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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.

 

You just don't know what incredible stuff people are capable of until you come to Trail Canyon. People give each other tattoos out here. I'm not kidding. They hike naked. Have you seen those signs that say "This is YOUR Forest?" Out here, YOUR means EVERYBODY, just like the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote it in the Magna Carta.

But after the five-mile mark, you're pretty much alone, and you need some experience, gear, and planning. Without a lot of traffic, the route becomes overgrown, and we have to push our way through the brush and into chaparral.

If lower Trail Canyon looks too lush to be So-Cal, then the upper part looks exactly like folks imagine: brown and parched, covered in scrubby sage. In May, the yucca trees bloom, but their spiky leaves are sharp enough to pierce your flesh. One little wound puffs up like 20 bee stings.

Our first camp–and first water source since Trail Canyon Falls–is just below Condor Peak, and we arrive right on schedule (important, when you have a bus to catch). The ridge is just a morning's walk above us. As we pitch our tents, Devin–one of the transit geeks–makes a salad of fresh orzo pasta with grape-size organic tomatoes (another benefit of being specialty-food-store close).

After dinner, Kalee and I walk up the ridge and stare to the west. The wind is sweeping away the smog below us. That's when another, more modern vista appears. I can see the twinkling lights of the burbs and beyond them pure blackness–the Pacific. We can also hear a low hum. It takes a minute to figure out that it's the freeway. I get into my tent, close my eyes, and imagine it's the ocean.

IT TAKES US THREE HOURS TO CREST THE SAN GABRIELS the next morning. Standing atop the range, staring down into Antelope Valley–we'll descend today, camping somewhere below–we feel a strange, nearly schizophrenic amazement. Gazing at high desert, with few trees and little water, we wonder how people actually manage to live in the valley below. Our second impression is astonishment at how many people actually do manage it. The towns in the region are among the nation's fastest growing. In 1980, the valley's population was about 20,000. Today, it's almost 500,000, partly because there's no cheaper place to buy a home in Los Angeles County. The price for attaining the American dream is the area's most grueling commute: up to two hours, each way, to downtown.

This might sound, again, like a yucky destination for a hike. But think of it in reverse: It is absolutely essential that people have a place–and the means–to hike away.

From the ridge, we have two miles to walk along the PCT; after that, we'll drop down steep switchbacks, skirting a series of deep, rain-cut canyons that feed the Santa Clara River.

The crux of our trip comes on the second night. We have no idea where we'll camp or even if we'll find water. That's due to more misinformation from a Forest Service official. Working in the Angeles can be tough, because the issues are pretty wide ranging: catching commuters who use the roads as shortcuts; taming suburb-threatening wildfires; and managing conflicts between the forest's millions of visitors. Sometimes basic information suffers. The official said camping anywhere was okay, as regulations allowed, but that the fire road had steep drops on either side, so there would be no practical place to pitch a tent. Water? Nothing between the ridge and the pavement.




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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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