I was probably half way, and two pints of sweat, in before I thought: “this is a good idea”.
After all, who hikes on their Christmas break while battling eight time zones of jet lag and seasonal quantities of food and drink?
That’s the question I asked as my brother-in-law and I pulled into a parking lot above the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena last week, just after the Christmas weekend.
We’d promised each other an easy ramble in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Of course it never works out that way.
Thirty minutes in and the gentle grade up through Millard Canyon already reminded me that no amount of flat running or biking can prepare your thighs for the upward pull of a brisk hike.
But the clear, crisp canyon breezes and southern California sun made for an easier trek than my last mountain outing in winter, a wind and rainswept day on Lugnaquilla.
As we ascended, below us, in eerie green-brown silence, lay a city of 10m people. Ahead – with the exception of a stray biker or two – the path was clear. The city of Los Angeles, that great mechanised metropolis a mile or two away, was just another part of the scenery – alongside the lightening-battered weather stations or the broken-up fire road we were hiking on.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” wrote John Muir, the high priest of the Sierra (who I doubt ever troubled himself with as minor as hike as Brown Mountain). I’d add that it’s also the clearest way into one’s mind, particularly a mind sedately muddled by the temptations of the holidays.
By the time we came out at the Brown Mountain Road junction (710m – an ascent of 400m from our start 80 minutes earlier) our minds were clear of anything but the desire to drink water and photograph the views – south to the Pacific Ocean and north and west into canyons of wilderness.
We could have gone on of course – with the summit ‘just’ another 650m up. But common sense – or the part of it which resides in tiring leg muscles – prevailed. Not before a speedy, if dusty, descent down into the City of Angels though.
On the way we even briefly encountered that rarest of phenomena – Los Angeles rain. Winter hiking indeed.