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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.

 

A QUICK LOOK AT THE LOCATION OF THE SAN GABRIELS would make you think a public-transit jaunt there would be easy. Suburbs engulf the northern and southern ends of the range (Palmdale and the Antelope Valley–on the edges of the Mojave Desert–are at the north; the San Fernando Valley and Pasadena are to the south). But the truth is, it's more than a little complicated.

Here's another truth: I love complicated. On that staircase story, I grew obsessed with finding and mapping a circuitous route through the city. These days, my favorite bike route is one I designed that crosses over each of the 10 bridges that traverse the Los Angeles River: east, west, back, forth...

My point in disclosing this is to be candid about a certain fact: I am a route dork. I happily spent months poring over maps to find staircases, and I spent months studying timetables from eight transit systems–along with maps of the forest, the city, and the suburbs–to figure out a route that would coordinate bus schedules, get us within an acceptable walking distance of a trailhead, and leave time to enjoy the hiking part of a three-day weekend. For me, it was better than watching Star Trek.

Those of you who live in cities like Portland or Salt Lake might be thinking that busing it to an L.A. trailhead sounds like torture. Your transit systems take you directly to trails (see "Urban Renewal," page 76). New Yorkers, you have a rail line with a scheduled drop-off at the Appalachian Trail. In Los Angeles, the best we can do is illustrated by this conversation I had with an information officer for our rail system:

"Hi, I'm writing an article about using the transit system to access hiking trails."

"I can send you a brochure! We have a service that goes to the aquarium!"

Other cities, you may have your trail-bound subways, ferries, and trains. I grant you this.

What we have here–I'm not afraid to say it–is a pioneering traverse.

AS WITH ALL EXPLORATORY ENDEAVORS, FINDING THE right team was difficult–though this, I admit, came as a surprise. It was a struggle to get my hiking friends to understand how a trip like this could be fun. Take the bus? In Los Angeles? It was something none of them had ever done. The idea of conducting a three-day backcountry trip via mass transit seemed unimaginable, even stupid, to my normally carbon-conscious friends. One day, a group of us went mountain biking, and I sold–hard–the idea to a friend I thought would be willing. She stared at me and said, "Interesting." Then she loaded her bike onto her Prius.

In the end, I found people who'd already bought into the idea of going carless in Los Angeles: bike commuters. Most of those folks also love buses and trains, if only because they have to combine different forms of transportation when they want to travel great distances.

Route dork, meet the transit geeks.

In February, I emailed a description of the journey: one bus to the suburbs, another along the foothills, off-load in a community called Sunland, and walk five miles along a paved road into the forest. From there, we'd connect to a narrow trail that would take us through a deep canyon, across several rocky streams, up to the crest of the San Gabriels, with a pair of summits–5,400-foot Condor Peak and 6,500-foot Mt. Gleason–along the way. We'd briefly traverse the Pacific Crest Trail, then drop along a winding fire road toward the town of Acton, in the Antelope Valley. Another five-mile blacktop walk would take us to the Metrolink light rail and back to Los Angeles, where we'd reconnect with the Sunset Boulevard bus at Union Station, the region's transit hub. Total walking mileage: 32. Departure time: Saturday morning. Arrival home: Monday evening.

A few exchanges later, I had a team: three volunteers, plus me, with my girlfriend, Kalee, making the fifth.




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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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