Hike to Devil’s Chair

This weekend featured a wonderful hike to the Devil’s Chair. I have done this hike a few times before and it is always an enjoyable experience. The trail isn’t too strenuous and the expansive view at the end is a huge payoff.

This time around the added bonus was taking some of my husband’s students from the hiking club he runs at his high school. It is a pretty amazing experience to see students who have not done many outdoor activities before, discover nature through a new lens and feel the accomplishment of a good hike.

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The trail is 7.4 miles total, with a 1,000 ft. elevation gain. It is steep in some parts, but overall, the gain is too slight to even notice. This is an excellent hike for both experienced and newer hikers. Beginners may find it difficult in some spots, but it is still accessible to anyone willing to push through a little incline.

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Fun was had, by all.

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What are some of your favorite hiking spots?

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Backpacking Shepherd’s Pass: Day 2 & The Hike Out

The second day of our trip was my favorite. We did a whole lot of relaxing, marveling and appreciating of the beauty surrounding us.

We set out to day hike up to Shepherd’s pass, which was a little over 2 miles from our campground. It was a pretty steep hike though, with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

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I was pretty sore from the previous day’s hike in. I found the fast gaining elevation challenging and the increasing rocky terrain difficult to scramble over:

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The views grew even more astoundingly beautiful. I felt an insane amount of gratitude to be experiencing this. The challenge of the course was well worth it:

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We finally reached the top! Here I am at 12,000+ feet:

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We found a nice spot amongst the rocks to have lunch and relax. We stayed here for over an hour to take in the amazing opportunity to experience this sacred space:

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We arrived back to camp in the early afternoon. The rest of the day was spent napping, reading, talking and appreciating the gifts of nature. This trail is not widely travelled, we saw only 2 other hikers while we were camping and there was no one else camping anywhere near us. I basked in the solitude and silence.

The next day, we woke up early, tore down camp and re-packed to set off on the 10 miles out:

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The hike out was definitely less difficult, but still by no means easy. Still, our packs were much lighter and we headed downhill for most of the trip.

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It was pretty mind blowing to look up and see how far up we had come from.

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The saddle, from about 1.5 miles below

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still a ways to go

We moved pretty quickly. We were all motivated by the prospect of a shower, a big meal and our hotel’s swimming pool. The valley kept growing closer and closer:

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4 hours and 10 miles later, we were done! I have to share this picture, it is of my 8 year old step-son. I do not share a lot of pictures of him here, because I am overly cautious of children having an online presence, but I have to say how insanely proud I am of him perserving on this difficult trail. He is an avid hiker and has trained right alongside us, without complaint. Suffice to say, he was also proud of himself!

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I was so happy to see our car and even happier to see my flip-flops! I was elated to take of my hiking boots and free my aching feet:

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We said our good-byes to the trail and drove back to civilization. It was pretty incredible to think we had just hiked down from this:

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After the world’s greatest shower, we celebrated with ice cold beers, loads of chips, salsa & guacamole. I also ordered a bean torta. All much deserved!

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This was a fantastic experience. On this trip, I finally felt like an experienced backpacker. I think talking about all my anxieties helped. I acknowledged them and moved on, once my feet hit the trail, they subsided (for the most part) and I went for it. Even on the most trying sections of the course, there was never a doubt that I would not conquer this trail. It definitely humbled me, and reminded me to once again respect the great expanse around me.

Backpacking to Shepherd’s Pass: The Hike In

I finished my third backpacking trip last week up to Shepherd’s Pass. In 3 days, we did hiked a total of 24 miles, gaining over 6,000 feet of elevation.

This was a tough trail. 

I like to consider myself a pretty good hiker. I like intense trails, I do not mind elevation gain and I wear my 9 marathon medals as a mental badge of honor. But, this trail was not at all impressed with all the miles I have run, the number of medals I have, my fancy trail running shoes or all the dirt on my hiking boots. It kicked my butt . I am sure carrying a heavy pack and the higher elevation upped the difficulty factor, but it definitely made me doubt myself a few times.

We drove out to Lone Pine the day before we hiked out. We wanted to get our wilderness passes early, get a hotel and go to bed early. We did a little sight seeing around the quaint town, I even stopped to see Manzanar.

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I packed my backpack all up the night before, so we could get an early start in the morning. This was everything that I carried (warm night clothes, sleeping bag, food, toiletries, books, pancho)

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We started just after 6 AM, at around 6,000 feet, with the sun already shining bright. I got a nice view of what was ahead of me:

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Very soon, I was met with the stream crossings. Guys, I did a lot better than I have in the past. I was still scared, but I felt a little more sure of myself. I think the trekking poles helped me more psychologically than anything:

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The trail was pretty much uphill, the whole time, save for a few (very few) downhills:

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It was often difficult to stay focused on the trail because the views were INCREDIBLE:

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We stopped for lunch at the saddle, which was about 4 miles in, 8,000 feet. I already felt like I had done a pretty good trek, but knew there was more to come:

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After the saddle, the trail got much steeper. As the elevation increased, I found it more difficult to breath freely and was getting winded faster. I was taking smaller steps and was all too aware of the weight of my pack. Still, I put on my fake smile and carried on:

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I did not take a lot of pictures on this portion of the trail, because I was mentally fighting with myself to push forward. I was hot and tired, the elevation and the weight of my pack were getting to me. I went in to a state of meditation that attempted to rid myself of the negativity and keep positive.

Finally, we arrived at Anvil campground, this was about 10 miles from the trail head, around 10,000 feet.

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We unrolled our mats and laid around for a good hour, before setting up camp. We were all exhausted and were finally able to laugh about how difficult the trail was and how were all using different mental tricks to push forward.

I was pretty proud that I set up the tent all by myself! This was my first time doing it with no help.

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We finally started refilling our water (filtering it from the nearby stream) and preparing dinner:

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After we ate, exhaustion hit me like a train and I was in my sleeping bag even before the sun was completely down.

It was definitely trying, but gratifying day. It felt great that the hardest part of the trail was behind us.

End of Day 1, check back for Day 2 and the hike out…

Backpacking trip #2: The Grand Canyon

For my second backpacking trip, we tackled the Grand Canyon. I had never visited the Grand Canyon before, and I am so glad the first time I saw it was experiencing one of it’s trails firsthand. You definitely do not get the amazing vastness of the canyon simply from the rim alone. Once you are inside and descend amongst the ever-changing geology and views, you have a better appreciation for how truly marvelous it is.

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I was in absolute awe the first day we arrived at the rim. That quickly turned to terror as I saw the snow and ice at the top, and realized I would be hiking on that the next day.

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This was hands down, the scariest hike I have ever done. This was due mostly to a lack of preparation and apt equipment on my part. I really should have had crampons or something with more traction for my shoes.

The beginning of the trail was snowy, and as we descended further down, it turned to slippery ice and slush. I slid a few times and fell right on my butt, twice. The trail is narrow, and the massive canyon is beneath you. This plays incredible mind tricks on someone who is already scared of heights and falling. I still cannot remember a time when I was more scared. I must have cried 2 or 3 times on the trail.

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As we got further down, the ice subsided and we mostly hiked on dirt and rocks. It was a different experience to start a trip descending. There was a constant fight against gravity v. the weight of my backpack and trying to maintain balance.

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Even amongst the fear, I was in awe of the majesty around me.

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The trip to the bottom was 9 miles long on The Bright Angel trail, and we arrived at our campsite about 4.5 hours later. We set up camp and relaxed.

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That night, even though I was completely exhausted, I had a hard time sleeping, because I kept thinking about how terrifying the trail had been, and knowing I would have to face it again days later.

Our time in the canyon was relaxing. We did a few day hikes, and spent a lot of time exploring, lounging, reading and napping in the sun. I never got used to how astonishingly breathtaking it was.

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4 days later, we re-packed and headed out to meet the trail. I was hoping the way up would be easier because at least I would not be sliding down the trail, and looking down at sharp rocks, along with a huge canyon to potentially fall into.

And, while, that did prove to be true, I was meet with the challenge of hiking 9 miles uphill, and trying to make my way up an icy trail, when each step slid you back a little ways.

The first half of the hike on dirt on rocks went by easy enough, I felt the strain of the constant uphill, but nothing that a little rest and stretching did not help.

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Once we started getting to the icy regions, it was much more of an effort not to slide and fall. It also felt that our steps were much shorter and we were taking longer to cover ground, since we would slide back so much.

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Finally, over 6 hours later, we reached the top! I immediately started crying with relief. I felt like I had finished a marathon. It was odd to go through all that pain, emotion and strain, and not cross a literal finish line, with spectators cheering you on, and a medal being put around my neck.

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Still, I felt insanely accomplished by what I had just completed! This was definitely one of the biggest challenges of my life. I often mentally refer to it when I am facing a trying situation, whether it’s physical, psychological or emotional. I remember how I persevered, even in spite of myself, to achieve something I felt was so far out of reach.

I would not call myself a brave adventurer. I still feel scared and intimidated by many things, but I no longer allow those things to get in the way of new experiences and learning opportunities.

My first backpacking trip: Lawn Lake

My first backpacking trip was on The Lawn Lake trail in the Rocky Mountains, on my first visit to Colorado, July 2011.

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Up till this point, I had about 1 year experience with hiking and camping. I was nervous about being in a new state, with much higher elevation. I had never ventured so far into the wilderness before, with my only supplies being carried on my back. I was terrified, but up for the challenge.

I made the typical first time packers mistake of over packing. I remember my first thought as I put my pack on, and took the first few steps on that trail “I can’t do this.”

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Very positive, right?

At that moment though, I was so thankful I had marathon running experience under my belt. I reminded myself how many times I thought that exact thing during training runs and races, and somehow, just somehow, I always managed to get through it alive.

I continued on the trail and started getting used to my pack. Soon enough, the absolutely breathtaking views distracted me from my fear and the weight on my back.

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The trail was just over 6 miles long, but all uphill. I remember getting to the edge of the lake, throwing off the beast of burden on my back, and laying on the shore, exhausted. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

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We set up camp, and basked in the relaxing beauty around us.

The next day was another feat. We decided to hike up to the saddle way beyond our campground.

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The trail kept ascending, higher, higher and higher. We were already pretty far up in elevation as it was, and the further we went, the more scared I became. I am pretty terrified of heights, and we were heading towards expanse above tree level.

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Then there was my “best friend stream” crossing to contend with, a few times. Even to me, this looks small in the picture, but at that time, I remember being terrified to jump across, in order to reach the next part of the trail.

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Yet, I did it!

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There was a point where the trail begin to disappear in snow pack, yet we still pressed on, higher and higher. I kept telling myself not to look back, because I would get dizzy with fear from how far up we were.

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Finally, we reached the saddle. I cannot begin to describe how amazing it was to be SO far removed from any type of civilization. There was nothing or no one around us for miles. We had ascended higher than were trees grew and entered tundra region. It was amazingly silent and beautiful.

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And, of course, I had to spin around and sing, “the hills are aliiiiivvvveeeee” from The Sound of Music.

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I don’t remember a trail scaring me as much, up until this point, but I was so glad I had pressed on. The marvel and awe I felt at the top was unparalleled, and could not be replicated without first hand experience.

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We spent another glorious day relaxing at Lawn Lake, then hiked back out. The hike out was pretty easy. Our packs were much lighter since we had eaten most of the food we brought, and the way out was all down hill.

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I felt incredibly accomplished that I, the big chicken, the girl who is terrified of heights, the person who had previously shied away from new experiences had taken the opportunity to be uncomfortable and scared, and put myself in an incredibly new situation.

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I will always remember Lawn Lake fondly as my first backpacking trip. It was marvelous in it’s beauty and teachings.

Next up: The Grand Canyon

Backpacking: The Fear

I am sure you have heard the saying by Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do something everyday that scares you.” I definitely think it is important to push myself out of my comfort zone, and for this week, it will be with backpacking.

Truth be told, I am scared of many things. I was never much of an outdoors person before, never much of an adventurer. I did not take my first plane trip until I was in my 20s (I am also pretty afraid of heights). The unknown scares me more than anything. However, I got to a point in my life where I felt that fear was really holding me back from actually living, and I was done letting it keep me from new experiences.

I found that I loved being outdoors, thrived in communing with nature and basking in the meditative expanse of it’s silence, peace and grandeur. The views and experiences have made every hike, camping and backpacking trip worth it.

Death Valley: Bad Water Basin

crossing Bad Water Basin in Death Valley

Tomorrow, we leave for Shepherd’s Pass, in the Inyo National Forest. I have all the usual pre-trip anxieties and uncertainties. I have never even hiked this trail before, much less, ventured into it’s wilderness and stayed for multiple nights. I looked through the internets for as much research as possible on the trail. I found that I will have to do about 4-5 stream crossings. Whether it is my lack of grace, balance or experience, stream crossings are always my biggest obstacle while hiking. I overthink them, I wonder how hurt I will be if I miss a rock and fall in. I examine the rushing water and sharp rocks below, before committing to my next move, usually the group that I am with way ahead of me.

I fell in to Mills lake in Colorado before on a day hike, because I slipped on a rock while crossing, I was submerged completely under glacier water. I was in no way hurt, and pulled myself out fast enough, but that does not help ease my mind as I fear new trails in front of me.

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Oh yeah, and this trail/campground, has no pit toilets or any type of familiar bathroom setting, yet another thing to make me uncomfortable and fearful.

However, I know when this trip is over, it will be a new accomplishment, a new experience I will have learned from to help me blaze even newer and challenging trails in the future.

I am as prepared as I will ever be. I finally broke down and bought some trekking poles that I am hoping will help me on the stream crossings. I tried them out on a training hike earlier in the week, and I still need time to get used to them, but I think just having them eases my mind a bit.

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I loaded up on the vegan eats for the trip. Clif bars have been an absolute lifesaver on so many hiking and camping trips, and will be our breakfast each morning.

Lunch will be hazelnut butter + jelly sandwiches and dinner is the only 2 vegan dehydrated meals I could find at REI. We bought the Katmandu Curry & Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, I will let you know how they tasted. We also have vegan jerky and tons of trail mix.

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Wish me luck as I embrace my fear, anxiety and uncertainty, to blaze a new trail and cultivate a new experience. I am at peace with the unknown of this trip, I am casting the “what ifs” aside and looking forward to views, the self-discovery and the lesson from this trail.

Check back later this week for a recap of my previous backpacking trips, and next week I will be back to share my pictures and experiences.

Happy trails,

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Trail Run

I was hit by the desire to get out into nature this weekend and go for a long hike. I also needed to get in an 8 miler run for my half-marathon training schedule. I decided to combine the 2 and go out for a trail run.

I have not had much experience with trail runs before, aside for 3 or 4 milers when I have been camping. I heard that they could be more strenuous and I was looking forward to the challenge.

We decided to go to a trail we had never gone to before. It was near Mt. Baldy off Brackett-Stoddard Rd. It was a 12 miler total, I decided to run 8 of it and hike the rest.

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The wind was blowing like crazy in Southern California, but once we got started, it was not too bad, only on certain open sections of the trail.

The trail was wide, for the most part, which made for easy running. However, there were more harrowing sections that were icy or overgrown and we had to stop and walk.

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The elevation gain was pretty intense. We had our fair share of uphill sections. This definitely slowed our pace down, but I was glad to get the hills in as our race is packed with them!

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At the 6 mile turn around spot, we stopped to refuel. I made peanut butter and banana sandwiches on cinnamon raisin bread, along with chugging coconut water (I was pretty famished).

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I did find it hard to start again after eating and sitting down to rest. This signals in my brain that my run is done! I walked for about 2.5 miles before starting to run again. I knew I did not want to run the whole 12 miles anyways, so it was a good time to take part of the walking break.

I think I found a new passion. Trail running was amazing. I felt so free and peaceful. The normal distractions of road running were not missed. I did not have to watch for cars, wait at crosswalks or ignore unwarranted things yelled at me from car windows (creepasaurouses!) I was able to feel the meditative effects of being in nature and still get my miles in. Plus, the views were amazing.

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Trail running was definitely more difficult. The terrain is much more diverse, plus elevation gains and losses are more severe. I also had to constantly dodge rocks, tree branches, etc. However, the added challenge only added to the thrill. I absolutely see more trail runs in my future.

After the 12 miler, I was ready to eat!! We headed to one of my favorite vegan eateries, The Loving Hut, where I immediately ordered appetizers (vegan cheese sticks & vegan wings) and fresh juice (apple, beet, carrot & lime).

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For my entree, I chose something I had been craving all week, the Pan Seared Shanghai style Dumplings. My love ordered the Oriental Wonton soup, which is big enough to fill you up.

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For dessert, we split chocolate cheesecake.

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It was a pretty amazing day. Trails, challenges and food. There is not much more that I need.

Hiking in Joshua Tree

It had been far too long since I went hiking. I was craving some time in nature. It always recharges me and grounds back to what is truly important. I feel all the debris swept from my mind, and I once again find gratitude, love and creativity in the terrain.

We did a 7 mile total loop around Joshua Tree.

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The weather was perfect. The company was even better. The park was breathtaking.

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Afterwards, I was excited to eat at my favorite vegan spot,  Native Foods Cafe. I was hoping my omnivorous friends liked it and luckily, they did! Native Foods never disappoints.

I had the Bistro Steak Sandwich (Native Seitan Steak, thinly-sliced and seared, topped with our homemade bleu cheese dressing, oven roasted tomatoes, crispy shallots and arugula on a warm grilled baguette).

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Other yums around the table:

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It was a little hard to be on the CSD at Native Foods. I generally always crave an ice cold beer, after a long hike and Native Foods has a delicious Acai Berry beer that I order. The food more than made up for it.

Happy Monday, I hope everyone has a great week filled with kindness, patience and tranquility.