friction rashes not just in the usual places, but even on unusual places like the backs of my knees.

But I did it!


14 miles.  Almost 6,000 feet.

For you Marietta folks, that’s a longer walk than walking from my parents’ house to WHS.  It’s a longer walk than walking from my parents’ house to Marietta college AND BACK.  And mom, obviously, it’s farther than walking to MMH and back.

For you Columbus folks, that’s farther than walking from Ohio Stadium to the airport, or from Clintonville to COSI and back.

For you LA people, well, where to begin?  It’s about as long as a walk from the Hollywood Bowl to the Santa Monica Pier.  It’s a shorter walk than going along the beach from Pepperdine to Pacific Palisades.  It’s like walking on the 405 from the 118 to the 101 and then turning around and walking back to the 118… and then turning around and walking all the way back to the 101.

For you NYC people, it’s like walking from JFK to Battery Park, or like walking from Washington Heights to Brooklyn, the long way around.




Supernatural Sighting

Supernatural Sighting

On February 9th Sam and I had the pleasure of joining a new/old friend for a casual birthday gathering in Los Feliz.  I met M back in college when we had dinner together at Byron’s parents’ house.  M was one of Byron’s roommates at Ohio University.  After that dinner we never really had the opportunity to meet again. I knew that M had recently moved to Los Angeles so Byron introduced us (again) and M invited Sam and I to his birthday gathering.   M and his girlfriend were very welcoming and facilitated conversation with them and many of their friends we’d never met before.  M and his girlfriend share a love of Thai food and happen to live around the corner from us in Hollywood.  I have a feeling we’ll be eating Thai food with them together soon.  We plan on showing them more places to hike, and they’ll show us more places to eat since they are food bloggers.

After hanging out there for a few hours we headed to Little Tokyo to check out the art show at the Japanese American History Museum.  As it turns out, there was a photographer there for one of the art blogs that I read, Daily Dujour.  We didn’t notice anyone taking photos at the time, but I saw myself in the photos as I read their review of the show.  Apparently our ears are prettier than our faces, though, as every shot is from the side.  See if you can pick us out.

Need help?  Okay…  (I’m reposting pictures from DailyDujour, hopefully they will not mind)

here I am walking out of the shot…waaaay in the back there…

Here is a great shot of my ear and Sam’s elbow (to the left)….

And here is Sam in complete profile while I have turned my head completely away from the camera…

They managed to capture every second during the night when we actually weren’t standing next to each other.

The Edwin Ushiro pieces in the show were great, but we were disappointed that Audrey Kawasaki only  had one (?) actual piece while the rest were prints.  Since the majority of her work is painted on wood with the grain showing through, prints really don’t do it justice.

We also walked through the upper level, which contained the actual museum.  Although we knew about the Japanese internment (and the little-known German American internment) during WWII, it was all the much sadder to see the personal effects of the camp inhabitants.  After looking at a scale model of one of the camps we had to wonder how in the world the US government could afford to build and maintain (such as they were)  the camps on such a huge scale.  Keep in mind this was all before the post-war economy boom.

Some of the features in the museum talked about the court cases we studied in grad school.  In my business law class we spent a few days going over the supreme court cases brought against the US government on behalf of the interned Japanese American citizens.



Sam loves to go to Disneyland; I’m not sure if it’s the idea of being a kid again, the rides, or what.  I’m not as big a fan (I grew up on steel roller-coasters  not teacups), but I know that Sam will really enjoy it, so I end up going with her every other year or so (she goes with friends in between our visits). This year I took Sam for Valentine’s Day.

I rushed through the gate and we ended up going into the wrong park.  They said we could get our tickets exchanged at guest services to get into Disneyland.  However, since we were already in California Adventure Land, we decided to ride the Tower of Terror first.  Sam says it’s the only ride in that park she likes.

When we got to Disney proper we rode a lot of rides that I’d never been on before.  Some were new and some were just classics that we’d skipped before like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Pinocchio   Two of the newer rides were  disappointing.   Star Tours  was a big LCD screen with 3D and a jostling cabin of seats.  It sounds like a good idea, but after seeing The Hobbit in 48 frames per second (and many other 3D movies in 24 frames) it seemed like a really long wait to see a really really short CG sequence in 3D.  The last ride we went on before the park closed was a submarine ride based on Finding Nemo.  It was bizarre   Riders are forced to board a real submarine and view the ride through portholes.  The “ride” is essentially the same thing as the train ride, but underwater.  There were vignettes of scuba divers exploring poorly lit fake coral reefs that are barely better quality than the dinosaurs on the train ride.  Interspersed were projections of characters from Finding Nemo, but the screens were visible and the very luminous projections contrasting with the dull water-worn plastic props was more confusing than anything else.  Because the view out of a single port-hole wasn’t very wide often things were going on on one side or end of the submarine that weren’t seen on the other.  Or maybe we were just too tired to appreciate it.

Sam rode the carousel at one point.  I did not board a horse, despite repeated requests. (from Sam, not the horse)

We rode the teacups twice, once during the day and again later at night.

We left shortly before midnight.  I realized that with no traffic I actually can get home from Disneyland faster than I can from my day job.  Let me reword that: If I had a night shift job at Disneyland I’d have an easier commute than I do now.  Of course, the Disney corporate office is just around the corner from our condo… but I digress…

Here is a photo of main street USA actually looking like main street USA, but with more lights.

old friends and new dinners

old friends and new dinners

At the end of 2012 Sam and I made huge strides to get our condo ready for guests.  Other friends had stopped by of course in the six months since we’d bought the place, but it was always in a state of flux with furniture, repairs, etc. all pending.  By the time my parents showed up in November it was mostly complete.  Early in 2013 Sam had to go to China for work, but when she returned we started lining up guest dinners.  In the month since Sam came back she has already cooked two gourmet meals for old friends at our condo, and if our schedule wasn’t so full of other things (trips for work, hiking Mt. Wilson, Disneyland, weddings, etc.) we’d have already had two or three more couples over.  We’re actually at the point now where we’re pushing off dates with friends until May because we’re so busy on the weekends.

Our first dinner guests of the year were B and S.  B went through most of grad school with Sam and I.  After school he opened his own business building mobile applications for major companies.  I’m now asking him for advice on this little adventure.  B’s wife, S, is now pregnant, so it may be the last time we get to see them for a while.  Sam made “surf n’ turf.”

Desert isn’t pictured, but consisted of doughnut holes, baked till crispy then dipped in mixed berry sauce and melted chocolate.

Sam often makes this same berry sauce as she discovered my favorite desert is white cake with ice cream and berry sauce.  The berry sauce is crucial as it gets absorbed by the cake and turns it into a berry cake.  Soon she started making the sauce all the time and I started putting it on everything.  B liked the berry sauce so much that he took a batch of it home and surprised his wife with a big box of doughnuts the next day for dipping.

Our next couple of guests was also an old grad school friend and his wife.  E and I used to go out to lunch a lot since he and I work across the street from each other.  His wife, M,  also just finished grad school (not at Pepperdine) and they are getting ready to move to a more southern part of Los Angeles where she was hired.  Sam wanted to cook mushroom soup for their meal and on Superbowl Sunday she did a test run with pizza-toast:

The soup was the best mushroom soup I’ve ever had.  It was very creamy and had a thick mushroom taste without being too overpoweringly dark.  I think she minced several kinds of mushrooms so no single shroom could overwhelm the palate, but mixing them together produced a more mellow smooth flavor.  As if that wasn’t enough, Sam bought some fresh (I guess no cheese is “fresh” – right?) Parmesan cheese to grate into the soup.

She also served this with a pasta salad and goat cheese, basil and cherry tomatoes.

After all of this she followed it up with strawberries dipped in chocolate, but the salads and soup were so filling we could barely eat any of them.

What our guests don’t realize is that Sam cooks like this all the time, and that makes me incredibly lucky!