Madera Canyon, where our group of 13 gathers and waits for late comers. This Meetup hiking group accommodates and enables late arrivers far more then any other hiking group so we grumble a bit but there are worse places to pass the time as other hikers come and go. At 8:20, we shove off, briefly on the Old Baldy Trail, then quickly on the Vault Mine Trail and where it breaks right on a punishing up hill climb, we stay straight on the Carrie Nation Trail which is slightly less strenuous.
The above artifacts indicate we are about to reach the end of the trail and just beyond, it is a good idea to....
….check out the mine entrance but probably not a good idea to be too inquisitive. No telling what creature lurks in the shadows, prepared to pull you in for a meal. Actually, I got there a little ahead of the group and looked for animal tracks but saw none. It's a beautiful spot with plenty of shade and running water.
The official end of the Carrie Nation trail begets a well worn social trail that leads us higher with an occasional break in the foliage. From the trail head, the average grade to the end of the official trail is 13% but now it becomes steeper.
The granite slopes leading to Mount Wrightson can be seen as we continue.
The trail intersects with the Aqua Caliente Trail as part of my group arrives and we are given a very brief break from the unrelenting climb. Actually, only about 0.2 of a mile until we reach a left breaking, unnamed trail that leads us to Mount Hopkins Road.
We encounter an awesome alligator juniper tree that dwarfs us as we pass. This well worn trail is easy to follow and the occasional view....
….is easy on the eyes!
We reach the road but still have another 1.5 miles until we reach the peak and observatory.
The final ramp from the trail is really steep as we wait to regroup.
Compared to what we have experienced thus far, this final hike is relatively easy with an average grade of 8%. When I reach the top, looking down I see mountain bikers descending as some of our group ascend. I talked to one of the cyclists and he confirmed that while staff will intercept you during the week, on weekends one can go around the gate and finish the ride so that will be next weekend's project.
The serpentine, Mount Hopkins Road. For a dirt road, it's in great shape.
There are a few final ramps that are just killer. The last has to have an average grade of at least 25% and after what we have endured, the crest can't come soon enough.
In the shade, it is a very nice, 62 degrees as some of us sit on the deck of the observatory. Our hike leader, Bill, on the left. Bill is a well known and respected reservoir of hiking knowledge and experience. You go into the wilderness with that guy and you just know you are going to come out. Yes, maybe on a stretcher but you will come out:)
For the first arrivers at the peak, we ate our snacks, waited for the others to join, eat their snacks and then some of us plotted to get the group going. We decided if we put on our packs and act as if we were ready to go, the signal would be sent and it worked. A big but though. Rather than retrace our route, we would take a different route off the mountain.
Rather than descend the 1.5 miles down the road and exit as we had arrived, we strode maybe 200 yards, hopped a fence and descended a ravine. A bad omen at the start....Bill slipped and cracked his elbow on a rock. Fortunately, it was only a flesh wound so after applying a bandage, he was good to go....whew!
And so, the real reason why I joined this group hike. We were bushwhacking, entirely off trail, toward Aqua Caliente Saddle. Last July, I had ascended this ridge from the Saddle, reached the peak, lost cell phone power, decided I could find my way back down, became lost, found the remains of a lost hiker, etc... It has always bothered me that I became lost so when I saw Bill was going to lead the group down the route, I had to sign up.
Sooooo, now I know I had gotten off the main ridge to another ridge known as the "Wrong Ridge", ha, ha but of course. But, good things occurred because I had become lost (not the least of which is I became unlost, of course) and now the mystery of how I got off route was solved so happy about that. During our descent of today, the slope was very slippery with a thick bed of pine needles so many of us fell but all survived.
We reached the aforementioned saddle where we got onto the Aqua Caliente Trail. The group decided to take a break but I was good to go so politely excused myself and soloed back to the parking lot. During the descent of the brutally steep, Vault Mine trail I passed by a mine having an ominous warning sign. Finished with 7.8 miles and 3300' of elevation gain. Good workout with some good people.
Our route was clockwise.