Monday, March 10, 2014

The "Go Bag" - Day Hike Ready, Willing and Able!

Having a day hike “Go Bag” ready to grab at a moment's notice is a good idea, especially with the onset of longer daylight-filled afternoons.  This weekend, the Go Bag was cleaned up and a few perishables were restocked. In addition to the contents of what's carried in the pack, I've started to bring along a few toiletries that could best be described as “post-hike-clean-up-enough-to-grab-some-food” supplies. Of course, this is in addition to a separate small duffle that holds hiking clothes which includes: Hiking shoes/boots, socks, shorts, tech shirt, scarf, ballcap and windbreaker.

These two bags are carried in the back of the car and on business trips in the event that the opportunity to take in a short, afternoon hike of a few miles before sunset presents itself. When traveling by air, I often leave the toiletries home and replace my preferred, standard trekking pole for a collapsible one which fits into luggage more easily. Though it's likely obvious from the top photo, I always, always carry a hat. Carried generally on the outside of the bag is my trusty Tilley hat. I consider Tilley to be the best outdoor adventure hat available. The extra ballcap that's kept in the clothing bag is worn after the hike is over and the Tilley is sweat soaked.

Nothing special here and all of the "10 Essentials" are covered in some fashion, but here’s the contents of the day pack:

A. Mountain Smith Tour lumbar pack. It’s been accessorized with shoulder straps. The yellow interior makes it easy to find things inside without having to search through a normally dark interior.

B. Aluminum Emergency Whistle.

C. I’ve added a waist strap zippered pocket to carry lip balm, extra sunscreen and a few Jolly Rancher candies to suck on while hiking. This one was picked up at a running supply outlet and I like its small size. Similar zippered pouches can be found at outdoor gear stores but they're generally larger in size.

D. Trail Snacks which include fun size Payday candy bars. Quick sugar, a little protein and they don’t melt. Probably not the best option, but they’re inexpensive compared to some pricey energy bars which generally aren’t that different overall.

E. Compass, notepad, pen (and generally a pencil stub) and a trail guide and/or map, folded and glued into the notepad.

F. First Aid Kit, supplemented with blister pads, NSAID pain relievers, tick removal tool, tweezers and emergency sutures. Headlamp and sometimes a separate small handheld LED flashlight. Matches that have been waterproofed and an extra mini-carabiner for reasons I’ve not determined yet. An alternative to matches is a small butane cigarette lighter.

G. Duct tape, emergency blanket, moist towelettes and an ACE bandage secured with safety pins.

H. Collapsible trekking pole (packed when there’s air travel involved).

Not shown is a folding knife (it was in my pocket) and signal mirror (it was in a separate pocket of the pack that I forgot to look in at the time), extra batteries (carried if it is going to be a long hike), some cash and a photo copy of my driver’s license and emergency contact information.

Additional items that I sometimes carry in the Go Bag include a lighweight poncho, extra water, face towel and a clean shirt.

Every few months, take some time to replenish the trail snacks, medicines and moist towelettes. Check the expiration dates on insect repellent and sunscreen. Also, clean the items if they've been used frequently as well as their condition. Not a pleasant experience to find that your pack has a frayed strap or that your water bottles leak during a hike.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mid Winter in the OC: A day hike at Caspers Wilderness Park

Loop Hike: Bell Canyon – Quail Run – East Ridge – Sun Rise – Star Rise – Oak Trail – Bell Canyon
3.8 miles
400 foot elevation gain/loss
Moderately Easy

During the winter months, it is difficult to not call my relatives and friends living in places with proper four-season weather and complain about the local temperatures dropping to the high 50’s. Observations that I may need to wear long trousers or socks because of the obvious frigid Southern California conditions are often met with telephonic silence or low-toned curses as they relate the daily slogs through hip-high snow drifts, black ice, freezing fog (a real thing) or at best, gray skies accompanying temperatures in single digits.

But along with the ever-present threat of earthquakes, autumnal raging wild fires and freeways that generally resemble parking lots, Southern California hosts the mildest winter weather I’ve ever encountered. This includes the Florida Keys, Hawaii, and Central Arizona. If you’re reading this from someplace other than Southern California, don’t hate us because we’re beautiful in the winter, just make it a point to experience it yourself. While here, you’ll also find that despite the millions of people who have decided to call this place home, there is a lot of open space.

Orange County, California is one such place.  In addition to renowned coastal destinations, the county adorns itself with regional and wilderness parks within a short drive of Disneyland, high-end shopping plazas and historical landmarks such as Mission San Juan Capistrano. Just 15 minutes east of the Mission (truly a worthy destination in and of itself) along the Ortega Highway rests Caspers Wilderness Park.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, Caspers is probably my favorite local hiking location in the OC Park system.

The trails are well marked and maintained, the Nature Center is nicely put together and staffed by the friendliest rangers and volunteers, informative programs occur most weekends and it’s close. It is the go-to wilderness park to take out of town visitors who have grown weary of wearing mouse ears and never ending highway construction delays.  To a person, they’re taken aback by the beauty and solace held within the 8,000-acre park.  Most of the hikes here aren’t very lengthy. While it is possible to create a 14+ mile trek by combining a few trails together, most of them are about 3-6 miles long. For me, that’s the sweet spot for a weekend day hike.
So it was, on a late December, post-solstice weekend that the temperatures hovered in the mid-70’s. After a leisurely morning of coffee, baked frittata and catching up with the Sunday funnies the decision to head to Caspers was made. Since the park is so close, there was time to pack a post-hike picnic of chicken salad, good cheeses and fruit.  Today would offer a chance to further distance oneself from the Holiday stressors, get some quiet time with some trees and dirt paths.

But rather than returning to a well remembered, but favored loop hike, a new one was sought. After a quick visit to the OC Park website to review their online and printable trail map, the day’s short hike was decided upon.

The best way to describe the almost 4-mile loop is to list the various trails from which it is composed: Bell Canyon – Quail Run – East Ridge – Sun Rise – Star Rise – Oak Trail – Bell Canyon.

After entering the park, head north to the Old Corral parking area. Giant oaks shade a number of picnic benches; this is where you’ll have your picnic afterwards. The Bell Canyon trailhead is just a few hundred yards north of there, at the end of the paved roadway. Continue north for a few more hundred feet until you come to the Quail Run trail.

Quail Run heads southeasterly (a right turn off of Bell Canyon trail) and begins a moderate climb to the East Ridge trail. After little over one-half of a mile and about a 300+/- elevation gain, turn left (north) on the East Ridge trail. The views along the undulating ridge are sweet to savor as you look 360 degrees into mostly unspoiled inland foothill territory.  

Due west lies the white sandstone and kaolin clay bluffs that skirt the edge of the West Ridge trail, north one sees Santiago Peak, eastern views reveal the Ortega Highway corridor and the rolling Santa Ana foothills and behind you to the south it is easy to spy the alluvial courses leading to the ocean.  The ridge is relatively exposed and on a warm, sunny day you’ll be glad you’re wearing sunscreen and a hat. Short scrub and prickly pear cactus festoon either side of the trail that drops off sharply on either side.

The wide ridge trail borders the eastern edge of Bell Canyon below in which there are spreading oaks and broad meadows. In the spring and early summer, these meadows are lush and green. In the winter, they appear to be softly gray but not unappealing to the eye.

Continue along the ridge until 1.5 miles when the trail intersects with the Sun Rise trail. Turn west (left) onto this short but very steeply descending trail as it places you right in the middle of Bell Canyon.   At the 2-mile tick, Sun Rise meets up with Bell Canyon trail. Follow this trail south (left) as you begin the return portion of this loop hike.
What’s nice about Caspers is that the interconnecting trails provide multiple route options and soon you’ll be faced with one.  At 2.25 miles, you’re given the choice of continuing along Bell Canyon or veer off a bit on the Star Rise trail. The hike is shortened a bit if you continue along Bell Canyon, but I highly suggest taking Star Rise so you can hike upon what is arguably the most beautiful trail section in Orange County: The Oak Trail.

The Oak Trail is aptly named as you walk beneath the cool shade of wildly twisting branches of centuries-old oaks. This section of trail (approximately 1 mile) is peacefully calming and embracive.  A handful of inviting benches allow you to take it all in and if you have the notion, accept the invitation gratefully.

The trail emerges from the shade as you cross a dry stream bed and onto the Nature Trail. Soon you’re provided another option to follow it back to the Old Corral parking area or rejoin the Bell Canyon trail as it takes you directly to the original trail head.

Depending on how many side tracks you take, the entire loop is a little under 4 miles with an overall elevation gain and loss of almost 400 feet. Not a difficult hike but a pleasing one that reminds you of why you chose to live in the OC.