I like to freehike as most of you know.  This has been a bad summer for it. It got hot in June and stayed that way. we just got our first real break from triple-digit weather. Today was a mellow 95F and it looks like the entire week will follow suit.

So, of course, I spent the day trying to repair a swamp cooler, mostly arguing with the water tubing and float. Fiddling on the roof, I suppose. Still need to replace the pump and change the pads.

The last few weeks have been marked by massive fires all over the state. About a million and a half acres (so far) with some of it in my favorite hiking areas. There’s a 10 mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that was taken out by the Lake Fire. They’ll probably close it. In a normal year, there’d be an effort to reroute it but this is not a normal year nor is the Administration exactly trail-friendly.  The PCT is about 20 miles from my house down any of 5 different roads.

Lake Fire
The big red trail going across is the PCT. About 10 miles has been involved with the Lake Fire. Lower left red dotted line is Fish Canyon Narrows Trails. Red Rock Canyon Trail loops around from the left to meet it.

I was very worried it would take out Fish Canyon and the magnificent oaks to the south. Fortunately, that area survived. The massive and ancient oaks of Cienaga Campground were preserved. For now, most of the local hiking areas are closed, burnt or not.

Yosemite bark beetle damage
Bark beetle devastation in Yosemite. Personally, I think it would be better to log the dead trees under close monitoring. People would get to work and the fire danger would be reduced. This will burn eventually and there’ll be no stopping the fire until it runs out of fuel. I don’t care if the lumber company makes some money.

The Lake Fire raged through areas that had not seen a fire in a hundred years. A lot of mature forest will be lost. Yet it wasn’t unexpected. The drought coupled with the bark beetle killed a lot of trees and severely stressed others which added to the ferocity of the flames. Personally, I’d rather have seen the diseased trees logged off under rigid controls. The fire would not have been nearly so intense. But local environmentalists won’t let it happen.

It is now a beetle free area. Weedy species will sprout, wildflowers will abound and the cycle of succession will begin anew. Perhaps more drought-tolerant species will come to dominate where pines once ruled.  That is how nature repairs fire damage and deals with climate change.

Any kind of full recovery will be beyond my lifetime. But I’ll be able to watch some of the process.

I got out of shape. You can’t maintain your conditioning by exercising one time every other week. I tried a few short hikes in the morning and discovered it was hitting 90F at 10 a.m. It didn’t cool off until long after sunset.

I’ve been going up to Mt. Piños. It is about 75 minutes away by car, so it isn’t a regular trip. It is the only place with an elevation high enough to be comfortable this summer. At 8300 ft (the parking lot) the temps only get up to the low 80s. Mt. Piños has healthy Jeffrey Pines and there are many different trails to choose from.

Mount Pinos map
I have hiked all these. Some are suggested routes for cross country skiing. The most difficult trails aren’t even marked. It is cross country, just you and your GPS. On foot, it is bushwhacking in knee-deep brush.

Since the COVID crisis hit, the backcountry has gotten really crowded, even during the week. I suspect it is unemployed and underemployed people looking to enjoy their free time. I really hope they maintain that interest after the pandemic is over. I prefer empty trails and personal isolation. I can be nude and free and a part of the wild that way rather than just a spectator. But…

This is bigger than just me. The more people use the national forest for recreation the more pressure there will be to preserve the land and maintain infrastructure. An eccentric individual’s hobby doesn’t count for much against that. The wild will not be preserved if people don’t experience it. It may not be the pure wilderness of the idealistic environmentalists but the bears and the coyotes and the deer don’t care about that.

I’ll just have to get into deeper and more inaccessible areas.

Fire crew of 8 was on the trail. They are my heroes!

I went up to Mt. Piños last Wednesday. There were three Forest Service trucks. I found the crews resting along the trail and asked them what was up. They were there to put out a small lightning strike fire. I asked how big it was and they said it was just one tree. (Reminds me of a fire I’d reported once.) Then I asked them if I should maybe not be hiking that day and they reassured me I had nothing to worry about that day. If one did start that might be threatening, crews would go out and canvas the trails for hikers.

Well, that was a relief! Which brings up a couple of safety rules for extreme fire weather. No fires of any kind. No joints, no cigarettes, no camp stoves, no lanterns. Do not drive or park in the grass, the heat from your catalytic can start a fire.   Even just leaving a water bottle on the ground in the sun can start a fire. Stick to established trails on maps because if you need to be warned to get out, that’s where they will go to look for you.

I am a tired and weak and fat old man. But I can still walk quite well, even though my knees would argue otherwise.

Not wanting to re-hike recent trails, I headed over to Grouse Mountain. Or at least I tried. Head out from the left side of the map above onto the map below.

Grouse Mountain

Not an easy hike. The long trail in the middle is the Vincent Tumawait Trail. It intersects with the North Fork trail. From the parking lot to the Vincent Tumawait Trailhead (aka “Condor Viewpoint”) is 1.8 miles. From there to the North Fork trail is another 2.2 miles. A 4-mile x2 hike should be trivial but this one isn’t. I’m not in the greatest shape.

This is the kind of thing the girls of “Encouragement of Climb” liked to do. Probably in much better shape than I am if they made Mt. Fuji. Ah youth!

Of course, I got off to my usual mid-afternoon start.

This is the first 1.8 miles of the hike. It is an old road gated off to the public vehicles. Forest service trucks occasionally drive this way.
As you gain elevation, the terrain alternates between forest and meadow.
This is the start of the Vincent Tumawait trail, 8848 ft. elevation.
Sawmill and Grouse mountains
I’m on top of Mt. Piños. The closer mountain is Sawmill and the farther one is Grouse. You can tell it is in the afternoon from the shadows.

There is a 600 ft. drop on the trail that starts out with wide gentle switchbacks but then turns into an eroded mess straight down the slope.

Jeffrey pines that have been struck by lightning. They seem to have adapted to lightning up here. It doesn’t usually kill a tree but will terminate a tree’s upward growth. The electricity goes down one side of the tree into the soil and blows a strip of bark off. The tree then grows outward instead of up and heals over the lost strip of bark.

Blooms and birds and berries and bees and butterflies. The berries are wild currants. Edible but rather tasteless, there were fields of them indicating the deer and bear have not been this way yet.

North CreekTrail
North Fork Trail heads south. Six miles away is a Boy Scout Camp. This used to be a main trail but it is now unused and overgrown in spots. I’m going to blame COVID-19 and the Boy Scouts’ impending bankruptcy.

You regain 400 ft of elevation to hit Sawmill Mountain. It has a main peak and a west peak and I’ve visited both. Then you lose it again only to have to go up again for Grouse. Going downhill you don’t save all that much energy and returning you have to regain the elevation you’ve dropped. I’d managed to get to the intersection with the North Fork Trail when it appeared that if I wanted to make it back to the car by sunset, I should not attempt Grouse.

I hadn’t seen a soul since I left Mt. Piños. Pretty soon I started getting a bit freer about my clothing options. So here’s fair warning of NSFW content at the bottom. I always like to grab a “nude on top of the mountain” photo to celebrate!.

This was the cairn on the top of Grouse Mt. back in 2016. Who knows what is there now…

Ah me! I have been to Grouse before a couple of times and I will go there again. Discretion is the better part of valor and all that. I settled for the two unnamed peaks along the side of the trail, both at about 8520 ft.

Along the way, I saw a deer and a red-tailed hawk but could not get the camera out in time. Oh well!

The trails did not look like I remembered them looking. The trail to Grouse Mountain wasn’t where I remembered it being. These things are happening more and more to me. There’ve been other trails that just looked strange and felt wrong. When I’d sit down and think about my surroundings, I’d discover the trail had been moved. Literally rerouted but the map not changed. Or what had been a broad and clear footpath was now overgrown and almost not there. Or an unused trail crossed by numerous fallen trees was now a mountain bike freeway. Maybe I mentally telescoped a mile into a hundred yards or remembered a slope as being far steeper than it is. A few years changes everything.

I installed a GPS program called Backcountry Navigator on my phone. My SPOT communicator allows me to send and receive texts and call for GPS guided help at any time. It reminds me of the TV ad.

The thought of someday being technology dependent is a psychological downer. It is another step on the long descent into old age. But for now, I have made it as far as I did thanks to previous hikes, copious amounts of pain killers, the new prescription of gabapentin (which also helps with my spasming feet at night), and the miracle of cortisone injections. Time to celebrate!

Veni, vidi, vici!
I hereby declare this to be Mount Fred
(until someone in the USGS tells me otherwise.)