Last year, I set a goal for myself that I would hike 1,000 miles in a year. This goal encompassed exploration of new and old places, a physical fitness challenge, a philosophical, emotional, and intellectual undertaking, an outlet creativity, and a way to relax.
I learned a great deal along the way, which I will detail in subsequent blogs. In this blog, I wish to describe how I did it, using a few facts and figures. I also intend to share the ten best hikes from this experience.
From January 1st to September 15th, I hiked 1,002.7 miles. I achieved this feet three months and two weeks sooner than I had set out to do. During these hikes, I gained 141,500 feet of elevation, and, although I did not keep track of the amount of elevation lost, I am assuming that the amount lost is roughly equivalent.
I accomplished these totals over 158 hikes. The longest of those hikes was 23.1 miles (High Point on Palomar Mountain). The greatest amount of elevation gained on one hike was 4,800 feet on Mt. San Jacinto. Time-wise, the longest single hike was also Mt. San Jacinto at 8 hours, 55 minutes.
An “average” hike for me was 6.3 miles, with a gain of 895 feet. Although, rarely did I ever experience such a hike. During this period, I spent 405 hours, 27 minutes, and 55 seconds (approximately) hiking. That is nearly 18 continuous days of walking on trails. I average one mile every 24 minutes and 15 seconds.
Here is the breakdown for where I did my hiking, all in a nifty graph. Note that Cleveland National Forest contains two state parks (Palomar and Cuyamaca), which, although they are not part of the National Forest system, are being included there anyway due to proximity:
Now, with the details out of the way, I’m going to briefly highlight my ten favorite hikes of the year, counting down from ten. The sole criteria for the order consists of how I feel about the hike. Each hike is different, and the emotions evoked are complex. I’ll link to the blogs in case you wish to know more.
This wasn’t a particularly fun hike. It wasn’t a particularly pretty hike, although there were sights that were absolutely gorgeous that bookended miles of tedious monotony. What made this hike special is that I hiked longer, higher, and farther than I ever had before. Furthermore, I did half of the hike in the snow. That I completed it without significant pain taught me that I was capable of a hell of a lot more than I gave myself credit for. I could no longer justify doubting my potential.
I had spent a lot of time hiking on and around Boney before. It’s the main peak in the Santa Monica Mountains, which are adjacent to where I’ve lived most of my life. However, I’ve never tried Boney like this, in which I hiked it from sea to summit. It’s a long trip that passes through a number of gorgeous stretches, including Serrano Canyon and Valley, Boney Ridge, Boney Plateau, and Sycamore Canyon. It’s brutally strenuous, but on a cool February day, the views were limitless.
Beehive Basin was the final hike in Montana before we headed out to Yellowstone. I could have included Yellowstone, but since it was not one single hike and no single hike there was noteworthy enough, I left it out. Beehive Basin, aside from being a beautiful alpine basin with a lake, wildflowers, trees, and sweet breezes, was especially good because I took this hike with Kelly. We’ve taken a lot of fun hikes together, but I really enjoyed having her on the kind of hike that featured so much change and so much dramatic scenery.
Palomar has quickly become my favorite hiking spot in San Diego County. There are a number of different hikes I’ve done this year that I could have put on here, but the hike I did in early September with Kelly stands as the best. This hike was the perfect combination of companionship, weather, lighting, route, and scenery. We saw a beautiful forest, lush meadows, gorgeous natural light, and a brilliant sunset over San Diego County. Best of all, it was with Kelly, and we had a wonderful time with each other.
6. Mt. Baldy
Combine an iconic Los Angeles landmark hike, companionship of two good friends, and a memorable hike from start to finish, and you come up with my experience on Mt. Baldy. I went with friends Kevin and Taylor, and we had a great time taking on the mountain and warding off some pretty severe atmospheric conditions. Baldy can get extremely windy at any given point, and on this day, we had gale force winds trying to blow us off the narrow strip of trail that crosses the Devil’s Backbone. As a further bonus, I met my friend Kyle at the summit. Kyle and I would later go on to hike Mt. Whitney together, and he remains the only friend I know with whom I have spent an entire friendship above 7,000′.
5. Alta Peak
I’ve wanted to climb Alta Peak for a long time. While it’s neither a particularly high peak nor a particularly difficult hike, it has loomed in my mind as something that I needed to accomplish, since I’ve been looking up at it for several years, wondering what it’s like at the top. It’s a quick and easy wilderness experience incredible high country views that is located fairly close to the developed areas of Sequoia National Park. This hike would have easily been a top three hike if it wasn’t for getting lost at the very end and having to wander back on pavement. The other 15 miles of this hike were nothing short of spectacular, but because of those drawbacks, this particular hike gets knocked down a few spots.
I took a three-day backpacking trip into Big Basin for my Spring break. The middle day of the trip was spent ambling along the stunning Berry Creek Falls Loop. The main attraction here is the series of cascading waterfalls at the heart of Big Basin. As gorgeous as those falls were, the forest, the solitude, and the beautiful light filtering down through towering redwoods and Douglas firs made this an unforgettable hike. The sunny, open Sequoia forests of the Sierras are incredible, but the dense, deep, dark, and damp redwood forests of the northern coast have their own particular magic that is unforgettable.
3. Cloud’s Rest
This was my final hike of this experience, and it was as stunning a hike as I could have hoped for. It gets points for featuring my thousandth mile, but aside from milestones, the view here is absolutely stunning. It rivals the view from Alta Peak and even earns some respect from the stunning views from Mt. Whitney. The mountain’s central location in Yosemite allows you to see, essentially, the entire national park, including incredible views of Yosemite Valley. It also throws in a couple of subalpine lakes and some lovely subalpine/alpine forest.
Looking over this list, it seems strange that an overnight backpack trip at a place I’ve visited a number of times would make it to number 2, and yet here it is. I enjoyed this trip so much because it was my first solo backpack to a campground I’ve wanted to visit ever since I first came here. I camped out overnight at Spruce Grove, gathered aromatic bay wood and had the most wonderful smelling campfire I’ve ever experienced. Then, I woke up at dawn, hiked through the alders and bay with the sunlight filtering through, climbed Mt. Wilson and enjoyed clear views of L.A., and made friends on the trail. It goes to show that it’s the essence of the experience that ultimately matters more than destinations, or even superior scenery. That said. . .
1. Mt. Whitney
The best scenery I’ve ever seen on a hike, anywhere. Ever. Beginning in classic mixed-conifer forest at Whitney Portal, climbing through the transition zones from subalpine to alpine, seeing numerous alpine lakes, jagged granite crags, valleys 10,000 feet below, the Great Western Divide stretching endlessly, miles and miles of countless peaks in all directions. . . This was the king of all hikes this year. Oddly enough, I had no desire to hike Mt. Whitney until it became a possibility. I was wary of the permit system, and I didn’t think I’d have the stomach to jump through the hoops. Fortunately, I met Kyle, and Kyle graciously shared the fruits of his own hoop-jumping labors. And there I was, having spent most of the year inadvertently preparing for one of the most strenuous, popular, epic, and spectacular hikes in the country. And it wasn’t just the views. I had the opportunity to meet new friends Dave and Tim, get to know Kyle better, experience a thunderstorm at 12,000 feet, hike beneath starry skies, watch the sunrise at 13,500′, and summit the highest peak in the lower 48. There’s no topping that.
So, there you have it. 1,000 miles down, and the rest of the year to go. I will not be keeping track any longer since I aim to simply enjoy hiking without any sort of agenda. I’ll continue to hike, shoot, and post, but from here on out, it’s for the sake of doing instead of reaching a goal.
See you out there.