ADVENTURE: A 9 mile hiking loop through Santa Anita Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains
WEEK OF: August 4th, 2013
LOCATION: Arcadia, CA
If you’d have asked me a couple of years ago to go with you on a 9-mile hike on a Saturday morning at 5 AM, I would have looked at you like you were an insane drifter who’d wandered into my big city, late-night, booze-heavy life and asked me climb Mount Everest with you wearing just a bikini. It would have seemed that impossible to my limited brain. My Saturday mornings were reserved for sleeping in until noon in order to nurse an inevitable massive hangover, nothing more.
But these days, as I try to infuse more and more adventure into my life (and drink a bit less), I’ve started waking up earlier and looking for ways to challenge myself physically while enjoying more of the outdoor awesomeness that Southern California has to offer. This week, I wanted to try to venture beyond the standard Runyan Canyon circuit that most LA people define as “hiking” and go off the beaten path for a day of wandering around in the LA County wilderness for a more lengthy period of time. I opted to start with what Modern Hiker (love!) describes as “The Perfect Summer Hike” – the Santa Anita Canyon Loop Trail.
This trail winds through the San Gabriel Mountains and, because of its shaded paths, multiple waterfalls and atypical scenery for the area, is quite a popular trail for locals. Both Modern Hiker and EveryTrail recommended we arrive early to get parking at the trailhead, and they weren’t lying – at 6am when we arrived we got the last spot in the lot! The trail was a little crowded when we got started, for 6am at least, but it was nothing compared to the chaos of people we found when we returned to the trailhead 5 hours later. At that point there were cars lining the street a mile from the trailhead and all sorts of folks showing up to explore the trail.
The trail itself is actually made up of a few smaller trails, and everything was pretty clearly signposted, though it helps to have the EveryTrail and Modern Hiker apps on your smartphone when you reach a junction you aren’t sure of. The first bit of the hike takes you past lots of manmade water falls and several old-timey cabins, and the constant, peaceful sound of trickling water is enough to calm even the most troubled soul. When you arrive at the 55-foot Sturtevant Falls, you understand immediately why this is a popular trail – it didn’t take an enormous amount of effort to get to and the scenery is well worth it. Most people only reach this point and turn around.
After leaving the falls, the number of people on the trail dramatically declined as the path grew steeper, and it was a nice, peaceful uphill walk with my friend Chris along the shaded, creek lined path. It strangely didn’t feel like we were in LA County anymore with the large overgrown trees, trickling creek and the presence of mosquitos, which I thought I’d escaped moving here from North Texas. The air was fresh, the way it only is shortly after dawn, and when the brush occasionally parted, the views of the valley below, full of more sleeping people than awake ones, was gorgeous.
The last half of the trail as it descended back down the mountain was a little less shaded and had even fewer people on it. By then our calves were aching, the sun was starting to bore down on us and I was starting to get a teensy bit bored of walking. That was when I realized the best thing about hiking as exercise: It isn’t like a treadmill, you can’t just turn it off when you get tired or bored. You have to keep going, you have to keep walking. Hiking isn’t just a physical exercise – it is a mental one too. You are forced to motivate yourself to keep going and stay aware of your surroundings, even if your feet hurt and you’re extremely fatigued.
And let me tell you, around mile 7 or 8, I was feeling pretty damn fatigued. The longest hike I’d ever done before was maybe 4 or 5 miles in length, and that was once, so this was a challenge I hadn’t experienced before. I somehow willed myself to keep going, knowing at the end of it all, I’d be able to sit down and eat something delicious while feeling pretty damn good about myself for waking up early on a Saturday to see some wilderness and do something new.
And that I did. After our hike, I found my something delicious at Mary’s Market, an incredible, tiny family-run place on an out-of-the-way street above Sierra Madre. It is the perfect place for a basic but very tasty homemade burger and great coffee after this grueling hike.
When I got home, I carefully removed my brand new hiking boots to discover some lovely blisters on my toes, but it didn’t matter. I felt pride in myself that reminded me of why I started this project in the first place – to challenge myself every week to do something I’ve never done before, something I maybe even thought was impossible, and to emerge from that challenge triumphant, feeling like I’d really seized the day and lived my life in that moment to the fullest.
That unreal feeling most definitely trumps sleeping in until noon!
If you are interested in doing this hike, the best places info for it can be found at Modern Hiker and EveryTrail. The EveryTrail app was a priceless resource for me on this hike because a few of the junction signs weren’t very clear, and it the app told me exactly where to go!