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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

Bus Hiking: Don't Pay at the Pump

Gas prices are soaring. Glaciers are melting. What's a conscientious hiker to do? Take the bus, says Dan Koeppel, who did just that to escape downtown L.A.

by: Dan Koeppel, Photos by Michael Darter

On the way to the trailhead, hikers wait for Starbucks.
On the way to the trailhead, hikers wait for Starbucks.
Hiking Mt. Gleason Avenue.
Hiking Mt. Gleason Avenue.
Margarita-bound on Sunset Boulevard.
Margarita-bound on Sunset Boulevard.
Blooming yucca in trail canyon.
Blooming yucca in trail canyon.
Primetime in Colorado's Indian Peaks.
Primetime in Colorado's Indian Peaks.
Seattle bus hikers can reach Olympic National Forest.
Seattle bus hikers can reach Olympic National Forest.

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More Mass Transit Hikes
Download more hikes, all accesssible by bus, right here. 

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More Photos
See more of photographer MIchael Darter's photos from this assignment.

 

THERE'S NOTHING LIKE A DONUT IN THE WILD. Or an order of onion rings, a Big Mac, or a Grand Slam breakfast. But our time–at a trailhead marked by a quartet of fast-food restaurants, two gas stations, and a giant billboard advertising a radio program hosted by the "boogieman of the morning"–is short. Five backpackers are about to load into what might be the world's most unlikely hiking shuttle: Metro Bus 91, a commuter line that carries a quarter-million passengers annually along a 20-mile route that leads from bustling downtown Los Angeles to the city's suburban foothills.

We are not alone. A dozen strap-hangers wait with us at the intersection. There's a mother with three children; a middle-aged man in a wrinkled suit; and a heavyset teenager with a bike. I count four iPods, six shopping bags, and one Spiderman book tote. We're the most burdened of all, with our fully loaded backpacks. It's a Saturday morning, and we've been traveling for almost two hours, since 6 a.m., when we started our journey on Sunset Boulevard, two blocks from my house and a mile from the Hollywood Freeway.

We step on board, forsaking fast-food delights. The orange vehicle plods along. It's standing room only: We're standing, and we take up all the room. As passengers squeeze around us, we do an awkward dance trying not to whack them in the heads. Soon we'll come to Foothill Boulevard, the main So-Cal thoroughfare to the 650,000-acre San Gabriel Mountains, on the southern fringes of Angeles National Forest. Our stop is coming up. We can see 6,000-foot peaks. And a Starbucks.

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST IS WHAT LOCAL USED-car dealers like to call "freeway close." That means an easy drive, no matter the distance. But proximity can be problematic. Annually, 30 million people visit the forest, which is located entirely in Los Angeles County. Assuming the average roundtrip to the trailhead is 50 miles, these visitors create roughly 2.25 billion pounds of greenhouse gases. During the 15 years I've lived here, I've been as guilty as the next guy, putting thousands of extra miles on my car as I've repeated the 20-mile back-and-forth from my door to the trailheads.

But it was spiking gas prices that finally made me try to find a better way. I started by selling my car. I live with my girlfriend, so we figured one vehicle would be sufficient. Los Angeles has a new subway, plus those poppy-colored buses, and I own a swell bicycle. I'm also a rabid walker. In 2002, I began climbing the hills in my neighborhood, which are lined with staircases. Five days a week, I hiked them with a GPS, developing a 20-mile, 50-staircase route that gained 7,000 feet. (I wrote about that endeavor for BACKPACKER's June 2004 issue, and have since added 20 more staircases.)

With all this low-impact travel under my belt, I figured the next step was totally logical: Find a way to get to my favorite trailhead in a vehicle that was already going there.




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READERS COMMENTS

Boarddog
Mar 16, 2012

Yep. been there done something like that. Different area.
Take the Mammoth Lakes bus to Lake Mary/Coldwater Campground to trailhead. Hike up over Duck Lake pass, down the othere side, along Cascade Valley/Fish Creek. End up at Red Meadows. Catch the Devils Postpile shuttle bus back to Mammoth Mountain ski lodge parking lot. Then bus back to town.
Getting to Mammoth Lakes, fly from LA, Orange COunty, San Jose, to Mammoth/Yosemite airport. Short cab ride to Mammoth Lakes.
Or there is a bus From Mojave to Mammoth Lakes, too.

James
Mar 15, 2012

WOW! This article was written in 2008. I feel like a jerk.

James
Mar 15, 2012

WOW! This seems like a great idea. As a matter of fact this seems like the exact same idea I emailed to Backpacker several months ago as a story to do. I've been busing it to the mtn's for over 20 years now. I don't know how it is where you all live but for me having a major hub by it gives me the ability to start on one end of the park and finish a couple to a few days later on another end of the park. This hub also reaches a few different parks. The bus doesn't go near every trailhead therefore at times I will get off in a town and get a cab to the trail. On occasion I was fortunate to meet a local willing to give me the ride in exchange for their opportunity to tell some childhood experience about the mtn's or some special spot to explore which I always enjoy. Locals usually refuse to take money so I secretly put it next to them when their not looking. When I started doing this it had nothing to do with being environmentally friendly sorry to say. It was more about never having to backtrack the same trail to the car. Keeping the journey fresh for end to end was always my goal.

Bill
Aug 03, 2011

Nice Article! Trying to plan a trip for this month.
You all might find this interesting:
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION TO LOCAL NATIONAL FORESTS
University of Southern California
http://www.cityprojectca.org/pdf/usctransitstudy-forests.pdf

The Gorbs
Nov 28, 2008

Bay Area to Yosemite. This takes some planning and layovers, but I think is a good option. AMTrack to Yosemite. The Train stattion is in Emeryville across th ebay but AMTrack includes a bus ride over. Take the train to Merced and then a bus to The Valley or t Toulomne Meadows (summer only). I have flown into other cities and rented a car to then visit National Parks. The biggest hassle is yo ucan't carry fuel so you have to plan exacly where you can buy and when. Fuel bottles must be washed with soap and water and air dry to bring on plane. One option is to donate the fuel and bottle to other hikers at the end of the trip.

The Gorbs
Nov 28, 2008

Two trips I'm Planning using Mass tranist. Pt Reyes Backpacking overnight. Make a reservation first and check bus schedules for Golden Gate Transit. There are only 4 legal overnight campgrounds, all starting from the Visitor center. From downtown San Rafael Transit Hub GGB Transit $2 one way to visitor center. About one hour 20 miles through Samuel P Taylor State Park. You can also spend a night here or in Olema at a private campground. Non weekend days you will likely have the palce to yourself. Summer may be very foggy all day along the coast here. A tent is mandatory (in my opinion) year round due to fog and mist. I've been to Wildcat 6 times and Coast 1. Glen and Sky are short hikes and you can day hike several miles to ocean from here. From SF you can also catch GGB to San Rafael, ferry to larkspur and hike 3 miles to downtown, or Greyhound from SF. Also, if you are coming from SFO, Marin Transporter. From East Bay, Bart to Richmond then GGB to San Rafael. Southbay, Take Caltrains to SF. (As far south as Gilroy and San Jose).

mystic waters
Nov 18, 2008

in the philippines, we do it most of the time. it's quite useful especially when traversing a mountain, wherein the jump off town is different from the nearest town where we descend.

Amanda Silvestri
Nov 14, 2008

I have only taken the bus to a trailhead once, in Vancuver to the Grouse Grind Trail. Having lived in LA from 1977, I have spent much time in the trails of the Algeles. I read your artical with pleasure tracing your rote in my mind. I would have liked a few more waypoints. From Condor Peak, did to head out toward Messenger Flats and the PCT over Mt. Gleason? If so, you must have desended down either 4N32 or 4N24 at the Fire Camp to reach Acton?

Silv
Nov 06, 2008

I definitely read your staircase article and loved it! This one is great too. Thanks. I live in VT. There's no bus to the trailhead!

Buster
Oct 26, 2008

Dan - thanks for the good article. You are certainly part of the solution. Hopefully, more than a few people heed your wise words. If so, the planet will be that much greener.

Robert
Oct 21, 2008

Hey Dan its nice to meet someone who likes to figure out public transportation as much as I do. I can spend hours plotting a trip in LA to the beach or Dodgers stadium using busses and trains; then when I share this info with someone they think I'm crazy. Everyones response is just drive there!

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