Hiking Chantry Flats to Mt. Wilson (With Some Company)

By Heather

Our hike to Half Dome is coming up quickly! It’s one of those things we’ve been talking about so long that I’ve passed the point of believing it will ever actually happen. We’ll just talk about it and plan for it for the rest of our lives.

The first training hike was supposed to be another stab at Ontario and Bighorn Peaks, but a springtime storm and snow foiled those plans. Mt. Wilson it was.

Darren made a rare appearance on one of my hikes, but since he’s climbing Half Dome and Mt. Whitney too, he’s ready to do some leg-killing mountain work to get in shape for them. He also got some hiking poles (the same as mine, Cascade Mountain Tech), but I don’t have the heart to tell him this isn’t how you walk with them.

We took the Lower Falls trail from Chantry Flats, then mistakenly took the far less pretty Upper Falls trail on the way back. If you go right now, take the Lower Falls! The waterfalls are all going and it’s so pretty. Plus, ducks!

When we got up to the summit, we were just a notch above the clouds. I was also relieved to see that as disappointing it was to change our plans, the eastern San Gabriel peaks were all covered in snow.

baldy view from mt. wilson

View of Baldy from Mt. Wilson.

I forgot how tough this hike gets after you pass Spruce Grove Group Campground. It gets nice and steep, and pretty much stays that way until you reach the summit. My legs were burning, which is what I’m going for these days!

Stats: 35,388 steps; 15.41 miles; 7:02 hours; 510 floors

heather darren mt. wilson

Hey, that’s us!

Joshua Tree’s 4×4 Trails

By Steve

Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR) is much like Death Valley in that there were a lot of little roads and trails and other types of vehicle access routes running all over the joint back in the days before it was made a park, and some of those trails still exist today.

Not too long ago, I made the wise decision to buy an old beater pickup truck. BeaterTruck™ has a few things that make it fantastic for exploring 4×4 trails; it’s got great tires, skid plates, and low-range 4×4 gearing that make it damn near unstoppable, and it’s already cosmetically challenged – no need to worry about scratchin’ the paint.

So totally sweet!

BeaterTruck™ – kinda crappy in the city, incredibly awesome out on the trails

JOTR is a big park; not as enormous as Death Valley, but to drive from the north gate to the south takes a bit more than an hour. I spent the better part of a day driving most of the 4×4 trails in the park, and came away with two favorites: Geology Tour Road and Pinkham Canyon Road. Here’s a brief rundown of each.


Geology Tour Road (GTR) is near the center of the park, and features a nifty little one-way loop section in the center where you can then double back to where you started, or continue south out of the park via Berdoo Canyon Road. GTR starts out as a fairly mellow, well-maintained gravel road when you first turn off Park Boulevard, but becomes a bit more rutted and uneven as you continue on.

BeaterTruck™ likes a good view.

Pleasant Valley. So pleasant.

Once you start to dip into Pleasant Valley (who doesn’t love Pleasant Valley?) there’s a sign warning that 4×4 is recommended beyond. I never needed to shift into 4 wheel drive on this road, but there are more than a few spots where extra ground clearance was needed.

I should flip this photo to B&W and photoshop Bono and The Edge in

Joshua Trees in Pleasant Valley

The one-way loop section of GTR is probably a little sketchier if you’ve got one of those froofy-froo trucks with shiny paint that can’t handle a tree scrape or two. Needless to say, BeaterTruck™ made that part the most fun; cholla cactus, prickly pear, and lots of desert scrub will caress your mirrors and fenders as you gawk at the gorgeous views.  I took the loop back to Park Boulevard, but can’t wait to go back again to see what Berdoo Canyon Road has to offer. GTR, being in the middle of the park and well-marked, did have a fair number of other visitors roaming on it the day I was there (middle-May), but no cell service (AT&T) anywhere on the road.

Pinkham Canyon Road (PCR) is on the quieter south end of the park, and is a bit more of a commitment in time, distance, and necessary 4×4 capability.


PCR’s entrance is directly opposite the Cottonwood Visitor Center, and is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. It starts out as a pretty narrow little two-track with lots of runoff dips and whoop-de-doos, spots for tree scrapes, then devolves further with soft, sandy sections where 4WD is not necessarily required, but highly advised.

BeaterTruck™ in its element

Great spot for a dinner picnic on Pinkham Canyon Road

I ran 4WD the whole time, mainly because in the three hours I was on PCR, I didn’t see another soul and there is no cell service (AT&T) anywhere on this trail. The western half of the trail gets a bit rocky in a few sections, which put BeaterTruck™’s skid plates to use once or twice. That said, there weren’t any spots that I needed 4WD low gears, so you could probably do PCR in a small AWD SUV without much trouble if you’re a better driver than I am and can pick your way around the rocks.

Who dun't luvs sum flerrs?


PCR runs along the northern edge of the Cottonwood Mountains, and teases with the thought of maybe going up into the hills at a few points, but it stays mostly level and sneaks around the western edge of the hills via a little escape route in a canyon, where I stopped for a little dinner picnic (photo above).

Can't argue with a purty sunset

Sunset over Pinkham Canyon Road

My only real beef about Pinkham Canyon Road is on the western/southern end; PCR ends just outside of the park where it meets with a fairly well-graded dirt road that features no signs whatsoever telling you where you are or where you might go. Interstate 10 is right nearby and runs parallel to this road, but you’re expected to drive all the way back to Pinto Basin Road. I cheated and found a hole cut in the fence near the I-10 rest stop and snuck onto the freeway there.

That minor beef aside, Pinkham Canyon Road is a neat trail and well worth the time and vehicle abuse. I’d like to run it again and check out Thermal Canyon Road, which gives an alternate exit out the park when running east-to-west.

Hiking Icehouse Canyon to Ontario Peak

ontario peakBy Heather

Last week, I discovered the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks Section. As an avid checker of things off lists, this excited me to no end! Now I’ll have a little more direction in the hikes I choose to take, and I’ll plan many of them around scaling new peaks. Eventually, I hope, I’ll bag every single one!

To kick it off, I hiked to Ontario Peak a couple weeks ago.

I don’t know what it is about the San Gabriel Mountains. I’ll take a hike there and think it’s the prettiest one ever. But then the next hike tops that. And the next hike tops that. I thought Cucamonga was the be-all, end-all of San Gabriel hikes. Scratch that. Now it’s the one that takes you to Ontario Peak!

It starts off the same as the Cucamonga hike: head to the Icehouse Canyon trailhead and make your way up to the saddle. At the saddle, make a right and head on up.

The trail winds through Manzanita bushes and there are views for miles. At one point, I could see Mt. Wilson way off in the distance.

ontario peak hike

I wanted this to be my first two-peak hike. When I got to the part of the trail where it splits off and going right takes you to Ontario, going left takes you to Bighorn, I was greeted with this sign:

bighorn peak ontario peak signI read the mileage to Bighorn Peak as 1 3/4 miles from that point and decided that I didn’t have the time. I’m not crazy, right? That totally looks like a 1! But we had a potluck at work the next day and I had to get home to buy stuff for that and make it, because as organized and proactive I can be, I can also be an epic procrastinator.

Turns out I totally had time to do both peaks. Not only is it just 3/4 of a mile from that point, I got back to the saddle so early that I would up taking the longer Chapman Trail back to the trailhead to kill time. ARGH!

Oh, well. Next time I’ll be older and wiser.

There are a few false summits heading over to Ontario. If you have to ask, you’re not there yet.

When you get there, you’ll likely find a summit register hiding in a little red can at the base of some rocks and a dead tree.

It was exciting to finally find and sign my first summit register. I took the opportunity to do some self promotion, too!


If you brought any celebratory beverages with you, feel free to pop them open on this handy little bottle opener that has been installed on said dead tree.

ontario peak bottle opener I’m going to do this hike again in a few weeks, and will definitely add Bighorn Peak to the roster.

The final stats on the hike were 35,835 steps taken, 15.61 miles walked in 6:17 hours. I wish my Fitbit would save elevation gain in the activity log, but if memory serves, it was about 5,000 feet.

I can’t wait to get back here.

catalina from ontario peak

Indian Cove Campground, Joshua Tree National Park

wildflowers joshua tree national park

Desert wildflowers at our site.

By Heather

Forget everything I’ve ever written about other campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park.

Our inaugural trip to Indian Cove had it all: beautiful weather (though hot during the day), gorgeous views, peaceful drives, quiet neighbors, good friends, good food and good booze. It doesn’t get any better than that! It was the perfect kickoff to the 2015 camping season and I think this bodes well for our year.

Getting there

indian cove site 66

The view from our picnic table.

Indian Cove is just off the 62 freeway near Twentynine Palms, and unlike other campgrounds in the park, the drive to this one is short. It takes about 10 minutes. Don’t be alarmed: you’re going to briefly drive through a residential area, then take a little detour through the ranger’s station, pass a group campground on the right, and finally, you will hit Indian Cove.

This trip was a small rite of passage for me: I arrived and set up camp all by myself in the dark, then spent the evening camping solo. It was wonderful! I unloaded my car, pitched the tent, got everything inside set up, then made myself a quick dinner of sausages, poured myself a glass of bourbon, then retired to the tent with Nabby to settle in and read. Although part of me missed sitting around the fire with Darren and some friends, I always enjoy some solitude.


site 66 indian cove joshua tree

Our campsite (#66).

We stayed in site #66, and that’s our view in the photo at the top. Not bad at all.

It’s a beautiful site, if a bit smaller than the others. It was so small, in fact, that we had to move our canopy every night to use the fire ring. Wha, wha, I know.

Four people fit here pretty comfortably, though. Next time, I want to grab either site #64 or #65 – they were not only absolutely massive, but they had all kinds of little coves to hide from the blazing sun.

We may or may not all have snuck over to the other campsites a few times during the day to hide in one of those shady spots. It was in the 90s, for Pete’s sake!

The campground

Despite being really popular with families and kids, Indian Cove is peaceful. We did hear a few IMG_8751kids in the mornings, but by and large, it was really quiet. And something about the rocks muffled the noise just a bit.

Families, I find, also tend to head out and see the sights early, and they’re gone until close to sunset. If you stick around the campground, you’re going to love the quiet.

Most people went to bed early each night, too. On Saturday, we shut down the campground and it was only 10 p.m. That never happens to us. Usually we’re the ones in our tents trying to sleep and praying to God that quiet hours will start soon.

Indian Cove is also a really, really popular place for climbers. You’ll see them all over, and they may even come into your campsite. It’s pretty cool to watch them, because they are totally crazy.

We really noticed the tranquility of Indian Cove after we took our friends on a drive through the park (they had never been before) and onto Jumbo Rocks, promising them that it was even more amazing than where we were staying.

Except it wasn’t. It was a total zoo, full of spring breakers and traffic.

So, hightailed it back to Indian Cove we did. We spent the rest of the day kicking back with a few drinks, laughing a lot and photographing the sunset.

indian cove joshua tree sunset

Kim capturing the aforementioned sunset.


Indian Cove is, hands down, our new favorite campground in Joshua Tree. Between the views, the accessibility, the location, the nice campsites and the ability to make a reservation – you can’t beat it.

Ranger station: There are some knick-knacks sold inside, and Indian Cove has its own passport stamp if you have a National Park Passport. Be sure to check in there when you arrive.

Water: There is water at the ranger’s station, which is located about a mile from the campground. You can fill up anything from drinking bottles to big jugs.

bathroom indian cove joshua tree

By Sunday, yuck.

Bathrooms: Alas, they are vault toilets. They were looking really rough by Sunday, though it does look like someone comes by regularly to tidy them up, at least. Wish they’d replenish the toilet paper, though. That’s why we always pack extra.

Supplies, food, firewood: There are a ton of stores outside the campground, including a Stater Bros. if you turn right and go about 3 miles, a convenience store located at the corner of Indian Cove Road and the 62, and more stores if you turn left.

Parking: Sites are allowed only two parking spots each. If you have a third car, you’re supposed to park it outside the park. But I think you could probably offer a neighbor a beer in exchange for an extra parking spot if they have one.

pappy harriet's

Just look for this on your right. Park for instant fun and delicious food.

After camping: Why not go to Pappy & Harriet’s? If you’re heading back toward Los Angeles, it’s right on your way out of town. Just turn right on Pioneertown Road and drive for 3-4 miles. Pappy’s is on your right. They have a dog-friendly patio! Get the Nachos Von Rabbit. You’re welcome.

Mt. Whitney Passes: Got ‘Em!

By Heather

At the beginning of April, we got our passes to climb Mount Whitney. Which is very, very awesome, but it was stressful as hell!

It all started when the application process opened up on Feb. 1. There is no advantage to applying early, by the way. The applications are gathered together on March 15 and dates are assigned at that point.

But I applied early because that’s just how I roll.

But then…

We didn’t get the passes. Boo!

Although the lottery is the best chance to get a pass, general sales for the remaining/unclaimed passes were going on sale April 1. There weren’t many – some days had no passes, others had just a handful.

Me, Darren and Steve were ready at our computers with a few pre-selected dates, ready to pounce at 7 a.m. But at 7:00:01, they were gone. Holy shit. I knew this stuff was competitive, but I wasn’t prepared for that.

I did actually get to a screen where I needed to enter additional information, but when I clicked “proceed to shopping cart” they were gone. That seemed like a little bit of bullshit. How about giving me 30 seconds to enter everything before just giving my tickets to someone else?

A few hours later, I checked again. There was a date in September with four passes available. Sold!

Funny thing, I guess: my cousin swooped in at the last minute and got the fourth pass. After all that stressing and strategizing and waiting… But I’m thrilled that she’s going! She’ll probably beat us to the top by hours.

Going in September is a little more chancy, I hear – storms get more and more likely the later in the year it is. But September is still supposed to be one of the nicer times.

One crazy day hike. 22 miles round trip. We’ll start the hike around 1 a.m. It takes about 12 hours, start to finish. It’s going to be the craziest, the most challenging and the most fun thing I’ve ever done. Feats of physical endurance have always appealed to me (it’s long been a dream to run a marathon, but I just can’t run with these knees), which is a big reason I enjoy hiking so much. There are always opportunities to push yourself and get better.

Hiking for me has had so many moments of “Wow. I had no idea that was in me.”

I’m a little nervous, a little “Oh shiiiiiiit, what did I sign up for?” and a lot excited!

How to apply

You can select up to 15 dates on a single application. Each application is $6. Given how competitive the process is, unless you can do one date and only one date, you should pick as many of the 15 as you possibly can. Weekdays are lighter than weekends, but weekends appear to have more no-shows.

To better your chances, you should have everyone in your group apply, too.

Study the Inyo National Forest Mt. Whitney website – there’s a wealth of information here about the process, plus valuable statistics and so much more.

Reading preparations

As I bone up on the hike and prepare myself, two resources have been awesome: