Road To Mt. Whitney

Let me make this clear. I am not an athlete and I could never understand why some people relentlessly push their bodies beyond their limits to the point of pain or exhaustion – and enjoy it. And then do it all over again.  And again. So trying to keep up with an athlete, especially one with limited patience, is not always easy. This is my photo journal of some of my hiking experiences over the last couple of years that led me to the top of Mt. Whitney, surprising myself in the process with what a physical body can actually do if you push it.

With my athlete/significant-other-in-the-truest-sense Gordon Jenkins usually ahead of me, we continued our search for native lilies. This brought us to mountains we had never visited before together…

…or by either of us, ever.

6.30.12 ~ We journeyed into the Santa Ana mountains to a place called Black Star Canyon, going from 900′  up to 3100′  in a 16.4 mile round trip. And we found what we were looking for.


7.07.12 ~ Continuing adventures beyond Los Angeles took us to a mountain whose name I’d never heard before – San Gorgonio –  the highest peak in Southern California and the Transverse Ranges at 11,503 feet (3,506 m). Just learning about the permit situation, I found that we could not request a permit ahead of time within a certain amount of time, and even if we were outside of that time, there is no guarantee of a permit. So we got up in the wee hours of the morning to make the 3 hour drive down to the Mill Creek Ranger Station in Mentone to try to get a coveted walk-in permit. We arrived to a line already formed before the ranger station even opened, crossing our fingers to get one of the 12 available permits. And we got the last one of two. We hiked up to the saddle, beginning at 6890′ up to to 10,100 feet ~ more than 3100′ gain in 5.9 miles ~ over 11 miles round trip.

 7.14.12 ~ We returned to “Old Grayback” the following week to see the lemon lilies again and climb all the way to the summit – 11,503 feet. I learned the term “peak-bagging” and how folks keep record of the distances they hike and their altitude gain and all that is involved in hiking. This was all new to me and to be honest, I did not know how long I was going to be hiking like this, so my records are not the most thorough. This time we left even earlier, leaving by 3:30am to be sure we would be first in line at the ranger station. And we were. I still find it hard to believe I hiked up that mountain again with its rocky trails. Afterward I felt like I wanted to take my feet off and set them somewhere so they could recuperate on their own.

7.21.12 ~ Early mornings were going to become common if we were to be hiking these long day hikes down south. Not only did we want to ensure a permit, but we wanted to beat the heat by hiking uphill as early as possible. We headed out to Riverside County 3 1/2 hours away to the Idyllwild Ranger Station and climbed up beautiful San Jacinto – 6500′ up to 10,834′ ~ 4334′ altitude gain in 8 miles, 16 mile hike roundtrip.

 7.28.12 ~ The next weekend we travelled to the edge of Los Angeles County and headed up Mt San Antonio, or Mt. Baldy as most people know it. After San Jacinto, I really tried to find something I liked about this hike. Oh, right! No permit needed. So I learned no permit required = more people. Too many people for my preference on this mountain. We began at 6080′ climbing up to 10,064′ ~ 3984′ altitude gain in 4.5 miles, an 11.2 mile roundtrip loop.
8.04.12 ~ Next  weekend we introduced ourselves to windy, beautiful Cucamonga Peak. Fortunately we could call ahead of time for a permit and have it waiting outside to pick up early in the morning. It was a great hike -11.6 mile round trip with 4,300′ of elevation gain to the summit at 8859′.
Four out of the “SoCal Six Pack peaks” accomplished! Many hikers we met along the trail and at these different summits were training toward Wt. Whitney. It was around this time I was thinking of my not-from-this-planet mountain runner twin brother, Adam,  and how he and my dad would go running on Mt. Whitney for many years around our birthday in August. It was a fleeting thought that it would be fun to hike up Whitney and meet my twin for our mutual birthday. Through my permit experiences with hiking in these Southern California mountains I found the system operates differently in the Sierras, especially in regard to Mt. Whitney. “Maybe next year,” I half-seriously said to myself.
During these days I just couldn’t bear the thought of putting those hiking boots on again for another long hike. When I bought them originally, I didn’t know about the 1 to 1 1/2 sizes bigger than normal shoe size rule for hiking. I trusted the salesperson at the outdoor store with the three initials whom I thought was helping me. I should have turned around and ran when he said they “looked pretty” instead of checking my toe space at the end of the boot. And what a silly comment. I did buy them, though, Merrells that felt comfy and snug but not tight. Well, comfy and snug is not what you want when you’re hiking miles and miles up to mountain tops. Or hiking anywhere for that matter. And fortunately that store with the three letters had a return policy that allowed me to exchange those well-used boots for the same in a size appropriate for what I was exposing myself to. And yes, I could have read more about how to choose hiking footwear.
8.16.12 ~ With the thought of Mt. Whitney fading, I turned my birthday sights toward Mt. Shasta. We headed to Northern California and met with Gordon’s mom Charlotte and Frank for a hike to the top of Brokeoff Mountain – starting at 6600′ hiking up to 9400′ ~ 2800′ altitude gain in 3.5 miles, 7 miles roundtrip.
 8.17.12 ~ We celebrated my birthday hiking to the top of Mt. Eddy – 6600′ to 9100′ ~ 2500′ altitude gain in 5 miles, 10 miles roundtrip.
8.18.12 ~ Before returning home, we took one last hike on the side of Mt. Shasta – a beautiful way to begin ascending at about 6900′ heading up Avalanche Gulch a couple miles to 8199′ for lunch.
 8.24.12 ~ Back in Southern California still craving altitude, we returned once again to San Gorgonio via a different route to the top – beginning  the ascent at Vivian Creek Trailhead at 6084′ up to the summit at 11,503~5419′ altitude gain in about 8.5 miles, 17 mile 11 hour roundtrip.
 We stayed in our own back yard for a while, hiking up our local mountains and stretching out the days…
9.08.12 ~ Grass Mountain and Zaca Peak ridge starting at 1200’up to 3800′ ~ 2600′ altitude gain in 2.5 mile portion, up to the ridge at 4300′ then taking the l-o-n-g road back along Figueroa Mountain, 15.5 miles roundtrip.
We spent several months keeping the mileage going, hiking different trails in our local backcountry. During that time, February 1 was the time the Mt. Whitney lottery began so I applied for the dates of my birthday August the 17th and an alternate of the 18th, which fell on my sister’s birthday. And I forgot about it until April when we would find out which day we would be going.
2.02.13 ~ The winter guided us up to San Rafael Mountain in the Los Padres National Forest – 6593′.
 Heading into Spring we  spent many weekend days hiking up to the historic Ocean View Trail  (which I share in a previous post) and several other trails here in Santa Barbara, mostly searching for the stunning native California lilies that grace our mountains.
 When April arrived, with it brought the news that our permit was approved and scheduled for August 18th. At first I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t be hiking Mt. Whitney on my birthday, but after doing a little research, per Wikipedia on August 18, 1873 – 140 years ago to the day we would be on Mt. Whitney-  Charles Begole, A. H. Johnson, and John Lucas of nearby Lone Pine, had become the first to reach the highest summit in the contiguous United States. As they were fishermen, they called the mountain Fisherman’s Peak. But in 1891, the US Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names decided to recognize the earlier name of Mount Whitney. The name Whitney has remained to this day.
It was beginning to sink in that we were actually going. The planning ensued amidst more mountain climbing in preparation for something I never imagined that I would be doing, to be honest. Going to the top of Mt. Whitney was always something I associated with my twin brother,  a birthday event, and yet he would not be going this year either . But here I was, climbing mountains again I did not think I would be climbing again toward the goal of reaching the top of Mt. Whitney.
Summer came  and we revisited some of the SoCal Six Pack.
6.22.13 ~ Cucamonga Peak – 8859′ with 4,300′ of elevation gain to the summit – 11.6 mile round trip.
 6.29.13 ~ We were back on the mountain I thought I would never return to – Mt. Baldy. This time we hiked up to the less crowded West Baldy via Bear Canyon. – beginning at 4297′ up to 9988′  with altitude gain of 5691′ in less than 6 miles on one of the hottest days of the year.  While I prefer viewing the busy Baldy summit from the less busy West Baldy summit, my opinion about this mountain remains the same.
 7.06.13 ~ In my size and a half larger boots, more surface space did not equate to better balance, in fact I was feeling it was time to go a different route – with trail shoes. I had never had hiking shoes without ankle support so this would be interesting. We spent an ample amount of time in another shop with a patient salesperson and each chose a pair of Salomon trail shoes. We tested them out on San Bernardino Peak in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, hiking from approximately 6,000′ up to 10,649′ (3245 mtrs) – over 4600′ of altitude gain in less than 8 miles. Nearly 16 miles round trip. No blisters. Great shoes. Amazing trail.
7.13.13 ~ San Jacinto Peak again via Marion Mountain Trail reaching 10,834′ with an elevation gain of over 4600′ in about 6 1/2 miles, some sections ridiculously steep and a relentless uphill.
7.20.13 ~ San Gorgonio via South Fork -Made it just shy of the peak this time having gotten caught in a thunderstorm at over 11,200ft (3400m) ~ 21+ miles round trip

7.27.13 First trip to the Eastern Sierras in the Cottonwood Lakes area with the lofty idea of climbing Mt. Langley via Old Army Pass, all in a day. At the base of Old Army Pass, I looked up and said “no way.” Gordon went on up but did not go all they way. I checked out a lower section of the trail and thought if it were this condition all the way up, I would be fine. Next time.

 The landscapes on the way back home after our hike were at times like a painting.
 It was already August and just thinking about Mt. Whitney made me feel so many mixed emotions.
8.03.13 ~ Mount Langley via Old Army Pass attempt #2. I am so amazed I hiked over Old Army Pass. I was terrified. But I did it. After that, I could just not make it up Langley the direction we were heading. I even went back down Old Army Pass. New Army Pass next time. Langley? Who knows.
8.16.17 ~ The weekend had arrived and it was time for Mt. Whitney.
I have my significant other like no other to thank for motivating me to the summit. Though I arrived after he did, I enjoyed being inspired by the 11-year-old girl named Shannon hiking a short distance behind me. She passed me on the way to the summit as I was on the ground deliriously photographing the beautiful Sky Pilot flower, a few hundred feet from the summit at 14,200 feet. I felt proud seeing her reach the top. And I felt so proud of myself and grateful to be sharing the moment with Gordon.
I only have photos going up to the summit. The descent was harrowing. I felt like I was in some kind of movie. I do not even know how we got down that mountain. The storm came through with fluorescent orange curtains of lightning ricocheting off any exposed peaks along with the accompanying deafening crackling thunderbooms that shook the ground. We practically ran down an invisible trail hidden by white mounds of ice pebbles brought on by the too much-too fast unending  hail for what felt like hours. Trails were rushing slush streams  crisscrossing slope after slope. With each step I never knew if my foot would hit solid ground or end up in a bucket deep puddle. A lone writer emerged from under a large boulder asking if he could join us. We continued the race toward the treeline hoping to get a reprieve from the pelting ice stones. Gordon pranced across raging stream crossings while I trudged straight through the water not risking falling off any rock. We caught up to other hikers and we all seemed to make this human train, huddled together moving down the trail in one unit, no one wanting to stop and be left behind. It became dark and not expecting to be descending after dark, I did not have my head lamp handy. Not good. And not going to stop to dig it out of my pack. The one person with a handy head lamp lit the way for all of us at the stream crossings and all the way down to the trailhead. Somehow, thankfully, we all made it back in one piece.  An unforgettable trip.
 This post is dedicated to my twin brother, Adam Rhoads. R.I.P. twinbro. Run.In.Peace. 8.17.60 ~ 12/17/13

Chasing Butterflies To The Ocean View Trail

I was always telling myself it would be a good preparation for the climb up Mt. Whitney. And I keep wondering if there will be a next time. And what was it, anyway, that drove us to get up at 3am on a Saturday morning week after week to arrive at a trailhead at the end of a long, rock-slide-prone stretch of road while the stars were still out, not yet even a hint of dawn sneaking its way over the mountains?

A passionate quest to find native lilies in bloom was how this all really got started. Gordon would do the research and off we’d go hunting. We laughingly called it “chasing butterflies” because we would often see butterflies just before spotting the lilies as if they were a signal we were on the right track.

We spent some time in the Santa Barbara backcountry and neighboring mountain areas north and south  looking for all the different native California lilies we could find. And we had wonderful success.

Our search for lilies brought us to some wonderful places, and even seduced us into venturing up the highest peaks and mountains in Southern California.

As lily season ended, we wanted to keep the hiking rhythm going here in our alluring local mountains and began spending more time exploring trails and peaks in our own backyard.

Where we call Franklin Peak

The place we call Franklin Peak

One sunny winter day in February after being inspired by a friend’s newspaper article about a hike in the Matilija area, we set out to hike up to Divide Peak via Murietta Creek in Ojai. As we ascended the Monte Arido Trail, the fog ascended right behind us. And as soon as we arrived at the end of the trail, we couldn’t see a thing, let alone Divide Peak itself!

At the top of Monte Arido Trail

At the end of Monte Arido Trail

We called it a day and headed back home.

Later on, we began searching for more information about Divide Peak and came across a blog showing photos of a couple of bearded adventurers and a dog, exploring an area called Kennedy Ridge with pretty much the same, soggy chilly damp conditions as we’d experienced up near Divide Peak. But what really intrigued us in this post were a couple of Los Padres National Forest archive photos from 1923, one in particular showing a westward view of a chap posing next to his horse, somewhere along the Ocean View Trail.


How great it would be, we thought, to go up there and experience this little piece of local history ourselves.

The following weekend we headed up to Kennedy Ridge where the red-bearded ones had been. And the views were amazing from up there.

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Even more amazing were the picnic tables we came upon!


We followed the trail as far as we could, about 7 miles, and returned back the same way.

Still intrigued, we searched for more information on this historic Ocean View Trail, looking to see if anyone else had written about it. We found a blog post by a woman named Diane  and her adventures with Trailhacker up on the Ocean View Trail coming from the west. We set out to find the western terminus to see what that end of the trail looked like and maybe stretch it a little further.

The last weekend in February we began from Matilija trailhead sometime in the morning. We opted for the Murietta Creek Trail on the way up toward Murietta Divide.


We passed several trIMG_1654ees with bear markings…

And an area where a recently fallen tree had blocked the trail.


Leaving the creek trail and continuing on up toward the divide, Gordon spotted this fox enjoying the morning sun.


Finally reaching the divide, the beginning of Monte Arido trail would have been easily missed had it not been for these rocks marking an invitation up the first of several steep sections to where the trail ends at the OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) route.


And when I say steep I am not kidding.

Words of encouragement along the way really helped me make it up that (fill in the blank) trail. And the high point of Monte Arido was finally reached.


We continued onto the OHV to search for the western terminus of the Ocean View Trail.

If it weren’t for these rocks lining a “path” up the hill, we could have missed the entrance to the this trail, too. But here we found it.



So exciting to see the landscape from a new vista.


We cleared a few hundred yards from Trailhacker’s saw location and made it back down the trail under a full moon.


Gordon beginning to clear after Trailhacker’s saw


After days of asking myself what I did to my body on that day, the fascination for the trail took over and we were already talking about going up there again on the upcoming weekend.

And we did. Hitting the trailhead at dawn and heading to a point on the Ocean View Trail where even more could be seen.

And curiosity took me off the trail a moment to make a discovery…

An old register with the last dated entry of 1993.

We continued on, cleared a little more then headed back down the OHV under a surreal late afternoon sky.

Twelve and a half hours later we were back at the trailhead for the drive home.

Already hooked, we began planning the next Saturday excursion “up the hill.” Rain and chilly temperatures brought snow to the trails going up. And it was beautiful.

Gordon worked slowly, “getting tubed in double-overhead chaparral.” IMG_4208

We finally called an end to Round 3 after nearly 12 hours.

Returning the next week, I felt almost relaxed making the trip up the mountain. Bush poppies and ceanothus were in bloom and reptiles galore were sunning themselves as we made our way to where we had left off. It was a good day for Round 4.

Round 5 allowed us the pleasure of meeting the infamous Diane and Trailhacker further along on the route which stirred us in the first place. It was nice to watch how they work together, identifying and revealing the trail slowly, with integrity and care. Originally walking through the first part of the trail they cleared encouraged me to want to do the same.

We arrived about an hour before dawn and watched the sunrise from the road up to Murietta Divide.


It was a peaceful morning thinking of my friend whose mother had just passed. I gathered some wildflowers on the hike up and climbed up on the ridge to place the little tribute for my friend’s mom in a nice spot with a view all the way out to Oxnard where my friend and I grew up.

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While I was up on the ridge, the rocks were warming up all around, and down below Gordon began working while waiting for Trailhacker and Diane to arrive.



A short time later, I could hear voices below, Gordon and Trailhacker discussing trail direction.


As we left, Trailhacker and Diane stayed to work some more, and to spend the night up on the ridge. It was good experience to meet them.

On the way back down to the trailhead, Gordon stopped at the spring to cool off after another long day. IMG_4445

Sometime during the next week, Gordon came across an old guidebook of Santa Barbara from 1913 with mention of the Ocean View Trail.OVT SB page

I was looking forward to Round 6, as it would be the first time being on the other side of the huge sandstone slope that the trail traverses. We made it to where we left off and began the slow process of proceeding forward, untangling whitethorn and chemise…



And a view from the other side of the sandstone slope was finally possible.


Nice trailbed was uncovered and cleared and our end point of the day was a small cave with an incredible view.

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We headed down the mountain under an afternoon sky full of unusual clouds.


I recalled that growing up, my dad, as a civil engineer doing survey work in the area, always had maps. Now retired, I was hoping he was still hanging on to a few. And sure enough…he had several, a couple in particular catching our eye. Gordon scanned portions of a 1904 USGS topo map with 1902 survey data showing Los Padres National Forest as the Santa Barbara Forest Reserve. No Ocean View Trail, but Divide Peak is noted. The other map is from the war department from the 1940s showing the same area.

1904 topo war dept

Round 7 brought us further, beautiful trail cleared with new views…

And after a couple of surprises and some hours of work, time to return home again.

On our next trip up, we were joined by a character named Millenium Twain who had all sorts of stories about the area.


And then found! The spot of the 1923 LPNF archive photo! Gordon and I spent quite a while clearing the spot to show how it looked at that time.


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Clearing the trails invited creatures to explore…

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We looked back at the work and headed down. A fine goal accomplished in Round 8.


After reaching the spot of the 1923 photo, the next few Saturdays up on the trail became a bit of a blur. I felt more like a machine and the trips were getting longer and longer and our packs were getting heavier and heavier with the liters and liters of water we had to carry. We got up earlier and earlier, on the trail hours before sunrise just to beat the heat and make it back in daylight. We advanced slowly and tackled a lot of very thick chaparral. Each time we finished the trailbed looks so pretty when it was cleared.

Round 9

Round 10 was full of bear signs and a switchback up toward the ridge.

Once again on the trail a couple hours before sunrise, we arrived to the ridge and began clearing over on the north side in Round 11.

Under a full moon, we began our trek for Round 12. IMG_5447

This would be our 13th time up steep Monte Arido and the sunrise made this stretch easier, somehow…


It felt like it took forever to arrive at the spot where we stopped the week before. The brush was really thick and moving forward was again s-l-o-w. Still special being up there.

This would be our final round. For now.


Until next time…if there is a next time…up on the Ocean View Trail. In the meantime, we have some butterflies to chase.


Each time I go out in nature, I try to learn about a new plant or flower. And I adore when a flower allows me to get very close. This is a rare California native Catalina Mariposa Lily~Calochortus catalinae


“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe