The reason there were no posts over the weekend is that I went solo-camping in the San Gabriel mountains just north of Pasadena.
The idea of spending a weekend alone in the wilderness first occurred to me during a hike I did in the San Gabriels with a couple of friends last summer. I was awestruck by the utter beauty and solitude of a particular spot that we passed along the way. It was a place to remember, highlighted by a little brook that flowed arrestingly between the trees — bouncing over shiny round stones and creating little cascades. That’s when I got intrigued by the idea of spending a few days in these mountains alone — observing, musing, relaxing, and yes, doing math. Last weekend I finally decided to do it.
After some research I settled on Hoegee’s campground. It seemed to fit the bill — beautiful, secluded, relatively close. I already had a tent and a sleeping bag. I rented other essential stuff — cooking utensils, a stove, a sleeping pad and a bear-proof container (yes, there are bears in the San Gabriels). I also packed a lot of math books and print-outs of research articles.
Hoegee’s is three miles away from Chantry flats, the closest car-accessible place. I started hiking around noon on Saturday. Almost immediately I realised that these three miles would not be fun. The trail was uphill, and I was carrying too much load. I had on my back a large, rather poorly balanced backpack behind which was attached another backpack full of books and under which was tied my sleeping bag. I held the tent bag in one of my hands and the sleeping pad in the other. It felt like I was hauling up rocks. What made things worse was that the backpack wasn’t really the correct size for me — as a result it put all its weight on my shoulders. Everyone I passed remarked about the amount of stuff I was carrying (after I returned from the trip, I checked the weight of my load — it was a shade above seventy pounds).
The hike to Hoegee’s was nice otherwise. The trail wound its way along the forested slope high above a canyon before descending down. The campground was situated next to a shaded creek that flowed along the bottom. I reached to find several tents and many people already out there. I had hoped for a quiet, nearly empty place and this was rather unexpected and disappointing; however I also felt a mild sensation of relief — spending the night completely alone in the jungle amidst bears and other wild animals may have been scary.
I set up camp, had lunch, and then wandered around for a while. There were two small dams on the creek very near where I had set up tent. I settled myself on top of one of them and worked for a while. Later, I returned to the campground, had dinner, and went inside my tent. I read a math paper in the lantern light for about an hour before going off to sleep.
The next morning, I woke up very early. I ate some breakfast and then decided to hike up to the top of Mount Zion, a little over a mile away and about a thousand foot elevation gain. It was a foggy morning and as I hiked up, the clouds came rolling in, blocking everything from view. It looked almost surreal in the early morning light.
I didn’t meet anyone else during the journey, which lasted a little over a half-hour. The peak itself was a flat little area — there I spread out a sheet and sat down. For a while I read a book on automorphic forms. Then I listened to some music on my headphones. I realized again that Mozart sounds most beautiful when heard amidst nature. Finally I came down around noon. I would have stayed even longer had the weather not been so cold and wet up there.
I could hardly recognize the campground when I returned. Everyone else had left (check out the contrast in the pictures below) and it looked a totally different place. There was no sound to be heard except the constant gurgle of the stream and the occasional chirp of a bird. Little sunlight reached the ground and the overall effect was one of total seclusion. I stood transfixed for a few minutes before proceeding to cook some lunch.
After I finished eating, I packed up everything and headed back.
The return was less torturous since much of the way was downhill — though my shoulders still suffered. My car was as I had left it and I drove off Chantry flats with memories of a beautiful weekend down at Hoegee’s, one I’d probably do again, though I’d carry less stuff next time and also stay for a bit longer.